On our first day in Kauai we stayed at the Sheraton Kauai resort and spa. I wanted to experience a few of the properties on the Island and since the airport is somewhat more south than north this was a closer drive than to heading straight to Princeville.
The property is in Poipu and the weather is amazing. The beach at the resort is very nice and it appears to be a very family friendly property. The room itself is your typical Sheraton which means basic or barebones but gets the job done.
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!
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 SPG.com for $100 and you see the same room on Hotels.com 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 SPG.com for $300 per night.
The Tropical pool villa with breakfast included was running $355.56 a night including taxes! When messing around on tripadvisor.com I saw a competing rate for the same dates on hotels.com that was much lower! It was showing a rate of $252 on hotels.com also including breakfast!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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 SPG.com 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 Hotels.com 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.
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
Hotels.com 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.
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 SPG.com.
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!
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!
We were very fortunate to spend 5 nights at the St. Regis Punta Mita! This property is more than amazing and we were very impressed! I am going to showcase a lot of pictures in this post (that’s your warning) that will hopefully give you a feel for being at the property. The St. Regis Punta Mita is now instantly one of my favorite properties and just a few days ago they were named the number one resort in all of Mexico and the number eight resort in the world by Tripadvisor.com and I can certainly see why! You can see their list here.
On arrival we were greeted by the bellmen and checkin staff that are outside the arrival area. They immediately offered us tea or a margarita (guess which one we chose). The margarita was just what the doctor ordered! They confirmed our names and walked us into an arrival or lobby area and offered us a seat on one of their couches and let us enjoy our drinks while they got all of our paperwork in order. They confirmed our reservation and payment details and we met our butler and he then walked us to our room which was not far from the arrival area. We were not upgraded as gold members but this was certainly not a garden view room in my opinion either.
Our butler went over all the details in the room and asked if we wanted a NY times or a USA Today delivered in the mornings. I chose not to get a paper but if you stay here I would advise to get a paper because they also give you a daily activity paper which I then had to ask for separately to know what was going on around the property. The room was very nicely appointed! I was not disappointed at all with this standard room. The rooms are typically all casita style with 4 units to a casita. We had a ground level room which offers the benefit of an additional outdoor shower. On the flip side the the upper units have a better view of course. So its a matter of personal preference if you want the additional space and shower or the higher view.
Sheraton BunganVillas Resort and Conference Center
Our first night and last two nights of our vacation were spent at the Sheraton Buganvillas Resort and Conference Center. The reason for this was that we did want to spend some time in Puerto Vallarta and we were arriving in the evening around 8pm on our fist night. This property is very close to the Malecon so we could walk right there from the hotel and back. It was about 15 minutes to get into the heart of the city via walking. I debated staying at the Westin but that is a 15 minute shuttle drive to the Malecon so being able to walk right there was the deciding factor instead of waiting on shuttle buses.
On arrival to the property via a $12 taxi ride we were greeted by the bellmen and they were happy to grab our bags and walk us up to the checkin line. The lobby is nice especially for a Sheraton. Its open and airy and just off the back of the lobby is the pool so you get some of the ocean air in the lobby. Checkin was smooth and they upgraded us to a club level room on the 22nd floor. On our last two nights of the trip they also upgraded us to a club level room on the 21st floor with a slightly better view. We are only Starwood gold members so they didn’t have to upgrade us and it was appreciated.
Our bellman quickly met us after we received our room key and escorted us up to our room and showed us around. Sheraton is not my favorite brand in SPG family so I am always a little hesitant when selecting one but this one was very pleasant.
22nd level floorplan
Our room 2229
Welcome amenity on our table
View from the window
View on the left side
Shortly after getting settled we had a visitor arrive and present us with two glasses of champaign which was a nice unexpected gesture. He advised he was our butler and would be taking care of any of our needs. On our 2nd stay however, the last 2 nights of our trip this service did not happen. Who staying at a Sheraton is expecting or needs a butler? I hate to judge but I am pretty sure 99.9% of the guests here don’t have or use a butler at home so maybe a little overkill for this type of property considering room rates can be found for under $100 a night. The champaign was pretty bad and my wife didn’t finish hers. We never used the butler needless to say.
A very nice feature of the room is that the window is floor to ceiling and the windows slide open to create a very wide opening bringing a lot of sun and ocean breeze. So no balconies at this property but the open window is very nice and you can hear the ocean waves loud and clear with the windows open from our rooms on the 22nd and 21st floors.
Our complimentary champaign
Cruise ship in the distance
Video walkthrough of our room below:
On two occasions we did stop over to the club lounge on the 23rd floor for free breakfast. It is just a continental breakfast so don’t expect eggs and bacon or any hot items. On one morning they had bananas but the next time they didn’t. I like bananas in my Frosted Flakes!! I had some cereal and pastries and my wife had a hard boiled egg and toast. There was orange juice and milk or they would bring you coffee which my wife said was good.
Part of the breakfast spread in the lounge
Pastries in the lounge
Here it is, the breakfast of champions.
Try to get one of two tables next to the window in the lounge
Club lounge entrance
We did use the modest gym our first morning since we have stopped paying for a gym membership so why not get in a quick workout. There was only one person in the gym when we entered and she was on the one and only elliptical machine so my wife and I took the two working treadmills (one wasn’t working). We did about 30-40 minutes of jogging then about 10 minutes of resistance training. The gym is basic but they had free weights and most things to get an adequate workout.
Free weights section of the gym
Common area’s and exterior
The property has some very nice tennis courts. I am a tennis fan and I was quite surprised how nice these hard courts were maintained. They have four courts complete with umpires chairs too! Too bad I didn’t bring my stick because they have many clinics for people of all ages and skill levels. In the afternoon the courts were very busy with players.
Nice tennis courts
Have to pose in front of the properties
Pool and beach
We checked out the pool and the beach although we didn’t spend anytime there at this property because we had plenty of beach time at the St. Regis in Punta Mita which is the next installment of this report. The pool was pretty big and it never appeared over crowded. There are a lot of rooms and guests at this property and the sun chairs are numerous!! I noticed by about 10am there were people claiming their spots but there are so many chairs I don’t think you would need to worry about finding a spot around the pool. I did notice there is not much beach seating however. It appears the beach is public and the locals are free to stand on the beach and sell their wares (trust me you will see plenty of this throughout Puerto Vallarta). I would assume most people don’t want to lay or sit on the beach due to those constant distractions.
Here you can see the guy dressed in white with the backpack is trying to sell something.
Notice the rooms and the floor to ceiling windows
We were never offered a timeshare presentation which I was glad about however we did receive a random phone call at 10am in our room. The lady caller was downstairs and mentioned she had $100 in coupons and a free beach bag at one of the counters next to the elevators. I didn’t bother because I assumed there is something attached and frankly we didn’t need either offer.
I didn’t take pictures of our second room on the last two nights because it was almost identical aside from the sink fixtures and the room had the TV wall mounted instead of inside a cabinet or hutch.
We chose not to eat on the property at all since there are so many local restaurants just a few minutes walk away. We did however stop at the bar to use up our two free drink coupons provided at checkin. We chose two Pacifico’s and we couldn’t believe the crowd and how crowded it is (the bar area is small). It was like a spring break scene for 30/40 year olds. We got out of there fairly quick!
The biggest negative of this property is the internet connectivity!!! If you need to have a reliable internet connection at this property-FORGET IT! It was possible to connect after a few moments and maybe send or receive email. Anything past that you may want to look at another property. My iPhone always showed a strong 2-3 bar signal however the connection speed was pathetic!!
Another annoyance is the water pressure from the sinks is very weak. I hated washing my hands or taking a shower in the rooms because the water pressure was too low to make it enjoyable. So between the wifi and the water pressure issues this could potentially be a property to skip but you have to decide how important those things are.
In general this was a slightly above average property in a good setting/location. If you want the weather and water and to be close to the Malecon in PVR then this is a solid choice. The staff was friendly and helpful and for 2 or 3 nights this was perfectly fine to allow us to be close to the action and experience Puerto Vallarta.
So to recap, we stayed one night on arrival in Puerto Vallarta and two nights at the end of our trip to be close to the airport and see the town. I decided to use Starwood’s “cash and points” option.
The normal cash rate for this property when I checked on several weeks was about $130-150 a night. If it was under $100 a night I would have probably just paid cash. So using cash and points I was able to redeem 3500 points per night to get a cash rate of $55. So the total cash and points was 3500 points and $55 per night. Again the other option was to pay around $140 plus taxes for the three nights and I just didn’t want to do that.
Here are the cash rates of all 3 Starwood properties in Puerto Vallarta on our first night in Mexico about a month prior to the trip
Email confirmation for our first night in Puerto Vallarta
Email confirmation for our last two nights
Email confirmation showing rate details for our last two nights
So instead of paying over $400 cash for three nights including taxes we paid about $190 and 10,500 points all in. The points saved us over $200. Plus we earned about 2700 SPG points for the stays and redeemed 2 free drinks. The cash and points option is nice when you don’t have a lot of points or don’t want to shell out a bunch of cash. The SPG points were worth just about $0.02 cents per point. I try to redeem SPG points for no less than $.02 cents per points and frankly didn’t want to spend a lot of cash. As I said earlier if the property was $100 a night I probably would have booked it so the $40 a night difference was just enough for me to say lets just redeem a few points. There are times throughout the year where you will be able to book this property for $100 a night or perhaps less but usually not in the winter time typically!
Thanks for reading and the next installment will be the St. Regis Punta Mita (don’t miss it)!!!!
One of my go-to’s for hotels in Atlanta is the LeMeridien Atlanta (Dunwoody). Its right off the MARTA and you can walk through Perimeter mall to get right there. The prices are normally pretty good. We paid $99 for this one night stay on a Saturday night so there will be no points pinnacle breakdown on this one.
I first stayed here last year and the property is still very fresh and stylish. At the bar they serve several good cocktails. The basic rooms are a generous size and for the price and I think a good value. I actually like this property more than many W hotels because the functionality of the room is still there as well as the style. Sometimes W’s can get too fancy that the functionality is lost.
The staff are always nice and welcoming and acknowledge that I am SPG gold and thank me. They always make sure to go over my welcome gift whereas some properties just give you a drink don’t give you an option unless you ask. They also have a free shuttle to areas close to the hotel but did not need to use that for this stay.
If you need a SPG hotel on the north side of Atlanta and I know there a lot of choices in the greater Atlanta area this property is definitely worth a look! See our room number 1008 and some more of the hotel below.
On our very last night in Maui we stayed at the Westin Ka’anapali. I wanted to experience the western side of the island and also obtain another Starwood hotel stay. The hotel was available on cash and points and was a decent redemption so it worked out good.
We arrived and the bell staff took our bags and asked if we wanted to self park and I said yes as we were paying for mandatory valet parking of $30 at the Andaz so it was nice to get “free” parking here. There was only one person checking people in so there was about a 10 minute wait to checkin in. She was able to get us into a newly refurbished room. From the outside you can see there is construction going on and they are renovating rooms section by section.
The room was clean and nice-typical Westin rooms. Nothing extraordinary but nice and gets the job done. The view from the balcony was pretty good and had ocean and pool views to our left. Once in the room I called back down to confirm 4pm checkout as I forgot to ask at checkin. They confirmed that would be OK.
The common areas were pleasant and there are a lot of different pools around the grounds. The grounds are expansive and the property feels more like a mega resort compared to the Andaz. Many more rooms+cheaper prices=more guests. Be prepared for a lot of people in and around the property. It appears Ka’anapali is very touristy with many hotels and timeshares. The plus side to that is there are a lot of bars and restaurants in the area.
On our last day in Maui before flying home in the evening we spent the whole day at the beach sun bathing and having a few drinks. We did go swimming in the ocean and the beach is nice. There is a bit of a riptide and the waves are kind of strong but the beach is clean and the sand is soft. Below are some pictures of our room.
We planned a big adventure to Ireland for Sept 2013 but on the way we had the chance to visit Boston! Neither of us had ever been to Boston so we were excited to explore for the day and a half we had before leaving to Dublin!
We used our Southwest companion pass and Rapid Rewards points to book a direct flight Milwaukee-Boston. Also, I had booked the Liberty Hotel in Boston using our Starwood points. So with logistics out of the way lets get to the trip!
We enjoyed our stay here. We took a cab to the hotel and were greeted by the bell staff. I will say the front entrance area was very hectic and it was one of the rare times I didn’t let the bell staff take my bags up the room and handled them myself. You will take an escalator from the ground floor up to the lobby level. The lobby area and common areas of the property make a statement! Very high ceilings and lovely decor. We were checked in promptly and as a nice touch in a city hotel, were offered a flute of champaign which we happily accepted. We stayed in room 1123 which was very nice but not specatcular-good for a standard room. We didn’t eat at the property but did hear positive things about the onsite restaurant. There is a very popular bar/club scene at the ground floor bar on the weekends so be prepared for the potential of some noise on the weekends. I found it strange when leaving the property for the baseball game they couldn’t give us directions to the stadium only suggesting we take a cab. The concierge said it was walkable and how did the doorman that live in the city not know how to give directions?! We simply mapped it on our phones and walked there fine.
Ok so after my recent trip to Maui and my upcoming visit to Atlanta I will be sitting 10 stays away from SPG Platinum status. So I have been asking myself is this something that I should be going for? It would be nice to travel for business and have all my hotel stays paid for or reimbursed however that is not my world. I have ZERO travel requirements for my job thus that fantasy will never exist.
So after breaking down the numbers I could potentially “buy” SPG status by grinding them out at the old CVS. The only downside is its pretty late in the year now to pick up 10 stays. But is SPG plat worth it???
Well lets start with two of the benefits I care about.
Suite upgrades! So how much is this worth? Can be hard to quantify since some people put little value in a suite but lets try to go with a simple example. So lets say you were staying at the St Regis Punta Mita on a random date in Feb 2014.
So $450 a night for a standard room. However if your a Platinum member you should get a room upgrade so lets say you got a Junior Suite as a Platinum member.
So the room your now in is going for $630 a night. So $180 a night is the benefit of being a SPG Platinum member assuming you would pay for a suite potentially. Now depending on the date the rate fluctuation will change bigger or smaller.
So you get a free breakfast as a plat and squat as a gold typically. So lets assume at the same property above (St Regis Punta Mita) your a platinum member. The breakfast at minimum will be about $20 at this type of resort typically. If your bring a spouse or partner you can multiply that by two. So your up $40 per day for breakfast. Now some properties are less generous than others. Some properties might just offer you a bagel and and orange juice but you know at some of the nicer category 6 and 7 properties they typically will go all out or at least offer a nominal upgrade fee to get a $40 per person buffet.
Ok so in the example above your receiving a $180 a night upgrade and free breakfast of $20 per person. If we assume this stay is a 3 day weekend and tally up these two benefits you come out with $540 on your room and $120 on breakfast (for 2 people).
Buying it Mathematics
So I can pretty much buy SPG Plat using the two category 2 properties and grinding out the SPG points via CVS. Doing the math using CVS I can earn points for $7.90 per 1000 points. The Category 2 properties required 3000 SPG points per night. If I multiply that by the 10 nights I need it will total 30,000 SPG points to obtain Plat status. Breaking that down in dollars is $237! I already have both Starwood Amex products to receive the 2 nights stay credit each card provides.
Starting from 0 stays and assuming you have easy access to a category 1 property near by you can redeem weekend rooms for only 2000 points. So you can get those rooms for about $15!!! The math:
4 Nights obtained via 2 SPG Amex cards-$65 annual fee on each card=$135
21 Nights obtained via redeeming Starwood points at Cat 1 properties on the weekend=$15.80 a night * 21 nights= $466.80
25 nights and a Grand total of $466.80!!!
If you used this same strategy with a category 2 property it would be
21 nights * $23.70= $497.70 + $135= $632.70
You can reap that much back by only a 3 night stay as a Plat at the higher level Starwood Properties per my earlier example! These examples do not take into account any of the other Platinum benefits!
So what do you think??? Is it worth a shot or is this something that sounds good in theory? I need to make up my mind soon!