Points, Miles & Life

Travel adventures on this earthly pilgrimage

Category: Hotels (page 1 of 9)

Map of All My Hotel Stays

Putting together a map of all hotels I’ve stayed at over the years is something I’ve wanted to do for a while.

Yes, I will freely admit it. I am a total map geek. I’ll often find myself browsing Google Maps for fun. My wife even bought me a great travel map with magnetic pins for Christmas.

Even though this may seem like a lot of useless data, it was actually a super fun exercise. One of the issues was where to draw the line in terms of how far back I would try and recollect. There are trips back when I was a teen that I can hardly remember.

I settled on starting with our honeymoon trip. This was really the very first trip that I can say I did any sort of travel hacking (SEE: Our Honeymoon: An Introduction to Travel Rewards), and getting married it is a great definitive starting point.

My hotel map

I organized the map by hotel chain. A also added data for year, number of nights, and other details I might want to quickly export to a spreadsheet.

This was a great exercise, although I’m not quite done with all the extra data. I’d never made a Google Map, and this was easier than I figured it might be. While I could have imported the data (and would have *if* I already had it compiled) to create this, it was easy enough to simply search for the hotels one by one and add as appropriate.

Moving forward

I plan to keep it updated. Similarly, I also track my flights via OpenFlights, something that I will write about later. Their site isn’t the prettiest, but it works well.

Just keep my gift card and let me go!

For the first night of our recent trip to Montana (SEE: First Use of the Amex Business Platinum 50% Points Rebate), my brother-in-law and I rolled into Medford a little after 9:00 p.m. for an overnight. Friday morning we flew out today to Kalispell, Montana. Staying the night was a better option than get up at 3:30 in the morning to hit the road for a 4 hour drive.

Since we were literally only sleeping in the hotel, I didn’t really care where we stayed. I initially booked a room at a random budget hotel through Priceline for $56. But then I remembered I had a Choice Hotels gift card in my desk from some promotion well over a year ago. Hello Econolodge.

“Is it a Choice gift card?”

When we arrived there was a “No Vacancy” sign on the Econolodge, which made me a bit nervous we might not get the room type I requested (which meant one of us would be on the floor for sure). The lady at the front desk took our IDs and my credit card. I also passed her my Choice Hotels gift card that would cover $75 of the $76.01 balance.

I knew trouble was afoot when she asked, “what is this?” “A gift card that I’d like to use,” I offered. She proceeded to show it to the other agent who confusedly asked, “Is it a Choice gift card?” No, it’s for Hyatt. *eye roll*

The next 10 minutes were spent trying to get the gift card to work. This process even involved waking up the manager who was sleeping(!) in the room adjoining the front desk area. She groggily gave it a go. The card ultimately didn’t work. All they could offer was “sorry”, before asking me to pay for the room in full. Since we just wanted to get to bed, they really had me over a barrel.

Calling up Choice

In the morning I gave Choice a call. After being on hold for 25 minutes, and honestly doubting they would be able to do anything for me, I gave up. I figured I would just go to the desk again and see if the card would work at checkout.

The front desk agent was more helpful this time, and actually aware that plastic Choice gift cards exist (a definite plus)! He was still perplexed, however, as to why this one wouldn’t work. After a bit of back and forth, I finally convinced him to keep the card and work things out with Choice himself. My Chase Sapphire charge was adjusted to a mere $1.06.

Was it worth the headache?

In this case, yes, but barely so. The front desk agent was graciously accommodating. My options otherwise would have been either: stay on the phone with Choice and hope they work it out, or leave the balance on my Chase Sapphire Preferred and eat the cost of the stay. I would also be one useless gift card richer.

Best-Ever Hilton American Express Card Offers

Credit card sign up bonuses routinely fluctuate. It is good to understand when you are getting in at the top of the wave rather than the bottom. In general, most airline cards should turn your head when they have an offer of 50,000 miles or more.

Hotel cards, however, are all over the map. You just need to understand each program and the value of its points currency. But…the good thing is most bloggers will let you know when the offers are at their best. And now is one of those times for the Hilton American Express cards.

Hilton Amex Card offer

The offer on the Hilton Card from American Express is 80,000 points after $2,000 in spending within the first 3 months of card membership. Features of this card include:

  • No annual fee
  • Earns 7x Hilton points on Hilton stays, 5x points on gas, groceries, and restaurants, and 3x points on everything else.
  • Hilton Silver status and ability to earn Gold status after spending $20,000 on the card in a calendar year.

The no-fee Hilton card is one of the “keepers” in my wallet. Because American Express only offers a sign-up bonus once per lifetime on their products, getting the Hilton card with this increased bonus is ideal. Once you have it, there is no reason to drop in, in my opinion, since you can’t ever get the sign up bonus again.

Link here (or hit me up via the contact me page for a referral).

Hilton Surpass Amex Card offer

The offer on the Hilton Surpass Card from American Express is 100,000 points after $3,000 in spending within the first 3 months of card membership. Features of this card include:

  • $85 annual fee
  • Earns 12x Hilton points on Hilton stays, 6x points on gas, groceries, and restaurants, and 3x points on everything else.
  • Hilton Gold status and the ability to earn Diamond status after spending $40,000 on the card in a calendar year.

The perks of the Hilton Surpass Card over the no-fee American Express Hilton card are slightly better since it grants you automatic Gold status with Hilton, and the earning is better as well. But there is a fee. However, if you have paid Hilton stays several times per year, you’ll probably come out ahead with this card.

Link here.

Both offers end 5/31/17.

The value of Hilton points

While these bonuses might seem huge in terms on the number of bonus points, they really aren’t all that spectacular. Don’t get me wrong, now is definitely the time to apply. But Hilton points don’t go as far as you might think.

Hilton hotels require anywhere from 5,000 to 95,000 points per night, which mean you could actually get over 20 nights out of the 100,000 point bonus offer (Hilton also offers a 5th night free benefit)! But the 5,000 and 10,000 point hotels are few and far between.

Honestly, I’m not even sure you can find them anymore after Hilton killed their award chart. But I haven’t really checked. In general, you should expect to pay anywhere from 30,000 to 50,000 points per night on a “typical” hotel.

At this point, just view your Hilton points as worth about 0.5 cents each. This makes the bonuses worth roughly $400 and $500, respectively. This is a good card bonus, but nothing groundbreaking.

Again, if you’re interested in the no-fee Hilton card, shoot me a note via the contact me page and let me send you a referral link.

How we stayed at the Fairmont Banff Springs for 3 nights for $99.18

One of the things I love most about this hobby is finding ways to make great experiences highly affordable. My wife and I have had the opportunity to go on several wonderful trips, all for fractions of the “normal” price.

Moving forward, I’ve decided to tally up some of them (or parts of them) to showcase how useful you can make miles and points. My first was tallying up what a week(ish) trip to Australia cost me (SEE: The Anatomy of a One Week Trip to Australia).

Now I’d like to tally up what three nights in Banff set us back on our recent trip to Alberta. You can see photos of the park in a previous post.

The catalyst for an amazing stay

Our recent trip to Banff was made possible by a single card offer. That’s how lucrative a bonus can be, if you know how to use it!

A few months ago I decided to jump on the Chase Fairmont card before it was gone. Chase pulled their public application link, and it was only a matter of time until the other links died as well. I applied through one of the two surviving application links, and was approved. After meeting the minimum spending, the card gave me some free nights and upgrade certificates at Fairmont hotels, and it was the main reason we were even able to plan this trip.

Admittedly, we could have stayed at a couple other places in/near Banff using points. But using the free Fairmont nights at one of their beautiful hotels in Banff was something I really wanted to do!

Stacking all the certificates and a checking account bonus, we had an amazing 3 night stay in a one bedroom suite. The views were spectacular.

Fairmont Banff Springs One Bedroom Suite View

Above is the view through the main living area window. Below is through the second window.

Fairmont Banff Springs

Sadly, the Chase Fairmont card is no longer offered. I wish it was and that you could repeat this experience.

Breaking down our costs for the stay

With the Chase Fairmont card I was able to earn 2 free nights at any Fairmont after $3,000 in spending. The card also offered a suite upgrade certificate, two dining/spa certificates, another room upgrade certificate, and a “third night free” certificate on paid stays.

I was able to stack the free nights with the suite upgrade certificate. We paid for a 3rd night using a bonus I got from opening an account with Bank of America. We were also able to use both dining certificates during our stay.

What our stay cost us:

  • 2 free Fairmont night certificates
  • 1 suite upgrade certificate
  • 2 dining certificates in the totals of $50 U.S.
  • $445.28 CAD for 1 cash night (including taxes)
  • $75 CAD parking
  • $15 CAD resort fee (I think for just 1 night)

Converting to U.S. dollars and subtracting out a $300 checking account cash bonus that we applied to the trip, the total comes to a mere $99.18. Pretty sweet. Or should I say suite?

What 3 nights at the Fairmont Banff Springs *could* have cost

The Fairmont Banff Springs is a true 5-star hotel. It is aptly called the “Castle in the Rockies”, and it is a gem, even among other beautiful hotels in the Fairmont portfolio.

But with 5-star rooms, dining, and service comes a 5-star price tag. The going rate for a standard room during the time we stayed was $399 CAD. The going rate for a one bedroom suite was $899!

Tallying up what the stay would have cost had we paid cash (all in CAD):

  • $899 per night x 3 nights + $297 taxes = $2994
  • $25 parking x 3 nights = $75
  • $15 resort fee x 3 nights = $45
  • $60 dining

The total is a ridiculous $3,174!!

Obviously, we never would have paid that much for this stay. This is something that makes determining “value” somewhat subjective. We can’t exactly say that we saved over $3,000 on this vacation when we wouldn’t have paid that much for it anyway!

Other expenses

Many of the remaining costs of the trip were covered by miles and points as well. The nights in the Bay before the trip we using IHG “free” nights, to the tune of $98 in annual fees for 2 nights. That’s a deal in San Francisco.

Our rental car and one night in Calgary were covered by the remaining travel credit on my parents’ Chase Sapphire Reserve. Our final night at YYC airport was using a free night certificate as well.

Even the flights were mostly covered using $200 in Delta gift cards and a cumulative $200 ($125 and $75) in United vouchers. Out of pocket cost came to about $170.

Conclusion

I hope this is another great picture of the usefulness of miles and points. My wife and I had an amazing vacation in the Rockies for both a cheap overall price, and a super cheap price relative to what the experience would have cost us.

Hyatt House Portland Review

Overall rating: 9/10

Location: Portland, Oregon

Last fall my wife and I met my in-laws for a few days in Portland. It was actually a surprise for my brother and father-in-law. Because of limited award availability from Arcata, I opted to arrive a day early (’cause who wants a 6:00 a.m. flight?). I picked the Hyatt House Portland for our one night.

I used 12,000 Hyatt points to cover the night. Cash price was $205, so we were getting 1.7 cents per point. This has since become my base valuation of Hyatt points. Others peg them at 1.4 or 1.5, but everything depends on location, season, day of the week, etc. The Hyatt House Portland often goes for as low as $130. Redeeming points wouldn’t be as lucrative at that price point.

One thing I noticed when booking was how few reviews the hotel had. This was because it opened only 3 months before we stayed.

Arriving at the Hyatt House Portland

I knew my in-laws were renting a car that could fit the 5 of us, so we used public transportation to reach the hotel. It is located just to the south of downtown, near the University.

Hyatt House Portland review - transit

Public transit to the hotel is easy. We had to make a single transfer from TriMet light rail (leaves from PDX airport) to a Portland Streetcar. There is a streetcar stop literally next to the hotel.

The other cool thing was that the hotel is kitty corner to the Marriott Residence Inn, at which we would be staying with my in-laws when they arrived. Super convenient.

Hyatt House Portland Review - from trolley stop

Hyatt House Portland from the trolley stop

Check in was easy. We didn’t receive an upgrade, but I didn’t really expect to as a lowly Hyatt Platinum. Anyhow, from what I knew of Hyatt House hotels in general, every room is an upgrade since they all have kitchens and are considered “suites”.

Hyatt House Portland studio kitchen suite

Our points got us a standard studio kitchen suite. You can also be booked into a den guest room. Luckily the suite was available for our dates.

Walking into the room, it was love at first sight. The suite had a full kitchen, sitting/living area, bed area, and large bathroom. Everything was new, clean, and modern.

Hyatt House Portland - Living Room

The kitchen was fully stocked. It contained a stove, cookware, flatware, dishes, and more. It even had a dishwasher. We felt spoiled. The stove was even the modern induction type, which is probably to make it easy to clean, more than anything.

Hyatt House Portland - Kitchen

The dining area was an island adjacent to the kitchenette.

Hyatt Hours Portland Review - Kitchen

The “bedroom” and living areas were cleverly designed. The TV was situated within an open section of the wall, at it would swivel, depending on whether you wanted to watch it from the couch or from the bed. I thought this was brilliant.

Hyatt House Portland - Bedroom

The bathroom was spacious and clean, and included a shower only, which I generally prefer. Everything was super new and clean, and it was plenty spacious.

Hyatt House Portland Review - Bathroom

The view was okay. The location of the Hyatt House doesn’t really make for good views in any direction. If you pressed your face against the glass, you could get a view of some of the taller buildings in downtown Portland.

Overall, we loved the room. Everything was new and modern, and the layout was wonderful.

Lobby and other facilities

The common area was clean and nice, if a bit clinical. The hotel could have done a better job breaking up the space. There was plenty of seating, but it was so orderly it began to remind me of a cafeteria. There weren’t any great places to sit and have a more private or quieter conversation.

Maybe this just stood out since I immediately contrasted the Hyatt House Portland with the Marriott Residence Inn we stayed at the following nights. The Residence Inn broke up their common space into smaller sections, allowing a bit more privacy and an overall better feel.

I also used the gym in the morning. There were enough machines and free weights to accommodate what most people would want in a work out. There is also a pool, but we didn’t use it.

Breakfast

I have to say, the Hyatt House Portland breakfast was one of the best free breakfasts I have had at a hotel. And its always free.

Hyatt House Portland Review - Breakfast

The best part was the made-to-order omelets. You pick a couple filling options, and a cook makes you an omelet in just minutes. There are also the typical continental breakfast options of bagels, muffins, yogurt, fruit, juice, and coffee. All of that was overshadowed by the omelet.

Location and getting around

While the Hyatt House Portland is not right in the middle of downtown, it is plenty close. And the trolley stop makes most places very accessible. You can be at the main food pod between Washington and Alder in 20 minutes or less.

Essentially, anything within the trolley or TriMet system is easily accessible. I won’t deny that a car made visiting several places much easier, including our trip to Multnomah Falls and attending a glass blowing class.

The riverfront is within easy walking distance, as is the aerial tram to the OHSU campus.

Issues with the final bill

Check out at the Hyatt House Portland was quick and easy. The desk staff put our “bill” in an envelope and sent us on our way. I don’t typically receive an final bill for an award stay, but some hotels seem to give it out anyway.

By the time I read it, we were on the streetcar, and it immediately puzzled me. The bill showed a room rate of $57 + tax. This made no sense. I knew there had to be a mistake.

We returned later and asked the manager what the issue was. He apologized and told me that I wasn’t supposed to receive that bill. It was a record of what they bill Hyatt corporate for our stay. It was no skin off my teeth since we had to return anyway (to the Residence Inn) and it actually gave me an interesting insight into how hotels are reimbursed for award stays.

Conclusion

Overall, we had a fantastic stay at the Hyatt House Portland. It still ranks as my favorite hotel brand. My wife was in heaven. Because she has some tummy problems that require a restricted diet, being able to easily and comfortably cook on vacation is extremely important to us. The Hyatt House gave us everything we needed.

Hyatt House Portland Review - Downtown View

My Hyatt House Portland Review takeaway: if we ever return to Portland, we will certainly be looking at this hotel again.

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