Super Travelzoo deal at Four Seasons Punta Mita!


I came across this deal today on Travelzoo for the Four Seasons Punta Mita!  Now for those of you that read this blog know that we just visited the St. Regis Punta Mita in January and loved it!!!!  Both the Four Seasons and St. Regis regularly run room rates of over $500 a night for the base level rooms typically.

Well the travel zoo deal offers the Four Seasons Punta Mita for $300 a night!!!!  Now $300 a night is not cheap for a hotel in general but for the luxury hotel lovers this is great deal!  Now you must stay at least 3 nights as part of this deal and there are some blackout dates so check the fine print and make sure the dates would work for you.

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Need some more Starwood points? Just Call Amex!


Just recently I wanted to transfer some of my Starwood points to American Airlines.  I realized I was 522 points shy of an even 20,000 points! When you transfer 20,000 Starwood points you get a bonus of 5,000 additional points! So it would be really dumb to transfer 19,xxx points and miss out on a free 5,000 additional American Airlines miles.

I could have transferred some of my Membership Rewards points from my Amex account to Starwood at a poor 3:1 ratio so to get 522 points I would have needed to transfer 2,000  Membership Rewards points  (must be in increments of 1000) which would equal 666 points.  I instead decided to dial up the number on the back of my American Express card (800-297-1000) and tell them I was 522 points shy of a redemption and is there anyway they can help me with some additional points?  The rep I was speaking to thanked me for being a valued customer and said she certainly could provide the needed points! She put me on hold for about 2 minutes and said she has sent the request to Starwood and it might take up to 7 business days! I have an award on hold with AA and it only lasts 5 days so I was nervous it wouldn’t get to my account in time. I thanked her and said if thats the quickest possible then I appreciate it and went on my way. I would bet if I needed 1000 or so points she had the ability to grant that amount if not a bit higher depending on how much you spend per month with Amex.

I later called Starwood and explained the scenario and asked if they could expedite the transfer on their end.  The rep asked what property I wanted to redeem for and I advised I wanted to transfer to American Airlines for a flight. She immediately chirped in that NO she can’t help me there! If it was a hotel room redemption she could indeed help me however. I thanked her and hung up.

I just decided to keep my fingers crossed hoping the 522 points would hit my account before my 5 day hold expired on my flight! I initially called AMEX on Friday and surprise surprise the 522 points hit my SPG account on Monday! So just 2-3 days and the points transferred over and those weren’t business days so thats fair transfer time in my opinion!

In summary, If you can’t wait for your statement to close this is a great way to grab some quick points if your short for a redemption! This might also come in handy for some people trying to book some last minute room awards before Starwood adjusts the categories on March 4th!



Starwood Best Rate Guarantee! How I got the lower rate!


Many hotel chains have some sort of best rate guarantee (BRG) program.  Basically they will match a lower rate from another website on the identical room.  I am going to go over how to submit a BRG with Starwood and recap a real life situation I just booked for myself.

If you find a room on for $100 and you see the same room on for example, you can submit the lower rate to Starwood and they will review it and many times match it! Not only that they will give you either 2,000 Starwood points or an extra 10% discount on the lower rate you found!!

We are planning a trip to Thailand later this year and was looking at a few options.  When browsing through properties I noticed The Naka Island (a Luxury Collection resort and spa) on for $300 per night.

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The Tropical pool villa with breakfast included was running $355.56 a night including taxes! When messing around on I saw a competing rate for the same dates on that was much lower!  It was showing a rate of $252 on also including breakfast!

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The Naka Island resort is an ALL VILLA property meaning every room is a villa and comes with its own private pool.  I often see this property for upwards of $400+ per night depending on the time of year. It is very hard to redeem points here because of its all villa status and points redemptions run over 40-50K per night (crazy)!!!!

I immediately went to the SPG BRG form and filled out the details.

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Page 1 of SPG BRG claim form

I did not have a reservation at the time so I clicked on the 2nd option and hit continue. If you already made a reservation and noticed afterwards that the price is lower at a competing website then you would hit the 1st option.

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Page 2 of SPG BRG claim form

I then filled in all the details for the information on the 2nd page. This is all very simple information. Copy and  past the URL showing the Starwood rate in the last field.  Then hit continue for the next step!

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Page 3 of the SPG BRG form

Again this is very simple, you can just copy and past the URL for the competing website showing the rate of the identical room you want to book.  When it asks if you want 10% discount or 2,000 points you will need to decide what is worth more for that particular booking.  I value 2,000 SPG points at about $40 so if your 10% discount is greater than $40 take the discount! Fill out all the fields and hit submit! After that you will get an email in the following moments confirming they received your request and the email will also assign you a case number in the subject line.

Typically you will get a response from the Starwood BRG team within 12 hours but recently they have been slower so in my case it took about 28 hours before I had my response.

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BRG approval email from specialist

Once I got my approval I had 24 hours to actually make the booking as the email explains! I went back to and made the reservation.  The nice thing about this is that you can book a REFUNDABLE room on the SPG website! So not only are you getting the lower rate you are getting a refundable room whereas on they required full payment at booking.  I now have many months to cancel the reservation if need be! Another nice reason to go this route is that I get stay/night credit with SPG and I can earn points on this stay whereas booking with an OTA (online travel agent) you typically aren’t eligible to earn points on those bookings.

Lastly you will get one last email from the BRG specialist confirming they have your  reservation and have adjusted it to the appropriate rate you received in the confirmation email.

PointsPinnacle Breakdown

So while I am not redeeming points for this redemption I am indeed saving a good chunk of cash on this booking!

Lets recap the savings by using a BRG claim.

  • Starwood’s original rate for the hotel was $300 nightly
  • rate for the hotel was $252 nightly

My confirmed rate using the BRG is 7381.31THB (Thai Baht-Thailands currency).  That amount converts to $226.39.

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The new room rate using a currency converter

Since I elected to take the 10% discount (due to finding a lower rate elsewhere) my rate essentially negates the taxes so my rate will be right around the $225 per night! So I am saving about $75 per night by using the BRG claim instead of just booking normally online through

It pays to actually try to do this on all your hotel stays when paying cash instead of points for a room!! Let me know if you have any questions on this process as I would be happy to  help!




Starwood Category Adjustments 2014 Edition!


Well time has come as it does every February. Time for the annual SPG category adjustments for 2014, where Starwood assigns new category levels based on the projected average daily rate they forecast for the year. Starwood assigns each property they manage/own a category level 1-7.  This year 20% of the properties are changing categories, 56% are moving down (meaning it takes less points to redeem a free night) and 44% are moving up (meaning it takes more points to redeem a free night). You can find the full list here! The changes go into effect March 4th so look to make your speculative bookings now!!!

While I am not entirely happy with the new adjustments, I am also not fuming mad as it isn’t a huge devaluation and value can still be had in many areas of the world at many properties. Category 1 properties are still 2,000 points on the weekends and 3,000 points on the weekdays. Category 7 properties are still 30,000-35,000 points per night. My three biggest disappointments are:

  • St. Regis Atlanta
  • St. Regis Rome
  • More Hawaii hotels are increasing (many went up last year as well)

I am a St. Regis fan and have always thought the Atlanta property being a category 5 property was/is a steal!!  I might go ahead and book a night before the changes go into effect.  I guess I am happy that I got a chance to stay at St. Regis Princeville in 2012 when it was still a category 6 property.  I was looking to go to Italy potentially in 2015 and St. Regis Rome would have been a great spot to redeem for a week however at category 7, I won’t be redeeming points there.  Also they are charging  20,000 points now for the Sheraton Maui and Sheraton Waikiki!!!! 20k for a Sheraton?I don’t think so!

Hyatt also has a category 7 properties which costs 30,000 points per night but Hyatt points are much easier to obtain through the Chase earning channels.  Starwood points are probably the hardest to obtain so I will never blow 30,000 for one night!

Anyhow, take a look at the new changes and decide if you need to make some bookings or if some of your potential upcoming stays have gone down and if so book them at the lower rate!

How do you feel about the changes for 2014!?



Trip Report: The Villages/Orlando (part 3)


Report Index

Feb 2-Feb 4 Superbowl weekend

The Villages/Orlando (part 1) Southwest Airlines flight Milwaukee (MKE) to Orlando (MCO)
The Villages/Orlando (part 2) Hanging out in The Villages (Food and Drink)
The Villages/Orlando (part 3) Southwest Airlines flight Orlando (MCO) to Milwaukee (MKE)

Southwest Airlines flight 1247 Orlando (MCO) to Milwaukee (MKE)

We had a nice three day weekend visiting family and getting some sun! However Monday came and it was back to reality.  We were dropped off at the airport and my wife and sister in law checked there bags at the curb. I normally don’t do that and just check the bags at the counter, I felt bad as I didn’t have any cash to tip the guy. The security lines in Orlando are always fairly long in my opinion and this time was no different.  We booked these tickets before I had a chance to add my trusted traveler number to our Southwest accounts thus we didn’t have precheck but going forward we should be all good.

We grabbed a snack at the food court in the terminal and waited to board. Our boarding positions were quite spread apart since we were at the bar drinking 24 hours before the flight and missed the T-24 checkin by a few minutes.

Our plane to Milwaukee
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Trip Report: The Villages/Orlando (part 2)


Report Index

Feb 2-Feb 4 Superbowl weekend

The Villages/Orlando (part 1) Southwest Airlines flight Milwaukee (MKE) to Orlando (MCO)
The Villages/Orlando (part 2) Hanging out in The Villages (Food and Drink)
The Villages/Orlando (part 3) Southwest Airlines flight Orlando (MCO) to Milwaukee (MKE)

Hanging out in the Villages (Food and Drink)

After meeting up with the rest of the family already in Orlando we went to check out The Villages which is a golf community/city about a one hour drive from Orlando.

We did what Wisconsinites do best…….went for a drink 🙂

World of Beer

We stopped at World of Beer to see the selection.  We were told they have 400 beers on offer so we were curious to check it out.

World of Beer exterior

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Quite a few bottles
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Trip Report: The Villages/Orlando (part 1)


Report Index

Feb 2-Feb 4 Superbowl weekend

The Villages/Orlando (part 1) Southwest Airlines flight Milwaukee (MKE) to Orlando (MCO)
The Villages/Orlando (part 2) Hanging out in The Villages (Food and Drink)
The Villages/Orlando (part 3) Southwest Airlines flight Orlando (MCO) to Milwaukee (MKE)

Southwest Airlines flight 3249 Milwaukee (MKE) to Orlando (MCO)

My wife’s mother and husband are snowbirds and thus for a few months every winter live in Florida to get away from these brutal Wisconsin winters!  Last year (2013) we went down to visit them for the first time during the Super Bowl weekend.  This year we decided to visit them again during that same weekend.  This time my wife’s big sister decided to join us (however she went down two days earlier than us).

We took the early flight to arrive in Orlando as early as possible to maximize the three day weekend.  So Saturday morning we woke up about 4:40am-5am to another fresh snowfall (will this winter ever end)!!  We actually left the house late at around 6am for a 7:10am departure!  We arrived at the airport around 6:35am and luckily there was nobody in security line (not one person). The flight started boarding around 6:50am or so thus giving us a few minutes of waiting around before starting to line up for boarding.

On time for now

Snowy 737’s this morning

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AAdvantage World Elite Master card 100,000 miles offer!


Late January an offer from Citi and American Airlines crept out on the interwebs.  The first MAJOR bonus offer of the year-100,000 American Airlines miles!!!

I looked over the offer and actually needed to think about it because the card charges a $450 annual fee-YIKES!!!    However the card also offers a $200 statement credit thus bringing the fee down to $250 in reality. The card also grants free admission to American Airlines Admirals Clubs (lounges where you can get free food and drinks).  I personally don’t fly enough to value this much but for many they do value it. What is nice is that even if you are not flying American you can use the lounge! The card also offers one free checked bag which we already have due to our other Citi American card.

After debating for a bit I decided to pull the trigger and applied here.

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The landing page showing the details and benefits

The day I applied I did not get an instant decision and was asked to call Citi.  When I called they mentioned their systems were down and to call back in 24 hours.  I imagine the systems were slammed because the of the amount of application volume coming in due to this offer.

I called in the next day and they mentioned the file is under review and nothing additional was needed.  A day later they actual called me and told me I was at a maximum credit allotment  and they needed to move some credit around to get this new card approved.  I moved $15,000 credit line from one of my Citi cards to this new one and I was approved!  The next day I received a letter from Citi going over the terms and conditions of the card and the following day I received the actual card in the mail in a snazzy package!

Pretty nice packaging

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I activated the card that night and over the course of the next 3 nights I stopped at CVS to hit the huge spending hurdle of $10,000!!

$10k worth of Vanilla Reloads

So within three days I hit my $10,000 spending hurdle.  The Vanilla Reloads cost $3.95 per card so $10,000 costs $79 in fees.  So for $79 plus the $250 annual fee totals $329.  Essentially I am paying $329 for 110,000 American Airlines miles (remember you get 1 mile per every dollar spent so $10,000 spent=10,000 miles).  With 110,000 American Airlines miles you can go anywhere in the world!!  When we went from Hong Kong to Chicago in Cathay Pacific business class it cost 55,000 miles per person so two business class tickets one way or one business class ticket roundtrip!!!!

Lets say you wanted to take a vacation to see the Great Wall of China.  It costs 55,000 miles one way or 110,000 miles roundtrip in business class.  If you don’t care about business class you can go roundtrip in economy for 70,000 and still have 40,000 miles left over!  Or if you want to go big you can fly first class to Beijing for 67,500 miles one way or 135,000 miles roundtrip so you would need to earn another 25,000 AA miles for that.

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AA award chart to China from North America

Another option is you can say “nah, I just want to pay for my ticket in cash.”  Take a look below to see some of your options.

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American Airlines business class (random date in 2014) is $8,506.30 roundtrip for one

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The cheapest fare on Kayak for random dates in economy $1284 roundtrip for one

I would much rather fly Cathay Pacific Business class to Beijing for $329 using my miles!

Cathay Pacific business class

Choice is yours 🙂




Trip Report: Puerto Vallarta (Part 8) American Airlines economy PVR-DFW-ORD



Puerto Vallarta (part 1)  American Airlines & American Eagle MKE-DFW-PVR
Puerto Vallarta (part 2) The Centurion Lounge Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW)
Puerto Vallarta (part 3) Sheraton Bunganvillas Resort and Conference Center
Puerto Vallarta (part 4) St. Regis Punta Mita
Puerto Vallarta (part 5) Marine Safari
Puerto Vallarta (part 6) Street scenes of Puerto Vallarta and Punta Mita
Puerto Vallarta (part 7) The food scene
Puerto Vallarta (part 8) American Airlines economy PVR-DFW-ORD

American Airlines flight 1074 Puerto Vallarta (PVR) to Dallas (DFW)

We had a fairly early departure time of 8:20am leaving Puerto Vallarta.  We were sad to leave but eight nights was just enough time for this trip.  We got up early and got a cab to the airport.  The airport was very empty at around 7am when we arrived to checkin.  It appeared like we were the only flight!  While checking in there was a hound in a cage being checked in for the flight as well and it was wailing and whining so hard in the cage, I felt bad for it.

Thats our bird to Dallas

My boarding pass

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Trip Report: Puerto Vallarta (part 7) The Food Scene


Puerto Vallarta (part 1)  American Airlines & American Eagle MKE-DFW-PVR
Puerto Vallarta (part 2) The Centurion Lounge Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW)
Puerto Vallarta (part 3) Sheraton Bunganvillas Resort and Conference Center
Puerto Vallarta (part 4) St. Regis Punta Mita
Puerto Vallarta (part 5) Marine Safari
Puerto Vallarta (part 6) Street scenes of Puerto Vallarta and Punta Mita
Puerto Vallarta (part 7) The food scene
Puerto Vallarta (part 8) American Airlines economy PVR-DFW-ORD

The Food Scene


The Blue Shrimp

Our first full day in Puerto Vallarta we walked the Malecon and finally got hungry at the time we got to the Blue Shrimp.  We took a peek at the menu and went for it.  The property is right on the beach and has good views.  We were seated right away as it wasn’t very crowded at around 2pm. We promptly ordered margaritas as usual! The margaritas packed a punch and were good.  We proceeded to order an appetizer and I ordered the Portuguese shrimp and my wife got the coconut shrimp.   Wow, the Portuguese shrimp was very, very good! It was wrapped in bacon so how could it be bad right!?  I will say the vegetables served with the shrimp were cold and not very good.  Overall this was a very good meal aside from the vegetables and we would return however its not a “must do” in my opinion. They also have a location in Punta Mita as well if you are looking for something closer to the St. Regis.

The Blue Shrimp

Our first round
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