Points, Miles & Life

Travel adventures on this earthly pilgrimage

Category: IHG (page 1 of 3)

Holiday Inn Auburn Review

Pros: Good quality for the Holiday Inn brand, great pool, nice location in Auburn

Cons: Decent breakfast, but service could use some improvement

Back in January I visited the Sacramento area with our older two kids on a long weekend adventure (SEE: Overview of our fun weekend in Sacramento). Not to let an opportunity pass me by to sandwich work and leisure together, I was able to tack on an extra night at the Holiday Inn Auburn so that I could take my FAA Part 107 test and receive my small unmanned aerial systems pilot license (which was subsequently hilariously messed up).

The Holiday Inn Auburn requires 20,000 IHG points per night, which is a pretty good deal considering their typical rates. For most dates I would be willing to burn my points to stay here. In this case, however, work was paying. I’d worked out a deal where they’d cover the last night of the trip since I’d normally have to travel for the test anyway, although not quite as far.

Arriving at the Holiday Inn Auburn

I found that there was a testing location in Auburn, which isn’t far from Sacramento, and so I booked the final night of our trip here. The Holiday Inn Auburn is right off the freeway in the middle of town. It was less than an hour drive from our other hotel, which meant the kids didn’t get carsick.

holiday inn auburn lobby

The lobby was appointed nicely and definitely felt more upscale. Due to the lack of standardization within the Holiday Inn brand, I don’t really consider them to be upscale. But some can border on it. If I’m looking for a truly upscale hotel, it’ll be something like the Marriott, the Westin or a Hyatt. But then I’d be paying for it with my own points.

Check in was smooth and easy, which has been the norm for IHG. Honestly, I tend to only ever have issues at either super budget hotels, or high end hotels that are quite busy and you have to wait in the queue. I hate waiting to simply check into a hotel. Actually, I really don’t like waiting in general.

Room

The room at the Holiday Inn Auburn was nice, and it felt in line with what I have come to expect from the good hotels after several stays with the brand. Rather than being dated and tired like the previous Holiday Inn we stayed in (SEE: Holiday Inn Rancho Cordova Review), the room felt clean and fresh.

holiday inn auburn beds

Our bed situation was two queens, which is pretty standard. The couple times I have accidentally booked or received two doubles, it makes for a terrible night as I get kicked incessantly by my son. A king and sofa-bed, when offered, is honestly the best when traveling with two kids of opposite genders.

A couple Holiday Inns at which I’ve stayed have been in fairly old buildings, which makes finding outlets for electronics a bit inconvenient. Not here. They have nicely installed sockets over the nightstand. The reading lights mounted to the beds were nice as well.

There was also a work desk and armchair, pretty standard for any hotel room. More outlets were available in the lamp.

The room also had a Keurig coffee maker, ceramic mugs, and a small selection of tea and coffee. It also included a fridge, which was unexpected. I don’t think it is a standard amenity for Holiday Inns. When traveling with my wife, a fridge is a must. A full kitchen is preferred.

There was nothing special about the bathroom, except it was in much better condition here at the Holiday Inn Auburn than at the Holiday Inn Rancho Cordova.

Overall, the room met expectations for what I consider to be standard for Holiday Inns. I wish there wasn’t so much variation among the chain. It’s kinda like Sheraton with SPG. Some are old and tired, others are new (or renovated) and great hotels. You really need to do some research before booking. The Holiday Inn Auburn passed the test for me.

The kids’ favorite place is always the pool

I keep coming back to this again and again. While the kids do comment on the overall quality of the hotel (and have quickly learned to distinguish between a $300 hotel we are getting for free versus the $50 motel I’ll sometimes book), most of their comments focus on the pool. Is there a pool? Is it warm? Is it nice? Having a pool is really all they care about. I’m constantly reminded of this post by Dan at Points with a Crew.

holiday inn auburn pool

The pool at the Holiday Inn Auburn turned out to be a great one for the kids. It was warmer than the last one, and it made for a great evening swim.

I camped out in the whirlpool spa, to the kids dismay. While the pool was warm enough for them, it wasn’t warm enough for me. Unless its super hot out, it better be bathwater.

Breakfast at the Holiday Inn Auburn

I’d booked a breakfast rate at the hotel for little more (~$5) than what the normal rate was. This normally includes breakfast for two, but kids eat free at Holiday Inns, so we all ate for the $5 extra. These rates are sometimes worth booking if it is available.

Obviously, it can easily make sense to book at another hotel that simply offers free breakfast to everyone, but this was a good deal for a hotel that typically charges for breakfast.

However, I was a bit skeptical after having breakfast at the Holiday Inn Rancho Cordova. Breakfast there wasn’t up to par from my previous experiences with Holiday Inns. My favorites are still the Holiday Inn Old Sydney and the Holiday Inn Sydney – Waterfront in Nova Scotia.

holiday inn auburn breakfast

While not fine dining by any means, breakfast here was a buffet that is a step above a Holiday Inn Express or most other “free breakfast hotels”. I still find it hard for a hotel to really make a “fancy” breakfast (and find it even harder to pay for it!).

The one way in which breakfast fell flat was service. The two attendants did very little besides talk to each other. There were a couple items that were out, and they barely got around to restocking them by the time we finished up.

What to do in Auburn

This was my second time in Auburn. Both visits have been quick, and I am actually pretty unfamiliar with what the area offers. Last time was with friends several years ago, and we headed to Roseville for most of the time. This time we didn’t really do much besides quickly stop in old town. True to their gold mining roots, it features a giant statue of a miner panning for gold. What I *do* know is that the area includes hiking and biking opportunities along the American River, breweries and wineries, and a couple museums.

My other stop with the kids was at Foresthill Bridge – the highest bridge in California. Years ago, this is where my friends and I got fiercely chewed out by a CHP officer for throwing rocks over 700 feet down into the river below. Considering that there are boaters, hikers and bikers below, it was a stupid choice on our part. Of the things on my “young and dumb” list, this is probably the worst. I made sure to tell my kids that rock throwing was off the table.

Conclusion

After that, we grabbed our bags and headed out. Overall, our stay at the Holliday Inn Auburn was nice. My kids enjoyed the pool, and the hotel met my expectations in terms of what a Holiday Inn should be. If we ever headed back to the area, I’d hope to stay again.

Holiday Inn Rancho Cordova Review

Overall rating: 5/10

Pros: one of the cheapest chain hotels in the area, enjoyable hot tub

Cons: tired building, freezing cold and dirty pool, sup-par breakfast

We arrived at the Holiday Inn Rancho Cordova after about 5.5 hours of driving from Humboldt. From the outside the hotel looked a little dated, and I hoped it would be a bit nicer on the interior.

I’d booked a cash rate for our trip, as I was looking to maximize a promotion. At less than $100 per night, it was a pretty good deal, and not worth using points. I’d even booked a breakfast rate for about $4 more for all three of us.

Check in was smooth and easy. There was only one person in front of us, so we had to wait about 3 minutes. Our room was on the third floor, overlooking the pool.

Room at the Holiday Inn Rancho Cordova

The room was adequate. For a Holiday Inn, it was the most dated and tired room I’d stayed in. The kids thought it was very nice, but they don’t exactly have the same metrics that I do.

The beds were a standard two queen. This is usually bearable when with raveling with our older two kids, but I did make my son sleep on the floor the final night of the trip so I could get a good night’s sleep.

The freshly jumped-on beds.

There was a standard desk, the TV, and a rather old AC/heating unit.

The bathroom was a typical tub/shower with the sink outside.

We did have a view of the pool. I never saw anyone in it. More on that in a moment.

On the whole, the room was definitely dated. Holiday Inns can be pretty hit or miss. I’ve stayed in several, and the experiences have ranged from the low end of upscale to hardly better than a 2-star establishment you could get for $69 plus tax. My favorites are still the Holiday Inns in both Sydneys (one in Nova Scotia, the other a bit more famous, SEE: Holiday Inn Old Sydney Review).

Pool and Hot Tub

We hung out for a bit in the room before heading to the pool. I’d told the kids I’d swim if the water was warm (haha). I made it no further than my toes. It wasn’t just cold. It was frigid. That’s what we get for taking a trip in the winter! It would have been a different story if we were visiting the Sacramento area in the summer.

The kids hardly swam, either, which says a lot. They were totally fine with the cold water at our hotel in Costa Rica, but this pool was a bit too much. They didn’t like the mess at the bottom, either.

BY contrast, the hot tub was amazing. It was large, and we had it completely to ourselves both times we used it. The cold air outside made it hard to leave to head back to our room.

Although I love taking my kids to see the sights, a necessary part of traveling with them is spending some relaxing “down time” at the hotel. The hot tub definitely let us do that.

Breakfast at the Holiday Inn Rancho Cordova

Breakfast was in The Venetian Court, the hotel restaurant. The name might sound all hifalutin and fancy, but the place is pretty nondescript. There is no character or atmosphere to the restaurant at all.

I expected to have several menu options for breakfast, or a full buffet, but neither was offered. Instead, we were presented with a simple menu of three options:

So there you have it. Eggs with meat and potatoes, or pancakes, or oatmeal. Choose wisely.

Each of us ended up ordering something different. I didn’t plan things this way. None of us were impressed with any of the food.

The pancakes were actually slightly more appetizing than the plate of food I received, which says a lot. The quality of the potatoes and sausage was poor.

I’m not all that picky when it comes to food, so I easily finished it. But it definitely wasn’t what I was expecting for breakfast here. Neither of my kids finished their food, nor did either seem too thrilled with breakfast. But this doesn’t necessarily say a lot, as they turn their noses up at all kinds of things that are downright delicious.

My daughter wanted to enjoy some coffee. She knows the answer from me has been a continual “no.” The last thing that girl needs is caffeine.

Local Area

There really isn’t anything around the hotel. Rancho Cordova isn’t a place for walking or sightseeing. I hadn’t planned to do anything nearby, as all our activities were in Sacramento itself. We were only 20 minutes from Old Town Sacramento (SEE: Wandering through Old Town Sacramento, ALSO SEE: Visiting the California Railroad Museum) and the Zoo.

Conclusion

Overall, it was a pretty meh hotel. It’d probably be an adequate place in the summer, since the pool would be refreshing instead of frigid. But there really isn’t anything else to redeem the Holiday Inn Rancho Cordova. The main reason I’d booked the hotel was to avoid paying $50 more for a room in the city center, plus also pay for parking (assuming I stuck with IHG). This was simply the cheapest hotel I could find to meet my Q1 2018 IHG accelerate promotion. The points haul from this stay and the resulting bonuses would allow us to stay here nearly 3 more nights. You can look at it as a 5-for-2 deal, even though we will use the points somewhere else.

All said and done, I’ll almost certainly pass it up next time I am in the area.

IHG’s Winter 2017 Promotion: Accelerate (Yes, Again)

In what may become the most reused promotion name in hotel industry history, IHG has yet again released another Accelerate promotion. I am beginning to think that the name “Accelerate” may be here to stay. The current Fall 2016 promotion is just winding down, and the new one picks up January 1, 2017. The couple weeks around the holidays are unfortunately left out in the cold.

Like all the other Accelerate promotions, the offers are “customized” (the best I can tell, it is randomized, or influenced by status) for each member. Shawn over at Miles to Memories reported that his were okay at best.

I was fortunate to get a good one. Mine has the potential to earn 30-31k points from a single night stay and a purchase of 1,000 points. This should cost a total of $100 at most. If I am fortunate enough to have a work stay during the promotion, it could easily cost me as little as $13.50 out of pocket for the points purchase. Pretty sweet. It’s even better than the last couple I have had.

What other offers are out there? Let me know what yours are in the comments.

 

A Little Post-Thanksgiving Trip

Too often I forget that a quick getaway can be just as enjoyable as a multi-week adventure. This weekend was a great reminder of that. Quick trips may not seem as grand, especially in light of some of our recent ones, but they are far more doable.

After a lovely Thanksgiving, my wife and I hit the road for some time together in San Francisco this past weekend. My job gives me both Thursday and Friday off for the holiday, so it was the perfect opportunity for a quick getaway.

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The Westin St. Francis, venue for Tremaine Convention

There were some ulterior motives beyond simply visiting the City by the Bay. The annual Tremaine Dance Convention in San Francisco is traditionally been slated for the weekend after Thanksgiving, and this year was no exception. My wife has taught dance for several years at a local studio, and I figured we could catch some of her students’ competition dances at the event. As this is the last year she will be teaching (before we bring our kids home), I figured it would be extra special for her to attend.

I have been to San Francisco many times over the past few years. But rather than letting it feel like old hat, I was excited for a weekend away. Most of my trips to the Bay are for work, and it is rare that my wife and I get any time in the city. The last time was supposed to be special, but it turned into a hectic anniversary spent getting a passport.

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The Mark Hopkins Hotel

For our first night I was able to get a fantastic rate for a night at the Intercontinental Mark Hopkins, an iconic, historic hotel located at the top of San Francisco’s Nob Hill. At only 4 blocks from the dance convention and Union Square, the location was great as well.

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Front of the Mark Hopkins

The hotel normally runs $300+ per night for a standard room, or 60,000 IHG points. We got it for way less. It was actually the lowest rate I had ever seen for the Mark Hopkins.

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Christmas tree in the Mark Hopkins lobby

The Mark Hopkins is beautiful. The lobby and restaurant were already decorated for Christmas. Check-in was a little busy, and I could tell the front desk just wanted to get us on our way. They did upgrade us to a corner room, but not on a high floor or with a view of the Bay. But it was still very nice (main view is header photo).

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View of the front valet lot

We spent a relaxing night at the hotel, simply enjoying the time together. A great part of the experience was enjoying dessert at the Top of the Mark, the 19th floor restaurant with wonderful views of downtown San Francisco and the Bay.

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View from our table at the Top of the Mark

The next day we visited Union Square with its traditional Christmas tree. We considered ice skating at the rink as well, but were a bit turned off by the price. As it turned out, it was raining heavily during the middle of the day, so I was quite happy we didn’t buy tickets. We’ll have some skating opportunities near home before the season is over.

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The Christmas Tree in Union Square

After lunch and a crazy drive through town to re-park the van (we burnt an hour looking for an open parking garage), it was time for the dance competition. I left my wife at the mezzanine level of the Westin St. Francis and headed off to a coffee shop for the evening. After blogging and slacking for a while, I decided go watch Arrival at the AMC Metreon.

I fetched my wife roughly five(!) hours (man, that is a lot of dancing). Our second night was a cash and points booking at a Holiday Inn Express just over an hour from the city. The two stays would finish off my Fall 2016 IHG Accelerate promotion.

Sunday was spent driving home, enjoying the redwoods, the rain, and the time together. Now that we have a more reliable vehicle, I hope we can take many more weekend getaways.

 

 

 

Intercontinental Carlton Cannes: A Review

Location: Cannes, France

Overall Rating: 9/10

Located at an enviable location along the boulevard La Croisette in the heart of Cannes, the Intercontinental Carlton Cannes is one of the most iconic hotels in the world. During the Cannes Film Festival it is the most prestigious place to stay. It was also the primary location in the classic Cary Grant film, To Catch A Thief.

After I settled on Nice as the starting point of our trip this past summer, I simply couldn’t resist using our IHG free night certificates at the Intercontinental Carlton Cannes. Heading to Cannes wasn’t initially on the itinerary, but the amazing award redemption was simply too good to pass up. Instead of staying in Nice for 5 nights, I figured we would split our time between Nice and Cannes, spending 3 nights in each city and reducing our time in Italy by one night to compensate. Rates were over €380 the nights we were there, so it was a fantastic use of the $49 annual “free night” certificates, plus 60,000 points for the third night.

carlton_entry_2

Entry walk

We arrived in Cannes by train and then took a local bus that dropped us just steps from the hotel. A €1 bus ride certainly beats a taxi or Uber. The entryway to the Carlton is gorgeous. While the Hyatt Regency in Nice where we had just stayed has an upscale elegance that is not overstated, the Intercontinental Carlton Cannes is far more decorative and grand.

carlton_logo

Logo at the entrance

I instantly knew we were at a top notch hotel. The service was impeccable. The doorman was extremely friendly, and insisted on taking my luggage. I generally protest as I feel my wife and I are more than capable of handling what we pack. Plus, we don’t tend to stay at places like the Carlton, so it still feels rather odd to let someone bring our luggage to our room.

carlton_lobby

Lobby from foot of main stair

The front desk is to the left as you enter the lobby from outside, and the concierge desk is opposite. The lobby itself is beautiful and imposing. Check-in went quickly for us, and we were told that we had been given an upgrade to a larger room. Technically, this is not something that IHG hotels are obliged to do for award stays for elite members, but I have found that some do nonetheless. I appreciate the gesture.

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Hall

The lady at the front desk proceeded to walk us to our room, which was the first time we had ever experienced this. I found it awkward, but I can assume that it is simply par for the course at a hotel of this caliber.

carlton_stair

Stair that heads down to the restaurant

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Panorama as you walk into the room

The room itself was spacious and every bit as nice as I expected. It was furnished with a desk, a sitting area of two chairs and small table, and a king bed with nightstands, all of very nice quality.

carlton_bed

Comfortable king bed

The window could open slightly and overlooked the side street. If we had been here during the off season, I may have tried my luck at requesting an upgrade to a sea-view room. But in the height of summer, I doubted we would have much of a chance. Plus, I always hate asking.

carlton-chairs_table

Sitting area by the window

There were two bottles of water provided when we arrived, and again each day during our stay. This was a staple at all the upscale hotels we stayed at during the trip, and it was very much appreciated. My wife and I both struggled to stay well hydrated in the heat.

carlton_pano_1

Room panorama from the interior corner

The desk wasn’t especially comfortable for working, mainly due to the chair. Luckily, I didn’t need to clock more than just a couple hours during our stay. Other than that, it was nice enough.

carlton_desk

Desk. It wasn’t overly comfortable to work from.

The bathroom was reasonably sized and very, very nice. It featured a shower/tub, double sinks, and a separate area with a toilet and a bidet. And again, there was a phone in the toilet room.

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Bathroom

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Double sinks

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Shower/tub

One thing we didn’t do was eat breakfast at the hotel. It is a bit of a bummer that even at the highest status level (which we received as a fluke last year), IHG Rewards Club members do not get free breakfast. This is a staple perk of nearly every other well-known hotel loyalty program, including Starwood, Marriott, Hilton, and Hyatt. Lack of free breakfast at any status level is one of the biggest shortcomings of IHG. There was no way that we were going to pay €34 per person for breakfast!

carlton_cooking

Our hot plate has become a travel necessity.

This meant we cooked in our hotel room the whole time. We do this a lot anyway since my wife has a sensitive stomach and cooking for ourselves is preferred. Plus, we’re pretty cheap. The markets in Cannes were within easy walking distance, so we were able to get fresh meat, fruit, and vegetables quite easily.

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Front of the Carlton

Although we very much enjoyed our room, my wife and I spent the bulk of our time out and about. Cannes is lovely. We enjoyed exploring the Lerins Islands both, and I even jumped in the Med for a brief swim while on Ile Sant Honorat.

carlton_lerins

View between the Lerins Islands, from Ile Saint Honorat

Our other enjoyments were spending time at the Marché Gambetta, the open air market near the train station, and seeing the Musée de la Castre, which provides unbeatable views of Cannes and the Lerins Islands. We also walked Rue Meynadier which is one of the main commercial areas and has a great collection of small shops.

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Panorama of Cannes from the Musée de la Castre

Overall, we loved our time at the Intercontinental Carlton Cannes. The hotel is iconic, and the service excellent. It was a memorable experience, and I loved that we got great value from our IHG certificates. The hotel is certainly above our typical travel standards, but this is what award travel is for!

carlton_wife

Leaving!

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