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AN L.A. STORY: TAKE THE MONEY AND RUN
By Michael Matthews
March 13, 2008 -- The Century Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles has been hosting the American Lodging Investment Summit (ALIS) for the past 20 years. This year, about 3,000 delegates jammed the corridors to mull the fate of the industry. I was one of the delegates, but, thankfully, staying elsewhere.

The Century Plaza is now a Hyatt Regency hotel and Hyatt management must have thought they were clever when they were merely being bandits. Hyatt's greed and avarice as hotel operators during ALIS has seen no equal, at least not in my almost 50 years in the hotel business.

First, and perhaps Hyatt's least sin, was the increase in rates after the conference's room allocation had been filled. Hyatt nearly doubled the nightly rate. Fortunately, I was staying at the wonderful Peninsula Beverly Hills and paying a handsome $450 a night. For Hyatt to suggest that I should pay the same rate at the Century Plaza was simply arrogant. By any measure, the two hotels cannot be compared, and the Hyatt should not have had the audacity to charge the same rates, even if the Century Plaza was the headquarters of the conference.

Next, a bar off the lobby, formerly the location of the front desk, had the audacity to charge $100 an hour for a table if you wanted to sit. That's right, $100 an hour to sit. Two in the afternoon. Eight in the evening. Didn't matter. If you sat, you paid $100 an hour--and that didn't even include a drink.

As if that wasn't enough--and, remember, there were 3,000 attendees milling about at any given time--Hyatt announced that it would serve a special buffet luncheon during the course of the affair. The price: $48 per person plus tax. That's right, $48 a head for a miserable, serve-yourself offering of lettuce and unrecognizable cold cuts.

Do the math: A buffet lunch for two persons: $96. Eat it over the course of an hour: $100 for the table. That's an astounding $196 before beverages (none were included in the $48 fee), applicable taxes or the suggested 20 percent tip!

But wait, there's more. During the course of the conference one could valet park one's rental car at the Century Plaza. But experience has shown me that, with possibly 1,000-plus people all wanting their cars at the same time, valet parking is not the way to go. So I self-parked in the Hyatt garage. For the duration of the "special event," it was a mere $2.75--for every 15 minutes! Or a flat $20 between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

Hyatt only got my parking business during the ALIS summit. But I must report that there were a lot of Wall Street banker types shelling out the hundred bucks for a table, nibbling the $48-a-head lettuce and valet parking their cars. I guess there really is a sucker checking in every minute…

On the other hand, at The Peninsula, they do things right. There is a wonderful and welcoming check in with no fiddling with the computer and no plastic masquerading as a room key. In the morning, you have a choice of every newspaper under the sun. There's immediate, free suit-pressing, too. And the room is yours for 24 hours from the moment you check-in. In my case, from 7 p.m. until I left the next evening at 6:30 p.m. to catch a 9 p.m. flight.

The guestrooms, though not large, are beautifully appointed. They have a sensible alarm clock and a control panel for the "do not disturb" sign, the lighting, the television and other electronic controls. The beds are covered in Frette linens. There are massive pillows, too, one of which will have your initials embroidered on it. The room features two sprays of honest-to-goodness orchids. (On my visit, one of the sprays had 12 flowers in full bloom.) There is a well-lit desk with ample stationery, but a cheap plastic pen rather spoils the leather directory and pad. The bathroom features huge, fluffy towels and a separate bathtub and shower, the latter with a hand nozzle and pulsating showerhead.

There was also a sensible room-service menu. I ordered a Cobb Salad, which was wonderful and came with fresh bread and a decadent, complimentary chocolate biscuit with dipping sauce. The nicest touch of all: When a room-service meal at the Peninsula is delivered, the waiter neither asks you to sign a bill nor accepts a tip.

The Peninsula's bar has reasonable prices with free nibbles of giant olives and nuts and a harassed, but smiling and friendly, barman.

At breakfast the next morning, the waiter continually filled my glass with fresh orange juice and then refreshed my coffee. I had to beg him to stop, while pretending not to stare at Kevin Bacon, Bill Geist and Julie Christie, who were all dining around us. Frankly, there was nothing I could fault.

I almost put the Peninsula alongside my friends at the Beverly Hills Hotel for the very best stay in Los Angeles. And I would have--if it wasn't for that cheap plastic pen and if I hadn't been charged $34 for overnight parking.

The Hyatt Regency Century Plaza, though, will certainly not be on my list.
ABOUT MICHAEL MATTHEWS Michael Matthews has managed and marketed fine hotels around the world for more than 45 years. He spent 14 years in Hong Kong building the legendary Regent International group. He has also worked with St. Regis, Ritz-Carlton and Rosewood hotels. Matthews is currently based in Arizona. He began writing Do Not Disturb in early 2004.

THE FINE PRINT Joe Brancatelli makes this space available to Michael Matthews in the spirit of free speech and to encourage editorial diversity and the wider discussion of important travel issues. All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property of Matthews. This column may not be reproduced in any form without the express permission of Michael Matthews.

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