Category Archives: Hotels

Holland Part 7: Hotel Reviews in Amsterdam

Holland Part 1: Falling for Amsterdam
Holland Part 2: Jewish History in Amsterdam
Holland Part 3: Snapshots from The Hague
Holland Part 4: Meet Mondrian
Holland Part 5: Welcome to Leiden
Holland Part 6: Thanksgiving in Leiden

Since this was a last minute trip, I had to cobble together points for the Amsterdam portion of our stay. It turned out pretty well, if I do say so myself. The first couple of nights, we stayed at the Renaissance Amsterdam Hotel (Marriott) for 40,000 points a night. A stone’s throw from the central train station, I loved the location. The rooms were not huge, but not closets either. As a Marriott gold, I often find the “upgrades” are not really upgrades. But gold gave us free breakfast, which more than makes up for the standard room.

2017-05-30 18.05.362017-05-30 18.05.372017-05-30 18.05.392017-05-30 17.48.002017-05-30 17.48.042017-05-30 17.36.522017-05-30 17.36.58Our last night in Amsterdam, we tried out the new Hyatt Regency on the other side of town. Only a couple of weeks old, I thought the hotel was lovely, but I definitely preferred the location of the Marriott. The hotel is situated right on the Singelgracht canal, and our room had a view of the water. Two other positives about the Hyatt: 1) It’s a block away from the Weesperplain subway stop; 2) As a category 4 hotel, it qualifies for the anniversary free night for holders of the Hyatt credit card – a rare thing for western Europe!

2017-06-03 12.50.212017-06-03 12.50.442017-06-03 12.51.162017-06-03 12.51.522017-06-03 12.59.412017-06-03 13.38.452017-06-03 12.58.562017-06-03 12.58.582017-06-03 12.59.03The view from our room:

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Both are great hotels, but my Marriott status and my location preference made the Renaissance the clear winner. See the below map with the Marriott in Red and the Hyatt in purple. The blue pins represent classic Amsterdam sights.

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What’s Next: Central Europe

The traveling circus is off to Europe again in two weeks, making this our third trip to Europe this year. Not that I’m complaining.

This trip began like a lot of our trips: me playing around on the computer, randomly looking up flights, and saying “Hey babe, you want to go to Berlin?”

Basically, there was a ton of United award availability to central Europe and we had replenished our points accounts since Amsterdam. So Berlin, Prague, and Vienna – here we come.

How did we do it?

Flights: I splurged on business class tickets to Berlin in the hopes that we will arrive well-rested and can hit the ground running (fingers crossed). We will fly United Polaris (sadly not the fancy new United hard product) to Berlin with a stopover in Dublin. There are no direct flights from D.C. to Berlin, and flying United requires less miles than United partners like, say, Austrian Air. Total IAD – TXL for two people: 115,000 United miles and $16.80.

On the way back, we’ll be flying economy from Vienna to D.C. for 30,000 United miles each. Business class would have been nice, but at 70,000 miles per person it was too much. At least, the flight is non-stop. Total VIE – IAD for two people: 60,000 United miles and $178.32.

Hotel – Berlin: Picking hotel rooms is my favorite part of traveling. I know, some people like the sightseeing, the food…whatever. I love the hotel analysis. It takes all kinds, right? Since I have diamond status at Hilton, my heart always gravitates there, and I had racked up a ton of points thanks to work travel. Berlin was easy. The Hilton Berlin is smack in the middle of the city, with easy access to major sites. I booked five nights, taking advantage of Hilton’s five for the price of four deal. Total Hilton Berlin for five nights: 161,000 Hilton points.

UPDATE: I occasionally check on my already-booked hotels to see if prices have gone down. Lucky me, the Hilton Berlin was going for 139,000 points for the same five nights. I chatted Hilton and they immediately redeposited 22,000 points into my account!

Hilton Map

The Hilton Berlin is the red icon, just a few blocks south of Berlin’s main drag, Unter den Linden.

Hotel – Prague: I had a free IHG night I needed to use before it expired in November so it made the Intercontinental Prague an easy pick. It’s not the best value for my free night, but it’s better than not using it all. In the end, because prices were relatively cheap, I paid for two nights with cash, one night with points, and one night with a free night award. Total Intercontinental Prague for four nights: 40,000 IHG points and $302.56.

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The Intercontinental Prague in the city’s old town. Super excited about the location and the proximity to the Jewish sites.

Hotel Vienna: This was a tough one. Vienna hotel pries are more western Europe than eastern Europe, and we were fresh out of Hilton points. It came down to Starwood vs. Marriott. Starwood offered a slightly better location, but my gold status with Marriott gives us more bang for our buck. So I transferred a bunch of SPG points to Marriott at a 1:3 ratio and booked the Vienna Marriott, where we got five nights for the price of four. Total Vienna Marriott for five nights: 160,000 Marriott points.

Marriott Map

Most of the key attractions in Vienna are located inside or around the ring. The Marriott is directly on the ring road. Looking forward to the lounge here.

Trains: We booked two trains from Berlin to Prague and from Prague to Vienna. Thanks to Seat 61 (the best website for anyone attempting train travel), I was able to find cheap prices on the Czech Republic train site. Total Berlin – Prague for two people: $65.63. Total Prague – Vienna for two people: $53.72.

So that’s how you do two weeks in central Europe on the cheap without slumming it.

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Ireland Part 7: Where We Stayed

Points will get you only so far in Ireland if you leave the major cities, so I tried to maximize our points staying options where I could.

With Mark and I being Hilton Diamond members, we chose The Morrison (DoubleTree) on the banks of the River Liffey for our single night in Dublin. When we checked in, I asked for my upgrade, and we were given a satisfactory room. Usually, I try to push for a luxurious suite, but with one short night in Dublin, I decided to save my pushiness for another time.

2017-05-17 20.44.442017-05-17 20.44.512017-05-17 20.45.292017-05-17 20.46.072017-05-17 20.48.53But then, Mark checked in to his room at 11 p.m., and they gave him the biggest ass suite I have ever seen in my life. I was more than a little jealous.

2017-05-18 10.53.38You walk into the suite, and there is a nice-size dining room and window seat.

2017-05-18 10.53.56Then, because that’s not enough, there’s a separate living room area with plenty of seating room.

2017-05-18 10.54.002017-05-18 10.57.16Oh, and there’s a wrap-around porch that offers views of the river.

2017-05-18 10.54.19The bedroom is a separate room with another window seat.

2017-05-18 10.55.39The headboard is some kind of funky, multi-colored… something. There is actually a remote control to change the colors.

2017-05-18 10.56.19And the bathroom was bigger than our entire room.

2017-05-18 10.55.48At least, breakfast offered a nice spread, somewhat lessening the sting of Mark’s hotel room jackpot.

2017-05-18 10.09.17All in all, the DoubleTree was nice hotel in a good location with an impressive breakfast. For 50,000 points, we saved ourselves a couple hundred of dollars.

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Review: Hilton Reykjavik Nordica

There are not many points hotels in Reykjavik. You have two Club Carlson options and two Hilton options. Hilton offers the older, cheaper Nordica and the newer, more expensive, and more centrally located Canopy. Since we were low on points after our December Spain trip, I was able to make the Nordica work for $71 and 16,000 points a night.

Pros: Nice hotel; affordable price; large, upgraded room; club lounge access; pretty views.

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The Nordica lounge

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View from the lounge

Cons: A 30-minute walk from the center of town; lounge is on the small size.

Hotel map

All in all, we were happy with our choice. The walk into town forced us to do quite a bit of walking and see more of the city. Our first day in Reykjavik, we walked more than seven miles! While the lounge was on the small side, it was still lovely to have access to free food and drinks (mmmm, diet coke), and the views were nothing to sneeze at. Finally, the free parking was useful once we rented our car. If you’re planning a trip to Reykjavik on points, the Hilton Nordica is a great way to keep costs down.

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Spain, Here We Come!

In less than a month, M and I embark for Spain. This is our first international trip together and M’s first business class experience. We’re both very excited to see all the traditional sights, but I’m also over-the-top excited about the hotels I booked.

Madrid

I booked our Madrid hotel first. I knew I wanted lodging close to the Prado art museum in the center of the city. With its five nights for the price of four policy and central location, SPG was an obvious choice. It came down to choosing between the Westin Palace (category 5) and the The Principle Madrid (category 5). The Westin was 12,000 points a night while the The Principle was 16,000 (despite both being category 5 hotels) and M preferred the Westin’s traditional decor. I booked six nights at the Westin for 60,000 SPG points.

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westin-room

Granada

Next, I booked our single night in Granada. There is a dearth of points hotels in Granada so it came down to a choice between the Marriott’s AC Palacio De Santa Paula, Autograph Collection and non-points options. For 35,000 points, I splurged on the AC Palacio even though it’s a bit removed from the center of town. I’m even more excited about this decision now that I’ve achieved gold status with Marriott after completing a status challenge this fall. Turns out, there are some benefits to living out of three star hotels in suburban Pennsylvania. With gold status, we’ll get free breakfast and hopefully, a sweet upgrade.

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I’d love to get upgraded to this gorgeous suite.

Barcelona

Barcelona was my biggest dilemma. I was sitting on a nice pile of Hilton points, but the Hilton of my choice – the Alexandra Barcelona DoubleTree cost 50,000 points a night vs. 113 euros. That is not a great points per dollar value. In contrast, there are several good value Hiltons for 30,000 points a night, but they are farther from the center of town. Thus began the great debate of 2016:  Stay father away and save some of my points, fork over $600 for four nights at the DoubleTree, or bite the bullet and hand over 200,000 Hilton points. After much agonizing, I decided on the latter option. I love the idea of staying in the center of Barcelona and decided to save our money for other trip expenses. Plus, as a diamond Hilton member, hopefully we will score a nice upgrade. The DoubleTree boasts a couple of spacious suites that will make my day.

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doubletree-exterior

Seville

Seville has no points hotels in the old quarter where we want to stay. Since we’re not traveling in peak season, there are many afforadable options. My major priority after location was space. While we’re not planning to spend a lot of time in our hotel, I hate walking into European hotel rooms that are essentially a box. Is it too much to ask for some space on either side of my bed? In the end, I settled on an apartment-style lodging that is affiliated with a nearby hotel. Apartamentos Murillo gives us 300+ square feet for two nights, and it’s a short stroll to the Royal Alcazar.
seville

Cordoba

Cordoba was the least stressful decision. We will only be there for one night, and there are only a handful of decent options in our price range within the city walls. For $70, I booked Eurostars Conquistador, a four star hotel next door to Mezquita.

cordoba

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The Crazy Things We Do For Points

As you know, points make it possible for me to travel the world. I’m also one of those weird people who love the points game (aka “the obsession”) – the organizing, the tracking, the credit cards, the absurd opportunities that allow people like me to rake in thousands of points.

creditcard

There aren’t as many opportunities to do that as there used to be, but IHG (the umbrella company for Intercontinental, Crowne Plaza, and Holiday Inn) offered the points obsessed an opportunity this winter. Many other blogs have reported on the details (here, here, and here), so I’ll spare you the technical requirements.

Here’s the short story: IHG’s Priceless Surprises promotion allows participants to earn points without hotel stays. All you have to do is fill out a 3×5 piece of paper with your name, address, phone number, and other required information – all handwritten. You are allowed 94 entries, and each entry must be in a separate envelope. Prizes range from 500 IHG points to free nights to much bigger (and less likely) prizes.

Bloggers figured out that participants are statistically very likely to win something with every entry. The costs of stamps alone will cost $46.06, but even if you only win 500 points per entry, that will be enough for one night at a  five star hotel in Europe.

I started small earlier this month with 16 entries. Warning: My arm hurt like hell. And I grew despondent when I heard nothing in return. Then, this week I received 16 emails inviting me to play the Priceless Surprises game online – an easy process of picking one out of six floors on a make-believe elevator. My 16 entries earned a total of 13,500 IHG points. This pretty much made my night – not exaggerating.

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I quickly filled out another 62 entries, and have another 16 to go. My right arm for a free night? Sign me up!

 

 

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Vietnam #14: Sheraton Hanoi Hotel

Vietnam #1: It’s a Long Ass Flight to Vietnam
Vietnam #2: The Best Hotel in Ho Chi Minh City
Vietnam #3: A Lesson in History and Propaganda
Vietnam #4: The Streets of HCMC
Vietnam #5: Is the Mekong Delta Worth It?
Vietnam #6: My First Overseas Doctor Visit
Vietnam #7: Welcome to Central Vietnam
Vietnam #8: Two-Wheeling in Vietnam
Vietnam #9: Don’t Skip Hoi An
Vietnam #10: A Hot Day in Hue
Vietnam #11: Exploring Hanoi
Vietnam #12: Hanoi Hilton
Vietnam #13: The Best View in Hanoi

We opted to stay at the Sheraton Hanoi Hotel, located on the edge of West Lake, Hanoi’s largest lake. The Sheraton cost a mere 3,000 – 3,500 points a night. The northern location is a 45 minute walk or 15 minute drive from the Old Quarter, but the Sheraton offers a complimentary shuttle into town (but not back to the hotel), and taxis are so cheap that it wasn’t an issue.

Sheraton Hanoi map

The decor in rather dated, and I was surprised to find out the hotel was only 10 years old.

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The best part of the hotel though is the Sheraton club room. Although I have no SPG status, the SPG business credit card gives me access to all Sheraton club rooms. It may seem like a silly thing to get excited about, but after nearly two weeks of traveling, it was a pleasure to have constant access to water, diet coke, and fresh fruit, not to mention other snacks. Of course, the views didn’t hurt either.

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Vietnam #7: Welcome to Central Vietnam

Vietnam #1: It’s a Long Ass Flight to Vietnam
Vietnam #2: The Best Hotel in Ho Chi Minh City
Vietnam #3: A Lesson in History and Propaganda
Vietnam #4: The Streets of HCMC
Vietnam #5: Is the Mekong Delta Worth It?
Vietnam #6: My First Overseas Doctor Visit

We chose the coastal city of Danang as our base for exploring central Vietnam. I used my Chase points and my free annual night to book three nights at the Hyatt Regency Danang Resort.

I don’t think I’ve seen Lisa happier in my life. She loved waking up to the sound of the waves and strolling along the beach every morning. Seriously, ecstatic does not begin to describe it. As an added bonus, we were only a 25 minute ride from the ancient city of Hoi An, and we enjoyed a complimentary shuttle thanks to my Hyatt gold status.

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Lisa relaxing on our patio. She quickly deemed this couch “my chair.”

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Dipping my toes in the water and – what else? – taking pictures

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Lisa. In. Heaven.

The resort is beautifully decorated with light and airy touches. There are multiple pools on the premises, a fitness center (we even squeezed in a yoga class), a spa, restaurants, a water slide, and a climbing wall.

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And now the views. Be prepared to have your breath taken away.

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**2015-11-30 07.32.48-cropped As a final touch, we came back to our hotel room Monday night and found this extra waiting for us in honor of Lisa’s birthday. Happy birthday Lisa! What a great way to celebrate the birth of you!

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The Hyatt is about a 15 minute ride to central Danang. Despite overwhelming exhaustion, we grabbed a cab into town Sunday night to watch the big local attraction: Danang’s fire-breathing, water-spurting Dragon Bridge.

Danang map

Construction on the bridge started in 2009, and it opened to traffic in 2013. It quickly became something of an artistic and engineering marvel – a 2,185 feet long beauty with thousands of LED lights that come to life at night. Every weekend night at nine p.m., the dragon actually breathes fire and spurts water for half an hour in ten-minute increments. The weekly event is a hit with tourists, but even locals gather with their tiny plastic chairs and street food to enjoy the spectacle.

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Vietnam #2: The Best Hotel in Ho Chi Minh City

Vietnam #1: It’s a Long Ass Flight to Vietnam

I am in love with the InterContinental Asiana in HCMC. Like head-over-heels, I-want-to-marry-this-hotel in love. Has anyone ever said that about an InterContinental hotel before? I don’t know, but I will explain.

The InterContinental Asiana has two buildings. The first is your standard InterContinental hotel. The second is the InterContinental Asiana Residences – which are apartment style hotel rooms. You get all the benefits of staying in a hotel, but you also get an apartment. Why anyone would book the regular hotel over the residences boggles the mind (the prices were the same when we booked).

Our apartment is 700 square feet – huge by hotel standards, and even large by New York City apartment standards. That includes a large bedroom, a lovely bathroom, a living room, a dining room, a small kitchen area, a terrace, and a washing machine. Yes, a WASHING MACHINE. In HCMC’s sweltering, unrelenting humidity, the washing machine has changed my life.

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Living room, dining room, and kitchen

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Living room

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Dining room and living room

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Bathtub

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Bedroom (before we figured out how to turn on the lights)

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WASHING MACHINE!!!

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The view from our terrace

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The view from our terrace – you can catch a glimpse of Notre Dame Cathedral in the bottom left hand corner

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The restaurant located in the lobby of the residences

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The front desk

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The lobby

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The outdoor swimming pool

The hotel is centrally located on the border between District 1 and District 3 – the two main tourist areas. We are a 10-15 minute walk to the Reunification Palace and the War Remnants Museum in one direction and a 10-15 minute walk to the Saigon River in the other direction. We are a stone’s throw away from at least two malls, and our building houses a small grocery store on the ground floor, which has proved abundantly useful.

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12 Nights of Vietnam Hotels for $92.50

I hope you’re not tired of listening to me gush about the  power of miles and points. WARNING: There is more gushing to come. We leave for Vietnam in one week (!!!!!), and we’ve been busy planning.

The short story is we booked 12 nights at pretty nice hotels for $92.50 a person. Here’s the breakdown:

Ho Chi Minh City: Five nights at Intercontinental Asiana Residences for 95,000 IHG points, one free night, and $40.

Da Nang: Three nights at the Hyatt Regency for 18,000 Hyatt points, one free night, and $75.

Hue: One night at the Eldora Hotel for $70.

Hanoi: Three nights at the Sheraton Hanoi for 10,000 SPG points.

The long story is, well, much longer.

As soon as Lisa and I booked our flights to Vietnam, I made a map and chart of all the possible hotel options. I did an audit of my hotel points and asked Lisa to do the same. I had spent many of my points in Scotland, so I need to figure out which points I needed to restock.

We started with Lisa. I had convinced her to get the IHG credit card for a bonus of 70,000 points. A couple of months later, Lisa was sitting on 75,000 IHG points. That was enough for three nights at the Intercontinental Asiana Saigon Residences in Ho Chi Minh City at 25,000 points a night. Ho Chi Minh has a number of nice hotels – from Hyatt, to SPG, to IHG, to Marriott – but the Asiana Residences offered apartment sized rooms with an actual living room and kitchen. That was a no-brainer. I just had to cobble together points for two additional nights. Luckily, the anniversary on my own IHG credit card reset on October 1, granting me another free annual night. Four nights down, one to go. Thanks to IHG’s 10 percent rebate on redemptions and my Chase points, I managed to accrue 20,000 points. That plus $40 gave us our fifth night.

Next up is the coastal city of Da Nang. This was a simple process of elimination. Da Nang has two points hotels: The swanky Intercontinental and the Hyatt Regency. We were fresh out of IHG points so I needed to cobble together three nights’ worth of Hyatt points. My Hyatt credit card give me a free annual night at a category 1 – 4 hotel. That’s one night. I transferred 12,000 Chase ultimate reward points and booked our second night. For our third night, I used 6,000 Hyatt points and $75. Three nights – done.

Our next stay is in the ancient city of Hue. There are no points hotels, but plenty of great, affordable options. You can book a motel for as low as $15, but we splurged on the four-star Eldora Hotel for $70.

Our last hotel stay is in Hanoi. We decided to stay in the ultra-bargain Sheraton (where my SPG credit card will get us access to the lounge!) for 3,000 – 3,500 points a night.

And that’s how we booked 12 nights of hotels for $185. Split between two people, that’s only $92.50 a person!

 

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