Category Archives: Hotels

A number of firsts

So believe it or not (or maybe it couldn’t have come soon enough), I’m on my first big miles redemption trip. I’m currently in Sydney, Australia. The trip here involved a number of firsts, some more exciting than others. It was my first time:

  • taking the train in SoCal, from San Diego to LA (then the bus to LAX)
  • flying out of LAX, as opposed to connecting through it
  • flying an A380
  • flying in business class, believe it or not (in an A380 no less)
  • going to Australia
  • staying at a Park Hyatt (Sydney)

The first part of that list isn’t terribly exciting, but mostly observations that I noticed. I spent the previous weekend in San Diego, attending Comic-Con 2012, which is why I had to get up to LA for my flight.

Anyway, when I arrived in LA, I had to run back and forth between the International Terminal and Terminal 4 a couple of times. My originally booked flight was LAX-BNE-SYD on QF (Qantas).  I believe I originally did this because LAX-SYD award space is basically impossible to find, whereas alternate routings are readily available.  I also remember something about BA trying to tell me this routing was illegal and trying to find something else, before giving up and just letting me have it, but I digress.

Upon arriving at the airport, I went straight to the Tom Bradley International Terminal.  This seemed pretty reasonable, since I was flying internationally.  However, apparently Qantas’ Brisbane flights are operated out of Terminal 4.  So I walked out the terminal and the few hundred feet to terminal 4.  I started checking in there, getting my visa for Australia, etc.  Then all of a sudden, a different ticketing agent gets off the phone and says they want to move me to the direct to SYD, probably since I’m flying there anyway.  While checking in, I’d learned that the BNE flight I was on was very full, and business was oversold by 10 seats (out of 50 or so I’m guessing, which is a pretty big deal).  My first thought was actually that I would gladly volunteer my seat in return for compensation, that I could live with delaying my vacation a day.  But alas, it was not meant to be.  However, instead, I got to fly on the A380 on the direct to SYD, and on the top deck 🙂  Here’s some pictures of the seats:


That was actually my first experience in business class, and it was quite comfortable and pleasant.  The flight was about 14 hours, which was actually not as long as I expected it to be.  The flight was uneventful, besides a couple of meals (pictures below) and watching a few movies…and sleeping for 6 hours.

 

Supper service
Breakfast service

Anyway, I made it to Sydney, and to my hotel, the Park Hyatt Sydney.  I booked this for the first 3 nights here.  The hotel is normally a $700/night hotel, but I booked it on Hyatt points.  The rate that way is 22k Hyatt Gold Passport / UR points (can be transferred to Hyatt), which is a great value.  And I’ve found the hotel impressive too.  I can’t wait to try some others in the future, like the Park Hyatt Tokyo and the Park Hyatt Paris 🙂  Anyway, I’ll hopefully have another post with more details about the hotel, but the picture of the view below says a lot.  But so far, things are going well 🙂

Club Carlson Big Night Giveaway (Radisson)

Better late than never…registration for this promo opened about 2 hours ago.  The Club Carlson Big Nights giveaway is returning has returned. Loyalty Traveler has a detailed post with links for this upcoming promotion.  FrequentMiler has a post on maximizing points when booking stays for this promotion.  Last time, sign ups remained open for quite a while, even though they were limited to the first 50,000 or so.  I think more people were online this time to sign up right away this time, though I don’t think it’s run out yet.  I recommend you get in on this as quickly as possible.

This promotion does require a nights stay, but it’s generally pretty easy to stay at a Radisson for $100 or less on weekends.  Also, see Loyalty Traveler’s post for more details, but you can sign up for all 3 promotions (Radisson, Country Inn and Suites, and Park Inn), and get well over 100k points.  Radisson hotels probably won’t excite most people in the US, though they are trying to improve, but their properties in Europe are actually pretty nice, so you never know when you might need a night in Europe 🙂  I actually stayed at a Radisson Blu in Dublin a couple months ago, and I’ve been meaning to post that review and trip report, but haven’t gotten around to it.

Also, it’s interesting to note that I heard many stories of people signing up multiple times for the first Radisson promo…err, i mean people’s whole families were signed up 🙂

Membership Rewards Priority Club transfers ending July 1

Sorry for the lack of posts…I’ve been busy with taxes and working on a website 🙂

Anyway, I got the following email this morning:

As a valued Priority Club® Rewards member we want to inform you of an important change to the program. Effective July 1, 2012, Priority Club will no longer participate in the Membership Rewards® program from American Express.

Get closer to your dream vacation by transferring
Membership Rewards points to Priority Club points now through June 30, 2012.

I doubt many people use this transfer option, so this can probably be filed under “don’t care”, but it hurts a bit to lose one transfer option.  (For example, as Mommy Points mentioned, PC points were at least good for a US Airways hit, and if you were rich on AMEX MR points, it’s not a terrible option to transfer some points for a hit).  Hopefully AMEX starts adding some valuable transfer partners soon, because it seems over the past year, they’ve just been losing partners, and not really adding partners that provide much value.

Determining if an award is worth it

Frequent Miler made a couple of posts with a basic guide to determining whether a booking is worth it when you use your points.  His advice is pretty good, and presents good guidelines to figuring out if you should use points or not.  However, it is also important to keep your goals in mind.  If your goal is to minimize out of pocket expense of any kind, and you have earned your miles through signup bonuses (as opposed to regular credit card spending), then it’s perfectly acceptable to redeem awards that are “not worth it” by the guidelines presented.

Without further ado, here is Frequent Miler’s guide for determining if an airline award is worth it and for determining if a hotel award is worth it.

Mileage Running Update and Four Points Sheraton SFO review

So I’m on another weekend of mileage runs, with 3 planned trips between ORD and SFO this weekend.  No fancy or different routings like last week.  Overall the experience hasn’t been as bad as I thought it would be, but it’s been disorienting at times.  By that after a couple of trip, I usually don’t know what time it is, or what time zone or city I’m in (so basically, nothing out of the ordinary :-P).  I also had earned Gold status for my exploits already, as mentioned before, and after Friday, I now have Platinum status on AA

Anyway, for this weekend’s runs, I’d decided to book a hotel last night, the Four Points Sheraton at SFO.  I decided it would be nice to get a night’s sleep in a normal bed, before spending the next two nights on red eye flights from SFO-ORD.   Plus this hotel was only 4,000 Starpoints (normally $99) for the night.

Because I arrived early enough to ORD, I was actually able to standby on an earlier flight from ORD-SFO, and I managed to get into SFO early.  So I figured, this is great!  I’ll grab a bite at the airport (figuring there is nothing around the hotel), catch the shuttle, and then get some work/blogging done before getting a nice night of sleep in (I had a 610am flight).  Seemed like a great plan for the night/weekend right?

Deviation from plan

Upon arriving at SFO, I ran into a friend that I had met doing mileage runs last week.  Actually, he has a pretty interesting story…he isn’t really that much into the whole frequent flyer scene, but he had a friend that is really into it, and his friend convince him to go on all of these mileage runs.  My friend says he plans to blog about his experience, so perhaps I’ll write more about him another day.

Anyway, my friend was going to meet a friend of a friend for dinner in the city, and asked if I wanted to go.  I really wanted to just go to the hotel, get a few things done, and then turn in…but after a bit of debating, I decided to just go out with him and meet his friends (who were also very cool).  My thinking was that one of the benefits of going through this whole ordeal joyful experience was to meet people, and now I was given an opportunity to make some new friends in the great city of San Francisco.  So I overcame the logical and sensible path (and/or the getting “old” side of me), and caught a cab with him up to the Mission district of SF.

We enjoyed a number of beers and great food at The Monk’s Kettle.  I am very glad I went, although this led to me being sleep-deprived, as well as another mini “adventure.”

Hotel: Four Points by Sheraton SFO

The restaurant took a while and all, so I didn’t get to my hotel room until about 1am.  Meaning that if I were to stick to a safe schedule, I’d have to wake up at 4am to take a shower and try to catch the hotel’s 435am shuttle to the airport.  Even with this tight schedule, I decided to get a few pictures and do a mini-review of this hotel.  There wasn’t much to this hotel, so I took a picture of the main area and the bathroom.

Overall, the room was pretty basic.  It was clean and functional, and pretty close to the airport.  The hotel says that the rooms are being renovated, and this particular room (at least the bathroom) looked like it had been recently renovated.  I think the nearest restaurants to this hotel were about .5-1 mile away, in San Bruno…so it’s not a great place to stay if you’re looking for walkable things to go to.  The hotel is also fairly far from any public transit options (BART or Caltrain).  If you want to be in a more transit accessible hotel, as far as SFO SPG properties go, the Westin Milbrae is probably a better choice.  It’s a nicer hotel and is about a 10 minutes walk from the Milbrae BART and Caltrain station, but it is also a bit further from the city (it’s on the opposite side of the airport as the Four Points).  Anyway, after taking a few minutes to take these pictures, I set my phone alarm for 4am (it was past 1am at this point), and rolled into bed…

The Next Morning…

I woke up once or twice, to find that it was well before 4am.  So I just kept going back to sleep.  However, the last time I woke up, I was wondering why I hadn’t heard my alarm yet, because it seemed like it had been well over 3 hours.

I rollved over, looked at the clock, and it read 505am.  Uh oh!  And my flight was at 610am.  So I quickly got out of bed, took a shower, called the front desk for a cab, brushed my teeth, and packed up my stuff (which was basically my computer and phone that had been charging).  I got to the cab probably around 515am, and took off for the airport.  I explained the situation to the cab driver, and said that I didn’t really expect to make the flight at this point.  He assured me that we had more than enough time, since it was only a 15 minute ride to the airport (if that!).  So I thought, well, maybe I’ll be ok, since it’s a Saturday morning, and who the hell flies on a Saturday 6am flight? (Bonus points if you answered mileage runners).

Anyway, I got to the airport at 530am, security took about 5 minutes or so (unlike my slow TSA ID checking experience at DCA, where checking the ID took about 5 minutes…), and was at the gate before 540am!  Wow!  I even had time to stop by and fill up my water bottle.  I ended sleeping another couple hours on the flight (I had the whole row to myself on this flight!), and then woke up and used the Internet for a bit.  And here I am now, at the AAdmirals Club at ORD, awaiting my next flight…

My Travel Year in Review

I’m a little bit late, but the new year is only a few days old.  I wanted to review my travels of the past year and how I did with collecting frequent flyer miles.

Travels

In 2011, I probably traveled the most distance-wise that I ever have (although I don’t think it’s the most new places I’ve visited).  The year started out pretty routinely (my memory of it is not completely clear) and not too heavy on travel.  I started out living in southern California, and had a couple of business trips to the east coast.  I also made several trips to visit my parents at the beginning of the year.

Everything was routine until I had to make a week long business trip to Afghanistan over the summer.  That trip was actually my first time out of the country in a few years, and it was probably one of the most unique places I’ve ever been, to say the least.  Also I made that trip via Germany, which marked the first time I’ve ever set foot in Europe (albeit only a day on the way in and another day on the way back).  I found it a bit hard to believe that it’d been so long since I made an international trip, since I’d enjoyed my first long international trip a few years prior, but hopefully I don’t repeat that dry spell any time soon.

Later in the summer, I ended up accepting a new job on the east coast and moved at the end of the summer.  Before moving, I went on a family vacation to Banff, Alberta, Canada, in the Canadian Rockies.   It was pretty nice to get out to an outdoorsy place, and to see the mountains and glaciers there.

Chicago Seminars

After moving, I seemed to travel quite a bit over weekends…one of the highlights was attending the 2011 Flyertalk Chicago Seminars.  Attending this event put the icing on the cake for the mile collecting hobby that I started over the last year.  I met a lot of other people interested in this hobby (including all the bloggers that I’d begun to follow), heard many great stories, and found out about more bloggers to follow.  It’s been pretty motivating to see so many people interested in this.

While we’re on the topic of Chicago Seminars, Rick of Frugral Travel Guy announced today announced in a blog post the dates and hotel for the 2012 Chicago Seminars.  I highly recommend that everyone attend this event.  You will meet many people with their own interesting stories, and undoubtedly learn a thing or two (or more) that you didn’t know.  I am a bit disappointed that the event is still at the Holiday Inn, as it did not seem quite large enough to handle the crowd we had back in October (and my guess is this event is only going to get larger this year).

Anyway, the information I learned from the Seminars gave me more ideas to gain elite status in various programs, as well as showed me new ways to use the status I already had…

Elite Status Progress

The large majority of my travel this year was on United.  Most of my work trips were on United, which motivated me to use United (or other Star Alliance carriers like Continental and US Airways) as much as possible for personal trips.  By the end of the year, I was able to make Premier Executive status on United, which is the 2nd/mid-level tier in the Mileage Plus program, requiring 50,000 EQM.

Note that to earn that status, I didn’t actually fly 50,000 miles.  I previously had Premier status (25k level) on United, and because of that, I earned bonus miles whenever I flew.  On a full fare coach (Y class ticket), those bonus miles are all elite qualifying, and it just so happens the trips I made for work were generally all on Y class fares…so that definitely helped a lot.

In addition, I managed to get to Gold Medallion status on Delta.  I pretty much lucked out on this one, and it involved only one flight on Delta.  I earned a large chunk of my miles through signing up for the American Express Platinum card (link is courtesy of The Points Guy, and does pay him a commission if you apply through it).  Earlier this year, AMEX was running a 50k Membership Rewards (MR) points signup bonus, which some were able to bump to 100k by simply asking, including yours truly.  I converted the initial 50k that I received into Delta miles, and at the time, there was a 50% bonus on AMEX MR points converted to Delta miles, with up to 25k of those elite qualifying.  Thus, I turned the 50k signup bonus into 75k Delta Medallion miles, with 25k MQM, giving me the lowest elite status on Delta.

A couple of months later, I received a mailing from Delta offering me Delta Gold Medallion status if I completed one international trip or two domestic trips on Delta.  As luck would have it, I just happened to already have a trip booked to Canada on Delta a couple of weeks after I received the mailing.  Thus, with a single DL flight, I was able to earn Gold Medallion 🙂

On the hotel front, I was able to earn Hilton Gold status through a 4 stays or 9 nights promotion (if that wasn’t easy enough, Hilton was/is also giving away Gold status these days.  In addition to that, with some inspiration from Lucky from a Chicago Seminars talk on Starwood, I was motivated to secure Starwood Platinum status by doing mattress runs by paying for cheap stays near where I live.  I had already stayed at Starwood a number of times last year, so I decided to go for Platinum.  Hopefully, I am able to take advantage of that status this year (and requalify again).

That’s all for me this year!  I hope to make a post about my credit card bonuses for the year, at least to the best of my memory and records, and I am also going to have one linking to various other bloggers’ posts regarding credit card strategies for the new year.

 

Free Hilton Gold Status

Courtesy of New Girl in the Air – Wow!  You can get FREE Hilton Gold status for 15 months!  Gold status will get you bonus Hilton points, plus free upgrades, free breakfast, and free internet at most Hilton properties.  Just register for this promo.  When it asks for a code to verify your credit card, just use 411945.  It doesn’t seem to matter if you actually have a credit card at all!  If you don’t already have a Hilton membership, sign up for one for free then register for this promo!

UPDATE:  As of 12/28, this no longer seems to be working.  Often when you see an opportunity like this you have to jump at it quick!

UPDATE:  On 12/31,   I read on another blog that people are now having success using the code 442394.

 

 

Earning miles with credit cards

There’s a couple of posts about credit cards today.  View from the Wing writes about how the American Express Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) card has been a long time favorite and Million Mile Secrets writes about the United MileagePlus Explorer card and the Continental OnePass card, specifically what your strategy should be right now for applying/cancelling the cards.

I highly recommend the View from the Wing article, because it is the same credit card strategy that I follow, and that I think most people would agree with.  The AMEX SPG card was actually the first affinity program card that I applied for, my ‘gateway drug’ into collecting miles if you will.  When I applied for it, I decided that I wanted a good hotel chain credit card, because I’d noticed that whenever I take vacations, my biggest spending generally seemed to be hotels, rather than airfare.  While airfare to international destinations can be quite expensive, and it is great to earn miles to get that for free, staying at hotels can add up to be much more than the airfare.  So I decided it made sense to start collecting hotel points, and I had heard the SPG card was considered one of the best all around travel cards.

Interestingly enough, I soon learned that it wasn’t considered a great card just because you could use the points to stay at Starwood (Westin, Sheraton, W, St. Regis, Le Meridien properties, among others, are all under Starwood).  I mean, there are great redemption options, even for a hotel program.  You can often get 2 cents of value from each SPG point just redeeming for rooms, but they also offer points and cash rewards, where you use fewer points but pay a co pay (typically $25-$50), and various free nights promotions if you use points for so many consecutive nights.  However, you can also transfer your SPG points to over 30 different airline frequent flyer programs (generally at a 1:1 ratio, with some exceptions such as United/Continental), and for every 20000 SPG points that you transfer, you get a 25% bonus.  Now the card only earn 1 points per dollar, except at SPG properties, but it is still considered one of the best values for general credit card spending.

The programs that offer flexible award redemptions are currently “in”, as you can see from the View from the Wing post.  The other cards that he uses/recommends are the Chase Sapphire Preferred card, which is linked to the Chase Ultimate Rewards program (which allows transfer to United, BA, Hyatt, Priority Club, among others), and the American Premier Rewards Gold (or Business Rewards Gold) card, which is linked to the American Express Membership Rewards program.  The Amex cards generally come with steep fees, (the gold card has a $175 fee which is waived for the first year), but I think they are worth it for access to Membership Rewards, and in the case of the gold card, the 4X points on airfare, if you book a lot of airfare on your own credit cards.

At any rate, I recommend reading through both of the linked posts, and applying for some of these cards if you haven’t already!  As long as you can make the minimum spend (of there is one), it’s perfectly acceptable to apply for both an American Express and Chase card simultaneously to jump start your mileage accounts.  Not only that you could apply for the business versions of any cards that you apply for, and your applications will be considered (and approved if you are creditworthy).

On a side note…I decided over the weekend to go “all in” on the AA DEQM (TEQM for IL/TX and CA flights).  I’ll make a separate post about that, but the gist is, I’ve booked 9 roundtrip flights on AA in the month of January, all on weekends no less!  it’s gonna be one hellish month of flying, but hopefully i’ll get 70-80k for EQM on AA, and be well on my way to executive platinum status with them.