Points, Miles & Life

Travel adventures on this earthly pilgrimage

Category: Hotels (page 1 of 8)

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

If we ever return to Portland, I will certainly be looking at this hotel again.

Only a few days left to get the best ever offer for the Starwood Amex cards!

The Starwood Preferred Guest American Express card is my favorite hotel co-branded credit card. It doesn’t provide many perks, but it does have the best earning value by far of any hotel card.

The normal offer for both the business and personal versions of this card is 25,000 Starwood points, but currently you can sign up for a 35,000 point offer!

The offer for the personal version of the card is:

  • 25,000 Starpoints after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months
  • 10,000 Starpoints after spending an additional $2,000 in the first 6 months

The offer for the business version of the card is:

  • 25,000 Starpoints after spending $5,000 in the first 3 months
  • 10,000 Starpoints after spending an additional $3,000 in the first 6 months

I know those spending requirements are high. But if you are able to do them, consider getting this card. It is likely to eventually be discontinued, due to Marriott’s purchase of Starwood Hotels.

You can use Starpoints for Starwood stays, or transfer to Starwood’s airline partners. You can also transfer them to Marriott at a 1:3 ratio, so the bonus can also be viewed as a 105,000 Marriott point bonus. Both Marriott and Starwood allow you to book “nights and flights” packages, which is one of the best uses of these points, if you accrue enough.

Note that if you have ever had this card in the past, you’ll won’t be eligible for the bonus. Amex has a once-per-lifetime rule on card bonuses.

You have through April 5th to apply!

Getting My First Business Credit Card

One of the only downsides to selling my previous business is that I was no longer eligible to apply for any business credit cards. It has been almost two years since I sold my pickup and landscaping tools to my brother-in-law, and I haven’t really looked back. Starting in December 2016, though, I have a new businesses that allowed me to apply for my first business credit card.

No, it’s not my blog. I started Points, Miles & Life just over a year ago. I thought I might be able to develop it into a business, but I honestly haven’t put in the labor to make anything of it yet. It may happen. We’ll see. The travel blogging market is a competitive place, and there are plenty of good blogs out there with great information these days. I simply don’t have the time to keep up with the competition.

But the blog did come through for me in one big way: it played a role in being on-boarded as a contributor to Points with a Crew. Dan Miller, who started the Points with a Crew site, has a readership that far surpasses mine, and I am excited to be writing several pieces weekly for PWAC.

In the same month that I applied for the position with PWAC, I also jumped into the world of gift card reselling. I had been interested in this for a while as a way of accruing extra miles and points, as well as a small profit. Wait…profit? This is a legitimate business!

Since I’m also paid to write for Dan, my PWAC contributor position is also technically a side-hustle. But the gift card reselling gig is a bit more conducive for the spending volume I need to justify a business credit card.

Either way, in just one month I now have two new business ventures. Awesome.

Applying for my First Business Credit Card

So I decided to go ahead and apply for the Starwood Preferred Guest Business American Express card. With the future of the card unknown due to Marriott’s purchase of Starwood, I figured I could get some use out of it before the product is no longer available. Plus, it is a great card, and Starpoints are one of my favorite points currencies.

First Business Credit Card - SPG AMEX

Landing page for the SPG Business AMEX

Because I am operating my business (businesses? not sure if/how to split yet for tax time) as a sole proprietorship, the credit card application required only my social security number and not a tax ID. The application is not unlike one for a personal credit card, but it has a few extra fields for business info, including expected monthly revenue.

I filled out everything, reviewed the application, and clicked submit. As has been the case with literally every Amex app I have submitted in the past two years, I was instantly approved.

A few minutes later, and I had my new Starwood card linked up to my American Express online account. The process was as painless as it always has been.

I received the card just a few days later. It was shipped two day express by Amex. Since then I have been racking up some serious points.

Where to Go Next

Now I that I have my first business credit card in my wallet, I have my sights set on a couple others. We’ll see what I end up with in 2017. My wife and I are going to ease of the credit card applications a bit, and I want to be a bit more selective about what I apply for. Still, there are some great business cards out there, and I might try to get a couple more in my wallet.

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