Category Archives: Hotels

The IHG Credit Card, Reward Club and Benefits

I know that in a previous post I had written about how I am a Hyatt gal and why I am.  To add to that, I am also an IHG gal.  IHG stands for Intercontinental Hotel Group and it includes other than the Intercontinental Hotels, Holiday Inn, Holiday Inn and Suites, Holiday Inn Express, Candlewood, Staybridge, Crowne Plaza, Hotel Indigo and a few more.  It seems that wherever I want to go, there is always a hotel that is affiliated with IHG.

When Blogger Hubby and I were in Aruba this past February, we stayed at the Hyatt since I had the two free night certificates but just passed the Hyatt was the Holiday Inn.  Of course, we walked around and thought this would be a hotel we could stay at if we returned to Aruba.  It was very nice from the outside and the limited view we had of the inside.

When we stayed in Amiens, France, we stayed at a Holiday Inn Express in a great location by the train station and it was the only chain hotel that I saw. during that same trip, we also stayed for two nights in Brugges in a Crowne Plaza in one ofd the most perfect locations for Brugges and since I had their credit card, we were upgraded to a corner suite – and we were using points.  Finally, while we were in Prague we stayed at the Intercontinental Hotel in the Old Town, along the river and were upgrade to a junior suite because we were gold as a result of the status we received from having the IHG credit card by Chase.

My son travels to and from Montana for the past three years for his masters degree and I am able to book his hotel rooms on his way there and back from points from IHG.  There is always a Holiday Inn wherever we travel.

The IHG credit card has been a staple in my wallet for many years now.  There is a $49 a year fee yet I never call and ask for a fee waiver since the fee does give me a free night during the year.  I think that is reasonable and I don’t want to argue with something that I think is reasonable.

IHG also has 4 times a year what they call PointBreaks.  They list hotels all around the world where an award night is only 5,000.  I’ve have not yet booked a Point Break night but hope to do so.

Another reason that I like the IHG Rewards Club is that they are always having promotion where I can earn extra points.  Over a year ago I sent in 97 entry cards to receive at a minimum 500 points and many times more than that.  They always have a big fall promotion where you get extra points for doing things like booking a weekend stay, making a reservation through their app, booking 5 nights within 3 months.  Blogger Hubby and I have been known to make the reservation at the least expensive hotel we can find, check in and not even stay there just so we can earn the extra 30,000 points that completing that requirement would give us.

Currently the IHG credit card will give you 80,000 points when you spend $1000 over three months.  In addition, this card has no foreign transaction fees, earning 5 x points when used at one of their hotels, platinum elite status and a free night.  I do not earn any money or credit by letting you know about this card and I do think this is one that you should consider adding to your wallet.  I know that I am looking forward to my next stay with them at the Crowne Plaza in Santiago, Chile.  If you are interested in this card, follow this link.

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When something went wrong at the Airport for Me!!

You don’t think I’m just going to tell you off the bad what went wrong, do you?  I need to set the stage so you can really understand.

I was traveling with a girlfriend to Cancun for a few days.  As we had an early 7:30 AM flight, I spent the night before at her home because I live 125 miles from the airport. Before I left home I checked everything – passport, credit cards, confirmation number for flight, suitcase, etc.  I even went back home to make sure I had turned something off before I was too far from home.  Perhaps you can already tell where this story is going. We were even upgraded from economy to First based on my newly acquired silver status with United that I had earned less than 48 hours earlier.  I was truly excited for this experience.

We got up early (4:30 AM) as she had the spouse of a mutual friend picking us up at 5:00 for our quick 15 minute trip to the airport.  Knowing we would have time in the lounge after check in and security, we ate nothing at her house anticipating pastries, fruit and oatmeal at the United lounge.

He dropped us off, we made our way to the International Check in.  We were asked for our passports.  I took mine out of my backpack and gave it to the ticket agent.  She surprised me when she said “is he going too?”  HE???? What is she talking about?  It was then when I looked inside of the passport that I realized I had grabbed my husband’s passport and mine was 125 miles away at home!  Oh no!  My heart starting beating fast and I needed to calm myself done and figure how we could solve this problem. Obviously I couldn’t make the next flight which was at 8:30 – I would just be hopefully getting home at this point.  After much time searching for the best option for me, the ticket agent found a flight that left at 12:40 connecting in Houston and I would arrive in Cancun around 7:00. instead of the 10:00 AM I would have had.   That was the best I could have hoped for and I was extremely grateful that it wasn’t late at night or even the next day. After telling my friend to go ahead without me and that I’d meet her sometime at the hotel we called our friend again and asked him to return to the airport, pick me up, take me to her house and I would be on my way.

Luckily this was a Sunday morning and it was still dark out.  Not much traffic for which I was thankful for.  Fortunately I have a cousin that lives about 15 miles from my home and is an early riser.  I sent her a text message told her I had an emergency but not life threatening.  She graciously went to my home, grabbed my passport and met me at a highway exit about 50 miles north of my home.  I am forever in debt to her.  As I was driving back to the airport I called my son and asked him to locate a shuttle ride for me to the airport – he is a bargain hunter and I knew he would get a great deal for me.  I called my daughter and gave her my new record locater number and asked that she check me in.  I didn’t want to find out that I had been bumped because I was the last one to check in.  Finally, I called the Hyatt Globalist number and asked them to get in touch with the Hyatt ZIVA, where I would be staying, and let my friend know when she goes to check in, that I would be arriving around 7:00.  I wanted her to know that I did get my passport and I was ticketed on the flight.

I got back to my friend’s house where I left my car, called my friend for the ride again and was back at the airport and checked in.  I now had about 2 1/2 hours before boarding so I went to a United lounge.  I told my tale of woe how I had the wrong passport, drove 150 miles to get it, lost my first class seat and now had economy plus. She took pity on me and told me to go downstairs and rest a little.

First thing I did was to get some breakfast, call my family to let them know I was back at the airport and that I was fine.  It’s irritating when something like this happens but I couldn’t dwell on it as I needed to keep moving forward.  I had checked numerous times that I had my passport – I just had never looked inside to make sure that it was mine.

Meanwhile as I was sitting in the lounge I heard an announcement about a delayed Cancun flight and that when they had more information, they would pass it on.  My ears perked up.  I went to the desk in the lounge and they said that this was the 8:30 non stop flight (it’s about 10:45 now).  When I inquired if there were any seats available I was told “no”.  Never one to take the first answer I was given, I decided to walk down to the gate and ask them there.

Luckily no one was standing in line at the gate agent’s desk when I walked up.  I again asked if there were any seats available and as he was looking on his computer, I looked at the screen over his head and it showed one seat available.  Excitedly I asked if I could have that seat.  He looked at my boarding pass and said that it was First Class and I had an Economy Plus seat.  I then pulled out my earlier boarding pass for the 7:30 flight that I didn’t take, and showed him that I was originally a First Class passenger.  That one available seat became mine but I did ask him to protect me on the 12:40 flight to Houston in case this delay lasts even longer.  While he was doing that, he got a call to begin boarding.  How lucky did I get!

Once again I called my family to share my great news and let them know what flight I would be on and to change the time of my shuttle from 7:00 PM to 2:30 PM.   I called the Hyatt Globalist number again and asked them to send an updated message to the hotel to pass on to my friend who should be arriving within the hour.

I put my seatbelt on, was given a Bloody Mary by the flight attendant when he heard my tale (he thought I needed it) had a fruit breakfast and then slept, and slept and slept.

Going through Immigration and Customs was a breeze. I walked outside and found the Cancun Shuttle representative.  This was the shuttle that my son had arranged at $12 for one way.  I arrived at the hotel around 3:30, got the key to our room and said a little prayer of thanks that for such a disasterous start to my day, everything fell into place.

I couldnd’t have done this without the help of my cousin Linda, Sue W who was the United ticket agent who initially spent time trying to find me a flight into Cancun, our friend who dropped us off, picked me up, dropped me off to get my car and then picked me up again to take me to the airport, my family for arranging a shuttle for me and checking me into the later flight and finally Hasan S who was the United gate agent for the delayed flight and managed to get me on it.

This was totally my fault.  The United employees that I worked with reaslly tried to help me and I think it was because I remained cool, not panic stricken and I didn’t lash out at anyone.  I praised them for the help they gave me.  Flexibility was the key word for the day knowing that I wouldn’t get the same experience if I had made the earlier flight but with all the changes, I came pretty darn close.  I needed to be open to not having a non stop flight as well as having a later one.  Finally, I was able to ask for help and everyone that I asked for help was able to help me.

The take from all of this – we have decided to get some painters tape and put it on the outside of our passport and write our first names on it so it is visible from the outside whose passport is whose.  Another idea is different colored passport colors.  Just something so we know which is mine so this will not happen again.  From every experience that we have, we learn something and generally do not make the same mistake twice.  You can be sure that I will double and triple check that I have the correct passport – you will never have to remind me.

 

Hyatt Regency Aruba – a Winter Getaway

I find that I NEED to get away for some sun and warmth during the winter months even if it has been a mild winter like this year.  It always gives a lift to me since I feel that I have a slight case of Seasonal Affective Disorder.  My last minute cruise to the Caribbean didn’t happen this year due to conflicting schedules but I did have my two free night certificates that I earned late last winter from signing up for the Hyatt credit card from Chase.  The two free nights could be redeemed anywhere in the world.  When Blogger Hubby had this card we used his two free night certificates at the Grand Hyatt Kauai.

I have Diamond status with Hyatt due to them status matching me last year to my Aspire status with Holiday Inn.  The status was effective for all of 2016 and expires on 2/28/2017. The Diamond status gave me 4 upgrades and I had used two of them already as I mentioned in the previous blog about me being a Hyatt Gal.  With a couple more suite upgrades and two free nights, we decided to go to Aruba for our beach vacation.

Getting There:  I already had some points that I had transferred from one of my Chase credit cards that gave me Ultimate Reward points to Singapore Airline’s Krisflyer loyalty program.  Knowing that there is an expiration on those points, we decided to book our flight down to Aruba using the points that I had transferred over to my KrisFlyer account.  As they are an alliance partner with United Airline, I went to the United website and saw which flights had award availability.  I wanted to get to Aruba as soon as I could and from looking at the flights available to me I saw that we would have a connection in Newark.  Never having flown through Newark before I wanted to allow myself enough time to get from one gate to another, particularly since I would have to change terminals.  I was nervous about that since I had been told to take the train but if I took the train, I would have to go through security again. Instead there is a bus that brought me to my terminal.  There was hanging signage so it was easy to find.

The flight down to Aruba was set.  For the return flight, there didn’t seem to be any good flights for us without having a long layover in Newark, which would mean we would have to spend the night.  I instead began looking at other airlines and found that Delta had a good one that would get us back to our home airport at 10:30 PM.  The only concern I had was that there was a one hour connection time in Atlanta.  We booked this flight because we also saw that there was ever a little later flight to our home airport in case we should miss ours.  I don’t have many Delta miles so we paid out of pocket for this flight.  I used my American Express credit card and received 5 x points for this purchase.

HYATT – To add to our two free nights at the Hyatt, we booked three other nights paying cash and points.  I was charged $150 per night and 12,500 points per night.  I knew that at this point (and it will change as of 3/1/17) that suite upgrades are not given on award stays so I tried to strategize and book the points and cash nights first followed by the free two nights hoping that they would keep me in the suite that I would get from using points and cash.  Of course, there was always the possibility that they would have me change rooms after the first three nights and then transfer me to a standard room.  I was willing to take my chance but didn’t tell Blogger Hubby about it till we were on the plane.

Flights were fine and before we knew it we were outside the terminal with our carry on only luggage getting into a taxi cab for the $25 fare to where the high rise motels were located on the northwest side of the island.

We pulled up and my breath was taken away at how beautiful the resort was.  We went to the reception desk and was helped by Junel.  At first we were told that our room was not ready even though I had asked for an early check in (a benefit of being a Diamond member).  We started to walk away and he called us back and said that he could give us another suite, a larger one, but only for three nights in the high rise and then go to the regular suite in the low rise for the remaining two nights OR we could wait for the regular suite and stay there for all 5 nights.  We chose to go to the larger one that had an ocean front balcony.

A little background on this hotel – there are essentially two parts to this hotel and they are connected where the reception area is located – somewhat like a U shape building.  There is the high rise which has 9 floors and the low rise which has 5 floors. The Regency Club is located on the 9th floor of the high rise.

ROOM #1 – We were taken to our suite and it took my breath away.  It was huge, at almost 1900 square feet it encompassed the entire back end of the hotel on our floor overlooking the Caribbean.  We had 4 sets of sliding glass doors, 4 thermostats, three separate sitting areas, an Apple desktop computer on the desk, a bathroom that would equal my kitchen, a dressing area, 4 sofas and numerous chairs, two refrigerators, 2 bathrooms and so much more.  This was luxurious living at its best.  I was giddy but to be honest, we really didn’t use much of the room as we didn’t spend much time there.  It did make it convenient to go up one floor for the Club offerings and the concierge that was there.

the left side of our large living roompart of our living room and the kitchen area

we were the next to the top balcony and the little balcony to the right.

ROOM #2 – if I hadn’t seen our first room, I would have been thrilled with this room.  It was a 2 room suite though the layout and furnishing were either awkward or outdated.  The little kitchen area had only a small dorm size refrigerator and a microwave sitting on top of it.  There are no glasses, plates, silverware in any of the cabinets in this area.  There wasn’t even a sink.  What was strange was one of the two closets was in the kitchen and the other in the bathroom.  The sofa would convert to a sofa bed but it seemed very outdated.  The bathroom counter could have accommodated two sinks but there was only.  There were two doors leading into the suite from the hallway – one into the bedroom and the other into the living area.  The balcony overlooked the ocean and we enjoyed sitting out at the end of the afternoon sipping our wine and watching the sunset.

GROUNDS – The grounds in the back were immaculate.  They had 3 or 4 cages of birds including macaws.  In the water feature, there were plenty of koi swimming around, many green iguana, turtles and black swans.  Enough there to keep the few children that were staying here entertained not too mention my husband as well!

POOLS – there are really two pools although they are connected.  The lower pool has a large very, shallow area for very little ones.  This is where I saw the children with their little floaties on their arms.  Steps led down to the adult pool where there was a net across for water volleyball. This is the pool that has a swum up bar.  Around the corner, but still in the water, is where the water slide ends so be careful of the adults and children who are speeding down the blue water slide.  Blogger Hubby went down numerous times and had a great time.  The upper pool is is just  a pool, although a very nice pool.  Behind it, hidden away by the tropical foliage is the hot tub which was very relaxing.

LOUNGERS, UMBRELLAS, and PALAPAS – I found the way that you sign up for a palapa (the palm frond covered wooden umbrellas that are on the beach)and loungers with umbrellas around the pool to be a little difficult but honestly, I don’t know if I could improve it.  First of all, you can reserve and rent a palapa, umbrella or one of the few cabanas.  The palapas rent for $55 per day or $80 for the cabanas and they can be rented for up to one year in advance of your stay.  They have the prime location, closest to the beach.  They do have some palapas that are not for rent but in order to reserve them you can either go online at 4 PM the day before or stand in line at the towel hut.  I stood in line but to be honest, you need to get in line around 3:30.  It goes fast so have an idea of the number of the palapa you want because you are competing with those online.  Many people found that the online process didn’t work so I wouldn’t risk it because they can, and do, run out of palapas by the beach or the umbrellas by the pools.  If they still have some available, you can go to the Towel Hut at 10:00 AM and sign up for one there.  There are usually empty loungers available by the pool though there may not be by an umbrella.

The towel hut and those in line at 3:30 waiting to sign up for a palapa at 4:00
If you want service, turn the 2 color block so green is up; no service, keep the red up

STAFF – we found the staff to be very accommodating and they always seemed to know our needs and our names.  The Club has a cooler for water, and soda.  I lamented to the concierge that there was no Coke products in the cooler.  When my husband went up later, she gave him two cans of Coke’s for us since she keeps some in a different area for those who ask.  They have a contract with Pepsi so they wouldn’t put out the Coke products but they still had them for their guests.  Every time I walked by the registration desk I was always greeted by name and was always asked if there was anything I needed.  At the towel hut, they knew my room number when I would go to borrow a floating pad to lay on in the water.  They even knew when we changed rooms.  I cannot say enough great things about the staff.

REGENCY CLUB – who needs to eat out when you have such amazing food at the Club.  Breakfast dishes always had bagels, croissants, toast, English muffins, cold cuts, smoked salmon, hot oatmeal and then another dish such as pancakes, scrambled eggs and more.  Fresh fruit was plentiful and we appreciated the pineapple chunks, in season watermelon, slices of grapefruit as well as apples, bananas and plums.  The afternoon was time for sweets such as cookies, nuts and dried fruit and cake.   Appetizers began at 5:00 PM and we found that several days that we didn’t need to go out for dinner – that’s how filling and ample the appetizers were.

When we did want to go elsewhere for dinner, we could walk out of the hotel and turn either left or right.  I would go to the left (near the Hilton) as there were many good restaurants there.  Many of them had outside seating around a small stage where there was live entertainment.  We particularly enjoyed the Argentina Grill but we could have easily gone to many of the other restaurants.

SUPERBOWL SUNDAY – We arrived on Superbowl Sunday and in case you don’t know me, although I live in Virginia and have for over 3 decades, I am a Bostonian through and through as that is where I was raised and lived till we moved to Virginia – my accent will testify to that.  Well you know who was playing on that Superbowl Sunday and I wanted to watch it.  Of course, we had that large television in our living room but Hyatt went one better.  They had out in the water a large inflatable screen that they televised the game on.  Of course, we could have sat in one of the uncomfortable wooden slat chairs in the sun but we had a better option.  Remember we had the entire balcony facing the water.  As we had been up way too early, we changed into our PJ’s and sat out on our balcony and watched the game with the audio on in our living room.  Great fun.

My goal on this trip was just to sit my bottom in a lounger and read, swim, nap and just relax.  We did take a sunset cruise booked from the tent in front of the palapas and we enjoyed it very much particularly since everyone on board was from Boston and they had no trouble understanding me!  Blogger Hubby went on a snorkel trip and he thought it was so so.  Next time, and there will be a next time, I would rent a car for a day or too which you can do directly at the Hyatt.

I thoroughly enjoyed this mini vacation and this is the only Caribbean island that I would consider coming back to.  Most people just know it from a cruise port of call but it is more than just the downtown area that the cruisers know.  There isn’t a lot to do (aloe factory tour, feeding ostriches, touring the island and seeing the Old Lighthouse) but I wasn’t looking for anything except pure relaxation and this fulfilled it.

FYI – when you leave Aruba, you go through their customs and security and then you go through US immigration and customs before you get to your gate.  If you are leaving on a weekend, particularly on a Saturday, this can take up to three hours so make sure you allow yourself enough time.  We had read that and decided to leave on a Friday.  It took us about 90 minutes to go through everything.

 

I Think I’m a Hyatt Gal and Here’s Why

I’ve often scoffed at bloggers who only stay at some of these higher priced hotels like Hyatt, Ritz Carlton, Westin, etc.  I’ve more or less stayed at Holiday Inns, Radisson’s and Hilton’s.  They were more moderate and just fine for me.  That is until a year ago when Hyatt offered to status match me to the highest hotel elite level that they have.  I just happened to have Holiday Inn Aspire level which is their highest level.  Believe it or not, based on that Hyatt status matched me to their highest level – I was suddenly a Diamond elite.

My first time staying at a Hyatt (and I did it because their prices were competitive) my friend and I were treated to an upgraded room, and a free hot, order from the menu or buffet breakfast in the restaurant at a the hotel.  Other guests were paying about $25 for this meal and we got it free merely by my status.

Second time I stayed using my status was in New York with another friend.  This Hyatt had a Club where there were plates of food to help ourselves to.  Instead of going out to breakfast, we ate in the Club.  Appetizers were in the evening, snacks in the afternoon. There were urns of hot coffee, coolers of water, juices and soft drinks all for the taking.  We stocked up!  We found that we saved money on food by eating in the Clubs – once, we didn’t even need to go out to eat after munching a few duck quesadillas.  Once again, we did pay a little more but we looked at the value we received.  Additionally, every time I checked in I was given complimentary points to add to my point balance.  I find that when we are going somewhere, I am now looking to see if there is a Hyatt nearby.

With the Diamond status I am given 4 upgrades to suites as long as there is a suite available.  I’ve used two of them.  The first was in Seattle with Blogger Hubby and we had a high room in a corner overlooking Puget Sound.  But before I say more, as we approached our room, there was a doorbell to our room!  A doorbell!  We entered into the living room, a bathroom larger than my kitchen back home, a huge bedroom with those drop dead gorgeous views.  Again, what’s not to like.  All I had to pay was for the standard room rate and the upgrade to the suite was free.  The second time I was with a friend in Cleveland staying at the Arcade near the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  Our room was 1200 sq. feet.  We had a small kitchen, living room, dining room and another huge bathroom.  screen-shot-2017-01-11-at-2-02-55-pm

I’ve also discovered that I can book a room on points and cash and they will still give me points when I check in.  I recently booked a room for another friend – it was 2,500 points and $50 in cash.  I booked the room with my points and she paid the cash portion,  I received 500 for this booking.   Where could I find a hotel as nice as a Hyatt?

When I applied for the Hyatt credit card last year they gave you a free two night stay anywhere in the world.  When Blogger Hubby had the card a few years ago we stayed at the Grand Hyatt Kauai and it was luxurious.  We could have never afforded to stay there. screen-shot-2017-01-11-at-2-01-22-pm

I now have the credit card and we are using my two free nights next month when we fly to Aruba and stay at the Hyatt Regency Aruba Resort.  I have booked 3 nights using points and cash and two nights using my free nights that came when I applied for the credit card.  The points and cash are $150 per night and 12,500 points per night.  Essentially we will pay $450 exclusive of taxes and 37,500 points for 5 nights on Palm Beach.  Go ahead, twist my arm to make me go.  Oh, did I forget to mention that I’m using one of my suite upgrades.  I can’t wait to see it.screen-shot-2017-01-11-at-1-58-39-pm

There have been some changes to the program so if you are interested, make sure you read all about it before applying.  I do not receive anything from recommending this card but rather to say how much I have enjoyed it and part of that enjoyment is definitely that I have the top elite status.  Even without the status, staying at the Hyatt House, a lower tier of their brand, is enjoyable because the rooms are very large, almost like having a suite and you always get a free breakfast buffet at the Hyatt House.

The Hyatt hotels are beautiful and are in some amazing locations around the world.  I’ve always had outstanding customer service and at times it has been above and beyond what I have found at other chains.  For me I have found that they really believe that the customer is always right.

I’ve some some stays coming up – Santiago, Chile and Buenos Aires that have amazing Hyatt Hotels.

At the end of my first year, I’ll have to decide whether I want to pay the annual fee and keep the card (remember every charge on the card gives you points) or cancel it, wait 25 months and reapply to get the two free nights again.  If I decide to keep the card I will receive a free night at a category 1-4 Hyatt Hotel.  They do have a hotel in the Maldives where I hear the palm tress gently calling my name. But then the hotel at Beaver Creek is beckoning my name urging me to put my ski boots on and swish down the mountain. What would you do?

Getting to Paris via TGV and our Hotel, Le Metropolitan, a Tribute Hotel from SPG

Yes, can you believe that I had never been to Paris before this trip?  I was anxiously looking forward to our four days in the City of Lights.  I had my list of places I would like to go, and things that I wanted to see.  I also knew that I wouldn’t be able to do it all so I gave myself permission to deviate from the schedule I set up.  Of course I had to save some things to see and do for my second trip to Paris.

For our hotel stay I made our reservations at the Radisson Metropolitan in the 16th Arrondissement using my Club Carlson points more than a year before our trip. Previously with Club Carlson if you booked a reward stay, your last night was free.  In other words, they didn’t even charge you points.  Consequently I booked two nights under my name (remember one of those nights was free) and two nights under Blogger Hubby’s account.  We would spend four nights at the hotel in total but only paying points for two nights.

Before we went to Paris I found out that SPG purchased our hotel and it would be in their luxury collections.  I was concerned that they wouldn’t honor our reservation but they assured me they would.

A month before we left the United States I had made train reservations and purchased our TGV (fast train) tickets to go from Lyon to Paris.  I again turned to The Man in Seat 61 to explain the differences between the trains.  He had recommended purchasing our tickets through the Captain train website which I did.  The Captain Train website has since been taken over by Train Line but it is the same format and I had no problems purchasing and printing out my tickets.  If you plan to go to Europe, for many routes it is much less expensive if you purchase your tickets 60 or 90 days in advance.  For other smaller, local trains it didn’t seem to matter and we would purchase them at the train station either at the kiosk or at the ticket counter once we knew definitively what our plans were. Track information is not posted until 20 minutes prior to the train’s arrival so no sense in asking people which track you’ll be departing from.  Also, since we departed Lyon from Part-Dieu station there was assistance for those with mobility problem as as was the case with our traveling companions.  Her husband went into the office, told them where we were waiting and an attendant came out with a wheel chair and took her to the correct track and helped them on.  If you need help and it is available, take full advantage of it.

For those who are unfamiliar with train travel in Europe, once you have your ticket, you need to validate it prior to boarding at the machine on the platform.  Conductors will still come by and check your ticket to see if it has been validated and if it hasn’t, there is a huge fine to pay.  p1070049

On the Train Line website, which is in English,  you can choose which type of seating you wanted and which class.  We traveled first class (wouldn’t do it again), sat in the upper deck for better viewing and chose single seats facing each other.  Across the aisle were two seats together either facing forward or facing each other like we were.  We had a small table between us with a small lamp.

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I emailed the concierge at our hotel asking for ways to get to the hotel from the Gard Lyon, the train station that we would be arriving in. Obviously the options were to hire a driver, taxi, subway or bus.  He gave us the prices for these options.  We chose to take the bus as it would drop us off about 2 blocks from the hotel and would be inexpensive. We bought a book of ten bus/subway passes called a caret.  If you plan on using public transportation, I would recommend buying a caret as it will save you time.  For us taking a bus was easy as we only had carry-on luggage (me) and a slightly larger case for Blogger Hubby as we allowed room for souvenirs in his suitcase.  The ride took a lot longer than I thought, about an hour, but while we were traversing Paris we got a good orientation to the city and I got my first glimpses of the Eiffel Tower.  Blogger Hubby is always a little nervous about making sure we know that we are on the correct bus/train, that we are going in the right direction and that we know where to get off. Fortunately I have no qualms about asking people.  I found if you have a smile, and ask if they speak “English” people are willing to help you as much as they can.  I’ll tell you this now – we did not get lost once nor did we get on the wrong train or bus or miss our stop.

We got off the bus and headed for our hotel, now called Le Metropolitan, a Tribute Portfolio Hotel.  The hotel is shaped like a triangular between two streets.   I knew that European hotels were small but when they took us to our room, I couldn’t believe how small it was. Both of us could not be up and walking around at the same time.  There was a small chair in the corner but immediately behind it was a floor lamp and if you sat down the back of your head hit the floor lamp.  You couldn’t pull the chair out because there was only about a foot’s length between the chair and the corner of the bed.   When we asked if there was another room they told us no and that we should be happy as this was an upgrade.

I did not know how we would be able to spend 4 nights in this room. That night I sent a tweet out to @SPG assist, sent them the pictures and told them how uncomfortable it was.  Next morning there was a knock on our door and they moved us across the hallway.  This room even had a couch in it – certainly not luxurious but a much nicer room.  I would stay away from room 226 and instead ask for room 230.

There is a wall about 12 inches from the other side of the bed. If I sat in the chair, you couldn't get past my legs and feet.
There is a wall about 12 inches from the other side of the bed. If I sat in the chair, you couldn’t get past my legs and feet.
If we pulled the bench out to sit on it, so one could get by as we would be blocking the narrow passage
If we pulled the bench out to sit on it, no one could get by

 

There is a restaurant on the first floor and it looked nice though we didn’t try it.  I believe the breakfasts there are about $30 each. img_1655 Instead we would go to a pastierrie and purchase our freshly made French pastries.  Around the corner and down the street from the hotel was a Casino – which is a French supermarket.  That’s where we purchased our yogurts, sliced meats, cheeses and wine.

For being branded a “luxury hotel” it did not feel very luxurious to us with the awful royal purple rippled carpeting in the hallway, elevators that didn’t work half the time, the lounge area that had tables where we played cards sometimes and looks better in these pictures than it did in real life.  The lobby is very nice and the staff is friendly and helpful and they met all our needs particularly when we asked for numerous directions, which subway stop to use or how to get to train stations.img_1654

We would walk down two flights of stairs to go down and everyday we had to walk around the housekeeping cart right by the stairs and the elevator. A little awkward.
We would walk down two flights of stairs to go down and everyday we had to walk around the housekeeping cart right by the stairs and the elevator. A little awkward.

As you walk out the door and basically walk straight you will see the Eiffel Tower.  I gasped when I saw it all lit up in the evening.  This is the view as we were about 50 meters from the hotel.img_1649

Nevertheless we are very thankful that we had the points to stay here and that we booked it while we were still able to get one night free through the Club Carlson program.

Next post will be our sightseeing adventures and how we saved some money.

What to do in Beantown, err I mean Boston

I don’t hide the fact, and my accent is a dead giveaway particularly since I live in the South (hey, I consider Virginia the South) that I am originally from Boston – about 14 miles north of the city. You’ll hardly ever hear me pronouncing the letter “r”.  It’s just the way it is.

I have had fond childhood memories of being dropped off in Revere at the Wonderland subway station  (blue line) to ride the subway into Boston.  It is super easy to ride the subway and to get around – you really do not need a car.  I have always loved Boston and I really believe it is the best city in our country.  More about that later.

We had an opportunity to go back “home” the weekend before Thanksgiving to visit some family members.  Award flights were non-existent since it was the weekend before Thanksgiving so we decided to drive.

As I was close to requalifying for Hyatt Diamond this year we stayed just outside of the city in Medford.  I received the Diamond status when Hyatt status matched to other hotels last December and they matched my Spire with Holiday Inn.  I was very surprised that they did it but I will say that I have enjoyed the benefits of the Hyatt program.  As they changed the qualifications for the following year, 2017 will be my last year as a Diamond member.  The Medford Hyatt Place is about 5 miles north of Boston and you can see the skyline from your hotel window. Medford is also the home of Tufts University and where we lived as newlyweds.img_1947

We took the shuttle from the hotel to the Wellington subway station (orange line) and got off at Haymarket which put us within walking distance of the waterfront, the North End and Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market – exactly where we wanted to be.

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We walked over to Faneuil Hall and the Quincy Market.  Faneuil Hall has such a long history with the city.  It had been a meeting place since the mid 1700’s and speeches by many of the early Boston patriots were made in this hall.  Three indoor market places are in the location as well; North Market, Quincy Market and South Market.  Most Bostonians call the entire area “Faneuil Hall”.  Inside Quincy market are stalls of food vendors and I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a lobster roll – the kind with mayo in a squared off hot dog roll with some lettuce.  That. to me, is the traditional lobster roll though some places now sell it with melted butter in the hot dog roll.  Blogger Hubby had a cup of clam chowder (or chowda as I would say it) and a gyro.  In the center of the market are benches and table so you can find places to sit and eat.  If this isn’t your thing, just before you get to Faneuil Hall there is the Union Oyster House and other great restaurants as well.  Blogger Hubby’s favorite is Durgin Park, a favorite of President Kennedy.  Communal eating is the style and waitresses back talking to you is the norm.  Anyplace you go, you will get a delicious meal.

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After eating lunch we walked toward the waterfront and admired the views.  It’s always so restful watching boats on water.  Along the waterfront there is a Marriott hotel and attached to the outside of the building are restrooms but….if you go inside and up the escalator, you’ll find warm, clean restrooms inside.  This is my favorite hotel in Boston since it is on the waterfront and close to many things that I love.

We walked along the waterfront and turned into the North End  which is the Italian section of Boston.  I went to college and law school about 5 blocks away and would often come down to the North End for great pizza at Reginas where the waitresses are old, heavy, wear all black clothing and are somewhat rude – but it has such character and is an institution in Boston.  We walked by the Old North Church (“listen my children and you shall hear, of the midnight ride of Paul Revere”), and Paul Revere’s home.  img_1963

My absolute favorite part of the North End are the pastry shops on Hanover Street.  There are two pastry shops of note – Mike’s and Modern.  They are similar yet they are also different.  Here is a link comparing the two.  There were so many different fillings for the cannolis but I liked the traditional with the ricotta cream cheese filling with the mini chips on the ends.  After eating my cannoli in the shop, I left wishing I had brought a box back to the hotel with me.  The great news is that the Hyatt that we were staying in is within a couple of blocks of Modern’s shop in Medford.

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Since we had driven that morning from Connecticut and had walked most of the day, we took the subway (locals call it the T) back to the Wellington station.  When we got on the T, we called the hotel to have the shuttle head out to pick us up.  Within 10 seconds of us walking out of the subway station, the shuttle arrived and took us back to the hotel.

There is so much more to Boston than what I have lightly treaded on.  The Freedom Trail is a great start to seeing and learning about the early history of our country.  You will go by Old Ironsides (USS Constitution, a ship that fought in the War of 1812), The Old Granary Burial Ground which is the final resting place for Paul Revere, Samuel Adams, John Hancock, the victims of the Boston Massacre, Mother Goose, the parents of Benjamin Franklin, Peter Faneuil and so many more.  You’ll also go by Bunker Hill which looks like a miniature Washington Monument.  The Old State House and the current State House are also on the tour. Did I tell you the route is about 2.5 miles – very doable and very educational particularly if you are a history buff.  If your child is a scout, I believe there is a badge for walking the Freedom Trail.img_1962

Spring time you should head over to the Boston Public Gardens and take a ride on the Swan Boats.  They operate from mid April till mid September.  The boats are built on two pontoons with six bench seats on them and are propelled by the driver in the back peddling.  It is a favorite tradition in Boston.

A favorite childrens book of Boston children is “Make Way for Ducklings” by Robert McCloskey and part of the story takes place at the lagoon in the Public Gardens where the Swan Boats operate.  If you go there, look for the statues of Mrs. Mallard and her ducklings.screen-shot-2016-12-08-at-9-42-38-pm

Of course, you can hop on the red line and head over to Harvard and walk around the square and university or go south and go to the Kennedy Presidential Library.  We also have the Museum of Fine Arts, and the Science Museum.  You can go to the top level of the Prudential Building and get a panoramic birds eye view of Boston.  Don’t forget the famous Aquarium – the one in Baltimore is modeled after this one.  If you are there in winter, go to the Boston Commons and ooh and aah at the all the Christmas lights.  In the summer, take the T to Revere Beach. There is so much to do in this great city and because it is relatively flat, it is a great walking city.

If you are a sports fan, there is no better place to be in the summer than at Fenway Park particularly the the Red Sox are playing against the Yankees.  Lots of strong support for the BoSox.  Of course, the Patriots, Bruins and Celtics aren’t too bad either.

I truly am skimming the service when it comes to what you can do in Boston and hope that you find time to visit the city.

 

 

New Mexico – Land of Enchantment

“This land is your land, this land is my land.  From California to the New York island.”  That song always goes through my mind when I am traveling across our vast country and see the many differences.  This is our land and we need to spend time exploring and getting to know it. Foreign travel is exciting but traveling within our own country allows me to see the grandeur of our country and many spots that are very eyeopening and educational.  I think that sometimes I have preconceived ideas of what areas should look like or what I will find there. Most times I have been proven wrong. Sort of like judging a book by its’ cover and we all know that we shouldn’t do that.

As we sat by the window traveling through New Mexico it somewhat reinforced in both of our minds what we thought the landscape of New Mexico would be – somewhat flat with mesas, buttes, orange/red soil or clay and small little bushes popping up here and there.

When we arrived in Albuquerque, ending our epic Train Trek, we took a cab to pick up our rental car at at the airport, then we got some lunch (at Twisters – a delicious semi-fast food restaurant) and then began our drive toward Santa Fe for our first of five nights in New Mexico.

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We had been told that there are two ways to drive to Santa Fe and we chose the more scenic route which is known as the Turquoise Trail National Scenic Byway.  This is off the main highway and takes about an hour to travel between Albuquerque and Santa Fe.  This trail was well known as a site for the rich deposits of turquoise, gold and iron ore.  You can find in this area the rare blue green turquoise names after the town of Cerrillos.  There are a few towns on the Turquoise Trail and they tend to be more artist’s havens.  Stop in some of the cafes along the trail for a bite to eat, go in the gift shops and look at the silver and  turquoise jewelry.  One shop that we stopped in at Madrid had turquoise that the elderly owner mined herself.  How many shop owners can say that?

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P1050675IMG_1074IMG_1075Santa Fe has some wonderful restaurants restaurants and a preacher on our train from Albuquerque advised us to eat at Tomasita’s for authentic New Mexican food that is family run.  Of course we had to obey the preacher.  Fairly easy to find and like all good restaurants, there was a line.  Food was delicious though it was a bit hot for this northern girl – even the green salsa.  They waiters wanted to make sure that I enjoyed this experience and with their help, I did.

Santa Fe has the most charming plaza of all of the cities that we visited.  I had looked forward to the Georgia O’Keefe museum which is only a couple of blocks from the center of the plaza.  I was able to get the last ticket to go on a docent led tour of her work and learned about her background – fascinating.  I think we all know her for her famous red poppy painting (which is only about 7 inches) but did you know she was also an abstract painter?  She painted many landscape scenes though they were of two themes familiar to her – the area around Lake George area where she would spend her summers with her husband and those of Texas and New Mexico with the beautiful colors of the mesas and skies that she grew to love.  Her personal story is very compelling as  well and you learn about her personal life at the museum.  I would highly recommend this museum.

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Walking to the Georgia O’Keefe museum we passed by shops that had animal sculptures along the street.  Blogger Hubby and I loved whimsical and fun sculptures.  What do you think of these?

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P1050840P1050838P1050843P1050839The Palace of the Governors  is within the Santa Fe Historic District along the plaza downtown and it served as the seat of government for the state of New Mexico for many centuries. The Palace of the Governors is the oldest continuously occupied public building in the United States. Outside the building on the portico you’ll find native Americans selling their pottery, jewelry, metal work, drums, leather items, drawings, paintings and so much more. My word of advice, if you choose to purchase, which I did, pay in cash and do not bargain – it is an insult to the Native American vendors whose prices are very fair and less than what you would pay in one of the shops along the plaza.  They also have exquisite workmanship on all the wares that they sell.

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We also went to the State House, a few blocks from the plaza area.  This is the only state house that is round.  It also has four wing entrances, designed after their state flag.  The four wings represent the four cultures in New Mexico – Angelo, Spanish, Mexican and Native American.

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Across the street from the State House was a sign telling us about the Santa Fe Trail  and how it was a main thoroughfare .

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We stayed outside the downtown/plaza area at a Holiday Inn using our points.  It was fine – nothing special.  In hindsight, I would have preferred to have stayed along the downtown plaza area.  There is a lot of traffic in this area, parking is tight and it is just a vibrant place to walk around and be.  We would have gone there our first night except for all the traffic.  Learn from my mistake and stay by the plaza.

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AMTRAK’s South West Chief

We were finally on the last leg of our three part train trek around parts of America.  We enjoyed almost all aspects of the trip so far, perhaps with the exception of one of us having to climb into the upper, narrow bunk bed and the train whistles at night when going pass a crossing.  The South West Chief was originally  operated by the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway until AMTRAK took over passenger rail service in 1971.

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Los Angeles, along with Chicago, has a lounge of first class passengers and we took full advantage of it.  When you enter the front of Union Station, walk straight back and near the rear, turn right and then go up the escalator.  There are chairs, a few tables and chips and soft drinks as well as coffee. There is an attendant sitting at the desk to help us with any questions you might have.

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As lounges go, or at least as compared to airline lounges, this wasn’t too much but it was a nice place to hang out and eat the few snacks that they had.  Because of the way that the station and tracks are laid out, when it was time to go to the track to board our train, we were driven there in multi-row golf carts.  If we had chosen to walk, we would have had a long way to go including going under a tunnel to get to the other side of the tracks.

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We weren’t sure if we would get dinner since we weren’t scheduled to leave Los Angeles till 6:15.  As we boarded we found out that we would get dinner and as the attendant came around, we signed up for one of the first sittings at 7:00.  Same menu that we had on both the Empire Builder and Coast Starlight.  Blogger Hubby was quick to let our table mates know how good he thought the seafood cakes were, which he had again!

We went to bed early because one of the stops in Arizona, early in the morning around 5:45 AM was Winslow, Arizona.  It seemed like I was humming the Eagles song” standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona” all night while I was trying to sleep.  Unfortunately, I woke up about 5 minutes after we passed it.  At breakfast we met a couple who had just gotten on the train.  The did the option of going to the Grand Canyon through the Grand Canyon Railroad.  Although they had a good time, they were exhausted because they had to leave their hotel at 3:  AM to be at the train station at 4:00 AM – unfortunately, the train was late and they had to wait about an hour for the South West Chief to come by.  Although they loved the canyon, they wouldn’t recommend going by train other than the convenience of being very close to the rim.

For us, we enjoyed seeing the change in scenery across America.  Here are a few scenes that we passed on our last day on our train trek.

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IMG_1042As I mentioned, our train, unbeknownst to us, was running late but what we found out on every line is that they build time into the schedule so they very rarely arrive late at the station at the end of the line.

Our final stop was Albuquerque.  Our train trek was over but now our New Mexico part was beginning.  It was 11:00 in the morning, the sun was shining and we were excited.  We gathered our bags, left the train and walked out front to get a taxi to the airport to get our rental car.  Problem was – there were no cabs.  I tried calling one cab company but no answer.  I tried Uber but it was surge pricing very high.  Finally got a cab company who would send a cab out to the train station in 10-15 minutes but no guarantee that we would get it.  After half an hour, one came but there was a little disagreement on how got to ride.  The other couple and us came to an agreement that we would share it since we were both going to a car rental at the airport.IMG_1047

We closely examined the car, loaded our bags and headed north to Santa Fe.

Would we do this again – yes!  We’d like to do the California Zephyr route which is San Francisco to Chicago traveling through scenic Colorado and the Rockies.

This entire train trip took 65,000 of my Ultimate Reward points that I had transferred over to AMTRAK (no longer available to do it) and remember, traveling first class included all of our meals.  I used points to stay at the Holiday Inn and Suites in Chicago the night before our train trip, also for the Weston Bayshore in Vancouver, points for our night at the Hilton Doubletree Checkers hotel in Los Angeles.  We paid for our night at the Seattle Grand Hyatt and used a Diamond upgrade for our Emerald Suite.

Up next, Land of Enchantment – exploring Santa Fe, Taos, Albuquerque and its environs.

REMINDER: I’m getting together a group for a cruise around the southern tip of South America.Come join us on March 5, 2018 (that’s right – 2018) on Holland America’s Zaandam, a vessel with about 1450 passengers as we board in Valparaiso, Chile as we cruise among the fjords, through the Strait of Magellan, Beagle Channel, visiting the southernmost town in the world, Montevideo, Paraguay and disembarking in Buenos Aires, he home of fine leather and the tango.  With a group, basically in name only, we received the lowest rates and amenities. .  Leave a comment and I’ll respond privately to you about this cruise or contact my travel agent, Michelle, at michelle@mccabeworld.com and tell her you are in Jane’s group!

Hyatt or Marriott – Did I choose one?

In my last blog post I wrote about Chase’s upcoming rules as it relates to their co-branded credit cards.  As I mentioned in this post, I already have 5 personal Chase credit cards and didn’t think that I would qualify for anymore.  In addition to that, I was debating whether I wanted to apply for the Hyatt credit card or the Marriott credit card from Chase .  This would only happen IF I closed one of their credit cards.

Coincidentally, Frequent Miler wrote a blog comparing and contrasting both the Hyatt and the Marriott credit cards.  What do they say about great minds thinking alike?  I glanced at his post but needed to make up my mind as to what would work for me.

I just received Diamond status from Hyatt when they matched the status that I have with IHG in December.  I do not often stay with Hyatt because it generally is more expensive than what I want to pay.  I’ve been happy staying at Holiday Inns or Radissons yet when I stayed at a Hyatt in Fort Lauderdale last month, it was really nice being upgraded to a nicer room with a nicer view and a very nice breakfast.  Blogger Hubby does feel a little out of his element in some of the higher end hotels.  He’s more comfortable in the moderate priced hotels and that is where we stay most of the time but it sure is a treat for me when we do stay at the higher end hotels

Marriott would meet his need for moderation.  I have no status there and probably would not qualify to get it.  For whatever reason I have never been a Marriott fan and I don’t know why.  With their buyout of Starwood, will that change?  Who knows.

I thought more about closing my Freedom and having my husband apply for one but he doesn’t have another Chase card to get the Ultimate Reward points.  We had closed out his CSP thinking he would reopen it 25 months after closing – you know what they say about the best laid plans – and then Chase changed the rules.

I read another blog about a woman who also had 5 Chase personal credit cards and she decided to try for the 6th.  After she was told that her application was “pending” she called up the reconsideration telephone number, moved some credit around and was able to get her 6th.

I thought that I would do the same.  I filled out the application for the 6th card and after I filled it out, I too was given the “pending” status.  I waited about fifteen minutes and then called the Chase reconsideration telephone number (888-245-0625).  They asked a few income questions, how much was my mortgage, gave me my existing credit line and asked if I would consider moving some of credit from one credit card to the new one.  I agree and before you knew it, I received my 6th personal Chase credit card.

Are you wondering which card I chose?  Here it is:

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Now where am I going to go to use my two free nights?

 

 

 

 

 

 

New Rules for Chase Credit Cards

I receive no compensation of any type from JP Chase – in fact, they probably don’t know anything about me.  The views below are mine entirely.

Chase is tightening up their rules for obtaining one of their credit cards.  This past summer/fall, they began implementing the 5/24 rule.  If you opened 5 credit cards from any bank within twenty four months, you would most likely be declined for any of Chase’s own credit cards.  This was exclusive to their own credit cards such as Chase Sapphire Preferred, Chase Freedom card and any of their cards that are not co-branded with another company such as Marriott.

 

If you are new to credit card churning, then I would suggest before you get to the 5 card you apply for the Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card, one of my favorites of all time.  I do not have an affiliate link as I do not have a business relationship with them but if you are thinking of getting their card, I would receive 5,000 Ultimate Reward points if I refer you.  If interested, just drop me an email and I’ll begin a dialogue with you.  If not, I still HIGHLY recommend this credit card because of its flexible Ultimate Reward points.

Now Chase is changing the rules AGAIN!  Their co-branded cards will follow the same 5/24 rule sometime in April.  If you are on the fence or thinking about applying for one of their co-branded cards, my advise is to do it within the next month to six weeks.  In fact, I would do it sooner than later. Some of their co-branded cards include British Airways, Hyatt, Marriott, IHG, Ritz Carlton,  Disney, Southwest Airlines and United Explorer.

I have been thinking about getting both the Hyatt card and the Marriott card but my problem is that you can only have five personal credit cards from Chase.  Which card to close is my dilemma.  I already have the United Mileage Plus Select card (a co-branded card) which is my oldest credit card dating back to the early 1990’s.  It is a card that is no longer available and for those of us that have it, it makes it worthwhile to keep it.  I certainly do not want to close that card out since I have had it as long as I do – always keep your oldest card!

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I also have the IHG card ( a co-branded card) which gives me Aspire elite status with IHG (Holiday Inn, Intercontinental, etc) and I do participate a few times a year with their promotions and there ALWAYS is a step that has you paying with your IHG credit card.  Also, this card gives me one free night a year and the annual fee is only $49.  I have only had the card about ten months now and do not mind paying the $49 for the one free night, which we will use in Brussels.

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I currently have the Freedom (one of Chase’s cards, not co-branded) which I do love for the revolving quarterly bonus categories.  It has been particularly useful to me before the holidays as Amazon has been one of the bonus stores.  That might be the one that I will consider closing and perhaps my husband could get it instead.

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In December I applied for and one month later  approved for the United Explorer credit card which gives me free checked bags when I fly on United.  Since I tend to fly United the most, that will be particularly useful to me.  Since I have had that card only about a month, obviously I do not want to close it.

Finally, I have the Chase Sapphire Preferred.  Thinking that I might never be approved for it again, I’m keeping it.  I love the Ultimate Reward points and since am boosting my United points with my new Explorer card, I can use those UR points for other airlines, like Singapore Airlines.

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Chase Sapphire Preferred

So if I want the Marriott or Hyatt card, I’ll have to close one of my Chase cards and it will probably be the Freedom, much to my chagrin.

Have you thought about applying for any of the Chase co-branded cards before the 5/24 rule takes effect?  Are you having the problem that I am as to which card to close?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nashville Rocks! Halloween at the Grand Ole Opry and Gaylord Opryland Hotel

I have a confession to make. I am not a country music fan.  I blame that on not being exposed to it while growing up.  I mean, back in the days when I grew up in Boston we didn’t have a country music scene.  We had one place in Boston called Hillbilly Ranch (true name) and it was somewhat of a joke.  Even its location was a place that you didn’t want to go into – The Combat Zone.

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Photo:  Getty Images/Boston Globe

While I was in college, we were all listening to the current pop music. Then I moved to Virginia and there was a lot of bluegrass music which was too twangy for me.  Honestly, I didn’t know the difference and thought it was all country music.  So I shied away from that genre of music and stayed away.  I just was never interested in it.

You’re probably wondering why I am telling you all this and it’s easy.  I was going to visit Nashville – home of country music – on our Road Trip. We would be arriving on Halloween and wondered what we should do on that night.  There was only one answer – go to The Grand Ole Opry. Yes, I was going to listen to country music.  We looked at the schedule and believe it or not, I had actually heard of some of the performers like Vince Gill, Charlie Daniels and his band, and the Gatlin Brothers were the main performers with others also on the show.

We first called the Opry box office ten days before we would arrive and realized that the only tickets left were behind the nose bleed sections.  Not what we wanted to hear.  We put our two great minds together and we came up with an idea.  What if we called the Gaylord Opryland Hotel and inquire if they had any packages that included tickets.  Gaylord hotels are part of the Marriott chain and although I did have a few points in my account, they weren’t enough to get us anything.  The operator found what we considered very good tickets, on the floor, off from the center a little bit and on an aisle. Cha-ching.  We booked the package even though it was expensive  but we figured that it was a unique experience.

After we made the booking we heard from several different people what a fantastic property it was – large, gardens, a river runs through it and that it would take us a few days to go all through it.  In my mind, it just didn’t make sense that this large hotel that would be minutes from the Grand Ole Opry because in my mind the Opry is in downtown Nashville.   Confusion reigned as we drove up this long driveway in the outskirts of Nashville.  We pulled in at 5:30 and elected to do valet parking at $32 per day (yikes, don’t tell Blogger Hubby) because we needed to get to our room, do a quick shower and be at the appropriate door to ride the shuttle to the show.   Still thinking that the Opry was in downtown Nashville, we knew we had to hurry or we’d miss the shuttle and we didn’t know how expensive a taxi would be.  The show began at 7:00 and here it was at 5:30 and we had to be at the door at 6:00.  First tip if you are going to the Gaylord Opryland Hotel:  unless you are with a convention, ask to be in the Cascades section of the hotel.  We were initially booked by the desk clerk in Magnolia, next to the Convention Hall on the opposite side of this large hotel even though she knew we were in a rush.  That is one heck of a long walk; same goes for Delta. Our bellman, seeing that we were in MagnoliaCascades was able to change our room to make it easier to reach.  Cascades, where we ended up,  is where the main lobby is, where the concierge is where you are parked, and where you get your car from valet parking.

We met our shuttle and had a 3 minute ride to the Grand Ole Opry – not downtown but very close by.  We knew where to meet the shuttle for the ride home.  We walked in, and since we hadn’t had dinner, we were able to get drinks and popcorn to bring into the theatre with us.  Great seats awaited us.  IMG_2159

There was an Mistress of Ceremony warming up the crowd but shortly the show would begin.  We noticed there was a large screen over the stage of the Opry as well as a few other screens throughout the theatre.  As we were reminded, this is a live radio show and there are commercials about the sponsors of the Opry with the announcer standing near the edge of stage left.

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The show was divided into four acts with each act having their own Master of Ceremony who would introduce the performers in the acts.  Larry Gatlin and the Gatlin Brothers opened up the show welcoming us and then proceed to sing.  P1040912

The second act was a led by a substitute MC – Jeanne Seeley.  She was the only one dressed in a costume with a boa of dollars bills over her witch’s dress.  She characterized herself as a Rich Witch.  Singing during this act was Ricky Scaggs.  P1040918

A surprise guest during this time was  Florence Henderson aka “Carol Brady”.  The third act was MC’d by Charlie Daniels and his band and boy, can he fiddle.  We overheard from the row behind us that they had just heard him about a week or so before and he was really putting on a performance this night.  Charlie was given a standing ovation after singing and playing “Devil Went Down to Georgia”.  It went something like this.  P1040955

The evening ended with Vince Gill and a clip of him during his early years playing at the Opry, or as he liked to call it – 50 pounds earlier. Also performing in the final act was Mel Tillus.  It was a country music star studded evening – what a way to spend Halloween night!

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We really enjoyed our Halloween night at the Opry and I hope to enjoy a repeat visit to this house of music.

BTW, the Grand Ole Opry was downtown Nashville in the Ryman Auditorium but moved out to its present location in 1975.  If you are interested in tickets, follow this link.

 

 

 

 

 

Milan, Italy – How to Turn Lemons into Lemonade

Both of us were so excited to travel to Milan not so much to see Milan, though we were excited about that, but more for using it as a jumping off spot to take the train up to Lake Como, Lake Maggiore as well as visiting the World Fair being held in Milan.

We left Verona, our fascinating stop on the way to Milan and hopped on the train to continue our journey from Venice to Milan.  I very much enjoyed looking out the windows to see the landscape of northern Italy pass us by.  Within a few hours, and after a quick nap, we arrived in the Centrale train station in Milan.  Walking into the station we were struck by how beautiful the station is.  I later found out that it is considered one of the most stations in all of Europe and we can certainly believe it.IMG_1867

We had reservations at the Hilton using the points that we had earned for our American Express Hilton Honors credit card that has no annual fee.  Why I like this card is that I get 5 times points when I use this card at grocery stores, gas stations and restaurants.  That is huge.  I make it even better than that because I buy merchant gift cards at my grocery store and get 5 times points.  If I am going shopping at TJ Maxx I will go into my grocery store and buy a TJ Maxx gift card and use it for my purchases.  Let me not digress any more – we had reservations for three nights at the Hilton and then our final night in Milan at the Holiday Inn at Linate Airport to save us travel time in the morning before our too early o’clock flight!  The Hilton is a short 2-3 block walk to the train station.  After our nights at the B&B in Venice, this room looked like a palace to us though in reality it was fine, nothing special.

After walking outside and finding a little outdoor cafe where we had great pizza, we headed back to our room.  It had been a long day that had started too early in Venice.  We looked on the television and on my iPad for the weather in Milan and it was not looking good at all.  They were predicting rain, heavy rain and then more rain for our entire time we would be in Milan.  Our hearts sank as most of our plans needed good weather.  Who wants to be on a boat in the middle of Lake Como when it is raining very hard.  We “Facetimed” with our daughter, who had a baby girl three days earlier, and she gave us great advice and we wondered why we didn’t think of it.  Her advice – leave; go somewhere else.

We hadn’t paid for our room and most likely we would be able to get the points back for one of the nights.  Here we are – the travel planners having to make a sudden,  decision to just go somewhere else.  Were we up to it?  Could we be spontaneous?  Were we willing to try?  With a resounding yes we decided the next morning (after we had slept on it) that we would leave but not check out in case we wanted to come back to our room.  I quickly pulled up the radar and weather.com on my iPad and we kept looking at where we could go.  Turin – nope, was going to rain there as well.  Switzerland – rain there as well.  San Marino – too far since we had to return for our flight and hotels too expensive.  Bologna – hmm, that might be interesting.  After more searching, it was Bologna home of Bolognese Sauce!  We checked on Trip Advisor for a hotel that would be close to the train station and we booked a hotel that I had never heard of – Starhotels Excelsior which was across the street from the train station, had very good reviews and cost less than $100 per night and it included a breakfast.  With a leap of faith we walked to the train station, purchased our tickets and made the 8:30 AM train to Bologna.  Since we were being so adventurous, we decided to make another stop in a small Italian city – Parma, home of Parmesan cheese. Do you see a “food” thread running through some of the towns we are visiting?

It wasn’t long before we were in Parma.  We searched the station for a luggage locker and couldn’t find one.  Apparently Parma doesn’t have a Left Luggage locker.  Blogger Hubby thought we would have to get back on the next train to Bologna because we couldn’t enjoy Parma pulling our luggage.  I asked him to give me a minute and I walked into the hotel next to the train station – the NH Hotel Parma and asked the reception desk if we could leave our luggage with them as we were just visiting for a few hours.  They had no problem with it, gave us a claim check and even gave us a map and their recommendations of where we should walk.  Blogger Hubby couldn’t believe I asked and even more that they agreed.  I really believe that people in the tourism business want to be helpful particularly Europeans.  If you are ever in Parma, I would recommend this hotel by what I saw in the lobby – it was very nice and convenient to the train station as well.

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Off we went with our map in hand.  This being Saturday we weren’t sure what we would find.  Saturday apparently is market day in Parma.  I’m used to farmer markets with stalls or tables of fruits and vegetables.  This was nothing like that.  Streets were crowded and bustling with people looks for deals on clothing, kitchen wares, shoes, purses, etc.  We could barely get through the crowds.  I thought it was great and I was in my element wanting to be like these Italians, searching for great buys.  I guess I forgot that whatever we purchased, we would have to fit in our already full and heavy luggage.  I could still vicariously enjoy what they were doing.  One vendor caught my eye.  He was standing on a corner and had a sheet on the ground with beautiful designer purses.  The cobalt blue Chanel purse caught my eye and before I could approach him and ask how much, he quickly grabbed everything in the sheet and ran down the street.  I looked around the corner to see what spooked him and it was two police officers.  I knew that he was selling counterfeit purses but honestly (and don’t get angry at me) I really, really liked that purse.  I liked the color, the shape and it didn’t matter as much that it was a Chanel.  I missed my chance.  Believe it or not, I would see him a few more times as he was always looking over his shoulder or listening to the signal his spotter would give. Blogger Hubby would not let me purchase that purse.  I know he was right but that purse, it was really great.

 

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All the little stores selling meats, cheeses and pizza slices were open.  We bought what we wanted to eat and went across the street to sit on a park bench and eat our lunch overlooking the river.  Parma is home to one of the world’s oldest universities having been founded in the 12th century.  This would be a good city if you have college age children to spend a semester abroad – lively city without being overly crowded.

As we walked back to the hotel for our luggage and subsequently to the train station to continue our travels to Bologna, we were again in awe of the beautiful architecture that was in Parma particularly the Governor’s Palace that dated back to the 13th century.

We were pleased with our stop, would welcome a return to Parma and would like to have more time so we could take a cooking lesson or a food tour of this area.

 

Panama Canal Cruise – our First Day on Holland America Zuiderdam

I just returned home after a last minute booking on the 11 night Holland America Sunfarer cruise aboard the Zuiderdam.  Booking at the last minute does save you money however, your choices in staterooms are limited.  I had looked at the deck plan and saw that one of the staterooms available was 4119 which is listed as having an obstructed view due to the lifeboat outside our window.  Looking closely at the deck plan, it appeared that this stateroom was at the end of the lifeboats and that perhaps not the entire ocean view window would be blocked.  I then googled “Zuiderdam stateroom 4119” to see if there were any reviews of this stateroom.  The reviewers were saying what I was seeing – that it is not a totally obstructed stateroom, that it has a floor to ceiling window and it has a bathtub (not important for me but important to some people).  I was feeling pretty good about our chances for a decent stateroom.

Like many travelers, we flew into Fort Lauderdale the day before our cruise.  During the winter months, this is very important to me.  There are so many hotels to choose from that will offer free or low priced shuttle rides to the dock.  We chose to stay at the Hyatt Place mainly because it was within walking distance of the Harbor Shops, a nice strip shopping center that had restaurants, shops and a Publix grocery store.  We paid $169 for the 2 bed suite.  They had a nice breakfast bar but it does close very promptly at 9 AM.  We could walk to the Harbor Shops but elected to have the shuttle bus drive us there.

cruises harbor shops

At the Publix I was able to buy my wine for the cruise (HAL allows you to bring in 2 bottles of wine at the beginning of the cruise per stateroom), my 12 pack of cola and a 12 pack of water.  I would carry the wine on board but for the cola and the water, I taped a luggage tag onto them and had them delivered to my stateroom with my luggage.  I had brought down to Florida my clear packing tape as well as a couple extra luggage tags that I had printed off to use on the cola and water.

I like to get to the docks early and this time was no exception.  We signed up for the first shuttle from the hotel which was at 10:00.  The shuttle to the dock cost us $7 and we had to pay the driver separately from the hotel bill – make sure you sign up for the shuttle when you check in to the hotel.  If you elect to leave your car here while on the cruise, the price as of this date is $7 per day.  By 10:30 we were at the dock, luggage, cola and water dropped off outside, checked in and received our boarding group number, with the deck plan and our ship card in our hand, which is used whenever you leave or return to the ship or when you want to purchase something on the ship.  Getting there early allowed us to find a seat to sit and wait in comfort.  As we were waiting we could see the line to check in was getting longer and longer.  We liked our strategy to get there early.   At 11:45 we were boarding our home away from home for the next eleven nights and going to our stateroom to drop off our carry ons.

cruise 1 port

Since we had sailed on Holland America previously, we were Mariners.  I was a three star and my friend was a one star – the number is based on the number of sea days you sail and how much money you spend while on the cruise.  Many people do not know that one Holland America Mariner perks is that  you can eat lunch in the Vista Dining Room upon embarkation rather than the crowded Lido buffet.  We had a delightful luncheon with a couple from Canada that we would see off and on throughout our cruise.

We explored the ship going to one of my favorite locations first – the Culinary Arts Center by day and the Queens Row Lounge by night.  In this lounge, cooking demonstrations are held during the day as well as a few hands on cooking lessons that are $29.  The cooking lessons are held on sea days and there were two lessons during our trip.  Ten participants are allowed at these classes and there always is a waiting list.  I quickly signed up for the class and chose which one I wanted to do.  I chose the class that featured Cajun Grilled Shrimp over Greens with three different vinaigrettes, mashed potatoes with surfeit, grilled pork chops with a picadillo salsa and tres leche cake.  We were to work with one of the chefs on the ship as well as the “Party Planner” in preparing the meal.  After we made it, we would be served the meal made by the kitchen on board the ship at the specialty dining room Pinnacle Grill complemented with our choice of red or white wine.

cruise culinary arts center

We continued our tour and went to the spa area.  Holland America has a separate thermal pool, a relaxation room with five tiled heated loungers, and two saunas.  There is a few to go here and if you book on the first day there is a discount.  We signed up for this and knew that we would avail ourselves of the thermal pool with jets to ease our aching muscles and to put me in the relaxation mood for this trip.

cruises spa

We stopped by the Digital Workshop which is staffed by Microsoft.  Unfortunately, it wouldn’t be open for the first five days of the cruise.  Once it was open, they would offer workshops three times a day and then another session for a question and answer period.  Laptops were there but the number of laptops, as well as seats, were limited.  Even getting there 30 minutes prior to the workshop did not allow you to get a seat.  If this interests you, get there about 45 minutes before the class begins.

cruises digital workshop

We had signed up last minute for this cruise and were given the fixed dining time of 7:45.  We did not want this time knowing that we probably would not be having the dining room till about 9:30.  We met with the maitre’d and he could not change us to the early seating and said if we went to the Any Time You Wish seating then we would have to eat at 5:15 as they had no reservations left.  We were a little frustrated but then a waiter whispered to us to just show up.  We decided to take his advice when it was time to dine.

Our final stop before heading to our stateroom to unpack our suitcases was to the Shore Excursion desk.  We had only booked one excursion before we left and although I probably wasn’t going to book another ship excursion, my traveling companion was interested in getting more information for our stop in Aruba as well as Costa Rica.  They explained some of the differences between the excursions as well as the activity level needed for each excursion.  Two booked excursions later we finally went to our stateroom to find our luggage in the room and we began unpacking.

We walked into the Any Time You Wish dining room (Vista Dining room, deck 2) and were seated sharing a table with four other people.  This is the benefit of having Any Time You Wish dining – you get to meet new people every night.  Each night we widen the number of  people that we met and began to know on this ship.

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A delicious meal, entertainment in the Vista lounge, going to the Piano Bar and have a late night ice cream in the Lido buffet ended our first day on the Zuiderdam.

I want to say hello to my fellow HAL cruisers who may be reading this blog for the first time.  It was a pleasure meeting you and talking about travel and points.  If you like this blog, please consider receiving my blogs in your email by clicking “Follow Me” on the right side of this blog.  To read more about cruising, go to the category tab and look for it in the drop down menu.

 

 

My Secret Weapon for Cheap Hotel Rooms

While Jane is away, she invited me to submit a guest post.  I blog over at Fishing4Deals, about how to travel cheap, save money, and have fun.  My focus is on budget, domestic travel, and I fancy myself as the Priceline Queen.

Priceline is my workhorse for finding cheap hotel rooms.  I usually have pretty good luck booking rooms at half the going rate.  I love the thrill of the chase, and the suspense of wondering if my low bid will be accepted.

There are some times though, when my best efforts on Priceline have failed, and I need to find a room for the night.

Last Minute Rooms with HotelCoupons.com

If you like to do road trips, you’ve probably seen those hotel coupon magazines they give away at highway rest stops, gas stations and fast food joints.  They used to be called RoomSaver, but they have rebranded as Hotel Coupons, and they are online at HotelCoupons.com.

Okay, I know what you’re thinking:  those coupons are just for one star hotels like Rodeway Inn, Days Inn, or Econolodge.   Not so.

Not Just One Star Motels

To be sure, you will find many offers for roadside motels that cluster near the exits on the Interstate, but you can also find coupons for last minute stays with solid mid-range chains like Holiday Inn, Holiday Inn Express, Hampton Inn, or Fairfield Inn.

You can also find coupons in some markets for upper-mid-range hotels like Crowne Plaza, Embassy Suites, or Homewood Suites.

But what may surprise you is that you can sometimes find coupons for independent hotels, at rates far below the regular walk-in rate.  When we were exploring the Oregon Coast, for example, we found lovely beachfront hotels in Seaside and Newport through the  coupon guide.  These were not cookie-cutter chain hotels, but nice places with real local flavor.

Would you believe that one of the most vaunted hotels in Washington, DC, the historic  Willard Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue, is also listed on HotelCoupons.com?  The Willard is a five star hotel!

Needless to say, you should always shop around to make sure you are getting the best possible rate.

Be aware, also, that the hotel will not always honor the coupon rate.

Earn IHG Points on the Coupon Rate

If you book rooms with most online travel agencies like Hotwire or Priceline, you will not earn loyalty points for your stay.  HotelCoupons.com has an arrangement with IHG properties:  you will receive the IHG Best Rate Guarantee and IHG Rewards Club points for rooms booked via HotelCoupons.com.  The IHG family of hotels includes Staybridge Suites, Holiday Inns, Crown Plazas, and Intercontinental Hotels, among others.

Have you scored any deals with roadside coupons?

If you enjoyed this article, you can find more stories like this on my blog, at Fishing4Deals.com.

Plantations Along the Ashley River, Charleston, SC

 

After we had our breakfast at the Holiday Inn, we decided it was time to hit the road and visit a plantation.  We had narrowed our choices down to three – Magnolia, Middleton Place and Drayton.  It was difficult to narrow down which one we wanted to pay to visit but we finally chose Middleton Place.  Nevertheless, we wanted to stop in and see what we could of the other two plantations.  We first arrived at the closed gate of Drayton.  It was a beautiful entrance and the historical signage gave us some background:

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With the gate closed, we drove down a little further to Magnolia Plantation.  We would have paid to visit this plantation but it had no period furniture in the plantation.

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We were able to park, walk around, see the dazzling azaleas in full bloom.

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We were also able to see, from a distance, the manor home.  On the grounds is the Audubon Swamp Garden, which we didn’t visit.  If we had more time, we would have walked through the Swamp Garden.

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We continued down the road to Middleton Place:

P1000276We opted to purchase admission to the grounds ($24), a horse drawn carriage ride and commentary ($16) and admission to the home with a guided tour ($15).  As soon as our tickets were purchased, we went over to wait for our carriage ride.  You are assigned times and we had a wait of about 15 minutes.  We enjoyed getting an overview of the lands and gardens and hearing some of the history of the plantation.  When that was over, it was lunch time.  We chose to eat at their restaurant.  The choices were either their buffet ($18) or choices of salads.  We both chose the buffet and it was a very good choice, one we kept thinking about for a few days.  They served fried chicken, corn casserole, squash casserole, hopping johns, fresh salad with homemade salad dressing and a few more items that I have forgotten.  The chicken was lightly floured and not greasy and it was totally prepared on site.

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The house was furnished in period furnishings, many from the family.  This home has survived three major hurricanes in three different centuries, close to the epicenter of the famous earthquake of 1886 as well as being the staging grounds for both the northern and southern armies during the Civil War.  There are rice fields (different from rice paddies) on this property and we learned what hard work it was – much more difficult than any other work that was done on plantations.

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The tour guides were so knowledgeable that they added immensely to our time at Middleton.  All in all we had a great time there but now it was time to drive in Charleston and find our hotel, Embassy Suites.

Took us less than thirty minutes to make the drive.  The hotel is in the block next to the Visitors Center, which for us, was a great location.  It was also a pinkish-coral color hotel and the former site of the Citadel, which explains its architecture.

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The service was outstanding.  As soon as we pulled up in our car, a bellman was there to unpack our car as well as to valet park it.  We were in awe of the central atrium within the hotel.  It seems as though the rooms are in a ring around the atrium – we didn’t see any hallway although I am sure there were probably a few rooms that were in a hallway.

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Unfortunately for me, the room didn’t live up to the usual Embassy Suites that I have stayed in.  The bedroom had two queen size beds and they were basically against the wall.  Our room had two windows but with the architecture, only one window had a view and since there was only a few inches between the bed and the window, we could never enjoy the view.  The furnishings appeared to be dated though that didn’t prevent us from having a good nights sleep.  In the atrium, there were beautiful fountains, couches and chairs and had a very open feeling.  When I go again, I might look at the Hampton Inn or the Marriott and compare them to the Embassy Suites.

Next blog – carriage ride, harbor cruise, city market, dinner

 

 

 

 

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IHG Rewards: POINTBREAKS for Jan. 27 – Mar. 31, 2014

As you might have gathered from previous posts, I am a big fan of IHG – the loyalty reward program for Holiday Inn, Candlewood, Staybridge, Crowne Plaza, etc.  During their promotion of last quarter I earned over 150,000 points by meeting their promotion requirements – I could earn as little or as much as I wanted  within their parameters of their promotion.  Currently another “The Big Win” promotion is happening now and you too could earn many points.

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Getting back to why I love IHG is simply because they run these Pointbreak specials throughout the year where you can stay at some of their hotels for just 5,000 points per night.  What a savings that is.  They have hotels that are participating throughout the world.

Here is the list of participating hotels for this quarter:

ALABAMA

CANDLEWOOD SUITES BIRMINGHAM/HOMEWOOD

ARKANSAS

HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS AND SUITES EL DORADO


HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS HOPE


CANDLEWOOD SUITES WEST LITTLE ROCK


HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS AND SUITES PINE BLUFF

ARIZONA

HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS AND SUITES FLORENCE


HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS GREEN VALLEY

CALIFORNIA

HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS SANTA NELLA


HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS WEST SACRAMENTO – CAPITOL AREA

COLORADO

HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS AND SUITES LAMAR

CONNECTICUT

CROWNE PLAZA SOUTHBURY

GEORGIA

HOTEL INDIGO ATHENS DOWNTOWN – UNIV AREA

HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS AND SUITES DOUGLAS

IOWA

HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS AND SUITES LE MARS


HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS AND SUITES SHELDON

IDAHO

HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS AND SUITES BOISE WEST – MERIDIAN

ILLINOIS

HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS CRESTWOOD


HOLIDAY INN EFFINGHAM


CANDLEWOOD SUITES PEORIA AT GRAND PRAIRIE

INDIANA

HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS AUBURN-TOURING DR


CANDLEWOOD SUITES LOUISVILLE NORTH


CANDLEWOOD SUITES INDIANAPOLIS


HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS AND SUITES LOGANSPORT

KANSAS

CANDLEWOOD SUITES EMPORIA


CANDLEWOOD SUITES KANSAS CITY-OVERLAND PARK

KENTUCKY

HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS CAMPBELLSVILLE

LOUISIANA

HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS AND SUITES AMITE


CANDLEWOOD SUITES LAKE CHARLES-SULPHUR

MARYLAND

HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS ABERDEEN-CHESAPEAKE HOUSE

MICHIGAN

CANDLEWOOD SUITES KALAMAZOO


HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS LAPEER


STAYBRIDGE SUITES DETROIT-UTICA

MISSISSIPPI

STAYBRIDGE SUITES JACKSON

MONTANA

HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS AND SUITES BELGRADE


HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS AND SUITES BROWNING

NORTH CAROLINA

HOLIDAY INN GREENSBORO AIRPORT


CROWNE PLAZA HICKORY


HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS HILLSBOROUGH (DURHAM AREA)


HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS PLYMOUTH

NEBRASKA

HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS AND SUITES LINCOLN SOUTH

NEW JERSEY

HOLIDAY INN BUDD LAKE – ROCKAWAY AREA


CROWNE PLAZA MONROE SOUTH BRUNSWICK

NEW MEXICO

HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS ALBURQUERQUE SOUTH – BELEN

NEW YORK

HOLIDAY INN MIDDLETOWN-GOSHEN

OHIO

HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS AND SUITES DAYTON
-HUBER HEIGHTS


HOLIDAY INN HOTEL AND SUITES MANSFIELD
-CONFERENCE CTR


CROWNE PLAZA CLEVELAND AIRPORT

OKLAHOMA

CANDLEWOOD SUITES BARTLESVILLE EAST


HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS AND SUITES EL RENO


CANDLEWOOD SUITES TULSA


CROWNE PLAZA TULSA – SOUTHERN HILLS

PENNSYLVANIA

CROWNE PLAZA PHILADELPHIA-BUCKS COUNTY


HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS AND SUITES SELINSGROVE


HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS AND SUITES WEST CHESTER

SOUTH CAROLINA

HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS AND SUITES SPARTANBURG-NORTH

TENNESSEE

HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS AND SUITES ALCOA
(KNOXVILLE AIRPORT)


HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS AND SUITES MILLINGTON
-MEMPHIS AREA

TEXAS

HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS AND SUITES ALVARADO


CANDLEWOOD SUITES AMARILLO-WESTERN CROSSING

HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS AND SUITES CENTER


CANDLEWOOD SUITES CORPUS CHRISTI-SPID


HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS AND SUITES ELGIN


HOLIDAY INN HOU ENERGY CORRIDOR ELDRIDGE


CANDLEWOOD SUITES LA PORTE


HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS AND SUITES AUSTIN NW – LAKEWAY


HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS AND SUITES RIO GRANDE CITY

VIRGINIA

HOLIDAY INN PETERSBURG NORTH- FORT LEE


HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS WILLIAMSBURG NORTH

WISCONSIN

HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS BELOIT


CANDLEWOOD SUITES MILWAUKEE BROWN DEE

R
CROWNE PLAZA MADISON


HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS ST. CROIX VALLEY

WEST VIRGINIA

HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS AND SUITES LOGAN

EUROPE

CZECH REPUBLIC

HOLIDAY INN PRAGUE AIRPORT

FRANCE

HOLIDAY INN MULHOUSE


HOLIDAY INN TOULOUSE AIRPORT

SLOVAKIA

HOLIDAY INN TRNAVA

SPAIN

HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS CAMPO DE GIBRALTAR – BARRIOS

TURKEY

CROWNE PLAZA ANKARA

UNITED KINGDOM

HOLIDAY INN BARNSLEY M1, JCT.37


HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS BRAINTREE
HOLIDAY INN COVENTRY – SOUTH


HOLIDAY INN NORTHAMPTON WEST M1, JCT 16


HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS SHREWSBURY


HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS SWINDON CITY CENTRE


HOLIDAY INN WALSALL M6, JCT.10


HOLIDAY INN DARLINGTON – A1 SCOTCH CORNER


HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS LEICESTER – WALKERS STADIUM

ASIA

INDIA

HOLIDAY INN JAIPUR


CROWNE PLAZA NEW DELHI ROHINI

INDONESIA

CROWNE PLAZA SEMARANG

JAPAN

ANA HOTEL WAKKANAI


HOLIDAY INN ANA SENDAI

CHINA (People’s Republic)

HOLIDAY INN NANTONG OASIS INTERNATIONAL


HOLIDAY INN TAICANG CITY CENTRE


HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS SHANGHAI JINSHA


HOLIDAY INN DATONG CITY CENTRE


HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS TIANJIN CITY CENTRE

MIDDLE EAST AND AFRICA

EGYPT


CROWNE PLAZA RESORT SAHARA OASIS PORT GHALIB RESOR

SOUTH AFRICA

HOLIDAY INN SANDTON – RIVONIA ROAD


HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS PRETORIA – SUNNYPARK

ZIMBABWE

HOLIDAY INN BULAWAYO

CROWNE PLAZA HARARE-MONOMOTAPA

CENTRAL AND SOUTH AMERICA

ARGENTINA

INTERCONTINENTAL MENDOZA

BRAZIL

HOLIDAY INN SAO LUIS

CHILE

HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS PUERTO MONTT

COLOMBIA

CROWNE PLAZA SUITES TEQUENDAMA BOGOTA

GUATEMALA

CROWNE PLAZA GUATEMALA

HONDURAS

HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS SAN PEDRO SULA

PARAGUAY

CROWNE PLAZA ASUNCION

MEXICO

HOLIDAY INN MEXICO BUENAVISTA


CROWNE PLAZA VILLAHERMOSA, TAB.


HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS NUEVO LAREDO


HOLIDAY INN ORIZABA


HOLIDAY INN TUXTLA GUTIERREZ

CANADA

ALBERTA

HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS AND SUITES FORT SASKATCHEWAN


HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS AND SUITES SLAVE LAKE

BRITISH COLUMBIA

HOLIDAY INN HOTEL AND SUITES OSOYOOS

ONTARIO

STAYBRIDGE SUITES GUELP

Winter Getaway – The Mountain View Grand Hotel in Whitefield, New Hampshire

Sorry for not having a post yesterday but I have a great excuse.  Our family increased by one yesterday with the birth of our grandson.  My stepson Mark agreed to fill in with a guest post from his recent family trip to New Hampshire over the holiday break.

Oh so close.  The Mountain View Grand Hotel in New Hampshire’s White Mountains is oh so close to marrying family amenities with a luxury turn-of-the-century grand hotel experience that my family and I can’t help but root for them.   Just a few issues to fix (more on those below) and the hotel would be fully there…except maybe then it would book solid and stop offering the frequent deals that make this extravagant experience financially within reach.  So maybe we won’t root too hard.  If you’re the type who is accustomed to luxury and scoffs at every imperfection, then this is oh so close, but not quite your hotel.  But if you can brush off a few minor issues, you’ll love the MVG, and your kids will too.

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The White Mountains are a four season draw, and there are plenty of flavorless motels and quaint B&Bs to choose from (if you don’t mind invading the intimacy and calm of a B&B with children).  But if you want to experience the charm and history of the mountains, dine where presidents once dined, and enjoy fireside extravagance, then the grand hotels—leftovers from a bygone era of horse drawn carriages and wealthy families escaping (with staff) for the full summer—stand out.  There are several nestled right in the heart of the mountains: Eagle Mountain House, the Balsams, the famous Mount Washington Hotel in the shadows of its namesake mountain all come to mind.  And then there is the Mountain View Grand, which is not quite in the mountains, but oh so close.  It’s just north of the main mountains and the main towns, perched on a hill with a glorious view spanning the slopes of Cannon Mountain ski resort, Franconia Ridge, and all the peaks of the Northern Presidential Range.  But unlike the other grand hotels, you’re not quite in those mountains; you’re admiring them from a 25 minute drive away.  And you’re not quite near any towns of appreciable size either.  So if you want to get away and stay away, which is what we did, then you’ll be happy.  But if you want the slopes or the trails or the shops and restaurants at your doorstep, keep looking.

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We spent four days with our two kids, and the kids didn’t want to leave.  The list of what we parents and the kids loved is long:  live piano music in the lobby in the evening; a mini movie theatre with reclining leather seats where you can pick the movie you want and request the staff bring down free popcorn; a good sized indoor pool, hot tub, exercise room, exercise classroom, and sauna.  Wide hallways adorned with oil paintings and stocked bookshelves; a game room with pool, ping pong, air hockey, and foosball; a parlor rooms with checkers and chess.  The food in the restaurant is excellent again this year—two years in a row now, and a marked improvement over earlier years.  There is a barn stuffed with alpacas, lamas, sheep, ducks, and donkeys, with an engaging farmer who provides excellent and educational tours for the kids.  The golf course offers a good hill for sledding.  There are daily activities (ax throwing anyone?) and a fully staffed “Explorer’s Club” activity room if you want to deposit the kids for a few hours of supervised fun.   There are other things too that we haven’t sampled, either due to price or season, among them the spa, golf course, outdoor pool, tennis, mountain bike rentals, and snowmobile rentals.

diningroom mvg

There are also more basic conveniences.  After its heyday in the pre-WWII era, this style of hotel in general, and this one in particular, fell out of favor and repair; the MVG eventually closed in the mid-80s.  But it was purchased, gutted, and redone via a major renovation inside and out before re-opening in 2002, and the results are the little things that make a grand old hotel feel modern where you want it to:  modern windows that seal, modern heating, outlets where you need them, modern bathrooms…in short, it’s still has the grandeur of the old hotel, ornate and with crown molding on the crown molding, but is quite new in all the right ways.

So then what about those imperfections?  Why oh so close?  I mentioned the location—not quite in the mountains, a bit more than a hop skip and jump from the slopes, and at least 20 minutes from any sizeable town.  Good luck trying to run out for a meal.  But there are other little things as well.  Our first year we fell in love with the outdoor skating area, surrounded by a snow covered string of lights for a quintessential New England experience.  But for three straight years now, they can’t quite bring themselves to get the skating ice up and running.  Either they try but forget how to make an outdoor skating area, or claim the weather is not quite right (even though every fourth house in our neighborhood has their backyard rink running smoothly), or they can’t be bothered to set it up in time, or they forget to shovel.  We bring skates each year, and leave disappointed.   Oh so close.  And I mentioned the movie theater…except many of the reclining leather seats are broken and slumped—not a surprise with kids climbing all over them on a daily basis—except the slumping chairs remain year after year.  Oh so close.  Service in the restaurant is prompt and attentive and our breakfast arrives quickly.  And yet there is no syrup with our pancakes and waffles, and it takes repeated requests and ten whole minutes to get some.  Oh so close.  The sledding hill is great but used to send us straight into bushes and a stone wall behind.  Last year they field-mowed the bushes but left the eight inch stalks in the ground like awaiting daggers that made short work of our inflatable sleds.  (Whoops—stupid us.)  Finally this year they’ve taken a bulldozer to the area and cleared out the bush trunks and wall altogether.

The hotel is not inexpensive, and if you go at peak time and pay full price, you’ll be paying full luxury fare commensurate with the ice sculptures and doormen that will great you.  But if you can pick an off season or keep your eyes open for a deal (we found ours through Groupon), and you’re willing to overlook a few rough spots, then you’ll love relaxing and exploring this historical grand hotel.  And your kids will not want to leave.

Thanks Mark for your review.  For those unfamiliar to this area, you are close to the Presidential Range and Mt. Washington.  For the skiers, downhill skiing is available at Bretton Woods, Canon Mountain, Wildcat, Attitash.  If you visit in the spring, summer or fall, make sure you go over to Mt. Washington and take the cog railroad to the top of the mountain or hike up but remember, it is much colder at the peak so be prepared with clothes for a much colder climate.

Travel Planning for the New Year

I had planned on writing this post for a few days now and coincidentally a letter from a reader prompted me to write it sooner than later.

At the beginning of a new year, Blogger Hubby and I like to look forward to what our travel plans might be in the new year as well as the year after that.  In doing so it allows us time to strategize as to which airline we most likely would be flying or at least the alliance.  That way we can see how many points we have, how many would be needed for our trip, whether we need to apply for new credit cards for the points/miles and the timing of the cards.  We’d want to allow enough time to get the card, do the spend and have it posted to our account.  For some long haul trips you would need to begin looking for award space 330 days out from when you wanted to fly and therefore we would need for it to post by then.

Next, hotels then come into play.  Where would we be staying?  Do I have any free nights that we can use?  Are there any promotions that I can take advantage of to get more points?  Most hotels do have promotions throughout the year.  Blogger Hubby came to realize that if we spend $60 for a hotel room here, then that would translate into points for a much more expensive hotel on our vacation.  For those new readers, let me explain.  Club Carlson (Radisson, Country Inn and Suites, Park Inn) had a promotion back in 2012 where if you registered and stayed in one of their hotels by a certain date you received 50,000 points plus the points for booking it online and for staying there.  We also had an online coupon for 30% off the price of a room.  We made a booking about 30 minutes from our home and we stayed there (sometimes we just check in and don’t spend the night).  For that one night that cost us $54, we received about 53,000 points which we used at a hotel in Sydney, AU that would have cost us $350.00.  Currently Club Carlson has a decent promotion where you stay three nights and receive 38,000.  Click here to register.   Sometimes you do have to spend a little to get a better reward.  I recently did the same thing for the Big Win with IHG – made a reservation at the Candlewood Suites for $69 but received 39,000 promotion points plus the points for the stay.  That will translate into 2 nights in Copenhagen.  I know roughly how many nights I need accommodations for and will working towards that total.

Planning your travels will help you be successful in your travels.

For those who have the Chase Freedom card, you can now activate your first quarter bonus categories by going to this site

Freedom

IHG is offering another Big Win.  During the Fall I participated in it and ended up with over 150,000 which also includes the points I received from staying at the hotels – not bad.  Sign up for it even if you don’t think you are going to any hotel stays.  We just found out today that we will be staying at a hotel the first week in January so I will book it at a Holiday Inn.  Even if I don’t finish the promotion, I’ll get extra points from at least this stay.  Go here to register.

ihg big win

Delta Airlines listens to its customers and says a resounding “no” to allowing in flight cell phone calls.  I do not want to be sitting next  to someone talking loudly especially if I am trying to rest.  Thumbs up to Delta.

Sorry these posts have been brief.  I’ve been caught up in the holidays and have found myself behind in b

Hotel Booking Sites

As an alternative to booking your hotel room with the hotel of your choice, there are other sites that allow you to book and get a boatload of points.  Sometimes I use the hotel booking sites when I just want a lower price and I am not concerned about getting stays to count toward hotel elite status.  Other time, when I am close to an award flight,  I will book my hotel rooms.  Some of these sites that I will be mentioning will give you your choice of which points you can earn for your stay.

Rocketmiles –  is a startup that began last spring that that lets travelers earn frequent flier miles in major airline programs when booking hotel stays through its site.  It has top tier hotel partners in the US and around the world.  Its customers can get lots of miles for every stay,  many times more miles than booking directly with the hotel although your stay will most likely not count toward elite status.   It’s unusual to see an offer for less than 1,000 miles per night.  It has partnered with these major airlines: American, Delta, United, US Airways, Alaska Airlines, Etihad Airlines, Flying Blue (Air France and KLM), JetBlue, Virgin America and Hawaiian.   If you are interested in using Rocketmiles, you can sign up here.  We will both earn a small referral reward of miles after your first booking. I have personally used Rocketmiles and have been very satisfied with it and the number of miles that I received for using it.

rocketmiles

PointsHound – similar to Rocketmiles, Pointshound is as simple as one, two, three.  First, you select your favorite frequent flyer program and they have a lot including Virgin Atlantic, Delta, American, Aeromexico, Etihad, Hawaiian, US Airways, Baltic Air, Flying Blue, Best Buy points, and Flying Blue (Air France, KLM).  Secondly, you shop for hotel with over 150,000 in this program and finally three, you can earn up to 6000 points per night.  If you are interested in this program, you can go to this link and register using my referral link and we will both earn 250 points.

pointshound

Hotel Tonight – is a hotel booking app for your Android or iPhone where you will find deeply discounted last minute rates.  You probably won’t get any points or miles for these bookings but you will get great rates.  They have rooms in all the major cities as well as resort areas.  You cannot book until 9:00 AM in the city where you want to book a room.  Click here for their site.

hotel tonight

Of course, everyone is aware of Expedia, Orbits, Hotels.com but above are some that you might not be aware of plus you get frequent flyer miles.  Sounds pretty good to me!

I DID IT — I FINISHED “THE BIG WIN”

IHG announced their big promotion in September.  There was a list of stays that you needed to do to win it all or just complete the sections you wanted and take those points.  Since I was going to be traveling anyway, I made sure that I would stay in one of their hotels.

IHG-The-Big-Win-Promo

 

The night before we left for Hawaii, we stayed at the Holiday Inn Express at the airport the night before our flight.  The Chicago Seminar that I attended in October was held at a Holiday Inn and that took care of 2 brands (needed to stay at 4 brands).  Driving home from Northern Michigan, we stayed at a Crowne Plaza, another brand.  Finally, when I went to Northern Virginia to visit friends, I made a reservation at a Candlewood for the least expensive rate possible to round out my fourth brand.  Although I never actually stayed there, it was well worth making the reservation (and checking in) to get all those points.  Altogether I earned about 145,000 points and that will give me about 6 nights of accommodations – well worth it in my mind to spend a little to reap a lot.

So often we use credit cards to get the sign-up bonuses to use for future travel but if you see promotions, sign up for them.  You never know when you might need a hotel room and the points I received from this promotion is a lot more than what I would get from a credit card sign-up.  If you are taking a trip or expect to be in a hotel room, look at the promotions and see how you can maximize it.

Here’s what I did and you can do it too.  The promotion runs through the end of December.  Click this link to register and start staying and getting your points

Stay at any IHG® hotel and receive
1,000 POINTS
Stay at 4 different IHG brands and receive
24,000 POINTS
Stay a total of 6 nights and receive
7,000 POINTS
Book 2 separate stays through an IHG® hotel website or mobile device to get our best price guarantee and receive
2,400 POINTS
Stay 2 Saturday nights and receive
4,800 POINTS
Complete a simple survey and receive
100 POINTS
Complete all of your offers and receive
39,000 POINTS

Still working on The Big Win from IHG

In September I signed up for the IHG promotion called The Big Win.  There were different steps that I could do to earn points during this promotion.  I first began by signing up for all the promotion codes that IHG provided.  I found the codes here in message number 3.  I added them to this page .  Of course, I was already a member of their loyalty program.

imagesihg rewards club

The details of the big win are:

A selection of different single promotions, which might vary according to some reports in the internet in relation to your stay pattern. There is a bonus if all promotions are completed until December 31, 2013. The following example is what some people got:

  • Try one and done: Stay at any IHG hotel and receive 1,000 Points
  • Stay more and earn: Stay a total of 4 nights and receive 4,000 Points
  • Explore more brands: Stay at 3 different IHG brands and receive 10,000 Points
  • Book with us: Book 2 separate stays through an IHG hotel website or mobile device to get our best price guarantee and receive 2,000 Points
  • Win in a weekend: Stay 2 Saturday nights and receive 8,000 Points
  • Get an additional 25000 Points if all promotions are completed until December 31, 2013.

My point totals were a little higher than this.  By entering the codes as well as trying to meet the different steps to the Big Win, I am getting lots of points.  In fact, I have stayed at three of their brands and a fourth one will give me even more points.  I have made a reservation at one of the brands that I have not stayed with yet just for the points.  I looked around for the least expensive hotel I could find so I could made the reservation at the lowest price point.  I am actually not planning on staying there.  When I compare what I am spending to what I am receiving, I am definitely coming out ahead.

ihg

IHG offers Point Breaks several times a year.  What this is are hotels in their brand around the world that are just 5,000 points per night.  A new list will be coming out on November 1st but some of the hotels have been “leaked” and they are Intercontinental Hotels in Tahiti, Johannesburg, Shanghai Rujin, The Crowne Plaza in Muscat, Prague, Acapulco and Panama.  Additionally there will be 143 properties in the United States that will have Pointbreaks!  Check back on their website for the full list of hotels on November 1st.  If you don’t have enough points in your IHG account, remember if you have Ultimate Reward points, you can transfer them in at a 1:1 ratio.

See how valuable their points become?

Chase Marriott Credit Card – Renewal Time, What to Do?

No, this isn’t a post extolling you to get this credit card but instead it is one where we were thinking about canceling this credit card since it is time for our renewal and the $85 fee and what are options were.

Blogger Hubby enjoyed using some of our points that he received when he first signed up for this card last year – in fact, if he hadn’t had the points, he would have not stayed at a hotel and instead would have gotten up very early in the morning to drive to the airport.  It made it very convenient for him to have those points in the bank and use them when he ordinarily wouldn’t have.

A few minutes ago he just called the number on the back of the card and mentioned to the person that answered the phone that he was thinking of canceling his card and could he speak with a retention specialist.  He was put right through and explained that he was thinking of canceling unless they could convince him otherwise.  With renewal you automatically get one free night stay at a Category 1-5 hotel so right there, that was worth the renewal fee.  Then to sweeten it for us, they said if he made 15 purchases in the next three months, they would credit our account with 5,000 points.  The purchases can be for any amount. We readily accepted.

The point of this is when you are thinking about whether to keep or cancel a credit card consider what benefit you may gain out of keeping it: is it worth the annual fee, in this case $85, for the benefit you might derive out of it (a free night stay and for us 5,000 points0?  Only you can decide that.

Hilton Waikoloa Resort north of Kona, Hawaii

After our trip to Kauai, we flew into Kona for our final three nights of our Hawaiian vacation.  Kona is a very small airport with limited roofing and sides to the building.  We know this because when we landed, it was a torrential wind driven rain storm.  The pilot had us wait inside the plane for a bit since there are no jetways.  After wading through 3 inches of water and getting our rain drenched luggage, we went to Alamo to pick up our rental car.

We were shortly we were on our way up Rt. 19 to the Hilton.  As we pulled into the Hilton property all we could see were lots of cars.  In fact, they were hosting an event.  We pulled up and we unloaded our luggage while my husband found out that we had to pay $17 per day for self parking or $22 for valet service.  We chose the valet service since the property was so large.

The lobby was extremely busy for after 9 PM.  We checked in, given a room in the Ocean Terrace and told we needed to take the monorail to our complex which would be the end of the line (3rd stop).  There was a boat we could take but they don’t allow luggage.  Since there is one track, we needed to wait about 30 minutes for the train.  Blogger Hubby wasn’t pleased about that!  Looking at the photo below, he Ocean Terraces are the three circles that are interlocking.  There is only one stop at this location and it is at the far right.  We felt like we ended up walking quite a bit to get to our room.

KPC Hilton Waikoloa

This hotel looked dated, no microwave, single sink and for me a big disappointment was no lei greeting like we had at the Hyatt. The balcony was very small with two chairs and a small, short round end table.  There was a coffee machine like the Hyatt had but unlike the Hyatt, they did not offer tea and I am a tea drinker.

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We were woken up very early in the morning and multiple times due to about a million birds screeching.  They did it many times and it lasted a long time.  We met several people who changed their rooms/complexes because of the loudness of these birds.  If I was staying longer or had children with me, we would have changed as well.  The other side of the complex had the dolphins which I’m sure a lot of children would like to be near to see the interaction or to swim with them.

Rather than waiting for the monorail, we walked to the lobby, about a 10 minute museum.  The boat only ran from 2 PM till 10 PM.  It was, in our opinion, very inconvenient to have to wait a long time to go to your room.

The pools here didn’t seem as inviting as the one at the Grand Hyatt Kauai – there was no lazy river and a small water slide.  The “lagoon” where you could rent kayaks, paddleboards did have a natural environment where we saw green turtles swimming with paddleboarders a few inches, or so it seemed, right above them.  There was water around the complex that you could not go into – such as the waterway for the boat.

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We did attend the Luau that they had and it was quite good.  There really is no need to pay for the higher end seats as there is no bad seat at this luau. When you enter you get your choice of two drinks and are escorted to your seat.  The higher end seats did receive appetizers (nachos and chips among them).  The food was very good for being mass produced: short ribs, pulled pork, salads, fruit and desserts.  The show began a little hokey but that was okay.  The entire affair probably took about 2 hours.

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Hilton5We enjoyed our time but would not consider returning to this location.  It really was just too large for us and we felt like we spent quite a bit of our time waiting for the monorail, waiting for our car from valet (everyone on the monorails went to the car valet for their cars).  The hotel, just to give you an idea of how large it is, covered 63 acres!  Too big for us.

We were able to do this because we have the Hilton Honors American Express card where you get 5 times points at grocery stores (buy VISA gift cards there and use for other spending) as well as opening a Bank of Hawaii and Hawaiian Air credit cards.  With a minimum spend of $1000 we earned 35,000 and they each transferred over to Hilton at a 1:2 ration – those two cards gave us 140,000. Rooms went for 50,000 points per night so the points from the Hilton AmEx topped off what we had already earned.

Grand Hyatt Kauai

grand hyatt

I had read about this hotel and was very anxious to see what everyone was talking about.  We were able to stay here since we had opened our Chase Hyatt credit card that came with two free nights at any Hyatt anywhere around the world.  The Hyatt that everyone talk about are the Grand Hyatts in Sydney, Tokyo, Paris and Kauai.  Using it in Kauai was the natural choice for us.  With the free nights and since we have the Hyatt card, we did not have to pay the $25 per day resort fee or the wifi for our room.  There is free complimentary parking or a for charge valet service for your car; we chose the free parking.

In preparation for our stay in Kauai, I emailed the concierge at the Hyatt for a list of suggestions and ideas of what we should do and see.  One of the suggestions was a dinner cruise along the Na Pali Coast.  That sounded like something we would do and since he didn’t say that reservations were important to make ahead of time, we decided to wait since they were having heavy rain and flash floods in Kauai.  More about this later.

We were able to catch an earlier flight out of Honolulu and arrived on Kauai about an hour earlier than planned at 9:00 AM.  As Blogger Hubby was getting our rental car, I called the hotel and inquired if we could have an earlier check-in.   After a few minutes on hold, I was told that we could drive over to the hotel and they would accommodate us.  Before we drove to the airport, we took the rental car shuttle driver’s advice and had breakfast in Lihue at the Tip Top Cafe.  I had macadamian nuts pancakes and Blogger Hubby had oxtail soup.

Hyatt

The hotel is about 20 minutes from the Lihue airport on Kauai.  Very easy to get to.  As were pulled up to the front of the hotel in our rental car, the doorman greeted us, put a beautiful orchid lei around my neck and a black beaded lei around Blogger Hubby’s neck.

Check-in was easy and before we knew it, a bellman had our luggage and as he walked us to our room, he told us a bit about the resort and showed us around.  We were on the first floor with a pool view on the Shipwreck Beach side.  We had two queen size beds, 2 refrigerators and a microwave in our room.  The common bathroom area was quite large with two sinks.  To the left was the bathtub and shower and on the right was the toilet.  Our balcony had two chairs and an eating size round glass table.  Close to our door, was a swimming pool and the pool cabanas.  The grounds were beautiful, multi-level with bridges across the water and pools on different levels.  They even had a lagoon with a sandy beach so you felt like you were in the ocean of which I didn’t see anyone in it.  There is what I call a lazy river that you can float a long way in and even go on a water slide (yes, I went on the slide).  It was a fun way to spend a day.  The hot tub is in a lava rock pool.  I really liked this hotel.

bathroom
                                        bathroom
view from our room
                                                                 view from our room

The Hyatt also has the Anara Spa but it is so much more than just massages.  It is a place to go that is quiet and peaceful with a multi lane lap pool, cushioned lounges around, jacuzzis, lava rock showers, a locker room with a vanity with products so you don’t have to bring your own.  Along the “bar” by the pool they have fruit infused water for he taking as well as a few tables so you can order a meal to eat.  Soft relaxing music compliment the spa.  This is where we hung out after we checked out of our room and didn’t have to be to the airport till 4 hours later.

spa
spa
lava rock shower in the spa
         lava rock shower in the spa

We never made it to the NaPali Coast because when we went to the concierge desk after arrival we were told that we had to pre-reserve the tickets of which nothing was said in the emails that I had received.   We were very disappointed in not having the information early enough to know to make reservations in advance of our trip. Also, when I asked about different luaus on the island, I was only directed to the one sponsored by the Hyatt.  Turns out the concierges are not Hyatt employees but are employeed by Travelocity.  Not sure if this is good thing or not but it is what it is.

I was very pleased with our stay.  They do a lot of little things to make me want to spread the word at how good it is and to come back.  In our room, we had a recycle trash container; nightly turn down service with chocolates and orchids on our bed; our refrigerator had complimentary water and it was restocked twice a day; all the water that was in the pool complex was for our recreation and swimming and not just for show; our room was easily accessible to the main lobby; their beach towels are a very good size, and there was a guitarist each evening that we listened to.  There is so much more about this facility that I could go on and on. Oh, and did I mention that they have a wonderful Camp Hyatt for children.  The ONLY negative that I would say is that there were not enough outlets for me to sit in the very comfortable chair and plug in my computer while using it.

I do want to acknowledge an employee who always had a smile on her face and always seemed to be working at the front desk – Malaika.  I would see her in the

Malaika  -my favorite hotel employee of all time
Malaika -my favorite hotel employee of all time

mornings, afternoons and even the evenings.  She was never bothered with me asking questions and generally wanted me to have a wonderful vacation.  She certainly personifies the hospitality that Hyatt is know for.  If you are looking for a hotel in Kauai, look no further because you should spend your vacation here.

Staying at an Airport Hotel and Flying to Oahu

Since we had a 6:00 AM flight from Detroit Metro Airport  we decided to stay at a hotel near the airport.  We chose the Holiday Inn Express as IHG has The Big Win promotion going on right now and I wanted to take advantage of it. We were also able to leave our car at the lot behind the hotel for free for 8 days (through the hotel) and then pay $11 per day after that or $8 per day if you have a AAA card or AARP card. We parked our car at the hotel the night we checked in and then moved it that morning to the lot behind the Holiday Inn Express.  The shuttle bus was right there to take us to the airport.

ihg big win

Check in was a breeze as was security this time of the morning.  I took photos of our luggage in case they got lost and I could describe them and show them (yes, mine had the penguin duct tape on it) as well as looking at the luggage tag to make sure they were going to HNL.  The people that work the desk are only human and they can make mistakes – I just don’t want it to happen to me.

I found out that we could not use the UAL Club because we were flying domestically.  It would have been nice but it wasn’t that important.  We flew a CRJ (Canadian Regional Jet) from Detroit to Houston.  We had two of the 6 First Class seats and to be honest, I would never pay extra for these seats.  There was very little recline, no food offered whatsoever though juice/soda was offered.  Additionally this jet was freezing cold.  I know, at times, I’m always cold but when I see men putting on their jackets and trying to stay warm, I know that it is not just me.  The flight attendants did say repeatedly that the pilot was trying to warm up the plane.  I happened to get the ONLY blanket on the plane.  I asked for a napkin and the FA thought I was asking for a blanket.  I took the blanket and still asked for a napkin.  Blogger Hubby and I were huddled together under the blanket.  Hope this gives you an idea of how cold it was on this very uncomfortable flight.

Two and a half hours later we were so glad to get off this plane and get warm at the airport in Houston (IAH).  A two hour layover found us having some breakfast near our gate.  As the time drew closer for our take off we were all notified by the gate agent that the in flight entertainment system was not working and that we should download movies onto our IPAD’s (hmm, do’t have one) or go to a bookstore and buy a book.  She did say they were working hard to fix the problem.  We had plenty of books but still, it was over an 8 hour flight – a movie or two would break up the time if we needed it.  Just before we boarded I ran back to the food court and bought a lunch for myself.  I have not been too pleased with the food on United and had been warned that this flight had terrible food – actually inedible food.  Ran to Panda Express for a chicken dish and lo mein.

We were able to have pre-boarding due to flying Business Class.  Actually there were two business class sections on this plane.  The plane had a 2-3-2 configuration so we chose the two together on the side of the plane.  This appeared to be one of the older planes as the in flight entertainment is on a tiny foldaway screen in your arm rest that you pull out.  Also in the arm rest is the in-flight phone that many airlines had in years (or is it decades) gone by.

After we were seated our cheery flight attendant (FA) came by and asked us what we wanted to drink.  Since this was my first trip to Hawaii, I asked for something “tropical” and sooner than I could blink an eye, Blogger Hubby and I had mai tai’s in our hand.

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Shortly we were in the air and our FA came by to serve the luncheon.  As I had been told, there was only one choice and it was the chicken that I had been warned about.  Hubby took the chicken and said it wasn’t bad.  I was happy that I had Panda Express.  Since we were up at 3:30 AM (EDT)and wouldn’t get to our accommodations till around 11 pm (EDT)  wanted to make sure that I had food in my stomach.

After lunch, we were served sundaes with all the toppings that you wanted.  Sundaes are always a nice treat on a United flight.  I slept off and on, read a complete book and saw a movie.

ice cream sundaes

We landed in Honolulu and found that we had to walk quite a distance outside to baggage claim.  I was glad for the walk since we sat for so long but I’m not sure if some people knew how far it was.  As we were waiting for our luggage, Blogger Hubby surprised me with a sweet scented plumeria lei.  The aroma was heavenly.

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As the bags came off the carousel, ours was easy to find since I used the decorative duct tape that I refer to in this post.  We walked outside and waited for the shuttle to take us to National Car rental to pick up our car that we reserved through Priceline.com  I had remembered to go through the Ultimate Rewards mall and received extra points for booking it that way.

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We picked up our white Jetta, after carefully inspecting it and making note of the scratches and marks on the car, and we were on our way to Hickam Air Force base to buy our supplies for the week at the condo in West Oahu.  Since Blogger Hubby is retired military, we are able to shop at the commissary.  Blogger Daughter, who spent her babymoon here as well went to WalMart where she purchased food for their week here.

We finished shopping and were soon on H1 heading west.  This traffic is worse than DC traffic in rush hour on a Friday afternoon!  For any of you who travel the Beltway or I-95, you know what I am referring to.

traffic H1

Next, our stay at the Hawaiian Princess in Makara.

Hotel Points and Award Mapper

If you are anything like me, you probably belong to several different hotel loyalty programs and have points in all of them. I know when we were planning our Hawaiian grip I needed to go to each hotel site and see if they had a facility in the locations that we wanted to stay in as well as how many points it would be to sty there.  It REALLY took a long time to do this, at least for me.

I’ve just found out about a tool that will certainly help me and I hope you.  It is called Award Mapper.  It’s shows hotels on the map as well as on the right sidebar.   It’s a good beginning to finding your hotel.  It does not include all locations or all hotels but it includes many of the big players.

Give it a try and see what you think.

REMINDER:  Leave a comment on THIS post to be entered into the drawing for a $50 VISA gift card on Sunday night at 9 PM.  You can enter once  a day with a comment about what you like about this blog.  Good luck everyone.

AirBnB – a Housing Option when Traveling

airbnb
airbnb (Photo credit: Gustavo da Cunha Pimenta)

Have any of you heard of AirBnB?  I bet you know what VRBO (Vacation Rental by Owner) is.  Well, this is something similar.  Whether it is renting an entire house for a vacation or a room in someone’s home for a few nights, you will find what you need on this site.   There are many reviewers that share their experiences.

They describe themselves as “a global community marketplace that connects travelers seeking authentic, high-quality accommodations with hosts who offer unique places to stay.  With Airbnb, guests can access truly amazing experiences – from stays in castles to holidays in treehouses, caves, or even private islands.”

You can find some unique and very different accommodations   There are properties in 192 countries.  This is a great alternative to a stay in a hotel particularly when you are with your family and want to give your  grandkids or your children room to spread out   Some properties will also have kitchen facilities which will make it convenient. If you don’t know where in the city to stay, let them help you with the neighborhood guide.

Head on over to AirBnB and see if it might meet your need when traveling.

Hotel Promotions for the Fall – Starwood, Hyatt, IHG, Marriott, Hilton and Club Carlson

One of the fastest ways to get hotel points and status is to take advantage of their seasonal promotions.  That’s how we received over 200,000 Club Carlson points last spring.  Here is a rundown of some the active promotions – remember you need to become a loyalty member and you also need to register for them.

Starwood “Take Two” promotion – Starwood (SPG = Starwood Preferred Guest) spgis the  loyalty brand for Sheraton, Westin, Le Meridien, Four Points by Sheraton, Aloft, The St. Regis, Walt Disney World Dolphin and WDW Swan.   This promotion offers double Starpoints on eligible stays and 2,500 bonus Starpoints for every five eligible nights and  up to 10,000 bonus Starpoints for twenty nights.  Award nights are not eligible for this promotion.  You need to register online between September 1st and October 31st.  This is for stays between September 1 and Dec. 15th.  Be warned that some properties are not participating in this promotion – click here for the list for those properties NOT participating.

Hyatt – Beginning September 9, you can earn 5,000 Hyatt Gold Passport bonus hyatt logopoints after your first five nights (remember the difference between a night and a stay – you may have to check in and out again unless your hotel works with you), and thousands more for every additional five nights. After 20 nights, that’s 50,000 bonus points.

Stay
Earn
Total Bonus Points Earned 
5 Nights +  5,000 Bonus Points = 5,000
10 Nights   + 10,000 Bonus Points = 15,000
15 Nights + 15,000 Bonus Points = 30,000
20 Nights + 20,000 Bonus Points = 50,000

Obviously this is geared toward the business traveler but that is not to say that you couldn’t do this mattress run toward elite status.  If I was to do it, I would try to book stays at Hyatt Houses on Friday or Saturday nights when they are the least expensive. I know the one out by IAD is $65 per night.  On September 9th, go to the Hyatt site to register.  The promotion ends on November 30th.

IHG (formerly known as Priority Club) is the hotel loyalty program for Holiday ihgInn, Holiday Inn Express, InterContinental Hotels & Resorts, Crowne Plaza Hotels & Resorts, Hotel Indigo Hotels, Holiday Inn Resort Hotels, Holiday Inn Club Vacations, Staybridge Suites Hotels and Candlewood Suites Hotels.  The “Big Win” promotion runs from September 1st to December 31st and you will need to become a member.  Sign up, register and see all the offers that you will get.  This is what they wrote me “At IHG Rewards Club, seeing you win means everything. The world’s largest hotel loyalty program is bringing you our biggest promotion this year, creating offers tailored just for you. Each completed offer rewards you with a “win.” Complete them all, and you’ll earn big: 78,300 points. An unparalleled opportunity to earn and win is here. Win big and win often from September 1 to December 31.

The great thing about IHG is that  a few times a year have what they call Pointbreaks, where you can book certain rooms for only 5,000 points each night.  For the list of participating hotels, go to this site and look at the second message that lists them all through the world.  Pointbreak rooms must be booked by October 31st.  These are great deals.

Hilton HHonors – Triple Your Trip Promotion.  Sign up and stay Friday, Saturday hilton family or Sunday nights to earn Triple HHonors Points from July 9 through September 30, 2013. And earn Double HHonors Points on Monday through Thursday at participating hotels and resorts. If you’re not a member, join today. Because whether you’re earning Double Points on business or Triple Points on a weekend away, you can always count on HHonors to get you to your next getaway faster.  Register here for the promotion

Marriott – this promotion with United Airlines was previously discussed in this post

Club Carlson – loyalty brand for Radisson,Radisson Bleu, Park Inn and Country Inn and Suites.  If you rent a car from AVIS you can earn up to 9,000 Club Carlson points.  Reserve your rental with Code MUHA021.  This promotion is eligible for those who are renting 3 or more days, for advance rentals only and you must give them your Club Carlson number when you make your reservation.  Go here for more details.

Marriott and their MegaBonus Promotion

Marriott has a new Fall promotion and it is a MegaBonus –  you can earn a free night at a category 1-5 hotel, up to two free nights, for every second paid stay. Remember, there is a small difference between a stay and a night.  One night is a stay, two consecutive nights is one stay, 5 nights is a stay.  Some hotels will let you check in on one night, check out the next morning and then check back in again for it to be considered two stays – check with your hotel first as not all will let you do it.  The key is to get two different reservation numbers.

marriott

Whether you travel for pleasure or business, you need to sign up for this promotion.   Even if you have no travel plan, unexpected events happen that may cause you to travel and stay at a Marriott.

You must register up by Nov. 15th and have stays between September 15, 2013 and January 15th, 2014.  You can register here Marriott MegaBonus  If you are not a Marriott Reward member, you can sign up at the same link and become a Marriott Reward Member to take advantage of this promotion.

To give you more “free nights” from this bonus, you can sign up and stay your stays  for the bonus.  Your partner can do the same and you’ll end up with 4 free nights!  Sounds like a vacation to me.  Additionally, if you sign up for a Chase Marriott card, once you do your minimum spend of $1000 in three months you’ll earn 50,000 Marriott Reward Points.

Marriott Rewards(Registered Trademark) Premier Visa(Registered Trademark) Signature Card

Don’t forget to register so you can take part in this MegaBonus promotion!

Top 10 Family Resorts in North America according to Budget Travel

One magazine that I really like and look forward to getting in the mail  is Budget Travel. We are not of unlimited income and we do watch our pennies (sometimes more than other times) so this magazine helps me in budget traveling.

They recently wrote about the Top Ten Family Resort in North America.  I’m going to assume and hope that these resorts are somewhat budget since it is Budget Travel that is publishing this list but looking at these photos, I’m not sure.  I will have to admit, I had never heard of most of them so I am sure that I’ll be doing further investigating into these resort.  Nevertheless, here they are:

1. Woodloch Resort in Hawley , PA which is nestled in the Pocono Mountains.  There are activities for kids and adults of all ages and the great thing about this woodlochresort is that it is an all-inclusive resort.  Since we take family vacations every few years, this might be a great option for us rather than going to the Caribbean.  Family Circle and Better Homes and Gardens magazines are also calling Woodloch one of the best family resorts.

 

2. Villa Roma Resort in Callicoon, New York which is in the Catskiills.  Again, they have programs for the kids including horseback riding, a rock-climbing wall, and villa romago-carts (for an additional fee).   Wintertime brings ice skating, skiing, snowboarding, and even a Ski School for beginners.   They also have large enough suites to accommodate 8 people!

 

 

3. Blue Harbor Resort in Sheboygan, Wisconsin where they have an indoor water park which they would have to do in Wisconsin.  They also have a baby/toddler recreation pool.  Adults can swim in a lazy river floating around and around.  Budget Travel calls this one of the nation’s best  water parks.  I think this would be a great family vacation spot.

blue harbor

 

4. Rocking Horse Ranch in Highland, New York is another all-inclusive facilityrocking horse where there is unlimited horseback riding and trail rides for children seven years old and older.  The ranch is on its own private lake so you can go kayaking, fishing and water skiing.  So much for all ages to do.  You’ll also  find tennis, beach volleyball, rock climbing walls, mini golf, and an exotic wildlife exhibit on the resort property. Additionally there’s an entire waterpark- plus an archery range, video arcade, plenty of organized activities.  We have previously done a Ranch vacation when the kids were 8, 10 and 13 and they still remember and talk about what fun it was.

 

5. Tradewinds Island Resort, St. Pete Beach, FL – This resort on the Gulf offers antradewinds activity club for its young guests that include making shark necklaces and meeting Capt. Redbeard and his trusty parrot.  The rooms, which are recently remodeled, will delight parents.  Though this looks very nice I personally want more than just a resort on the Gulf Coast of Florida.

 

6. The Westin Grand Cayman Seven Mile Beach Resort & Spa – this resort offers hilton los cabotwo bedroom suites for families.  Who wouldn’t want to go to a tropical getaway on this island.  You can spend your time walking Seven Mile Island or do an adult only activity while the kiddos are in the Westin’s Kids Klub.    The Kids Klub also has field trips.

 

7. High Hampton Inn & Country Club – Cashiers, North Carolina in the Blue Ridge high hampton Mountains on a private lake where you can go fishing, boating or swimming.  There are a lot of activities planned for the entire family.  This would be a vacation spot that Blogger Hubby would enjoy.

 

 

8. Clevelands House – Minett, Ontario  On Lake Rosseau there are many things to do including taking water skiing lessons from their Ski School.  Adults have clevelands houseover 120 events they can partake of during each week.  Clevelands House has one, two and three bedrooms cottages so your family can all stay together.

 

 

9. Hilton Los Cabos Beach & Golf Resort – Cabo San Lucas, Baja Mexico.  Who doesn’t love Cabo?  You’ll enjoy swimming in the bay of the Se of Cortez or a diphilton los cabo in one of the pools at the Hilton.  Horseback riding, fishing or a walk on one of the nature trails affords your family some valuable time together.  There is also a camp for kids ages 4-18 though I question having a club for an 18 year old.

 

10. Cragun’s Resort and Hotel on Gull Lake – Brainerd, Minnesota – this resort sounds too good to be true.  Even though it is in Minnesota, it has activities for both summer and winter so it is a multi-season resort.  In the summer there are activities around the lake including every imaginable water sport you can think of as well as boat rental.  There are also court games (volleyball, tennis) as well as a program to teach children how to play golf.  In the winter you will make use of the indoor sports facility,  For outdoor activities there is ice fishing, snowmobiling, cross country skiing, snowshoeing and lots more.  This is another type of resort that Blogger Hubby would enjoy.

craguns

With this list I’m sure you’ll find some resorts that were previously unheard of (at least by me) but will meet your needs.  I know that we definitely will be looking at some of these for our next family vacation.  Wondering if you have been to any of these resorts and what you look for in a resort vacation.

The Marriage of Marriott and United Airlines

A new partnership, merger or marriage, whatever you want to call it has recently taken place among two of my favorites.  United Airlines and Marriott have joined forces and and have unheard of travel benefits for both.  This new partnership is called RewardsPlus and you have to register in order to take part in this partnership.

unitedmarriott

Registration

If you are a Marriott Platinum or Platinum Premier, you need to register here.  If you are a United Gold, Platinum, 1K, or Global Services, then you need to register here.

The Nitty Gritty

For Marriott Elites

If you are one of the Marriott Elites (Platinum or Platinum Preferred) and do not have any status with United then you will be given by United Airlines Silver status.  Silver status gives you

  • Complimentary access to Economy Plus at check-in (when available);
  • Complimentary Premier Upgrades (when available);
  • Premier Access priority airport services;
  • One complimentary standard checked bag (50 lbs.);
  • 25% Premier bonus award miles on United flights

For United Gold or high Elites

You will now enjoy (after registration) Marriott Gold status will gives you

  • Lounge access and breakfast at select Marriott locations
  • Room upgrades
  • Complimentary Internet access
  • Priority late check-out
  • 25% bonus points and much more (editorial comment – they don’t mention what “much more” is)

Enhanced Miles And Points Benefits Coming Soon:

  • Convert Marriott Rewards points to MileagePlus miles at a 20% discount.
  • Receive 10% more MileagePlus miles when you book the trip of a lifetime and redeem for a Marriott Rewards Travel Package–up to 12,000 more miles
  • All MileagePlus Premier members can convert their MileagePlus miles into Marriott Rewards points at a 1:1 ratio, up to 50,000 miles per year.


Even if you do not stay at a Marriott very often or fly United, sign up for the promotion.  You will never know when you might find yourself in a Marriott hotel or have to take a quick trip on United.

The Fullerton Hotel, Singapore

When you mention that you are going to Singapore, one of the first questions you tend to get asked is whether you are going to stay at the famed Raffles Hotel, one of Singapore’s best known icons.  It was named after Stamford Raffles, the founder of modern day Singapore.  The Singapore Sling drink was developed at this hotel and many tourists will stop in and have a Singapore Sling.

raffles

Instead we chose to stay at the Fullerton Hotel.  I spoke a little about it in this post.  I mentioned that we had Club Access, which was on the same floor as our room.  The Club was manned by two Fullerton Hotel employees whose sole job it was to make our stay memorable.  If we had any questions about how to get somewhere, what to see, where to eat – we would ask them.

Every morning we would go to the Club for the gratis breakfast that was provided us.  Always fresh juices, teas, coffee, pastries, fruit and eggs cooked to your order.  Newspapers were there for us to read.

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As we walked through the lobby we felt like we were in a dream.  Grand central staircases in the center of the lobby, lots of intimate seatings, a bakery shop with the most delicious looking and tasting French Macarons were there for purchase.  Afternoon tea was also being served in this area.  In one of the corners of the lobby was a mini museum telling the history of the building and the renovation.  Since we were there during Chinese New Year, the areas inside and outside were all decorated.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATheir grand central staircase was a sweeping staircase straight out of Gone With The Wind.  Everything in this hotel was tastefully decadent and so worth every cent you would pay or points you would use.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOn either side of this staircase was two medium size indoor ponds with koi and Chinese New Year’s decorations.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI highly recommend this hotel.  If you find that you are in Singapore and want to get off the main shopping drag for a great hotel on the river and within walking distance to the bay, stay at the Fullerton – you won’t regret it.

Hotel Concierge

Are you planning on going to a new city and have a number of questions of what to see, what to do and how to get there from the airport/train station/ or need driving directions.

I know that has happened to me and I found a new to me resource.  I go to the hotel’s website, find their email address and then I  write to them with my questions.  Every time I have done this the hotel concierge writes back to me.

concierge

This was particularly helpful in Singapore as we were arriving at night and after a full day of airline travel and time changes.  I asked the concierge at the Fullerton Hotel how we should get to the hotel from the airport and he gave me several options (subway, cab or private car) as well as giving me the approximate charges for each.

I had a list of things that we wanted to do and see, far more than the allotted time we had in Singapore.  I asked the concierge what was his top 5 recommendations of what we should do in Singapore.  He sent me his recommendations as well as information on tours in the city, cooking lessons and special events.  He offered to make any arrangements that we would need.

We found the same level of professionalism with the concierge in both Sydney and Auckland.

Don’t be hesitant in reaching out to those that are working at the hotel that you will be staying at – they want to make your visit the best that it can be hoping that you’ll come back.

Hotel Loyalty – what is it and is it worth it?

When Blogger Hubby and I travel we try to find a reasonably priced hotel rooms hopefully using a coupon, a discount code or a reduced price through a secondary source such as hotels.com.  We didn’t care if we stayed in a Hampton Inn, a Days Inn or a Marriott or even a clean Red Roof Inn.

Recently I have reconsidered my earlier stance primarily due to Club Carlson, the loyalty program of Radisson, Country Inn and Suites and Park Inns.  As I mentioned in this post they ran a promotion to end all promotions, at least in my opinion and I have learned the benefits of rewards when you have brand loyalty.

At the Chicago Seminar that I attended last October, I listened to Mommy Points talk about Hyatt status.  I thought it was nice but we aren’t the type to stay at a Hyatt – much too expensive for me……or so I thought.  Mommy Points explained that to get status with a hotel you need to have a certain number of  nights OR stays.  If you stay 2 consecutive nights it is considered one stay.  If you stay one night, it is also considered one stay.  Hyatt, for instance, allows you to earn diamond status when you have 25 stays or 50 nights.  But really, they are counting each of those 50 individual nights as 50 stays so you really only need 25 single nights.  Mommy Points explains it all in this video she did for the travelchannel.com.

Once you attain status, you have many different perks depending on your level of status.  With Hyatt, for example, website lists the following perks that are available for those who have Diamond status:  You can “get the best room that is available upon check-in excluding suites (though the upgrade fairy may visit and grant you one of those); you have exclusive access to the Regency Club or Grand Club lounge featuring complimentary continental breakfast and evening hors d’oeuvres where you will enjoy daily complimentary full breakfast in hotels without a club lounge; and you can treat yourself to a suite upgrade at the time of reservation four times annually on eligible paid nights.  Imagine being in a beautiful suite while vacationing in Hawaii where you receive a special welcome point bonus or food and beverage amenity; a nightly room refresh; Receive the confirmed bed type at check-in; complimentary in-room Internet access  (in some hotels that is a $25 charge per day); expedited check-in at a dedicated area for elite members  (no more waiting in long lines); and the ability to extend your stay until 4:00 p.m. with a late check out request; and the ability to book reservations through an exclusive Diamond line.”

hyatt

I’ve been working on getting my status with one of the hotel chains.  I book nights when their rates are the lowest, generally Friday or Saturday nights.  If I was working on Hyatt status, I would book with a Hyatt House (generally less expensive) and do it on a Friday evening.  If you are planning to travel upcoming, building status at a hotel is well worth the investment that you make.  For example, my son-in-law will stay with Marriott for several days but always checks out each day and then in again to get the stay credit.  Others that I know will go to different Marriotts every night to get the stay credit.  This works as long as there are several Marriotts from which to choose.

Finally, most hotels with co-branded credit cards will also give you status though not top tiered status but rather gold status (generally second from the top).

Always sign up for hotel loyalty cards and use them even if you don’t have credit.  You are recognized when you check in to a hotel and you never know what perks you might receive.  When we traveled to Niagara Falls last year, we were just beginning our association with Club Carlson and since we were loyalty members, we were given an upgraded room that had a magnificent view of the Horseshoe Falls.