We’re excited for our next batch of travel, mostly vacation, with a little work in there for fun. I guess the problem with booking all these flights and innovative itineraries is then taking care of Hotel award booking for our stay. This post examines how I plan to squeeze the most out of the various options that I have and how to get the best experiences for the best prices, both in terms of Hotel Points redemption, and paying cash through portals and with third party bookings.
Figuring out bookings like this is like a game of Suduku, there is going to be a lot of ‘penciled in’ ideas before we finally figure out the puzzle, but you can bet your bottom SPG Point that we are going to get some great value out of this.
One of the hardest things to do is track your (expiring) Certificates and possible options for stay – the goal being to get the very best Hotel experience, with the very lowest cost overall. This thread examines the value we can get, based on our current travel plans, for hotel award booking . This is quite a long post, because when you book 5 vacations in one Spend O Rama for award flights then you need to start looking at everything to make sure you get value at each individual stay.
Our next few trips are as follows (we also have a Cruise from NYC in September, but the hotel part of that one will be a nice Balcony Cabin):
June 5th-11th Italy, Two City Rome and Milan
June 12th-17th Dubai
October 18th-21st Two City Panama City, Panama and San Juan, Puerto Rico
December 12th-17th Zurich
February 28th – March 2nd Toronto
Current Available Payment Methods for the Hotel Bookings
I was feeling a bit short on points for the number of upcoming stays we have planned, so I took the liberty of applying for the Chase Sapphire Preferred, a further 40K Ultimate Rewards that could be transferred to Hyatt, (For Her) and the Hyatt Card, two free nights plus low level Status (For me) I try to avoid too many Chase Apps so one each I felt was safer. Both applications are approved, so I just need to blast through their minimum spend requirements to lock in the points and nights. Here is the current state of play for my points and certificates that I can stitch together for my hotel needs.
What does a weekend mean to you?
As you can see, we have two different Certificates to use up, both are for ‘weekend night stays’ however, I guess that the dictionary definition of a weekend means something else to the Hotel Loyalty Programs.
- Hilton for the Citi Reserve Visa Card 2 Free Weekend Nights cites the weekend as Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
- Starwoods SPG for the Better Beginnings Targeted Promotion considers a weekend to be Friday or Saturday only.
The Hilton AXON7 was booked last minute before the Devaluation, so that is taken care of. This leaves us with the following 4 Certificates to use for our travel plans, the goal for me is to navigate their quirky rules to squeeze the most value out of them for our travels.
The one obvious value award that I am looking at is the SPG Better Beginnings, to get the certificate we had to spend 1 night in a Starwood Property paid for in cash rather than an hotel award booking. The price paid was $150, though for that we also earned SPG Points (750) which do have a value of about $20 and of course, we got a room for the night so we saved the points we otherwise would have used. We picked the Nashville Sheraton – and whilst the Hotel itself is a touch drab, the town is fabulous – here is our report of that trip, and how we paid for it all using cash, miles and points- Nashville – Last Minute Vacation
The SPG Better Beginnings Certificate is a tough one to value, I am going to say I paid $50 Cash for it, since I received the room in Nashville for $150, and the Certificate came with that, in fairness I could say that the cert would be valued at $0 too, but I am being conservative here.
The other Certs – Chase Hyatt Visa has an annual fee of $75 for their card, for which I get 2 free nights anywhere, so simply put I paid $37.50 per night and want a TON MORE VALUE than that back from them. The Citi Reserve Visa has an annual fee of $95 for their two weekend nights, $47.50 per night, but again looking for many times that amount back.
Italy in June
This is a 5 night trip, we decided to go to Rome to use up our final Axon Award for a 4 night 145,000 Hilton Honors stay in the fabulous Rome Cavalieri hotel, so we booked the hotel without having a clue how were were going to get to Italy, and after pulling out my hair for several hours I found a route that took us in one day earlier via Milan. Rather than race down to Rome we thought it best to stay in Milan for one day. We land at 8am on a Non-Stop from Newark, so would hit the hotel, drop our bags and get exploring. I have train tickets booked for the following day at Noon to get to Rome.
Looking at options, I was initially thinking to stay at the Westin Palace Milan, as it is an expensive Starwoods Category 5 Property (rooms are priced at $471 per night) I thought, wrongly, that we could use up that Free Night Certificate that Mrs Saverocity earned during our stay in Nashville, however, I forgot that came with a Weekend night stipulation and we are arriving to Milan on Thursday.Since the cert is only valid on Friday or Saturday a Points redemption for this Category 5 would cost 16000 SPG Points, which is pricey.
This is when I started to consider Hyatt, I haven’t use Hyatt in the past but their top Category Hotels, such as the Park Hyatt in Tokyo are only 22,000 Hyatt Points per night, and I can redeem Chase Ultimate Rewards for these at 1:1 ratio. I think that SPG points are worth more than Ultimate Rewards so this looks like a good deal to me.
The other reason that Hyatt is a good option for this is they have a super location, it was came highly recommended to me by a friend, who admittedly only ever recommends Park Hyatt for Hotels to stay in.. but in this case he had a very good point.
Location, Location, Location
With such a short time in Milan we want to be well located for seeing the few things that we really want to, such as the Duomo and The Painting of the Last Supper, the Park Hyatt is right in the middle of this, this has to be the very best located Hotels we could hope for, furthermore it has a retail price of $677 per night (the Westin was much cheaper at around $200) so that feeling of perceived value is that much higher. I booked us into the room for 22,000 Ultimate Rewards, transferred to my Hyatt Gold Passport Account. This felt like a great hotel award booking .
There are three Hilton Properties in Milan, but none of them have anything like the location of the Park Hyatt Milan so I excluded them from options for this hotel award booking. One that might have done in a pinch was the Hilton Milan Hotel which is close to the train station.
When in Rome…
With the following 4 nights in the equally luxurious Waldorf Astoria Rome Cavalieri I think we will be quite spoiled from our Italy Vacation, after checking out of there I am flying onto Dubai for Business and the Wife is flying home. Total spent on Italy: 22,000 Hyatt and 145,000 Hilton Honors (that I booked previously).
Dubai in June
After much consideration I decided that Dubai was where I would be paying cash for my room. The reasons for this is that there were simply so many good options for Hotels in Dubai, but in the area I need to be in, the Dubai International Finance Center (DIFC) for client meetings there are few options that are in large hotel loyalty programs. Furthermore, as it is a bonefide Business Trip I can claim the hotel as an expense, which is great come tax time. For more on the Dubai Hotel Decision check here: The Problem with Miles and Points, why using Credit Card points for Travel is a Bad Idea
Of course, when booking the hotel there are ways to book and there is the Saverocity way to book:
1. Tax Deduction on Room as a Business Expense
2. Pay with Chase Sapphire Preferred for 2x Points on Hotels
3. Using Hotels.com to redeam $140 discount on room
4. Going through Chase Ultimate Rewards Online Shopping Portal for a further 4x UR on spend at Hotels.com
I am a big fan of the Hotels.com Welcome Rewards Program, they are my ‘go to’ third party company when I am not making an hotel award booking and am paying cash. One thing I learned about it is that you earn towards the next award even on a booking that you have redeemed free nights on. Typically, you stay 10 nights and you get 1 free (at the average price of the rooms you booked) so for this reservation I had previously earned 2 nights, and applied them to the reservation. The remaining 3 nights are eligible for my future stays, so I am now only 7 nights away from my next free night award. Total Spent $484, plus the two free nights. Total earned 484×6 Ultimate Rewards = 2906 plus the Tax break on the $484
Panama City and San Juan in October
A quick trip that is something of a long weekend in October. We decided to fly Non stop to Panama, spend one full day in Panama City and leave the following evening at 7pm. So we need a room for one night here, then two more in San Juan, PR before coming back to Newark.
Options for this stay: this is a weekend trip, so we could potentially use the Bonus Beginnings 1 Night from SPG, and the two nights from Hilton Citi Reserve. We also have two nights from the Hyatt Card, and the other points options.
The question is though, are we going to get the maximum value from redeeming these. The Cat 6 Weekend night is worth a lot to me, so I want to get at least $200+ worth of room for that one, and the Hilton Nights are up to their highest Cat 10, so again that’s a lot of ‘perceived value’. Hyatt have to be used in their top tier 22,000 per night properties for me to max them out.
Also, with only one night in Panama City location is critical, we need to be situated right in the heart of the action in order to maximize our limited time.
Panama City, Panama
Starwood Hotels have 7 options, some of the potential ones for us would be:
There is also a new Aloft opening in September that we might be able to book, but I am unsure of its availability as of now.
Hilton Hotels have 5 properties in Panama City, the one that looks interesting is the Waldorf Astoria, with its unique architecture .
Hyatt currently has no options in Panama, but is starting construction now on properties that will be completed in 2015
For Panama, I am learning heavily towards the Waldorf Astoria, I like the fact that I can burn up those 20,000 Hhonors with a Cash and Points redemption, though I might just keep them for a low end redemption at some point in the future and go cash here, because the average per night seems to be $95-$150. I’ll have to give this one some more thought, and wrap my head around where we want to be located.
San Juan, Puerto Rico
We’re flying into San Juan (SJU) after one day in Panama City – the purpose of splitting this into a two city trip was to catch the first part of a leg that takes us through NYC-Zurich in December using a quirk of the AA booking system. The decision for us now, is where to stay for the two nights in Puerto Rico; many of the Luxury Hotel options there are Resort like and away from the town, which we want to avoid because we love the feel of Old San Juan, and we don’t want to be traveling in an bubble. Furthermore from a cost perspective the 5 Star Resorts that have a captive audience do charge for the privilege. Here are some of the Hotel options for the certificates we have:
The Hyatt Hacienda Del Mar. A Hyatt Residence Club seems to be the only option, the rooms cost from $400 and jump up to $1000 quickly, they don’t have any availability, and they don’t seem to be available for Hyatt Points either, so I think this is a non-starter.
Waldorf Astoria Las Castistas – On the Excluded List for the Citi Free Nights -why when they are only asking $259 per night is beyond me, and properties like the Conrad Maldives aren’t on this list… here it is if you want to check your own hotel exclusions: Hilton Reserve Visa Excluded Properties List
Conrad- San Juan Condado Plaza – $159 Per Night or 40,000 HHonors points (location seems to be OK, they say they are 5 minutes from Old San Juan, but I can’t bring myself to cash in the Certificates with Hilton for $159 per night value…
El San Juan Resort and Casino – $179 per Night or 50,000 HHonors points – sounds ok perhaps, but a look on the map has it right next to the airport which I don’t think is the best location. There is an Embassy Suites and Hampton in right there too.
The Caribe Hilton might be promising, for $179 per night or 40,000 Hhonors. It looks like a nice property, but the pricing is just annoying for me.
There is also a Double Tree close to the Conrad on the Left side of the Map above; it is $118 per night or 30,000 Hhonors points – I think that is a good rate for a points stay, but I have burned through my Hhonors points and I don’t think I want to earn more just for here, plus there is no way I am using the Certificates for this value. So far, not too excited about Hilton in San Juan… hoping that there might be better options with Starwood and Hyatt.
There are five Starwood Properties in PR, two of them are in San Juan, one of them is in the Rio Grande and is one of those high end resorts I discussed earlier – the St Regis Bahia Beach Resort ( SPG Cat 7 or I might have considered it all the same) one is a Four Points in Caguas, which I know nothing about as a town, and the final one is a W Resort and Spa ( SPG Cat 6..full value from the weekend cert here!)on the Island of Vieques.
The two properties that are in San Juan Proper are both Sheraton’s, a brand that I have a very bleak opinion of, they tend to be business focused and tired in my experience. Though I hope to be proved wrong one day.
The W Resort and Spa throws a spanner in the works for San Juan, because it looks like a beautiful location, the island has a massive nature reserve and something called a Bio Bay, which is a bay which has natural luminescence in the water. We have dived in this previously in the Red Sea and its a wonderful natural phenomenon.
Lots to think about and talk over with Mrs Saverocity about whether we should stay in Vieques or in Old San Juan…
Zurich in December
We need a Hotel for 4 nights for this trip, assuming that we cashed in the SPG Certificate in Vieques that would leave us with two nights at Hyatt, and the two weekend Nights at Hilton, being as this trip also overlaps a weekend they would all be options for us, the question is though, can we stay put in one city for 4 nights?
In my youth I visited a friend in St Moritz via Zurich, and it was one of the most memorable train journeys of my life, something I would love to repeat and share with my wife. However, even if we do decide to split this into a two city trip I think that both of us would appreciate at least two nights in Zurich, so lets see what options there might be to cash in the Hyatt or Hilton Certificates, and figure out the rest later.
I stopped reading after searching Hilton.com and it listed only Hilton Zurich Airport
In closing, we haven’t booked our hotels yet, so would certainly appreciate some input if you have been to any of these locations before. I think it is valuable to sketch out what hotels are options, and what coupons/certificates we have to use up for this trip, the final step in the process for me is to recap in a spreadsheet format, which allows some more clarity on value we are deriving from these hotel award booking strategies:
Lastly, for fun I compared what it would be like to pay for an Hotel Award Booking with Cash Back earned from spend rather than Points Earned from Spend. To even the tables a little I allowed Hhonors points to be earned at 6x (for those people earning on the old VR system, now drying up, and Ulimate Rewards for the Hyatt hotels earned at an average of 3x, due to the mix of 1x, 2x and 5x Earnings that are available). I put SPG in at 1x as they don’t have bonus categories like the others, so if you are spending earned points then you are swapping them for 2% cashback.
Realistically, I wouldn’t ever stay in a hotel with a Rack Rate of $700+ like the Hyatt’s, so I used a comparable rate of an average 4 star hotel, where I would be more than happy to stay, in each location. This is useful for deciding when to pay cash and use the Hotels.com method.
I welcome your thoughts on the pricing, ideas and anything else, including tips for recommended places to stay. At the moment its looking like we haven’t found a use for the Citi Certs that is great value, but I think the two Hyatt ones will be good for Zurich.