Destination of the Week: Montreal

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Montreal's historic Town Hall. Photo by dicktay2000.

With gorgeous weather, and record high temperatures being set throughout North America, who needs to spend spring break in Mexico or the Caribbean? Instead, consider a pseudo-Euro jaunt to Canada’s capital of Quebecois culture, Montreal.

LA VILLE
With the second-most French speakers of any city in the world, Canada’s second-largest city is often called the Paris of North America and touted as a European destination you can get to without having to hop the pond.

Thanks to its vibrant hipster culture, adventurous young chefs, a thriving arts scene, and a packed festival calendar, as well as a charming historic center, Montreal is one of North America’s most exciting destinations, and one TPG spent a lot of time in as a road warrior during his previous incarnation in corporate America, so it holds a special place in his heart.

A view of the Montreal skyline from Mount Royal. Photo by maha-online.

Montreal is actually on an island—one of over 320 in an archipelago in the confluence of the Ottawa and St. Lawrence rivers. It officially sprawls over 68 square miles, however, the center is quite compact and nearly walkable. Well, at least when temperatures are pleasant and balmy. When it’s cold and dark outside, citizens take to the bright, meandering underground malls and passages to pass their time.

Tourism Montreal is a great resource for planning your trip, finding out more about the city, and learning what’s on while you’ll be there. Other than that, be sure to try the city’s specialties of smoked meat at Schwartz’s Deli, and some poutine. If you only have time for one nice meal, try to get a reservation at one of the city’s best known restaurants, and a foodie magnet, Au Pied de Cochon, where Chef Martin Picard is turning Canadian cuisine on its head.

The Oratoire St. Joseph on Mount Royal is one of Montreal's most distinctive landmarks. Photo by amesis.

YOUR EXPERIENCES
Destination of the Week pieces are not meant to be comprehensive guides to destinations since we don’t have the time or funds to visit all these places in person and report back to you. Nor are they endorsements of all the hotels we mention. They are simply roundups of top destinations that we have specifically pinpointed for the opportunity they present to use your miles and points to get to and stay there. As always, we welcome your comments to help enrich the content here, provide opinions and first-hand experiences of these destinations.

GETTING THERE
Montreal Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport (YUL), formerly known as Dorval, is the city’s main airport.  Forty airlines transport over 13 million passengers through here each year on flights to around 130 different destinations.

Montreal Trudeau Airport (YUL).

Buying Canadian flights can get pricy because there are huge taxes levied by the Canadian government. Many savvy travelers instead opt to fly into nearby Burlington, Vermont which is serviced by JetBlue, US Airways and Delta (among others).

Montreal is Air Canada’s headquarters and they are the major carrier here and they often run sales and discount short haul awards to only 15,000 miles- and they are also an instant 1:1 transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards. However, the best frequent flyer program for short haul awards is British Airways, who prices flights under 600 miles at a mere 4,500 points one-way! They are currently running a 50% transfer bonus with Membership Rewards until May 31, 2012, so a flight like JFK- Montreal on American Airlines would only cost 3,000 Amex points and some modest taxes/fees!

The airport is located about 13 miles from downtown Montreal, and is easily accessed by highway if you rent a car or take a taxi to town for around $40 USD. Travelers can also take the 747 Express Bus for $8 each way payable only in cash coins (no bills, no credit cards) from the airport with stops through the city center to the Berri-Uqam bus terminal.

HOTELS
As a major North American city, Montreal has a plethora of properties for visitors to earn and burn their points. Just as a note, the Canadian and US dollars are at near parity, so prices quoted are in both currencies.

The year-round rooftop heated pool at the Hilton.

Hilton
Hilton Montreal Bonaventure: Popular with business travelers thanks to its location in the central downtown area of the city, the 395-room Hilton Montreal Bonaventure is a good fit for leisure travelers as well since it’s near the main shopping areas of the city, and has easy access to several metro stops to take you to other areas of town. Rooms come with Hilton Serenity beds and Serta Suite Dreams bedding, 32-inch LCD HD TV’s, small work desks equipped with high-speed internet access and ergonomic chairs. The hotel has a bar-bistro called Le Belvedere in the lobby that’s open for lunch and dinner, the rooftop Bar Soleil for drinks that’s open when the weather permits, and a fine-dining restaurant called Le Castillon that serves breakfast and lunch. The hotel also has a business center, fitness room, and an outdoor rooftop pool that’s heated year round. Rates this month start at $161. This is a Hilton HHonors Category 6 property requiring 40,000 points for a free night redemption.

SIX Resto Lounge at the Hyatt Regency.

Hyatt
Hyatt Regency Montreal: The public areas of this central hotel have undergone a recent redesign, so the lobbies (yes, there are 2) are looking refreshed and colorful these days. This hotel is also quite central, and has underground access to the Convention Centre, and is near Chinatown, Vieux Montreal, the Performing Arts Centre and several metro stations. The new SIX Resto Lounge serves a selection of creative cocktails and nouvelle continental cuisine, while Saveur has breakfast and lunch buffets. There’s a small 24/7 StayFit fitness facility and a day spa on property as well. The 605 guest rooms include 22 junior suites, 9 executive suites and 3 presidential suites all equipped with Grand Beds, iHome stereos, work desks, multi-line phones, and Web TV on the 37-inch flatscreens, high-speed WiFi and granite bathrooms with Portico products.
Free nights start at 12,000 Hyatt Gold Passport points a night.

A double room at the Marriott Chateau Champlain.

Marriott
There are nine Marriott properties in the city and near the airport for Marriott Rewards members. You can find the full list here, though we’ll just cover a few below.

Montreal Marriott Chateau Champlain: Located right in the middle between Vieux Montreal and the Bell Centre (where the Canadiens hockey team plays), the Montreal Marriott Chateau Champlain is pretty much ideally located for a quick visit to the city. The mostly taupe rooms come equipped with free high-speed internet access, Marriott Revive Beds and oversize work desks for business travelers. Ask for a room on a high floor for great views. The hotel has a Starbuck’s for convenience, though meals are served all day in the Restaurant Samuel de Champlain, and there are small bites and cocktails in Bar Le Senateur during lunch and dinner. There is a small fitness center and L’Ultime Spa on property as well. Rates start at $143 this month, or 25,000 points (20,000 PointSavers) because this is a Category 5 property.

Residence Inn Montreal Downtown: This is really more of a business-traveler hotel since it’s in the heart of the city’s business district with an office center and laundry facilities while the studios here have kitchenettes (with ovens and stovetops included) for their extended-stay guests, but why turn down the extra room? The hotel is at the base of Mount-Royal, and near the main thoroughfares of St. Catherine and Peel Streets, the city’s huge underground shopping area, and quite close to the metro. The rates here also include complimentary breakfast and high-speed internet access. Rates start at $149 this month, or 25,000 points (20,000 PointSavers) because this is a Category 5 property.

The Residence Inn by Marriott.

Ritz-Carlton Montreal: This luxury property was the original Ritz-Carlton when it opened 100 years ago. It has been closed for extensive renovations for a few years now, but is slated to reopen in May with 130 rooms and suites and 50 ownership apartments. The hotel also expects to open a restaurant with internationally renowned chef Daniel Boulud at the helm, called Maison Boulud. Rates in May will start at $425, no word on the Rewards category yet.

There is also a Residence Inn in the leafy, upscale Westmount district where rates start at $164 this month, or 15,000 points (10,000 PointSavers) for free nights since it’s a Category 3 hotel.

The Springhill Suites is in Montreal's Old Town.

Springhill Suites Vieux Montreal: Those who want to be based in the quaint historic district of Vieux Montreal (which is also quite central to everything) can opt for a stay at the Springhill Suites. The hotel is near the city’s scenic waterfront, and close to several museums, Notre Dame Basilica and fantastic dining options. Including one of the city’s oldest restaurants,  Auberge Le Saint Gabriel, which was opened originally in 1754. The hotel has 124 studio suites with 32-inch LCD flatscreens, mini kitchens with microwaves, refrigerators and coffee makers, and some have balconies. There is also an Avie Spa on property. Rates this month start at $145 and include complimentary buffet breakfast and free internet access. This is a Marriott Category 6 hotel, requiring 30,000 points or 25,000 PointSavers for a free night.

Near the Pierre Trudeau International Airport (YUL), there are also several Marriott properties including the Montreal Airport Marriott Hotel, the Fairfield Inn & Suites Montreal Airport, the Courtyard Montreal Airport, and the Residence Inn Montreal Airport.

A Deluxe Room at the Intercontinental.

Priority Club
Intercontinental Montreal: This high-end property is in the business district and connected to the Convention Centre, but very near Old Montreal as well and Notre Dame Basilica. Standard rooms start at 360 square feet and have work desks, high-speed internet and WiFi, cable-satellite TV, and all-marble bathrooms. Club rooms come with access to the Club InterContinental Lounge where guests can have complimentary buffet breakfast and drinks. The health center was renovated in 2009 and includes an indoor saltwater lap pool and sauna. The Provencal-inspired Osco! Restaurant is open all day long on the lobby level, and the hotel also has an absinthe bar called Sarah B after the famous actress Sarah Bernhardt. Rates start at $202.50. Priority Club members can use points starting at 30,000 per night.

There are Candlewood Suites (15,000 points) a Holiday Inn ($129 or 10-25,000 points), Holiday Inn Select ($129 or 10-25,000 points), and a Holiday Inn Express ($125 or 10-25,000 points) in the city as well.

There’s also a Crowne Plaza, a Holiday Inn, and a Holiday Inn Express near the airport.

Starwood
There are seven Starwood properties in the Montreal area. You can find them all at this link, but  here are a few right in the city.

An Executive Queen room at Le Meridien Versailles.

Le Meridien Versailles: This hotel is on Sherbrooke Street in a trendy upscale area of the city. The 106 guest rooms are looking a little tired, but comfortable enough. Bathrooms have combined shower-tubs with Cinq Monde spa products. High-speed WiFi costs $17 a day! Rates in April start at $135. This is an SPG Category 3 hotel requiring 7,000 Starpoints for a free night, or 2,800 points + $45 for Cash & Points.

Le Centre Sheraton Montreal: This hotel’s undergone a recent refurbishment of its 825 guest rooms and suites, which now contain oversize work desks, small seating areas, LCD flatscreen TVs, Sheraton Sweet Sleeper Beds, redesigned bathrooms and high-speed WiFi (for almost $15 a day!). There’s also a 37th-floor Club Lounge where club room guests get continental breakfast and afternoon hors d’oeuvres. On the restaurant side, the hotel houses Le Café Bar for coffee and light meals, and Bistro Le Boulevard for more substantial breakfast and lunch options. There’s an indoor pool at the fitness center and a day spa in the hotel as well. Rates start at $143 a night, 12.000-16,000 Starpoints, or 4,800 Starpoints +$90 since this is a Category 5 hotel.

A Wonderful Room at the W Montreal.

W Montreal: The W is in the historic Banque du Canada building o Victoria Square Park near Old Montreal and the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. The hotel has an AWAY Spa, and an upscale restaurant called Otto where Yves Lowe is chef, plus several bar and lounge venues including Wunderbar, W Bartini and Le Plateau Bar. Standard room start at 250 square feet, and standard amenities include 42-inch flatscreens, 35- threadcount sheets, Bliss bath amenities, and high-speed WiFi (for $15 a day), plus nifty blue-lit nightstands and other futuristic design features you’d expect. Rates start at $220 a night, 12.000-16,000 Starpoints, or 4,800 Starpoints +$90 since this is a Category 5 hotel.

Westin Montreal: A bit more staid than the W, the Westin is in a 23-story tower and 3 restored historic buildings between the Old Montreal and business districts of the city. The 454 guest rooms come with Heavenly Beds and Baths, iPod docks and complimentary high-speed WiFi. The hotel has a WestinWORKOUT gym, and a restaurant serving farm-to-table cuisine called GaZette. Rates start at $166, or 10,000 Starpoints, or 4,000 points + $60 for Cash & Points since this is a Category 4 hotel.

Near the airport there’s also an Aloft and a Sheraton. Both are Category 3 properties requiring 7,000 points for a free night redemption, or 2,800 Starpoints and $45.

The Fairmont Queen Elizabeth's facade.

Others
Fairmont Queen Elizabeth: This stately property is one of Fairmont’s flagships, and is located centrally (if somewhat noisily) above the Montreal train station. It has a staggering 1,037 rooms including 100 suites, so there’s always a lot going on here and it definitely has a big hotel feel. To feel a little special, try staying on the Fairmont Gold Floors so you have access to the lounge for complimentary breakfast, cocktails and canapés daily. The hotel also has four bars and restaurants including Montrealais where it serves its famous Afternoon Tea, and the gourmet Beaver Club (let the dirty jokes ensue). Rates here start at $239 in April. Though only Fairmont President’s Club Platinum members qualify for free nights (and only one per 10 paid nights), it’s still a good idea to join the President’s Club, as all members receive complimentary in-room internet, local calls and miles bonuses. You can find out about member benefits and enroll here.

A boho-chic room at the Hotel Chez Swann.

Hotel Chez Swann: For a different perspective on the city, try a stay at the Hotel Chez Swann, an edgy boutique hotel filled with contemporary art installations by local Montreal artists. Room décor is contemporary and hip, but with a 19th-century bordello feel—sharp, stark lines and black furniture, but velvet window seats and voluminous drapes—while some bathrooms feature enormous two-person walk-in showers. It’s in the heart of the main business district of the city near Rue Ste. Catherine and the Peel metro station, so within easy access of all the main sights. Internet and local phone calls are free. Rates in April start at $125 in April.

Sofitel Montreal Golden Mile: Several readers wrote in to share that their favorite hotel in Montreal is the Sofitel, centrally located on Sherbrooke, one of the city’s main streets. In addition to the sumptuous, wood-paneled rooms, high-speed WiFi, great city views and bathrooms stocked with L’Occitaine products, one pointed out that the hotel’s French-inspired restaurant, Renoir, is one of his favorite in the city. Rates here start at $414 in April. With Accor’s A-Club, you earn 1 point per euro spent, so that would mean you’d earn 312 A-Club points. You can convert A-Club points to miles on 19 airline partners. In terms of hotel redemptions, you can convert 2,000 points into a 40-euro or $60 voucher to use on expenses during your stay including non-pre-paid rates—though no change is given, so be sure you get close to your spend threshold!

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