Points, Miles & Life

Travel adventures on this earthly pilgrimage

Category: Starwood (page 1 of 3)

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. 😉

St. Regis Rome Deluxe Room Review: Just too many points

Location: Rome, Italy

Overall rating: 7/10

Pros: Great location, amazingly ornate room, fun splurge for a night

Cons: Under construction at the time, cost way too many points

This review is dated now, but I wanted to wrap up this draft from our Europe adventures in 2016.

During our thirty days in Europe during 2016, my wife and I visited Rome as our last stop before moving on from Italy. For the five nights prior we had been visiting Florence, a lovely city of art and history (SEE: Hilton Florence Metropole: A Review). Even that wasn’t enough time to scratch the surface of what Florence has to offer. But we had to move on.

For our first night I’d booked the St. Regis Rome. It was very close to the train station and one of the splurges I’d settled on for the trip. Whether it would really live up to my expectations remained to be seen.

I booked a deluxe room since there weren’t any standard rooms available for our one night. The equivalent room was going for over $500 per night, so it was a fairly reasonable use of 21,500 SPG points. Reasonable meaning we got what I consider a par “value” for them, when comparing cash rates versus points rates.

Arrival in Rome

We arrived in Rome from Florence on the Frecciarossa train. Frecciarossa literally means “red arrow”. It was definitely the fastest train I’ve ridden and brought us to Rome in no time at all. First on the agenda was picking up our 72-hour Roma passes (SEE: Roma Pass vs Omnia Pass: which is better?). Afterwards, it was off to the hotel.

Although we probably could have walked to the St. Regis directly from the Termini train station, I decided it would be easier to take the metro one stop to the Repubblica station. The St. Regis Rome was only a short walk from there.

First impressions

I had remembered reading that the St. Regis Rome was under renovation. I don’t know exactly where the normal main entrance is, but is certainly wasn’t where we were checked in. I’m sure things are back to normal by now.

The hotel was very regal, and pretty much what I expected a St. Regis to be. The first thing that pops into my head is royalty. The place was over-the-top ornate. We made our way up a grand staircase to our room. The bellhop brought our luggage, something I don’t allow often.

We were in room 222. It was even named.

Deluxe Room

As I mentioned before, standard rooms were all booked during our dates, so I had to call in and book a deluxe room. The ability to book upgraded room categories for a relatively small points increase was an awesome feature of the SPG program. I’m not sure the combined SPG/Marriott program will offer the same value.

Our deluxe room was quite the sight when we opened the door.

From the wall art, to the draperies, to the furnishings, it amazes me that people design hotel rooms like this. We were really out of our element here.

st. regis rome

Our deluxe room at the St. Regis Rome wasn’t especially large, but it was more than comfortable. I made sure I got photos of it from every angle.

Maybe the Cupola di S. Rocco is in reference to the painting above the bed? That was my only guess. That’s the only dome I can spy.

At the end of the bed was a comfortable love seat and coffee table. It was a nice design of living area combined with bedroom in minimal space.

The desk was as regal as everything else. So much for chair comfort, though. There was no way I could have worked in that for more than 30 minutes without wanting to find something else.

There was a smaller table that appeared to be for the sole purpose of doing your makeup, given the lighting and mirrors.

The interior and closet doors were even decorative.

It was a lovely room, and like a couple other properties on this trip, leagues beyond any hotel I’d ever stayed at prior to this trip.

Bathroom

The bathroom was super nice, but it wasn’t the all-time best. We’d just been in the Park Hyatt Milan several nights before and that is still the winner for best hotel bathroom (and best bath amenities…the shampoo smells amazing).

Like the Park Hyatt Milan, the bathroom featured both a bathtub and a shower. If this is a typical feature of high end hotels, I’m definitely a fan.

The glassed-in shower was plenty large and had both a large overhead shower-head and a small detachable one.

The sink area was fairly large and the mirror gilded, like so many other things in the room.

Then there was the phone next to the toilet again, something I’d first noticed at the Hyatt Regency Palais du la Mediteranee.

If a toilet phone is what it takes to be a “fancy” hotel, I just don’t get it.

St. Regis Rome Butler service?

On of the hallmarks of the St. Regis brand is their renowned butler service. Turns out we needed at least an “Imperial Room” for this to be a part of our stay. It would have cost some more points, and we were already spending plenty as it was. It wasn’t like we needed that sort of service anyway, although it would have been a cool experience. I wonder if he would have brought us groceries?

I suppose he might also expect us to tip him handsomely. At $500+ per night, I’m sure whatever we could have given him would not have been satisfactory. We are peasants who can make do without being waited on.

Signature St. Regis Rome experiences

There are a couple experiences I read about that you can enjoy at the St. Regis Rome. First, there is a daily high tea that you can enjoy. You just better be made of money. Tea costs €28 per person.

In the evening there is a champagne sabering. Before our stay, I had no idea what that this is. Thanks to Google, one can look up these sorts of things if they are lacking in “culture”. At 7:00 p.m. every evening guests can gather in the Caelum Lounge and Bar to watch the opening of a bottle of Moët & Chandon champagne. By saber. Yeah. It’s a thing.

I guess there is an art to it. Rather than slash the glass of the beck of the bottle, the blade slides along the seam in the bottle until it impacts the joint with the glass seam at the cork, causing a clean break, a flying cork, and a small jet of foamy champagne as an exciting start to enjoying a glass of bubbly.

If you want breakfast at the hotel, be prepared to pay a pretty penny. It would have been nice to be a Starwood Platinum member when we stayed there, but I didn’t have a way of hacking that status at the time. Breakfast for the non-elite runs €43 per person. Don’t choke on your coffee.

We pretty much enjoyed the hotel for the bulk of our stay. I had requested late  checkout, so we were able to enjoy Rome a bit the next day, but our evening at the St. Regis Rome was pretty much just spent hanging out in our lovely room. After days of walking all around Florence, we needed a break.

Conclusion

Hindsight is always 20/20. This stay in particular taught me how content we are with burning points at midscale hotels. The St. Regis Rome was way out of our league.

It was a fun night at a fancy place, but it didn’t provide us any more value staying here rather than at the Sheraton, except for maybe an hour’s worth of time savings. Honestly, we got way less value. We could have spent four nights at the Sheraton Roma for what we paid for the St. Regis. And breakfast would have been included. That would have been the winner, hands down. Our stay at the St. Regis Rome is a very clear example of Vendoming.

The St. Regis Rome wasn’t a bad hotel, it was just way beyond what we needed. In the future I am going to be far more selective with where we stay. After all, when a Hyatt House is basically your wife’s favorite hotel, there’s no need to go all out. 😉

Only a few days left to get the best ever offer for the Starwood Amex cards!

The Starwood Preferred Guest American Express card is my favorite hotel co-branded credit card. It doesn’t provide many perks, but it does have the best earning value by far of any hotel card.

The normal offer for both the business and personal versions of this card is 25,000 Starwood points, but currently you can sign up for a 35,000 point offer!

The offer for the personal version of the card is:

  • 25,000 Starpoints after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months
  • 10,000 Starpoints after spending an additional $2,000 in the first 6 months

The offer for the business version of the card is:

  • 25,000 Starpoints after spending $5,000 in the first 3 months
  • 10,000 Starpoints after spending an additional $3,000 in the first 6 months

I know those spending requirements are high. But if you are able to do them, consider getting this card. It is likely to eventually be discontinued, due to Marriott’s purchase of Starwood Hotels.

You can use Starpoints for Starwood stays, or transfer to Starwood’s airline partners. You can also transfer them to Marriott at a 1:3 ratio, so the bonus can also be viewed as a 105,000 Marriott point bonus. Both Marriott and Starwood allow you to book “nights and flights” packages, which is one of the best uses of these points, if you accrue enough.

Note that if you have ever had this card in the past, you’ll won’t be eligible for the bonus. Amex has a once-per-lifetime rule on card bonuses.

You have through April 5th to apply!

Getting My First Business Credit Card

One of the only downsides to selling my previous business is that I was no longer eligible to apply for any business credit cards. It has been almost two years since I sold my pickup and landscaping tools to my brother-in-law, and I haven’t really looked back. Starting in December 2016, though, I have a new businesses that allowed me to apply for my first business credit card.

No, it’s not my blog. I started Points, Miles & Life just over a year ago. I thought I might be able to develop it into a business, but I honestly haven’t put in the labor to make anything of it yet. It may happen. We’ll see. The travel blogging market is a competitive place, and there are plenty of good blogs out there with great information these days. I simply don’t have the time to keep up with the competition.

But the blog did come through for me in one big way: it played a role in being on-boarded as a contributor to Points with a Crew. Dan Miller, who started the Points with a Crew site, has a readership that far surpasses mine, and I am excited to be writing several pieces weekly for PWAC.

In the same month that I applied for the position with PWAC, I also jumped into the world of gift card reselling. I had been interested in this for a while as a way of accruing extra miles and points, as well as a small profit. Wait…profit? This is a legitimate business!

Since I’m also paid to write for Dan, my PWAC contributor position is also technically a side-hustle. But the gift card reselling gig is a bit more conducive for the spending volume I need to justify a business credit card.

Either way, in just one month I now have two new business ventures. Awesome.

Applying for my First Business Credit Card

So I decided to go ahead and apply for the Starwood Preferred Guest Business American Express card. With the future of the card unknown due to Marriott’s purchase of Starwood, I figured I could get some use out of it before the product is no longer available. Plus, it is a great card, and Starpoints are one of my favorite points currencies.

First Business Credit Card - SPG AMEX

Landing page for the SPG Business AMEX

Because I am operating my business (businesses? not sure if/how to split yet for tax time) as a sole proprietorship, the credit card application required only my social security number and not a tax ID. The application is not unlike one for a personal credit card, but it has a few extra fields for business info, including expected monthly revenue.

I filled out everything, reviewed the application, and clicked submit. As has been the case with literally every Amex app I have submitted in the past two years, I was instantly approved.

A few minutes later, and I had my new Starwood card linked up to my American Express online account. The process was as painless as it always has been.

I received the card just a few days later. It was shipped two day express by Amex. Since then I have been racking up some serious points.

Where to Go Next

Now I that I have my first business credit card in my wallet, I have my sights set on a couple others. We’ll see what I end up with in 2017. My wife and I are going to ease of the credit card applications a bit, and I want to be a bit more selective about what I apply for. Still, there are some great business cards out there, and I might try to get a couple more in my wallet.

And It’s Official: Marriott’s Acquisition of Starwood Begins To Take Effect

The biggest travel news of 2015/2016 was likely Marriott’s purchase of Starwood hotels. The news brought dismay to many longtime SPG loyalists. Marriott’s loyalty program is decent, but Starwood’s is notably better. The consternation caused by the merger has prompted other chains, like Hyatt, to court top-tier Starwood elites by offering status matches. While some people have jumped ship, many have been holding out that Marriott won’t completely gut the Starwood program.

I was told on the phone last month not to expect a combined program until at least 2018. I took the info with a grain of salt since it was from a basic Amex customer service rep, but I later read that Marriott executives were saying the same thing. He was also trying to get me to keep my Starwood Preferred Guest credit card since I was calling to cancel it (for the record, he got me to keep it). I have gotten great mileage from the card, but with the merger looming and not too much on the travel forecast, I had been debating closing the account.

marriott_spg_link

Yesterday was the beginning of Phase I of merging the loyalty programs. The main highlights are:

  • Ability to link your SPG and Marriott Rewards accounts
  • Status match between programs (Platinum to Platinum, Gold to Gold, Preferred Plus to Silver, Preferred to Member)
  • Two-way points transfer rate of 3:1, Marriott to Starwood.
rtiz_marriott_spg-status_match

Status matches across all three programs now under Marriott International.

Much of the important information regarding the program mergers can be found here. You can see the new 3:1 points transfer ratio, the status match across all the programs, and the insane number of brands now under the a single banner.

marriott_spg-points_transfer

With your SPG and Marriott accounts linked, you can transfer points between programs at a 3:1 ratio.

For the most part, the programs will continue to operate independently in every other way. You have to log into spg.com to book SPG hotels, for example, and stays in each program will continue to earn points and nights only within their respective programs.

I linked my SPG and Marriott accounts. It is incredibly easy. You simply follow the link, enter the login credentials one after the other, confirm that you account number is correct, and then voila, accounts linked. The status match from the link appeared to be nearly instantaneous. I don’t have a Ritz account, so I don’t know if that differs in any way.

marriot_spg-link_success

The message after linking my accounts. It takes all of 60 seconds.

Overall, I think both Starwood and Marriott have managed customer relations well through the merger. They have maintained timely announcements and emails as the process has progressed, and this early crossover of programs is 100% benefit to program members, at least in the short term. We shall see how the long term program unfolds.

Here are a few things I am still hoping for in a combined program down the road, assuming the Marriott program prevails and all (Ritz, Marriott, and SPG) are eventually merged into one Rewards account:

  1. More lucrative promotions. Compared to IHG and Starwood, Marriott’s promotions haven’t been that impressive. During most quarters with IHG, I have the potential to pull in 40-60k bonus points off of only a few $100 in spending (which I usually accomplish through work stays). Starwood ran a couple good promos this past winter that netted us 6,000 points (roughly equivalent to 25,000 IHG points). I have yet to see anything of similar magnitude with Marriott, without requiring a substantial number of nights. The MegaBonus promotion offers 10,000 points after even 10 nights, a meager 1,000 points per night. Even Hyatt’s current promotion is notably better.
  2. Combination of program nights toward Marriott lifetime status. While I do think that Marriott will honor the lifetime status of current Starwood Lifetime Platinum and Gold members, the big question is: what will they do about members who are still working toward this? My best assumption is that Marriott will combine the Starwood lifetime points at the current 3:1 ratio, and transfer the nights over 1 to 1. This may not be a great deal, considering Marriott’s status is harder to achieve (at least at Gold level), but it would be at least a decent deal.
  3. Retention of mostly Starwood program benefits. This applies in a few areas. First, Starwood Gold members get a 50% points bonus on points earned from stays, while Marriott Gold members only get a 25% bonus. Things even out once you get to Platinum, except for any Starwood Platinum members who stay at least 75 nights. Additionally, Starwood offers a “Welcome Gift” at check-in, and bonus points are an option. Starwood also offers the great Make a Green Choice program. I hope Marriott will adopt some of these benefits over their current ones.

But this is all hopeful speculation. Currently, it is business as usual for all three programs. We’ll see where things are headed 18 months from now.

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