Monthly Archives: January 2010

Paris – Luxury for Less – Part 2

This is the second article in a 5 part series showing you how to enjoy a truly unforgettable, Paris experience on a modest budget. Part 1 , discussed how to save money by traveling in low season, and covered tips on earning frequent flier miles, even if you rarely fly.

Accommodations will be a large portion of your vacation expense. For about $80 USD per person per night, you could stay in a very small, double room in a 2 star, bare bones hotel. But, for the same price, you can enjoy an upscale Paris apartment, in a prime location, with full kitchen and Eiffel Tower views. Yes, that’s right!  For the same price!  The trick is to travel with a few friends or family members, and consider low season instead of high.

Why Choose an Apartment over a Hotel?

  • Space – much more room to spread out
  • Huge savings on food by preparing snacks and light meals; dining out in Paris is very expensive, and you’ll save hundreds of Euros per week by having a kitchen (much more on Dining Out in Part 3)
  • Free wi-fi internet access
  • Free phone calls to the US, Canada, Europe. FREE
  • Washer/dryer for laundry – convenience and savings of free laundry, allows you to pack less, and return home with clean clothes!
  • Feel like a local, not a tourist; shop daily as the Parisians do for your warm baguette, fresh produce; you’ll enjoy the vibe of your neighborhood

Follow These Tips When Selecting an Apartment:

  • Search Trip Advisor or similar sites for recent reviews for that specific unit; Trip Advisor is not independently verified, so look for trends rather than relying on one specific review
  • Consult guide books and ask friends for references
  • Ask if they have an onsite management company to address any concerns; are they open 7 days a week?
  • Be sure the website has photos of all the rooms in the apartment
  • Ask owners if the furniture, drapes, linens etc. are exactly as pictured.  I’ve heard horror stories of apartments staged for photographs, but the gorgeous furniture had been replaced by worn out flea market finds
  • Most apartments require full payment in advance; ask what recourse you have if you find the apartment unacceptable.  Will they move you to a different unit, or refund a portion of your stay?
  • If you’re staying in the summer months, ask if the unit is air conditioned
  • Some buildings don’t have elevators, so ask, if this is important to you
  • Carefully consider the location, noise level, and view.  Verify the location through Google Earth.  “Close” or “nearby” may actually be 2 miles away from your desired location.

Why Choose a Paris Perfect Apartment?

There are many apartment rentals in Paris, but for my money, I choose Paris Perfect apartments, a collection of 45 luxury apartments in prime locations in Paris. What sets Paris Perfect apart is that all apartments are professionally managed by Paris Perfect, with the highest attention to detail, and that “wow” factor to make your vacation a once in a lifetime experience. Paris Perfect apartments have been recommended by Rick Steves, Travel & Leisure, Fine Living Channel.

A Paris Perfect apartment is the right choice for so many reasons and occasions…

1) Girlfriends Getaways – Ladies, choosing a luxury apartment from Paris Perfect is an unforgettable experience–one you’ll be talking about for years. Paris Perfect’s fabulous Girls Getaway Package, during low season, includes all this at no extra charge:

  • complimentary hair & color consultation at famous Thierry Elia Salon on the Left Bank,
  • welcome bottle of champagne upon arrival
  • box of gourmet macarons from renowned Chocolatier Gregory Renard
  • free Seine river cruise tickets
  • complimentary consultation with your personal Paris concierge, who can arrange special reservations for Paris fashion shows, cooking lessons, private guides to take you antique shopping, massage appointments, restaurant & shopping recommendations and more!

2) Two Couples – A great way to share expenses while enjoying a luxury apartment in the best locations in Paris.

3) Mother/Daughter Get-Aways – There is no better opportunity to celebrate that special bond between mother and daughter. Every girl should see Paris with her mom, even if the little girl is all grown up. (We had a great experience with my sister-in-law, and our teenage girls several years ago.)

3) Families – perfect when traveling with children. Triple and quad rooms are very hard to find in Paris, and when you do find them, they will be very cramped. For the same price as two drab double rooms, you can have a lovely, private apartment, and save hundreds of Euros by enjoying breakfast and snacks in your kitchen instead of dining out 3 meals a day. The money you’ll save by eating in will more than offset the accommodation price. Paris has an undeniable “cool” factor for tweens and teens.

4) Multi-generational – Great for grandparents to bring along grandchildren-what a grand introduction to the City of Light!

4) Celebrations – honeymoons, engagements, anniversary, birthday, graduation.

5) Any time and every time you come to Paris

Apartment Reviews

I have personally stayed in the St. Julien short term Paris rental, and it is gorgeous, in a prime location in the 7th arrondissement, just a few blocks from the Eiffel Tower, with a partial view through the tree tops.

This is the Rue Cler neighborhood recommended by Rick Steves. The St. Julien sleeps 5 comfortably ($86 per person, per night*), is a little tight for 6 ($71 per person, per night*), and would be very spacious for 4 ($107/pp pn*). It has two full marble bathrooms (important for your “getting ready” space), plus a powder room in the hall.

St. Julien has one bedroom and a  double living room, with sliding doors for privacy, and a special, custom made Italian sofa which makes out into two full sized, extra long comfortable, single beds. I have slept on this sofa bed myself, and I can assure you, this is not your grandma’s fold out sofa bed. There is also a fold out sofa bed in the first living room, recently upgraded, but I haven’t slept on that so I can’t personally comment on it. I’m sure it would be fine for one.

Most recently, we stayed in the Clairette Paris flat in the same building as St. Julien. The Clairette has an incredible view of the Eiffel Tower (2 blocks away) from the two sets of large French double-glazed doors, with step-out balconies.

Every detail is exquisite: beautiful furnishings, gorgeous wood floors, oriental rugs, with decorator touches everywhere.

Lighting – an effective mix of crystal chandeliers, halogen lighting in the kitchen, and many table and floor lamps make the apartment so cheerful.

The dining area is in the double living room in the Clairette, with the same high quality sofa that makes out into two separate comfortable single beds.

Cream travertine in the bathroom with large walk-in shower, modern vessel sink, heated towel racks, hair dryer. Thick, white fluffy towels, and an extraordinary find for Europe = Washcloths!!! Americans will be very happy!

The Clairette is very comfortable for 3 people sharing, and adequate for 4 friendly people. It has just one bathroom, so scheduling becomes important. But Clairette would be ideal for groups of 3 or 4. The price in low season: $123 per person/per night for 3 people and $92 per person/per night for 4 people.*  (Side note: I have begrudgingly paid $300/night for a dumpy hotel in Manhattan, that had not been renovated in 30 years.  Talk about value for money.  Paris Perfect has it all: luxury, location, affordability.)

I’ve not yet stayed at the Bordeaux luxury apartment in Paris, but knowing the neighborhood and quality of furnishings, it looks like a great choice for 6, with 2 bedrooms, double living room, 2 full and 2 half baths, and the same heart-stopping views of the Eiffel Tower that Clairette enjoys.

And at 2065 Euro/week in off-season, that works out to $71 per person/per night, or $142 per couple. An absolute steal!!! If your budget allows, of course, consider prime season as well. Picnicking in the Champ de Mars park right next door, evening strolls along the Seine…an unforgettable experience. Paris Perfect apartments are running a special promotion on high season rates now as well. Check their website for details.

The Left Bank location of these 3 apartments is perfect! Literally 2 blocks from the Eiffel Tower/Champ de Mars, major bus stops across the street, Metro and RER just a few blocks away.

Paris Perfect vacation rentals provides guests with welcome gifts of milk, orange juice, water, and a bottle of wine.
The kitchen is already supplied with basics: regular coffee pot and filters; olive oil and vinegar, salt and pepper; and my favorite – a Nespresso machine with a starter supply of coffee capsules in assorted flavors – another way to easily save $4-5 for each cup of coffee you don’t have to buy at a café.

Kitchens in these 3 apartments are high-end, with granite countertops, dishwasher, microwave, stove, oven. Dishes, glassware, champagne and wine glasses are provided, even colorful plastic dishes, cups and bowls to help the kids feel right at home.

A full set of Henckels knives, serving ware, mixing bowls, cutting board, storage dishes, glass baking dishes, salad spinner, etc. are included.

A washer and dryer are in each apartment, along with laundry soap, allowing you to pack lighter than usual, since you wash your clothing on the go.

I kept thinking I’d find some little detail overlooked, something the staff forgot to stock in the apartment: a pair of scissors to cut the tags off a new outfit? (found 3 pairs actually); Tupperware for leftovers? (yes, in the cabinet over the microwave); electrical outlets in the bathroom? (hidden in the mirrored medicine cabinet). An extra shoelace, when my son’s broke? (okay, sorry, no spare shoelaces provided!)

You will be met personally by a professional, friendly Paris Perfect greeter, who spends nearly an hour with you, showing you all the workings of the apartment, answering any questions.

In addition to your personal greeting, each apartment comes with a complete, thorough, personalized guide book, which explains in great detail the workings of every appliance, system, etc. It also has a wonderful 32 page section on sightseeing. This was my “bible” while in Paris, as it included everything!

Paris Perfect Luxury Apartments include flat screen TVs with cable access, DVD player, and a supply of DVD movies, novels and Paris guidebooks for your enjoyment.  Free wi-fi had great bandwidth too.  We had four devices connected on wi-fi at the same time ( iPhone, 2 iPod Touches, 1 laptop) and no hiccups or slowdowns.  Free phone calls included from your apartment’s phone to all landlines and cells in US/Canada, and to landlines in Europe, Australia, & New Zealand.

The Clairette and St. Julien have entire walls of storage, with many hooks in bathroom and bedroom. Iron and ironing board included, plus converter plug for your appliances

Grocery stores very close by. If you’re staying in either of these 3 apartments near Rapp/Bourdonnais, you have a G20 market just a few doors down, and a larger FranPrix just a 4 minute walk down Bourdonnais. Paris Perfect includes a rolling market basket so you can shop just like a local.

Did I mention the Boulangerie is 3 doors down? Pop down in the morning for your fresh, warm baguette and flaky croissants, to enjoy with your Nespresso.

The prices quoted are fully inclusive, there are no taxes, service charges or occupancy fees.

Potential drawbacks for some could be that there is no daily maid service, towels are not normally replenished (but there are extras provided, and you are free to wash a load of towels in your washer/dryer if you wish). Maid and laundry service can be arranged for an extra fee, as well as a personal chef, if you really want a splurge.

Full prepayment is required in advance (before you ever see the apartment), and cancellation fees apply. This was a concern for me the first time, but now having stayed there, I have no hesitation whatsoever.  I do recommend you take the travel insurance, because you never know when your plans could be disrupted due to illness, job loss, etc. Paris Perfect has links to a travel insurance provider, or search online.

The Paris Perfect management office is just a few blocks away, open 7 days a week, and the staff was pleasant and helpful. We had a tricky latch on the French door leading out to the balcony (did I mention the balcony overlooks the Eiffel Tower?) We called for help, and the latch was fixed before we got back from sightseeing.

All apartments are non-smoking, and no pets allowed.

Rentals are for a one week period, and I do recommend you take the full week. There is so much to see and do in Paris, plus you can take 3 wonderful day trips depending on the season (Versailles, Champagne region, and Monet’s Gardens at Giverny). If you find it impossible to stay a full week, and are booking towards the last minute, Paris Perfect might be able to consider a shorter stay, so call and ask. They may be able to accommodate you.

However, there is one huge drawback to staying in a Paris Perfect apartment which I must warn you about. The apartment is so gorgeous, you may never want to leave! I am not exaggerating. In the evening, gather at the window at the stroke of each hour to watch the Eiffel Tower sparkling light show. We have magical memories of our children watching the clock, counting down the minutes to the top of the hour, and dashing to the window to see the Great Lady sparkling in the night.

On your morning of departure, you will feel a little like Cinderella, when reality hits you that you have to leave – your royal coach about to turn back into a pumpkin, and white horses back into mice. Ahhh, but that’s what vacations are about. Fairy tales can come true. And there will be a happy ending, because you will promise yourself to return to Paris again!

* Prices quoted are for low season. They also have special sale prices available now for a limited time for high season and shoulder season too. Check Paris Perfect website for details. In the interest of full disclosure, as a returning guest of Paris Perfect, I received a promotional discount, however, my review is honest and unbiased, and not influenced by consideration received.

Paris – Luxury for Less – Part 1

Are you looking for a first class getaway to Paris, but can’t even afford coach? Read on!  You’ve come to the right place. 

Paris has a reputation for being an expensive city, and rightly so.  With so many treasures to explore, it’s one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations.  But I’m going to show you how to afford real luxury for less in Paris, for less than what you’d spend on a Holiday Inn at home.  Don’t believe me?  Then stick around! 

Over the next series of articles, I’ll discuss how and when to travel, and I’ll cover the “big 5” categories of airfare, accommodation, shopping, sightseeing and dining, to show you how to get the absolute most for your money, and have one of the best vacations ever!  

This is not an article about staying in cheap hostels or 2 star hotels.  There’s nothing wrong with that, I’ve done that too. But this series will focus on higher end accommodations, and show you how to have that luxury splurge for LESS money, something actually within reach of your meager travel budget.  

When to Travel:  My first tip to immediately save 30-40-50%? Travel in off-season!  Typically, off-season in Paris is winter time, from November through March, with the deepest discounts in Jan. & Feb.  Accommodations and airfare are deeply discounted. Crowds are smaller, nerves are less frazzled, and there’s something about the crisp air that makes the aroma of roasting chestnuts and steaming Nutella crepes even more intoxicating.

Paris has such a huge array of sightseeing options, you will never be at a loss for things to do.  Yes, there are a few sights that may operate reduced hours, but with careful planning, you’ll not be disappointed.

The first two weeks of December are an incredible time to visit Paris as well.  Discounts may not be as steep as Jan/Feb, but the beautiful Christmas decorations, dazzling lights, department store window displays, and holiday fetes can make up for that. 

First things first.  You have to get there.  Airfare to Paris from the U.S. is not cheap….not gonna lie.  Airfare in off-season is lower, but still pricey.  Recent searches on Fare Compare, great low fare search site by my friend Rick Seaney, show low season fares from major US cities to be as much as 50% less in Jan/Feb versus summer.

Recent Airfare Searches to Paris:

From: Feb 2010     July
NYC $552 $959
CHI $772 $1,225
MIA $787 $910
ATL $676 $1,261
MPLS $851 $1,247
LAX $658 $1,367
SEA $873 $1,327

Don’t be scared by these prices. Let me show you how to fly almost free. 

Frequent Flier Programs
If you’re a frequent traveler, you’ve already figured this out & can skip this part (but read the Shopping opportunities below).  If you’re not a frequent traveler with a fat corporate expense account paying your way, you may think you’ll never rack up enough miles to cash in on free tickets.  Not so!  You don’t have to travel frequently to earn miles.  There are many other ways to accumulate miles.

Enroll not only yourself, but your spouse, kids and grandkids in airline frequent flier programs.  Idea is that nobody travels by air these days without earning miles.  Most programs allow you to transfer miles between participants, sometimes even offering bonuses to do so (Delta currently has a 50% bonus on miles transfered through 1/31/10, i.e. transfer 5,000 miles to someone, and they received 7,500).  Best to limit yourself to one or two airlines to maximize point accumulation.

Credit Cards
There are great websites devoted to helping you maximize your “flown” miles (FlyerTalk), but only a few sites focus on earning miles outside of actually flying on a plane.  Opening a credit card (for both personal and business accounts) can earn a handsome bonus of 10K-25K miles.  This site, Mile Cards, has a good discussion and comparison matrix of many mileage cards available.  Keep in mind, most cards have a minimum spend requirement, i.e. must spend $750 within the first 4-6 months, to earn the bonus.  Fees are typically waived the first year, and they carry hefty interest rates, so be a wise consumer and don’t charge more than you can afford to pay off in full every month. Read the fine print on every offer.  Also check your hometown airline’s website to learn what their mileage credit cards have to offer.

Once you’ve chosen a card that’s right for your, set up recurring monthly bills to be paid with this frequent flier credit card, bills you’re going to have to pay anyway, electricity, gas, water, telephone, cell phones, etc.  Again, you must be VERY disciplined to ensure you pay off in full every month. Once you get comfortable with that, decide if you want to take the next step to purchase groceries, gasoline, entertainment etc. with your card.  Many people do this successfully today, but it does require discipline.

Another site I like is Frugal Travel Guy.  He’s made quite a hobby of racking up miles, so check out his tips and ideas.  Keep in mind that with rewards come some risks, so do your homework.

In addition to charging monthly necessities on your preferred card, take advantage of all the mile-earning opportunities from online shopping.  Hundreds of popular retailers have partnered with airlines to award you mileage for things you’re going to buy anyway. 

Let me give you some examples.  For purposes of this article, I’m going to focus on shopping opportunities through American Airline’s AAdvantage program, but every major carrier has a similar program, so if AA does not have service from your area, check into other airlines’ programs. 

American developed the very first frequent flier loyalty program in the industry in 1981, and I should know, because that’s when I was hired on by AA as a college student with the launch of the AAdvantage program, to handle inbound calls and enroll applicants. 

American recently added some new features to their retail shopping site American eShopping Mall, with the registered card program.  This lets you register one card (either credit or debit) on the shopping site, and earn miles for purchases.  The twist here is you can now use a debit card, if you decide you don’t want to buy things on credit.  Four ways to earn miles while shopping:

1. Brick and mortar store fronts – Walk in to buy in person, use your registered card (debit or credit), and earn AAdvantage miles.  Downside – this is a new program, and only 12 retailers/restaurants participating right now.

2. Gift Certificate Program – Great program lets you buy gift certificates from 102 popular retailers, like Barnes & Noble, Bath & Body Works, Gap, Old Navy, etc.  Earn 3 miles for every dollar you spend, plus an extra mile if you charge to your AAdvantage Citi card.  Buy the gift certificates to give as gifts for Christmas, birthday, teacher, anniversary, wedding, graduation, etc. Or buy them for yourself for purchases you know you’re going to make anyway (i.e.  Back to school shopping, Old Navy, Famous Footwear, Foot Locker, etc.).

3. Online Retailers – Literally hundreds of major and specialty retailers participate.  You must first visit the AAdvantage eShopping site and launch into the retailers’ site from the AAdvantage page. Every big retailer is here. 

4. Special partners – short list of a few select “preferred partners” with good earning potential, like Netflix, DirectTV, TomThumb grocery chain (DFW residents), regional electric companies.

Don’t even think of making a big ticket purchase without checking out the online retailers.  Plus, there are frequent promotions like double or triple miles, free shipping, etc.

I particularly like Best Buy, as you can order online (remember to launch from the AAdvantage eShopping site) and then pick up your order at your local Best Buy, usually within an hour if the item is in-stock.  No waiting for shipping, and easy, local returns.  In-store pickup at Sears too.

Here’s an example of purchases I made last year through the Northwest Airlines Worldperks program (sadly defunct now, with the Delta merger…DL has similar online retailer shopping program – Skymiles Shopping).

Back to School Promotion July thru Sept. – gave double miles on all retailers.

Apple Computers regular 2 miles per dollar, now 4 miles per dollar during the promotion, plus extra 1 mile per dollar if charged to NW Worldperks Visa.  That’s 5 miles per dollar spent.  It was time to buy our daughter her long awaited iMac computer, so with software included, it was $2,000 (she earned over half the money herself winning spelling bee competitions).  Ordered online through Apple (but entering their site from the NWA launch page), we earned 10,000 miles for this one purchase alone.  Same double miles on Old Navy, iTunes, Petsmart, Best Buy and hundreds of other retailers. 

Speaking of iTunes, we never download iTunes directly.  We purchase iTunes gift cards through the airline shopping sites, then email the iTunes gift card instantly to ourselves to redeem online. 

You see what I mean, it adds up faster than you think.  Just think smart, plan ahead, and don’t buy anything until you check your airline’s online shopping program.  Combined with the 25,000 miles you receive for opening a credit card, and you’ll be on your way to Paris by the end of the year!

AA’s current redemption level for US to Europe round trip ticket is 40,000 miles for travel in low season, and 60,000 miles for peak season.  See what I mean by savings in the off-season? 

All material is current at time of publication, but subject to change at any time.  Please check directly with sources mentioned to obtain most current information.