Washington DC February 2020

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For Marshall’s birthday we took a short trip to Washington, DC in February 2020. We decided to go the weekend of Thursday, Feb. 20 to Sunday, Feb. 23. Since Marshall is a teacher we tend to take two or three night weekend trips outside of the summer months. It is difficult for him to get several consecutive days off during the school year so this works best. In order to maximize our time we usually leave late in the evening after Marshall has worked so that we have a full day the next day at our destination. We started making plans and accommodations about a month prior. In this post I will detail our flight/airport experience, briefly talk about the hotel (there will be a separate post), sightseeing, food and our expenses and savings.

Departure Airport/Flight Experience:

Since Charlotte, NC is our home airport we almost always fly with American Airlines with no problems. However, this trip presented some bumps in the road to start with. I booked through the American Airlines website on Jan. 14. Our outbound flight was from Greenville/Spartanburg (GSP) departing at 8:28pm to Washington, DC Dulles (IAD) arriving at 11:58pm, with a one hour layover in Charlotte (CLT). We usually take direct flights, so I do not know why I tried to do something different this time. Both Greenville/Spartanburg, SC and Charlotte, NC are about an hour and a half from where we live. I chose those flights because it was a little bit cheaper to leave from GSP. It helped realizing there was a Priority Pass (PP) restaurant where we could use our CSR PP credit. Also GSP has an Escape Lounge that we could access using our American Express Platinum card. 

Just when I thought that I had everything planned out perfectly to include where we would get dinner and pre-flight drinks, I woke up on Thursday morning to a text from American Airlines. The notification stated our flight from GSP was canceled and another one said that we were rebooked for Friday morning. I called American Airlines customer service and got a female representative. She informed me that there were no flights late enough out of GSP for us to get there on time. I requested that she please check other airports in our area, also telling her that we could just keep the CLT to IAD portion, if our return flight could stop in CLT instead of GSP. She stated that nothing was available, and I asked what airports she searched and she said GSP. After going around with her a couple times I asked for a supervisor. 

Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC February 2020.
Lincoln Memorial

The supervisor was patient and apologetic, he also understood what I was requesting. In fact he suggested we keep the CLT to IAD and just change our return destination to CLT. He quickly made the changes and with no adjustment to the price. The AA mobile app quickly updated the itinerary and I checked in to get our mobile boarding passes. Although the change did disrupt my plans for dinner and drinks, it did mean that our flight from CLT was scheduled for 10:40pm so we had time to make other arrangements. I never got an explanation as to why our original flight from GSP got canceled, whether due to low demand or weather, as it did snow for most of the drive to Charlotte that night. Of course we knew that due to the snow, more delays and potential problems awaited us at the airport. 

We arrived at CLT airport about two hours prior to scheduled departure. Unlike most people we enjoy the airport experience so we did not mind the wait. We got our Starbucks coffee and settled in at gate B6. It was not long before another AA notification that we were changed to gate B3 and another weather related delay. We had good spirits about the wait but it would have been better with lounge access. Of course our luck would have it that The American Express Centurion Lounge would not open at CLT until the Monday after we returned from DC. We do not have Admiral’s Club access although we could have purchased it with our American Express airline credit. After boarding at 11:10pm, we left the gate at 11:30pm, took off from CLT at 11:45pm and finally arrived at IAD at 12:40am.

After arriving at IAD and gathering our luggage we requested a Lyft. We have recently switched to using Lyft when traveling since the CSR added Lyft Pink as a benefit. It gives 3 Hilton points per dollar, it also gives 1 Delta Skymile per dollar when used on airport transports. The ride went well, it took about 30-40 minutes to get to The Madison Washington DC, a Hilton hotel. 

Experience at The Madison Washington DC, a Hilton Hotel:

I plan to briefly talk about our stay at The Madison Washington DC in this post and do more in depth review in a separate post. We booked our stay for The Madison Washington DC on Jan, 12 for just a regular King bed room via the Hilton Honors website. I always book direct when it comes to hotel stays because if not the hotel may not recognize your status through third party bookings. I also usually choose the Honors Sem-Flexible rate because it allows for changes up to five days prior to check-in. With our professions in healthcare and education, our schedules can change quickly and unexpectedly so that rate gives some peace of mind even if it is slightly more expensive. 

We arrived to the hotel at about 1:30am, a very nice representative at the desk (who was in training) welcomed us and started the check in process. I try not to check in via the Hilton app unless they have already given us a Diamond upgrade, which they had not. After a little bit of polite negotiations with the manager and a second trip to the check-in desk we received our Junior Suite upgrade (details in another post). 

Washington Monument

We were able to meet another friend for drinks in the bar/lobby of The Madison Washington DC. I will include our experience of this encounter in the review post. Here I want to talk about a mistake that I made while paying for our drinks. When paying for the tab, I used my Hilton Aspire Card, which earns 14x points at Hilton. The better option would have been to charge it to our room, that way I would have also gotten the Diamond bonus of an additional 20x points. Although seemingly small, I was utterly devastated that I had made such a mistake, all the while Marshall continued to meander through life as if nothing had happened.

Overall, our time at The Madison Washington DC was very enjoyable, we would stay there again and recommend it to others. We chose The Madison Washington DC based on price, proximity to everything, room options and that it had an executive lounge.It was a fairly easy walk to the White House, the National Mall and Dupont Circle. Although we did not take the Metro on this trip, there are two or three stations within walking distance. I detail our stay at The Madison Washington DC in a separate post to include: our room, the executive lounge, breakfast and staff interactions. 

If you are looking to apply for the American Express Hilton Aspire card. I would greatly appreciate if you would contact me so that I can send a referral link to you. I may get compensation for your use of this referral link. 

Sightseeing/Entertainment:

This was actually our second trip to Washington, DC, but it was the first in which we got to do/see what we wanted. Our previous trip was in June 2017 for the Pride Festival. We have a few friends that live in DC, one was able to accompany us on some of our sightseeing. Our first stop was the National Archives which is where our country’s founding documents are: The Declaration of Independence, The Constitution and The Bill of Rights. Unfortunately, pictures cannot be taken due to the preservation process and the delicate environment in which they are kept. It was an eye-opening experience to see what our founding fathers had to go through to allow us to have the liberties that we have today and sometimes take for granted.

Hope Diamond
Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

We spent some time walking to Dupont Circle and before we realized it we were halfway to Georgetown. We enjoy just walking around big cities because it is something that we rarely get to do being from SC. If left to my own devices I would not just walk around aimlessly. However, Marshall may be right here in that when we have time to just walk and explore, we tend to find things/places that we may not have otherwise. We both like history and culture so walking down Embassy Row (unofficial name), part of Massachusetts Avenue was enjoyable. We also happened upon the National Geographic Museum/Store, while we did not do the museum exhibit we did go into the store and purchased a few things. 

The place that Marshall wanted to go was the National Holocaust Museum. It is located right off of the National Mall, in close proximity to the Washington Monument. When you enter the museum, you get a card of an actual individual that was apart of the event. It gives details of their profession, where they were from and whether they survived the Holocaust. To start, an elevator takes you to the fourth floor where it starts with the end of World War I and the rise of Adolf Hitler. As you descend it shows the progression of the rise of Germany and concentration camps through World War II to the ultimate defeat of Germany and freeing the camps. It was a very sobering feeling being there and seeing pictures and videos of how one person could treat other human beings. There are no words to fully describe the emotions invoked.

“Work Sets You Free”
Replica of the sign that hung over the Auschwitz’s (and others’) Entrance
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

After spending about three hours in the Holocaust museum we walked around the National Mall, before going to the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. Me being the science person, this was obviously my choice. There are exhibits for fossils, gems, information on pandemics, sea life, animal life and dinosaurs. One of main reasons that I wanted to go was to see the Hope Diamond. That was the most intriguing to me because I have always had an affinity for rocks and gems since I was a child. I was always collecting some sort of rock. I was not expecting the pandemic section to be there but since I am in healthcare I found it interesting especially given the current climate that we find ourselves. They also showed the history of HIV/AIDS, Ebola and Zika Virus. 

Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

Lastly, the thing our friend loves to show us above all else is what she calls “Midnight Monuments.” As it sounds this is visiting the monuments at night when they are lit up. On this trip we were able to visit the Jefferson Monument (unfortunately it was under construction), the Roosevelt Monument, MLK Jr. Monument and the Lincoln Memorial. Due to some health issues that our friend is fighting through, this is our time during each trip to just be carefree and allow her to show us her favorite parts of Washington DC. In addition to their beauty at night, the monuments are far less crowded at night than during the day. 

Martin Luther King, Jr. Monument

Restaurants/Food:

The first full day we had lunch with one of our friends and we ate at a restaurant called Carmine’s. Marshall and I had seen this restaurant on a recent trip to New York, unable to try it on that trip, DC was our chance. This restaurant serves family style plates, so each one is big enough for two people. I ordered the shrimp Ceasar salad, it was well dressed but the grilled shrimp were overcooked. Marshall ordered the veal parmigiana and he loved it, which says a lot because he is typically quite picky with food. The service from the staff was great, food arrived in a timely manner and at an appropriate temperature. It had a great environment (not very busy for a Friday lunch) and very clean. 

For dinner, we walked 5-10 minute to a restaurant named Commissary. We made an OpenTable reservation and were promptly seated upon arriving. However, we waited for 15-20 mins for our server to finish up a big party before coming to introduce herself. The environment was not enjoyable for us, it was loud and crowded. We had the Ginger Chili Tempura Shrimp appetizer which left a good impression so we were anticipating our entrees. I ordered Lemon and Herb Roasted Half Chicken with root vegetables. Nothing was wrong with my meal, but not memorable either. Marshall ordered carbonara (typically his favorite dish) which was inedible due to overcooked pasta and shrimp and limp pancetta. Although, the poached egg atop was properly done. The service was good and we did not have to pay for the carbonara. We returned to the hotel where Marshall ordered a cheeseburger and fries via room service.

Thomas Jefferson Memorial

On a friend’s recommendation we had brunch the next day at a restaurant named Irongate near Dupont Circle. We also made a reservation via OpenTable and were promptly seated upon arrival. The dining room was small, a narrow staircase led upstairs to the bathroom. Service was great, and the restaurant was very clean. We started with the crispy yeast doughnuts with orange blossom syrup, which were very good. Marshall really enjoyed the freshly squeezed grapefruit juice, which he had with his ricotta pancakes. I thought that the pancakes were good but Marshall found them just ok because of the texture of the apples cooked into them. I had the fried eggs with potatoes and salsa verde, it was really good but I wish I had been more adventurous with my selection. Overall I would definitely recommend this as an option and we will probably return on our next trip.

Our last night in DC we made another reservation via OpenTable to a restaurant called Grillfish near Dupont Circle. We were promptly seated upon arrival at a table for two near the kitchen. The temperature in the restaurant was hot, and the tables were close together. We started with the crab cake with lime cilantro tartar sauce, and it was delicious. This dish made Marshall realize that he does like cilantro and tartar sauce. We ordered a bottle of white wine to go with our seared scallops entrees. Neither of us wanted the spinach that comes with this dish so I requested broccolini and Marshall subbed mashed potatoes and asked for garlic to be added. Both requests were accepted without question. For dessert I got the apple crisp and Marshall got the caramel cheesecake brûlée. Our meal and service were outstanding, and I would definitely recommend this restaurant. 

Return Flight:

Our return flight was on American Airlines from Ronald Reagan Airport (DCA) back to Charlotte (CLT). Our flight was scheduled to depart DCA at 1:42pm and land at CLT at 3:20pm. We arrived to DCA early enough to go to the American Tap Room which is a restaurant that participates in Priority Pass. With the CSR we each have a $28 credit not including tip. We have eaten at this restaurant a couple times before and its adequate food, however nothing to write home about. But, hey, it’s an airport.

Washington Monument
Taken from the Thomas Jefferson Memorial

The experience with the return flight was much better than with the previous. There was no delay this time, we did have to wait at the gate for a while but as I said before we do not mind. As always we did get to board the plane in Group 5 which is preferred boarding. This is a perk of the Barclay’s Aviator Red card and I really like this perk because we have a little bit earlier access to overhead bin space. 

Expenses and Savings:

In this section I want to talk about our expenses incurred for the trip and how we used credit card perks and how we accrued points. 

These were our expenses for the trip:

Flights- $379.20

Hotel Room- $450.11 (including room service)

Restaurants- $446.12

Hotel bar drinks- $68.00

Lyft/Uber– $42.45

Airport Parking- $21.00

Total Expenses: $1406.88

Savings and Perks value:

Airplane Wine and Snacks- $36.00

Baggage Fees- $120.00

American Express Uber Credit- $15.00

Lyft Pink- $6.17

Lunch at American Tap Room- $50.00

Hilton Diamond Perks:

  • Room Upgrade- $325.00
  • Breakfast- $120.00

Executive Lounge Items:

  • Bottled Water- $15.00
  • Coffee, Cappuccino, Lattes- $10.00
  • Sodas- $10.00
  • Hors d’oeuvres- $20.00

Points Earned:

  • Hilton Credit Card Points- 10,302
  • Chase Sapphire Reserve Points- 269

Total Value of Points and Perks: $881.83

Conclusion of our Trip to Washington DC February 2020:

Overall this was a really great weekend trip. We really enjoyed our time spent with friends that we had not seen in a while. We already have a list of things that we want to do the next time in Washington, DC- just like every city we see.

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