Monday, March 31, 2008

Hyatt Vineyard Creek, Santa Rosa, California

Hyatt Vineyard Creek Hotel and Spa

March is my favorite month for California travel. March is typically when the weather starts hitting the 70s on a regular basis and the hills are still green from the winter California rains. Coastal California receives the vast majority of its rainfall between the months of October and March. The hills start turning brown a few weeks after the last rains and by June most areas have little green color left.

The other day, I crossed the Golden Gate Bridge for the first time since 2001. North, past Marin County and into Sonoma is where the real northern California begins in my opinion. There are many Californias. Life in the OC is an entirely different experience and lifestyle than the California of Redwood Country.

Sonoma County, an area now famous for wines, once had more old growth stands of redwood trees. Most were cut down to rebuild San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake. The exclusive Bohemian Club is currently in the process of trying to get around redwood protection legislation to allow logging of the largest remaining stand of privately owned old growth trees remaining in Sonoma County, a 2,700 acre redwood grove on the Russian River watershed basin.

Santa Rosa is 50 miles north of San Francisco and is the last city over 50,000 people heading north on California Highway 101. Oregon is another 300 miles of driving through vineyards and coastal redwoods.

I lived in the northern coastal California town of Eureka from 1996 to 2001 and I frequently drove to San Francisco. Typically, I would drive down to Rohnert Park, about 10 miles south of Santa Rosa and home of Sonoma State University, and stay at the Doubletree Hotel. This was the best major chain full-service hotel between Eureka and San Francisco back in 2000. And now there are several chain hotels with the Four Points Sheraton in San Rafael, Sheraton Sonoma County in Petaluma, Marriott Courtyard, Hilton and the Hyatt Vineyard Creek in Santa Rosa. Several more Marriott Courtyard and Residence Inns, Holiday Inn Express, and Hampton Inns have also been opened along this stretch of Highway 101 north of San Francisco.

The Hyatt Vineyard Creek hotel has classic Spanish architecture with lots of wrought iron, and a Mediterranean inspired color scheme. The rooms are built around two large courtyards. Think of a figure 8, make it square shaped and you can envision the basic hotel design.
I was given a room overlooking the parking lot, but near the creek side for a relatively green view from the window. The preferred rooms have the view facing south and overlook the pool, creek, and gardens.

The garden grounds have several statues and art pieces. A large fountain wall, grass lawn, and vines decorate the hotel area. The outside grounds and pool are unique features of this Hyatt hotel for the Hyatt properties in northern California.

The room facilities:
The room is poorly designed for business work. The desk chair was quite uncomfortable. The cushion sank right down to the wood frame and my legs resting on the hardwood of the seat frame while working at the desk on my computer was a pain I could only stand for about 20 minutes.

The desk is placed next to the TV cabinet and the doors of the cabinet must be open to see TV, however, the TV cabinet doors do not fold back all the way. The cabinet door needs to be closed when working at the desk and this prohibits watching TV while working at the desk because the TV cabinet door was right in my face and in front of the desk lamp when open.

The bedroom seating consisted of two upholstered chairs in the room. These were reasonably comfortable, but my complaint is the plastic wrap the chairs were shipped in was still visible dangling around the legs of the chair. When I initially surveyed the room, the plastic gave the appearance of the chair stuffing coming out the bottom, but I pulled on it and confirmed it was the remnants of the shipping plastic wrap that was never cleanly removed from the chairs.
Room 316 on top floor of hotel. The room has screened windows.

A distinguishing feature of the hotel room is the 10ft high ceiling. Vertical space gives the room the feeling of a much larger space than your typical 300 sq ft hotel room. Furniture has appearance of old oak in a faux mission decor.

Bathroom: Large wooden sliding door. No curved shower rod. Tub and shower head provided the best water pressure and temperature of any Hyatt hotel shower so far. That was lovely.

The patio rooms offered as a booking option are either on one of the two interior courtyards or there are a few rooms with patios adjacent to pool. Patio courtyard would be fun for group or family event as there are no barriers and rooms quite open. People preferring privacy should not go for these rooms as they are quite exposed to the hotel world.

TV is regular 27 inch Zenith TV.

The hotel has an attached conference center wing which opens onto a courtyard. The hotel is basically two 3-story squares built around two interior courtyards. The conference wing is the east side of the hotel and the main hotel section of guest rooms is the west side.

Room service prices are about the cheapest of any of the Hyatt’s in Bay Area. A breakfast entrée of eggs or an omelette can be purchased for $10 and with room service delivery charges and tax it is still under $15.

Major drawback of room is no mini-fridge. Here we are in the wine country and there is no refrigerator to chill wine and the ice bucket provided is definitely too small to chill a bottle of wine. This is a hotel set up for rest and relaxation and the addition of a mini-fridge would be a great enhancement.

Signage is poor. I could easily have missed the pool if I hadn’t toured the hotel thoroughly. The gardens and riverwalk on the back side are the highlight of the property, but the layout with the large iron gate between the pool and the interior courtyard makes it impossible to even see the garden area from the lobby and spa courtyard. I thought it was a parking lot back there until I exited outside the conference wing to find a beautiful 100 foot long wall fountain, art sculptures and the pool area.

Outdoor pool is inviting space for lounging. Santa Rosa can reach 100 in summer months and an outdoor pool is a relaxation feature and welcome, especially after a day out in hot sun. Pool is open 7am-10pm and a hot tub is also present. A café is located in pool area.

The Brasserie restaurant is open 6:30am-11pm weekdays, 7am-11pm weekends.

Fitness room seemed small for hotel this size and the color scheme was not soothing, in contrast to the rest of hotel. There are 2 treadmills, 2 stair steppers, 3 bikes, weights and bench, large balls, 2 TVs. It seemed cramped and claustrophobic to me.

The hotel is about to undergo a lobby remodel and one of the main features will be the installation of a bar within the lobby. This work is scheduled to be completed in June 2008.

The Hyatt Vineyard Creek Spa has ten treatment rooms for massage therapy and body treatments. Half-day, 3-hour packages range from $295 to $370 and include facial, massage, and picnic lunch. A la carte massage is about $110-$125 for 50 minutes or $160-$185 for 80 minutes. Manicures $40-$55 for 50 minutes, pedicures $50-$70, and combo for $85-$120.

Needed improvement: There are apparently no service elevators and twice I saw staff pushing a cart of garbage enter an elevator with guests, once with me in the elevator. In my opinion, a hotel of this caliber (AAA 4-diamond rating) should train staff to wait for a vacant elevator before using it with guests to perform maintenance functions.

A Marriott Courtyard is located across the street from the Hyatt Vineyard Creek. I was able to see a room and tour the Courtyard hotel and the Hyatt has superior facilities and better room design.

Delta Airlines Double Elite Miles through June 2008


The loyalty race moves to the airlines with an offer from Delta for a fast-track to elite status promotion. We have seen the hotel chains trying to grab a loyal customer base with Starwood and Hyatt offering elite fast-track promotions already in 2008. I expect at least one other airline to follow pace in this competition for capturing 2008 market share for the traveling public.


Delta SkyMiles Promotion Terms & Conditions

Offer:

Earn double Medallion Qualification Miles/MQMs on all Delta-coded flights booked and purchased on delta.com between March 31 and April 30, 2008 and flown between March 31 and June 30, 2008.


Eligibility:

You must be a new or existing SkyMiles member with a U.S. mailing address in your SkyMiles account to take advantage of this offer. To participate in this offer, eligible members must register online between March 31 and April 30, 2008.

Travel Period:

Travel must be between March 31 and June 30, 2008. All travel must be completed by June 30, 2008.

Validity:

Medallion Qualification Miles are based on a multiple of distance flown and fare class purchased for qualifying flights and do not include bonus miles. Medallion Qualification Miles are used for Medallion status qualification and are based on calendar year activity.

Miscellaneous:

Medallion Qualification Miles will post to the SkyMiles account of the qualifying member 6-8 weeks following the end of the promotion, which is June 30, 2008.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Hyatt Regency San Francisco Revisited


Hyatt Regency on the Embarcadero, San Francisco
12th floor room view day, view at night
Hyatt Regency San Francisco Revisited

As it happened, my room last week at the Hyatt Regency on the Embarcadero, San Francisco was the newly remodeled interior. The restaurant that used to be on top of the hotel has been remodeled and just opened Wednesday, March 26 as the new Regency Club. I was offered an upgrade to Regency Club for $75 at check-in. I turned it down figuring I wouldn’t get $75 worth of use out of the lounge. Also, the Regency Club upgrade only costs $50 when booking online.

Well, wasn’t I surprised to check into my 12th floor room to discover this room was completely different from the room last week on the 16th floor. The older style room provides some rationale behind all the TripAdvisor poor reviews regarding the dated décor and need for remodeling.

This room facing Market Street has a great view of the Bay Bridge and I can see across to the East Bay cities. The bathroom is old-style, with a tub. The TV is a 27 inch traditional style compared to the 37 inch TV of the remodeled rooms. And the minifrig is an electronic mini-bar style.

I have been to 6 different Hyatt hotels in the past two weeks. The Hyatt Regency San Francisco Regency Club floor room is the best of the rooms I have stayed. I probably would not have come back to the Hyatt Regency San Francisco if I had known the room would be completely different. The hotel asked for $75 to upgrade when my rate is $179 and $40 more than what I paid last week.

The Regency Club is at the top of the hotel in what used to be The Equinox revolving restaurant. The circular room of the Regency Club has seating 360 degrees around the perimeter for magnificent views of the city. The Regency Club lounge is located above the 17th floor. There is a concierge and a couple of computer stations. I was almost ready to buy the upsale, but a quick inspection of the lounge revealed the air quality was quite poor due to the liberal use of Pledge furniture polish being sprayed on all the table tops by a couple of employees. I have a poor sense of smell and the odor was overpowering to me. I didn’t feel it was healthy to breathe in that much Pledge.

In another week I will have Hyatt Gold Passport Diamond status, so I will wait for my next stay at the Hyatt Regency Embarcadero with complimentary Regency Club experience. Photos and a more detailed description of the new Regency Club lounge will come at a later date.
I'd recommend the extra $50 to book a Regency Club room if you can afford the difference. The remodeled rooms on Floors 15-17 are vastly superior in style to the older rooms. A walk-in glass walled shower, TV embedded in the bathroom mirror, flat-screen HDTV (but no digital channels when I was there) in bedroom, new furnishings, desk and ergonomic chair, and feather pillows, in addition to the free internet access and lounge meal and beverage services make the extra $50 for Regency Club room a good value.







Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Hotel Best Rate Guarantees


All the major hotel chains have a "Best Rates Guarantee" advertised on their websites. Hilton, Hyatt, InterContinental Hotels Group, Marriott, and Starwood all run ads on their websites stating the hotel guest need look no further than the corporate branded websites for the lowest online hotel rates.

And they are almost always correct in stating lower rates will not be found elsewhere (group rates like AAA, auction/bid sites and vacation packages are excluded from guarantee).

Over the years I have tried to utilize the best rate guarantee with several hotel chains to no avail.

Three of the big five programs, Hilton, InterContinental, and Marriott have a precondition that is hard to justify for a hotel guest desiring the lowest hotel room rate. The requirement states a reservation must be made with the hotel chain through a corporate-owned website (e.g. book a Marriott Courtyard through the Marriott Rewards website or book a Doubletree hotel on the Hilton Hotels website), and only after you have booked your room, if you find a lower rate on a third party online travel agency site (like Expedia and Orbitz) for essentially the same room type (and special rates like senior, AAA rates are excluded from guarantee), then you can submit a request for a rate guarantee.

I have tried several times over the years to get a rate guarantee and always to no avail. The room type wasn't considered the same or even more commonly is being told that I must first book the higher rate on the hotel-branded website and then I can submit a request for the best rate guarantee.

A gamble I won't take is to pay $180 for a room and then wait to see if my rate guarantee applies when there is a $120 room on Orbitz or Expdia or Travelocity. I will just book the $120 room and not be concerned about whether I could have got a discount on the $120 or end up paying $180 if the Best Rates Guarantee is found to be ineligible for the situation.

Hyatt and Starwood have the sensible "Best Rate Guarantee" policy of being able to submit your request to the hotel corporation prior to making your hotel booking.

This morning is the first time I have actually submitted a successful best rate guarantee. I have been trying to get my wife to come hang out in the Wine country and San Francisco this weekend and I waited until this morning to finalize my Hyatt "Stays Count Double" final hotel run. I checked all the rates again last night and there had been very little change in rates over the past three weeks.

This morning I went to make my reservations and the Hyatt Place Fremont went from $89 AAA rate to $113 Hyatt.com rate as the lowest available for my dates. The best available rate had increased from $99 to $119 on the Hyatt website. I happened to look on Orbitz and Expedia and the rates were still $99 for the same room type and dates.

I called up the Hyatt Best Rate Guarantee number 1-888-964-9288 and informed them I had found a lower rate on Expedia and Orbitz. The agent placed me on hold for several minutes and then returned to state the $99 rate was also available through Hyatt and I could make the reservation with him.

I asked the agent to hold while I rechecked and told him I still only saw the $119 rate on my computer and the $99 rate only shows as a government employee rate. He placed me back on hold for several more minutes and then came back to state I qualified for the Best Rate Guarantee and I could reserve the room at the Hyatt Place Fremont for $79.20 for my dates.

An email confirmation within minutes showing my reservation confirmation and the $79.20 rate and I am so pleased to have finally have a hotel chain honor the best rates guarantee BEFORE I booked the room.

Another positive note for Hyatt.

And 10 days after starting my "Stays Count Double" Hyatt elite status hotel run, my Platinum status is reflected in my profile and I have earned enough points for one free hotel night at the low end hotels.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Ain't life Grand




Grand Hyatt San Francisco at Union Square



I exited BART at Montgomery Street and it was a four block walk to the Grand Hyatt. Powell might be a block closer. I don’t know.



Guest services counter was busy so I went to the e-check-in machine. The process was simple. I was given #2321 which is an upgrade from my reservation. I also received a corner room which is a slightly nicer layout than regular rooms. The reservation had said the room would be on Floors 5-17 and be 315 square feet, so this room is actually a bit larger. I received upgrades to higher floors than stated in my reservation confirmation with both of my reservations, despite not having any Hyatt Gold Passport elite status. The Grand Hyatt has a feeling of an upscale hotel in the lobby with attentive staff members visibly present and usually available for guest services and a more traditional room décor.



There were three upholstered chairs in the room. The desk chair had wooden arms and two other matching chairs with a small table provided comfortable seating options.



The door entry section is 5’x5’, main room is 18.5’ x 13’ with bed, desk, 32” traditional TV and chairs. A separate space leading into the bathroom is 40 ft2 for dresser and closet space and the enclosed bathroom area is 48 = 348 ft2



Club Regency floors are on 31-34. Floor 35 has fitness room with a large selection of fitness equipment. Floor 36 is Grandviews Restaurant and bar. The bar has incredible views of North Beach, Coit Tower, Alcatraz and Nob Hill. The windows face towards Nob Hill and offer a fantastic view of the InterContinental Mark Hopkins and probably the second best views in San Francisco (Mark Hopkins Hotel Top of the Mark restaurant probably tops San Francisco locations for the best scenic view of the city).




I went to the Hyatt Grandviews bar for lunch at 2:30 and ordered a tomato and avocado salad. Fortunately, bread and butter was provided to fill me as the salad alone may have not been sufficient to get me through the day.


My same room location on floors 31-34 would probably be high enough to see Golden Gate Bridge. I am on floor 23 and most of the surrounding buildings are 25 to 30 stories tall.
First impression of the room is that it is grand. Hyatt Regency San Francisco has a modern W-like style whereas the Hyatt Grand is tasteful traditional elegance. This room has lots of gold highlights on picture frames, carpet, and lamps. Lighter wood finishes and upholstered chairs.


Dislikes: electronic mini-bar, patio door only opens four inches


Back to the mini-bar and I see that domestic beer is $6.50 and imported beer is $7.00. That isn’t surprising to me. What is shocking, and I don’t ever recall seeing this before in a mini-bar is that on top of tax there is a 20% restocking fee. That $7.00 imported beer is $8.40 + 14% tax = $9.58/beer. That makes a neighborhood bar look like a great deal.
Internet is $9.95 for 24 hours.


So, the interesting feature is the Hyatt Place Fremont has some of the best amenities including free internet, complimentary breakfast, the best TV and just about the largest space.


No convenient outlets for ironing board. The perfect place to set up ironing board (near TV) had no outlets around. Fortunately a 12-ft cord and I could reach under table to plug in iron.


Drawback of Hyatt Grand is bathroom needs remodeling. First off would be the simple addition of a curved shower rod. This is one of the few rooms I have stayed in over the past few years without a curved shower rod, and the only upscale hotel without this simple feature. It is a $10 upgrade. And then the shower curtain they have was quite difficult to pull closed as the curtain stuck to the rod.


Cracks and chips in bathroom counter and floor tiles became more noticeable to my eye after a day in the room (not spent exclusively in the bathroom).


The Regency Club lounge is on the 32nd floor. This is available to invited elite members or Club Regency room rates (usually $40 to $100 per night more). The lounge provides the same great views as the restaurant on the 36th floor. The lounge is open throughout the day for a space to hang out with sodas and some beverages available and food during certain times of the day.




The staff were attentive, receptive, and proactive at the Grand Hyatt at Union Square which is a level of service I didn't see at the Hyatt Regency San Francisco or at the Westin St. Francis on Union Square over several stays last November. This is the level of service I typically find at upscale international hotels.




The Grand Hyatt San Francisco is only a Category 3 hotel for Hyatt Gold Passport points redemption at 12,000 points per night while the Hyatt Regency is a Category 4 hotel at 15,000 points/free night. I would definitely take advantage of the lower redemption rate and stay at the Grand Hyatt while that option is available. Room rates tend to be higher at Grand Hyatt and this category discrepancy for free night redemption using points may disappear before too long.

InterContinental San Francisco - Now You See It, Now I Don't

I stopped by the new InterContinental San Francisco on Friday, March 21. The neighborhood coming from Market down Sixth Street was an interesting site at 10am with the homeless in doorways, the groups of men drinking on the sidewalk and concealing their brown bagged bottles when the street cop rounded the corner. Reminded me of North Dublin in 1997. Reminded me of 1979 and looking for punk rock venues in the vacated garment warehouses that used to be south of Market. The InterContinental has moved the tenderloin crowd another block south and west.


I rounded the corner at Howard and there she stood reflecting morning sunlight in blue tint highrise fashion.
My story of the new InterContinental San Francisco hotel will have to wait.

I was told by the hotel staff I need to speak with media relations if I want to make an appointment to see the hotel interior.

So, with my tour plan of the new IC San Francisco busted, I headed over to Third Street where I was given an impromptu tour of the Westin Market by the General Manager.
And I didn't even have an appointment.










The scene at Sixth and Howard Street.

















Saturday, March 22, 2008

March Madness - My bet is on Hyatt

San Francisco days, San Francisco nights.
Hyatt Regency at the Embarcadero.

Hyatt March Madness or How I Spent my Economic Stimulus Checks for America

The President and Congress decided it would be great if we spent some money to help the economy.

So what to do? Should I put it in savings as the dollar continues to decline? Investing in Euros seems a financially smart move to make rather than a savings account. Buy some stock that is $150 a share today, but might be worth $2 next year? My 8 shares might buy two six packs of beer after the market crashes.

The Loyalty Traveler has a sound financial spending plan that provides benefits right now and will continue to provide benefits for at least another two years. The Loyalty Traveler plan is to invest in Hyatt Gold Passport loyalty. It is a plan that will pay off as long as I book about 20 hotel stays or more at Hyatt Hotels over the next two years. I know that I will stretch my tax refund and keep America better employed through a transfer of my funds to Hyatt Hotels Corporation and in exchange I will gain several thousand Hyatt Gold Passport hotel points and elite membership through February 2010.

My hypothesis is that I will see a $100/night average added value once I have Hyatt Gold Passport Diamond membership which takes 13 hotel stays with the “Stays Count Double” promotion.

Wednesday night I regained Hyatt Gold Passport Platinum, an elite membership I held in 2005. My goal is to regain Hyatt Diamond status which I held in 2003 and 2004.
My 13 stays over the next two weeks are estimated to cost just about the same amount as the economic stimulus tax checks of $1,200.

I have completed 5 stays this past week (counts as 10 stays for “Stays Count Double” promotion) and tonight will be my 6th stay. There are 14 Hyatt-brand hotels in Northern California and I am planning to stay in 6 of them for this elite-status hotel run. I live less than a mile from the Hyatt Regency Monterey, but their typical room rate is among the highest in California (and I can see the ocean from nearly every room at my home with scenic views better than the Monterey Hyatt), while the Carmel Highlands Inn, about 8 miles away has the highest room rates of all the Hyatt-brand hotels in California. So, I have been working in San Francisco and staying at the Grand Hyatt at Union Square, the Hyatt Regency Embarcadero San Francisco, and Hyatt Regency San Francisco Airport.

And to make the deal even better I booked these San Francisco nights using the Gold Passport Special Offer links to earn a 1,000 points bonus for the Hyatt Regency San Francisco, a 2000 points bonus for the Grand Hyatt San Francisco, and a 1,000 points bonus for the Hyatt Regency San Francisco Airport.

I parked my car in South San Francisco at the BART station. I was surprised to not hit any heavy traffic despite driving highway 85 to 280 at 5:15pm on a Wednesday. The only traffic I hit was during the last mile when 380 merged with 280, but I made the first exit at South San Franciso. Parking is free up to 24 hours Mon-Fri and parking is free throughout the weekend so a person could arrive Thursday night and leave Sunday or Monday without issue. Long-term parking needs to be handled online before you arrive which is not what I read online when I checked.

South San Francisco to Embarcadero is $3.35 one-way. No discounts on BART for roundtrip ticket. The trip took about 25 to 30 minutes to reach downtown. It is a reasonable option for a traveler with a car to keep the car out of the city and take BART and then go pick up car. Parking in the city is between $20 and $55/day. Most downtown hotels charge about $50/day.

The Hyatt Regency San Francisco is directly outside the Embarcadero BART station.
Hyatt Regency has 17 floors and the building is shaped like a triangle with the base on Drumm Street and the sides on Market Street and the preferred side of the hotel faces the Embarcadero. The rooms over Sacramento Alley on the Embarcadero side have patio balconies with a small table and chairs outside.

An Asian woman at guest reception checked me in and said something to me in a thick accent like “You like add 20 breakfast” and when I asked her to repeat, she said, “You like add 20 breakfast” and I said no. I think she was asking me if I wanted to add breakfast to my rate for an additional $20. I am sure the desk clerk was fluent in other languages, but I was taken aback by her English grammar
.
My room was on the 16th floor on the corridor of rooms forming the base of a triangle above Drumm Street. These rooms do not have balconies. Fortunately, I was given a room with a nice view of the TransAmerica building, San Francisco’s most distinctive skyscraper, commonly referred to as the "pyramid building". Most of the rooms on this side of the Hyatt are closer to Market Street and would not have this view of the TransAmerica tower.

The best room views are towards the Bay side, facing Sacramento Alley, and nearer the Ferry Building on the opposite end of the hotel, and looking out to Justin Hermann Plaza. These rooms provide the best views of San Francisco Bay. The Embarcadero is a large business and shopping complex consisting of four tall, narrow rectangular buildings built around interior, open air gardened walkways with high end shops and a variety of restaurants from Thai and Indian to Chevy’s and Tony Roma’s.

The Hyatt Regency room is comfortably furnished and a good size for San Francisco, about 420 square feet. TV is a 37" LG flat screen, but there are no HD channels, unlike the great HDTV channel selection of Hyatt Place Fremont.

Room has desk area, however the placement of the TV on the desk area where the chair space is located means the TV is directly in your face if working at the desk. The TV would make more sense placed at other end of desk area above the mini fridge. The mini fridge is electronic type, but as it was empty there was no concern over that issue. I hate mini-bar refrigerators that auto charge electronically anytime an item is moved. (elctronic mini-bar at Grand Hyatt SF and Westin Market Street).

The bed was fantastic with 6 feather pillows and comfortable linens. The swirly line pattern on the blue carpet is an interesting effect. Desk chair very comfortable.
The odd thing about the room was the absence of a hotel guide. I arrived about 6:45pm and I was hungry, but when I searched the room for a hotel guide to the restaurants and room service menus, I could not locate a guide. There were several magazines and a Gideon Bible, but no info booklet for the hotel in the room.

The room is set up with bathroom on left of small foyer when entering. The bathroom has shower (no bathtub) and toilet in room and separate sink. No bathtub could be a big deal for some guests and it is unusual for a major city upscale hotel to not have a tub.

Patio sliding glass doors on one wall let plenty of light into room, and in contrast to the Grand Hyatt, these sliding doors open more than 4 inches. Air worked well as the room was too warm for me and I was able to quickly adjust the temperature to a comfortable setting.

I was pleased with the high floor for my room and the location was fine for a person with no elite status booking the lowest available rate. When I went to find ice I had to cross to the opposite side of the hotel on the 16th floor. The rooms along the Sacramento Alley side of the hotel are being remodeled and there were work supplies scattered all along the hallway wall. The ice machine is located at the ferry building end of the hotel. The sun shining on the Bay Bridge and Ferry Building as ferries were coming into the terminal was a beautiful site. I took the ice back to my room and grabbed the camera. By the time I got back to the window, the sun had slipped behind the hill and the intense golden colors of the bridge and the striking white reflection of the ferry building had muted.

There are several fast food options on Drumm Street with Taco Bell, Subway, Starbucks, a falafel shop, a liquor store and mini-market. These are options if $20 breakfast is too much for your pocket. At the base of the Hyatt Regency, on the Embarcadero side are several local food places with daytime operating hours for a quick meal including sushi, pizza, Thai, and other foods.

The room had a nice balance of color with dark wood finishes and light brown vinyl on bed headboard, with lots of metallic silver accents from lamps, mirror, and furniture pieces. The light colored upholstered chair and chaise lounge balance well with the dark woods and shiny metals.
The room’s blue carpet and dark drapes balance the intense light reflection of the sun glare coming off the surrounding skyscrapers.

The shower uncovered two of my hotel pet peeves:

1. No washcloths. I hate having to use a hand towel to scrub. That is a lot of weight when wet.

2. While the water temperature and pressure did not fluctuate, the water pressure was too low for my liking. Since there is no tub for soaking, I’d at least appreciate a good shower blast of water. Tried the shower water pressure again at 11 am and the water pressure was even worse than at 8am and the temperature at maximum is less hot than I prefer when showering.

Remodeling a floor while guests are staying on that floor is another pet peeve of hotel life. The carpet in front of the elevators was being replaced when I decided to head to the lobby the next morning. I had to step around the employees and the floor glue that was being applied to get to the elevator. When I returned 90 minutes later the carpet was in place, but the glue smell was strong and there were hundreds of carpet fibers lying around the perimeter of the carpet. I don’t know how healthy that is to have all those loose carpet fibers being kicked around and stirring up the dust. An hour later, as I was checking-out, the carpet fibers had been cleaned up.

My question is why place guests on this floor which appears to be the only floor in the hotel under major remodeling? There were pieces with sharp edges sitting up against the walls. I envisioned slicing open my arm as I walked by unaware.

Making the best of the situation, the nice feature of remodeling for this Loyalty Traveler were all the open room doors. I was able to walk in and check out several rooms with a balcony and view of the bay. Two-thirds of the hotel rooms are facing Market Street and Drumm Street and these rooms have large sliding patio doors. Only the Embarcadero facing rooms have balconies for sitting outside. The rooms are basically the same size, but the patio balcony is a huge feature, particularly on days like these in the city when the temperature is in upper 60s and beautifully sunny.


Buffet breakfast at the Eclipse café is $27. A fruit/yogurt smoothie $6.

Checked out by telephone and leaving my name and room number on a voice mail message. I did this at 11:55am with no problem. Check-out time is 12 noon.

I had some of the best photos ever for San Francisco this week with the gorgeous blue skies.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

British Airways Visa offer looks good for 2008 travel.

I usually refrain from talking about credit cards, but this looks like a pretty good deal from British Airways for the Visa card new member offer. You can find the offer on the British Airways homepage. I think this is an especially attractive offer if you are planning to go to Europe this summer (if the currency exchange rates haven't scared you off the Grand Tour!).

"As a new cardmember, you will have access to a companion ticket* for travel in World Traveller (economy) or World Traveller Plus (premium economy) to any worldwide destination on
British Airways. This offer can be used on our lowest available fares. Plus, you’ll earn 20,000 bonus BA Miles after your first purchase or balance transfer.

Apply for your card by April 30, 2008.

See how affordable travel for two can be:

Sample fare for two people with companion ticket

$574 New York - London World Traveller

$739 New York - Paris World Traveller

$756 Los Angeles - London World Traveller

$824 New York - London World Traveller Plus"

Plus you get 20,000 miles after first purchase or balance transfer.
I estimate you should figure about $250 to $300 in taxes and fuel surcharges per person and then you may still have a good deal.

Keep in mind that if your 2-for-1 tickets have fuel surcharges and taxes applied to both passengers, the deal may not be that great compared to regular airfare rates.

In the past month there have been fares as low as $198 from California to London, but the fuel surcharge and taxes add up to another $300 for a $498 total airfare. A companion ticket costing $300 is not that great a deal in the off-season. The value will likely increase for summer travel as airfare rates go higher. If fares go to $600 to $700 for peak summer travel like in recent years past, then this deal could be something like $600 ticket price + $600 taxes and fees for 2 people = $1,200 for two tickets to Europe when the regular fare is $900 per ticket. In this example, two people could fly to Europe for $1,200 compared to the regular fare of $1,800 for two passengers.

The British Airways Visa Card offer could potentially be a $600 savings for summer travel to Europe in 2008, maybe even more in savings, and you will have 20,000+ miles in your British Airways Executive Club account when you get home.

I have flown British Airways several times to Europe and other international flights. I recommend the airline. The companion ticket may have its best value if used for World Traveler Plus which is a significantly better airline cabin than United Economy Plus.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Thank You Hyatt - I'm Going To Bruce Springsteen


I want my, I want my, I want my HDTV.
42" LG HDTV in Hyatt Place room, Fremont


HDTV image from Hyatt Place stay set the mood for what was to come that night.

On my freeway drive home from Hyatt Place Fremont on Friday night I won two tickets from KFOG radio to Bruce Springsteen playing April 5, 2008 in San Jose. If it weren't for Hyatt's "Stays Count Double" I wouldn't have been listening to KFOG radio. The radio station is too far from Monterey.

Quick: Who can name the first three Bruce Springsteen album titles?

No brainer for me and I was the first caller to get a shot at the answer. "Stays Count Double" promotion is paying off nicely in added benefits.

Elites and Suites. Now that is the question.

Here is my elementary school teacher economics logic.

The potential value of elite status in a hotel loyalty program provides an indeterminate net financial reward that can be based on a fixed financial investment.

Case in point is Hyatt Hotels "Stays Count Double" promotion running from January 1 - March 31, 2008. I have written about this repeatedly and Hyatt has explicitly promoted the opportunity for their frequent guests to earn Hyatt Gold Passport Diamond membership with just 13 hotel stays.

The fixed financial investment is the cost of 13 stays.

I paid a $71 AAA rate at Hyatt Place Fremont-Silicon Valley for Friday night, March 14.
Hyatt Diamond elite status for a little over $1,000 was possible from the beginning of 2008.

But, how many people have planned for fast-track hotel elite membership?
And, what is the potential value of Hyatt Diamond elite membership?

My answer as the Loyalty Traveler is, if you plan your travels purposefully, the potential value of Hyatt Gold Passport Diamond membership through February 2010 could be worth thousands of dollars. I don't think more than a few hundred people globally actually altered plans for more than a half-dozen stays to grab fast-track Hyatt Diamond. Perhaps a few thousand. Only Hyatt knows.

Estimating the Value of Hyatt Gold Passport Diamond elite membership

The numbers for frequent guests:

Say you stay 30 nights a year in hotels.

30 x $150/night = $4,500 for hotel rooms.
(Consider relative numbers and values for comparative purposes. Your hotel stay profile may be significantly more or possibly less than $150/night. You may stay 20 nights or 60 nights+. Adjust the numbers accordingly for your profile.)

Now here is an assumption you need to accept to make my argument valid when estimating value of loyalty programs. You have to take this assumption as truthful in the case for most top-elite hotel loyalty program members. In my case and for hundreds of people who post on FlyerTalk.com, the reality of a high-level elite member's hotel lifestyle is frequent room upgrades, especially when staying at upscale and luxury hotels. The assumption you must accept to understand the logic behind these analyses is an elite member will be upgraded to a better room category than booked for almost all hotel stays.

Assume Hyatt Gold Passport Diamond member regularly gets a complimentary room upgrade upon hotel check-in. The room rate reserved averages $150 for the room category booked. I am making up the number $150 and obviously some room nights may be less than $100/night and some may be over $200/night, but the average over many nights is $150/night for the calendar year.

The room rate for the upgrade room received at check-in by the Diamond elite member will likely have an equivalent room rate value in the range of $180-350/night. The average room rate will likely be something like $250/night value for the room the Hyatt Diamond member actually stays in for the hotel stay. Again this is common for top elite members in hotel loyalty programs to receive room upgrades, often several categories above the room category booked. Sometimes the nicest room in the hotel.

I notice a lack of complimentary room upgrades when using prepaid channels like Priceline or when staying at another hotel chain where I do not hold elite status.

A frequent guest of hotels with 30 nights or more per year will likely see an average of $100+ in added value on hotel stays and hotel points towards future stays.

30 nights @ $250/night value is $7,500 in actual room rate market value at a cost to the elite frequent guest of 30 nights @ $150/night or $4,500 in room rates actually paid.

The high elite member frequent guest in a large hotel corporate loyalty program in this example earns $3,000 in hotel added-value benefits for $4,500 in hotel spending. This is $7,500 of hotel value when adding up the paid rate for rooms, the value of an upgrade, value of points earned, and other hotel stay amenities provided complimentary due to status, and all for $4,500 in hotel spending.

So why would someone do a Fast-track to Hyatt Diamond and spend $1,000 for 13 stays?

The value to the frequent guest over next two years is a simple math equation of spending $4,500 for hotels that you probably would anyway as a business or leisure frequent hotel guest. A $1,000 fixed-investment in hotel loyalty now with Hyatt Gold Passport can likely have a net positive financial return of $6,000 over the course of two years in terms of the value of your room upgrades and additional benefits. ($15,000 hotel value received - $9,000 in hotel expenses).

A traveler can invest as little as $1,000 in Hyatt or more likely an investment of $1,500 to $2,000 in most locations where prices could be higher in order to pay for 13 stays and earn Gold Passport Diamond status. Now, think of the potential value over two years, possibly $6,000 added value to you hotel stays. A simple investment of about $50 per month of Hyatt Diamond elite membership could bring a return of $250/month in your upgraded hotel lifestyle.

Believe me it works. I have been enjoying the benefits of elite status for the past 7 years.

A hotel stay loyalty program strategy is good financial sense for business or leisure travelers and if you plan to travel frequently the loyalty program can provide thousands of dollars in added value to your hotel stays. This is typical of the kind of added value a frequent guest with top elite status can expect for meeting the standard of loyalty in one of the major hotel loyalty programs.


The fear is Dilution of benefits for Hyatt Diamond elite members

The real concern for frequent guests who earn high elite status is the competition from newly annointed frequent guests who fast-track to top elite status. The issue comes to a head when multiple diamond members are checking in the same hotel the same day. No competition ensures a good upgrade while some competition may mean a lesser value upgrade.

Valid complaint from members who earn status through tougher standards? Perhaps.

My experience has been that upgrades are frequent. Despite fast-track promotions for several years with Starwood Preferred Guest, and the undeniable success of the Starwood American Express card, I still regulary get wonderful upgrades at Starwood hotels. I don't think there are enough frequent guest members to take all the upper category rooms in many upscale hotels on a typical night.

I promised my wife I wouldn't use the term "Mattress Runs"

On the FlyerTalk bulletin board the terminology developed over the years to refer to flights taken primarily for the purpose of miles as "mileage runs". The concept of getting on a plane and flying cross-country and returning back to your home airport all in one day is somewhat outlandish, but can be financially lucrative investment to a good travel planner. The corresponding terminology developed for a travel pattern of several one-night hotel stays to quickly earn frequent guest points and it was called doing a "mattress run".

My wife became aware of this terminology last year when I created a webpage on the concept behind "Mattress Runs". She pointed out the obvious connotation and imagery of "mattress runs" to the normal hotel traveler who is not a loyalty programs geek.

I now refer to several, generally consecutive, one-night stays at different hotel members of the same loyalty program for the purpose of earning credit towards elite status or a loyalty program promotion as the "frequent stays strategy".

My background in loyalty programs is a person who jumped on dozens of flights for high frequent flier bonus miles opportunities between 1999 and 2004 to earn millions of frequent flier miles. I thought nothing of spending a night in Amsterdam, flying to Belfast for a night, back to Amsterdam for a night, and jetting off to Budapest for the weekend -- all flights made for the systematic purpose of fulfilling airline loyalty promotions for bonus frequent flier miles at near the lowest possible cost. The Belfast, Amsterdam, Budapest trip over 6 days had the benefit of 500,000 miles that have been used for a First Class ticket to New Zealand ($8,000 value), and three Business class tickets to Europe ($8,000 value). I still have 200,000 miles in accounts from that 2002 trip. The ticket cost of the 2002 trip to earn 500,000 miles was less than $1,500 and during the 20 flights taken for the promotion, my wife and I received two UA domestic tickets and something like $600 in vouchers from United.

The airline example above is to illustrate how an investment in loyalty programs can have a great financial return. At the time of the Canadian portion of our mileage run, the immigration official at YVR started an argument with me as to why I would come to Canada for one night just to earn frequent flier miles. Maybe he would understand now if he saw that my investment of $500 for two airline tickets to fly from Monterey to Victoria, BC for a night and about $200 for a day in Canada was recouped before the weekend was over when I received two free domestic airline tickets and $600 in airline vouchers for a two-hour flight bump in Portland, Oregon. And, I subsequently redeemed a portion of the airline miles for about a $16,000 value with the three international business class tickets to Europe and one first class ticket to New Zealand.

[Happy St. Patrick's Day. I spent two summers in Ireland for about 8 weeks total in the 90s and St. Patrick's Day wasn't the drinking holiday there that has developed over the past decade. I just recalled I was in Victoria on a Sunday morning for that 2002 as Ireland was playing a World Cup match and pulled off a tying goal in the final minute for overtime. There wasn't an Irish pub open at 7am. I knew I wasn't in Ireland.]

"Work interferes with seeing the world"

Back to my point with the value of Hyatt elite status. Work has usually been a constraint to plan around when designing "mileage runs" for frequent flier bonuses. The same constraint exists for hotel loyalty elite status when your job doesn't require you to be in a hotel frequently enough to earn high elite status.

Last June, on my way back from Uruguay, I ran into these former colleagues coming from Denver. They had been staying at a Denver Hilton brand hotel we stayed at a few years back. We tended to spend time in Hilton brands because the manager collected Hilton points religiously. I remembered we had a great time when I took the team to the lounge at the Doubletree after our work day. The two on the plane still hadn't attained high elite status to gain access to the hotel HHonors lounge.

My Hilton Diamond status always placed me in a better category room than my team members and with more privileges. My work team spent weeks in hotels over the course of the year, but wouldn't supplement their HHonors stay activity outside of work when paying their own way. I supplemented my Hilton work stays with paid stays during bonus promotions and award stays which counted for elite status. My leisure paid stays could be concentrated with Starwood and I maintained dual elite status with SPG on my dime and Hilton mostly through work.

The problem with earning HHonors Diamond elite status for my colleagues was their work meetings generally required multi-night stays. Even though they stayed in hotels 1 or 2 times per month, they generally had 2-night or 3-night stays, and also Hilton was not the contracted hotel for some meetings and hotel stays.

The result was a frequent guest profile of 5 nights a month in hotels, about 25 stays or 60 nights per year, but with only about 15 stays and 40 nights in Hilton hotels. Diamond elite membership with Hilton HHonors takes 28 stays or 60 nights. Being an educator and the Loyalty Traveler, I attempted to explain the value of elite status and how they could put in just a little extra effort and bump their membership from Gold to Diamond. Four years later and they still aren't getting lounge privileges.

I posted the following on FlyerTalk this morning which got me to thinking again about the value of elite membership in a hotel loyalty program in the context of a job that gets you most of the way there, but not quite far enough to get the benefits you should be getting for your level of loyalty in terms of nights and cash spent.

My FlyerTalk post in response to Hyatt offer for elite fast-track and the impact these type of promotions have on the overall program when new members move into elite membership.

"Declining occupancy rates projected for next couple years as new hotels enter the market make the marketing of elite loyalty an opportunity to grab part of that dedicated marketshare. A couple hundred people grab top elite status for bargain basement prices and several thousand customers convert to Hyatt with instant elite status offers of 2008.

The analysts are telling the hotel companies to raise rates for 2008 in the face of declining occupancy which defies commonsense logic, but the capitalist logic is lower prices will take a long-time to recover and hotels will be more profitable by settling for fewer guests paying higher prices. The competition for inducing frequent guests with elite membership is these loyalty members go a long way in grabbing a portion of the frequent guest market segment that will continue to pay higher room rate prices.

We are paying for our hotel loyalty perks with higher nightly rates overall, along with the large number of infrequent guests staying at these hotels. And the rate of hotel room rate increases is at a much higher rate than overall US inflation over the past few years.

The market segment that will see good growth as the prices continue to rise will be the frequent guests using prepaid and auction channels for hotel rooms which will be selling upscale and luxury at real bargains, but for hotels in major loyalty programs there will be no benefit of complimentary upgrade or points for these bargain rates.

This fight among the hotel chains for a loyal guest in the pool of frequent guests will possibly prompt repeated attempts for luring new loyalty through elite status fast-track offers."

Elite status is an investment opportunity with the potential to greatly improve your hotel lifestyle. The fast-track offers are a good way to expose new frequent guests to the benefits of a major hotel chain loyalty program. Some new elites will grab all the benefits they can for a year and fade away after not staying frequently enough to retain elite status. Other members will see the value of concentrating their stays with Hyatt (or Starwood, Hilton or whoever) and pump more money into the hotels to maintain that status. It is a win-win strategy for the frequent guest and the hotel who gains a loyal guest.

The dilution of benefits is what we will watch for and if the investment in loyalty becomes less valuable in the future and benefits are diluted, the elite frequent guests will be among the first to know. And I'll be blogging about the state of the Loyalty Traveler.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Loyalty Luxury-thoughts on Luxury Institute survey


view of lighted sign atop Huntington Hotel and Nob Hill Spa
San Francisco, California
member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World
(picture taken from corner room, Westin St. Francis)


The Luxury Institute reported "High Net Worth Consumers Rank Small Luxury Hotels of the World as top luxury hotel group, followed by Ritz-Carlton, and Four Seasons."

There are about 440 hotel members of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World worldwide. Two hotel members of this association in Monterey County, California are L'Auberge Carmel and Post Ranch Inn, Big Sur.

The Club is the loyalty program for Small Luxury Hotels of the World, and fortunately abbreviated to the simple acronym SLH for website users.
http://www.slh.com/Club

On my Frequent Guest website I list the brands in the major hotel chains and break them up by market segment of luxury, upscale, and moderate. Aside from my placing the W Hotels and Le Meridien brands in upscale, rather than luxury segment, my market segmentation of hotel brands coincides with the Luxury Institute survey.

The 15 hotel brands used for the Luxury Institute survey are to be expected. The survey appears to have a USA-based bias for hotel brands as several luxury hotels are not considered such as Oberoi or Starwood's The Luxury Collection.

The big five hotel chains: Hilton, Hyatt, InterContinental Hotels group (IHG), Marriott and Starwood brands are all represented and comprise 8 of 15 luxury brands surveyed:

Hilton - Waldorf Astoria Collection
Hyatt - Park Hyatt
InterContinental Hotels Group - InterContinental Hotels
Marriott - JW Marriott, Ritz-Carlton
Starwood - St. Regis, W Hotels, Le Meridien

The following are the 15 Hotel brands that were rated (in alphabetical order) for the Luxury Institute survey and I have added loyalty program notes beside the hotel brand names:
1. Fairmont (President's Club)
2. Four Seasons
3. InterContinental (IHG Hotels Priority Club and also InterContinental Ambassador, a brand specific loyalty program)
4. JW Marriott (Marriott Rewards)
5. Le Meridien (Starwood Preferred Guest)
6. Leading Hotels of the World ( Leaders Club, independent association loyalty program)
7. Loews Hotels (Loews First, brand loyalty program)
8. Mandarin Oriental (no brand loyalty program)
9. Park Hyatt (Hyatt Gold Passport)
11. Small Luxury Hotels of the World (The Club, independent association loyalty program)
12. Sofitel (part of European-based Accor corporate family and loyalty program. Sofitel has brand specific loyalty program - Sofitel Privilege)
13. St. Regis (Starwood Preferred Guest)
14. W Hotels (Starwood Preferred Guest)
15. Waldorf Astoria Collection (Hilton HHonors)

Accor is European-based, and a major global, hotel corporation and comprises Motel 6, Ibis Hotels, Novotel, Mercure, Sofitel, and other brands. The Sofitel hotel brand is primarily upscale hotels, however, only 10 of the 200 Sofitel Hotels are located in North America. Sofitel operates the Sofitel Privilege frequent guest program. Benefits are based on spending and 2,500 Euros in spending provides enoough points for a 200 Euro gift certificate. Elite members with more than 14 nights in Sofitel hotels earn Gold status and complimentary upgrades.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Diners Club, American Express or Hotel Corporate Affinity Credit Card?

Frequent travelers know that staying with your preferred hotel loyalty program is difficult at times. Hotels may be sold out, some chains are not present in an area (the nearest Starwood hotel to Monterey is 75 miles away while two Hyatts are within a few miles of my home), or the price is just too high.

Over the past ten years I have earned somewhere around 4,000,000 airline frequent flier miles and 1,000,000 hotel points. I seldom write about credit cards as a means of earning hotel frequent guest points. I have never owned an airline frequent flier affinity card.
Less than 2% of those 5 million miles and points were earned from credit card activity. I do not have the kind of money passing through my hands to make the credit card option a major factor. Travel is the fastest way to earn miles and points, unless you are wealthy or have a way to funnel money through your credit card without going into debt.

I have used Diners Club as a credit card, however, for its versatility with points exchange from Diners Club Rewards points to another airline or hotel currency. I have moved hundreds of thousands of miles and points through Diners Club by moving one airline currency into the program and exchanging the Diners Club Rewards points to a different airline currency. It used to be possible until about 2004 to move American and United miles into Diners Club and back out for the same number of British Airways miles during the periodic promotions for double miles when exchanging Diners Club points. Diners Club still has high value for exchangeability options not provided by American Express or Starwood or any other card at a good exchange rate between loyalty programs.

Here is a brief Loyalty Traveler analysis of the value of credit card diversity for your hotel travel options.

Consider 3 credit card options for the Marriott Rewards member:

1. Marriott Rewards Visa offer on website gives 20,000 bonus points for initial purchase, 2 points/$1 on travel/dining purchases, and 5 points/$1 for Marriott-brand hotel purchases, 1 points on other purchases, and a free night certificate each year. Points are good for Marriott awards only.

2. American Express Membership Rewards offers exchange options for Membership Rewards points into Hilton HHonors, InterContinental Priority Club, or Starwood Preferred Guest. Members can also buy nearly unlimited amounts of Membership Rewards points. Not too useful for Marriott, but has options for three other hotel chains.

3. Diners Club/MasterCard Club Rewards points can be exchanged into the major loyalty programs of Hyatt, Hilton, Marriott, Priority Club, Starwood, and Choice or Best Western.


Marriott VISA card earns 20,000 point bonus, 5 points/$1 at Marriott and 2 points/$1 for travel/dining purchases, and 1 points/$1 on other purchases.
After the first year card-owner bonus, assume the second year spending is $18,000 on stuff (18,000 points), $5,000 on travel/dining (10,000 points), and assume $2,000 spent at Marriott (10,000 points) = 38,000 points.

38,000 Marriott Rewards points for $25,000 credit card spending with Marriott VISA..

Purchase value of 38,000 Marriott Rewards points at $12.50/1,000 points = $475.00 value

The question:

Can you recoup anywhere near the $475 value available from $25,000 spending on a Marriott Rewards card by earning points primarily with a Diners Club or American Express credit card and exchange these points into hotel program points?


Exchange options is the name of the game for the frequent guest.

American Express exchange rates
1, 000 Amex Membership Rewards points = 333 Starpoints
1,000 Amex Membership Rewards points = 1,000 Priority Club points
1, 000 Amex Membership Rewards points = 1,300 HHonors points

Diners Club exchange rates
1,250 Club Rewards points = 750 Hyatt Gold Passport
1,250 Club Rewards points = 1,500 Marriott Rewards points
1,250 Club Rewards points = 2,000 Hilton HHonors points
1,250 Club Rewards points = 1,500 Priority Club points
1,250 Club Rewards points = 750 Starwood points

A comparison of credit cards based on a simple analysis: $25,000 annual spending (calculation is based on spending after first year, so 20,000 Marriott Rewards points bonus does not come into play in head-to-head matchup.)

Diners Club Rewards $25,000 spending = 25,000 points

Exchange 25,000 Club Rewards points for:

30,000 Marriott Rewards or
17,500 Hyatt points or
30,000 Priority Club points or
17,500 Starwood points or
40,000 Hilton HHonors points or

AMEX $25,000 spending = 25,000 Membership Rewards points
Exchange 25,000 Membership Rewards points for

8,325 Starpoints or
25,000 Priority Club points or
32,500 Hilton HHonors

Here are some potential values for hotel points from an exchange of $25,000 in Diners Club Rewards points:

30,000 Priority Club points is sufficient for any Crowne Plaza in the world and most InterContinental Hotels. Typically a $300 value.

It may be possible to book 6 nights of PointBreaks awards through Priority Club that could have a $1,200+ value at certain locations.

17,500 Starpoints can be obtained with 25,000 Club Rewards points. This is good for a 4-night stay, midweek at a Category 2 hotel. This can easily be a $700 savings.

Also, Starpoints can be used for Cash and Points awards. 4,000 points and $60 for a Category 4 hotel or 4,800 points + $90 for a Category 5 hotel can mean a savings of $800 on the regular cash rate for hotel rooms. Category 4 hotels are often $250/night and a Cash&Points award can typically save over $200/night on room rate and tax savings when using Starpoints. A Category 5 hotel award can likely be a $300/night savings. 17,500 points may allow you to save $1,000 on hotel rooms at Starwood.

The purchase value for 1,000 Starpoints = $35.00, so 17,500 Starpoints = $612.50 and this is more than the value of the Marriott Rewards points using the Marriott card for $25,000 in spending ($475.00).

Another factor to keep in mind is when you have to stay in a hotel without elite status. The ability to transfer Diners Club points into hotel programs, along with the ability to buy points from the hotel programs, may make room upgrades using hotel points a high-value alternative to the cost of paying for a better room category at a hotel where you will not be upgraded on elite status.

Flexibility with hotel loyalty points is a high value opportunity and Diners Club provides many hotel brand options for your travels. AMEX is good for the option of purchasing points, but has fewer hotel loyalty partners than Diners Club. Marriott VISA is a good earnings card, but while VISA may be accepted everywhere you want to be, a good-value Marriott may not always be where you want to be.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

JW Marriott Ihilani Resort - Price Too High, Just Buy

I was looking back at an article I wrote in October and I used the JW Marriott Ihilani as my example hotel for saving cash by just buying marriott Rewards points. This is text from my article in Hotels-and-Points October 2007. The 12-page newsletter can be downloaded as an Adobe PDF file. It is about 3 MB size so takes a a little bit to download and open. The focus of my October report was purchasing hotel points for room discounts.

[from Hotels-and-Points, October 2007-Ric Garrido]
"Marriott Rewards Points Purchase ― Prices Too High, Just Buy

Marriott Rewards members may buy or receive up to 50,000 purchased points per calendar year ( Jan 1-Dec 31) at the price $12.50/1,000 points. Another program rule allows spouses to transfer points, free of charge, between their accounts at the time of reward stay redemption. These rules mean spouses can buy a combined total of 100,000 points per calendar year and opens up the pos-sibility of buying the best high-value reward stays.

See the possibilities:
$1,250 = 100,000 Marriott Rewards points in 2007.
$1,250 = 100,000 Marriott Rewards points in 2008.

In practical terms, a couple can buy 200,000 Rewards points over the next three months for a vacation goal.

Marriott Buy Points link: http://www.marriott.com/rewards/usepoints/tranpurc.mi

The bottom line is:

Does buying points save money overall?


Hawaii Resorts on Marriott Rewards Hotel Points

Example of how to use a "buy points" strategy for Hawaii hotel savings:

JW Marriott Ihilani Resort and Spa at Ko Olina, Kopolei, Oahu, Hawaii
Marriott Rewards Category 7 hotel. 150,000 hotel points for a 7-night Rewards Stay.

JW Marriott Ihilani Resort, Oahu, Hawaii

Regular Hotel Rates
July 10-17, 2008 (Search conducted Oct 2007)
$341 (AAA rate) Quality Room-Mountain View
$389 (AAA rate) Ocean View
$436 (AAA rate) Deluxe Ocean View

When booking Marriott Rewards stay, the website offers an upgrade at JW Marriott Ihilani to Deluxe Ocean View room for an additional $100/night or upgrade to Ocean View room for additional $50/night.

Cost to buy 150,000 Marriott Rewards points = $1,875 = $268 per Reward night

Cost of upgrade to Deluxe Ocean View room is additional $100 per night or an additional $700 for a 7-night Marriott hotel points stay at Ihilani Resort.

Total Hawaii vacation cost is $2,575 for 7-night Marriott Rewards stay with a paid upgrade to a Deluxe Ocean View room at JW Marriott Ihilani.

This is $368/night to buy points compared to AAA rate of $436/night.

JW Marriott Ihilani Resort Deluxe Ocean View room, July 10-17, 2008 (search made Oct 2007)

AAA Paid Rate $436 ($488 with 12% tax) x 7 nights = $3,417

Senior Paid Rate $373 ($418 with tax) x 7 = $2,926 (great savings if you qualify)

Marriott 7-night Reward Stay (Buy Points and upgrade with $700 cash) = $2,575.

Save $842 on this 7-night hotel stay. This hotel savings covers other travel expenses for the week. "

This points purchase vacation option I wrote about in October 2007 is still the best deal for a Deluxe Ocean View room at JW Marriott Ihilani considering my analysis of the Marriott Hawaiian Sand Dollar Vacation value this morning.

Look at the numbers and see the dollars washing away in the sand dollar vacation.

Marriott Hawaii Sand Dollar Vacation Packages - Deal or No Deal?

I was looking at Marriott's website today. The home page for reservations has an ad for Sand Dollar Hawaiian Vacation Packages. I decided to analyze the deal for hotel and car packages. Flight inclusive packages are also available and perhaps this research will help you assess the value of the package with a flight, if you so desire.


Marriott has an offer on their home page for the Sand Dollar Hawaii vacation package. The package is four or five nights at a Hawaiian resort with car and/or flight included in package price.

Loyalty Traveler investigates this deal.

Sand Dollar Vacation Package Perks:
Free breakfast,
Last night of the stay is free,
5,000 Marriott Rewards points.

The Fine Print:
No Marriott Rewards points are earned for stay based on the hotel rate, except the 5,000 points awarded for the vacation package purchase.
No elite night credit earned for stay

Participating Hotels:
JW Marriott Ihilani Resort 5th night free + breakfast
Waikiki Beach Marriott 4th night free breakfast
Kauai Marriott Resort 5th night free + breakfast
Waikoloa Beach Marriott 4th night free + breakfast
Wailea Beach Marriott 5th night free + breakfast


Sample Costs for Vacation Packages:

Waikiki Beach Marriott, $1,595 for 4 nights, April 7-11, 2008, with free breakfast and an economy size car from Budget. Room is an Ocean View room with balcony. There is an option to change the car size on the reservation page. Trip insurance is another option for about $115.

Wailea Beach Marriott, $1,767 for 5 nights, April 6-11, 2008, with free breakfast and an economy size car from Budget. Terrace view overlooking hotel grounds.

A feature of the booking process is the vacation package booking page requires entering an airport. This is a troubling first step if you don't know the Hawaiian airport that corresponds to the hotel you want to book. Honolulu only brings up Waikiki Beach Marriott and OGG only brings up Wailea Beach Marriott for the April dates used above. KOA Kailua/Kona brings up Waikoloa Marriott. Lihue Airport, Kauai offers Kauai Marriott Resort.


Waikiki Beach Marriott,

Comparison of Vacation Package to other available rates for a
4-night stay, April 7-11, 2008.


Vacation Package (room + car) = $1,082.49 for 4 nights, April 7-11, 2008, in ocean-view room with balcony, 28-32 sqm, includes 4-day Budget economy size car rental.

AAA rate (room only) = $1,177.80 for a 4-night stay at $263/night + tax for $294.45.
The vacation deal is a winner in this case because you have a free car for your trip while saving $95. The AAA rate will earn 10,000+ points and elite credit compared to the vacation package that only earns 5,000 points and no elite credit.

Hawaiian Sand Dollar Package (room + breakfast) = $1,377.12 for a 4-night stay
(1 night free discount is in price given).
Daily rate is $410 for ocean view room ($459.04 with tax) and includes daily free breakfast, but no car. You can use the vacation package with car and pay car charges and still have $200 for food at the hotel or elsewhere. The Hotel + car package is a better deal.

All in all, the Marriott Waikiki Vacation Package wins on price, and the Marriott Rewards member needs to decide whether a free car is worth the points and elite credit not earned. (Deluxe ocean view is $311/night (AAA rate) and was not offered online as a Vacation Package booking option for dates tried.)

The Sand Dollar link I followed from the homepage did not lead to Sand Dollar Vacation package rates with car + breakfast in most cases, but rather an option for just room + car package. These tended to be the best deal and much lower rate than the breakfast included Sand Dollar package.


JW Marriott Ihilani Resort, Oahu, Hawaii Vacation Package Comparison:

Oct. 6-11, 2008, 5-night stay on AAA rate = $1,802 for mountain view room.

$322/night (AAA rate) mountain view room for Oct 6-11.
$360.52 with tax = $1,802.60 for 5-night stay (AAA rate) in mountain view room.

$1,610 in base spending =16,100 points points earning potential

A vacation package loses out on 11,000 points and 5 nights elite credit for the Marriott Rewards loyalty program member. Assume the points have a $100 value.


JW Marriott Ihilani Resort Vacation Package rates for October 6-11, 2008
5-night stay in Deluxe Ocean View Room

Regular reservations booking page offers:
AAA rate (room only) = $2,334.40 for Deluxe Ocean view room.
$417/night + tax $466.88 x 5 = $2,334.40

Leisure Rate (room only) = $2,457.55 for deluxe ocean view room
Deluxe Ocean View room 58sqm is available for $439/night on "leisure rate".
$439 + tax = $491.51 x 5 = $2,457.55 for deluxe ocean view room 5 nights

Aloha Package (room + $300 dining credit + internet) = $2,793.45 deluxe ocean view room
Deluxe Ocean View room which includes a $60/day dining credit for $499/night. Includes internet.
$558.69 total/night after tax = $2,793.45.
This adds internet and choice of dining options with a $300 dining credit for an extra $459 over the AAA rate. You are probably better off just paying for your food and internet.

Sand Dollar Vacation Package (room + breakfast) = $2,888.60 Deluxe Ocean view room
$645/night with breakfast and 5th night free.
With tax = $722.15 x 4 nights = $2,888.60 for 5 nights (5th night free)

4 options and 4 prices for 5-night stay in Deluxe Ocean View room at JW Marriott Ihilani for October 6-11, 2008:

The AAA rate, usually one of the best deals available for a hotel rate, stacks up well against the other offers in the search for a deluxe hotel room stay. The AAA rate is $554 less than the Sand Dollar vacation package offering free breakfast as the only additional amenity. The little advertisement in the corner of the Marriott reservations home page is one to watch out for. Comparison shopping can save you hundreds of dollars.

AAA auto club membership provides high value.


Don't be fooled by the flashy advertisements. You are likely to get a lower value upsale unless you carefully compare the vacation package cost add-ons to the best available rate for your desired hotel stay.

The Sand Dollar Hawaiian vacation package is an upsale package that does not provide the best available value in these sample searches.

If you desire a deluxe ocean view room, a vacation package may be your best bet if you want a car for your Hawaii vacation, but always try AAA and senior rates, if applicable to see if you can build your own better vacation package for less money.


Budget options for JW Marriott Ihilani, Oct 6-11, 2008

Sand Dollar package (room + breakfast) = $2,172 for mountain view room and complimentary breakfast daily

Marriott Vacation Package (room + car) = $1,774 for 5 nights in mountain view room
with a car, but no breakfast.
(Also, need to add $20/day for car parking. About $1,900 with parking.)

AAA rate (room only) = $1,802.60 for 5 nights in mountain view room
$322/night + tax for $360.52 x 5 nights = $1,802.6

In this small sample size, Loyalty Traveler finds Marriott's Hawaii Sand Dollar Vacation Packages are No Deal.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

My Air Canada Aeroplan miles are worth $2/1,000 miles

Fuel surcharges on award tickets has been a common complaint this past year. Air France/KLM Flying Blue is the program about which I have heard most of the complaints. The taxes and fuel surcharges add up to make many award tickets nearly as pricey as paid tickets (which generally have the added value of earning miles).

Here is my Aeroplan story. I have been writing about this Easter travel season and the incredibly low fares to Europe. This past weekend I actually found a fare of Monterey-Frankfurt for $499 on United Airlines.

I have Air Canada miles I have been also trying to spend for an award ticket. I found availability from SFO-FRA using my Aeroplan miles. I went through the screens and finally the ticket charges appear.

$375 and 60,000 miles in taxes and fees for an economy award ticket to Europe on Aeroplan. My frequent flier miles are worth about $2/1,000 miles with this award. This is less than 10% of the value for a frequent flier mileage award I typically redeem. (I did not buy it.)

Last year, an award ticket from San Francisco to Prague in business class cost $115 and that has been the norm for every award ticket I have ever redeemed. And I have redeemed dozens of awards. The most I ever paid was $241 to British Airways and that was for a 31,000-mile itinerary from the US to Europe to Asia to Australia and back with 6 First Class flights, 2 stopovers, and an open-jaw.

Two years ago my First Class awards to New Zealand cost under $19 each.

The fuel surcharge on award tickets completely undermines the value of miles. Forget economy class awards. With award fees this high, the traveler needs to blow the miles for a seat in the front cabin of the plane.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Timing is Everything for Securing Luxury Hotel Bargains

The forecast for hotels in 2008 in the USA is a rise in rates (about 5% depending on location), along with a decline in occupany (1-4% depending on location).

As personal income sees limited growth in 2008, the projections for travelers staying in hotels decline. PKF Hospitality Research projects 115,000 rooms to be added to USA hotel room supply in 2008. The projected trend is for new hotel openings to decline from 2010 to 2012.

The interesting news to me as a loyalty traveler is the room rate increase estimated at 4.7% for 2008 and nearly twice the 2.7% estimated rate of inflation for 2008 and more than 1% over the long-term annual room rate increases.

Do I have this sorted out correctly?

The hotel industry is about to see a glut in hotel rooms as more than 100,000 rooms are added to US inventory in 2008. There is an anticipated decline in occupancy overall due to the extra hotel rooms hitting the market, and room rates are expected to rise at twice the rate of inflation in 2008.

"After analyzing historic periods of economic recession and rising inflation, PKF-HR found that hotel managers have been able to pass along inflationary increases to their guests," - Mark Woodworth, President of PKF Hospitality Research.

"PKF-HR forecasts that a 5.8 percent increase in average daily room rates will offset a 3.8 percent decline in occupancy within the Luxury segment."

Where is the logic in these trends? It certainly isn't consumer-friendly logic.

Which brings me to the point of timing is everything when looking for a hotel bargain. I like to use San Francisco as a case study example due to the large tourism segment for leisure travelers and conference attendees.

Last week the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons was in the city and the doctors were easily identifiable by the AAOS lanyard hanging around the suit collar. 30,000 conventioneers in town and hotel prices through the roof. Starwood's Le Meridien San Francisco was one of the few hotels in their portfolio still available at the end of the week -- for $500+ night. This is for a hotel that was going for $129 for a couple of weeks back in December 2007.

Travel planning on a budget requires coordinating flight plans with hotel plans. I scored a great summer airfare to Iceland a few years back. I paid under $100 all-in roundtrip and I was loving life at the great deal I purchased only to suffer sticker shock at the cost of hotels in Reykjavik when $200/night looked like the norm.

And this leads me back to my last blog entry about St. Regis hotels appearing on SkyAuction.com. The bright spot for travelers being squeezed by inflation from all sides is the trend towards shifting hotel inventory back to the auction and prepaid sites like Hotwire, Priceline, SkyAuction, and LuxuryLink.

The hotels can sit half-empty or some inventory can be moved through the prepaid channels. This can mean some incredible deals for the watchful traveler.

This loyalty traveler has no qualms in passing on the points and upgrade if a room can be purchased for $200/night less than otherwise available.

I do have another suggestion for hotel loyalty programs to appease customers who may jump ship in the face of escalating prices and tightening travel budgets.

InterContinental Hotels Group PointBreaks are an incredible deal for a room at teh rate of 5,000 points per night. The available properties change frequently and limited room inventory is available for these great loyalty program awards using hotel points.

Starwood expanded their Cash & Points award offers to cover most hotels around the world.

The two offers above are limited and controlled by the hotel and loyalty program, but when a traveler is able to get one of these deals using hotel points the savings can often be more than $100/night.

Hilton and Marriott can expand their PointStretcher and PointSaver opportunities to cover more hotels.
Hilton's PointStretcher program has been weak due to limited hotel participation and limited dates for PointStretcher awards for several years now.
Hyatt can continue to offer some of the best loyalty program promotions available and they might not need to introduce reduced award offers, but I would like to see something from that chain to offer reduced cost awards using hotel points for rooms.

The hotel loyalty programs could be key to keeping hotel occupancy from suffering a more severe decline as prices continue to outpace inflation (unless the industry escalates inventory turned over to third-party online travel agencies like Priceline and SkyAuction).

Buy gas for work or buy gas for vacation? Pay for a hotel room or pay the mortgage?
The consumer is being squeezed from all sides in this economy and if the hotel industry continues to squeeze us for more profits, the money just might dry up.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

St. Regis on Skyauction.com




A Starwood St. Regis suite, San Francisco
SPG Category 6
20,000 points/night low-season
25,000 points/night peak season


A sign of the times?

St. Regis on LuxuryLink.com I would have anticipated, but luxury at a discount through SkyAuction was not a "For Sale" I envisioned.

Wednesday, March 5 had a Skyauction listing for a per night bid, for up to a 7-night stay at the St. Regis San Francisco. This hotel property occasionally drops to $299 per night during the slowest weeks of the year. San Francisco has a 14% hotel tax meaning the lowest nightly rate possible through a regular booking is payment of $340/night out the door, after taxes, if you don't park a car or charge any other goodies.

An SPG member could earn as few as 598 Starpoints/night at 2 Starpoints/$1 status. Gold member earn 897 Starpoints. Platinum member might have 1,397 Starpoints with platinum amenity 500 points.

600 Starpoints has a value of $21 if purchased. A person without elite status and no expectation of going for elite status will really only gain $21 extra value for a regular stay booked through Starwood channels.

Skyauction is a generally good website for getting great deals on last-minute 7-night condo timeshare stays. I have booked a half-dozen hotel stays through Skyauction going back 8 years to 2000 when I picked up my first 7-night timeshare stay for $214 at the Samoset Resort in Maine (regular rates were $1,500/week).

St. Regis San Francisco, winning bid was $253 per night with a $65 fee to be paid directly to the hotel (+14% tax on this $65?) . The rate of $318 is a savings of about $22 per night on the lowest available rate I have seen at this property over the past couple years.

A 5-night stay at the St. Regis San Francisco for March 28 to April 2, 2008 is listed as $404/night for a nonrefundable rate. There is a $413 refundable AAA rate. The 5-night refundable rate is $2,356 for a paid reservation through Starwood websites.

A 5-night stay using the special SPG 25% discount weblink: St. Regis is not listed as available for this special offer.

Skyauction = $318/night x 5 nights = $1,590 and a savings of $766 for a 5-night stay.

But don't count on getting the St. Regis for a low bid under $100. There is a minimum reserve which is somewhere around $200 bid. (Presently, A $162 bid for St. Regis Ft. Lauderdale has not met minimum reserve.)

St. Regis Ft. Lauderdale is available on Skyauction for bids closing on Sunday, March 9, 1:00pm EDT.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon Bay: Public Exclusivity, California-Style


Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon Bay, California
Available as a Marriott Rewards Partner Award
1 night = 70,000 points; 3-nights = 150,000 points;
5 nights = 200,000; 7-nights = 250,000 points
Paradise with an Ocean View
Some people have an image in their heads of California Pacific Ocean views. The Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay has commanding views of the coastline and ocean. This resort, nestled between golf links, on the cliffs south of the small coastal town of Half Moon Bay, is about 45 minutes drive south from San Francisco.
Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay is oceanfront resort hotel living. Golf, martinis, and Pacific Ocean cliff top weddings. And with a Safeway just a mile down the road, you can even cut some expenses, if you are so inclined.

The half-mile road from Pacific Coast Highway 1 to the coastal resort had a sign that caught my attention. Past the long-settled mobile home park on the left and the newly built gated community luxury homes on the right, the road sign pointed one direction for coastal access parking, but it also stated 25 public Coastal Access parking spaces available at Ritz-Carlton resort. I drove to the hotel gate and inquired. The young guy took my license plate number and gave me an access code to the Ritz-Carlton parking garage gate. I drove in to the open-air, multi-level garage and parked in a space labeled “Coastal Access”. Hotel guests pay $45 + 10% tax per day to park here in the same garage.

What’s up with that?

This is California, baby. Land of the voter initiative whereby the public is supposed to have a voice in the rules we live by. Back in 1972, the voters passed Prop 20, the Coastal Access initiative.
California had a population of about 16 million people when I was born in 1960. The population was over 20 million by 1972 when California voters passed Prop 20, a voter initiative to maintain public access to the coast.
It is said that Governor Jerry Brown in 1976, stayed in a hotel in Monterey built directly on the beach (I assume the hotel being referenced is now the Best Western Beach Resort Monterey). He commented, “That’s why we need a Coastal Act: so we can have more places like this.” “No,” said Bill Press, Brown’s director of planning and research. “We need a Coastal Act so we won’t have more places like this.” http://www.scc.ca.gov/coast&ocean/winter2004/pages/one.html

There seemed to me to be very little development along the Central Coast of California in the 1980s. Back in 1991, I traveled along the California coast for about 1,000 miles from San Diego to Eureka. California's population had topped 30 million by 1991 and had doubled in the 31 years since I was born.
In the past month, I have driven the coast roads from Orange County to San Francisco.
There has been a noticeably sizable coastal housing boom in the past 17 years. California's population is estimated to be somewhere around 36 to 37 million in 2008. What would our coastline look like if the people had not initiated legislation for public access in the early 1970s?
The basic provision of coastal access, according to the California Coastal Commission fact sheet, that applies to the slew of hotel resorts popping up on the California coast in the past decade is:

"On sites with coastal development permit proposals, where investigation shows that public use is substantial enough to create potential prescriptive rights, the Coastal Commission is required to protect those areas of use prior to approving a development project that would interfere with those rights.
The California Coastal Act, Public Resources Code Section 30211, states:

Development shall not interfere with the public’s right of access to the sea where acquired through use, or legislative authorization, including, but not limited to, the use of dry sand and rocky coastal beaches to the first line of terrestrial vegetation."

A feature of several California resorts built directly on the coast in the past 15 years is an improvement of access to the coast for people who want to look at the beach and sea, but not necessarily be on it. Public access visitors can share the grounds of the hotel with the guests.
The St. Regis Half Moon Bay is a beautiful property with incredible views of the California coastline (if you are lucky enough to be visiting on a day without fog or clouds.)
This is hotel coastal resort living California-style where tourist visitors can mingle with local Californians exercising the right to coastal access.