What I Thought Of… THE UPGRADE by Paul Carr

Ever since September 5th, 2006, I’ve unashamedly been a fan of luxury hotels.

I know the exact date because it’s the day I arrived in Orlando, Florida, to start working for one of the largest hotel chains in the world. That night was also the first one I spent in such a hotel, the same one I was about to start working in as a front desk agent. Before my visa expired eighteen months later, me and my employee discount had stayed in four and five-star hotels in Washington D.C., Miami, New Orleans and – my favorite – Times Square in New York City. Thanks to the fact that two of my Orlando besties continued to work for the company, I’ve since added more New York, San Francisco, Madrid, Valencia and elsewhere in Orlando to my Frighteningly Cheap Stays in Luxury Hotels list.

(Yes, I am quite pleased with myself about it, thanks for asking.)

Ah, (the terrace of our hotel in) Valencia. I still miss you. 

Not only do I, as part of an employee’s party, still get a great rate, but as we’re all former front desk agents, we know how to stay in luxury hotels. We know what to ask for, what not to ask for and who to do the asking of.

Case in point: during my Just Arrived stay in the, ahem, “Duck and Tuna” back in September 2006 (as chronicled in Mousetrapped), I ended up with a bill for $300 for international calls I stupidly made from my room. Even more stupidly I paid for them, not knowing that all the agents were empowered to “spend” a couple hundred dollars per guest per day resolving problems – or, groan, “opportunities” – and that over the next year, I’d casually swipe thousands of dollars worth of phone charges off my guests’ bills. All they had to do was complain to me about how the telephone rate card wasn’t very clear and I’d take care of it, no questions asked.

So I was intrigued when a couple of weeks back during my weekly search for the “3” in a Waterstone’s 3 for 2, I happened upon The Upgrade: A Cautionary Tale of Life With No Reservations by Paul Carr. Carr had traded in a fixed abode for a life spent living in luxury hotels, making the most of last minute deals, seasonal rate fluctuations and free upgrades, tricks he’d learned – in part – while growing up with hotelier parents. I thought it might be a kind of Hotel Babylon as told from a guest’s point of view and I smelled a potentially outrageously suitable Christmas present for my hospitality friends. But even though it had a whole paragraph about RevPAR, The Upgrade turned out to be something else entirely…

“Bored, broke and struggling to survive in one of the most expensive cities on earth, Paul Carr comes to the surprising realization that it would actually be cheaper to live in a luxury hotel in Manhattan than in his tiny one-bedroom apartment. Inspired by that possibility, he decides to sell most of his possessions, abandon his old life and spend a year living entirely without commitments, as a modern-day nomad. Thanks to Paul’s ability to talk his way into increasingly ridiculous situations, what begins as a one-year experiment soon becomes a permanent lifestyle – a life lived in luxury hotels and mountain-top villas. A life of fast cars, Hollywood actresses and Icelandic rock stars. Of 6,000-mile booty calls, of partying with 800 female hairdressers dressed only in bedsheets, and of nearly dying at the hands of Spanish drug dealers. And, most bizarrely of all, a life that still costs less than his surviving on cold pizza in his old apartment. Yet, as word of Paul’s exploits starts to spread – first online, then through a national newspaper column and eventually a book deal – he finds himself forced constantly to up the stakes in order to keep things interesting. With his behavior spiraling to dangerous – and sometimes criminal – levels, he is forced to ask the question: is there such a thing as too much freedom?”

The book starts off as advertised: Carr figures out that if he sticks to a budget, he can live in luxury hotels for less than he currently does in a one bed apartment in London. But only a few pages in he figures out that he doesn’t need a budget – outside of his room rates, anyway – if all his food and drink is free and served at parties he’s wormed his way into. This Plan B for Booze also takes care of his social life and his job, as he’s wrangled a gig writing columns about the tech industry that apparently only requires his presence at tech industry parties. But as Carr’s nights become increasingly alcohol-soaked, the subsequent hangovers are lasting longer and longer and soon he finds that more than his liver is at stake.

The Upgrade isn’t for the fainthearted, the easily offended or teetotalers. Girls, we also have to push through the beginning where we exist only as sexual objects who talk about hair care products and “like cushions.” But it’s worth it. There were enough check-in tales to satisfy the former front desk agent in me, I laughed out loud on plenty of occasions and I really like Carr’s writing style. Also by the end of it I quite liked him, which was a surprise considering that at the beginning of the book I was doing a lot of eye-rolling.

I can’t forgive him though for one check-in tale he told where he asked to see the rooms first, which is one of the most annoying things you can do to a front desk agent. It’s up there with talking on your phone while you check in, stepping up to the desk with a blank look on your face (tip: lots of things happen at the front desk – you have tell me what you’re there for, e.g. “I’d like to check in”) and acting like being two doors away from the rest of your party instead of just one is not only going to ruin your holiday but your entire life from here on out. And what’s the number rule for getting free stuff? Don’t piss off the front desk agents.

Carr himself points out the greatest draw of this book: you mightn’t be able to drop everything to go live permanently in hotels around the world, but you can take something from his misadventures. It might be a check-in tip, a bit of perspective or even the motivation to set off on your own hospitality-related adventure, but it will be something.

Something and a really good read. Recommended.

Click here to purchase The Upgrade from The Book Depository.

Click here to read all my book reviews.

3 thoughts on “What I Thought Of… THE UPGRADE by Paul Carr

  1. Andrea "The American Roommate" says:

    Sounds very interesting…I might need to add that to my list.

    In other news, your photo of the terrace has really thrown me for a loop this Monday morning. I’m not sure if I’m depressed that I’m not there, or happy to see such a beautiful image that brings back good memories. Maybe both? 🙂

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