(This is Andy) After our awesome but rain-soaked trip to Vietnam, we decided to go to our favorite city in the world, Hong Kong. Mostly we went because we love the ambiance, food and people, and have some friends there, but also because I had two free nights from the Citi Hilton Reserve that were expiring in two weeks, and I always wanted to try out the Conrad Hong Kong. I was also excited because right before this trip I status matched to Hilton Diamond using my Hyatt Diamond status, which was super easy, and I wanted to see if we’d get upgraded.

There was tons of availability, so no worries booking it. I booked us tickets from Saigon – Hong Kong on Vietnam Airways, using Air France miles, transferred in from Citi Thank You points. Booking on Air France is a breeze, and in my opinion Air France is the best program within Skyteam to collect miles.

After a short train ride from the airport, and then a complimentary shuttle from Admiralty station to the Conrad’s lobby, we were happy to hear them thank us for the Hilton Diamond status, and promptly upgraded us to a King Executive Harbor Suite…Sweet!

We were hungry, and asked about the Executive Club, and it was actually during the time which they offered free snacks, wine, and beer, so we proceeded to the top-floor club to check in while they took our bags to our room.

Here was the amazing view:

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The food at evening time was decent, as was the wine and beer. After some snacks and harbor-watching, we made it to our room:

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a gorgeous seating area with hot tea and sweets laid out for us, as well as a perfect view out over the Admiralty area, directly over the British embassy, and with views of Victoria Peak. Awesome! The main bedroom:

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The bed was nice and comfortable, and the pillows were luscious. They helpfully had brought in a rollaway bed for my son, and put it at the foot of the bed after I was done taking pictures. The bathroom:

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It had Aromatherapy brand toiletries, which were nice. Not quite my favorite, which would be Aesop, but still pretty nice smelling. There was a huge bath, with a yellow rubber ducky, and a shower next to it.

There was also a half-bath next to the living area, which was unnecessary, but still majorly appreciated.

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Another view, this one from our bedroom:

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I didn’t take a pic of the gym or the steam room, both of which were ok, but nothing super impressive.

The location is money, right in the middle of admiralty, a 10 minute walk from the metro, and a 10 minute walk to the running paths up on the hills. The staff, as was everyone on this trip, was top-notch and super helpful.

Overall, my second favorite hotel in Hong Kong, behind the Intercontinental Hong Kong, although when you include the free breakfast buffet and executive lounge that Hilton Golds and Diamonds get access to, I’d say it’s a dead heat.

Posted by glenn | 9 Comments

(By Andy) After our lovely stay in Danang, we were initially only go to Saigon for a layover en route to Hong Kong. But with our Halong Bay trip cancelled, we had 3 more days to explore Saigon, which is awesome. Also, the weather was much warmer than in Hanoi or Danang; it was mercifully in the 80s!

I went on to awardmapper and checked out what hotels were available with points. I also remembered that I still had a Hyatt Diamond Suite upgrade left. Fortunately, it looked like there was wide availability at the Park Hyatt Saigon on a cash + points rate. It’s a category 4, so only 7500 points + $100 per night. I transferred in the points from Ultimate Rewards then booked it. I then called the Diamond phone line using Skype, and sure enough, they had a suite upgrade available, into a Park Suite King.

If you’ve ever been to Saigon, you know that the traffic is an abomination! It took at least an hour to go the 5 miles from the airport to the hotel. Once we got there though, we were pleasantly surprised:

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Stock photo obviously in this one. Beautiful building in a very bustling corner of Saigon, with a lot of really good restaurants nearby. Walking in to the lobby:

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The entire hotel is grandiose but in a modern way (sorry, I’m not too keen on architecture). There were about 20 attendants in the lobby to help us with our every need, and every single one of them was incredibly courteous, lovely, and gracious. Fortunately there was no line and after being given local bananas and way too many bottles of water to handle, we were led to our suite in no time. Walking in:

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It was clean and beautiful, with a huge living room, then leading in to an equally huge bedroom with a king size bed:

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A little old-school for my tastes, but still very easy to chillax. Off of the living room is a kitchenette with complimentary bottles of water and, my personal favorite, Nespresso capsules!

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The bathroom was en-suite (I just recently learned what that term means), and also huge. There was a huge enclosed shower with overhead fixture, a deep pool that even 6’1″ me could chill out in, and a separate room for the toilet and bidet. I got used to bidets when I lived in Bahrain for two years, but after using Japanese washlets, I have to say the latter are much preferable.

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Outside, they have an enormous garden, pool, and meeting spaces:

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The water temperature was slightly cooler, I guess since it was January, but with the temp 80 degrees outside, it was just right for me.

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We of course received complimentary breakfast every morning at their Opera restaurant, which has a terrace overlooking the Saigon opera house. In addition to normal breakfast fares that you’d expect, there was pho and coconuts:

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Their gym was big, and they also had a steam room and hot tub. I love steam rooms and hot tubs, even when it’s 80 degrees! No pictures for obvious reasons. Not quite as impressive as the Park Hyatt Tokyo’s, but still really nice. The central location let us walk to some amazing restaurants and museums. The Park Hyatt offers tours to places such as the Cu Chi Tunnels or the Vietnam War Museum, but they’re really overpriced compared to booking those tours independently, so I can’t recommend that. The only bad thing about this stay was that they wouldn’t accept my 2 $200 Hyatt gift cards as payment. When I read the T&Cs, they’re only redeemable in the US or Mexico. Oh well, other than that, this was an absolutely perfect stay.

Overall, this was how we felt about our 3 night stay there:

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(by Andy) In the previous post I talked about the hotel and resort itself, and in this post I’ll review La Maison 1888, their Michelin-starred restaurant, and their exclusive lounge at Danang (DAD) airport. First, on to La Maison 1888!

I had read great things about this restaurant on Tripadvisor as well as some foodie blogs, so we were really looking to dining there. I called hotel’s front desk concierge about reservations, and based on it’s reputation, was worried that we wouldn’t be able to get one; we were only there three days. Fortunately, not only was it low season for the resort, but as I mentioned before, the weather at the time was pretty terrible, so it was no problem getting one. Two issues – children under 12 are not allowed (our son is 5), and secondly, the first reservation starts at 6, whereas the kid’s club closes at 8. We booked a reservation at 6 and hoped that we’d be finished by 8.

It had mercifully stopped raining, so we were able to walk to the restaurant. The outside is beautiful – it is two stories, and perched somewhat on a bluff overlooking the ocean. Since it was January, it was dark by 6pm, but I imagine in the nicer months you’d get an amazing view.

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Right past the entrance is Buffalo Bar, where they serve a delicious Old Fashioned. They also have an impressive selection of cigars; however I declined.

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Here was our dining room, which I would say was probably the most romantic of all the different dining rooms. Because our reservation started right when the restaurant opened, I think we were the first ones there.

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There are several themed dining rooms throughout the restaurant, all very beautiful and with exquisite attention to detail. (you’ll have to forgive the quality of my pictures, usually my wife takes the pics with her high-tech camera, but I just used my phone for these)

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The service was superb, with the servers being attentive but not too intrusive; it was just the right mix. Their English was very good as well. I chose the tasting menu, and my wife decided to go A La Carte. I’ve put an example of the menu below, although I’m told it changes quite frequently. Prices were in Vietnamese Dong, x1000.

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The meal was perfect. There were traces of Vietnamese and French cuisine throughout, and the taste was sublime. I can review travel experiences all day, but I’m not a food critic. You know when you taste something, and it brings a smile to your face? Yeah, that happened a lot here. That’s the most intelligent way I can put it.

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The main meal lasted until 8, so I talked to the manager, and explained that my son is very well-behaved and mature. They graciously agreed to let us eat dessert with him upstairs in one of the more family-themed rooms, and indeed there was another family there, albeit with older children. We ordered the “Pierre Gagnaire Grand Dessert”, and it was plenty for all three of us, just the perfect ending to a perfect dining experience, one of my favorite ever!

After our stay at the resort was over, we took the complimentary shuttle into downtown Danang, got some banh mi sandwiches, then hailed a taxi to the airport to fly on to Saigon, where the weather was fortunately more sunny and warm. When we got through security we still had about an hour and a half, so I checked loungebuddy to see if there were anywhere to chillax. I found out through the app that the Intercontinental Danang actually has a departure lounge, and it was rated very highly. I went up and asked if we could go in, and found out that anyone that had stayed there can use it. Sweet!

It was somewhat of a tiny space, but the ambiance in there was so cool!

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I want a room like this in my dream house!

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The waitresses were all lovely and gracious, and gave us our own hangout room in which to relax. There were simple finger foods, which we mostly declined as we’d just eaten street food, and complimentary beverages and beer.

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This lounge had some of the coolest designs I’ve seen in an airport lounge. As I mentioned before, this overall resort stay was during cold rainy weather, and it was still probably the best we’ve ever been too. I can’t recommend it highly enough!

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Agadir was a lovely city, I just wish that I had more time to explore it.  I worked every day but one and had no car.  The good news is that the main reason tourists come to Agadir is to go to the beach and that was only a couple of blocks from the hotel where we were staying.  One note for those who visit, there are a lot of mis-conceptions about Arabic countries where most people think they are like Saudi Arabia.  Morocco, like most of the North African countries is very liberal.  While the majority of women cover their heads, it is usually with a fashionable French scarf.  You will hardly see a full abaya.  Men are almost always in western dress with only a couple of percent in traditional Arabic outfits.  A bikini on the beach or wearing shorts around town is no big deal.

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As with most beach towns, there is a main drag that parallels the beach.  Agadir’s is full of good hotels, restaurants, and nightclubs.  It is very clean and safe everywhere that I went.  There are paths to the beach every couple of blocks so you shouldn’t have a problem getting to the boardwalk.

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The boardwalk is wide and beautiful.  The beach was clean and most of the hotels had umbrellas, lounges, and other activities as long as you were willing to pay.  Did I mention that everything in Agadir is pretty cheap.  The exchange rate is an easy-to-calculate $1=10 Dirhams.  For $20 you can have a nice dinner for two.

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There are the usual hawkers along the boardwalk, but I find them very entertaining and actually bought a geode and a stone carving from them.  This guy allowed me to take his picture.

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They have many hotels right on the beach (unfortunately no chain hotels to use your points on) and a Club Med here if you are into that program.

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Continuing down the boardwalk, you can see a hill off  in the distance.  On this sits the Casbah (fort) which collapsed in a massive earthquake in 1961.  At the end of my trip, we went to have dinner at our Moroccan officer’s house.  His father told us of his house collapsing around him and him having to claw his way out of the rubble.  Pretty unusual to run into someone with that type of experience.

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Anyway, back to the beach.  There are nice places to eat as you would expect and the unanimous vote for best restaurant was this Indian place.

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I spent the day walking around the town.  Morocco was a great place to pick up saffron for my wife at a fairly good price.  I also got her some olive oil, which you would think would be great coming from a place where they grow them.  Haven’t tested that theory yet.  I could not find any central mall, but a few blocks off the beach there are many traditional markets where you can poke around and shop for local trinkets.  You can also visit the GFC if you want some fried chicken.

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I enjoyed this Cuban restaurant at the end of the boardwalk with their 50s sedan out front.

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I stayed until the evening (and got a little too much sun) and I will leave you with these beautiful shots.  I particularly enjoyed the young Moroccan couple sitting on the wall and watching the sun set on a great day.

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Work sometimes sends us in strange and wonderful places.  Such was the case last month when I was asked to attend an exercise named African Lion which was held in Agadir, Morocco.  I am kind of used to being sent to a place that I have never heard of.  I was expecting the exercise to be held in some remote desert fort where Legionaires used to reign.  Instead I was pleasantly surprised.

Getting to Agadir wasn’t easy and I think I broke DTS in trying to book a flight there.   I had to throw the problem to SATO to solve.  Here is what they came up with:

Agadir

Although booked on Delta, the first two legs (IAD-CDG-CMN) were on Air France as were the last two (BOR-CDG-IAD), which was fine with me.  I planned to credit the miles to Alaska as that is a great catch all program.  The iffy part was flying Royal Maroc Air from Casablanca to Agadir and then Jetair from Agadir to Bordeaux, France on the way home.  We’ll I know how to shut up and follow orders and the flight into Agadir went fine.  However, trying to get home was another matter.  I showed up at 0500 for a 0630 flight from Agadir to Bordeaux and went through all the usual steps and went through customs and waited at the gate.  I couldn’t believe it when the board said the flight was delayed until 0915.  I finally got up to the agent would looked at me as if wondering “the plane will be almost three hours late – is that a problem?”  Well, it meant that I would miss my already tight connection of 30 minutes at Bordeaux.

Furiously calling back to SATO 24 hour hotline finally got them to come up with an alternate flight.  This would have me take Royal Maroc Air from Agadir to Casablanca and then Iberia from Casablanca to Madrid to JFK. Then a separate flight on jetBlue to IAD.  Oh boy!  Well at least it would get me home in time to pick up my daughter from IAD when she returned from her own vacation in Scandinavia.  Not happy about losing those Alaska miles, but the objective at this point was to make it back to the good ‘ol USA.

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Now came the hard part of explaining to the Moroccan TSA equivalent that I needed to go back through customs and over to the domestic side of the terminal in order to take the flight to Casablanca.  One thing the Moroccans definitely learned from the French is the phrase “It is not possible”.  Brain cells were exploding left and right when I tried to get out of the international terminal.  After an hour and many calls to get permission (lest they be blamed), I finally got out of their equivalent of TSA.  The customs guys were “sure that makes sense, no problem” and let me go back through.  I got to the ticketing agent to get my bags back.  They acted like this had never happened before, but were great about finding a solution.  They told me that with the time left, they would take my information and find my bags and re-tag them.  I wasn’t crazy about this plan, but fully believed that they were right and following “procedures” would mean that I would miss my plane.

Finally, I got my tickets and was waiting in the domestic terminal.  Then a civilian official approached me and asked if I was Mr. Goddard.  I said yes and he replied “please follow me”.  He took me out of the domestic terminal, back through customs and into the international terminal.  Then out a gate of the international terminal and to a bus waiting outside the domestic terminal gate that I was waiting on to catch my plane to Casablanca.  It turns out that they could not figure out a way to “unstamp” my passport, so their solution was to have me exit the international terminal gate and catch the domestic plane.  I am sure it all made sense to them, but I have never had to check through security four times in one day!

At least I finally made it home…

Posted by glenn | 3 Comments

I’m sure you’ve all read by now, as every single blog has reported it, but the Amex Platinum signup bonus is now at 100k MR points after only $3k of spend in 3 months. This is ridiculously good. This is better than the 75k Mercedes Benz Platinum deal that I reported on, and maybe perhaps better than the Barclaycard Gold Card.

Remember, as always, both Active Duty servicemembers and their spouses get their annual fees waived while they’re active duty, even if they got the card after activating!

(The new deal is available at this link)

Platinum Card® from American Express A_ - https___www.americanexpress.com_us

 

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After our stay at the Intercontinental Hanoi, we were very excited to check out the Intercontinental Danang Sun Peninsula Resort, as all the reviews we’d read about it had been positive. It literally won the number one resort in the world! We were especially excited, as our highly anticipated trip to Halong Bay had been cancelled because of bad weather.

Initially we were planning on staying two nights, one with the third of my free IHG nights, and one on points (category 9 – 50k IHG points per night). I had to scramble, and paid $280 for a third night, which in retrospect was a bargain.

We flew from Hanoi – Danang on a cheap Vietjet flight (found on Skyscanner), and arrived around dinner time. Of note, this resort has two lounges at the airport, an arrival and a departure lounge! The arrival lounge was small with only bottles of water, and I forgot to take pictures. The departure lounge is much more sumptous, and I”ll review it in my next post. The cab ride to the resort from the airport took about an hour and was around $25 USD. There are free shuttles to and from central Danang, but not the airport, and we were hungry.

When we arrived, we were greeted by a very imposing foyer with twin fire sconses:

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The welcome lobby was gorgeous, and we were greeted by several young smiling attendants, who took our luggage and directed us to the front desk.

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There is a large gorgeous fountain, and the lobby is spacious with huge couches:

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It was chilly when we arrived, in the 50s, and hot tea was served:

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We were greeted as IHG Platinum members, thanked for our loyalty, and told that we’d be escorted to our room by golf cart. I inquired about walking, but they were genuinely concerned as it’d been raining, and it was also dark out. We accepted the golf cart ride, down a long, windy pathway. It was sprinkling, but fortunately, the sides are covered with see-through plastic. We came to a three-story villa, and were led down the steps to our room. We opened it and were greeted by a huge foyer:

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(this picture doesn’t do it justice)

and a very pleasant smell. The hotel uses Harnn amenities, the smell of which I love! It reminds me of a Thai massage. Walking around the middle partition, we came to our bedroom:

 

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The bed and pillows were incredibly comfortable, and slippers and robes were laid out for us. A rollaway bed was brought for my son. Many bottles of water were available complimentary, and outlets were easily reachable for charging (two criteria of mine for a good hotel stay). I’m sure the TV channels were good, but we honestly never turned it on.

The door beyond goes out to an enormous porch, overlooking the bay (when it’s clear out). The porch had large patio furniture, and an 8 person table on the end, which I wish we could’ve used, but unfortunately it rained pretty much the whole time we were there. I’ve included a stock photo of what it’s supposed to look like when it’s sunny out:

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The bathroom was breathtaking:

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You can’t tell from the photo, but next to the bathtub is an overhead shower. The tub was cavernous, and absolutely perfect for soaking in. This is what I want my dream home bathroom to look like! There was a separate room for a toilet:

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Unfortunately breakfast was not included on our free night or our points night, only on the paid night. Looking at the in-room dining menu, a full breakfast was about the same as the breakfast buffet, and we wouldn’t have to wait for the golf cart to come pick us up, so we went with that. Within 30 minutes of my call, a huge feast was set upon our bench:

 

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It was delicious and filling, and we ordered it both mornings we did not have the complimentary breakfast. We even had an invited but not unwelcome guest during our meals:

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We had more dragonfruit than we knew what to do with, so we tossed it on the porch, and made an instant friend!

I can’t say enough about the beauty of the resort, even though it rained almost the whole time we were there, and was too chilly to go in the ocean. A view from the pool:

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My son enjoying the swing outside the salon:

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You of course have to take a ride on the skytrain:

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Another view of the main pool (of note there are several pools, none heated though):

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I somehow managed to forget to take a picture of the beach and ocean, although to be fair, it was stormy and miserable, so it’s probably a better idea to get some google images of the beach.

The first night we arrived, we went to the resorts main restaurant, Citron. The food is good, although overpriced. Also, the breakfast buffet is here:

 

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At times of nicer weather, the outside dining is available on these outside tables, but they were closed when we were there:

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Dining and drinks are also available at Long Bar, which looks out over the ocean:

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They have very cool hanging chairs:

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Next to Long Bar is the gym, and the very cool Kid’s Club, which our 5 year old adored:

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The lovely girls there will watch the kid free of charge anytime from 8am to 8pm, which was clutch when we made dinner reservations at La Maison 1888, which is their “fancy” restaurant, and doesn’t allow children, and which I will be reviewing in the upcoming post.

The only negatives I can say about this resort are the long wait times for golf carts when you call for them; we mostly just walked or used the skytrain. It is also very isolated on the peninsula, so you’re a captive audience. We did take advantage of the free shuttle to take us to downtown Danang, but it was at least 45 minutes each way. Also, everything there is pretty expensive. To me, the whole experience was otherworldly though, and it was worth it.

This resort is the bomb! We will definitely be coming back here, next time during the summer when it’s guaranteed to be nicer weather!

Posted by glenn | 7 Comments

About a month ago, I mentioned a really good deal on the Barclaycard Gold Card. What made it a stunningly good deal was the fact that Barclaycard waives annual fees for active duty members, even if you obtained the card after joining active duty. In that same article, I referenced that Barclaycard and American Express were the two companies that routinely waive annual fees for cardholders even if they obtained it after they activated.

 

I have a new deal, this time coming from Amex. As you might know, I have the Amex Plat Mercedes Benz edition. I got this card not because I drive a Benz (I don’t), but because at the time it offered 50k Membership Rewards (MR) points vs 40k MR points for the regular Amex Plat.

 

We just learned on Friday (H/T to MMS and FM) that the Amex Plat Mercedes Benz now offers a 75k signup bonus after spending $3k in 3 months! (direct link here).

Mercedes-Benz Cards from American Expr_ - https___www262.americanexpress.com

This has the same benefits as the regular Amex Plat, such as access to the Centurion Lounge in select US Airports, $200 airline credits annually, Priority Pass Select, access to Fine Hotels & Resorts, etc.

 

This is not a good card for everyday spend, as it’s only category bonus is 5x MR points on Mercedes purchases; otherwise it only earns 1x. I would meet the minimum spend, then put it in the back slot in my wallet and just enjoy the benefits while getting the $475 annual fee waived.

Posted by glenn | 2 Comments

As I said before, when we arrived in Hanoi, off of a lovely Vietnam Airlines flight, we were greeted with much colder weather than we’d anticipated…42 DEGREES!!! Yes it was cold. Our cab driver actually apologized for the cold weather, which was kind of cute.

As I mentioned before, I had 3 IHG free nights that were expiring within two weeks of us taking this trip; this and the two expiring Hilton nights from my Citi Hilton Reserve were partly the stimulus for this trip. I’d used the first IHG night at the Intercontinental Tokyo The Strings, which we weren’t super impressed with. Another hotel I wanted to check out, and which we booked with a free night, was the Intercontinental Hanoi. I’d seen pictures of rooms suspended over Westlake, so was intrigued. Also, it would be a good staging point for our scheduled trip to Halong Bay. Unfortunately, due to poor weather, all Halong Bay cruises were cancelled over the next 3 days…huge disappointment! Luckily, despite the bad weather, this hotel impressed.

The doormen greeted us very warmly and insisted on taking our bags. Here was the lobby:

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The friendly lady at the desk thanked me for my Platinum status loyalty, and offered us an upgrade from the included deluxe room to a classic lakeview room. Awesome! They loaded our bags onto a large golf cart and drove us down a long path to the over-the-lake villas.

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We were shown to our rooms, and were very pleased with the set up. It was very warm and inviting, if a little smallish.

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We requested a rollaway for our son, and they provided it free of charge. The bed was super comfortable, the internet was decent, and the bathroom was very nice, with both a rainfall shower and a deep bath.

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Here was our foggy, overcast view over Westlake, Hanoi.

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I wish we could’ve experienced this when the weather was more fair. The hotel is within walking distance of two main streets, both lined with great restaurants (although the sidewalk is nonexistent in some places…be careful while walking!) We stopped at a hole-in-the-wall place and got superb pho for less than a dollar per person! We got a cheap, good quality massage, then turned in.

The next day, I used their excellent gym, which is next to the lobby (slapping myself for not taking pictures!) Then we paid for the breakfast buffet, but it was TOTALLY worth it. One of the best breakfast layouts I’ve ever seen! In addition to all normal brunch offerings, they had a pho bar, a juicing bar, and seafood choices. Also, my favorite, strong Vietnamese coffee.

Overall, a really nice stay, and one we wish we could’ve experienced during better weather.

Since our Halong Bay trip got cancelled, I had to modify our trip a little bit and was scrambling that night. Overall, I think I did a good job, which hopefully you’ll agree with in the upcoming posts!

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This is Andy, and this will be the first in a series of reviews from me and my family’s recent trip to Vietnam! Here is what I will be reviewing over the next several weeks:

 

Intercontinental Hanoi  

Intercontinental Danang Sun Peninsula Resort part 1 and 2

Park Hyatt Saigon

Conrad Hong Kong

 

I realized some time in December last year that I had some free hotel nights expiring, as well as some Citi Thank You points expiring. As a head’s up, points transferred in to your Citi Thank you account associated with your Prestige or Premier, such as from your grandfathered Citi Forward card, expire after only 90 days. TY points earned primarily on the account don’t expire as long as you hold the card. (On a side note, the Citi Forward will no longer earn 5x TY points on bonus categories as of June 1st, 2016).

 

I also had three IHG free nights (two from Into the Nights promotion, and one from my Chase IHG card), and two free Hilton nights (from my Citi Reserve) expiring. Finally, I had a Hyatt Diamond suite upgrade left that would expire at the end of Feb as well, so I figured what better time to visit Vietnam on a family vacation than January, when temps are mild.

 

Little did I know that when we were there we’d be going during the coldest weather that North Vietnam had experienced in 30 years!

 

To start off with, I had a little over 50k Citi TY points expiring, so I wanted to use them for our flights to and from Vietnam. I considered all their transfer partners, which include Cathay Pacific (Oneworld and based in Hong Kong), EVA Airlines (Star Alliance and based in Taiwan), Malaysia (Oneworld), Garuda Indonesia (Skyteam), Singapore (Star Alliance), Thai Airways (Star Alliance), and finally Air France (Skyteam). (There are a couple other transfer partners like Qatar, Etihad, Virgin Atlantic and America, but not with a huge presence in SE Asia where I live.

 

I ruled out Cathay, EVA, Malaysia, Garuda, and Thai Airways direct transfers, as I have no experience booking award flights through them and/or I’ve heard it’s difficult. Note, most of these airlines are easy to book, but through partner websites; the ones I use are United or Aeroplan for Star Alliance awards (except for Singapore), American, Qantas or British Airways for Oneworld awards, and Air France for Skyteam awards. It’s much easier to book awards when thinking about them in their alliance, and not just the individual airlines. There are some exceptions, and Singapore is one of them. For their flights, it’s cheaper to book through their own website than other Star Alliance partners, and it’s a transfer partner of all of the 4 major flexible currencies (Chase Ultimate Rewards, Amex Membership Rewards, Citi Thank You points, and SPG points).

 

So that left me with Singapore and Air France; note, Air France doesn’t have any flights in that region. I use their site to search for Skyteam availability, on the numerous area carriers such as Vietnam Air, China Eastern, China Southern, China Air, Garuda, and Korean Air. I searched the Air France site first, which is super user friendly, because I didn’t necessarily want to fly all the way from Okinawa to Singapore then backtrack to Vietnam. Luckily, I found a ton of availability in Skyteam.

 

It was 20k Air France miles per person one way between Oki and Vietnam, but only 10k from Taiwan, which is right next to Oki. As a consequence, I decided to fly us for cheap on Peach Airlines to TPE, then begin our award travel. We’d go Taipei – Hanoi on Vietnam Air, which would be 10k x 3 people = 30k miles. Then between Hanoi – Danang, and Danang – Saigon, we’d fly cheaply on Vietjet. Saigon – Hong Kong was for some reason really expensive during that time using money, but only 10k points per person one way, then we’d fly a cheap flight on Peach from Hong Kong – Okinawa. I transferred 60k TY points in, and by the next morning, they were in my account, and once I had them, booking was easy. BTW, to find all the cheap flights, especially on lesser known carriers, I think that Skyscanner is the best tool there is.

 

Once in TPE, we had about a 1.5 hour layover, so we decided to hit a lounge with the Citi Prestige Priority Pass. I’ve got too many Priority Passes to count, from different cards, but this is probably the best one, as it lets you AND a companion into their lounges for free, whereas with most Priority Passes associated with credit cards, you have to pay for the companion to get in.

 

I searched among the four included lounges using Loungebuddy, and the best rated lounge was the Transasia VIP lounge, so we settled there. Of note, we’ve visited the EVA Royal Laurel Lounge before, which was way nicer than this one, but you can’t access that one with Priority Pass. This lounge was moderately sized, with comfortable seats, a pretty decent food selection including soup bar, a good selection of libations, and, curiously, an Oxygen bar. This is the only lounge I’ve been to that had an oxygen bar.

lounge2

Lounge1

I tried the Oxygen bar in the egg-shaped chairs, but didn’t really feel any different!

Overall, a really nice lounge with a good food selection, decent coffee, and a decent whiskey selection. We will definitely repeat when we transit through TPE again.

There weren’t any issues boarding our Vietnam Airlines flight from Taipei – Hanoi. Once we got there, we were greeted with 42 degree weather! To be continued…

 

Posted by glenn | No Comments

This is Andy again, and this will be the last post detailing our winter ski trip to Hokkaido. I’d initially booked the Sheraton Kiroro resort for four nights, but then I realised our flight on ANA back to HND, then onwards to Okinawa, left at 0730. As I mentioned in our last post, it takes at least 1.5 hours to get to the airport from the Kiroro resort, even taking an incredibly overpriced taxi. So the prospect of waking up at 4am didn’t really appeal to me, or to my wife or son. So I cancelled our last night there, and decided we’d spend it close to the airport. There were a few options, all overpriced (a common theme on Hokkaido) but I decided upon the ANA Crowne Plaza, as there was a promotion going on called Accelerate your rewards.

With platinum status, we got upgraded to a top-floor room, and also a complimentary breakfast. I’ve never gotten a complimentary breakfast because of platinum status before, and that’s not an IHG policy, not even with Spire or Ambassador status, but I did ask really nicely at the front desk, so that might’ve helped!

As we walked in, we were struck by what would’ve been an awesome view had it been light out, with dual beds looking out at floor-to-ceiling windows:

CP1

CP2

The bathroom was nice a roomy, with a tub that offered a luxurious soak, especially after mucking through deep powder the day before.

CP4 CP5

The next morning, the breakfast spread was more than we’d expected (or deserved!), and the staff was lovely. We were there less than 12 hours, as we had to catch an overpriced taxi for an early flight, but overall, a very impressive airport hotel.

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