Traveling the California Coast on Miles and Points

MickiSue

Level 2 Member
Supporter
Two weeks ago, we were just arriving in San Francisco, the final stop on our weeklong drive up from San Diego, where we'd flown in on the previous Saturday. I thought I'd share some impressions of our trip, for anyone thinking of the same or similar.

In San Diego, we stayed, on points, at the Westin Gaslamp District. As a Gold with SPG, we were upgraded to a room with a balcony that overlooked the city. The room was spacious, the bed was comfy, and the view was a bonus. We didn't spend much time in the room, of course, as we were only there for the night, and had some looking around to do.

The one downside to that particular Westin is that it does not have a club lounge. If that's a necessity, there is another Westin, not that far away, that does.

The hotel is about one block from the Gaslamp District, and about a half mile down a hill to the park where the aircraft carrier the Midway is docked. Naturally, there are plenty of places to eat and drink, and a lovely park as a bonus. We'd asked for a dining suggestion, and the desk clerk (the concierge was away) recommended the Fish Market. A solid choice, with delicious fresh fish of all kinds.

After breakfast the next morning in the Gaslamp District, we drove out to Coronado Island to look around, and then prepared to leave; we were meeting friends for drinks and dinner in Laguna Beach. It was at the point that we were leaving that disaster struck: Husband left his favorite stainless steel double wall water bottle at the valet area at the hotel. But a call to the valet desk confirmed that it had been found, and they were nice enough to ship it home for us.

Southern California traffic meant that our 4 pm drinks became more like 5:30 drinks, with dinner just that much later. No problem. Especially once you're sitting in a rooftop bar, gazing out at the surfers, right? The drive to Laguna Beach took nearly twice as long as the drive to our next hotel, a Le Meridien in Santa Monica, chosen for its proximity to the beach--a two block walk. With SPG status, we again were upgraded. This time to a room on the ocean side of the building, with a beautiful view over the ocean. We stayed two nights there, and, while the hotel was acceptable, it was clearly showing its age. Very 90's style decor, and, especially, the furnishings near the pool were worn. Worse, the service was worn, as well.

We sat in the outside eating area for 15 minutes, waiting to have our breakfast orders taken. Unfortunately for the hotel, that was long enough for me to google a restaurant about 4 blocks away with excellent reviews, and we walked there for breakfast.

But both nights we slept there, we had good, uninterrupted sleep, and the room was comfortable, if not completely up to date.

Our fourth day was our actual anniversary, and we were headed to Santa Barbara. Where there were no stellar hotels. Lots and lots of death by Victoriana B and Bs, and a scattering of lower level chain hotels. So we opted for a nice guesthouse with antique furnishings but not overly ornate. It had a cooked to order breakfast, with a choice of three entrees, and was three blocks from West Beach and another three to the Santa Monica Pier.

I booked it with the A+ card, so it could be paid for with points. Again, a good night's sleep, a perfect location, and (this time) a very good breakfast in a charming room overlooking the garden.

After renting a kayak to paddle in the harbor, and out to a buoy that hosts a family of sealions, we had lunch with another friend, and then left for Big Sur and the Monterey Peninsula.

Drive: LONG. Drive: incredible scenery, wonderful wildlife, including a beach occupied by an entire colony of elephant seals. Hairpin turns aplenty, and the folds and ripples in the topography of the land never failed to amaze me.

THIS was the big night. We were staying at the Intercontinental The Clement, situated right on the oceanfront. IHG points being not worth much, I had spent actual money for this hotel: $100 and 60,000 points. But it was going to be worth it, right?

Hmmmm. We didn't get there, with the long drive from Santa Barbara, till after 9 pm. And, as many hotels do, they give out rooms in the order in which you arrive. All that was left, when we got there, was a room, across the street with double beds. Now, this is a five star hotel. For any five star hotel to have, instead of two queens or two kings, double beds, is appalling right there. But on an anniversary trip, stipulated when I made the reservation, to be told that all that was available was a room with double beds, in a five star hotel? Not acceptable at all.

The desk clerk searched. Found, he told us, one room with a queen bed. And a balcony. We told him we'd take it. Went up to the room, which was large. And did, indeed have a balcony, shared with five other rooms. And a door onto that balcony that did not lock. So we called the desk. Told them we were going to dinner, as it was nearly 10, and left.

When we returned, the door to the balcony was locked. And we couldn't open it. Back came the man who fixes things. After working on it for another five minutes or so, he got it so it both closed AND opened.

Back to the bed. The man who fixes things told us that our room was actually a room for bridal parties to get dressed and relax in, when they were having a wedding or reception at that hotel. Which, no doubt, explained the fact that the queen sized bed was actually a Murphy bed, with one of the most uncomfortable mattresses I've ever slept on. And why, in lieu of comfy chairs in front of the non existent fireplace that should have been there, the room had a gigantic, terribly stiff couch.

We went to bed. Husband turned on the TV. Nope. He didn't--it didn't work. Called down to the desk. This time, two women came up from the desk. As they jiggled wires, they explained that there was a loose wire in that particular TV, a known issue, and it would "probably" have to be replaced, soon. They got the TV working. But the thought of fire hazard certainly crossed my mind.

Exhausted and angry, I did what I do when I'm exhausted and angry: I cried. I cried about how THIS was supposed to be an amazing room, and it was only amazing in its crumminess. Husband went down to the desk. Walked up and stated, "We Are Pissed." Went through the list of reasons why. Was told that we would be able to discuss the issue with the manager in the morning.

The next morning, after a lousy sleep on a lousy mattress that felt as though I was sleeping on the floor, it was so low, I cleaned up and prepared to dry my hair. Only to find that there was no hairdryer in the room. By that time, it was a case of "of course, there's no hairdryer in this room."

As we checked out, we were offered 10K points for our disappointment. I said that was an insult. So we were offered 20K. I said that was not acceptable. So we were told that the manager, who was, purportedly, in a meeting, would call me within a half hour.

About a half hour later, as we were sitting in a restaurant a couple blocks away, I got the call. I explained the disappointment, the poor keep of the room, the issues with the idea that people staying in a five star hotel should be expected to sleep in a bed that a teenager is too tall for, and that a Murphy bed with a terrible mattress should be considered adequate for ANY guest at that hotel.

I pointed out that many hotels would offer to comp the room after such a disaster. And that to be offered the equivalent of less than $100 was woefully inadequate. He claimed the points were worth a penny a piece. I pointed out that, at $100 and 600 points, if they gave us THAT room for $700, then I was really really angry!

In the end, he offered to refund the points. Apparently, the cash was a sunk cost. Moral of the story: fight for compensation when you get an inferior product. But be willing to accept a compromise, once one is offered.
He gave me his email address, to let him know if we plan to stay there again. But, honestly? Monterey is hard core tourist trap, and uncharming.

The next time we're there, we'll find a place in Carmel. Equally packed with tourists, but feels like a sweet small town, in contrast.

Our final two nights were in a Holiday Inn Express in San Francisco, on the edge of Union Square. Cash and points weren't available, and the points were too high, so I booked it, again, on the A+ card. It opened last winter, and still had a new hotel smell. The rooms are small, smaller than any Holiday Inn Express I've stayed in. But in a large city, I've experienced that before with other hotels. OTOH, the linens were as nice at the Intercontinental, the bed much more comfortable, and the small bathroom DID have a hair dryer! Also, an enormous walk in shower.

For the week, I'd say there was only one true fail, and that was the Intercontinental. While the Le Meridien wasn't new, and the restaurant there was a bust, we still had the most beautiful view from our balcony. And being able to walk down the hill to the beach was certainly a bonus.

The biggest lesson learned: always allot enough time. Had we given ourselves at least two nights per area, we would have had a full day and then some to explore, as we did in the LA area and SF.
 
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Matt

Administrator
Staff member
Glad you got something out of it. Next time the Hyatt Carmel might be worth a look, rooms are a bit dated and 'lodgey' rather than 5 star hotel feeling, but overall very nice.
 

MickiSue

Level 2 Member
Supporter
Thanks, Matt. That's a great idea. Lodgy is fine. Springs actually causing pain in the back of the legs? Not fine.
 

SanDiego1K

Level 2 Member
That's really a shame. And for your anniversary night no less. I've had great stays at the IC Clement, and I'm so sorry yours was so bad. You were very smart to deal (and deal and deal) with the issues while on property and before leaving town. I'm a big believer in that as the hotel will be more responsive when you are in their face.

I agree with Matt on the Hyatt Carmel as an alternative. It's my go to hotel in the Carmel/Monterey area. My attitude is likely shaded by top tier status with Hyatt. I always get an Big Sur ocean view, sometimes a suite, sometimes a 2 story townhouse.
 

italdesign

Level 2 Member
I once stayed in America's Best Value Inn in Monterey for $40. It had comfy bedding. I think I enjoyed it more than your Intercontinental ;)

I third Hyatt Carmel, which I've deemed my favorite stay of all time (thx to generous upgrade).
 

MickiSue

Level 2 Member
Supporter
Three votes for the Hyatt, huh? Sounds like that's where we'll be staying, next time. Seriously, I could spend a week just exploring around that part of CA. It's so amazingly beautiful.

IHG hadn't even responded to my request for status match, but maybe Hyatt will. Right now, I'm enamored of SPG. On the strength of my business Amex, they sent me an offer for 4 nights at the Westin Mission Hills near Palm Springs. For about $350. Which, at the time we'll be going, late winter, is their usual cost per night. And, with status, I assume we'll get a nicer bungalow, as well.
 

Matt

Administrator
Staff member
More than 3 votes for sure :)

https://saverocity.com/forum/threads/hyatt-carmel-highlands-my-favorite-hotel-stay-ever.533834/

But overall, it's kinda weird... I loved it, but it really isn't '5 star perfect'. The bathroom in my room was really old and dated, but it didn't matter, because the overall vibe was right.

http://saverocity.com/trips/monterey-california/

Added bonus to that trip for us was the flight got cancelled on the return (AA J on pts with 3 changes to get us from Coast to Coast was swapped for a quick flight from MRY to LAX and then AA F in their fancy 3 cabin plane). Not only a huge upgrade to the flight, but allowed us to pop out for Whale watching.
 

italdesign

Level 2 Member
But overall, it's kinda weird... I loved it, but it really isn't '5 star perfect'. The bathroom in my room was really old and dated, but it didn't matter, because the overall vibe was right.
Agreed. Definitely not 5 star by service and room condition, but doesn't matter when you're in just about the most beautiful place in the world.
 

MickiSue

Level 2 Member
Supporter
Five star perfect isn't necessary, with a decent room and a good bed. Even in that amazingly beautiful place, a rotten bed is a rotten bed. Oldest son and his wife stayed in an AirBnB, and loved it. No view from the little house, but plenty all around them.

And, BTW, Matt, I loved Alison's trip report. I wish there was such thing as a babymoon when I was pregnant for the first time. MY first baby took her babymoon at a five star, adults only resort in Croatia--just across the Adriatic from where they live. For 85 euros a night.

And Italdesign, your video showed what really matters, didn't it: that view.
 
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