Points, Miles & Life

Travel adventures on this earthly pilgrimage

Category: Hotels (page 1 of 9)

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!

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.

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