Part of my annual corporate travel schedule is the NRF (National Retail Federation) show in New York City each January.  Coming off the holiday break, this is pretty much my ideal first trip of the year for a few reasons: It’s still decorated for the holidays, it snows, and I feel like my holiday experience is reignited and extended another week.  Now there are naysayers out there who think NYC is too cold in January or don’t like the dirty water from melted snow…  Well, I think it’s incredible! 

Since this is a work trip, I usually fly in the day before business kicks off to get settled and rested, then out the morning after the event.  But this time, I had an itch to stay and play a few extra days in the city that never sleeps. 

The thing is, as many times as I’ve gone to NYC for business, I’ve never gone just as a tourist.  There is so much history and so many cool things to see, especially during the holiday season, so I decided 2017 was my year to go big!  Of course, this meant two trips in one; work and pleasure, which always makes the planning process fun, to say the least.

New York, New York. I want to wake up in a city that doesn’t sleep…

– Frank Sinatra


Logistics and Excursion Planning

To start, when staying a few extra days on a work trip, it is imperative to separate your days accordingly from a reservation and/or expense standpoint. This is usually pretty easy as flights don’t usually vary much, if at all, from a Tuesday to a Thursday.

The hotel is where it can get tricky, especially if you are attempting to use points for your personal days, which I was on this trip. As with all of my stays in NYC, I get as close to the business venue as possible and far enough away from Times Square to avoid the chaos, but an 8-10 block walk if I’m feeling masochistic or planning on seeing a Broadway play. Given the NRF event’s size, hotels are usually even more inflated than usual, so using points versus spending $350 per night is logical.

TB TIP: When selecting a hotel in New York City, try and choose one with an elite member lounge because you get free breakfast, water/soda/juice throughout the day, and happy hour snacks. This will save you at least $30 daily in NYC.

So now the planning process.  While some view this as a daunting task, trust me, it’s fun when you know the ins and outs.  Here’s how I navigate it:

  • Find a Marriott property that suits my desires for this trip (each of these wants must be checked, yes)
    • Midtown, located within walking distance to the venue but still close to Broadway
    • Onsite restaurants
    • Onsite elite member lounge
    • High floor rooms for view and less noise
    • Stay on points is available (it usually is, but once in a great while at specific properties, it’s not)
  • Check American Airlines‘ website for direct flights from LAX to JFK.
    • The planes from LAX to JFK are usually more superior and offer higher classes of service (economy, business, AND first class)
    • Verify that business or first-class upgrades are available for the flight.  Sometimes first and/or business may be fully booked, so checking ahead of time and adjusting your flight time may help secure an upgrade.  AA Flight 21 is usually my go-to.
    • LAX and JFK both have a lovely Admirals Club Lounge (including Flagship First exclusive lounge access), which is vital to my travel experience.
  • Excursions
    • The Empire State Building is within walking distance to the hotel, so a tour of that is happening. I booked and bought tickets online.
    • Several restaurants are also within walking distance that was highly rated on Yelp, plus a few I was dying to try that I had seen in movies, social media, etc.  So, I made reservations ahead of time, which helped me form my overall excursion schedule.  It also gave me many good dining experiences to look forward to.
    • Find local holiday events.
      • Christmas Tree at Rockefeller Center
      • Bryant Park Seasonal markets featuring holiday themes
      • Holiday lights and carriage rides in Central Park

Travel Day

Getting up at 4 am isn’t my favorite thing in the world, let’s be honest here.  But, I’m flying non-stop from LAX to JFK on a big bird with an exit row all to myself, and that makes up for the early rise!  Besides, I can sleep on the plane.  But first, the airport shuffle. 

Up until COVID at least, LAX took about 30 minutes from the time you exited the freeway until you arrived at your terminal.  You never really know how much traffic there will be getting into the airport, but figure 30 minutes to be safe.  With the Uber ride done, time for TSA Precheck at Terminal 4!  It’s an interesting setup at LAX, but you can usually guarantee a quick entry process with TSA Pre. 

LAX has an excellent, newly remodeled Admiral’s Lounge that makes for a relaxing breakfast and coffee/Bailey’s experience.  And now it’s time to FLY!  I didn’t get the first-class upgrade going to NYC, but I did coming home, so I’m pretty excited about that.  Besides, I have an exit row, and on the AA A321, that’s a vast area all to yourself. 

Arriving at JFK is always exciting. The views flying in are good, but more than anything, there’s a level of energy you acquire landing in this city. It’s unlike any other place in the world, and I LOVE IT! My company is gracious enough to have a car service pick me up at the airport to avoid the potentially chaotic experience of getting to Manhattan; this time, it was a beautiful Mercedes SUV.

After a 35-minute drive, I arrived at the Renaissance New York Midtown hotel and headed up to the lobby. This property (keep in mind it’s only a few months old) is AMAZING! It’s modern, unique, clean, and tasteful. The Elite check-in desk upgraded me to a corner room on the 28th floor.

Eek! How fun! I had a full view of Madison Square Garden, and it was soooo beautiful. This trip was off to an excellent start with just one thing left to do, check out one of three hotel bars and grab some bottled water for the room from the elite status lounge. After all, it’s winter in NYC, I’m cold, and a hot toddy is always soothing.

Work/Play Time

Getting up early is easy in NYC; there’s always some form of street noise below, and you have so much energy that sleep seems like a waste of valuable time.  Day one of NRF is always a lot of fun!  I get to see people from all over the country with Toshiba that I haven’t seen in months or even since the last year’s show in NYC.  A great spot on the walk back from the event that we usually regular is Uncle Jack’s Steakhouse.  They have a classic, East Coast steakhouse feel and excellent food/drinks; I recommend the oysters on half shell, filet medium rare, and a dirty martini. 

But enough about work, let’s talk about playtime in the city!  I only have 1.5 days to myself, so sleeping past 8 am wasn’t really an option.  First stop, brunch at The Loeb Boathouse in Central Park (a reservation here is a must).  Since brunch is my favorite meal, I decided to start the day on a high note. 

Lakeside table and a hot toddy is a great start.  Followed up by a fantastic Benedict, and I was in heaven.  The peacefulness in that spot (keep in mind you’re in the middle of a park in the middle of Manhattan), how quiet it was, is truly magical!  On my walk through the park after brunch, a pop-up jazz band played under one of the several bridges in the park. 

Can this day get any more Magical?!  After a few songs, I made my way to a horse-drawn carriage to ride through the park.  Between the click-clack of horse hoofs, the peacefulness of Central Park in the Winter, Christmas décor still up and in full effect, and a full belly make you appreciate life and these little experiences. 

Next stop, Rockefeller Center, to see the Christmas tree and watch some ice skating before my Empire State Building tour.  It’s a 25-block walk from the Plaza to the Empire State, so a stop here and there is therapeutic for your endurance.  Although you’re in the middle of a business and entertainment epicenter, the ice-skating rink seems so calm and quiet. 

Holiday music, smiles, and love all around.  I could have sat and watched for an hour, but I had a firm timeslot to make.  Walking another 20 blocks was a trek.  If it weren’t for my desire to see the storefront windows on 5th Avenue, I’d have taken a cab for sure.  But I made my tour’s timeslot, so all was well.  I must say, although it was cold and there were clouds and snow all around, being on the observation deck of the Empire State Building was exhilarating.  Not only was I (now) wide awake, but the view and resulting hit of energy it provides is simply amazing. 

With a frozen nose, I was off to my last stop for the night before winding down to dinner at the hotel restaurant.  230 on 5th Rooftop Bar is truly a stop everyone must make when in NYC.  The views and ambiance are second to none; think empire state building views and fire all around you. 

And, they provide red fleece robes to wear at night by the fireside.  Albeit with COVID, don’t hold your breath on that moving forward.  After a hot toddy, the cold won, and I took a cab back to the hotel.  The dining experience was grand, and I was off to bed to get some zzz’s before brunch the next day and packing for my flight home. 

Trip Summary/Recap

This trip was great in so many ways; it honestly makes me want to fly there right now to relive the experience.  COVID makes that impossible for the time being, but I am beyond grateful that I can relish in the memories and share the experience with you!  Overall, I wouldn’t have changed a thing. 

Maybe staying one more day to continue exploring and indulging, but seven full days in NYC is plenty.  On the flight back, the upgrade to first class was the perfect experience to end a fantastic trip; it pays to have status!  Gwyneth Paltrow was a couple of rows ahead of me.  Talk about a classy woman whose smile could light up the darkest room.  You never know who you’ll meet on these New York flights…

Tips & Tricks


  • It’s cold and windy, bringing multiple scarves, gloves and earmuffs.
  • Dark-colored boots with rubber type soles are a lifesaver; the streets are wet, and you don’t want to ruin leather bottom/light-colored shoes.
  • Thermal Underwear is a must in the cold NYC winters.
  • Lip Balm!


  • Traffic is always bad in NYC, and Uber takes longer than the app shows to reach you.  So, stay inside as long as possible to avoid the cold.
  • The weather is dry, even though it’s snowy this time of year, which dehydrates you faster than usual, so stay hydrated!  I recommend bringing a packet of Liquid I.V. for each day you’re in NYC and some good hand lotion.


  • Bring cash!  It makes quick taxi rides and business with street vendors (eat at your own risk) so much easier.

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