Saturday, May 31, 2008

Staybridge Suites and Candlewood Suites Offer Free Hertz Car Rental Promotion

Staybridge Suites and Candlewood Suites Offer Free Hertz Car Rental

Some hotels are enticing guests with free gas. IHG Priority Club Rewards is offering members who complete a 3 nights or more stay at a Staybridge Suites hotel or Candlewood Suites hotel in the USA or Canada a free weekend day car rental with Hertz. A 6 nights or more stay earns 2 free weekend days car rental with Hertz.

Promotion Period runs through July 31, 2008.

It appears that the Priority Club member must register separately with each IHG hotel brand for this Priority Club offer.

Registration for Staybridge Suites is required prior to hotel stay for promotion credit eligibility. Registration for Candlewood Suites Hertz rental car promotion.
Maximum of 2 free rental car days per stay.

This means 15 consecutive nights at a single Candlewood or Staybridge hotel earns only two free rental days, whereas, four 3-night stays at Candlewood Suites or Staybridge Suites would earn 4 free rental car weekend days with Hertz.

Days 1-3 Staybridge or Candlewood (one free car rental weekend day)
Day 4 – another hotel
Days 5-7 Staybridge or Candlewood (one free car rental weekend day)
Day 8 – another hotel
Days 9-11 Staybridge or Candlewood (one free car rental weekend day)
Day 12 – another hotel
Days 13-15 Staybridge or Candlewood (one free car rental weekend day)

The Priority Club member would need to estimate the potential value of two extra car rental days compared to the time and cost of changing hotels to earn extra car rental certificates.

Unfortunately, there are no terms and conditions provided for the Hertz rental certificate except for a statement that rental certificates cannot be combined. This leads me to conclude that the free rental car certificates are only good for a single 24 hour rental.

I interpret the promotion terms as the member will receive two free day certificates for a 6-night stay and not a two-day free rental car certificate with Hertz. The promotional offer does not provide details to the expiration date of the Hertz free rental certificate. Certificates should be received 4 to 6 weeks after qualifying Staybridge Suites or Candlewood Suites stay.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Wyndham Rewards-The most hotels loyalty program

Ramada Amsterdam and watching Tour de France 2006

It was a bed-in experience

Amsterdam Centraal view from Ramada

Amsterdam city center view from Ramada Hotel

The plaza across from Ramada, Amsterdam

Sink, Ramada Amsterdam

I thought I could dash off a quick review of Wyndham Rewards.

The hotel brand members of Wyndham Rewards followed by 2008 average room rate:
1. Wyndham Hotels and Resorts, $116.61
2. Wingate by Wyndham, $91.84
3. Ramada Worldwide, $79.69
4. Travelodge, $67.68
5. Baymont Inns and Suites, $65.66
6. Amerihost, $63.38
7. Howard Johnson, $63.11
8. Days Inn, $61.99
9. Super 8, $56.78
10. Knights Inn $40.88
(Hotel brands are ordered by average daily room rate for first quarter 2008 which correlates with relative market segment for hotel brand).

The problem I found with making a quick assessment of the Wyndham Rewards hotel loyalty program is that upon a closer look there are a large number of facets to the benefits available to members. This is just an introduction to Wyndham Rewards because I have been seeing loads of press releases the past couple weeks in their marketing campaign to promote brand recognition, but nobody lays out the details of the loyalty program for the traveler.

And getting the details involved more work than I anticipated. Wyndham Rewards needs a website makeover to be traveler friendly.

Case in point: There are 10 hotels in Monterey participating in Wyndham Rewards. Even after joining Wyndham Rewards as a new member, I had to call the member services telephone line to find out how much a free night would be at each of the 10 Wyndham Rewards member hotels within a 4-mile radius of me. That is a ridiculous hotel loyalty program website omission to not provide the redemption rates for a free night at any particular hotel and make it easily available to a website visitor.

The point of a hotel loyalty program promoting free nights is to allow the frequent guest to acquire the information necessary to plan and prepare for a vacation. The hotel guest planning to use hotel points needs to know how many hotel points are needed for a free night. That information should be available on the hotel loyalty program website.

Let's Spend the Night Together

Wyndham Rewards has launched the Play Together, Stay Together contest to promote hotel brand recognition and the new hotel loyalty program name change from TripRewards.
The main boast of Wyndham Rewards hotel loyalty program is its size with over 6,000 hotels and with 50% more hotels worldwide than InterContinental Hotels Group, twice as many hotels as Hilton or Marriott, and many times more hotels than Starwood or Hyatt, each of those programs with under 1,000 hotels.

Another program main attribute, and also the program’s detractor, are the large number of budget-priced hotel brands in the program.

Wyndham Rewards brings together ten hotel brands under one loyalty program umbrella:

AmeriHost are located in 22 US states and each hotel features an indoor pool.

Baymont Inns and Suites have about 125 hotels in the USA, primarily in Southeast and Central USA. These are a midscale hotel property with free internet and complimentary continental breakfast.

Days Inn – about 2,000 hotels

Howard Johnson – more than 450 hotels in 16 countries. Four tiers of properties from budget motels to full service Howard Johnson Plaza hotels.

Knights Inn – more than 250 hotels in North America.

Ramada Worldwide 850 hotels in 25 countries

Super 8 – More than 2,000 hotels. This brand announced a logo and image makeover this month. Race car theme seems to be prominent.

Travelodge - info on the number of Travelodge hotels is something I have not yet found, however, Travelodge properties in Canada do not participate in Wyndham Rewards.

Wingate by Wyndham -business style hotel

Wyndham Hotels and Resorts - full scale hotels with many resort locations in USA and internationally.

Earning Points: Simple 10 points/$1 of hotel rate.

Redeeming Points: Wyndham Hotels maintains its own hotel points redemption program.

Elite Program: Wyndham ByRequest - details are vague, but supposedly member preferences will be noted and some additional amenities might be provided to frequent guests.

The Wyndham Hotel properties can be looked up online for the points redemption rate. Rates vary from:
Wyndham Nassau Resort & Crystal Palace Casino, Bahamas 15,000 points
Wyndham London Chelsea Harbour, UK, 45,000 points
Wyndham Sugar Bay Resort & Spa, St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands 25,000 points
Wyndham Sapphire Beach Club & Resort, St. Maarten, Netherland Antilles 20,000 points

The redemption rate for international properties can also be looked up online. There are other hotel chains eligible for free nights using Wyndham Rewards points besides the member brands listed above.

Sample redemption rates:
Ramada Amsterdam Hotel & Suites 15,000 points
Ramada Prague City Centre 30,000 points
Melia Cariari, Costa Rica 10,000 points
Tryp Corobici, Costa Rica 8,500 points

Ramada Resort, Karon Beach, Phuket, Thailand 10,000 points
Cozumel - Days Inn 10,000 points
Melia Cabo Real, Mexico 30,000 points
Gran Melia Cancun, Mexico 30,000 points

Melia Caribe Tropical, Dominican Republic 30,000 points

I was "Born in the USA"

The large majority of Wyndham Rewards hotel members are located in the USA and three brands represent 70% of the USA Wyndham Rewards hotel member properties: Ramada, Super 8, and Days Inn.

There are four tiers of hotel redemption levels for US domestic hotels.

Tier 1 = 6,000 points for a free hotel night
Tier 2 = 10,000 points for a free hotel night
Tier 3 = 14,000 points for a free hotel night
Tier 4 = 16,000 points for a free hotel night

Unless you already have sufficient Wyndham Rewards points to actually book a hotel stay, the member is unable to find out through the website to which of the four tiers a particular hotel belongs. The website will simply reply with a message to the member of insufficient points for a free night.

To get USA hotels redemption information for the vast majority of Wyndham Rewards hotel members requires a phone call. My phone call for Monterey area hotels revealed that Salinas has some Tier 2 hotels, but all the Wyndham Rewards member hotels for the Monterey Peninsula are Tier 3 and Tier 4. The hotels here are the same price as the Amsterdam Ramada.

Wyndham Hotels and Resorts - The Flagship Brand of Wyndham Rewards
I do agree that Wyndham Rewards is a good name change because they are taking the flagship hotel brand as the loyalty program name.

There are nice Wyndham hotels and resorts. I walked through the Wyndham Palm Springs last month one evening and there were about a 20 people hanging around the lobby socializing. The ambiance was casual and elegant, and the pool area large.

The focus of the Wyndham Rewards loyalty program should be its size and the ability to get points for low cost hotel stays. A rebate of 10% or more for your paid stays when earned hotel points are redeemed for future free nights should be possible. The abundance of Wyndham Rewards hotel members makes it worthwhile to keep an eye on this program when you are traveling where few upscale loyalty hotels are located.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

InterContinental San Francisco Press Reviews

San Francisco InterContinental as seen from Howard and Sixth

InterContinental is the California rage with two new hotels in the past few months. The San Francisco InterContinental is the largest new hotel to open in San Francisco in 20 years and The Clement in Monterey is the city's only newly built hotel in nearly 20 years.

The New York Times published a review of the San Francisco InterContinental the week before last. The review starts off with the provacative statement, "As San Francisco's largest new hotel in two decades, the 32-story InterContinental San Francisco has prompted its share of architectural controversy. "

Front View of InterContinental San Francisco from across Howard Street

I have visited the San Francisco InterContinental hotel a couple of times, but at the wrong time of day to be allowed a room tour as I referenced in this blog post.

Yesterday, after reading the NYT review, I asked my wife to look at a picture of a building and give me her impressions. She had never seen the San Francisco InterContinental hotel.
Our conversation went something like this as she looked at the photo shown at the top of the blog post (click on the photo for a larger image):

K - "Are there windows missing?

Ric - "What? No. Those are windows with open curtains. It is a hotel building in San Francisco."

K- "Oh. My initial impression was the building is a prison."

K - "The lines running up the building give the appearance of grain silos. There is no decoration on the exterior walls. Look at the molding on the tops of the buildings around it. Why did they make it so plain looking?"
I guess my wife falls into the dislike the building exterior camp. The floor to ceiling windows inside the rooms are a feature we have loved in hotels like Vancouver's Sheraton Wall Centre. The view is an attribute of the hotel in my opinion.

Here is another review from the San Francisco Chronicle back in February 2008.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Hilton HHonors PointStretcher Awards June 2008

pool area of Doubletree Sonoma, Rohnert Park, CA
My computer suddenly opened up a weblink to the PointStretcher Dates Calendar for May and June 2008. It was unintentional on my part so I take it as a sign to post about Hilton.
PointStretchers are great when you can use them for a reservation and the 40% savings really does stretch your points for awards.
I see the Hilton Budapest is available for late June pointstretcher dates. My wife and I stayed here on a PointStretcher in 2002 in July and the King Duna Suite upgrade was one of the most memorable hotel stays we have ever experienced. The hotel is on the Castle Hill. The hill is so steep the city has had the Castle Hill funicular for nearly 140 years (rebuilt in 1986 after funicular destroyed in WWII).
Lovely acoustic guitars and local folk music drifted up from the courtyard to our room windows and the views from the room of the Danube River let us see for miles. In contrast to the vista of the valley was an upclose view of the Fisherman's Bastion Disneyesque building located directly outside the window. A more detailed link about Fisherman's Bastion is here. The view is incredibly beautiful. The King Duna suite was at the height of the upper part of the Bastion and to my recollection was less than 100 ft away. The entire area was a popular romantic evening getaway for couples. And there were lots of couples on the warm July evenings looking over the lights of the city below.

Hyatt Gold Passport 5K San Francisco bonus

View of San Francisco Ferry Building from Hyatt Regency Embarcadero

If you're going to San Francisco...

Hyatt Gold Passport has a 5,000 points bonus special offer for 2-night (or longer) stays through the summer months.

The promotion runs from today, May 28, 2008 through August 31, 2008.

Gold Passport Offer Code = SFO5K which needs to be inserted in the reservation booking page.

All the Bay area Hyatt Hotels are participating:

- Hyatt Regency San Francisco at the Embarcadero
- Hyatt Regency San Francisco Fisherman's Wharf
- Grand Hyatt San Francisco
- Hyatt Regency San Francisco Airport
- Hyatt Regency Santa Clara
- Hyatt Vineyard Creek Hotel and Spa, Santa Rosa

I did a few booking checks and rates are as low as $179.10/night for Grand Hyatt and San Francisco Hyatt Regency for July 3-5 on AAA rate. Weekends in San Francisco have lower hotel rates, except for Fisherman's Wharf.

The SFO airport Hyatt and Santa Clara are the best deals for people wanting stay credit and points at a low rate with rates close to $100/night for some dates in summer.

Hyatt Vineyard Creek in Santa Rosa has lowest rates midweek.

Points Calculator:
Assume $360 base rate for two nights in San Francisco.

Earn 5 points/$1 = 1,800 points.

Plus, earn 5,000 points bonus.

6,800 points is enough for two upgrade awards using points.

A free night at a Category 1 hotel is 5,000 points or 8,000 points for a Category 2 hotel. Last month I redeemed 8,000 points for a Category 2 hotel room at the Hyatt Regency Phoenix when I attended the Freddies Awards. I received a 1,000 points award rebate at the hotel at check-in. 7,000 points saved me the cost of a $300/night hotel room.

This is a good Hyatt Gold Passport deal. Spend a couple nights in San Francisco and earn a free night's worth of bonus points with the SFO5K offer.

See other Hyatt Gold Passport Exclusive Offers for bonus points at other hotels.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

SPG Summer 2008 Promotion Offer

Starwood Preferred Guest has released their Summer 2008 promotional offer for eligible Starwood hotel stays.

Starwood Preferred Guest has their summer promotion online as of this week. Registration for the quarterly promo must be completed by July 15, 2008.

The SPG Summer 2008 promotion offer is for stays between June 1 and August 31, 2008.

The promotion offer is targeted by whatever criteria SPG uses based on your stay pattern and preferences. There appear to be at least 7 variations of this summer travel promotion based on more than 60 posts on FlyerTalk this past week.

The common factor of all the promotion variations is an automatic registration for a quadruple bonus points, 8 points per $1 for Aloft hotel stays between hotel opening date and Dec 31, 2008.

7 variations of the SPG Summer promotion have been reported on FlyerTalk. Only two of the promotion offers involve a fast-track elite status option and this option must be selected at the time of registration.

Offer Variation #1:
Earn up to 24,000 bonus Starpoints. 8,000 points for 8 stays up to 24,000 points with no additional choices.

Offer Variation # 2:
Earn up to 15,000 bonus Starpoints.
Get 5,000 points for 5 stays; up to 15,000 or 5,000 points for every 10 nights, up to 15,000 points.

Offer Variation #3:
Earn up to 25,000 bonus Starpoints.
Earn 500 Starpoints per stay for first ten eligible stays and 1,000 bonus points for each additional stay up to maximum 30 stays.

Offer Variation #4:
Earn up to 12,000 bonus Starpoints.
Earn 4,000 points per 4 eligible stays, up to maximum 12 stays.

Offer Variation #5:
Earn up to 6,000 bonus Starpoints.
Earn 2,000 Starpoints after every two eligible stays, up to 6,000 Starpoints


Earn Double Starpoints.

Offer Variation #6:
Receive Double credit for Stays or Nights


Earn up to 3,500 bonus Starpoints. Earn 500 bonus points per stay for first five stays and 1,000 points with your fifth stay. [Ric’s note: This is not a typo on my part, the promo actually is worded this way rather than 500 bonus points on first four stays and 1,500 bonus points for fifth stay.]

Offer Variation #7:
Receive Double credit for Stays or Nights


Earn up to 9,000 bonus Starpoints. Earn 3,000 bonus points for every three stays, up to 9 stays.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

And now the fire in Santa Cruz Mountains

Our record heat of last week tops off one of the driest winter/spring rain seasons in years. The high winds moved in the last two days after the heatwave high pressure system moved out.

The fire in the Santa Cruz Mountains around Mt. Madonna Road and Loma Prieta Road is actually in the mountain area between Gilroy and Watsonville/Santa Cruz northeast of Monterey Bay. The fire has spread from 500 acres to over 2,000 acres in four hours as homes and forests and brush burn.

The high winds lately with gusts of 30 and some over 40 mph in places are going to make this a tough fight.

Wishing everyone the best and a safe return.

Update 10am: Our wind here where I live in Monterey is keeping the smoke to the east of this part of Monterey. I can see the thick smoke over the central Monterey Bay coast over Marina/Fort Ord area.

Update 12:30pm: Word is the fire is up to about 3,000 acres and fire spokesman states the fire may spread to 10,000 acres before the wind dies down tomorrow night. 500 firefighters in the region now, and another 500 firefighters expected by tomorrow. Wind is still blowing smoke east of Monterey. I am teaching in Salinas this afternoon and expect the air quality to be poor over there.
KTVU has incredible video of the high flames burning the trees for miles along the ridges. This could be a long week for the area.

Sat 7:00pm update:
Good fortune brought the fog around the Monterey Bay coast and nearby mountains and kept the wind calm most of yesterday. The air was clear and mostly blue in Gilroy. The smoke was actually blowing north over the San Jose basin and foothill communities of the Santa Cruz Mountains most of the day and just started blowing towards Gilroy in late afternoon. The fire did not spread with the ferocity experienced Thursday.

The day the fire started there was a thick pall of smoke that funneled across the Pajaro Valley of Watsonville and wound its way down the Salinas Valley and the Highway 68 pass between Salinas and Monterey where the smoke blocked up against the mountains and the smell was strong. Ash was falling in Salinas from the 15 mile wide swath of smoke. By the time I returned home to Monterey after 6pm, the wind had changed direction and the smoke had blown over the western part of Monterey and settled over the hills.

The fire is estimated around 4,000 acres now on late Saturday and about 25% contained. The winds were strong for the past couple hours and now have subsided here. Hopefully this fire will be contained with some cool weather, low winds, and hard work.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

A TripKick to the Bathroom

She got a TV eye on me - Iggy Pop

Couple of things caught my attention on the web the past couple days.

1. TripKick Hotel Rooms website

The basic idea is the website tells you the difference in rooms in a hotel by factors such as view, noise, size, corner room, great bathroom.

Great concept and these are the primary features in hotel room detail that I consider when staying some place. These are the main factors, although I also want to know about other variables like:
-- refrigerator situation (full or empty, regular fridge with mini bar selection or electronic fridge where moving an object gets a computerized charge to your hotel folio),
-- seating (couch, one chair, two chairs, combination),
-- TV placement and size,
-- internet free or what cost,
-- specific bathroom setup in regard to spa tub, shower, or both as separate units,
-- window situation (open all the way, part-way, no way).

The hotel industry makes a site like TripKick a difficult proposition to carry out. Websites like SeatGuru have a relatively small variation on the types of aircraft flown around the world, whereas, there are thousands of variations of hotel room layouts and there are generally dozens of room types in each large hotel just based on the simple five variables View, Noise, Size, Corner Room, Great Bathroom.

The database of information necessary to make the project work is mindboggling. The concept is a great idea. The issue I see keeping the website from developing is the limitation of hotel data. I see many websites soliciting hotel reviews, but there are few sites even approaching the database of TripAdvisor. I regularly find hotels where hundreds or even thousands of guests have stayed over the past few months and the most recent review on TripAdvisor is six months to a year old. And what other hotel review site can even approach the number of reviews available on TripAdvisor?

TripKick is a great concept and I wish them the best of luck with the venture. And if it does take off, I am sure Expedia will be there with the incentives to put TripKick in the shade of their travel umbrella.

Call Waiting?

I like Glenn Haussman's article on hotel bathrooms featured on Hotel Thinking back on it, I don't think I have ever picked up a bathroom phone. The phone next to the toilet seems oddly out of place to me too.

Monday, May 19, 2008

InterContinental - The Clement, Cannery Row, Monterey

The Clement, Cannery Row, Monterey, InterContinental Hotel

Bay View Courtyard, InterContinental The Clement, Cannery Row, Monterey

lobby, InterContinental The Clement, Monterey, CA

lobby - InterContinental The Clement, Monterey

InterContinental The Clement, Monterey, Lobby entrance

InterContinental - The Clement, Cannery Row, Monterey

The Clement, InterContinental Hotel opened Friday afternoon on a record heat day. The temperature on May 16, 2008 maxed out around 95 along the coastal communities of Monterey, Pacific Grove, and Carmel. I was outside in Carmel, saw a flower show at the Sunset Center, and walked around the center village area for two hours and I was sunburned and overheated despite slathering on the SP 30.

In many places 95 degrees is nothing to write home about, but this is the Monterey Peninsula. Truly hot days are infrequent. And like Maverick's Surf events, the weather forecast can only be called 24 to 48 hours in advance around here to predict the hot days. The extreme weather lasted 48 hours with another day up in the 90s on Saturday. Yesterday the fog returned to our Peninsula and the temperature varied from 62 on the coast to still in the 90s just six miles away into Carmel Valley.

The microclimates of the Monterey Peninsula are the unique facet to life on our Central California Coast. Tourists are at the mercy of the weather here as in any place. Where most places tend to view weather as wet or dry, cold or hot, in Monterey we tend to look at our weather as how cold is it going to be today and not how hot will it be.

The Clement went from a hotel where the first day’s guests had views of clear blue skies over the Monterey Bay water on one of the hottest days of the year for those experiencing the hotel's opening weekend (I was not a guest) on Friday afternoon and then back to fog within 36 hours and nearly a 40 degree drop in temperature by Sunday noon checkout. The skies have been turning bright after the fog moves out to sea around noon the past couple days, but the temperature has gone back to the more average 65 degrees in the sun.

The InterContinental Clement is still being constructed during the next couple months with guests being booked into the main waterside building for the time-being. The spa is still lots of unfinished walls, however, the opening date is as soon as 6 weeks away according to staff. There is a Kids Place room where a 5 foot high climbing wall was the only piece in place.

Restaurant "The C" is waterside with nice Bay views and the bar features several draft beers, mostly local microbrews. A signature featured item on the bar menu is a champagne sampler for American or European sparkling wines and champagnes.

InterContinental The Clement, Monterey, the "C" Bar microbrews

I wrote about California's public access to coastal areas in a post about Half Moon Bay's Ritz Carlton oceanfront spa and golf resort back in March. The Clement has built a new set of walkways over the water at Cannery Row. By coastal access laws, new development on the California coast must maintain public access to areas traditionally open to the public for right-of-way to the water. Cannery Row being mostly vacant lots over the past few decades has created a legal right to maintain open access for any new buildings, including hotels, proposed for the waterfront of Cannery Row. We all benefit from The Clement now when visiting Cannery Row and the opportunity to get some wonderful views of the Monterey Bay with nice seating benches and handicap access is a pleasant addition to the city of Monterey.

Newly built public coastal access on Monterey Bay side of The Clement

New walkway beside The Clement over Monterey Bay

Deck level doors are to The "C" restaurant.

InterContinental, The Clement, The "C" Restaurant

InterContinental The Clement, The "C" Bar

As a local I like the Cannery Row area much better now than in past decades. Cannery Row was burned and abandoned over the years as the canneries died out between 1950 and 1970. There are still several vacant lots to this day along Cannery Row and the lots have been that way since I was a teenager here in the 1970s. The absence of capital to invest in Cannery Row has always amazed me. How can there not be a return of investment on developing a vacant lot on Cannery Row in 2008, a prime tourist street with restaurants, bars, tourist shops, and a little entertainment? These lots sit empty on one of the world’s most beautiful views.

Cannery Row has only developed into some semblance of a cohesive tourist strip in recent years since the Monterey Bay Aquarium opened in the mid-1980s. The other hotels on Cannery Row are located at the far end from the Aquarium and The Plaza Hotel is a 10-minute walk from the Aquarium. The InterContinental Clement is located next to the Aquarium. A brand-new IMAX theater built in a building that has struggled to hold lasting businesses over the past thirty years will help continue development of the infrastructure of Cannery Row for a better tourist experience. Locals with memories from the 1970s may remember the 812 theater where the seats were dozens of floor pillows in a small room for less than 40 and the film experience was a lie down movie theater. That Cannery Row, like the canning factories, is now history. The 812 was located in the physical space of the present-day Aquarium.

The Clement is in a space on Cannery Row adjacent to and east of the Aquarium. There had been a building foundation in place there for 20 years on the south side of Cannery Row street, away from the water. The recession of 1991 and subsequent closure of Fort Ord dealt a heavy economic blow to Monterey. There has not been much new development along Cannery Row in the past decade. The Clement may not strike you initially as an architecturally significant addition to the InterContinental family. The exterior is quite understated, but when viewed in the context of the existing Cannery Row architecture, the new building fits in seamlessly with its surroundings.

InterContinental The Clement, lobby art

The hotel has metal lamps rather than chandeliers, natural woods, sharp lines, and earth tone colors. The Clement is a modern style hotel with "In Design" type furnishings and provides the tourist an upscale contrast to the traditional style of The Plaza, Monterey's other premier hotel on the opposite end of Cannery Row.

The stairway from the lobby level to the second floor conference rooms features a Monterey Bay Aquarium style jelly. The lighted art piece and colored projections on the walls and ceiling around the stairway are a pleasant experience.

InterContinental Clement Jelly Light Art
Stairway to second floor conference rooms of The Clement

An enclosed walkway over Cannery Row leads to the southside Cannery Row building. Rooms on this side of the hotel do not have ocean views. The exercise room and a lap pool are located on this side of the hotel adjacent to the Monterey bike and foot path. (This strip of pavement between the hotel parking garage and the southside rooms was an unused railroad track in the 70s and rebuilt in the 1980s as a bike path through Monterey (the path starts in Marina and goes about 8 miles along Monterey Bay). The lap pool at 3 feet wide and 30 ft long is a relatively extravagant feature for this hotel, but it sure is limited with its size. Is there a sign-up sheet for workout times? The pool is a one-person pool, if swimming. Nobody was swimming at the time I visited.

lap pool - InterContinental The Clement, Monterey

InterContinental The Clement Monterey, fitness room

Workout room looked adequate for a hotel this size with about 20 pieces of equipment. (The Clement has 200+ rooms).

InterContinental The Clement, lobby seating by fireplace

The Clement Rooms:

Miniature sand garden in each room of The Clement

Rooms are simply furnished with various sizes of decks and interiors, and marble tiling in bathrooms. Freestanding or wall-mounted LG 37" flatscreen HDTVs and most rooms have gas fireplace. Nice tubs in suites.

InterContinental The Clement, Monterey, Spa tub window to bedroom in suite

Wall-mounted 37" TV and gas fireplace in suite, InterContinental The Clement, Monterey

Living room in suite, InterContinental The Clement, Monterey

InterContinental The Clement, Standard Room

Words of advice. Come here soon if you want the low rates. Introductory rates under $200 per night for this opening summer are expected to climb to around $400 per night – if the economy permits that kind of rate to be sustained here in Monterey for 2009.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Marriott Rewards Hotel and Air Vacation Packages

JW Marriott, Camelback Inn, Phoenix, Arizona

Marriott Rewards Hotel and Air Vacation Packages favored by Freddies travelers.

I wrote a blog post March 13, 2008, Diners Club, American Express or Hotel Corporate Affinity Credit Card?

I discounted the benefits of the Marriott Rewards Visa card when compared to Diners Club and American Express Membership Rewards travel points.

Marriott won big at the 2008 Freddies for best loyalty program award with their vacation package for 7 free nights at any Marriott hotel + airline miles. I decided this Loyalty Traveler needed to take a closer look at these awards.

The Marriott Rewards hotel and airline miles packages start at 165,000 points for a 7-night stay at a Category 1 to 5 hotel and either 50,000 airline miles for most domestic airlines and a few international airlines or 35,000 airline miles (most international airline partners) and the award cost goes up to 270,000 points for a 7-night stay at a Category 7 hotel and up to 120,000 airline miles with selected partners.

By the Numbers:

A Marriott Category 7 hotel normally will cost 150,000 points for a 7-night reward stay. The single night stay is 40,000 points. The Marriott Rewards chart offers the largest per night discount using hotel points for longer stays at high category hotels, and approaches a 50% per night discount on a 7-night stay at a Category 7 hotel (think NYC, Paris, London, Rome).

The 7-night Category 7 hotel stay + 120,000 airline miles are essentially an exchange of 120,000 Marriott Rewards point for 120,000 airline miles. There are 13 airline partners participating in this travel package exchange that allows a Marriott Rewards members to exchange their hotel points for airline miles. This is the best exchange rate available for airline miles, next to Starwood Preferred Guest, however, Marriott Rewards are earned at a better rate per $1 spending with hotels and credit card purchases than SPG members earn.

Domestic Airlines:
Alaska, American Airlines, Continental, Delta, Frontier, Northwest, United, and US Airways

International Airlines:
Air Canada, British Airways, Mexicana, Varig Brasilia, Virgin Atlantic

There are a variety of other international airlines for the Marriott Rewards package award, however, fewer airline miles are exchanged with these airlines at amounts from 35,000 miles up to 85,000 airline miles.

International airlines for hotel and miles packages up to 85,000 airline miles:

Air China, Air France/KLM Flying Blue, ANA, Asiana Airlines, Cathay Pacific, China Southern, Emirates, Jet Airways, LAN, Lufthansa Miles & More (SWISS, LOT Polish, Austrian), Qantas, Singapore Airlines, SN Brussels, and TAP Portugal. (Emirates has some incredible cash and miles deals for highly discounted premium cabin flight awards).

Southwest is also an airline partner offering up to 80 credits with a 7-night award for 235,000 to 270,000 Marriott Rewards points.

The easy part of the Marriott Rewards Vacation Package is figuring out where to go stay with the hotel award. The challenge is transferring points to the right airline partner for a comparably valuable airline award to accompany the hotel stay.

I could go into the best value airline mileage awards, but I won’t delve into that angle that deeply in this post.

I want to look at this package from the point of view of a big spender who can potentially earn 270,000 Marriott Rewards points per year, primarily through credit card activity.

A person who spends lavishly and accumulates Marriott Rewards points can easily attain a First Class award ticket (value $10,000) from US to Europe and get a 7-night award stay ($4,000 value) by earning 270,000 points.

How to earn the big awards:

Marriott Rewards VISA card: Say $10,000/year spent with Marriott (5 points/$1 = 50,000 points); $30,000 spent on dining and airlines (2 points/$1 = 60,000 points); $60,000 spent on other = 60,000 points for 170,000 Marriott Rewards points on $100,000 annual VISA spending.

Hotel stays earn 10 points/$ + 20% bonus for silver status (up to 30% bonus if platinum) on $10,000 annual Marriott brands hotel spending = 120,000 points for Marriott hotels.

This Marriott Rewards member earns 290,000 points a year for $100,000 in travel and other purchases. The Marriott Rewards Vacation Package at 270,000 points can be a $14,000 rebate value on $100,000 annual spending ($10,000 with Marriott).

Sample Travel Package:

Marriott Rewards Vacation Package with Virgin Atlantic 100,000 miles and 7-night stay at Category 7 hotel will cost 250,000 Marriott Rewards points.

Virgin Atlantic roundtrip award ticket using 100,000 miles
San Francisco – London
Upper Class cabin (comparable to First Class with airlines like United and American)
July 1-15, 2008
Paid Ticket fare: $10,026 (fare check 5-15-08).
(Award ticket will likely cost around $400 altogether, after taxes and fuel fees)

7 nights at Renaissance Chancery Court, London (Marriott Rewards Category 7) starts at 305 GBP ($600+USD) per night. A 7-night stay July 1-July 8, 2008 using Marriott Rewards points is a $4,000 value.

Summary: 250,000 Marriott Rewards points can be exchanged for 100,000 Virgin Atlantic miles and a 7-night Marriott Hotel stay in a Category 7 hotel. An Upper Class ticket on Virgin Atlantic from San Francisco to London and 7 nights at the Renaissance Chancery Court, London will have a vacation package value of $14,000.

And with all the airline partners available for Rewards points redemption, the traveler can travel most anywhere in the world and have a Marriott hotel waiting for you at your destination.

Marriott Rewards Vacation Packages are a damn good travel reward for the rich.

Hilton HHonors American Express Platinum Card Hotel Awards

Hilton Auckland, New Zealand, an HHonors Category 6 Hotel

A feature of the Hilton HHonors co-branded American Express Platinum card is the ability to redeem 125,000 points for an AXON 4-night hotel award in a HHonors Category 5 or Category 6 hotel.

Normally, a category 6 hotel will cost 40,000 points per night. HHonors VIP members can get a 6 night or longer award at 175,000 points/6-nights. A VIP 6-night award saves over 11,000 points per night. A category 5 hotel is 35,000 points per night or 150,000 points per 6 nights, a 10,000 points per night savings.

American Express HHonors Platinum card members are automatically enrolled as a Silver elite HHonors member. Silver status is normally earned after 4 stays or 10 nights in a 12-month period. (Periodic offers make Gold elite status a free or low stay special promotion throughout the year).

The problem for many travelers is the desire for an award at less than six nights and this is the value of the HHonors American Express Platinum card and the AXON award available to cardholders.

The AXON award for a 4-night stay at 125,000 points shaves 35,000 points off an otherwise 160,000 point stay for a Category 6 hotel. The savings of 15,000 for a 4-night Category 5 award is not as great, but it is a savings.

Charges to the American Express card earn from 3 to 5 HHonors points per $1 in spending depending on purchase item.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Reviewing the Reviewers - a TripAdvisor Analysis

I like TripAdvisor. Where else can I find hundreds of reviews of a hotel in one place with a popularity ranking system?

The more I use TripAdvisor, the more frequently I notice some limitations of the service. Two issues have arisen over the past couple of weeks as I have spent several hours working with TripAdvisor hotel review webpages.

Firstly, I have issue with the geographical specificity of the hotel popularity ranking system used to show the order of listings according to a TripAdvisor proprietary algorithm - the TripAdvisor "secret sauce".

A tourist often does not have detailed knowledge of a place. Here is the issue I ran into with studying Phoenix/Scottsdale hotels. I planned a trip to go to a meeting in Phoenix two weeks ago. I simply wanted to stay in hotels in the Phoenix area for a couple of additional nights, however, a hotel near Phoenix was also in consideration since I could drive to any location in the Phoenix area in my car.

TripAdvisor categorizes hotels by the specific city. Phoenix hotels are one database of hotels provided in TripAdvisor's own popularity ranking. Scottsdale hotels are a different exclusive ranking. Glendale, Chandler, Mesa, and Tempe are each additional ranked hotel popularity databases.
Sometimes there is an additional regional header besides the state, but not always.
Here are examples to illustrate the point.
My previous post was a trip report about The Wigwam Golf and Spa Resort in Litchfield Park, Arizona. The Wigwam is the only hotel in Litchfield Park, Arizona, a suburb in western Phoenix metropolitan area. TripAdvisor ranks The Wigwam #1 most popular hotel in Litchfield Park, a city with 1 hotel.
What good does that do in helping me decide how The Wigwam ranks among metropolitan Phoenix hotels?
The good news is TripAdvisor sub-categorizes Arizona (and each state) with some regional category groupings. Arizona has a sub-category for "Central Arizona" which combines the hotel listings for Phoenix, Scottsdale, Mesa, Tempe, Chandler, and a variety of other towns and cities.
The interesting omission to me is Litchfield Park is not included in the Central Arizona database and therefore The Wigwam Resort has no comparative popularity ranking for Phoenix metropolitan resorts in the TripAdvisor search results.

Closer to home I noticed another odd thing about TripAdvisor.
For Carmel Hotel listings I can search for Carmel and the TripAdvisor geographical hierarchy for hotel search returns is based on:
Carmel/Monterey Peninsula/California
If I search Carmel hotels, I will only see hotel listings for Carmel, except for a few Carmel Valley properties and a couple of Carmel Highlands properties if I search "Carmel" on TripAdvisor.
If I search Monterey Peninsula, I will expand the hotel database and see TripAdvisor's popularity rankings for hotel listings in Carmel, Pebble Beach, Pacific Grove, and Monterey.
The TripAdvisor display for Carmel lodging looks like this:
#1 in Carmel of 18 - Tickle Pink Inn (this hotel is actually 5 miles south of Carmel in Carmel Highlands)
#2 in Carmel of 18 - Quail Lodge Resort and Gold Club (while technically a Carmel address, this resort is located on the Carmel Valley Road several miles east of the village of Carmel-by-the-Sea and would be referred to locally as a Carmel Valley location.)
#3 in Carmel of 18 - Lobos Lodge (actually in the village of Carmel-by-the-Sea)
The TripAdvisor display for Monterey Peninsula lodging looks like this:
#1 Tickle Pink Inn (#1 of 18 Carmel)
#2 Casa Palmero - Pebble Beach (#1 of 3 Pebble Beach)
#3 Quail Lodge (#2 of 18 Carmel)
#4 Best Western De Anza Inn (#1 of 62 Monterey)
#5 Lobos Lodge (#3 of 18 Carmel)
#6 Comfort Inn Monterey Peninsula Airport (#2 of 62 Monterey)
Looking at the first list for Carmel returns a variety of lodging options from a golf resort at Quail Lodge in the Valley, to an oceanfront hotel in the Carmel Highlands with some of the most incredible views of California coastline in the state, to a little place in downtown Carmel for all the features of dining, arts, and the beach in a central Carmel location. These are all fine accommodations reflecting the type of activities available in and around Carmel.
The Monterey Peninsula hotel search returns are all over the place. I still have the three Carmel options in the Top 6, so looking at the other three listings:
Casa Palmero is luxury on a money scale. A night here will likely run $1,000 for a room that won't have an ocean view. The Pebble Beach golf course is all around and there are dining options and such, but the clientele for Casa Palmero is a jet-setter that will unlikely ever consider the Best Western de Anza on Fremont Street.
The #1 ranked hotel for Monterey is near the Monterey County Fairgrounds, a Denny's restaurant, a Long's drugstore, and a pornography shop, but not much else of tourist interest. The features of Cannery Row and Fisherman's Wharf are about 3 miles away.
The Comfort Inn Airport is fine if you have a 6am flight out of Monterey, but not much to do in that area without driving to some other place.
The hotel search returns are an odd mix when the secret sauce of TripAdvisor popularity ranking sorts the regional results.
Down by the Seaside, See the boats go sailin'
Another problem I saw for this area is the City of Seaside has Hilton's Embassy Suites and a Holiday Inn Express and these hotels are not listed in the Monterey Peninsula options because Seaside is not considered in TripAdvisor's category for Monterey Peninsula. Seaside may not be the dearest place on the Monterey Peninsula, but by anyone local, the inclusion of Seaside in the Monterey Peninsula is a given. The Embassy Suites is across the street from Monterey's city limits and the hotel beach facing view rooms have one of the best views of the Monterey Peninsula.
What is TripAdvisor's definition of a B&B/ Inn?
My second issue with the popularity rankings is the separation of lodging into hotels and B&B/Inns. For Carmel-by-the-Sea, there are only 18 hotel listings and 36 B&B/Inn listings.
As a tourist my perception of a B&B/Inn is what I would experience when staying in a nice Victorian house with beautiful furnishings and a friendly country charm on the coast of Maine. Pacific Grove has B&B accomodations like that. Carmel has a bunch of motels that have been upgraded every few years for the past 60 years and the buildings are motel quality, but generally with a little extra style in the rooms.

Most of us would call a large number of the B&B/Inn properties listed among the 36 TripAdvisor popularity ranked lodgings "motels". The location in central Carmel, near the beach, does not necessarily make a motor inn motel with a parking lot correlate to a special B&B/Inn.

Here is my argument presented in photos:
I just have a hard time rationalizing the inclusion of the Clarion Carmel Oaks property with B&B/Inns and not hotels.

Clarion Collection's Carmel Oaks Inn and Suites, AAA 2-diamond property listed in TripAdvisor's B&B/Inns category.

Small windows look out to the street. Balconies on second floor rooms.

The parking lot/courtyard to the Clarion Carmel Inn. The Inn's Office is the door with the window.

Carriage House Inn, AAA 4-diamond property

Carports are unusual for a 4-Diamond Inn, but the room interiors are what one might expect in a nice inn. Large tubs, marble tile, window seats, and 42 inch wall mounted HDTV are some of the features in rooms at Carmel's Carriage House Inn.

TripAdvisor has a substantial database of hotel reviews, but the algorithms used for hotel searches still needs more tweaking to better serve the traveler with relevant and more comprehensive results and comparisons.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

The Wigwam Golf Resort Starwood Luxury Collection

Starwood Luxury Collection Wigwam Golf Resort and Spa, Litchfield Park, Arizona (western suburb of Phoenix). Starwood hotel page.

Adobe style casitas
The Wigwam Resort, main pool area

The Wigwam lobby entrance

hallway to Red's Steakhouse

lobby seating lounge

AAA 4 diamond
TripAdvisor Rank #1 of 1 hotel in Litchfield Park
SPG Category 4 hotel = 10,000 points for a free night or
$60 and 4,000 points on Cash & Points award.
The highest degree of satisfaction with this resort expressed in online hotel reviews seems to be among golfers. I came across several reviews on TripAdvisor praising the three golf courses.
Among Starwood members discussing the property on FlyerTalk, the general consensus is the resort is underwhelming for a designated Luxury Collection brand property.

I did not stay at the Wigwam Resort. I made it my first stop in 150 miles since lunch and leaving Blythe, California on I-10. The freeway exit for Litchfield Park came just in time as the traffic slowed to a crawl at 2:00pm, a good 20 miles west of downtown Phoenix.

The distraction of being in a residential neighborhood caused me to miss the street sign leading to the resort. I stopped and rechecked the map and then continued to drive and found the Wigwam Resort in the middle of an older, developed neighborhood, directly across the street from a public elementary school. The location was not at all what I expected.

The conference room wing was the first door I entered from the parking lot. There were dozens of people in the halls and some booths with representatives.

The Wigwam is a golf mecca of greens in the desert. The resort was a golf country club as early as the 1930s when V.O. “Red” Allen came from Minnesota as the Club’s first golf pro and the first of three generations of Allen’s to head the golf program at the Wigwam. Red’s Steakhouse in the Resort is a tribute to this 40 year golf veteran of The Wigwam.
The property is composed of many adobe style casita units.

There is one central-area pool in the resort. The tennis court area, fitness room, and the Elizabeth Arden Red Door spa are at one end of the resort. There is a lap pool in the spa area.

Lap pool near Elizabeth Arden Red Door Spa

Red Door Spa entry corridor

The Wigwam Fitness and Aerobics room

Tennis court and Golf course in background
Red’s Steakhouse
My opinion is The Wigwam Resort looks like a pleasant place for a good active time playing tennis, golf, workouts, and swims. The Wigwam is a different type of understated elegant resort than the other Starwood Resorts of the Phoenix area. This is the kind of resort conducive for interacting more with other guests or relaxing alone at your casita rather than the Las Vegas style grandness of the other three Starwood resorts.
Starwood’s other Phoenix area Luxury Collection property, The Phoenician, has received consistently high praise over the years and still ranks high on overall top hotels in the USA. The Phoenician along with the Westin Kierland hotel, when compared to The Wigwam Resort, these resorts have more elaborate facilities for pools, dining choices, and a setting in the Scottsdale vicinity for being dazzled.

Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort and Spa in Chandler (east Phoenix area) looks like the most recommended 3rd choice hotel discussed on FlyerTalk for a cheaper Phoenix- area Starwood option than the Phoenician and Westin Kierland resorts. The Sheraton hotel page for Wild Horse Pass states: “Voted Best Resort & Best In-Town Getaway by AZ Republic Reader’s Poll” .
5-12-08 I noticed The Wigwam Resort on this weekend. The auction ends 5-13-08 and currently is $30/night + $49/night service charge. The Wigwam for $79 a night is an incredible deal for this resort in my opinion.