Points, Miles & Life

Travel adventures on this earthly pilgrimage

Category: Hotels (page 1 of 12)

Saving $600+ on a New Year’s Getaway

After literally a couple years of watching and building my rewards balance, I finally put my Wyndham points to good use for a 2019 New Year’s getaway with the older kids. Last year we had a similar trip, albeit for a single night at the Best Western Stevenson Manor in Calistoga (SEECelebrating New Years 2018). But that exhausted my (already small) Best Western Rewards balance.

So I turned to Wyndham this year, and they really delivered. Compared to many rewards programs, Wyndham kinda gets a bad rap. They don’t offer the same sort of loyalty benefits, nor do they have a great portfolio of hotels; most are budget brands like Super 8 and Howard Johnson. But that does not mean that the loyalty program is without any merit.

Putting Wyndham’s flat rate award nights to good use

The most unique thing about the Wyndham Rewards program is that all rewards nights cost the same, no matter the hotel. You can you 15,000 points for a night at the Super 8 across town that is going for $49.99, or you could use it for a night at The Mills House, where I stayed in Charleston during a recent trip (SEE: The Mills House Charleston Review). You could also use 15,000 points per night for a stay at the Vino Bello Resort in Napa, which is where we headed for New Year’s 2019.

Extracting value out of the Wyndham program boils down to two things: earn points during their promotions, which are fairly uncommon, but tend to reward you quite well. Then burn the points at one of their good properties. This may require some searching, and you will not find nice hotels at a long list of destinations, but if you can make one work with your travel plans, the potential value is excellent.

You can also use Wyndham points for stays at their condo and resort properties, which includes the Vino Bello Resort. Wyndham IT has gotten better, and a good number of the condo properties show on their website, including the properties in San Francisco, Napa and many other places in the country.

The real issue is finding an award that works. The condo and resort properties typically require a minimum stay of 2 nights, which is not really a bad thing. But you will also find that a very large number of dates are blacked out. I often have to search weekend after weekend to finally find one that *is* available.

Pulling the trigger on a New Year’s stay

When I found that the Vino Bello Resort had availability over New Year’s, I immediately booked it. It’s rare to find, and I didn’t want it to slip away. My wife and I then discussed the idea of us going, and she was all for it. Instead of a single night like the year before, I booked three.

The value of using my pints here is much greater than using them at other properties. I try to always get at least 1 cent per Wyndham point, and I definitely succeeded on this stay. The base rate for a one bedroom condo for three nights was $514.35. Add in the $25 resort fee per night and taxes, and the total for the stay would have been over $600. This was 100% covered by 45,000 Wyndham points! Although I did have to squabble with the front desk to waive the resort fee. But policy is on my side (SEE: Waive that resort fee! Holding a hotel to its program policies).

I’d been waiting to use these points for a while. Admittedly, 15,000 of them were earned by renewing my Wyndham Visa card issued by Barclays bank, which meant paying an annual fee of $69. But for $69, we got a room worth $200+. I think that is an excellent deal.

Conclusion

Rumors have been flying around that Wyndham is going to devalue its program, moving to the 3-tier structure where some properties cost 7,500 points, others 15,000, and the highest tier 30,000 per night. This will severely devalue the program for me, and will probably make me ditch it entirely, as all properties at which I’d want to redeem points will not require twice as many. I can imagine that all Wyndham Grand properties, Viva All-Inclusive Resort Properties, and condo properties will fall in this new, highest tier. Even a stay at The Mining Exchange, where we stayed in 2016, would probably require 30,000 points (SEE: The Mining Exchange, Wyndham Grand Hotel: A Review).

All this to say, I am quite happy that I burnt 45,000 Wyndham points to get $600 in value now rather than holding onto them and watching their value potentially halve in the future.

One week left for this great hotel card offer!

Since its launch in late summer 2018, the new World of Hyatt Visa card has been offering a sign up bonus of 60,000 points. Valuing Hyatt points conservatively at 1.3 cents each, the bonus is worth nearly $800, and potentially much more, depending on how you use the points.

Yesterday I learned that the current bonus will be pulled starting January 9. So there is only one week left to jump on this offer! The new bonus will still be valuable, as it is only being cut by 10,000 points, but those 10,000 points are potentially 2 free nights at Category 1 properties!

Details on the World of Hyatt card offer

The 60,000-point bonus currently offered by the World of Hyatt Visa is awarded in a tiered structure. You will earn 40,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 within the first 3 months of card membership, and then an additional 20,000 bonus points after spending another $3,000 within the first 6 months. Other benefits and terms of the card include:

  • 4 points per dollar spent at Hyatt hotels
  • 2 points per dollar spent on local transit (including ridesharing), restaurants and coffee shops, and airfare
  • 1 free night at a Category 1-4 hotel every year on your account anniversary
  • 1 additional free night at a  Category 1-4 hotel if you spend $15,000 or more on your card each anniversary year
  • Discoverist elite status
  • 5 elite qualifying night credit each year for holding the card
  • Ability to earn an additional 2 elite night credits for every $5,000 in net spending on your card
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • $95 annual fee, not waived the first year

Personal referral application link.

If you’re looking for hotel points for your future travels, this is one of the best offers currently on the market. I don’t know of any offer than can get you more than 12 nights, aside from the 150,000-point bonus on the Hilton Aspire card. And to get that many, you’d have to find Category 1 Hilton properties, which are way less common that Category 1 Hyatts.

Points Unlimited: Lucrative Hilton Promotion Q1 2019

Hilton has opened registration for their upcoming Points Unlimited promotion, set to run during the first quarter of next year. Hilton has routinely had decent promotions, but rarely any that really make me go out of my way to stay with them. I typically find that I’m flush with Hilton Honors points from credit card offers. But if you’re looking for some ways to maximize your earning from hotel stays, here are the details of the Hilton promotion Q1 2019:

Earn 2,000 bonus points for every stay and 10,000 bonus points for every 5 stays or 10 nights.

That’s it, folks. It’s pretty much as simple as it sounds. No stays with specific brands, no bonus points only awarded after the second stay. Not much else in the fine print. This Hilton promotion Q1 2019 runs for stays completed January 4 through May 5.

Link to promotion landing page.

As always, Hampton Inn hotels in mainland China are excluded from the promotion. I don’t know why this is. It just seemed to be standard for every promotion that Hilton ever runs. As the name would imply, there is no limit to the number of bonus points you can earn under this promotion.

points unlimited hilton promotion q1 2019

Maximizing this Hilton promotion Q1 2019

The sweet spot for making the most of the Points Unlimited Hilton promotion Q1 2019 is on short stays. This should be obvious already, but I wanted to reiterate that point. For example, assume that you have to spend 5 nights on a business trip. If you can hotel hop each night, breaking the trip into 5 separate stays, you will earn:

  • 2,000 bonus points for each stay, for a total of 10,000 points from 5 separate stays
  • 10,000 bonus points for the 5 stays

This is a total bonus of 4,000 points per night. If you’re earning that on a $100 room rate at a Hampton Inn, you’re looking at a total return of over 7,000 points per night, assuming you hold a Hilton Ascend card from American Express and use that to pay for your stay. Valuing Hilton points at 0.5 cents each, you’re looking at an effective return of over 35%. Pretty sweet to get more than a third of the value of your stay back. I do like the Hilton chain in general, and we’ve had some great stays with them:

Conclusion

While this is by no means the most groundbreaking promotion I’ve ever seen from Hilton, the fact that is uncapped means it could be incredibly lucrative for frequent business travelers. Due to some recent changes on a couple projects, I don’t have much work travel penciled in for the first part of next year. But if in case changes, I will keep the Hilton promotion Q1 2019 on my radar.

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.

Sheraton Roma Review

Overall rating: 8/10

Pros: Cheap points rate, good breakfast, nice lounge, easy access to metro

Cons: Not in city center, tired rooms and exterior

This hotel review is very dated, but its been sitting here mostly drafted and I figured I’d finish up and post it. 

During our extended European holiday in 2016 (SEE: Thirty Days in Europe), my wife and I spent 6 nights at the Sheraton Roma. I had booked us directly into a Club Room, which included breakfast and lounge access.

The total? 31,000 SPG points. Not a bad redemption, especially given that it would have easily cost us $900 out of pocket. Now that the merger is happening between the Starwood and Marriott loyalty programs, stays at the Sheraton Roma are becoming a worse deal. Category 1 and 2 Starwood properties were particularly hard hit by the new award chart.

Previously, award nights cost 3,000/4,000 Starpoints for a standard room (we booked a Club Room for a bit more). The new award chart shows that they will cost 17,500 Marriott points. Even given the 3:1 effective ratio of SPG to Marriott points, we’re looking at an increase of 5,500 Marriott points per night.

Cash rates during our dates were ~$140 per night for a club room, so we were getting about 2.7 cents per point. Not a bad redemption, especially since it was saving us the cost of breakfast (and often dinner).

Arrival at the Sheraton Roma

We didn’t have to travel very far the day we arrived. Our first night in Rome was actually spent at the St. Regis Rome, which mainly left me wishing I would have not burned the points I did on the luxury stay (SEE: St. Regis Rome Deluxe Room Review: Just too many points).

The easiest way to get to the Sheraton Rome is by metro or bus. If you take the metro, you have to walk a good distance to the hotel. We made this mistake, and the area to the immediate south of the hotel is not especially friendly to pedestrians. The bus is a better option, since the stop is literally out in front of the hotel, but you need to do a bit more research. I had it down by the end of our stay.

The exterior of the hotel is dated and not especially appealing.

We arrived in the evening after spending the day exploring Rome, and were immediately told that we needed to check in at the desk in the lounge. This was new to me. I figured the front desk handled everything. But it was easy enough to head up to the sixth floor.

First impressions

As I mentioned, the exterior needs a major face lift. However, the lobby was nice enough. It was often busy, but not during the afternoon that we arrived.

There was a flight crew present when we arrived, and we would continue to see them throughout our stay. It seems that the Sheraton Roma has contracts with multiple airlines for crew stays. Heading to the elevators, we arrived at the 6th floor, where the Club lounge is located.

Check in was…interesting. The staff in the lounge were incredibly professional, but we were accosted by an overly friendly lady who’d had a few too many glasses of Italian wine. She chatted our ears off for a few minutes before we were thankfully given our keys and could extricate ourselves. Our room was one floor down, on the 5th floor.

Sheraton Roma Club Room

I thought I’d taken photos of our room like I typically do at most hotels, but I guess I missed that detail. I took photos of other areas of the property, but not of the room itself. You can take a look here. I recall our Club Room at the Sheraton Roma as being adequate, but a bit on the small side. We didn’t spend a lot of time in the room, as we were out enjoying Rome most of our visit. In the evening hours, I was often in the lounge working until 8:00 or 9:00 p.m. to keep up with things back home.

One note with Starwood (and probably the same once they are fully rolled into Marriott), is that being upgraded to a Club Room doesn’t necessarily grant Club access. Since we’d paid the necessary points premium for a Club Room outright (as if paying cash for the room), we did get Club access and free breakfast. Besides Club access, there aren’t really any differences between standard Club and non-Club rooms at the Sheraton Roma. You’re just on a different floor.

We did opt for the Make a Green Choice program each day. As the Sheraton Roma is a full service hotel, we could get either a voucher for €5 toward food or beverage, or 500 Starpoints.

I value 500 Starpoints at ~$12, so that was definitely what we picked. Including our second Sheraton stay on this trip, we came away with 4,000 Starpoints from award stays. Pretty sweet.

Sheraton Roma Lounge

Access to the Sheraton Club Lounge was the best perk of booking a club room. It was a great place for me to work from in the evenings while my wife relaxed in our room. Or joined me.

Every evening there was a selection of small bites that doubled as dinner for us. Lunch out in Rome is fairly expensive, so we tried to cut costs by eating dinner in the lounge. Most of the food was pretty good. You just had to go back a few times to have enough.

There was a selection of wine as well, always at least one red and one white. It was all self serve. You might say it was the perfect opportunity to enjoy, when in Rome. But we didn’t. I hardly ever have a glass of anything.

The seating in the lounge was adequate, and there were almost always a number of other people present. The Sheraton Roma appears to be a popular hotel for both business travelers and flight crews.

Breakfast

Since we’d spent the extra points on an upgrade to a Club Room, breakfast was also included, either in the Sheraton Club itself or in AQVI, the hotel restaurant.

We opted for the restaurant every day. The food selection included a wide assortment of pastries, and hot breakfast options such as eggs, bacon, potatoes, cheese, fruit and much more.

I unfortunately didn’t take any photos besides the one of my plate, but I do remember feeling more than satisfied with both the quality and selection of food at breakfast. We ate with a view of the pool every day.

Italian coffee is also generally very good. The coffee here was about par.

Lounge access and breakfast every day were worth the 1,500 point premium per night. This is about the same as paying $38 per day for breakfast and dinner for two, which was totally worth saving.

Other facilities

The Sheraton Roma has a large pool deck area and a decent size pool. The only issue was that, at least from the breakfast area, it didn’t look all that inviting. The water was murky and not at all appealing. Neither my wife nor I had more than a mild interest in swimming, so it was easy to pass it up.

We did actually use the business center while at the Sheraton Roma. It was necessary to print the boarding passes for our flight from Ciampino to Dublin on Ryan Air. Failure to print a boarding pass will incur a steep fee from the airline.

Access to Rome

One of the drawbacks to the Sheraton Roma is its distance from the city center. It’s not that access isn’t all that difficult. It just means a 20-60 minute transit time each way, depending on where you want to go.

The most convenient option is the Patinaggio bus stop literally right in front of the hotel. The bus takes a bit longer in terms of drive time, but there is less walking involved. You’ll take the 780 line to Trastevere/Pascarella station and then catch the streetcar to Piazza Venezia. From there you can reach many sights in Rome by foot.

The other option is the metro, which we took most of the time. The EUR Magliana station is a 10-minute walk, but the walking route is less than ideal. Bushes had overgrown some of the sidewalk, and traffic is moving at a pretty good pace. But it is the better option for some of the sights. Colosseo station is only a 15 minute ride on the metro, and trains run frequently. Getting to the other side of Rome, such as over to the Vatican, will take at least another 15-20 minutes.

Conclusion

Overall, we had a great stay at the Sheraton Roma. It definitely wasn’t the nicest hotel, but it met our needs perfectly. Even though it isn’t near the center of the city, accessing the typical tourist areas was easy enough by bus or metro. Lounge access and breakfast were nice touches, and if we stay here again, I’d seek to repeat that.

My one potential gripe is that the pool did not look inviting. But we were here to enjoy the history and culture, not the water. If the kids were along, I’m sure they would have still been up for a swim. 😉

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