Points, Miles & Life

Travel adventures on this earthly pilgrimage

3 Reasons Why Hertz Is My Favorite Car Rental Company

I have a love/hate relationship with renting vehicles. On the one hand, I love driving various new models that I otherwise would never get to try. They are always a significant step up from our old van, and some have made for quite the comfortable ride to-and-from San Francisco. On the flip side, dealing with rental car agencies has been a pain at times, and I have yet to find a reliable way to consistently score free vehicle rentals like I can hotels and flights.

There is both freedom and risk when renting a car. Back in 2016, my wife and I too a trip to Colorado. We had no idea that a snowstorm was going to hit Denver and Colorado Springs at the end of April. None. Zero. Didn’t cross my mind. Our Coloradan friends chuckled at us (I guess Colorado can throw snow at you pretty much any month of the year, depending on where you are in the state).

Here I was with a rental car booked for our trip, and some serious apprehension welling up inside me. I have very little experience driving in the snow, and the thought of driving an unfamiliar vehicle at night down a snowy freeway was a little unnerving. Luckily everything turned out great that time. Experiences like this sometimes prompt me to make a plan that relies completely on mass transit and/or Taxi/Uber rather than a rental car. However, I’ve gotten more and more savvy with car rental over the past couple years (SEE: 4 tips from my experience renting 4 cars in 4 days). These days I rent a lot.

When I do need to book a rental car, I nearly always look at Hertz first. They have become my favorite rental car company. Here are my top three reasons:

Yet to have a bad experience

Nearly every rental I’ve had with Hertz has been stellar. They are in the top rental car companies by several sources, and one pegs them as only second to Enterprise. I have had one shady incident with Enterprise, so they have a blemish. Honestly, the local Enterprise offers great service. But I still prefer Hertz if I have a choice.

The best feature of being a member of Hertz’s loyalty program is the expedited service at some airports. I love flying into San Francisco or Sacramento, taking the train/shuttle to the rental car center, and simply walking to my car. The stall or section will be right on the board, sometimes even on a sign right over the car. Talk about seamless. No waiting in line for ages or having an agent try to up-sell you. All they do is print your contract and check your license at the gate.

I’m hooked. If rates are comparable to other agencies, I always pick Hertz. With at least two dozen rentals under my belt with them, they have yet to let me down.

Partnership with United

Each rental can score you some serious United miles. I often take advantage of this for work rentals. You can actually earn United miles with several different companies, but the Hertz has been killer. Until recently, each rental of an intermediate car or larger would earn you 2,000 miles (now it must be over 2 days to qualify). It was supposed to be a limited-time promo, but it keeps getting extended.

You will earn even more if you have either the Chase United Explorer Visa or elite status with United. As a silver elite, I currently earn 2,250 miles per rental. The rates for the rentals are sometimes a few dollars higher, but most of the time it is worth the slight premium for the miles. And sometimes you luck out and the rates are cheaper than booking directly via Hertz.

Over the past couple years, I’ve probably earned over 25,000 United miles with this partnership from both work and personal rentals. There’s one guy who earned over a million miles this way. However, I’m less likely to use it as often in the future, as one-way rentals no longer earn the 2,000 miles. I’d now rather earn Hertz points.

As an example, when I initially checked Hertz through United for a trip this past spring, a three day rental cost $180, far more than the $99 rentals I was finding on Expedia with companies I had never heard of. By the day before the trip, however, I checked a final time, and intermediate size cars were pricing at $116. Much better. A total of $18 more for a more trusted company and extra miles. Easy choice. And work was paying, so it was a win no matter what.

The rewards program is very good

My main point of comparison is Enterprise, so maybe this colors my view. Enterprise’s rewards program is mediocre at best. I can see where National’s One-Two-Free promotion might be worth jumping on. But overall, I prefer Hertz.

An award redemption with Hertz often requires fewer points. You can find the chart here. I find that you also earn points on the entire charge, not just the base rental rate. I’ve had one-way Enterprise rentals earn me next to nothing since the base rate is low and most of the charge is a “drop fee”.

I’ve had two fantastic redemptions with Hertz. The first was for a one-way rental back home from Santa Rosa where I got 13 cents per point and paid a grand total of $2 in cash (SEE: Getting 13 cents per point on a car rental!). The second was a one-way rental to the Bay for a short getaway with one of my boys. The value there was even greater, at 21 cents per point!

Conclusion

All things considered, Hertz is my favorite car rental company. I will freely admit, they are often priced above the competition. But when they’re competitive, they’re my go-to.

Luxembourg in 10 Photos

As I wrap up writing about our day and a half in this tiny country, I figured I’d let the highlights speak for themselves. Without words, that is. Enjoy.

3 Days in Paris: Day 3 – Savoring the City

After dragging ourselves through the exhaustion of our first day in the City of Light (SEE: 3 Days in Paris: Day 1 – Surviving the Jetlag), followed by a very full day of seeing the main sights (SEE: 3 Days in Paris: Day 2 – Hitting the Highlights), some extra sleep was called for to start off our third day.

Once the kids were up and ready, we had breakfast at Aux Péchés Normands for the third time. It was already becoming tradition. The little bakery is a two minute walk from our hotel and offers great pastries, plus fresh coffee and juice. Fueled for the morning, we headed back toward where we’d began our adventures two days ago.

Notre Dame de nouveau

Notre Dame cathedral was both the first and last stop on our first day in the city. We’d enjoyed the view of the famous church from the square in front, returning later to enjoy the view from the towers.

But we’d missed one important piece: seeing the inside of the cathedral. This was what we intended to rectify today.

We arrived at Place Jean-Paul II to what seemed like an enormous line in front of Notre Dame. It extended the length of the square, and then wrapped around back towards the front of the Gothic cathedral. There really wasn’t any alternative to get inside, so we just joined the lengthy queue.

The line moved surprisingly quickly, and we were actually inside in under 10 minutes. The inside of Our Lady of Paris is just as lovely as her exterior. I love wandering around old cathedrals. When my wife and I visited Europe in 2016, we went to cathedrals in Milan, Florence and Dublin.

We didn’t stay especially long, just enough to take in the stained glass and immense feel of the cathedral. From Notre Dame we moved on to the other sights located on the Île de la Cité.

Conciergerie and Saint-Chappelle

A short walk later and we were standing at the entrance to Saint-Chappelle, a beautiful chapel with some of the most impressive stained glass I have ever seen. The chapel isn’t very large, but the ceilings are high and the color is mesmerizing.

Sainte-Chappelle is part of the Palais de la Cité, the residence of the kings of France for centuries. In many ways it is equally as impressive as Notre Dame.

The kids and I enjoyed the stained glass and wandering both the upper and lower levels of Sainte-Chappelle before moving on to the Conciergerie, located just another short walk away.

The Conciergerie is another part of the royal palace on the island in the middle of the Seine, albeit an infamous part of it. It served a number of functions after the French kings moved to the palace across the river, before becoming an infamous part of the French Revolution. Many prisoners were held here before being executed by guillotine, including Marie Antoinette.

I was surprised by how bare the interior is kept. There were a few areas where you could read about the history of the building, but other than that, you just got to wander the bare stone rooms. Bare, that is, except for a flume that is oddly constructed through the space and results in the waterfall you see outside between the towers.

I did my best to relay my limited knowledge of the French Revolution to the kids. They were fascinated by the story of Marie Antoinette, asking again and again why she was killed. The fact that the revolutionaries killed her unjustly, hating her for her wealth and power as one of the French royals, was hard for them to get their minds around.

Even as we left the Conciergerie, the kids continued to ask about Marie Antoinette and what happened during the revolution. I was glad for the moment I could teach them a small nugget of history, right in the place where it happened.

Lazily cruising the Seine

From the Conciergerie we continued our stroll along the Île de la Cité, heading to the dock where one of the river cruise companies operates. Given how much we’d all been on our feet the previous day, I wanted to make sure we broke up our day a bit more with active versus passive activities. I made sure to plan a time where we could just sit and talk and take in Paris. A cruise on the Seine fit the bill perfectly.

The tour company we used was fine, but there is serious room for improvement. Given the price of Paris in general, I was going for cheap. I’m sure there are better companies out there. The main drawback was that the tour guide did little more than point out 8-10 places in very thickly accented English. I caught most of what she said, but the kids hardly understood anything.

But it was still enjoyable to watch the city drift by from the water. The cruise took us from the Île de la Cité to the Eiffel Tower and back again.

We also headed upriver briefly and passed by Notre Dame, which was a highlight from the water.

We also saw (purportedly) the smallest house in Paris.

It was a great way to kill and hour and still enjoy the city. I’d highly recommended adding a Seine cruise as part of your Paris itinerary.

A much needed rest

Even after sitting for an hour, the kids were still tired. Three days of walking and sightseeing was a lot for both of them. It was mid-afternoon, and I still wanted to take them to Champ de Mars that evening to see the Eiffel Tower again and basically saw our goodbyes to Paris.

The best course of action was to regroup at the hotel for a while. The kids spent some time watching cartoons while I closed my eyes and tried not to drift off to sleep. Which was hard. I don’t like taking down time and would rather stay out until I’m completely done for the day. But with the kids, I needed to break it up.

But we had to get moving soon before I just decided to stay put. Dinner. We needed dinner.

Au revoir, Tour Eiffel

We headed out after maybe an hour at the Crowne Plaza Paris Republique, and grabbed some more bread, cheese and lunchmeat at a local store. Dinner was on the cheap yet again. However, we splurged afterwards, buying eclairs at one of the top-rated bakeries in the city. It was the most utterly delectable cream-filled pastry I’d eaten in my entire life.

On our way to the Champ de Mars, I became concerned that we might get rained out. The weather didn’t look promising. Sure enough, as we exited the train station, a light rain was falling. Plenty of other people had umbrellas. We weren’t so prepared. Even living in Humboldt, I cannot remember the last time I used an umbrella out and about.

We decided to just make a go of it. Looking at the clouds, I didn’t expect the rain to get worse, and it certainly wasn’t cold. We would be fine. This turned out to be the right call, as the rain let up within 15 minutes.

We walked along the Champ de Mars, bidding the icon of Paris adieu. Just had to get the perfect photo of these two in front of it. We strolled along slowly, me taking it all in. The kids brought up the fact that I’d made them walk up hundreds of stairs to the top. I have no regrets of my decision.

On the other side of the tower we encountered “the bubble man”. He was in the business of providing enjoyment to at least a dozen kids at a time for a small sum from their parents’ pocket (voluntary, of course). The kids enjoyed jumping and chasing the bubbles immensely. The Eiffel Tower made for the perfect backdrop.

A carousel ride, the perfect Parisian ending

After that we crossed the Seine toward Trocadero once more. This time we weren’t in a hurry, having already accomplished the mission of the evening. The kids asked to ride the carousel, and I figured this was the last chance we’d have. Of course this one picked a plane instead of a horse.

From there we wandered over to a small park maybe 100 yards from the Trocadero fountains. To my surprise, there were a couple families with kids. Young kids. I’m always taken aback by how late Europeans are out each evening. It was definitely late for us. The kids should have already been in bed. But here we were, enjoying the park, as the hour hand crept past 9 o’clock.

We finally got back to the hotel around 10:00, and quickly to bed. We said goodbye to Paris the following day, which was bittersweet. A final visit to Luxembourg Gardens was all we were able to fit in. We’d had a ton of fun. But the adventure would continue in Luxembourg!

Sheraton Roma Review

Overall rating: 8/10

Pros: Cheap points rate, good breakfast, nice lounge, easy access to metro

Cons: Not in city center, tired rooms and exterior

This hotel review is very dated, but its been sitting here mostly drafted and I figured I’d finish up and post it. 

During our extended European holiday in 2016 (SEE: Thirty Days in Europe), my wife and I spent 6 nights at the Sheraton Roma. I had booked us directly into a Club Room, which included breakfast and lounge access.

The total? 31,000 SPG points. Not a bad redemption, especially given that it would have easily cost us $900 out of pocket. Now that the merger is happening between the Starwood and Marriott loyalty programs, stays at the Sheraton Roma are becoming a worse deal. Category 1 and 2 Starwood properties were particularly hard hit by the new award chart.

Previously, award nights cost 3,000/4,000 Starpoints for a standard room (we booked a Club Room for a bit more). The new award chart shows that they will cost 17,500 Marriott points. Even given the 3:1 effective ratio of SPG to Marriott points, we’re looking at an increase of 5,500 Marriott points per night.

Cash rates during our dates were ~$140 per night for a club room, so we were getting about 2.7 cents per point. Not a bad redemption, especially since it was saving us the cost of breakfast (and often dinner).

Arrival at the Sheraton Roma

We didn’t have to travel very far the day we arrived. Our first night in Rome was actually spent at the St. Regis Rome, which mainly left me wishing I would have not burned the points I did on the luxury stay (SEE: St. Regis Rome Deluxe Room Review: Just too many points).

The easiest way to get to the Sheraton Rome is by metro or bus. If you take the metro, you have to walk a good distance to the hotel. We made this mistake, and the area to the immediate south of the hotel is not especially friendly to pedestrians. The bus is a better option, since the stop is literally out in front of the hotel, but you need to do a bit more research. I had it down by the end of our stay.

The exterior of the hotel is dated and not especially appealing.

We arrived in the evening after spending the day exploring Rome, and were immediately told that we needed to check in at the desk in the lounge. This was new to me. I figured the front desk handled everything. But it was easy enough to head up to the sixth floor.

First impressions

As I mentioned, the exterior needs a major face lift. However, the lobby was nice enough. It was often busy, but not during the afternoon that we arrived.

There was a flight crew present when we arrived, and we would continue to see them throughout our stay. It seems that the Sheraton Roma has contracts with multiple airlines for crew stays. Heading to the elevators, we arrived at the 6th floor, where the Club lounge is located.

Check in was…interesting. The staff in the lounge were incredibly professional, but we were accosted by an overly friendly lady who’d had a few too many glasses of Italian wine. She chatted our ears off for a few minutes before we were thankfully given our keys and could extricate ourselves. Our room was one floor down, on the 5th floor.

Sheraton Roma Club Room

I thought I’d taken photos of our room like I typically do at most hotels, but I guess I missed that detail. I took photos of other areas of the property, but not of the room itself. You can take a look here. I recall our Club Room at the Sheraton Roma as being adequate, but a bit on the small side. We didn’t spend a lot of time in the room, as we were out enjoying Rome most of our visit. In the evening hours, I was often in the lounge working until 8:00 or 9:00 p.m. to keep up with things back home.

One note with Starwood (and probably the same once they are fully rolled into Marriott), is that being upgraded to a Club Room doesn’t necessarily grant Club access. Since we’d paid the necessary points premium for a Club Room outright (as if paying cash for the room), we did get Club access and free breakfast. Besides Club access, there aren’t really any differences between standard Club and non-Club rooms at the Sheraton Roma. You’re just on a different floor.

We did opt for the Make a Green Choice program each day. As the Sheraton Roma is a full service hotel, we could get either a voucher for €5 toward food or beverage, or 500 Starpoints.

I value 500 Starpoints at ~$12, so that was definitely what we picked. Including our second Sheraton stay on this trip, we came away with 4,000 Starpoints from award stays. Pretty sweet.

Sheraton Roma Lounge

Access to the Sheraton Club Lounge was the best perk of booking a club room. It was a great place for me to work from in the evenings while my wife relaxed in our room. Or joined me.

Every evening there was a selection of small bites that doubled as dinner for us. Lunch out in Rome is fairly expensive, so we tried to cut costs by eating dinner in the lounge. Most of the food was pretty good. You just had to go back a few times to have enough.

There was a selection of wine as well, always at least one red and one white. It was all self serve. You might say it was the perfect opportunity to enjoy, when in Rome. But we didn’t. I hardly ever have a glass of anything.

The seating in the lounge was adequate, and there were almost always a number of other people present. The Sheraton Roma appears to be a popular hotel for both business travelers and flight crews.

Breakfast

Since we’d spent the extra points on an upgrade to a Club Room, breakfast was also included, either in the Sheraton Club itself or in AQVI, the hotel restaurant.

We opted for the restaurant every day. The food selection included a wide assortment of pastries, and hot breakfast options such as eggs, bacon, potatoes, cheese, fruit and much more.

I unfortunately didn’t take any photos besides the one of my plate, but I do remember feeling more than satisfied with both the quality and selection of food at breakfast. We ate with a view of the pool every day.

Italian coffee is also generally very good. The coffee here was about par.

Lounge access and breakfast every day were worth the 1,500 point premium per night. This is about the same as paying $38 per day for breakfast and dinner for two, which was totally worth saving.

Other facilities

The Sheraton Roma has a large pool deck area and a decent size pool. The only issue was that, at least from the breakfast area, it didn’t look all that inviting. The water was murky and not at all appealing. Neither my wife nor I had more than a mild interest in swimming, so it was easy to pass it up.

We did actually use the business center while at the Sheraton Roma. It was necessary to print the boarding passes for our flight from Ciampino to Dublin on Ryan Air. Failure to print a boarding pass will incur a steep fee from the airline.

Access to Rome

One of the drawbacks to the Sheraton Roma is its distance from the city center. It’s not that access isn’t all that difficult. It just means a 20-60 minute transit time each way, depending on where you want to go.

The most convenient option is the Patinaggio bus stop literally right in front of the hotel. The bus takes a bit longer in terms of drive time, but there is less walking involved. You’ll take the 780 line to Trastevere/Pascarella station and then catch the streetcar to Piazza Venezia. From there you can reach many sights in Rome by foot.

The other option is the metro, which we took most of the time. The EUR Magliana station is a 10-minute walk, but the walking route is less than ideal. Bushes had overgrown some of the sidewalk, and traffic is moving at a pretty good pace. But it is the better option for some of the sights. Colosseo station is only a 15 minute ride on the metro, and trains run frequently. Getting to the other side of Rome, such as over to the Vatican, will take at least another 15-20 minutes.

Conclusion

Overall, we had a great stay at the Sheraton Roma. It definitely wasn’t the nicest hotel, but it met our needs perfectly. Even though it isn’t near the center of the city, accessing the typical tourist areas was easy enough by bus or metro. Lounge access and breakfast were nice touches, and if we stay here again, I’d seek to repeat that.

My one potential gripe is that the pool did not look inviting. But we were here to enjoy the history and culture, not the water. If the kids were along, I’m sure they would have still been up for a swim. 😉

3 reasons to consider the Citi ThankYou Premier card

The Citi ThankYou Premier card is the best card in the ThankYou Point-earning family, in my opinion. The Citi Prestige has its place as a premium product, but for the average Joe, the Citi ThankYou Premier is a solid enough card in its own right. And the current offer is nothing to sneeze at. Here are three reasons you may want to make it the next addition to your wallet:

Best sign-up bonus I’ve seen

The current sign-up bonus of 60,000 ThankYou Points is the highest public offer I’ve ever seen for this card. Previous offers have included both 40,000 and 50,000 bonus points, as well as an extended period where no bonus was offered.

The $95 fee is also waived the first year, which is huge. The Citi ThankYou Premier is much like the Chase Sapphire Preferred, the card I tend to recommend as the best all-around starter travel credit card for most folks. It offers increased earning rates on travel (3x), dining and entertainment (2x). Travel also includes gas, so you earn 3x ThankYou Points (TYP) on these purchases as well.

The card also offers no foreign transaction fees, and you can use the points at 1.25 cents each when booking travel through the Citi Thank You portal, or you can transfer them to partner programs. In general, Citi’s partners aren’t quite as good as Chase or Amex, but there are a couple with great uses.

Two awesome transfer partners

While the Citi transfer partners are generally inferior to those of the other bank programs, there are a couple gems that make collecting ThankYou points a great strategy. My favorite is Avianca LifeMiles, mainly because of their short-haul award chart within the U.S. (SEE: 3 reasons I am SUPER excited for the new LifeMiles shorthaul awards).

LifeMiles awards on United metal are easy to book online, as long as they include only one connection. You can fly from California to anywhere within the western states (everything aligned with Colorado westward, with the exception of Montana) for 7,500 miles one-way. If you’re local to Humboldt County, these are an incredible value flying out of Arcata. We utilized Avianca LifeMiles short-haul awards for our flights to the Southwest in the spring (SEE: 2 Tips for Planning a Last-Minute Trip).

The second great transfer partner is Asia Miles. While the program saw a minor devaluation this year, there are still some great uses of the currency when flying with either Cathay Pacific or their Oneworld partners. For example, you can fly nonstop on American Airlines from Chicago, New York, Miami, Charlotte, Phildelphia or Dallas to a number of European destinations for only 45,000 Asia Miles one-way in business class.

There is also value in Flying Blue and Singapore KrisFlyer. Even Turkish Miles&Smiles has some sweet spots. But LifeMiles and Asia Miles are my top favorites. The biggest hurdle for people is learning how to use them effectively.

Diversification of points portfolio

Another benefit of picking up a Citi ThankYou Premier card is that you will have access to additional partners besides those offered by either Chase or Amex. Sure, I remarked that they are inferior to the other programs, but they are definitely not useless.

I’ve found that having a diverse portfolio of points is one of the best strategies for making trips happen. Don’t lock yourself into only one or two currencies (I always suggest having a plan). Bank programs with transfer partners are already a step above straight hotel or airlines cards. But holding more than one can make some sense. I love my American Express Everyday card as it is both free ($0 annual fee), yet earns 2x Membership Rewards points on groceries and leaves me the option of accruing Membership Rewards points. Having cards with all three currencies gives me a lot of options.

Conclusion

If you’re in the market for a new card, the Citi ThankYou Premier may be the way to go. With a $0 annual fee, you really can’t go wrong if you want to try the program out. If you find it isn’t for you, just drop it when you hit your first year.

As always, don’t apply because some guy on the internet told you to. Take a look at the offer and see if this card offers some value to you. 😉

« Older posts