Points, Miles & Life

Travel adventures on this earthly pilgrimage

Category: Hotels (page 1 of 12)

Vino Bello Resort Napa Review

Over New Year’s 2019 I took our older two kids on a 3-night getaway to Napa. Amazingly, I was able to find a property in the Wyndham portfolio that did *not* have the dates over New Year’s blacked out and that looked like it would make for an excellent stay. We weren’t disappointed. Here is my Vino Bello Resort Napa Review:

I used a total of 45,000 Wyndham Rewards points for our stay. Most of these were earned from promotions during 2018, and 15,000 were from the annual bonus I receive each year when I renew my card at a cost of $69. We received over $600 in value, though, so I am not complaining! Wyndham’s award “chart” is a flat rate, as all hotels cost 15,000 points per night per bedroom. I’d booked a one bedroom suite with a king bed and a sofa bed.

Arriving at the Vino Bello Resort Napa

The drive down from where we live to Napa is just under 4 hours. Rather than head through Santa Rosa, I prefer to take Highway 128 and drive through the bulk of the Napa Valley. It’s just so scenic. We left the same way, too.

Dinner was at the same place we ate the year before when I took them on a quick one-night trip to the Best Western in Calistoga (SEECelebrating New Years 2018). It was our one splurge, since the Vino Bello Resort Napa has a kitchen and I cooked most of the rest of our meals. We had maybe another 40 minutes of driving until we finally arrived at the hotel.

Man, was the parking lot full when we showed up. I found a spot, not knowing it was conveniently in front of our building. The lobby of the Vino Bello Resort Napa is lovely. We were greeted warmly by the doorman who chatted it up with me until it was finally our turn at the desk.

Check-in was a bit interesting, as I was quoted a cash rate for our stay. I’m not sure how the system integrates with Wyndham’s but it apparently isn’t seamless. It took the lady most of a minute to confirm that we were indeed on a n award rate. Adding to the complication is that they actually have two resorts in one: the Vino Bello and the Meritage.

We were given a welcome packet after checking in from the concierge, who also tried to get me to sign up for a 90-minute timeshare presentation. If only my wife was along, I totally would have made us suffer through it. Unfortunately, your spouse must be present. We would have all received free breakfast that morning, plus 25,000 Wyndham points. Would have made up for most of our stay!

One Bedroom Suite at the Vino Bello Resort Napa

Our suite was in the Cabernet building, which is closest to the lobby and restaurant, and overlooking the pool. We were on the second floor. You have to go through no fewer than 4 doors to get there, all of which require your key card, which is a bit annoying. But I guess it makes it more secure? I really didn’t understand the point. This tiny “lobby” area was between the first and second doors.

Each door from the hall opens into a small entry room with two doors leading into two separate suites. I guess this would be super convenient if you booked two rooms, as they aren’t truly adjoining, but it would provide a secure way to still pass between them.

A one bedroom suite at the Vino Bello Resort Napa is excellent. The suite is spacious and would easily accommodate our family of five if we brought sufficient bedding one or two kids. You first enter into the kitchen. There is a nice high counter at the end.

Across from that is the large dining table. The bench against the wall is super soft and the kids sunk into the cushion until there chins were barely above the table.

Beyond that is the living room area with a sofa and two armchairs. The sofa also contains the extra queen bed.

The kids immediately eyed the fireplace. I grew up with a wood stove, so this is a sorry excuse for a fire, in my opinion. But they really enjoyed it. My daughter fell asleep with it on each night, and it did keep that corner cozy.

On the high counter was a welcome bottle of wine, part of what is included in the resort fee. Funny how you don’t get one per night, even though you pay the fee per night (unless you’re on an award stay). Spolier: the wine isn’t very good anyway.

The bedroom is connected to both the living room and the bathroom.

There is one king bed, and a second TV, as well as a full closet.

The spa tub is also inside the bedroom and not the bathroom. I’m not really a fan of this. I’d rather it be part of the bathroom as well.

The bathroom itself is very large with two sinks and an oversize shower.

I was in heaven each morning. I love a nice shower. This one wasn’t quite up to the awesome rain shower in our room in Beijing back in November (SEE: Renaissance Beijing Wangfujiung Review), nor did it top the most amazing shower I’ve ever used (SEE: Park Hyatt Milan: A Review). But it was still great. Until I realized one of the kids had dropped the bottle of shampoo the night before and I was suddenly unable to wash my hair and slipping all over the tile in the morning. The things they don’t tell you…

The one bedroom suite also has a deck, or lanai. I’m still not used to that word. Lanai is an island in Hawaii, not an outdoor deck thing. In December, it was exactly the nicest place to hang out. But I’m sure it is amazing in summer.

The best part of the one bedroom suite is the kitchen. Maybe you aren’t the sort of folks who like to cook on vacation, but depending on the situation, we really don’t mind. It’s way cheaper and quite easy when we have a more relaxed schedule, such as on this trip. The kitchen had pretty much everything you’d need for 4-6 people, including plates, cutlery and cookware. There is even a dishwasher and a couple soap packs.

You can ask for necessities from housekeeping and the front desk, but if you want the room actually cleaned, this comes at as a surcharge. I’m pretty sure this is standard to Wyndham’s condo properties. We managed just fine for three days without housekeeping, and it saved us $75.

On the whole, our one bedroom suite at the Vino Bello Resort Napa was excellent. I highly recommend this as a place to burn your Wyndham points as a family.

Facilities and activities

The Vino Bello Resort Napa offers a number of things to do on-property, as well as access to everything Napa has to offer. It may not be the full extent of what many expect from a resort, even though that is part of the name. There is a decent sized pool between the Chardonnay and Cabernet buildings, and we spent and evening and morning here enjoying it.

vino bello resort napa

The kids always try to get me to spend as much time as possible in the water. The pool at the Vino Bello Resort Napa is heated, but with the air temperatures as low as they are in December and January, it still isn’t all that comfortable. The kids didn’t care, but I would last only about 15 minutes before I wanted to soak in the hot tub for the remainder of the time.

On the opposite side of the restaurant and lobby is the Bordeaux building. It also has resort rooms, but also contains the crush lounge, which is where we headed the afternoon of New Year’s Eve. The lounge has a bar, but it is also family friendly (they serve food as well, so it is technically a restaurant). Kids are welcome.

One of the best features of the Crush Lounge at the Vino Bello Resort Napa is that it has a half dozen bowling lanes. Bowling isn’t especially cheap, but it was still reasonable enough that wanted to rent a land for an hour. We got two games in. Prices are per person per hour, $15 for adults and $10 for kids on weekdays. Prices go up $5 per person per hour on weekends.

The concierge is a helpful source of anything else you might want to know about the resort and the Napa area.

The Napa area

I know, most people probably don’t take their kids to Napa. The typical itinerary is probably all-day wine tasting at the many vineyards in the valley. There are a couple that are family friendly, and the concierge pointed these out. Taking them to the Castello di Amorosa, a winery in the style of a Tuscan castle, was an option, but I decided against it, mainly due to the cost. We had what we needed at the resort anyway.

But that doesn’t mean we didn’t do any sightseeing. The first day we headed to church at Calvary Chapel Petaluma and then spent the afternoon in Sonoma at Train Town and then the mission.

Train Town is good with kids for a couple hours. The train ride itself is fun for kids of pretty much all ages. The other rides are more fair-style, and aren’t all that thrilling for older kids. But we bought a single pack of tickets for these and had fun on a few.

The morning of our second day we drove over to Fairfield and toured the Jelly Belly Factory. It had been well over a decade since I’d visited, and I hardly remembered anything. Our one bummer: they gave everyone New Year’s Eve off as well as New Year’s Day, so we didn’t get to see any action on the factory floor. But the video monitors spaced out every 100 feet or so still let us have a glimpse into their candy making process.

There is plenty more to do in the Napa area, and I am not a Napa expert, so I’ll have to leave you to do your own research!

Conclusion

Our stay at the Vino Bello Resort Napa was excellent overall. The one bedroom condo is spacious and perfect for a family, I’d happily stay here again. We still have Wyndham points to burn, so another visit might be possible this year.

The one thing I should note is that the Vino Bello Resort tried to charge us a resort fee at check out. This is against the Wyndham Rewards free night policy. I had to pull up the terms on my phone and present it to the agent at the front desk, who then took it to his manager. They did relent, but it was a bit disappointing. There is a separate write-up on this whole experiences (SEE: Waive that resort fee! Holding a hotel to its program policies).

El Colibri Rojo Review – Visiting Costa Rica’s Caribbean Coast

**This is very dated, but I decided to finish up a review of the place we stayed in Limón province when we were in Costa Rica in Fall 2017**

After a nice excursion to one of Costa Rica’s beautiful Pacific beaches (SEE: Hotel Punta Leona Review), I figured we’d visit the other side of the country to compare. From all we’ve heard and read, the Caribbean coast is an entirely different animal.

There are no good chain options (unfortunately) along the Caribbean coast, so I started scouring various OTAs and AirBnb for good places. El Colibrí Rojo stood out to us since it offered a two bedroom apartment, a pool, the potential to purchase a reasonably priced breakfast, and proximity to some of the nicer beaches on the Caribbean near Cahuita. All of this for $288 for 3 nights.

Cahuita also came highly recommended to us by Costa Ricans working with us for our adoption. The national park nearby, plus the other beautiful beaches, made it an ideal place to visit on the Atlantic side of the country.

Arriving at El Colibrí Rojo

The drive from San José to Cahuita is about 3.5 hours. Our previous trip was only about 90 minutes, so this was substantially longer for the kids. We warned them of the length a few days before, and even then we started getting complaints. Our trip would have been quicker, but we had to go an alternate route since the main highway experienced a mudslide in the monsoon-like rains and was closed. So the winding, mountainous route through Cartago it was. At least the Costa Rican mountains are stunningly beautiful.

By the time we got to Cahuita, though, the sun was starting to set. We ended up checking into El Colibrí Rojo and then heading back to the sleepy town of Cahuita itself to pick up some dinner. We settled on pizza, taking it back to our apartment to eat. After that, it was pretty much time to get the kids to bed. It had been a long, exhausting day of driving.

The next day we got to see a bit more of the tiny hotel property. The “lobby” at El Colibrí Rojo  is super laid back, an inviting space to spend a little time with a game or guitar, and chatting with the wonderful hosts of the property. The welcome area/lobby is across the drive from the hosts home and attached to the open-air breakfast area.

Across the gravel parking area are the “cabinas”. Most of them are pretty simple, but ours is the largest with a few additional features.

There are a row of hammocks in front of the cabins, welcoming you to relax in the warm, humid climate of Limón, in the shade and hopefully with a nice breeze. The weather here was quite a change from the upper 60s and lower 70s we were experiencing in San José and the central valley.

Our apartment was just called the “apartamento”, without a number. It is the only unit to offer a full kitchen and air conditioning, from what I’d read in the property description of El Colibrí Rojo.

El Colibrí Rojo apartment

The apartment is modest, but plenty nice for what we paid and what we needed for the five of us for a few days in Cahuita. The kitchen comes fully stocked, with everything you need to cook and serve meals for an entire family. It is great.

Attached to the kitchen is a small living room area with a couch and television.

Between the two areas is the dining table, a unique and beautiful high wooden table. It is also the location of the much-needed and appreciated air conditioning. We had that thing running almost the entire stay, likely to the chagrin of the hosts. From what I understand in Costa Rica, power isn’t all that cheap, at least in comparison to earnings. But we are wimps from mild northern California, and there is no way we would have been able to sleep without A/C. And it took running that poor little unit all the time to keep things sufficiently cool in the bedrooms.

The apartment at El Colibrí Rojo has two bedrooms, one with two single beds and the other with a double bed. Pretty spartan accommodations, but just fine for our needs.

The apartment also includes an outdoor dining area that is just for the guests who book it, as well as our own hammock. It is covered to provide shelter from the elements and is a great place to relax.

Here we are at lunch one day, eating soup in the warm outdoors. Not a great meal choice for the climate, but it’s what we’d brought. This is only a little over a year ago, and I’m blown away by how much our kids have grown!

Overall, the apartment was perfect for a few days at the beach enjoying the Costa Rican sun and swimming in the water of the Caribbean.

El Colibrí Rojo breakfast

Breakfast is served each morning in the open-air dining area between the “lobby” and the pool. It is a continental affair, consisting of bread, pastries, fruit and yogurt, although I think that you could order an egg or two if you wanted. I can’t remember. It’s been a bit too long. But I remember it being enough, and worth the minimal price we paid.

Of course there is also coffee and tea, as well as cereal, which the kids enjoyed.

Our hosts were very welcoming, and we got to chat a bit each morning about our time in Costa Rica. They were obviously a bit intrigued to see a fair-skinned couple with a trio or darker Costa Rican kids, and we were able to talk about our adoption. The hosts of El Colibrí Rojo are actually from France, relocated there in search of a quieter and more laid-back life, and it was interesting to get their perspective on the country.

Pool and other facilities

The kids thoroughly enjoyed the pool at El Colibrí Rojo. It is not very big, but it fairly deep. I had to carefully watch our youngest for fear of him falling in. Our daughter was good about carrying him around so he could be part of the fun. The water was about the same temperature as the air, maybe just a hair cooler. Plenty warm for swimming.

When we weren’t at the beach, the kids were generally in the pool.

I liked the overall open-air design of the facilities at El Colibrí Rojo. Considering that it is always warm, it totally makes sense. Although there is also the argument for air-conditioned rooms. I believe ours is the only guest room that contains an A/C unit.

There is not much to the property, but certainly enough if all you’re looking for is a pool and breakfast. The small number of rooms (less than 10, I believe) also means it’s a pretty quiet place as well.

Playas near Cahuita

The nearby national park in Cahuita is the real gem of Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast, and the main reason we were here. The water is lovely, the sand is lovely, and the weather is lovely. Beach vacations have never been on my radar, but this experience started to change my mind. Now I understand that there is a lot more than the gritty, cold, windy beaches I’m used to in northern California.

Kels was sick some of the time, but she was still able to make it out to the beach with us a couple times to enjoy the sand and sun with the kids. The kids had a blast.

The sun scorches fast, though. We all had to be careful to put on plenty of sunscreen!

Conclusion

Our stay at El Colibrí Rojo was very nice. It was an inexpensive place that gave us some comforts of home (i.e. a kitchen and air conditioning) and the facilities we needed. I’d happily stay again, and I hope the hosts are still running the place and doing well.

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.

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