Points, Miles & Life

Travel adventures on this earthly pilgrimage

Category: Hotels (page 1 of 10)

Holiday Inn Auburn Review

Pros: Good quality for the Holiday Inn brand, great pool, nice location in Auburn

Cons: Decent breakfast, but service could use some improvement

Back in January I visited the Sacramento area with our older two kids on a long weekend adventure (SEE: Overview of our fun weekend in Sacramento). Not to let an opportunity pass me by to sandwich work and leisure together, I was able to tack on an extra night at the Holiday Inn Auburn so that I could take my FAA Part 107 test and receive my small unmanned aerial systems pilot license (which was subsequently hilariously messed up).

The Holiday Inn Auburn requires 20,000 IHG points per night, which is a pretty good deal considering their typical rates. For most dates I would be willing to burn my points to stay here. In this case, however, work was paying. I’d worked out a deal where they’d cover the last night of the trip since I’d normally have to travel for the test anyway, although not quite as far.

Arriving at the Holiday Inn Auburn

I found that there was a testing location in Auburn, which isn’t far from Sacramento, and so I booked the final night of our trip here. The Holiday Inn Auburn is right off the freeway in the middle of town. It was less than an hour drive from our other hotel, which meant the kids didn’t get carsick.

holiday inn auburn lobby

The lobby was appointed nicely and definitely felt more upscale. Due to the lack of standardization within the Holiday Inn brand, I don’t really consider them to be upscale. But some can border on it. If I’m looking for a truly upscale hotel, it’ll be something like the Marriott, the Westin or a Hyatt. But then I’d be paying for it with my own points.

Check in was smooth and easy, which has been the norm for IHG. Honestly, I tend to only ever have issues at either super budget hotels, or high end hotels that are quite busy and you have to wait in the queue. I hate waiting to simply check into a hotel. Actually, I really don’t like waiting in general.

Room

The room at the Holiday Inn Auburn was nice, and it felt in line with what I have come to expect from the good hotels after several stays with the brand. Rather than being dated and tired like the previous Holiday Inn we stayed in (SEE: Holiday Inn Rancho Cordova Review), the room felt clean and fresh.

holiday inn auburn beds

Our bed situation was two queens, which is pretty standard. The couple times I have accidentally booked or received two doubles, it makes for a terrible night as I get kicked incessantly by my son. A king and sofa-bed, when offered, is honestly the best when traveling with two kids of opposite genders.

A couple Holiday Inns at which I’ve stayed have been in fairly old buildings, which makes finding outlets for electronics a bit inconvenient. Not here. They have nicely installed sockets over the nightstand. The reading lights mounted to the beds were nice as well.

There was also a work desk and armchair, pretty standard for any hotel room. More outlets were available in the lamp.

The room also had a Keurig coffee maker, ceramic mugs, and a small selection of tea and coffee. It also included a fridge, which was unexpected. I don’t think it is a standard amenity for Holiday Inns. When traveling with my wife, a fridge is a must. A full kitchen is preferred.

There was nothing special about the bathroom, except it was in much better condition here at the Holiday Inn Auburn than at the Holiday Inn Rancho Cordova.

Overall, the room met expectations for what I consider to be standard for Holiday Inns. I wish there wasn’t so much variation among the chain. It’s kinda like Sheraton with SPG. Some are old and tired, others are new (or renovated) and great hotels. You really need to do some research before booking. The Holiday Inn Auburn passed the test for me.

The kids’ favorite place is always the pool

I keep coming back to this again and again. While the kids do comment on the overall quality of the hotel (and have quickly learned to distinguish between a $300 hotel we are getting for free versus the $50 motel I’ll sometimes book), most of their comments focus on the pool. Is there a pool? Is it warm? Is it nice? Having a pool is really all they care about. I’m constantly reminded of this post by Dan at Points with a Crew.

holiday inn auburn pool

The pool at the Holiday Inn Auburn turned out to be a great one for the kids. It was warmer than the last one, and it made for a great evening swim.

I camped out in the whirlpool spa, to the kids dismay. While the pool was warm enough for them, it wasn’t warm enough for me. Unless its super hot out, it better be bathwater.

Breakfast at the Holiday Inn Auburn

I’d booked a breakfast rate at the hotel for little more (~$5) than what the normal rate was. This normally includes breakfast for two, but kids eat free at Holiday Inns, so we all ate for the $5 extra. These rates are sometimes worth booking if it is available.

Obviously, it can easily make sense to book at another hotel that simply offers free breakfast to everyone, but this was a good deal for a hotel that typically charges for breakfast.

However, I was a bit skeptical after having breakfast at the Holiday Inn Rancho Cordova. Breakfast there wasn’t up to par from my previous experiences with Holiday Inns. My favorites are still the Holiday Inn Old Sydney and the Holiday Inn Sydney – Waterfront in Nova Scotia.

holiday inn auburn breakfast

While not fine dining by any means, breakfast here was a buffet that is a step above a Holiday Inn Express or most other “free breakfast hotels”. I still find it hard for a hotel to really make a “fancy” breakfast (and find it even harder to pay for it!).

The one way in which breakfast fell flat was service. The two attendants did very little besides talk to each other. There were a couple items that were out, and they barely got around to restocking them by the time we finished up.

What to do in Auburn

This was my second time in Auburn. Both visits have been quick, and I am actually pretty unfamiliar with what the area offers. Last time was with friends several years ago, and we headed to Roseville for most of the time. This time we didn’t really do much besides quickly stop in old town. True to their gold mining roots, it features a giant statue of a miner panning for gold. What I *do* know is that the area includes hiking and biking opportunities along the American River, breweries and wineries, and a couple museums.

My other stop with the kids was at Foresthill Bridge – the highest bridge in California. Years ago, this is where my friends and I got fiercely chewed out by a CHP officer for throwing rocks over 700 feet down into the river below. Considering that there are boaters, hikers and bikers below, it was a stupid choice on our part. Of the things on my “young and dumb” list, this is probably the worst. I made sure to tell my kids that rock throwing was off the table.

Conclusion

After that, we grabbed our bags and headed out. Overall, our stay at the Holliday Inn Auburn was nice. My kids enjoyed the pool, and the hotel met my expectations in terms of what a Holiday Inn should be. If we ever headed back to the area, I’d hope to stay again.

Holiday Inn Rancho Cordova Review

Overall rating: 5/10

Pros: one of the cheapest chain hotels in the area, enjoyable hot tub

Cons: tired building, freezing cold and dirty pool, sup-par breakfast

We arrived at the Holiday Inn Rancho Cordova after about 5.5 hours of driving from Humboldt. From the outside the hotel looked a little dated, and I hoped it would be a bit nicer on the interior.

I’d booked a cash rate for our trip, as I was looking to maximize a promotion. At less than $100 per night, it was a pretty good deal, and not worth using points. I’d even booked a breakfast rate for about $4 more for all three of us.

Check in was smooth and easy. There was only one person in front of us, so we had to wait about 3 minutes. Our room was on the third floor, overlooking the pool.

Room at the Holiday Inn Rancho Cordova

The room was adequate. For a Holiday Inn, it was the most dated and tired room I’d stayed in. The kids thought it was very nice, but they don’t exactly have the same metrics that I do.

The beds were a standard two queen. This is usually bearable when with raveling with our older two kids, but I did make my son sleep on the floor the final night of the trip so I could get a good night’s sleep.

The freshly jumped-on beds.

There was a standard desk, the TV, and a rather old AC/heating unit.

The bathroom was a typical tub/shower with the sink outside.

We did have a view of the pool. I never saw anyone in it. More on that in a moment.

On the whole, the room was definitely dated. Holiday Inns can be pretty hit or miss. I’ve stayed in several, and the experiences have ranged from the low end of upscale to hardly better than a 2-star establishment you could get for $69 plus tax. My favorites are still the Holiday Inns in both Sydneys (one in Nova Scotia, the other a bit more famous, SEE: Holiday Inn Old Sydney Review).

Pool and Hot Tub

We hung out for a bit in the room before heading to the pool. I’d told the kids I’d swim if the water was warm (haha). I made it no further than my toes. It wasn’t just cold. It was frigid. That’s what we get for taking a trip in the winter! It would have been a different story if we were visiting the Sacramento area in the summer.

The kids hardly swam, either, which says a lot. They were totally fine with the cold water at our hotel in Costa Rica, but this pool was a bit too much. They didn’t like the mess at the bottom, either.

BY contrast, the hot tub was amazing. It was large, and we had it completely to ourselves both times we used it. The cold air outside made it hard to leave to head back to our room.

Although I love taking my kids to see the sights, a necessary part of traveling with them is spending some relaxing “down time” at the hotel. The hot tub definitely let us do that.

Breakfast at the Holiday Inn Rancho Cordova

Breakfast was in The Venetian Court, the hotel restaurant. The name might sound all hifalutin and fancy, but the place is pretty nondescript. There is no character or atmosphere to the restaurant at all.

I expected to have several menu options for breakfast, or a full buffet, but neither was offered. Instead, we were presented with a simple menu of three options:

So there you have it. Eggs with meat and potatoes, or pancakes, or oatmeal. Choose wisely.

Each of us ended up ordering something different. I didn’t plan things this way. None of us were impressed with any of the food.

The pancakes were actually slightly more appetizing than the plate of food I received, which says a lot. The quality of the potatoes and sausage was poor.

I’m not all that picky when it comes to food, so I easily finished it. But it definitely wasn’t what I was expecting for breakfast here. Neither of my kids finished their food, nor did either seem too thrilled with breakfast. But this doesn’t necessarily say a lot, as they turn their noses up at all kinds of things that are downright delicious.

My daughter wanted to enjoy some coffee. She knows the answer from me has been a continual “no.” The last thing that girl needs is caffeine.

Local Area

There really isn’t anything around the hotel. Rancho Cordova isn’t a place for walking or sightseeing. I hadn’t planned to do anything nearby, as all our activities were in Sacramento itself. We were only 20 minutes from Old Town Sacramento (SEE: Wandering through Old Town Sacramento, ALSO SEE: Visiting the California Railroad Museum) and the Zoo.

Conclusion

Overall, it was a pretty meh hotel. It’d probably be an adequate place in the summer, since the pool would be refreshing instead of frigid. But there really isn’t anything else to redeem the Holiday Inn Rancho Cordova. The main reason I’d booked the hotel was to avoid paying $50 more for a room in the city center, plus also pay for parking (assuming I stuck with IHG). This was simply the cheapest hotel I could find to meet my Q1 2018 IHG accelerate promotion. The points haul from this stay and the resulting bonuses would allow us to stay here nearly 3 more nights. You can look at it as a 5-for-2 deal, even though we will use the points somewhere else.

All said and done, I’ll almost certainly pass it up next time I am in the area.

Hotel Punta Leona Review – Stellar Price for an All-Inclusive

My wife and I are in the process of moving from just the two of us to a family of five. After literally years of waiting, we are now in Costa Rica adopting three beautiful kids. Our focus during these weeks in Costa Rica is on bonding with our kids. But this doesn’t mean we can’t take them on a few trips to see their own beautiful country. In other words, we’re taking a couple overnight trips while we’re here, and the first was to Hotel Punta Leona.

Our adoption coordinator set us up with a great rate at the hotel for a couple days midweek. Hotel Punta Leona was running a special, and we were able to book a room for $158 per night, all meals included. For a family of five, this is *amazing*.

Arriving at the Hotel Punta Leona

The Hotel Punta Leona is located on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast. It is about an hour and a half drive from SJO airport, and a little bit further than that from San José itself. A good portion of the drive is on Costa Rica’s only real freeway, so it is a lot easier to access than many other places in the country.

The turn off to Hotel Punta Leona is a little north of Jacó. Once you turn off the highway, the road is dirt essentially until you arrive at the hotel property.

The facilities reception have a manned security gate. After explaining that we had a reservation, the guard let us through half a minute later. It’s not that Costa Rica isn’t safe. I’ve just noticed that many places have manned security or attendants, including parking lots and other places that would be totally mundane in the U.S.

Check-in went smoothly, except for the fact that the hotel was currently without a computerized reservation system. The front desk even had to use one of the ancient, manual sliding credit card machines. With my Chase Sapphire Preferred Visa card that doesn’t have a nicely embossed front. Didn’t work so well. She had to manually write the numbers and other info.

Selvamar Room…for the 5 of us!

The Selvamar rooms are located a distance from reception and the rest of the facilities, so we had to hop back into the car and drive a couple minutes.

I knew going into this that the room was going to be small. It didn’t disappoint.

It was a fairly standard hotel room with two full-size beds, a desk, TV, and in-room coffee.

The bathroom was adequate. Overall, it was a tight squeeze for all of us for two days. But it was a deal!

The Selvamar rooms are at least in a nice setting. There rooms are arranged in groups of 4 with walkways and gardens in between. At dusk there were monkeys to watch swinging and climbing through the foliage above.

And there were iguanas along the path at times. Even though our daughter is a native Costa Rican, they totally freak her out!

There was also a small pool close to the restaurant and Selvamar rooms. Given the much nicer facilities elsewhere, we never used it.

Hotel Punta Leona Restaurant – Carabelas

Included in our rate were all meals at the restaurant near the Selvamar Rooms. It was a quick two-minute walk away.

Everything at Carabela’s is buffet style. I’d rate the food as above average as far as buffets go. Most tasted super fresh. The beef at our first lunch was amazing. There was typically enough variety that anyone would be satisfied.

They had starters and a nice salad bar.

Every meal featured a chef at the grill or stovetop making part of the meal. The first evening it was churrasco.

Soup.

And other entrees and sides.

Soft drinks were self serve. You could also order beer or wine. A server kindly offered both evenings, but we declined.

In the mornings we had an immersive breakfast experience with the local wildlife. We were approached by both monkeys and a coatimundi.

I had a good laugh when a monkey stole some food from a guest on our first morning. I wasn’t laughing when the same thing happened to me the next day!

Hotel Punta Leona Facilities

The facilities of the Hotel Punta Leona are spread out over a fairly large area. The main highlight for the kids were, of course, the large pools.

hotel punta leona pool

Compared to the other hotel at which we are staying for the bulk of the time in Costa Rica, they were wondrously warm.

There is also an activity center with foosball and other games if you happen to be at the resort during a downpour. Fortunately, the rain that had been a fixture every afternoon let up for both days we were at the coast. On the other side of the pool there is another restaurant. Our all-inclusive rate included snacks here from 10:00 to 5:00. We enjoyed some pizza the first afternoon, and then a raccoon that got a bit too close for comfort.

I promised our six-year-old that I’d take him to mini-golf. On our second afternoon we got the chance. What wasn’t explained to me was that some of the activities cost extra, and this was one of them. I’d figured that most of the activities listed on the paper given to us at check-in were part of the resort package and included in the rate.

So, we ended up paying about $11 for three of us to play mini-golf. Which ended up being a hysterical experience. After trying for maybe a minute to instruct them (as best I can…I’m no golfer), I gave up. They ended up racing through the entire course is a matter of 15 minutes, often swatting the ball as hard as they could and sending into the grass beyond the hole or onto another section of the course. I was content to watch and laugh while proceeding through the course behind them.

This was the worst mini-golf hole ever.

Some of the other activities and facilties offered by the hotel include a butterfly house, a morning nature walk, pool volleyball, and bingo and karaoke in the evenings. We didn’t take advantage of any of these. Turns out that basically all kids want to do is swim.

Playa Mantas

The bulk of the fun was had at Playa Mantas over our stay. We went swimming there the afternoon we arrived and the following morning. The waves were super calm, and the water was heavenly. I’d never swam in water so warm.

Now I finally understand why people enjoy beach destinations so much. I might have to revise my list of places I want to visit to include some more beach destinations. Growing up on the north coast of California has left me with a poor view of “going to the beach”, where the outing typically means a cold breeze and sand flying in my eyes. I’ll pass.

In contrast, this was like a tiny sliver of heaven on earth. I’d enjoyed walking in the surf in Florida in May, but this was even better. I could have swam all day. Unfortunately, swimming ended up resulting in a little incident that cost us a bit of time and money.

Playa Blanca

The final morning we paid the other beach a quick visit. It is a bit further from the facilities of Punta Leona, but it is a whole lot more beautiful than Playa Mantas.

However, there were red flags out warning against swimming. Luckily, we weren’t there to swim, but simply to play in the sand for a while and enjoy the beautiful setting. Afterwards we headed back, ate breakfast at Carabelas once again, and then took off.

Conclusion

Overall, we had a good stay. Although it would have been nice to rent a larger room for the 5 of us, we really couldn’t beat the rate the hotel gave us for the single room under the September kids promotion. In contrast, I sent the hotel an email asking what the day-use rate would be per person. We realized that it isn’t all that far away from San José. I almost spit out my coffee this morning when they quoted me $85 per person over 6 years old!

DoubleTree Bend Oregon Review

Overall rating: 9/10

Location: Bend, Oregon

My wife and I headed through Bend, Oregon as part of a weekend away enjoying some time together before seeing the Great American Eclipse. Friday was an overnight in northern California after an imaging appointment, and then Sunday was our night in Clackamas before the eclipse (SEE: Travel hacking win: booking last minute eclipse travel).

We could have gone home for Saturday, but I figured it would be more fun to enjoy a drive through northeastern California. Plus, I found Hilton availability on Saturday and pounced on it. Only 40,000 Honors points for a $280 (pre-tax) room is a deal.

Arriving at the DoubleTree Bend, Oregon

The drive was both uneventful and enjoyable. We’d never been through northeastern California, and it was quite fun to see a new section of the state. I with the view wouldn’t have been lessened by smoke from the many forest fires, though.

We hit a bit of traffic near La Pine, and this made me stat considering how we were going to get to Portland the next day (SEE: Do I avoid eclipse traffic? Or just head through the thick of it?). Finally, we pulled up at the DoubleTree Bend, Oregon after over 8 hours of driving. I did the hoity-toity thing and parked in one of the exclusive Diamond member spots.

I’d booked a queen-queen room online, as it was the cheapest option available. The guy at the front desk confirmed that this is what we wanted, to which I said no. A king room would be preferred. It took him a minute to make us new keys, and then we were on our way upstairs.

Room

The front desk made no mention of upgrading us, but we ended up walking into a one bedroom king suite. This made me doubly glad I’d asked for a change of bed type!

DoubleTree Bend Oregon review

DoubleTree Bend Oregon One Bedroom Suite Pano

The room had a pseudo-“kitchenette” area (not a true kitchen) to the left as you walk in. The wet bar was extremely appreciated, though, as my wife and I routinely cook in hotel rooms.

It was open to the living area, with narrow bar area between, a nice design.

The living area was plenty big for two people and included a desk, television, and small couch and an armchair.

DoubleTree Bend Oregon review

It was plenty big for the two of us.

The bedroom was small, but it was nice that it was separate. I like being able to get up and turn on some lights while letting my wife sleep in.

The bathroom was clean and everything a 3-star hotel should have. There was no phone in the bathroom, a tell-tale sign of fanciness.

Overall, we were very pleased with the accommodations for our one night.

Facilities

After making dinner and relaxing for a while, my wife and I headed down to the pool area for a nice soak in the hot tub. The pool was fairly small, and there were very few people who used it while we were there, which surprised me. I figured the hotel was nearly full with the eclipse happening in two days.

The DoubleTree Bend also has a small exercise room. All of these facilities are located on the lowest floor.

Breakfast

Since I’d been matched to Diamond yet again for 2017, breakfast was included. Actually, it would have been anyway since I would have still had Hilton Gold status through my Amex Business Platinum card.

The breakfast was good, but nothing special. It was a buffet style, and cash price was only $9.99, which I consider reasonable for hotel breakfast. There were quite a few people there when I was eating, so I didn’t want to awkwardly take pictures with everyone trying to move around me. So I only got a photo of my plate.

DoubelTree Bend Oregon Breakfast

Mixed fruit, small omelets (with salsa and cheese), and tater tots for me. There were some muffin and bagel options, and a few other dishes. I’m calling it adequate, but sub-par for a DoubleTree. Honestly, I’ve only stayed at one other DoubleTree, though, so that is my only metric for comparison.

Exploring Bend

I explored Bend a bit in the morning while my wife slept in. The DoubleTree is in a very nice location in the middle of town, quite close to the river. I had a pleasant walk along the river before heading to a coffee shop for a while.

Later in the day my wife and I both took a stroll together. The riverside park area is quite nice, and the weather was fantastic (except for the smoke).

We finally had to check out at 1 p.m. I asked for later checkout than this, but the front desk was fairly firm that this was the best he could do. I couldn’t argue, knowing that he undoubtedly had a full house that night.

Conclusion

I’m definitely looking at this hotel if we ever pass through the area again. We were treated well by the staff, got a nice upgrade, and thoroughly enjoyed our stay. We’ll have to visit Bend again when there is no eclipse traffic and no smoke from numerous forest fires.

Best ever offer for the Hilton Honors Surpass Card!

The best-ever offer is back for the Hilton Honors Surpass card from American Express. We routinely see various increased offers for this card, but the past couple iterations have been especially rich.

The offer

Currently, the card offers a sign-up bonus of 100,000 Hilton Honors points after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months of card membership. Additionally, you can earn a free weekend night after paying the card fee on your first card anniversary.

The card carries and annual fee of $75. If you factor in the free night on the first anniversary, you’ll essentially be paying $150 for one hotel night and 100,000 Honors points. Not a bad deal.

Assuming that you get $150 out of the free night (but you can likely get more), I estimate the value of the bonus points to be $500 (0.5 cents per Hilton point). You *can* get a lot more out of Hilton points, however (SEE: Travel hacking win: booking last-minute eclipse travel).

If you’re interested in the card, I would appreciate it if you would apply via my referral link. I’ll receive a bonus if you do. 😉

Card details

The Hilton Honors Surpass card isn’t a fantastic one for everyday spending. Due to the low value of Hilton points, even earning 3 points per dollar isn’t all that hot.

However, the card does earn 6 points at grocery stores, which is fairly reasonable. It also earns 12 points per dollar at any of the Hilton hotel brands. What the card is sadly lacking, though, is no foreign transaction fees. This means you get hit with a 3% fee if you use it abroad, even for Hilton stays.

One of the biggest perks of the card is that it grants you Hilton Honors Gold status. This will give you free breakfast at most full service Hilton hotels, room upgrades, and other perks.

This is a great card if you stay at Hilton brand hotels even a handful of times per year!

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