This is an optimal time of year to use a trick that will get you status for all of next year with very little effort on your part.  I am also going to go over some synergies that are out there to maximize your elite statuses (stati?).

In general, a rival airline or hotel will try to lure your business away by offering to give you an equivalent status with their airline or hotel.  The advantage of doing it this time of year is that if you request this earlier in the year, they match your status for that year only.  However, if you try it in October or November, they give you status for the rest of this year and all of next year so 14-15 months of benefits.

Now here’s the real beauty of doing it this time of year.  Let’s say that you have status with an airline/ hotel and know you aren’t going to re-qualify for that level this year.  Take that higher status and send it in to another program and ask for a status match.  They don’t know you aren’t going to re-qualify and assume you will so offer you a matching status.  I have done this, for instance, by sending my United 1K statement to Alaska and ended up with Alaska MVP Gold 75 k.  I dropped to United Gold for the next year, but at least had the consolation of top status on Alaska.

Similarly, I used my Marriott Platinum statement to get Hilton Diamond for this year.  Marriott didn’t drop me to Gold for some strange reason (could be my 767 lifetime nights) so I ended up with top status for two hotel programs.

How to get a match?  Typically, you send in a request to their FF customer service along with a statement showing your status in a rival program.  Rival meaning not an airline they typically give benefits to.  So you can’t take your status from another Star Alliance airline and ask United to match.  You can’t even ask for Alaska to match status from Delta or American since they give benefits for members of these airlines.  So give it a try, they worst they can do is say no.  Do keep in mind that they will tell you that this is a once in a lifetime match, so don’t do it if you have no intention of using that airline or hotel chain.

Synergies noun, plural synergies.  The interaction of elements that when combined produce a total effect that is greater than the sum of the individual elements, contributions, etc.; synergism.

I love when I can get something for essentially no effort.  I just call this being smart, but you do have to know what to do to make it happen.  A great one I used this year is with the pseudo-alliances between airlines and hotels.  In case you hadn’t hear, United and Marriott will match status benefits and so will Delta and Starwood.  Of course, what makes that really interesting this year is that Marriott bought Starwood and now you can link Marriott Rewards and Starwood SPG to match elite status.

In my particular case, I matched my Marriott Platinum status to SPG, making me an SPG Platinum.  I then turned around and applied to match that new Platinum status to Delta (where I have no status) and Delta now gives me the following:


You can work it in reverse and get SPG benefits if you already have status with Delta.


Not bad for getting something for free.  And for those of you in a different situation, you can do this in reverse and end up with benefits on United that are very similar.  If you are Marriot Rewards Gold or Platinum, you get United Gold.  If you are United Gold, you’ll get the benefits shown below.  Don’t forget that is you are United Gold, then you are Star Alliance Gold, which means free lounge access to all Star Alliance lunges when traveling internationally.


So lot’s of free ways to earn status if you know what you are doing.  Anyone have any other examples out there?

Posted by glenn | One Comment

I have a few photos from my windshield tour of Djibouti.  I actually just got an email from a reader who is passing through JIB in order to collect another country on his list.  I’ll give you the same hotel recommendation that I gave him.  See below.


This is the Kempinski Hotel and the only chain hotel that I am aware of in Djibouti.  $300 USD+ per night!  You might find something else, but you are likely taking your chances with a local hotel.  If someone has a better tip on where to stay, please let us know.

041 040

These shots give you a typical view of the better parts of Djibouti.  Pretty typical for most of North Africa and the Middle East.

045 044

There is a nice beach that the locals are using, but my Soldiers tell me that they would not recommend going in the water.

055 050

I didn’t include any shots of the Khat dealers, but they are quite prevalent alongside the road.  I did kind of like the local art stands.  The goats eating the trash was another typical shot of Djibouti.  Probably not going to end on the list of my top ten retirement places!


On the way back through Addis Ababa, I arrived at the domestic side and went to the international side for my flight to Frankfurt.  I easily found the Cloud Nine Lounge right along the line of gates and went in.

059 062

It was fairly crowded although about the same as most U.S. clubs.  I found space and was able to get on the weak Wifi.  I went to get a drink and snacks.

061 060

So the food was OK, but it was weird that I couldn’t get a beer or glass of wine, only the hard stuff laid out as shown.

I left the club being somewhat disappointed and went to get some gifts for the wife and daughter.  Then I discovered my mistake.  There was a whole other club next to the duty free and it was much better than the first one.  Go away a little way from the gates and look for the “Lounge 2” sign.


Inside it was much less crowded and better in every way.

070 069


So lesson learned.  Next time I go through ADD I will know better.



Posted by glenn | No Comments

As some of you know from my post last year, I  have troops deployed to Djibouti and go out there to visit them about once a year.  Last year I flew Turkish Airlines to get there and had good flights on them from FRA-IST-JIB (Djibouti).  And I really enjoyed the Turkish lounge in Istanbul which I consider one of the best I have ever been in.  I was a little surprised that DTS didn’t give me Turkish again this year and instead flew me on Ethiopian Airlines (symbol ET).  The routing was IAD-ADD (Addis Ababa)-JIB which meant an initial 13 hour flight from the States to Africa.  I had never flown on ET and admitted I was a little trepidatious about what I would find.  I did know that they had the new 787 and was hoping that I would get on that for the long haul flight.

After visiting the new Turkish Lounge at Dulles that morning, I boarded the flight and groaned.  No, I looked at the interior and groaned that I guess I didn’t get the 787 judging by the worn looking interior.

028 029

After sitting in the seat and reading the safety card, I realized this was the 787!  It was just a very questionable fitout of the interior.  I was happy as I figured that a new plane meant it had to have in-seat power.  Nope!  Really Ethiopian Airlines, only a USB port?  You have a 13 hour flight and no in-seat power with a new production 787?  So I was stuck with the in-flight IFE and a fairly limited selection of watchable entertainment.  At least everyone got a decent amenity kit.  I was quite glad they had included a toothbrush as I would have to roll right into a meeting with the CG once I landed in JIB.  Not sure what I can do with those yellow socks after the flight…


Dinner finally came a couple hours into the flight and I was actually looking forward to it since my breakfast from the lounge had long worn off.  Ethiopian food is pretty famous in many parts of America with a really good bread and different piles of tastiness kind of like Kimchi dishes.  The FA with her cart seemed to take forever to get to me, but she finally leaned over to me and said rice-with-cheese or vegetable?  Now if you have spent time in a lot of foreign countries, you know that what you hear the first time might not always register and you say “what was that again?” or something along those lines.  Rice with cheese?!  Never in all my many travels have I heard of such a combination.  However, she repeated the same thing confirming that indeed that was the main choice.  As any adventurous soul would do I said “I’ll have that”.

It was pretty much exactly what was described, boiled sticky (basically one solid piece) of rice topped with something like melted laughing cow.


It came with a side dish of cole slaw and a dinner roll.  At least they had a chocolate kind of thing for dessert!  The meal was about as bland as possible.  I am married to an Asian so I am pretty much an expert on short grained rice and this had the texture of white paste and probably an equivalent taste.  The cheese was the blandest I have ever tasted.  So I know that if I ever develop an ulcer, I need to move to Ethiopia and eat this every day.  Frankly, I would have rather had an MRE!

The timing of this flight left a lot to be desired since we left at 1100 and would land at 0700 local time which was 0000 in DC.  This meant I wasn’t particularly tired except for the very last part  of the flight.  Time ticked on…


Breakfast finally came and it was a little more “normal”.


Finally landing in Addis Ababa with a couple of hours to make my connection.  I had heard that there was a nice lounge at ADD.  Unfortunately, my connection was in the domestic side of the airport.  I went there instead of checking out what I am sure was a nice lounge in the international side since I didn’t know how long it would take me.  Turned out that was the right decision since I ended up taking a bus to the other terminal (and a very long walk).  I got to the domestic terminal and way at the back of the stereotypically crowded waiting area was a lounge – yay!



The Cloud Nine Lounge is Ethiopian Airlines lounge and, since they are Star Alliance and I am a *A Gold, I was given admittance.  Not much to look at inside, but they did have some drinks and food and wifi with a power outlet.  At least I had a 30 minute rest checking emails before boarding the next flight to Djibouti.

036 035

Hey, I’ll take what I can get.  On the return flight I did go through the international terminal with a much nicer Cloud Nine Lounge.  On the whole, Ethiopian Airlines would not be my first choice, but the direct flight did cut off about six hours of travel time from last year’s journey.


Posted by glenn | No Comments

Finally had the chance to try out the newest lounge at Dulles Airport (IAD), the Turkish Airlines Lounge.  I previously wrote about the lounge in Istanbul and think it is one of the best lounges I have ever been inside.  That lounge has two massive floors along with an amusement area, movie area, and many great mini-restaurants inside.  I wasn’t expecting that they would duplicate it in Washington, D.C., but still had high expectations.  I wasn’t disappointed.

I was flying out to see my troops deployed to Djibouti and DTS (actually I had to go through the CTO) routed me on Ethiopian Airlines, IAD-Addis Adaba (ADD)-Djibouti (JIB).  I wasn’t sure how Ethiopian Airlines would work out (next post), but at least it gave me a chance to use the new Turkish Lounge since I am Star Alliance Gold and therefore allowed to use any Star Alliance Lounge when flying internationally.

The lounge is found in Terminal B, next to Gate 43.  This doesn’t really work if you are flying United since they are in C and D, but for Lufthansa, Turkish, Ethiopian, etc. it is a great location.


The inside is appropriately opulent, but not that big.  Wasn’t a problem for my 1100 flight as there were only about four others in the lounge with me.

014 015

The food bar was nice, although less offerings than say the Air France or Lufthansa lounges.

017 016

026 022

What was really impressive is that the lounge staff, in this case a great young guy named Justin, came over to see what I wanted.  I opted out of the Turkish coffee because I figured that would keep me up for the next three days, but try it for yourselves.  I tried a simit, which is a Turkish bagel, and Justin told me that the staff had been experimenting at home to try to get the recipe right.  I informed him that they needed to keep trying!  It was like a stale salty soft pretzel and I don’t think that was quite what they were going for, although I invite the readers to tell me what it really should taste like.  I ate in anyway – real Soldiers are happy with anything as long as there isn’t dirt in their food.  I even like MREs!  The fruit and yogurt hit the spot for a late breakfast.

018 021

I then checked out the rest of the lounge.  Beyond the open lounge area there was a separate bar area that was very elegant.

019 020

They have a unisex shower room between the bar and the main area.  I am assuming unisex still means one at a time.  After looking at the stick figure, he seemed to be enjoying it so much, I wanted one too, but it was only 1000 hours so I passed.  Good thing to remember for another time though.

023 025

Overall a great lounge.  I would take this one over the Lufthansa lounge which is in the same terminal.  The Air France lounge is very nice in Terminal B if you have Priority Pass, but beware they will boot you between 1600-1800 everyday because it get too crowded there.  On the whole, the Turkish Airlines lounge is a great option for Dulles.



Posted by glenn | One Comment

I was checking out some military-specific travel apps over the weekend, and there are some pretty cool and useful ones out there. I have an iPhone 5, so in this article I’ll be highlighting ones available in the Apple app store, but at some point I’ll highlight Android apps. Some are available on both platforms, and I’ll do my best to highlight those. All the below apps are currently free in the app store, except the last one.

Without further adieu, and in no particular order, on to the list:

Allstays military camp site and RV app list covers a little over 200 military campgrounds, FamCamps and RV parks in the United States of America, so if you’re a family that likes to camp and be outdoors, this would be a great app for you. It’s available on either iOS or Android. Here is a video of the app, which lets you find Campgrounds, RV Parks and related services with or without internet, and extensive map filters let you view only what you want to see. I haven’t yet used this one other than navigating through it, but it has 4.5/5 stars. My son is now 3, so hopefully starting this summer we’ll be going camping.


Base Directory app is a well designed app, that gives you a mobile, offline directory of most service’s bases throughout the USA, and also includes USOs. You can check out this link, which is the internet version of this app, and see if you find it worthwhile. Not every base is on there, but most of the major domestic ones are, with amenities and phone numbers.

base directory.jpeg

American military museums is an app that shows over 390 military museums and museum ships featuring the most famous and popular exhibits in all the major cities, towns and ports of the United States. Per the website, “This app lists Military Museums from all branches of the military: The Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard. The App will help you find the best exhibits, featuring information on the most popular of over 390 Military Museums in all the major cities and towns of the USA.” Some of the highlights include:

  • USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park

  • Fort Apache

  • General Patton Memorial

  • San Diego Aerospace

  • USS Midway

  • Fort McHenry

  • US Naval Academy

  • USS Constitution

  • Strategic Air Command

  • White Sands Missile Range

  • Gettysburg National Military Park

  • Museum of the Confederacy

I’ve been to Gettysburg many times, and highly recommend it to anyone, so I think this app would be cool for checking out some places that you wouldn’t have normally gone.


MyBaseGuide is an app for both iOS and Android, that’s similar to the above base directory app. According to the website “Whether you’re relocating, TDY or just “on the go”, our mobile app allows you to easily locate information on any one of the one hundred twenty military installations in CONUS, Hawaii and Alaska. The main purpose of MyBaseGuide is to provide military personnel with useful information for a smooth relocation”. I’ve not used this one, but looks very intuitive and easy to use. baseguide.jpeg

One app that intrigues me is the military space A app ($3,99), which lets you register, from the app, for any upcoming space A flights. It also provides local info such as billeting, car rental, dining, BX/PX/NEX info, links to air terminals’ pages, USOs, and more. Per the app, “Take-a-Hop’s MilSpaceA app allows authorized U.S. government users to register for Department of Defense (DoD) military space-available travel. It is the exclusive app for all DoD travelers wanting a quick, easy, reliable, and authorized means to sign up for Space-A at primary DoD departure terminals.” I’ve only personally ever tried to catch Space A flights out of Bahrain, and was never succesful; they were always full. I remember thinking at the time how inefficient it was to have to show up at the terminal to register, and if you could do it over an app, how great would that be? This app has 5/5 stars and good reviews, so it might be worth checking out.


I want to hear from you all, did I miss any other good apps? Do you have any experience with any of the above?

Posted by glenn | No Comments

(by Andy) I tend to be somewhat of a travel gear geek, and am always on the lookout for items that make travel more enjoyable. I also highly value my sleep, especially with one (soon to be two) young children running around. As such, I’ve been trying out several different sleep masks over the years, but they all had one thing in common that made them intolerable to me, and that was that when I would wear it for more than an hour, my vision was all blurry from eyeball deformation. It would often take several hours until my vision was back to normal (this is more common in those, like myself, who’ve gotten LASIK).

sleep mask

My wife then found this mask for me, and my life was changed – the Earth Therapeutics REM sleep mask! (non-affiliate link) I’ve been wearing this now for a little while, and my sleep is much more sound, including on planes, and I get no blurry vision when I take it off. My wife says it looks like a mini-bra – the mask is contoured out from your face, so you still can have eyelid movement. Also, crucially, this mask blocks out all light – it is pitch black when I wear it.

I am in love!

Posted by glenn | 2 Comments

(from Andy) As you know, I’m all about hotel and airline miles & points. As fun as accumulating these points is though, what is more fun obviously it redeeming those points for free travel! It can be a huge hassle, though, sifting through at least three different search programs, for the three different alliances, and that doesn’t even include outliers like Southwest or Jetblue. It can also be tricky internationally, because there is no search engine that shows all flight options within that certain alliance (well ok, maybe ANA does, but it’s search engine is pretty clunky).

Also, for hotel searches, awardmapper is a great option, but I wish at the same time it’d show availability and compare it to cash costs, to find out what your best option is. Why can’t there be a website that can compile all this information at once?

Enter Pointimize, a new-ish travel search engine that has been around for a little while offering hotel options, comparing points vs cash, and has recently introduced a beta version of flight searches as well. It’s very customisable, with the ability to import your awardwallet information, and to also set your own valuations of how much you think each hotel or airline mile is worth per cent. (of note, not all programs work with awardwallet, like United, so you might have to put those miles in manually). When you log in, you’re given the options to search for hotels or flights, with a pretty clean, simple landing page:

FireShot Capture 24 - Pointimize - https___www.pointimize.com_hotel

I did a hypothetical search for a hotel for 3 nights in Las Vegas in September, and this is what the search looks like:

Pointimize hotels

It goes over the major US-based hotel loyalty programs, like Hilton, Marriott, Hyatt, Club Carlson, IHG, and SPG. For airlines, the new flight feature uses the 9 most-used loyalty programs in North America, as follows:

American Airlines (AAdvantage)

United Airlines (MileagePlus)

Alaska Air (Mileage Plan)

Hawaiian Airlines (HawaiianMiles)

Air Canada (Aeroplan)

British Airways (Executive Club)

Iberia Airlines (Iberia Plus)

ANA (ANA Mileage Club)

Virgin Atlantic (Flying Club)

Very cool and very powerful. For the flight feature, I put in a hypothetical flight search from Osaka (KIX) to LAX, and here were the results:


Very cool, it gives out the flights with both points and cash options available, to see if a possible super-low cash fare would be a better value to you than using points would be. I will definitely be using this going forward! Of note, you cannot book directly through the website; for awards it directs to that chain or airlines website, and for cash it’ll direct you to an OTA.

There were a couple glitches I noted – there’s no tab to change your search within the results page, or at least any I could find; you have to go back to the homepage. Also, when clicking on the Pointimize logo at the top left of the page, to go back to the homepage, it errors out to a 404 error page. Also, I wish you could filter out which alliances you want to show or not, similar to what google flights does; for instance, I searched for Las Vegas to Okinawa, and the first couple hundred results were all Star Alliance, and I couldn’t filter out if I just wanted Oneworld options. A couple bugs, but again, the flight search is still in beta.

One of the founders of Pointimize, Adu Wu, has given us four complimentary invite codes so y’all can start using the flight search option. The first four people to comment on this post will be emailed an invite code within a week.



Posted by glenn | 13 Comments

It seems to me that one of the most sought after answers for aspiring FF addicts is how to do a mileage run.  With my move to D.C., I am not racking up the miles like I usually did when living in Hawaii.  Therefore, I have to do some mileage runs if I intend to keep my United 1K and Alaska MVPG statuses (stati?).  Today, I am going to walk you through all the steps I took to book a mileage run this week.

The first step is to look for a good candidate run and then optimize it to maximize the miles.  I like to look on Flytertalk or Milepoint’s Mileage Run forums to see what others have found.  I was looking a few days ago and finding many interesting runs.  WAS-SNA, WAS-ONT, WAS-SJD (Cabo San Lucas), but what caught my eye was a comment from one person who asked if someone had taken advantage of the       $348 WAS-ANC fare.  Bingo!  I love ANC and have lots of friends there.  It also is a great mileage run since it involves two destinations far apart which I can later manipulate to make it even more.  The closer two cities are the harder this gets.  I always find it more interesting if I can make the mileage run a mini-vacation rather than 24 hrs. without leaving the plane or airport.

With that clue it was off to ITA to find when that fare sale was valid.  I started searching in 30 day increments, until I hit paydirt.  Searching through the months, I find that low fare starting mid-September and going to mid-October.  Hey, I get a four day weekend over the Columbus holiday, that would be a great time to go!

The fare is on United as expected.  Always useful to check as many times the competitors will lower their fares to match.  So if you see a sale on a United fare, but you mainly fly American, check and see if American is offering the same.  For this case United is perfect and I go to the United website for the next steps.  I plug in Thurs., 10 Oct returning Monday, 14 Oct for WAS-ANC.  The fares confirm at $333 since I am using my Veterans Advantage 5% discount.  The miles show as 4,070 each way for a total of 8,140.

Now when doing a mileage run, the golden standard is getting under 4 cents per EQM mile.  This is getting harder and harder to find with inflation and the rise in fuel, but go for that as a goal and decide for yourself if it is close enough to be worth your while.  In this case, $333/ 8,140 miles = 4.10 cpm; pretty good for a great mileage run.  Let’s see if we can do better.

If you took Geometry in high school, it was Euclidian geometry, which teaches that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line.This rule goes out the window when you move on to spherical geometry which planes deal with when traveling the globe.  As you have probably noticed when seeing a flight path, the shortest route it is a curve.  This is actually shorter than the straight line path traced on a map.  If you plot this curve on the Great Circle Mapper, you can see the flight path the plane will follow and how the mileage distance is calculated.  If I can find a route that deviates from this path, I will increase the number of miles that I earn provided that I can keep the price the same.  So I switch the United flight reservation page to Multiple Destinations instead of Round Trip and start trying to add segents in between WAS and ANC.  One thing to remember when adding segments is that your chances of finding a similarly cheap fare are increased if you try cities where there is a hub for that airline as that typically means there are many flights for the airline to fill (high inventory = low price) and lots of possible connecting flights.  For United, that means trying EWR, DEN, SFO, LAX, and IAH.  Let’s start with EWR, so WAS-EWR-ANC.

OK, I got the same price for this itinerary and the miles look to be about the same.  Then you have to remember that the 199 mile segment will be bumped up to the minimum 500 miles awarded for any segment.  This then brings the total miles for the trip to 8,698 which translates to 3.83 cpm.  Hey, we are looking even better, but let’s see if we can improve that.  I try:

DEN – $430 and slightly less miles

SFO – $575. Forget that.

LAX – Really high fare

IAH – Bingo!  About the same fare, but a LOT more miles!

This shows a fare of $338 (again with the Vet Adv discount) and the mileage is up to 8,946.  This gives a cpm of 3.78!   That’s really great and tough to find these days –  I buy it.  Note that I did try to add even more segments on, but they either added cost or provided almost no extra miles.  For example, I priced DCA-IAH-DEN-ANC and it was only two miles more and added three hours to the flight time.   Not worth it.

So I hope that shows you the process that I go through.  You can apply it to any airline, just do your hunting and do not expect to bag a great deal every time.  I would be interested to hear of your successes if you will post them on my blog.  And for any of you who care to join me on a flight to Alaska, you have my itin – see you there!

Posted by glenn | 2 Comments

(from Andy) A couple weeks ago I headed back to my stomping grounds, Philly, as I was in the States 2 weeks for a TAD and wanted to hang out with my youngest brother. I had two $200 Hyatt gift cards from a previous promotion that were burning a hole in my pocket. I’d tried to use them previously on our trip to Saigon, but they’re only available to use in the US or Canada. Also, Frequent Miler had his GCs hacked, twice, so I didn’t want to linger with them. I decided to try out the Hyatt Bellevue, as I’d played in a basketball league at it’s huge gym during residency, but I’d never actually stayed there. Also, it’s in a perfect location in Philly, just south of City Hall on Broad St and about midway between Rittenhouse Square and Washington Square, two Philly hotspots. I was able to book my two nights there with the military rate, $160, and was able to get a late 4pm checkout.

Originally built in 1904 and called the Bellevue-Stratford, per wikipedia, “Over two years in the making and costing over $8,000,000 (in 1904 dollars), the Bellevue-Stratford was described at the time as the most luxurious hotel in the nation and perhaps the most spectacular hotel building in the world. It initially had 1,090 guest rooms, the most magnificent ballroom in the United States, delicate lighting fixtures designed by Thomas Edison, stained and leaded glass embellishments in the form of transoms and Venetian windows and sky-lights by Alfred Godwin, and the most celebrated marble and hand-worked iron elliptical staircase in the city.” Cool.

The facade today is not all that impressive:

hyatt entrance

After navigating through ground-level shops, the lobby is concealed in a small and dark vestibule in the Southwest corner. The lovely young lady at check-in thanked me for my Diamond status, and upgraded me to a deluxe room, which didn’t look too different from a base-level room, at least on the website. I then discovered probably my biggest gripe with this hotel: the awful elevators. There are only two elevators for the whole hotel, which encompasses the top half of the Bellevue building, and they take FOREVER. Especially when there are weddings and wedding parties, for which the Bellevue is well-known. It often took 10-15 minutes for the elevators to show up, which to me is unacceptable for a chain as highly regarded as Hyatt.

Once I eventually got to my room, my reaction was, “meh”. It was a large layout, and the bed and everything was comfortable, but the furnishings were dated, the wifi was slow, and the awful window shutters did not keep out any light at all. Sorry for the picture, but I was tired and had to take a nap before I shot this pic:



The bathroom was tiny, and not particularly luxurious…maybe in 1904:


At least the closet was large:


Diamonds get free breakfast, which took place at XIX, on the nineteenth floor. It offered gorgeous views over the city:




Breakfast was good, not great, but to me any free food is good. I didn’t show pics of the gym for privacy reasons, but it is enormous and phenomenal, probably one of the best hotel gyms I have ever seen, so if you’re a workout phanatic then this is your place.

Overall I was not very impressed; I guess I’m just used to Hyatt having phenomenal properties, but this place was extremely outdated and with the elevators, not convenient. My biggest gripe, especially after some late nights out with my brother, were the cheap wooden window shutters which offered no morning light-blocking at all. I will likely not stay here again unless they undergo renovation.

Posted by glenn | 6 Comments

While much is written on getting airline points, hotel points can be just as valuable to you and your wallet.  Honestly, I think more is written about airline points just because they are easier to get.  They have better CC deals, you get a bunch every time you fly, etc., but think of it in terms of money spent on a vacation.  If you fly to a domestic location, the typical airfare is about $300, while the hotel you stay in averages about $150/ night meaning your hotel bill is much more than your airline bill.

Here are average daily rates for the major chains.  If your favorite is not listed here just Google the name and “ADR” and you’ll find the latest since Wall Street tracks this pretty closely.  In an attempt to value a hotel point, I have listed the points required for a Category 5 free night next to the ADR and divided to get a value/ point.

Marriott ADR = $140 divided by 25,000 = 0.56 cents per point (cpp)

Starwood ADR = $174 divided by 14,000 = 1.24 cpp

Hyatt ADR = $182 divided by 20,000 = 0.91 cpp

Hilton ADR = $136 divided by 35,000 = 0.39 cpp

If you think Category 5 is not the average, feel free to run your own numbers using the redemption value you think approximates the “average” room.  As with airline Business and First redemptions, sure you can find instances where you can get a $500+ room for only double the points shown above and if that suits your needs, go for it, that’s probably a good use of points for an aspirational trip or to impress your spouse on the value of hotel points programs!

So we see by this that SPG (Starwood) points have the greatest value.  Keep this in mind when you see some blogger touting that you can convert 20,000 SPG points into 25,000 airline miles.  Why would you do that?  SPG points are hard to earn (especially for us as their hotels often do not fall within Per Diem) so why trade them for 25,000 airline miles when it is hard to even find a RT fare for 25,000 miles?

I stated that hotel points are harder to earn, but I have created a spreadsheet to help you figure out how to maximize them.  Access it here on Google Docs.  I started with some basic hotel data we posted a couple of months ago.  This lists most of the major hotel chains and their programs.  Next comes the programs levels and how difficult it is to obtain that level in terms of nights stayed.  Note that owning the affiliated CC will make this easier to obtain, especially with Marriott.  Next it lists the benefits and I find these to be very valuable as they save me $$ every time that I stay so obtaining the next status level is often worthwhile.  After that we get into the math.  The columns list the base points earned per $ and bonuses for being elite and holding their CC.  I highly recommend that you get the CC for each chain where you think you will stay as it dramatically increases the amount of points earned at most hotels, often doubling your base points.  This then ends in a total column which are the points earned per $100 spent.  Note you can change this to the actual points earned by changing the $100 amount in column A to your estimated spend.

This table can be very useful if you are trying to decide on which hotel chain to make your primary earning one and which one secondary or tertiary.  However, further analysis may help even more in that decision.  The last two columns allow you to play with some hypothetical scenarios.  There is a table below the main spreadsheet listing the  number of points required for a free night at each of the chains by redemption level.  In the spreadsheet, I plugged in a Category 5 night at Club Carlson, Hyatt, and Starwood to see which one would require the least amount of spending to get that free night.  You’ll see the results in the last column which shows that you will earn a free night at Club Carlson for much less spend than the other two.

Another comparison that you can make is deciding if it is worthwhile to go for a higher status level in a program.  For example, look at Starwood.  You can get to Gold with 25 nights (or owning their CC) or try to make Platinum at 50 nights.  Looking at the table, you see that Platinum will get you free breakfast and lounge access, which are certainly worth something, but you actually earn the same amount of points for a stay!  Let’s compare two programs and decide which one would be more valuable.  Marriott Gold and Starwood Platinum both require 50 nights.  If I plug in average night redemption value for a Cat 5 room, I find I must spend about $320 less at Marriott to earn the same free room.

All these frequent flyer/ stayer programs are what the NSA likes to call “Big Data”.  Lot’s of information, but what do you do with it?  Hopefully, this spreadsheet will help you play with some scenarios that suit you personal needs and where you stay most often.  It does not account for some other factors.  For instance, Marriott, Starwood, and Hilton all give you a fifth night free if you redeem for four nights straight.  I can’t factor everything into the spreadsheet, so do some of your own math when comparing.  If anyone notes a mistake or change needed, send me a comment and I will update it.

Posted by glenn | No Comments

(Andy here) My family and I decided to spend July 4th weekend in Osaka and Kyoto, because of all the restrictions placed on Okinawa. It’s only a 1.5 hr flight from Oki, so it’s easily accessible. I looked at awardmapper and decided to compare the hotels on there to popular hotel review sites. One of the best reviewed hotels in the city is the Marriott Osaka Miyako, both for it’s awesome location, it’s phenomenal service, and it’s amazing views looking out over the city. We flew into Itami (ITM), whereas most people will fly into Kansai (KIX). From the airport, there is an awesome limo service that takes you to several locations throughout the city, and one is one block away from the Marriott! Just ask the information desk, and they’ll let you know, or you can check on google maps or their website.

I booked us four nights. I initially wanted to do all four nights on points, but the last night wasn’t available on points. Fortunately, Marriott has a cash + points option, which let me book three nights on points and the last with cash. It was 35k points per night, and the single paid night was around $350.

Our view flying into Osaka:


The hotel is right across the street, or under the street if you’re going through the shopping mall, from Tennoji station, which is one of the main waypoints connecting the city’s subway and JR (train) system. This was another reason this hotel was perfect for getting around Osaka (Japanese taxis are EXPENSIVE). When you arrive at the building, which is I think the 2nd tallest building in Osaka, you take the elevator up to the 19th floor to the main lobby, which has several bars and eating areas and a beautiful check-in area:


The view from up there is amazing:


They took our luggage and had us go up to the 38th floor to the Marriott Club, as I’m a Marriott Gold (thank you Chase Ritz Carlton!) for check-in. (I didn’t take pics for privacy reasons as it was quite packed). While we were checking in we got complimentary libations (Blanton’s Bourbon??? Heck yeah!) They upgraded us to a deluxe room, which doesn’t look that much different from a regular room, at least on the website. One unfortunate thing that I didn’t discern before checking the room – a rollaway bed for our son costs between $40-50 per night…ouch! Entering our room:


Again, the view was amazing! Unfortunately I couldn’t get a glare-free picture on my iphone of the view, so you’ll have to imagine. The beds were two singles plus the rollaway:


The beds were very comfortable, and despite the city being brutally hot that week, the AC kept the room feeling very nice.


Tons of bottled water was provided, with more in the club, and my personal favorite, a Nespresso machine was available with complimentary capsules:


The bathroom was spacious and well-appointed:


There was a sliding door that could block off the bathroom if you wanted, but it could be opened to appreciate the view:


Bathroom amenities were Thann:



The bathtub and shower were in the same room, a feature which is the norm in Japan. Hot and cold water were immediate:


And, my favorite, a Toto washlet:


Osaka has some AMAZING restaurants, including many Michelin-starred ones. Unfortunately, almost none of them allow children under 12, so after talking to the concierge, an English-speaking babysitter was arranged so we could go to one of the only ones we could get reservations to, Gaku, which was phenomenal. She cost about $80 for 3 hours, not terrible.

We also booked some tours on Voyagin, including a day-long tour of several sites in Kyoto and Nara. Although Kyoto was beautiful, the highlight to me and my family was Nara – both the deers which you can feed and pet, and the amazing Buddha temple, with the world’s largest wooden Buddha. Also take one day to hit Spaworld Osaka, which is incredibly relaxing.

Overall a very cool trip – I think I like Osaka better than Tokyo. When we return, we’re definitely going to stay at the Marriott again!

Posted by glenn | 3 Comments

« previous home top