Staying in Bangkok for Songkran, Thai New Year. 13-15 Apr. was actually really easy.  Although I am sure lower end hotels were at a premium, staying at a five-star property turned out to be very easy.  I used Hilton points and got a great deal at 104,000 pts. for five nights.  That is actually the price for four night, but Hilton gives you the fifth night free whether you pay in money or points.  I value Hilton points at 0.38 cents each, so the 104,000 was worth roughly $400.  That’s a great price even in Asia where hotels tend to be cheaper.

We took a taxi from the airport to the Conrad for 500 Baht.  Probably overpaid a little, but it was 2300 at night and I didn’t feel like haggling over 3 or 4 bucks.  If you can have the driver use the meter, that’s the way to go and on the return it was 243 Baht.  Do expect to pay for the tolls if you use the meter, but they were include with our flat rate.

The entrance and lobby were grand as you would expect with a top tier hotel.  I went immediately to the Hilton Honors dedicated line which was empty, but the check in clerks still waited on the existing customers and only motioned me over when they finished with the regular patrons.  So much for being a Diamond!

Using the Hilton APP, I knew ahead of time that we had been upgrade to a Junior Suite.  It was everything I expected to find in a five-star suite.

I liked the desk set up as I typically still have to get work done no matter where I am in the world.

Dessert and fruit were left for us, which was a nice touch.  They were all a type of candy coating over either soft cheese or sweet rice.  A nice way to end the evening after a long flight.

The king sized bed was in the adjacent room with the bathroom beyond.

There was a cute fella on the bed and a similar one in the bathroom.  The Thai version of the rubber duck I guess.

The bathroom was great and had both a bath and a glassed-in shower.

I highly recommend this hotel even though it is in the embassy area and not the heart of the city.  It is a few blocks (and the hotel has a shuttle) to the Bangkok Transit System (BTS) – the primary mass transit system.

More on the hotel amenities, especially the lounge tomorrow.

 

Posted by glenn | 2 Comments

We’ve seen the airlines change the value proposition of their frequent flyer programs over the last few years and now Hilton is taking similar steps.  What these changes have in common is that the changes give less to those who are infrequent customers or spend less and more to the truly loyal customers who spend more.

Hilton’s Old Honors Program rewarded bonus points like this:

Blue (No Status)   10 pts./ dollar for most hotels, only 5 pts./ dollar at Tru and Home2Suites

Silver                     11.5 pts./ dollar (a 15% bonus on your points)

Gold                      12.5 pts./ dollar (25% bonus)

Diamond               15 pts./ dollar (50% bonus)

In addition to the above, Hilton had their long-standing “Double Dip” which awarded the points above and also airline FF miles.  However, they also allowed you to opt to receive 50% more points in lieu of the miles and that’s what most people did.  Here’s what I would get as a Diamond on a typical stay.

So essentially, I got double points as a Diamond and somewhat less when I was either a Gold or Silver in earlier years.

Now the new program which just went into effect follows the following chart:

With the new program, there is no option to earn airline miles and the option for additional points has been rolled into the higher earning rates.  My personal example where I earned a 50% + 50% bonus, is now combined to earn the same 100%.  For Silver you are earning much less and Gold slightly more.  The upside is given as the permanent bonuses shown with 10,000 points for 40 nights and another 10,000 every 10 nights after that and then another 30,000 at 60 nights.  Since it takes 30 stays or 60 nights to make Diamond, this means very little to people like me who qualified on stays, but a lot to those who actually stayed 60 nights at a Hilton (+60,000 points).  I said that there is no option to earn airline miles like you had with the Double Dip, but they do give you the option to exchange Hilton Honors points for airline miles on a number of partners, but the exchange rate are so horrible, I can’t imagine anyone getting good value out of taking this path.

One mitigation you might want to explore, if the Hilton Program is one of your main hotels, is to apply for the new AEMX Aspire Card.  It has a 100,000 point bound for $4,000 spend in 90 days, but the benefits are a great reason to spend $450 on this card.  While there are several, the key ones are that you are a Diamond as long as you hold this card.  Also a $250 resort credit for stays at Hilton resorts.  This will either cancel out that annoying Resort Fee charged at many resorts or can be used to pay for dinner or other items when staying there.  The third key benefit is a $250 credit on a specific airline for any fees, such as baggage.  One tip is that lounge membership is included in the “fee” category so you could use this to offset most of a lounge membership if you don’t need to use it for baggage or a pad upgrade.  I conducted my own study and value Hilton points at 0.38 cents each, which says that 100,,000 points is worth $380.  Looks like you can come out way ahead on this credit card.  This makes you a Diamond to give you that top earning level – the benefits and upgrades at most hotels are very nice.  This is ideal for anyone who has a lot of hotel stays coming up in the year and wants to jump immediately to Diamond instead of working your way up the status ladder.

 

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First stop on our winter mileage run was San Diego.  I worried about all the rain I had heard about in California, but it turned out cloudy and dry.  San Diego is a great town and we looked forward to spending a couple of days there.  I looked forward to checking out the new Hilton Bayfront which was under construction the last time we were there in 2014.  It is located at the end of the San Diego Convention Center opposite from the Marriott.  This is a great location from which you can walk to the Gaslamp District, stroll along the waterfront and visit the Midway, or catch the hop-on, hop-off tour bus to see the rest of San Diego.

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I was a little surprised how small the room was, but I probably was too used to getting an upgrade as a Hilton Diamond.  There was a large convention at the hotel that weekend so I wasn’t upset that we had no upgrade (unlike my wife).  The room was fine and did have a nice view of the convention center and waterfront.

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The hotel is at the far end of the hotel row along the waterfront, but it is still a reasonable walk to everything.  Had a view of Petco Park and this visit was just a couple days after the Chargers announced they were moving to L.A.  A lot of angst in San Diego about that!

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The hotel owner had paid for a neat little footbridge to cross from the hotel into east downtown which was a nice shortcut to the Gaslamp District.

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One disappointment was that there was no lounge in this new hotel.  At check-in, we were given free continental breakfast coupons at the Vela restaurant downstairs with an option to use them at Starbucks instead.  We tried using them at Vela and found the placed so packed that we had to wait ten minutes just to get seated.  The hostess was trying to upsell everyone to take the full breakfast for an extra $10 and it seemed to me that those people got preferential seating which I thought was inappropriate.  At least the food was worth the wait, better than what I typically get at a lounge.

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Last mention is for the workout center which is collocated with their spa.  Had a great workout and there were plenty of machines available.

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On the whole, I found the hotel to be average, but in a great location.  I still feel it is better than the old Hilton which is across the street from the Hyatt/ Marriott at the other end of the convention center.

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I am not a big fan of booking at a hotel brand that I have never heard of.  While sometimes a surprise can be pleasant, just as often it turns into a disappointment.  I would much rather count on the consistency of a name brand such as Hilton when booking.  At a recent conference in Europe I chose to stay at the Frankfurt Airport Hilton and was very pleased with what the hotel has to offer and didn’t mind the trade-off of not being right next to the conference location.

As you would expect, you can reach the hotel by walking from the terminal, although we chose to pick up our rental car and drive.  Driving to the hotel is not the easiest to figure out and involves a lot of looping around between the airport and the adjacent autobahn, but a good GPS can figure it out.  Unfortunately, we didn’t have one of those and it took us the better part of an hour to get to the hotel parking.  The building is massive and situated right along the autobahn, but the noise levels never bothered me and the building looks pretty cool.

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That turned out to be the most trouble we had (other than figuring out the right direction to go on the autobahn) and the rest of the stay was great.  There are actually two hotels on the property, a full Hilton and a Hilton Garden Inn (to the left in the picture).  While I was able to stay at the Hilton at the Per Diem rate, if you are on vacation, you might be able to stay cheaper at the Garden Inn.

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The hotel is very modern with nice architecture.  You come up from the parking garage right into the check-in lobby which has a very nice bar across from the front desk.  I took the front desk photo from the skybridge leading to my room.  This place has a massive atrium!

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The glass elevator take you up to your floor and the place is full of automatically opening glass doors, I kind of got the Star Trek vibe.  The room itself was not large, but they did a great job with the space available.  Wasn’t a fan of the bed, a little too hard for my tastes, but the bathroom and the working desk were excellent.

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As a Hilton Diamond, I had access to the lounge and the cocktail hour and free breakfast there.  Missed the cocktail hour as there were better things to do at night, but the breakfast was nice even if it was just continental.

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Outside the hotel is a small mall filled with the usual traveler’s shops, restaurants, etc.  In the middle of it was the walkway to get to the terminals.  Pretty nice way to get there in inclement weather.  This would definitely be a good alternative if you got weathered in at the airport.

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Altogether, I give this hotel very high marks.  Something else to note is that it is about 15 minutes to downtown Frankfurt or 15 minutes in the other direction to get to Wiesbaden.  Overall, a good experience in a god location.

 

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The 2nd Hotel my family and I stayed in during our first two weeks on Okinawa was the Hilton Okinawa Chatan Resort, located in the central part of of the island, near both American Village and Camp Foster. (See my first stay in Okinawa here) Although I wasn’t too keen on staying near American village (not exactly an authentic Japanese experience), it was uber-convenient for our check in process, getting our Japanese driver’s licenses, etc.

 

At the time I booked our three night stay there, I was Hhonors Gold (now Hhonors Diamond through a status match using my Hyatt Diamond, which itself was obtained through a status match and challenge in August, and is good through Feb 2017!), which guaranteed both Club access and free breakfasts, and an upgrade to a room with a balcony!
They didn’t have a king bed available with the balcony, only with out a balcony. So we chose the one with balcony and two full-size beds. My son is 5 and can sleep anywhere, so we put a bunch of pillows and comforters on the floor, and he slept like a king!

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The room was spacious and well-appointed, with chargers over both nightstands, and blackout curtains, both of which are, to me, essential to a good hotel room. Free water bottles were provided every day, and the beds and pillows were super comfy.

The bathroom was really nice, with a Japanese style bath/shower room, and of course a Japanese style washlet toilet, which I love. The amenities were Peter Thomas Roth, which are what I would say is mid-level (not like Aesop at Hyatts).

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The balcony was huge, and very secluded, surrounded by hedges, but with just enough room to check out the westward view. Unfortunately there aren’t really any nice beaches in this part of Okinawa; you have to go further North for those. The area is ok, with lots of restaurants and stores nearby, if that’s what you like.

 

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Check out this sunset!

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Overall, Hilton does a really nice job taking care of you, and they definitely took care of us. There was a breakfast available in either their downstairs buffet restaurant Suriyun, or in their Club room on the 9th floor which didn’t have quite a big selection, but was far less crowded. The club lounge also offered free happy hour for gold and diamonds from 5-9, and a decent food selection. I was very pleased with our stay here and can’t say enough about their customer service; everyone there is so pleasant and helpful.  

 

Posted by glenn | One Comment

While we stick to military related topics for the most part, we do point out when great deals are to be had.  This one in particular is probably of interest to military members as we spend a lot more time in Hiltons, Marriotts, and IHGs than Starwood and Hyatt which seem to be frequent flyer blogger favorites.  Hard to find those last two that are within per diem most times.

I have had several email offers of bonuses for Hilton lately.  Combined, they make quite a return on investment.

First, Hilton is offering double points if you register here.  You could optionally choose double miles, but I would argue that points are more valuable and a couple of free nights at a good hotel is certainly equal in cost to a free flight.  This deal runs 1 Mar – 31 May.

Next, if you have the Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve card, they are bumping up their typical 10 points per dollar to 13 points per dollar.  See the bonus offer here.  This is a great card to have as it also gives you Hhonors Gold meaning free internet and breakfast, plus a couple of free nights when you sign up and another free night if you spend $10,000 annually.  This easily makes the $95 annual fee worth it.  This bonus also runs until 31 May.  There is a cap of 5,000 bonus points, but you’d have to be spending an awful lot on Hiltons to exceed that threshold ($1,667).

Then there is the American Express Offer for $50 back for a $250 spend.  This runs until 5 April.  If I don’t have the opportunity to use this on a stay, I will try buying a $250 Hilton gift card, which should meet the conditions (it doesn’t say ‘stay’, it says ‘spend’).  If you don’t already know how to get American Express Offers, see Jen’s Deals We Like blog post on them.

Hilton Offer

So now is the time to stay with Hilton and really rack up the points.  Normally, most properties give you 10 points/$.  Hilton is famous for giving you both their points and miles from a variety of airline programs per dollar.  However, you can also elect to receive 50% more points in  lieu of the airline miles.  I recommend this as a better value than the small number of miles that you would get.  The wide variety of Hilton-affiliated credit cards can earn you anywhere from 6-12 point/$.  I have a couple of Hilton cards, but try to use the Reserve version which is 10 pts./$.  So let’s say 25 points/ $ normally.

Maximizing the next few months, you can earn:

10 x 2 = 20 points/ $ for the hotel cost

5 points/ $ bonus in lieu of miles

13 points/ $ for using the Hilton HHonors Reserve card

2.5 points/ $ as a HHonors Gold member bonus which comes with the card.

So that totals to an incredible 40.5 points/$ until June!  So if you spent $1000 in hotel stays, that equals approximately 40,000 points.  That is enough points to redeem for 8 Category 1 nights or up to 1 night at a Category 8 hotel.  That’s about a 50-80% return on investment!

I’ve already booked a couple of nights at the Hilton in Waikiki over the Memorial Day weekend for a mileage run/ vacation for the wife and myself.

 

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(There are no affiliate links in this post)

Direct link to offer: https://www262.americanexpress.com/dapply/web/applycard/us/personal-card/api/hil/hilton-hhonors-surpass-card/hhsc-024?wt.mc_id=CMEM_BUfyV3B89yK-nY

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On Feb 28th, this awesome 80k offer for the Amex Hilton Surpass expires, so if you’re hurting for Hilton points and/or want automatic Hhonors Gold status (which in my opinion is the best mid level status to have), make sure you drop your application sometime in the next week. I am going to go for this one.

 

In addition to the points and the status, the Surpass has the best earnings rates for any other Hilton cards. 12x points at Hilton properties, 6x points at restaurants, gas stations, and supermarkets, and 3x points for all other purchases. This is better than the high-end Citi Hilton Reserve.

 

The annual fee is $75, but remember that military members get their annual fees waived by American Express.

Posted by glenn | One Comment

Via Pearls of Travel Wisdom, eligible veterans can receive up to 100,000 HHonors points per year for stays while job-searching, for training, or for relocation. Here in PA, eligibility opened up on November 3rd (article here). This unfortunately is not offered in all states, but it would be worthwhile to check and see if your state is eligible.

 

Hilton made headlines last year when they announced they’d be hiring 10,000 veterans over the next 5 years. Hilton already has great benefits for Active Duty and Veterans. Kudos to them for this additional benefit! You often see Hyatt or SPG get all the ink in the blogosphere, but I’m hard-pressed to find another hotel chain (or any travel-related chain for that matter) who goes to bat for servicemembers like Hilton does.

 

Unfortunately it’s not very easy to find. If you live in PA, go to this website, type in Hilton in the search bar, and the downloadable forms will pop up. As of this time, participating states are Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Iowa, Texas and Arizona, but I anticipate more will be opting in soon. If you’re a veteran in one of those states, google it to find the applicable forms.

 

Posted by glenn | No Comments

My daughter, Stephanie, is going down to New Orleans to interview at Tulane’s Medical School, so Dad was naturally looking for  agood deal on airfare and a place for her to stay.  I came across this offer from Hilton.  It is  a pretty good deal and one of the few discounts I have found that applies to both active AND retired military members.  This is also the first offer that I have seen that includes the Canadian military.  I have stayed many times at Hilton and find them consistently nice with lots of room.  This offer has been apparently going on for a while, but it is new to me.  The best news is that it is good throughout 2014.

We know your time off is valuable, and that’s why we want to help you enjoy it.  We’re offering exclusive savings of up to 15% at participating hotels and resorts in the Hilton Worldwide portfolio for active & retired military and their families.  With 10 distinct hotel brands for every budget, style, and occasion, your next getaway is our top priority.  So relax, unwind, and put your feet up – you’ve earned it.

Offer subject to availability at participating hotels in the Hilton HHonors portfolio within the Americas. Valid only for guests with valid US or Canadian military ID including active duty, reserve, and retired service members and their spouses and families. Rate valid for leisure stays only and not official government or military travel. Must present your current and valid military identification card at check-in. If you are making this reservation by phone, please call our Internet Customer Center at +1 800 HHONORS or view a complete list of Hilton HHonors Reservations phone numbers. Use code “MFR” or “PGMFR1” at time of booking.

The rules for using it are a little weird, see below along with the T&C’s:

Arrivals on Tuesday and Wednesday nights require a 3 night minimum length of stay. Reservations at Homewood Suites and Home2 Suites require a 3 night minimum for Tuesday arrivals and 2 night minimum for Wednesday arrivals.

The Best Available Rate (“BAR”) is a specific rate type that varies depending on time of purchase, is unrestricted, non-qualified and excludes discount or negotiated rates not available to the general public, including, but not limited to: membership, corporate, government, promotional, group, packages, unpublished or rates only available on auction websites. The Bed & Breakfast Rate (“B&B”) is similarly a specific type of rate that includes breakfast for the registered guests. A 10% discount off BAR will be offered at participating Embassy Suites properties and a 15% discount off BAR will be offered at participating Hampton, Homewood Suites by Hilton, Home2 Suites by Hilton, and select Hilton Grand Vacations properties. A 10% discount off B&B will be offered at participating Waldorf Astoria Hotels & Resorts, Conrad Hotels & Resorts, Hilton Hotels & Resorts, and DoubleTree by Hilton properties, and a 15% discount off B&B will be offered at participating Hilton Garden Inn properties. Additional restrictions may apply. Hilton HHonors membership, earning of Points & Miles and redemption of points are subject to HHonors Terms & Conditions.

 It is always wise to check this rate against other promotions that may be going on and are occasionally cheaper than the special military rate.  To book, you can go to www.hilton.com.  Be sure and sign up for the latest Hilton promotion of 2x/3x/4x points depending on length of stay.  See details here.

Lastly, Andy wanted to add that having the Amex Platinum card gets you Hilton Gold status which gives you free internet and breakfast amongst other things.  Being Gold made a huge difference in how they treated us on my recent Singapore trip!  And of course the best thing is that you can get this card for free as he wrote a couple of months ago.

Posted by glenn | 2 Comments

Greetings, Fellow Travelers!

BLUF:  With 2021 traveling still shaky, I’ve placed some U.S. domestic and international cancelable and/or movable trips on my travel calendar.

Today’s ALL HANDS focuses on my 2021 travel planning.

When will travel get back to normal?  That is the key question, and absolutely no one knows the answer.  Still, with vaccinations underway—both globally and within the U.S.—the trend points towards the travel industry and tourist destinations being ready by mid/late-2021.

With those dates in mind, I’ve booked both vacation trips and mileage runs.

First, airlines and hotels extended loyalty status through 2021 which means I have another year to enjoy and exploit those status levels.  I hold mid-level status on United, American, Delta, and Alaska Airlines.  For hotels, I hold top-tier status on Marriott and mid-level (thanks to the Amex Platinum) on Hilton.  I let these status levels guide me as I started exploring both domestic and international trips for 2021.

Second, with international travel still more iffy than domestic travel, I started with looking at all the upcoming federal holidays and their long weekends starting with 4 July.  (Note:  I’m still mulling over Memorial Day weekend at the moment too).  With a Marriott 7-night certificate set to expire at the end of August, I chose 7-nights in Brooklyn, NY during the 4 July weekend.  Living in DC, it’s a very quick flight, and hopefully, by July, restaurants will be open to enjoy all that amazing NY food.  We plan to focus on Brooklyn’s Chinatown.  These flights will be DCA-JFK on Delta or American.  Haven’t decided which airline to use yet.

Moving onto Labor Day, I’ve planned an end-of-summer driving trip through Maine, a state I’ve never been to.  I’ve scheduled us to fly into Bangor, explore Bar Harbor, and make our way to Portland.  Portland continually tops list of “best food cities,” so it should be an exciting stop.  These flights will be via Dulles on United.

Columbus Day weekend takes us out west to Jackson Hole, WY and Park City, UT.  Both locations are better known as ski resorts and playgrounds for celebrities, but October is still a shoulder season, so the location is still affordable.  We plan to fly into WY and then drive the 4-5 hours to UT and enjoy the mountain drive.  At both locations, we plan to enjoy some hiking, mountain air, and some good food.  These flights will be on United in/out of DCA, just to make it a little more convenient for us.

Thanksgiving puts us in Napa Valley, CA.  As much as we love wine, we’ve yet to make a trek to the heart of the U.S. wine industry.  We never spend Thanksgiving with family, so for us, it’s an awesome time to get out and enjoy a long weekend.  While I’d usually fly transcontinental on United DCA/IAD-SFO, I unfortunately couldn’t find a decent fare, at least not without extending our trip too much or taking a red-eye back to DC.  So, this flight will be DCA-SFO-IAD on Alaska.

All airline tickets are cash tickets.  I’ve already booked everything, and with the recent “no change fee” policy from airlines, for me, I feel confident in purchasing the tickets this early out.  Plus, my personal philosophy is to not use points and miles for domestic flights.  While everyone’s travel situation is different, I only use points and miles for international trips.  Further, I very rarely use hotel points for stays.  Other than my free credit card nights (via my Marriott credit cards) or the 7-night certificates, all hotel stays tend to be cash stays.

(Note:  my Marriott 7-night certificate is part of the Marriott Travel Packages option.  Specifically, it’s the Air + Hotel Packages in where you trade in a stash of Bonvoy points for a 7-night certificate and 100,000 airline miles.  I use these certificates primarily in Asia where you get the biggest bang for your buck.  This exchange is primarily where all my Bonvoy points go, and more often than not, I deposit the airline miles in my Alaska Airlines account.  Again, everyone’s travel situation is different, but I think this is the best use of my Marriott points.)

Next, mileage runs:  with Alaska joining Oneworld in March and with some excellent bonuses and discounts thanks to Alaska’s NFL playoff discounts, I’ve booked a couple of springs trips to the west coast.  Some are just out-and-backs while others include weekend stays to visit some friends.  I’ve decided especially with the 50% elite mile bonus through 30 June, it’s a good time to get out and get a higher Alaska status for a higher Oneworld status.  Hopefully, if I can make it to Emerald level, I’ll have access some amazing First class lounges when (at some point) I start traveling internationally.

Third, planning for international travel is much trickier:  what countries will be open? what airlines will offer pre-COVID level service in premium cabins? what will be the testing/vaccination requirements?

With those questions in mind, I’ve booked two international trips for 2021:  one with miles and one cash.  For September, I booked a trip to Japan and Singapore using Alaska miles.  JFK-HND-SIN, with a 6 day stop-over on JAL.  I’m taking advantage of Alaska’s excellent partner redemption (65K miles for business class) to enjoy two of our favorite countries.  The return again uses Alaska’s partner redemption, but this time with Cathay Pacific.  70K Alaska miles for SIN-HKG-JFK, with business class to HKG and Cathay’s famed First Class onward to JFK.  Cathay Pacific is one of my favorite airlines, and they have amazing lounges at HKG.  As many times as I’ve flown them, I’ve never had the opportunity to enjoy their First Class or their First Class lounges.  Hopefully this trip happens both for the destinations and the flying perks.

Next, Christmas and New Year’s take us back to Asia for the holidays.  This ticket is a cash ticket from a deal with Singapore Airlines I found in July 2020.  I originally planned this trip for Feb 2021 with the hope COVID restrictions would be over by then.  When I bought this ticket, SQ had free, unlimited changes on the ticket.  So, after a call to Singapore Airlines, I moved it to Dec 2021/Jan 2022.  Not only is SQ an awesome airline with an awesome business class, the free changes means I can keep kicking the can down the road based on COVID restrictions.  This ticket is JFK-FRA-SIN-BKK and return.  I’ll credit the SQ mileage to Alaska, and the cycle will continue as we work towards 2022 trip planning.

Will any of these trips happen?  I’m confident the domestic trips will stay on the calendar, but I’m less confident about the international trips.  Not only do more vaccinations need to happen, but countries need to be logistically ready to start accepting tourists.  Already, I’ve read reports that Australia won’t be open for tourist until at least 2022 and maybe even longer.  It’s not out of the question more countries could tread on the side of caution.

Still, I’m happy to share with you some of my travel planning over the rest of the year.  Plus, somewhere in there, work travel will start as well.  That could mean some adjustments on my end.  But this is why the no change fee and cancelable rates are so important.  Flexibility is the key to travel planning!

Good luck as you start planning leisure trips for 2021.

Be safe!

Happy Travels!

Vr,

Albert

 

Albert Guerrero, USAF, Ret.

“Let’s Travel Farther, Together!”

 

Follow my travels on Instagram:  @albert_traveler

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My friend Ed Pizzarello of Pizza in Motion fame, hosts a podcast called Miles to Go. On his show he often laments/ humblebrags that he has never been to Hawaii.  I almost think that people on his show are so amazed by that fact that he takes it as a point of pride to have never been there.

Ed, sure that’s fine for you, but think of the children!  Sure it will look good on their college essays to list the hardship of never having been to Hawaii, and that’s not a bad strategy to get them into Harvard, but look at the life experiences you are denying them.  They may harbor resentment for the rest of their lives.  You may be labelled as a bad father.  Sure, you take them to Disneyworld like ten times a year, but still…

Most of us in the frequent flyer community consider this crazy since that is a prime destination for users of points and miles.  My wife and I lived there for three years and have returned every year to vacation at one of the islands. We find it very easy to get there and always get there with a great deal.  Today, I am going to lay that strategy out for you and see if you won’t be tempted.

Items required to make this work for a family of four:

Two Bank of America Alaska Airlines credit cards

Two AMEX Aspire Hilton credit cards

480,000 Hilton Honors points for two rooms for five nights

Optional – Gold Guest Upgrade Certificates

Optional – AA or AS Lounge membership

Now, Ed, you may be questioning the first item on the list.  Alaska Airlines? But I live in D.C., not Seattle. Actually, Ed, you might be surprised how much AS has expanded in the last few years.  They fly from all three Washington airports, BWI, DCA, and Dulles to most of the West Coast and then have flights from there to all the major Hawaiian islands. Here is the route my wife and I flew a few weeks ago.

Ed, I know you are concerned with a 10-12 hour flight to Hawaii.  Alaska also allows you a free stopover on their flights. One of my favorite ways to get to HNL from WAS is to fly BWI-SAN, spend a couple of days in San Diego, and then SAN-HNL a couple of days later. You could also do the same for LAX or SFO. In the summer, SEA is also a good stopover. Likewise, you can do the same on the way back.  This breaks up a long journey and is probably easier for the kids to handle, plus they get to see another city or two.

 

Why Alaska and no the other airlines? Because of one of the best CC benefits out there – the BoA Alaska Airline CC’ Companion Certificate.  As the name implies, this is a $99 ($122 with takes) ticket for someone travelling on exactly the same itinerary as you.  Right now, BoA has a deal where they will they are waiving the $99 fee the first year so that companion ticket only costs the $22 in taxes. So it really is two tickets for the price of one.  Ed, if you and your wife each get this CC, your family of four flies for half price (~$1800). Don’t forget to have AS FF accounts as each person earns full distance-based miles for these tickets. At about 10,000 miles round trip, that’s quite a few very valuable AS miles. My being a MVP Gold and my wife a MVP Gold75k, we earn 100% and 125% bonuses, respectively, on these trips meaning almost enough for a free award ticket for this one flight.

If you have a REALLY good friend, they may also give you a Gold Guest Upgrade (GGU) that they get from being an AS Gold. You need to select that from the pull down menu when searching for flights.  Look for flights with blue “F” boxes. If you are fortunate enough to find a flight with both legs showing as upgradeable that still only takes one GGU. Note that these fares may be slightly higher but way cheaper than outright buying First Class as shown below.

So that’s how to get there, but what about an inexpensive stay once you do get here? Here is a strategy for that with Hilton.  The AMEX Aspire card came out about a year ago and offers an interesting way to maximize value.  The card is $450/yr., but comes with Hilton Diamond Status and a $250/yr. credit for incidentals (everything but the room rate) at Hilton hotels. It is really meant to offset the ludicrous resort fee of $50/night, but here is a better way to use it.  Hilton does not charge the resort fee if you stay on points, meaning you can apply that credit to restaurants, surf lessons for your kids, or your morning coffee at Starbucks.  The most economical strategy is to get a room for four nights on points and then Hilton will give you a fifth night free. This applies whether you use points or cash, but let’s stick with points for now. We recently stayed at the Hilton Hawaiian Village for 240,000 points for five nights. That might seem like an incredible number of points, but Hilton points are very easy to earn.  In fact, the sign up bonus for the Aspire card is 150,000 right now so you are already over halfway there just with that.

 

Another benefit from the Aspire card is a $250 credit for airline incidentals including lounge membership. That will almost pay for an annual lounge membership for AA or AS (which also gives access to AA lounges) and make your voyage a little bit easier, especially with a family.

Your new Diamond status should get you an upgrade at the property and also comes with the benefit of a $10/ person (max two)/ night for food and beverage at any of the ten places to eat on the property.  For a five night stay this worked out to $100 off the bill. Note that they simply take off the $100 rather than force you to spend at least $20/day. Here is our recent bill illustrating what I am talking about.

And then my AMEX bill showing the credit. Note that I had used $31 of the credit earlier in the year, but you should get the full $250 if you follow this plan.

So there you go Ed, an inexpensive way for you to take the family to Hawaii. This plan would also work with going to Maui or the Big Island, although most of the things your kids would like are probably on Oahu. Make sure they try the Dole Whip at the Dole Plantation!

 

 

 

 

 

Posted by glenn | 3 Comments

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