Points, Miles & Life

Travel adventures on this earthly pilgrimage

Pointe Hilton Squaw Peak Resort Agave Suite: A Review

Pros: Great resort pool and other activities, reasonable breakfast, spacious room, good for families

Cons: Facilities a bit tired

After a day in Tucson (SEE: Should you visit Colossal Cave Mountain Park?, AND: Pima Air and Space Museum – Must see for the aviation enthusiast!) and a morning spent hiking in Saguaro National Park,  our two older kids and I headed to the Pointe Hilton Squaw Peak Resort for a fun afternoon in the pool.

I booked the Pointe Hilton Squaw Peak Resort as an award night. Prices over our dates weren’t bad, but I still didn’t want to shell out the cash. Our single night cost 41,000 Honors points. The added benefit of booking an award stay is that we didn’t have to pay the resort fee. If I’d moved the slider even a little bit to change our booking to a mix of cash and points, or paid cash for the night, the entire resort fee would be due.

So, if you’re ever looking at an extended Hilton resort stay, points are absolutely the way to go. I despise resort fees. If you are unfamiliar with them, check out this site.

Arriving at the Pointe Hilton Squaw Peak Resort

We drove up to the Phoenix area after spending two nights in Tucson enjoying Colossal Cave and the Pima Air and Space Museum. The morning was spent at Saguaro National Park, and we finally rolled into Phoenix about 3:00 in the afternoon.

The entrance to the resort is fairly easy to find. We drove up to the main lobby and checked in. The agent at the front desk was cheerful and helpful, giving us an orientation of the property as it was our first time here.

The property is big enough, however, that you’ll probably need to drive around to get closer to your room. We were in the North Pointe building at the very end of the top floor.

The front desk gave us a modest upgrade to a slightly nicer suite. Standard suites are located in the south building, while the Agave Suites are located in the north building. There isn’t a whole lot of difference between them from what I read, but the Agave Suites have been more recently remodeled.

Taking a look at our Agave Suite

The suite had a sufficient amount of space and comfort that I’d be willing to come back here with the whole family. With a living area, we could actually make it work for 5, if the hotel would allow that.

 

The front area includes the desk, couches, and a TV. It’s a great little living space.

There isn’t a full kitchen, but the fridge and counter space is enough to easily prepare food and cook if you bring a hot plate.

There isn’t quite enough seating for five, but it’s better than a hotel room that has a single desk chair or armchair. You can use the desk chair in addition to the living room seating.

The Agave Suite is definitely a true suite in that you can close the door between the living area and the bedroom. The bathroom is situated in the middle between the living and bedroom areas. One side has the toilet while the other holds the shower. The design is great as one person won’t tie up the bathroom for everyone.

Beyond the tiny hall and bathroom is the bedroom area. Ours had two queens, which with the sofa in the other room would be sufficient for our family of five.

But since there were only three of us this time, the Agave Suite was extra spacious.

There is a small balcony at the back with a lovely view of the parking lot. Not. At least the hills in the distance are pretty cool.

Overall, I was super pleased with the our room at the Pointe Hilton Squaw Peak Resort.

The River Ranch

The primary reason I’d booked the Pointe Hilton Squaw Peak Resort was…the resort part. Which in its case is called the River Ranch.

The April weather in Phoenix was lovely, and the pools were wonderfully refreshing. The kids spent literally hours in the water. I swam for a while and then laid back and took in some sun.

The main pool stretches around a middle landscaped hill that contains the top of the waterslide.

At one end of the pool there is an artificial waterfall feature. You can swim right up underneath them, and there are even benches to sit behind the screen of water. This was our favorite area of the pool.

There were not very many people present the day we were there. I cannot imagine what the place would be like if most of the lounge chairs were filled. It would be a zoo. Luckily, we’d picked a quiet day to stay at the Pointe Hilton Squaw Peak Resort.

The kids also enjoyed the lazy river. You can ride a full circuit around the mini-golf course on a tube.

The kids and I also played one round of mini-golf. Our first experience with this was in Costa Rica when we stayed at the Hotel Punta Leona at the Pacific in Costa Rica (SEE: Hotel Punta Leona review – stellar price for an all-inclusive). That time, everything was crazy. There was no taking turns; it was everyone just hitting the golf ball willy-nilly. This time we had a much more controlled game.

One of the kids favorite parts of the resort was the water slide. It isn’t very big, but unlike our stay at the Disneyland Hotel (SEE: Disneyland Hotel Frontier Tower adjoining deluxe view rooms review), there really wasn’t ever a line.

They did it over and over and over again.

I could have taken dozens of photos.

The River Ranch at the Pointe Hilton Squaw Peak Resort was entirely worth booking a resort hotel. We really don’t have much experience with resorts of any type, as they’ve never been high on my list of places to visit. My wife and I aren’t the types (well…more so me) to just head to a beach and park it for several days. Travel to me means walking through nature, experiencing culture, and taking in a new place. Resorts don’t fit the bill.

But with kids things are a bit different. They just want to have fun sometimes, and I’m trying to find a balance between “fun” activities and seeing the sights. So a resort stay now and then might become a bit more common.

Breakfast at Rico’s American Grill

One of the benefits of holding Hilton Gold status was being able to enjoy a free hot breakfast at one of the hotel restaurants, Rico’s American Grill, during our stay.

Instead of giving free breakfast to all of us as a Hilton Honors Gold benefit, the Pointe Hilton Squaw Peak Resort provides vouchers at the front desk. These are enough to cover their continental breakfast option ($10), or the buffet for the kids. If I recall correctly, the hotel did give us three vouchers, even though the they only have to extend the benefit to one guest.

I’ve found on multiple occasions now that Hilton is accommodating in that way when I’m traveling with two kids (SEE: DoubleTree Luxembourg Review). The kids got to pick from all of the items, while I had to make do with pastries and coffee.

But I really didn’t mind. There was a reasonable enough variety at Rico’s.

Overall, breakfast was good. It didn’t wow us in any way, but there were plenty of options at the buffet and the atmosphere was both casual and nice. Solid hotel breakfast, especially since it was free. Not sure I’d pay $19.99 for the adult buffet.

Outside of Rico’s on the patio area are some games. It was a nice Phoenix morning and not yet hot, so we hung around for a while playing Connect 4 and bean bag toss.

When the kids tired of the games, we moseyed back to the pool for an hour and a half. They enjoyed the water slide and pool, and then we dried off, packed up and loaded the car.

After that it was (sadly) time to hit the road to Sedona!

Area around the Pointe Hilton Squaw Peak Resort

There isn’t much in the immediate area around the resort. You’re basically in suburbia. There are some business and stores along the same road as the resort, but the rest of the area is just surrounded by houses. To the east are the hills seen in a couple photos.

There really isn’t anywhere to walk around the resort. If you have a car, you can see other sights in the Phoenix area. I wouldn’t suggest trying to visit the resort without a car. Or the Phoenix area, for that matter. The Phoenix metro is the textbook definition of suburban sprawl.

We did find a local Mexican restaurant down the street for dinner the first night.

Conclusion

Our one night at the Pointe Hilton Squaw Peak Resort was enjoyable and a great value. We had a fun-filled afternoon swimming and playing mini-golf before returning to our room for a movie. Having Hilton Gold status and using points for the night helped us bring the cost of our stay to nearly $0 out of pocket.

Eating off-property is easy since you are essentially in suburbia and there are plenty of cheap local options. Honestly, I would suggest it. If you also are a fan of cooking in your hotel room, you can definitely get one that would allow that to work easily as well. You’d just need to bring all the cookware and a hot plate.

The Pointe Hilton Squaw Peak Resort isn’t a glamorous place, but it’s a great value for families looking to stretch both their points or their budget. It’s definitely on my list of places to take the whole family in the future.

Flying United always reminds me why I love Delta

One of the pains of living where I do is the fact that United has a monopoly on our tiny regional airport. They offer three daily departures to San Francisco, one to LAX that just started recently, and another to Denver will start next year (SEE: United adds another nonstop destination out of Arcata!).

The convenience of our airport cannot be understated. Even though it is 45 minutes from home, that is much better than a solid 5 hour drive to San Francisco, Oakland or Sacramento. But every time I convince myself to try flying United out of Arcata yet again, something goes wrong (or must I bring my kids along to make everything magically go right?).

Why I dislike flying United

I’ve flown United more times than any other airline, and they have cause me the most pain. Nearly half of my United flights to date have either been substantially delayed or outright canceled. While their on-time performance has improved lately, I’ve had enough bad experiences that I will choose not to fly them if timing is critical.

Sure, avoiding a drive to the Bay is nice. But it would also be nice to arrive at my destination on time. And even if it takes me just as long including the drive, at least I have control of the situation. I’d rather hit the road for a few hours than sit at O’Hare with rolling delay updates.

Contrast this with Delta where I’ve experienced a single short delay and a single misconnect. The latter was many years ago and due to a large thunderstorm over Atlanta that caused a good number of planes to either enter a holding pattern or divert. Delta offered me a hotel voucher and meal voucher in that instance. As I was only 16 at the time, offering me a hotel voucher became an impossibility. I spent the night in the terminal. The Delta agent was over-the-top apologetic about the situation and gave me extra meal vouchers.

Contrast that with United, who doesn’t really care if they inconvenience you. When we experienced a 3-hour mechanical delay on Alaska Airlines back in January, the airline proactively sent us a text apologizing for the delay and informing us that they would be sending us a $100 voucher for the inconvenience. The $100 was in excess of the cash value for our tickets (SEE: Turning 20,000 Amex points into 25,000 Alaska miles and $500). This immediately changed my outlook.

With United, they’re just happy if they get you there…someday. Or they’ll send you a survey regarding your experience that deletes everything you’ve entered the moment you click submit. Ok…maybe I’m getting a bit too cynical.

I should mention United has made things somewhat right by handing me a voucher or two over the years when everything goes completely wrong. Usually it’s not for much.

Call me a control freak

One difficult aspect of air travel is that so much is out of your control. It’s nice when things go right. Stepping on a plane in Arcata, making a tight connection in San Francisco, and enjoying a pleasant flight to the east coast while getting some work done is awesome when it happens.

But then there are the times when everything goes wrong. So many times I’ve arrived at the gate just in time for the delay announcement. Or we sit on the apron forever waiting to take off. Or the plane has to turn around and head back to the gate due to some mechanical issue.

In short, I tend to want to have control of travel when possible. And for me, that means flying a carrier other than United. Due to cost, I can’t always justify driving to Sacramento or the Bay Area to fly with another airline for work. But I can justify it when I must be somewhere on time. When feasible, I leave town to catch a Delta flight out of Sacramento. It may be slightly longer. But it is also so much less painful.

My pipe dream is having a direct Delta flight to Salt Lake City once again. I’d choose them whenever possible. Although I’m excited United is adding another nonstop destination next year, I’m still hoping we will one day have a second carrier again.

United adds another nonstop destination out of Arcata!

After the launch of United’s nonstop Los Angeles service earlier this year, I didn’t really think another nonstop flight was in the cards for our tiny airport. I’ve dreamed for the day we might have other options. But I figured that would remain a pipe dream.

Well…in a rather unexpected move by United Airlines, our tiny, local airport *is* going to see another nonstop destination!

United adding Arcata to Denver service

Starting in June of 2019, United will provide a once-daily service between Arcata and United’s Denver hub. This will take Humboldt from a single option this spring to three different nonstop flight options in about a year’s time. Connections in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Denver

The flight will be a night-turn, similar to the new schedule for the Los Angeles flight. The regional jet serving the route will leave Denver at 7:00 p.m., landing in Arcata at 8:50 p.m. It will return to Denver the following morning at 6:30 a.m.

The schedule is fantastic for work travel. United offers connections in Denver to many midwest destinations, which may turn people’s two-stop itineraries to one with a single connection. A healthy layover in Denver would provide enough time to have a nice lunch at the Timberline Grill before catching a connection (SEE: Timberline Grille Denver Airport Review).

Salt Lake City still on my wish-list

While I heartily welcome any additional air service, what I’d really like to see is service from another airline, specifically Delta and specifically Salt Lake City. Delta has become my favorite domestic airline, and it would be amazing if I could fly them locally. They briefly offered this service over a decade ago, but discontinued it after only a year.

Beyond Delta, I’d happily take an Alaska connection to Seattle, or an American connection to either Los Angeles or Phoenix. Any other airline would provide needed competition.

Still, I’m thankful that our area is getting more air service. I’m sure I’ll end up flying the hop to Denver once service begins.

Timberline Grille Denver Airport: Priority Pass Restaurant Review

During one of my work trips to and from the East Coast earlier this summer, I was able to finally stop by the Timberline Grille Denver Airport. The restaurant is one of those within the Priority Pass network. Priority Pass has been on a spree lately when it comes to restaurant additions to their network, which I think is a major plus for travelers. The latest are in San Francisco (SEE: Two SFO Priority Pass restaurants added to network!), which I hope to stop at next time I pass through there.

Timberline Grille Denver Airport: How to use Priority Pass

The Timberline Steaks and Grille is located in Concourse C of Denver International Airport. Since all of DEN is accessible from a single security checkpoint, you can easily access the restaurant even if your flight is from a different concourse. Just take the train there, but give yourself enough time to get back to your gate.

The restaurant is located in the center of the concourse. The hours are from 6:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.

timberline grille denver airport

Priority Pass membership will give you and each registered guest $28 off the final bill. Depending on the membership, guests may be free or you may be charged. With my Chase Sapphire Reserve Card, I can bring two guests into a lounge for free, which would give us $84 off the final bill. This is plenty for three people at this restaurant.

To use your Priority Pass membership at the Timberline Grille Denver Airport, you must present your Priority Pass card and same-day outbound boarding pass. Some lounges let you access them on arrival, but it may be that the Timberline Grille does not. Since I was connecting to San Francisco, I had an outbound boarding pass.

When you get your final bill, $28 will be deducted per person registered with the Priority Pass account. If you register people beyond whatever number of free visits your membership provides, you’ll be charged $32 per person, so you’ll actually be paying extra.

Food and drink

The menu offered by the Timberline Grille Denver Airport is excellent. Rather than the typical domestic airport lounge which offers small bites, snacks, and other fairly cheap fare, the Timberline Grill has a full menu or steaks, burgers and other offerings.

The steaks will eat up most, if not all of the Priority Pass credit, so you may still end up paying a little. But for a sit-down airport meal, it’s still a fantastic deal.

I ordered a pulled pork sandwich, which came with a salad. The food was very good.

The view of the airport was nice as well.

The Timberline Grille Priority Pass credit can also be applied to drinks. It turned out that the sandwich and a glass of wine fell a few dollars short of the credit. My server still happily ran my card so I could tip her.

One note: I did find the Timberline Grille Denver Airport to be rather busy during my visit. I had to wait about 10 minutes to be seated. Luckily, I had a healthy connection and still wasn’t rushed. The wait might make stopping by a bit hard if you don’t have enough of a window of time to eat. I’m sure the fact that the Timberline Grille takes Priority Pass hasn’t helped the demand!

Conclusion

DEN doesn’t offer any other Priority Pass lounge access, but the Timberline Grille Denver Airport more than makes up for that. It’s a great place to stop for a meal if you’re passing through. And for mostly free. Which is obviously the best part. 🙂

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.

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