A few days ago I posted ~30 low-category hotels I’ve redeemed points at, all of which have gone up in points requirement since I stayed. Today I am posting my favorites from this list. Let me say that everything on the original list went through a screening process to earn my limited time; none are bad, many great. Picking the top 10 was too hard, so I picked a few more. They were ranked with regard to everything that matters to me: location, facility, service, status recognition and benefits, and value for the points. With that, here is the list.
#1 – Le Meridien Chiang Mai
Redeemed at 10.5k Marriott (3.5k SPG), now 35k. Even without free breakfast (I was only ever SPG Gold), this property tops my list. I had one of my best trips in Chiang Mai, and this hotel is perfectly located near the action and Old City. It’s also gorgeous, a solid 5-star. I was warmly welcomed and given a spacious room with view. The bathroom was huge. Everything was in pristine condition. It was awesome to end every night and walk just a few minutes home. Bonus: the best massage I ever had is a 5 minute walk (the Night Bazaar location). Unfortunately the redemption rate also increased the most, it now costs 3x what it did in 2016. I guess it was loved too much.
#2 – Four Points Mexico City Colonia Roma
Redeemed at 6k Marriott (2k SPG), now 12.5k. Colonia Roma is one of the loveliest part of Mexico City: hip, clean, and safe. Hence I consider this hotel to have one of the best locations in the city for food, bars, and convenience. At 2k SPG a night on weekends, it was just a steal. I loved the neighborhood parks in La Roma and La Condessa – it feels like NYC lite, in a good way.
#3 – Most 5k Point Breaks I stayed at (now 10-15k)
As far as I’m concerned, Point Breaks is 90% dead. Back in the day when everything was 5k, I would find something exciting almost every time, whether it was for a trip I already planned or inspired a new trip. Since they increased up to 15k in Jan 2018, I’ve only used it once. The same properties I had for 5k are now going for mostly 15k. It’s just hardly worth it. Let the good memories live. I never did a faraway trip based on this, since most of those I book well in advance. My favorite was probably a Holiday Inn in the part of Salt Lake City closest to the ski resorts. It made an awesome impromptu ski trip without breaking the (points) bank.
#4 – The Lodge at Eagle Crest
Redeemed at 10k IHG, no longer in chain. Formerly a Holiday Inn Resort, this is a middle class resort, but I love so many things about it. It’s kind of isolated (but not overly so), so very peaceful. It’s expansive, probably the largest grounds I’ve ever stayed on (it also has home rentals). Come night time, packs of deer and elk roam the grounds; I’ve never had more wildlife encounters at another hotel. It didn’t hurt that I got a suite with view after real time request. Central Oregon has no shortage of outdoor activities, and this was the perfect place to wind down after a full day of activities. A great resort to get away with family or by yourself. IHG first no-announcement-devaluated it significantly, then it left the chain altogether. RIP.
#5 – Hyatt Regency Bali
Redeemed at 5k Hyatt, now 8k. I just got back from here. The standard room was 5k, which no doubt was a fantastic deal at this renovated 5-star beach-front Bali resort, but the room is small (less than 300 sqft). Meanwhile, 8k booked me into the 700-ish sqft Regency Suite (currently 13k, boooo). This is not a junior/entry level suite, it’s a legit one bedroom suite with door and comes with Regency Club access. Breakfast was very adequate, while evening hors d’oeuvres was less impressive (but who can complain about free evening bites?). My suite did not have ocean view but it had an oversized balcony (which is half the size of the standard room) with the loveliest garden view. The staff was among the most pleasant ever. I enjoyed the laid back vibe of Sanur – it’s decidedly less touristy than Ubud, which is a good thing for me. I was in building 2 (middle) had zero noise problem with the Andaz construction next door. Plenty of food options within walking distance. Walk 15 minutes to Suar for massage ($8 USD per hour); ask for Ayu and tell her Ricky sent you.
#6 – Comfort Hotel Diana (Venice)
Redeemed at 10k Choice, left chain. Two minutes walk from the absolute center of Venice, yet tucked away in a not-so-busy alley. This is what I love about Venice – it can be super busy, and yet it’s never hard to get away from the crowd. This hotel was ideally located and an absolute steal at 10k Choice points. With such a deal, I’ll happily tolerate the cardboard front desk agent who never once smiled. Choice was really good back in the day.
#7 – Courtyard Hangzhou Wulin
Redeemed at 10k Marriott, now 12.5k. Asian hotels are known for their new facility and outstanding recognition (often above loyal program requirement). Here is where I received my best treatment of all time – as a Marriott Silver. I was upgraded to the executive floor with lounge access. The staff at the front desk, lounge, and restaurant were without exception most pleasant and caring, without being intrusive. At breakfast, I was asked how was everything and if anything could be improved. Everything was fine, but I made a small suggestion for the future. Little did I expect they went into the kitchen and implemented the suggestion right away and brought it out to me (I don’t remember exactly what it was, but that’s beside the point). The warm service won me over, decidedly better than the more upscale Hyatt Regency by the lake.
#8 – JW Marriott Chengdu
Redeemed at 15k Marriott, now 17.5k. This place cost the most points on the list, but was also the most pampering accommodation. It’s a solid 5-star hotel like Le Meridien Chiang Mai, but with lounge access and breakfast for mid-tier Gold status. The complementary lounge dinner remains the best free dinner I’ve ever had in a hotel, and that’s preceded by an afternoon tea with amazing dessert (pushing the limits of your stomach). Chengdu is becoming a world class city; to stay in a 5-star hotel in the center of it for the current rate of 17.5k is not bad at all. Read my full review.
#9 – DoubleTree Kuala Lumpur
Redeemed at 10k HH, now 20k. This was a well known sweet spot in the Hilton program. It’s centrally located, about a 15 minute walk to the former tallest building(s) in the world (and an architectural marvel). It held out at 10k HH for many years, until some time in the last few months when it doubled. At 10k, it was a great deal. The free restaurant breakfast is epic – one of the largest selections at any hotel with separate Malay, Indian, and Chinese sections. The executive lounge has decent hors d’oeuvres that can serve as dinner, and it has panoramic view of KL including Petronas Towers. I stayed here at least twice and was never upgraded to a suite, just better view. KL is a great city for food; otherwise I find it boring. At 20k a night, I’ll stay somewhere else, especially since recent management seems anti-elite recognition.
#10 – Hilton Garden Inn Hanoi
Redeemed at 10k HH, now still 10k. One of the few that hasn’t devaluated yet, and one of the best redemptions. You can always get over 0.7 CPP, way more than the average Hilton redemption these days. The property is fairly new with very good location near Old Quarter. It was over 100 degrees when I stayed here and I still walked to the Old Quarter (about a 20 minute leisure walk). I loved Hanoi this time around – there are so many young people making the city feel truly alive. Walking is a lovely way to see the old part of town. As Diamond I was upgraded to a 500 sqft door-less suite (the only suite they have) with large bathroom, a common upgrade according to Flyertalk. Restaurant breakfast was just OK by Asian standards. Grab was significantly cheaper than taxi, and I’m told by a local it’s mostly non-scammy for in-town rides.
#11 – DoubleTree Sighisoara
Redeemed at 5k HH, now 10k. The hotel itself is nothing to write home about – I was disappointed by a few things such as insufficient AC and non-guest noise well past sleep time. But the location is excellent – just a few minutes walk from the well-preserved medieval citadel (supposedly the oldest still inhabited in Europe) that brings people to Sighisoara. Being so close to it allowed me to experience it at different times of the day – in the morning before people arrived, during the day, and at night when it’s quiet again. You can easily see Sighisoara in half a day without staying (the citadel is pretty much the only tourist thing), but I enjoyed seeing it at different times of the day.
#12 – Le Meridien Chiang Rai
Redeemed at 10.5k Marriott (3.5k SPG), now 17.5k. Chiang Rai is the little brother of Chiang Mai, often visited as a day trip. I decided to pamper myself and stay multiple days at this 5-star resort. As SPG Gold aka nothing, I was given probably one of the best rooms besides the highly elusive suite (which even Platinums rarely get). The staff was awesome, always taking care of you. It did get a little boring since it’s far away from the action, hence the lower ranking than LM Chiang Mai. I’m glad that I visited the White Temple on my own schedule though – it’s very busy and I literally stood at the same spot for 15 minutes waiting for the crowd to disperse so I can get a good pic; headphone is your friend to drown out the noise. See my full review.
#13 – Sheraton Dubrovnik Riviera
Redeemed at 10.5k Marriott (3.5k SPG), now 25k. This might be the most expensive (retail) property on the list, so theoretically the highest CPP at the old rate. It’s very good – new facility, great swimming pools indoor and outdoor, and walkable to restaurants and some lovely spots to chill by the sea. Service was pretty meh though, certainly not 5-star, and we received a standard room with zero view, unlike our upgrades at Asian SPG properties with the same Gold status. While the hotel area was peaceful during shoulder season (early September), Old Town Dubrovnik showed no sign of retreat.
In a Nutshell
Over the years there have been some stellar low category hotels in various programs. It’s an important part of my travel accommodation strategy, and I’m glad to have stayed in these. I’d say at least a few of these are on my overall fav hotels list. I’m surprised only half of this list is in Asia, which I usually think of as having the best deals all around, especially low categories. Perhaps occupying half of a list that extends to the world shows it does indeed. Nonetheless, it shows Asia doesn’t have a monopoly, and there are good deals everywhere.
Going forward, it doesn’t look great. Hilton has doubled the redemption rate of the vast majority of their best sweet spots – I’ve had to replace almost my entire favorite list in the last 18 months, and I’m running out of replenishments. Marriott/SPG has increased a lot too, though sometimes only by 2.5k and they also decreased a few. Nonetheless, new opportunities have emerged, such as Párisi Udvar Hotel Budapest (8k Hyatt), Hyatt Regency Kuantan Resort (5k Hyatt), and Holiday Inn Mexico City Zona Rosa (10k IHG). As the old adage says, good deals don’t last long in this hobby; enjoy them while you can.