The Hilton Garden Inn on College Boulevard in Overland Park, KS (see map) has become my de facto "home-away-from-home" when I'm in the Kansas City area. Not only is it close to one of my key dealers in the market, it's not very far from some pretty good restaurants in the area. I recently had an experience at another hotel - literally right next door to the Hilton Garden Inn - that made me appreciate the Overland Park H.G.I. even more.
With Cindy and I off to Hawaii recently, I had been really trying to garner as many Hilton Honors points as possible when I was on the road. 95% of my stays last year and early this year were in Hilton properties. I'm also a Marriott Rewards member, but I don't get points toward stays with Marriott - I get their points applied to my airline points. That's another reason why Cindy and I were able to fly for free, round-trip to Hawaii, as well. Earlier this year, I got a communication from Marriott saying that they wanted more of my business. (I'm not certain, but I think these hotel rewards factions share information as to who their members are. I've been signed up by Ramada, Holiday Inn, Choice Hotels and a couple others without ever soliciting their memberships, but after I've stayed at a given property.) The letter said that if I stayed at 10 nights at Marriott properties by March 31, I would maintain Gold Level status - something that Marriott Rewards members attain after, I believe, 30 stays in a year. I thought, "OK, I can stay in 10 Marriott properties by March 31, even if we go to Hawaii for nearly two weeks."
The first Marriott property I booked into to start my trek to 10 nights was the Courtyard Inn in Overland Park. Although I'd never stayed there before, I was very familiar with the Courtyard Inn as I could see it just across the parking lot from my north side room windows when I'd stay at the Hilton Garden Inn in Overland Park. As is usually the case at the end of a day when I'm on the road, I have a number of e-mails to return, orders to check on and other things that I have to do with the use of my computer. Having a high-speed connection is critical for me as I can hook up directly to our computers to our main office outside of Montreal and get real time information on invoices, inventory and projected dates when product will show up at our warehouse. This particular day, I had an abnormal amount of work to be done on the computer before I could go out and enjoy some barbecue that evening.
I got into my room at the Courtyard and fired up my computer. I found a wireless signal from Ibahn, the company that provides Internet service for Marriott properties. Except I couldn't get on to the network. After about five futile attempts, I realized that I was probably too far away from the wireless network transmitter and called the front desk to see if I could get another room, lower and more close to the center of the hotel.
When I explained my plight to the lady at the front desk, she said, "Oh, well, we don't have wireless Internet service in our rooms. We do have wireless service in the lobby area. You have to use the cable that is provided in the room to receive your Internet access."
A cable? Seriously? Hooking your computer up to an Ethernet cable for high speed Internet is so... so... so, 1990's!!! Quite honestly, I can't tell you the last time I had to hook up my computer to a cable to gain Internet access.
An Ethernet cable was on the desk, hooked up to an input on the wall. I plugged it into my computer and waited for the connection to start. And I waited. And I waited. And I waited. My computer never did see an Internet connection with the Ethernet cable.
Well, I'm not going to get into the sordid details of what transpired over the next 90 minutes, but after two calls to Ibahn Support, changing settings on my computer, then a change of Ethernet cables and enough teeth gnashing to grind my molars down to stubs, I finally gave up. It was ninety excruciating minutes of my life that I'll never get back again. I was getting hungry and tired when I called the front desk and I said, "Look, Internet access is important to me and if I can't get it here, I've got to go somewhere else."
She front desk agent, who was as pleasant as pleasant could be during all of this ordeal, said, "I'm sorry we couldn't accommodate you, sir. Let me call the Sheraton (across the street, next to the Overland Park Convention Center) to see what they have for rooms."
I said, "I'd prefer the Hilton next door, if you could."
She called me back in about three minutes and said, "The Hilton next door has rooms, sir. They can accommodate you and they do have wireless Internet." Well, that I knew as I'd stayed there many times before.
I dropped off my keys and apologized to the lady at the front desk for her troubles, but she still stayed very pleasant with me. Hey, it didn't work out for this particular guest. No use being mean spirited about anything. I drove over to the Hilton - a distance of about 200 feet - and went to check in.
Normally, I don't like to spend more than $129 a night for a room when I'm on the road. Sometimes the Hilton Garden Inn either hits or exceeds that level. But it is one of the better Hilton properties that I stay in, so I usually fudge a bit on my self-imposed rule when it comes to the Hilton Garden Inn in Overland Park. When I went to check in, the guy at the front desk was someone I wasn't familiar with. In the past, I've dealt with a very likable, but smart-assed lady agent who would always flip me good-natured shit when I would arrive. "Oh, you're back AGAIN? Don't you ever stay home?"
At other times, I had a guy who recognized me from my Iowa Hawkeye sticker that I have on the side of my suitcase (all the better to be able to see it quickly on baggage carousels at airports) and he would always ask me about Iowa sports. He was from Kansas City, but he was a huge Iowa fan. At least, that's what he always said. He may have been doing that to make me feel more welcome, but he did have a pretty good grasp of what was going on with the Iowa Football team during our conversations.
The "new" guy at the desk didn't recognize me as a return guest and he asked if I'd stayed there before. "Oh, God, many times," I replied.
He said, "Oh, great! Then welcome back!" He asked me what my rate was over at the Courtyard and I told him that I couldn't remember. He said, "Well, I can get you into a room for $129 tonight."
I said that was fair enough and asked if I could get a room on the first floor. He said that was no problem. I gave him my Hilton Diamond level number - a nine-digit number that I have burned into my memory. He looked up my account and said, "Oh, OK. Yep, there you are!" For my long-time commitment to Hilton properties, the guy gave me a room upgrade to a junior suite on the first floor.
(I usually get rooms on the first floor, mainly so I can get easy in and out access to my car when I'm there. I've been told that most seasoned hotel guests will want to stay on the top floor of a property - you don't have the chance that some heavy-footed oaf will be stomping around in the room above you. I learned years and years ago to get a room on the first floor. It just saves time when you come and go. The only time I'll ask for a high floor is when I'm at a hotel that has more than three floors. I like to get up and look out around the neighborhood. Or when I'm at the Hilton Garden Inn in downtown Chicago, like the recent time I was on the 23rd floor - the top floor - looking out over downtown Chicago, high enough to not hear the street traffic below.)
Everything about the Hilton Garden Inn in Overland Park feels like home to me. They always give me a couple bottles of complementary water, at night they have fresh baked cookies, and I get a complementary breakfast with omelets made to order to get my day started. That, right there, is worth $10 to $12 bucks before a tip to the wait staff. Even though it's a free breakfast and I usually carry my own plate to the table after I get the omelet, I always tip the wait staff at a Hilton Garden Inn a couple three bucks for just being around and asking if I need anything.
If Hilton properties are my first choice of places to stay at while I'm on the road, Hilton Garden Inns are the first choice of Hilton properties for me. The one in Overland Park is clean, modern, has a great staff, is easy in-and-out from College Blvd. And, as I said, it's close to many great restaurants and shopping in the Overland Park area. It's a little bit of a haul to the attractions around K.C. such as Worlds of Fun, the Truman Sports Complex, Downtown Kansas City and The Plaza, but I think I'd rather stay at the Hilton Garden Inn in Overland Park and make the drive to those places. This recent adventure with the Courtyard next door confirmed my belief that the Hilton Garden Inn in Overland Park is my home-away-from-home when I'm in Kansas City.
And, oh, by the way - I guess I lost my Gold status with Marriott as I didn't stay in even one Marriott property up to March 31. Oh well. I'm going to work on getting more points with Hilton properties for another trip at some point in a year or two where we can stay at a Hilton property in some exotic location for free for a week.