Tag Archives: SPG

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.

ac-suite

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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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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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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Part 8: My Love Affair with Starwood Continues

Part 1: Getting to the Sacred Valley is Not Easy
Part 2: The Most Awesome Hotel Ever
Part 3: When in Urubamba…
Part 4: A Town Called Olly
Part 5: Can You Pass the Salt?
Part 6: How to Get to Machu Picchu
Part 7: I Came, I Saw, I Conquered (Machu Picchu)

Hotel points allow me to stay in hotels I never would be able to stay in otherwise. For some people, a bed is a bed no matter where they are. But I confess: I like luxury. I like being updated to a suite. Correction: I love being updated to a suite. I love sitting in a beautiful lobby, enjoying free wifi that actually works and relaxing on a sumptuous couch.

I loved our hotel in Cusco. Especially after the damp, dank excuse for a hotel we stayed at in Aguas Calientes.

After our visit to Machu Picchu, we made our way to Cusco, the ancient capital of the Incas, located at a breathtaking 11,500 feet. Cusco overflows with its Inca and colonial past. And our hotel in Cusco was no different.

SPG’s Palacio del Inka is located in central Cusco, a seven minute walk from the Plaza de Armas, in an old monastery. The entire hotel reaks of colonial elegance – medieval columns, rich, dark colors, velvet upholstery, ornate decorations, and stone floors.

Cusco map

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When we checked in, I was pleasantly surprised to find out we had been upgraded to a suite despite my lack of status. The suite consisted of two separate rooms — a separate living room area with a couch, desk, chairs and a television, and the bedroom — which had its own television. And get this — we had two bathrooms!

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The living room part of our suite

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The bedroom

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The master bathroom

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The view of Cusco from our window

Needless to say, we had an amazing stay. Thank you Starwood!

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PART 2: The Most Awesome Hotel Ever

Part 1: Getting to the Sacred Valley is Not Easy

About two years ago I read a review of SPG’s Tambo del Inka in Peru’s Sacred Valley, and I decided that one day I’d go to Peru and stay in that hotel. Oh sure, there are other reasons to go to Peru. Machu Picchu comes to mind. But I’d like to add this hotel to the list.

As a category five, the hotel cost us 12,000 points a night for two nights – instead of paying $300 per night. When we walked in, it was too early to go to our room, so we enjoyed the free wifi in the enormous lobby and lounged outdoors on some very comfortable couches overlooking the river.

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Tambo del Inka is designed as a natural oasis – high ceilings with big glass windows, lots of natural wood and light, and bright Peruvian colors. When you walk outside the hotel, you are greeted by a beautiful fountain and the mountains overlooking the Sacred Valley.

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Our room was similarly pleasant. It was fairly large considering I do not have status and we did not get upgraded. By European standards, you might say our room was positively huge. The hotel also supplied our room daily with fresh bottle of water, which goes a long way in my book.

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Everything about the hotel enhanced our sense of relaxation. We almost didn’t want to leave and had to force ourselves to go outside and explore the surrounding towns. Sometimes, a hotel is just a place to sleep as you explore a new city or country. Tambo del Inka was much, much more.

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BANGKOK HERE WE COME!

Our big once-a-year trip is coming up. Well, tecinically, it’s still four months away but I am really excited. In the past, we’ve done one summer trip and one winter trip, but this year we’re using all The Boyfriend’s vacation days to go to Asia, so I am long overdue for a vacation already. Needless to say, I am a tad overexcited…

I’ve been devouring the forums on FlyerTalk. Bangkok offers a plethora of hotel options, it’s hard to know where to start. Compared to Europe and big American cities, Thailand’s capital is still pretty cheap. Since we’re sitting on a over 100,000 Starwood points and the SPG hotels have received very high reviews, I knew I wanted to go there. And boy are there options. Here is a self-made map of the SPG options under consideration:

BKK - Hotel options SPG 2.tiff

My awesome map

The Le Meridian (in yellow) and the Sheraton Grande (red) received the best reviews for the money/points on FlyerTalk. The Le Meridian is a newer/more modern hotel and slightly cheaper being a Category 3 (7,500 points per night). The Sheraton Grande is one of Starwood’s luxury brand hotels and a Category 4 (10,000 points per night). Notice the adorable little trains I placed on the map because one of the most important criteria when choosing a hotel is proximity to one of Bangkok’s two public transportation systems. The Royal Orchard Sheraton (in purple) got rave reviews for beautiful vistas overlooking the river, but it’s distance from public transportation knocked it out of the running immediately. In the end, there were a couple of reasons I chose the Sheraton Grande:

  • Ease of getting to both Bangkok’s Sky Train and Metro system
  • Probability of getting an upgrade due to The Boyfriend’s Platinum status
  • The mildly disturbing number of posts about people being solicited for… (you can fill in the blank here) in the Le Meridian neighborhood. In all fairness, posters said that kind of thing happens all over Bangkok, but there were an inordinate number of “stories” in the Le Meridian forum.

Plus, the Sheraton Grande looks beautiful and luxurious. Here are some pictures from the website:

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THE JOY OF PLATINUM STATUS

I’m not done with posting about our Paris trip yet, but I’m going to skip ahead to our two days in Brussels. Why Brussels? you ask. Because I couldn’t find a flight home from Paris using my miles and neither of us have ever been to Belgium so we decided to give it a whirl.

We decided to stay at the Le Meridien right across the street from Brussels’ Central Station and a couple blocks from the tourist center, Brussels’ Grand Place. But the best thing about the Le Meridien may be the incredible experience of getting a tiny European style room upgraded to a huge suite compliments of The Boyfriend’s SPG platinum status, complete with two televisions. Do I really need two televisions? you ask. I’m not going to dignify that question with a response.

Le Meridien

Le Meridien

Two televisions (with a grand total of four English channels)!

Le Meridien

Le Meridien

Le Meridien

Le Meridien

The view

Le Meridian

The front lobby

Le Meridien

Not sure what this is… some lounging area???

Le Meridien

The bar

Le Meridien

The restaurant

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