Points, Miles & Life

Travel adventures on this earthly pilgrimage

Category: Hilton (page 1 of 2)

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. ūüėČ

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!

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‚Äôt all that¬†spectacular. Don‚Äôt 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‚Äôm 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 ‚Äútypical‚ÄĚ 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.

My First Best Rate Guarantee: Initial Experiences

Ever since Travel is Free wrote an awesome rundown on his experiences using best rate guarantees to save significant money on hotels (also see his complete guide), I have been itching to make a claim of my own. I have looked for opportunities many times, but nothing has ever presented itself in terms of timing and need.

Until now. While planning a crazy one-night trip (just to use a lounge pass I won and burn a United voucher), I was able to try a best-rate guarantee for the first time. Actually, I was able to try two.

But let’s pause for a moment so I can clarify what exactly is a ¬†best rate guarantee. A “best rate guarantee” (BRG) is a policy outlined by a hotel chain that guarantees that the best publicly available rate that you can find for their hotel is on their website. Typically, the hotel chain offers to match any lower, publicly available rate, and then reduce the even more by a given percentage. In the case of IHG, they simply offer you the first night free, which is incredible for single night stays.

Finding Best Rate Guarantee Targets

I was headed to the Bay Area for work, and I noticed that the Hilton Garden Inn Emeryville was advertised at a lower rate on Expedia than on Hilton’s website. I quickly booked 2 refundable nights and submitted my first claim.

Then I started shopping for my one quick night near Denver airport. Almost immediately I had a target: the Marriott Airport Gateway. It as an Expedia daily special, and the refundable rate was less than $70. At Marriott’s website, the refundable member rate was about $80.

Both inquiries were responded to within 24 hours. Of course they couldn’t find either. The Marriott deal had about 8 hours left on it when I found it, so all they really had to do was wait it out. Somehow the room types didn’t match on the Hilton BRG. Meh. Technicalities. I can easily find other Bay Area options. I canceled the Expedia reservation and moved on.

Pursuing the Marriott Best Rate Guarantee

But I didn’t want to give up on the Marriott at Denver Airport. I quickly replied to the email, including a printout of my hotel confirmation. It was still just under 24 hours from when I had submitted my initial claim, and I had hung on to the original Expedia reservation since it was refundable.

I sent a message back to the customer service rep who had emailed, explaining that the rate was a timed Expedia special. I sent an image of my confirmation and hoped for the best.

Within just a few hours, I received an email back from the rep, stating that while they couldn’t find the rate that I had quoted, they had found a different one. It was even cheaper, and they were taking the liberty of matching it and then reducing the price by 25%. Sweet. The final price came out to about $60 after tax.

I was honestly surprised Marriott offered this. While I had expected that they would honor the rate I had booked, as I had submitted my claim within the time specified with an eligible rate, it was totally unexpected that they would match me to a wholly different rate.

Thus, I really chalk this up to both good luck and a sympathetic (or overly eager) customer service representative.

Due to a slight delay, I didn’t do much more than sleep and shower at the hotel when I finally arrived for my brief single night. I covered the cost with Arrival miles and raked in an extra 5,000 Marriott points for the stay from a Fall promotion. Not a terrible trade-off and an interesting first best rate guarantee experience.

Header image courtesy of Marriott. 

Hilton Florence Metropole: A Review

Location: Florence, Italy

Overall Rating: 9/10

I had some reservations when booking the Hilton Florence Metropole, mainly regarding the location. Unlike the SPG hotel options, the Hilton was a pretty good distance from the city center. I would have much rather booked the Westin Excelsior or St. Regis Florence, but the prices (both in cash and in points) were simply astronomical.

The Hilton Garden Inn was significantly closer, but still not fantastic, and the overall benefits at the Hilton Florence Metropole would be better with the Diamond status I had been matched to for the year. I finally settled on it as our best option, trusting that the views and amenities would make up for the poorer location. Plus, it would be free, except for the annoying city taxes.

We booked five nights to take advantage of the 5th night free benefit offered on Hilton award stays. The total came to 120,000 HHonors points. The same booking would have cost ~$600, so we were getting just 0.5 cents per point. Half a cent is the baseline at which I value a Hilton point, so I was fine with the redemption, but not ecstatic (you can often buy HHonors points for 0.5 cent).

Hilton Florence Metropole Exterior

Hilton Florence Metropole exterior

Kels and I arrived in Florence via bus and then train from San Marino. We left beautiful Monte Titano around 10:00 in the morning, and arrived at the Hilton Florence Metropole at about 4:30 in the afternoon. It was a decently long day of traveling, especially considering the two locations are less than 100 miles apart as the crow flies.

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Waterfall (waterwall?) in the lobby

The lobby of the Hilton Florence Metropole is very large and of modern style. There was ample seating past the front desk and an indoor waterfall as you enter.

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Lobby seating

Check in was quick and painless. I had previously confirmed our room via the Hilton app, and no changes were made at check in. By the number (1001), I had suspected that we had been upgraded to a corner room, and this was indeed the case. The Hilton Diamond status match was finally paying off!

My wife and I headed up the elevator to the 10th floor. Luckily, we did not get the slightly awkward chaperone to our room as we had in both Cannes and Milan.

Hilton Florence Metropole Room View

Bed, with a view!

I was in love the instant I opened the door to the room. We were not only upgraded to a corner room, but to one with views of the Duomo and city center in the distance, surrounded by the hills of Tuscany! It was spectacular.

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Desk behind bed

After spending an undue amount of time admiring our view of Florence, I did notice the rest of the room. Everything was very nice, and of very modern style. The desk was glass, and it was uniquely placed directly behind the bed.

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Desk

Next to the door was a little nook with the water kettle and glassware.

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Nook by the door

Like the Hyatt Regency Palais de la Mediterranee, the in room coffee consisted of instant Nescafe. Considering all the good coffee available, the hotels on this trip were failing the in-room coffee thing (except the Park Hyatt Milan).

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Kettle, mugs, and in-room coffee

The bathroom was similarly very nice. It had both a shower and tub, and an interesting clear glass sink.

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Shower and sink

Our only minor complaint was the shower. It was overly narrow. Due to the placement of the handle and shower head, both¬†my wife and I tended to accidentally turn the water either down or off while showering.¬†It wasn’t too much of an issue for us, but I can imagine it would be far more of a hassle for anyone substantially larger.

Overall, we were very pleased with the room. Housekeeping kept it wonderfully clean during our stay, even when we made a mess cooking.

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Lounge

Since both my wife and I had been matched to Hilton Diamond status via a promo at the beginning of 2016, we were granted executive lounge access during our stay, even though we weren’t on any of the 3 executive floors. I had previously been to a couple airport lounges, but this was my first time using a hotel lounge.

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Snacks and light dinner options in the lounge

The lounge at the Hilton Florence Metropole is on the top (15th) floor. It offers complimentary drinks, light bites at night, and a light breakfast in the morning. We ended up eating in the restaurant every morning, so I never actually saw what breakfast was like.

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Outdoor seating area of the executive lounge

There were two outdoor seating areas, as well as the indoor tables and couches. The views from the 15th floor were spectacular; you had access to at least 270 degrees around the building. My favorite view was toward the Florence city center, the same direction that we had from our room.

Hilton Florence Metropole View from Lounge

Panorama of Florence, city center in the distance at center left

I worked from the lounge most of the evenings we were in Florence. It was a quiet space, there were ample power outlets, and I could snack as I wanted. Although many guests came and went, the lounge never really filled up any of the nights we were there.

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Pool, and adjacent fitness facilities

On one of the evenings, my wife and I had a chance to enjoy the pool. It is quite small, but it had a very cool waterfall! And we had it to ourselves the entire time we were swimming.

 

Hilton Florence Metropole Pool Waterfall

Pool waterfall

Strangely, there were a few sunbeds. The pool is below ground level and there are no windows, so I wondered why anyone would want to come lay here for a while. Maybe you can tan from indigo mood lighting?

hilton_florence-pool_beds

Lounge chairs near the pool

The towels laid out and free bottled water were a plus, though.

Adjacent to the pool was the fitness center, which….I never used (vacation is about eating and seeing the sights, okay).

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Buffet breakfast in the hotel restaurant

Speaking of eating, we enjoyed breakfast in the restaurant each morning, complimentary of course as another Diamond perk. The spread included a wide variety of both European and more American breakfast choices. It was honestly the best hotel breakfast I have had.

Hilton Florence Metropole Restaurant Seating

Restaurant seating

As I mentioned at the start, the Hilton Florence Metropole is a pretty good distance from the center of Florence. The hotel does run a complimentary shuttle, but the schedule isn’t ideal. The pickup times are 60-90 minutes apart at either end, so you really have to settle on a plan ahead of time. Space is also issued on a first-come, first-serve basis. The morning runs into Florence were usually full. If the shuttle runs out of space, you are out of luck. Fortunately, we always managed to find a seat.

The shuttle drops you about a 5 minute walk from the Santa Maria Novella train station, at the Piazzale Montelungo. The Mercato Centrale is an 8-10 minute walk, the Duomo about 10-12, and the Palazzo Vecchio roughly 20. We did a ridiculous amount of walking over our three days seeing the city and every night returned to the hotel exhausted.

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The public bus stop just down the street from the Hilton. Route 78 goes to the tram.

If the shuttle isn’t cutting it,¬†you can navigate the public transit system. I honestly preferred this option, and we took it more than half the time. The schedule is more regular, and there is a bus stop a few hundred¬†feet from the hotel. You have to make one transfer between the #78 bus and the T1 tram, but it is fairly straightforward. You can tell which stop it is since the bus basically empties out.

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The Duomo

Florence has so much to see and do. We spent three long days seeing the art, the architecture, and enjoying the beauty of this Renaissance city.

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The upper floor of the Mercato Centrale Firenze

Our highlights were the Duomo, the Galileo Muesum, the Mercato Centrale (wife’s absolute favorite!), and enjoying lunch in some of the small cafes. The Mercato Centrale consisted of a covered market on the bottom story, open most days during the moring, and then an upper, enclosed floor that had food vendors, a bar, and other specialty shops.

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The “steak for two” special. We did eat it all.

The most memorable was our Florentine “steak for two” at a cafe near the Duomo. The special on the sign said 1 kg, but I didn’t realize it would be a single giant steak!

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Cappuccino!

I also probably had like 17 cappuccinos over the course of a few days. I went from having never ordered one in my life to being completely addicted.

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Florence city center at sunset, viewed from the lounge terrace

Our entire stay in Florence was incredibly memorable. The city is full of art, history, and culture. Even after three days of museums, churches, and other sights (using our Firenze Cards), Kels and I both felt like we had barely scratched the surface of what the city had to offer.

If you ever have the wonderful opportunity to visit the birthplace of the Renaissance, I would highly recommend both the Hilton Florence Metropole, and a stay of at least 5 nights, if not a week.

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