Points, Miles & Life

Travel adventures on this earthly pilgrimage

Category: Work (page 1 of 2)

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.

Centurion Lounge Las Vegas Review

Work sent me to Las Vegas for a couple days right at the end of 2017. Well, I actually was headed to Needles, California, but I had to fly into Las Vegas and drive the 2 hours south. Which was an adventure (nightmare?) in itself. When I headed home, I decided to check out the Centurion Lounge Las Vegas.

I have been to the Centurion Lounge SFO (SEE: Centurion Lounge SFO Review) several times and the Centurion Studio SeaTac once. While not the primary reason I picked up a Business Platinum Card from American Express (it was during the 100,000 MR bonus offer), the lounge access it provides has come in handy this year, most recently in Oakland (SEE: Escape Lounge Oakland review). I honestly didn’t expect to visit a Centurion Lounge after I won my first access from a Mommy Points giveaway, but I ended up getting the card the next month. Ironically, I’m probably going to drop it soon.

Arriving at the Centurion Lounge Las Vegas

The Centurion Lounge Las Vegas McCarran is located in Terminal 3. I dropped my rental car, quickly passed through security, and was on the tram under to the terminal in no time. Once in Terminal 3, you take the escalators up and turn left to head to the Centurion Lounge Las Vegas.

The front of the lounge is a bit more nondescript than the glass entry, greenery and vertical sign at SFO. I honestly almost missed it.

The lady at the front desk was friendly and professional, and she welcomed me as a first-timer to the Las Vegas location after asking whether I had visited previously. She provided a brief description of the facilities and services provided.

The space

The Centurion Lounge Las Vegas feels a bit larger than its counterpart in SFO. The space has similar seating, with some of the same pods and benches featured. I can imagine that all Centurion Lounges likely use the same style furniture.

A long wall separates the bar, food, and main dining area from much of the rest of the lounge. Facing the windows on the other side, the wall has several seating alcoves. I chose one of these initially to work from for a while.

centurion lounge las vegas

At the end there is a variety of seating. This also seemed like the quietest part of the lounge, as foot traffic is lessened. Had there been any open seats, I would have chosen to sit here.

There is a kids room at the Centurion Lounge Las Vegas, just like in San Francisco. It is a bit bigger. If only American Express hadn’t changed their entry policy and completely hosed families with more than one kid (SEE: American Express devalues lounge access, sticks it to families). Sigh.

Food at the Centurion Lounge Las Vegas

I didn’t bother checking out what the offerings were for breakfast. As I’d arrived at 10:00, it was still running. Instead, I simply got a coffee and sat down to write for a while.

The food changed after 11:00 to the lunch offerings. I eventually joined the line to grab myself a plate.

There was a decent salad selection that included peppers, carrots, cucumbers, cheese, and other items.

There was some ginger rice that I enjoyed. It was probably the best thing offered. There was also a sweet pea puree that I wasn’t keen on.

The meat offering was salmon. I found it mediocre. Definitely not full of flavor.

At the end was udon soup, which I didn’t try.

On the whole, the food at the Centurion Lounge Las Vegas wasn’t quite as good as what I’ve had at SFO. It was a decent lunch, but nothing stood out to me.

Per usual, I didn’t try anything at the bar. I’m sure it had a good selection of alcoholic beverages.

Overall experience

I was happy with the seating, food, and experience overall. The WiFi caused me some issues a few times, but I the root cause might have been my own computer. Each time it would cut out for about 3 minutes, before finally coming back. I would turn my WiFi on and off a few times until it would finally reconnect.

The lounge was fairly crowded when I arrived, and it got an even bit more so as lunchtime approached. I had not expected this, but it rivaled the insanity of the Centurion SFO for a while.

When I got up to go to the bathroom, my seat was occupied when I returned (since I took all my stuff with me), and I had trouble finding another. Things got better after 1:00 p.m. and then even kinda quiet by 2:30.

The line for the food around noon was definitely a turn off. I watched and waited for a good 15 minutes before getting up to grab something to eat.

Conclusion

The ability to grab lunch, sit somewhere quiet and comfortable, and be productive for a few hours in the Centurion Lounge Las Vegas was invaluable. It is also nice to have access to better WiFi (except for a few blips) and cleaner bathrooms than in the terminal. Nothing stood out to me as “above and beyond”, but the lounge is still definitely a step up from the typical United Club or Delta SkyClub.

I’ve Been Accepted as a Points-with-a-Crew Contributor!

A few weeks ago, Dan Miller over at Points with a Crew (PWAC) started taking applications for writer positions for his blog. His site is part of the collection of Boarding Area blogs and has decent readership.

Dan has written many good pieces on family travel, detailing his own experiences from the unique perspective of a father of 6. He also regularly posts on credit card and reselling deals, interesting travel stories, and general tips on how to make cheap travel happen with a large family.

When he announced that he would be taking on contributors, I was eager to apply. I figured that I might actually have a shot at the position, having been developing my own blog over the past year, albeit I have nowhere near his readership. I jumped at the opportunity to write for a larger audience.

After writing up my “travel hacking resume” and sending it in along with some links to my work here, I soon got an email from Dan. We cleared up a few things about my interest in the position via email, and he then informed me I had made the second round of picks.

The final round of “interview” required me to write a few sample pieces. I submitted the final of my three samples last Sunday, and anxiously waited for an email. In my head I gave myself a 10-20% chance of actually being selected.

Thus I was floored when I received Dan’s email congratulating me on my selection!

I’ll now be writing multiple articles per week for PWAC, mainly focusing on  travel deals and news. My first one went live today!

Allegiant Ambivalence

Several months ago I stumbled upon the super budget Allegiant Air. Their prices are cheap, and I noticed that they have decent U.S. coverage, albeit sometimes in and out of atypical airports (examples: Mesa Gateway rather than Phoenix Sky Harbor, and Orlando Sanford rather than Orlando International). I messed around with their online booking system for a while, filing away the experience in my head. Little did I know that I would be booking a flight with them in a matter of months.

…you want how much?!

This past week United wanted ~$950 to get from Arcata, California to Phoenix, Arizona on a round-trip ticket, booked roughly eight days out. A whopping $950. Like, I could fly to Africa and back for $950. Although the company I work for was footing the bill, I couldn’t justify it. It was an overhead expenditure. Part of the issue may have been that I was building in a stopover in the Bay on the way back. In any case, this was well above what I’d paid previously, even booked close in, so I decided to look at my other options.

With Google Flights as my friend, I searched flights from STS, SFO, and OAK to all Phoenix area airports. To my utter and complete shock, a one-way cheap flight showed for Sunday, June 5th, available for $68! And there was Allegiant’s logo right beside it.

The flight was between Sonoma County Airport and Mesa Gateway Airport, and it would have to be combined with transportation to Santa Rosa; however, the fact that I was able to book a one-way ticket sold me.

Allegiant it is

So I jumped on it. After a carry-on bag fee and a credit card charge fee (Allegiant follows the budget airline model that charges you for everything), the grand total came to $85.66. It was a steal. Add the $54 bus fare to Santa Rosa, and I was saving the company a few hundred bucks, even factoring in my time. The best part was that I could work from the bus for a few hours, so I wouldn’t be entirely unproductive either. It seemed too goo to be true.

Hindsight is 20-20. Had I known the significant delay the flight would experience, I may have reconsidered my plan. I arrived at Santa Rosa airport with just under two hours to kill until boarding. The departures sign was the first tip-off to the state of Allegiant’s flights today. Their flight to Las Vegas was delayed by roughly two and a half hours, and the tiny STS airport was packed. Flight 121 to Mesa still said “on time,” so I held out some hope that it would remain that way.

The dreaded announcement came over the PA as soon as I entered the security area: Flight 121 was delayed with a new departure time of 6:27. Not too bad. A few seconds later my phone buzzed: “Allegiant #121 from STS to IWA is delayed. Estimated departure is 7:09 p.m.” Well, which is it? I simply assumed the worse of the two.

Trying to make the most of it

A mere 20 minutes later, the delay was lengthened even further to a 7:40 departure. I was through security by this point, but I decided to head right back out and eat dinner at the airport restaurant. My 90 minute wait had been stretched to nearly three and a half hours. Which gave me plenty of time to browse Allegiant reviews.

Per everything I have read, my experience was right on point. The positive is that they offer dirt cheap fares; the negative is that you are hung out to dry if there is a delay or cancellation. And they tend to have a large number of delays. If one flight gets delayed early in the day, every other flight that aircraft makes is impacted. Combine this with the fact that they only offer a couple flights per day between locations (sometimes only one), rescheduling is tenuous at best. With my plans already locked in, and as late in the day as it was, I was pretty much restricted to wait it out. If for some reason the flight had been cancelled, I would have been stuck. A last-minute Southwest flight out of Oakland may have been an option, but it would have taken over an hour to even get there.

allegiant sts

Finally seated and looking out the window of the plane while leaving Sonoma County Airport.

The two-hour delay mainly inconvenienced me in terms of sleep. We took off at the delayed departure time of 7:40 and touched down in Mesa around 9:50, and I made it to the hotel at 10:45. So much for getting a good nights rest before a full day of work in a different office.

Although booking with United would have (theoretically) alleviated the delay experienced on Allegiant, that came with an enormous cost. I knew going into the trip that I was making a gamble booking a cheap flight on a budget airline from an airport with few options. It was a calculated risk, and I lost (partially). I would have much rather gotten to my destination by 7:45 as scheduled. The fact that we still saved money sits well with me, though.

All said and done, I will probably still try Allegiant again. The dirt cheap prices that they offer are hard to resist. The key will be to simply plan on a delay from the outset, and then be pleasantly surprised if everything goes smoothly. At least that’s how I hope to look at it.

Stompin’ Around Saint George

2016-02-23 17.46.31

The view of Saint George and the Virgin River valley.

The Southwest U.S. is beautiful. I never gave visiting it much of a thought for many years, always envisioning brown desert, unbearable sun, dry winds, and a place completely devoid of trees. Yeah there is that Grand Canyon place, but neither of my couple trips included that, and everything I had imagined was generally confirmed.

A visit to Sedona, Arizona changed everything. I vacationed there last year with my brother-in-law, and I was completely caught off guard by how beautiful the desert now appeared. The vistas there are magnificent, and I began to see the Southwest in a completely different light. The desert can truly be a beautiful place.

Because of this new perspective, I was excited to be visiting Saint George, Utah. I have only previously passed through Utah twice: once through Salt Lake, and technically a second time while on the California Zephyr (Amtrak)….mostly sleeping during that porting. This was my first opportunity to see southern Utah.

2016-02-23 10.51.12

Located in the far southwestern corner of Utah, Saint George is literally just over the border from Arizona, and not far from the Nevada border as well. I was only staying for a couple nights, and would be working during the day, but I hoped to take at least one quick hike while in the area.

The surveys I was there to do took about a day and a half, which only left me with one evening to see some of the area. I used that brief time to take a quick walk up to the Red Cliffs National Conservation Area. The route I chose provided a great view of Saint George and the Virgin River valley (first photo). I would have loved to be able to visit Zion National Park, a brief hour away, but that will have to wait until a later date.

It was a great work trip. The survey was great experience, and I got to see a new place. Win all around.

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