Club Carlson tagged posts

Copenhagen Part 1: The Hotels-  Radisson Blu Royal and Best Western Hotel Hebron Reviews

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One reason why I stayed in Copenhagen only two nights was the expense of the city. Food and beverage is pretty pricey, but hotels were also astronomical. Indeed, many hotels were sold out 6 months in advance.  I decided I’d use my free night certificate from the devaluation of the Club Carlson credit card for one night at the Radisson Blu Royal.  It wasn’t available for points for my second night (and would have been 70,000 points anyway or over $300), so I figured I’d stay somewhere else.  I’d looked at various boutique-y properties in the $200 range, but an intriguing possibility emerged in April with the US Travel Association’s annual Daily Getaways promotion.  Through that promotion, USTA often sells points bundles for various hotel providers at discounted rates.  One of the days was a sale for Best Western rewards points at a rate of $55 per 10,000 points, up to 5 packages per person.  I don’t know if I’d ever stayed at a Best Western before, and if I did, it was as a child.  It’s not a chain associated with high-end or even business properties, but as it happens, there are two locations in the heart of Copenhagen.  Both were decently reviewed, and one of them, the Hotel Hebron, had room availability for 28,000 points.  So a $165 purchase would get me the room with 2,000 points left over; not cheap, but a good option for Copenhagen that week.  And it was about a 5-minute walk from the Radisson, close to the train station. (I walked nearly everywhere my entire time in the City, except for one bus one way on my sightseeing day.)

It’s very easy to get from Copenhagen’s Kastrup Airport to downtown, by either train or metro, depending on where you’re going in the city.  When I had lived there, the Metro had just opened and was very short.  The expansion is notable, but it’s expanding even more – unfortunate if you’re visiting now because many of Copenhagen’s loveliest squares are all torn up for construction of stations.   It’s an interesting move, because the trains are pretty convenient, and most Danes bike everywhere, so I’m not sure there was a massive need.  (I lived about 45 minutes outside of the city by S-train, which was my one regret, as it limited my exploration of the city- particularly at night.)  On this trip, I took the train for the 20 minute ride to Central Station, which is about a block from the Radisson Blu Scandinavia, the more centrally located of the two Radisson Blus in Copenhagen.

Radisson Blu Royal

Radisson Blu Royal Copenhagen

Radisson Blu Royal Copenhagen

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Aer Lingus Bilbao to Dublin and the Bloody Radisson Blu Dublin Airport

Category: AirlinesHotelsTrip Reports Comments: One comment

This is part ten in my trip report series from my July 2016 trip to Spain.  For an introduction, see this post.

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Aer Lingus A320

The business class fare that I had booked home was out of Dublin. I thought that flying from somewhere in Basque country to Dublin would be pretty cheap.  Alas, it wasn’t; the only nonstop was on Aer Lingus from Bilbao.  (After I booked, Aer Lingus added a second weekly late evening nonstop on a wet-leased BA Cityflyer Embraer regional jet.)  And it wasn’t that cheap; I booked a “Plus” fare, which included a checked bag, advanced seat assignment, and the ability to earn miles (Aer Lingus ended up delaying the launch of its own Avios program, so I’ll be crediting to British Airways Executive Club (how many remains to be seen, as I’ve had to manually request after they didn’t automatically post)), it came to 150 Euros.  But hooray for trying a new airline!  (Fun fact- it’s my 57th airline, not including regional/express carriers flying for mainline carriers.)

Although there is a bus from Bilbao to the airport, it would have had me heading out of my way, taking the metro downtown and then turning around.  The Holiday Inn was on the way to the airport, so the ride took less than 15 minutes and was worth the 25 Euros.

Main Hall of Bilbao Airport

Main Hall of Bilbao Airport

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2015 Index and YWW Year in Review

Category: About YWWAirlinesHotelsTrip Reports Comments: One comment

It’s a bit late, but here is my 2015 travel year in review post.  It was a huge travel year for me, as I hit 5 continents and did more long-haul flying than I’d ever done before. It was a lot of mileage redemptions, and low on the mileage earning front.  I re-qualified for American Airlines Gold status. I thought about going for Platinum but it was a busy enough fall and winter that the marginal utility was not enough to outweigh the financial and other costs.

As for the blog, I have kept it as a personal travel diary rather than changing to something else, but hopefully folks find it enjoyable, useful, or both.   My philosophy is the same today as it was in my 2013 year in review post: “I will never stop loving travel, but business class and nice hotels isn’t the point of life.”

So, what were my travel patterns and accomplishments of 2015? I’ve put indices of the places, planes, and hotels I’ve reviewed at the bottom of this post, and have some statistics as well. It was a heavy year of international travel, with only one domestic purely leisure trip.
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Total continents visited: 5
New continents: 1 (Australia)
Total countries (excluding U.S.): 10
New countries: 5 (Australia, United Arab Emirates, Korea, Taiwan, Brazil)
New states: 1 (Missouri)

New airlines: 7 (Qantas, Etihad, Asiana, TAM, Virgin Australia, Germanwings)

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Hotel Review: The Radisson Blu Cologne

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I was worried about my choice to spend 2 nights at the Radisson Blu, as I hadn’t quite paid attention to its location – on the other side of the Rhine from the Aldstadt and not in walking distance to much except the Convention Center. Still, I figured I should spend my Club Carlson points before the devaluation and 2 nights for 44,000 points was a steal.

Radisson Blu Cologne

Radisson Blu Cologne

But I felt better about my choice when I got to the hotel, about a half block from the tram. The hotel has a lovely front entrance with fountains, and a modern expansive lobby. And although the German check-in clerk was hardly warm, she at least asked how my trip was and welcomed me to the hotel, unlike her Art’otel colleague. Even though it was still morning, I was able to check in, and the clerk told me I was upgraded to a Business Class room. And unlike some other Radisson Blus, she said breakfast was included with the upgraded room.   It felt good to be at a real full-service hotel.

Lobby, Radisson Blu Cologne

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Day 1 in Cologne and the Art’otel Cologne

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It was nice to land in the gleaming modern Cologne-Bonn International Airport, though I was a bit surprised how much walking was entailed to exit (although no bus this time). The walk to baggage claim was quite long, and there was a substantial wait for my bag. Then it was a good 15 minute walk through other terminals to get to the train station.

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S-Bahn trains run to Cologne’s main train station every 30 minutes, and it’s a 15 minute ride for 2,80 Euros. Pretty easy. Once I got to the rather busy train station in the center of town, I stopped at a cell phone store and picked up a German sim card for my phone, as I suspected there wouldn’t be a lot open on a Sunday in the city. From there, I got on a bus for a 8 minute ride to the Art’otel Cologne, where I was spending my first of three nights in Cologne.

My hotel plan in Cologne was strategic. Initially I was going to stay at the Hilton and/or the Hyatt, but then Club Carlson announced its elimination of the best benefit of its US Bank Visa Card – the last night free on multi-night award stays – while also announcing increases in award rates at many of their top properties. Hotels in Cologne weren’t super-expensive, but I had a lot of Club Carlson points and not much travel to Club Carlson cities scheduled, so I booked two nights at the Radisson Blu Cologne. US Bank/Club Carlson then announced a good points bonus on paid stays for its cardholders, so I figured I’d book the third night at the cheaper, but more centrally located and well-reviewed, Art’otel Cologne, at a prepaid rate of about 90 Euros.

Art'otel Cologne

Art’otel Cologne

At first, I thought I’d regret doing one night at the Art’otel and two at the Radisson, since the Art’otel was much more in the heart of the city. But my stay was not particularly good. Art’otel is a newish brand of Carlson, and each hotel has actual art in each room. Here, the art was all done by a Korean painter. Its kind of a limited service brand, think Four Points or Aloft. The hotel was actually a former Park Plaza, another Carlson brand, and had some Park Plaza-branded stuff throughout.

Remnants

Remnants

Check-in was strange, as not only was the...

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My Debtor-Creditor Summer Vacation: To Greece and Germany

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Since 2011, I’ve gone somewhere for 10 days every June or July- Greece in 2011, Italy and Israel in 2012, Austria, Finland and Estonia in 2013, and Israel in 2014. Last winter, a friend of mine and I were discussing and he suggested we go to Mykonos and Germany this coming summer. An odd combo, but why not?  How little I knew then…

In January, when US Airways and American were aligning their fare classes, there was a period where business class award tickets were available on every US Airways flight with seat availability.   Using AA miles for transatlantic premium award tickets is typically very difficult, since AA releases very few seats, and while British Airways seats are plentiful, they have massive fuel surcharges. Finnair, Air Berlin, and Iberia offer some less expensive options, but they’re hardly widely available. So I jumped at the chance and booked a trip from DCA to Athens via Philly in US Airways Envoy Class, returning Munich to DCA, again via Philly.

My friend shortly after flaked out, but I decided to go through with it anyway.   I had 9 days to divide between Greece and Germany, and settled on three nights in Mykonos (where I’ve been before), and three nights each in Cologne and Munich – two German cities I had never been to before.Greek Debt Crisis Pits Greeks Against Germans - The New York Times 2015-07-12 20-05-20

Getting aro...

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Hotel Review: Radisson Blu Plaza Sydney

Category: HotelsTrip Reports Comments: One comment

Sydney is not a cheap city. Add in Mardi Gras and the Cricket World Cup and hotels were pretty expensive. At first, I hoped to use my Hilton “Be Our Guest” certificate for a free night at the Hilton, but five months out, all the “Standard” rooms were “sold out.” So I moved down the list of points and other tricks up my sleeve.

In the end I decided to do two nights at the Radisson Blu Plaza Hotel Sydney, taking advantage of Club Carlson’s “bonus award night” for cardholders, which gave you the last night free on any award stay of 2 or more nights. I say “gave” because yesterday the card announced it would be getting rid of this benefit. (Given how meaningless Club Carlson elite status has been, I see no reason to continue to pay the annual fee on this card—the only real benefit is 40,000 points a year, which aren’t enough for one night at most decent Club Carlson properties.  The benefit was too good to expect it to continue for a long time, but Club Carlson botched an opportunity to get people hooked on its properties.  If Club Carlson treated its elites wonderfully over the past few years this benefit was available, people would stay loyal.  But it hasn’t, and as I’ve discussed before, benefits are inconsistent at best, and even when they are provided aren’t even that good.)  After that, I’d move to the Intercontinental Sydney, where I’d use my annual weekend BOGO certificate as an Ambassador.

Radisson Blu Plaza Hotel Sydney
The Radisson was a perfectly fine property, and a great use of points with the bonus award night. Without that option, I probably wouldn’t stay there again unless there was a good rate, given the range of options in the city.

Radisson Blu Plaza Sydney

Radisson Blu Plaza Sydney

The weirdest part of my stay was at check-in. It was after noon when I got to the hotel, so hardly super early. The agent told me that because the hotel was “fully booked,” my room wasn’t ready….unless I wanted to pay for a “Business Class” upgrade, in which case the hotel would have become not fully booked and a room immediately available. For 66 AUD a night ($50), and as a matter of principle, I wasn’t going to do that. The availability of that room meant that either (1) the hotel was not “fully booked” or (2) non-business class rooms were overbooked, meaning someone who booked a non-business class room would be put in a Business Class room, and that should have been me, an elite guest. (Especially since Business Class rooms are the same size as the room I ended up in and the only difference is lounge access and a higher floor.)

So I asked when the room would be available. The response “Perhaps you’d like to make some plans for the day and come back later?” No. When will the room be available. “Well I must have it ready by 2!” The agent seemed to act like no one ever tried to check in early before, which was certainly not the case as both of the next two days I saw people checking in at 10am (and getting rooms right away). Finally she said, “Perhaps you would like to use the health club?” “Are there showers there?” (why else would I want to use the health club?) “Oh, yes.”

Great. So I schlepped my luggage to the basement health club, and went into the small locker room. The lockers required you to pick a code to set the lock, and I put my most valuable things in there, since my suitcase wouldn’t fit. The shower was fine, but, of course, when I came out, I could not get the locker to open. So in a towel with no glasses, I had to go out to the front desk. Apparently this is a common issue, as the woman knew the problem immediately and said she’d send someone to open it. Someone came in less than 5 minutes and opened it, and I was clothed.

I headed up to the lobby, left my suitcase at the bell desk, and then sat in the lobby to try to make a plan and finish catching up on the past 24 hours of the world. Unfortunately, most of the lobby is a restaurant/bar, and I am guiltable, so ordered a Coke Zero when the waitress came over. Turned out to be only 7 AUD – ~$5.50 for a small glass bottle. Theoretically, I may have been able to get a discount as a Club Carlson elite member, but Club Carlson does not post a list as to which hotels that benefit is available at outside the U.S. and Canada. When I’ve asked Club Carlson, I was told you have to ask each individual property if they offer the benefit. Making the benefit close to useless.

After about two hours walking around the city, I came back to the hotel and was told the room was ready and my luggage already waiting. I was a bit nervous as to what the room would be, but it was actually quite nice. Using the base level of points, all you can reserve is an “atrium room,” i.e., one that faces an interior courtyard. I did get upgraded to a “premier” room, one category up, which faced the street. On the relatively low fifth floor, though, there was still very little natural light and no view at all. But the room was decently sized and recently renovated, with a large comfortable bed and a sitting area.  (The walls were oddly bare.) The bathroom was very big, with both a stall shower and a separate tub. IMG_3089 IMG_3091

Premier Room, Radisson Blu Plaza Hotel Sydney

Premier Room, Radisson ...

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Anatomy of an Award: Labor Day in Berlin on Short Notice in Premium Cabins

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A few weeks ago, I decided I really needed to get away for a long Labor Day.  Preferably to a city where I could explore nightlife if I wanted, but also could lose myself walking or sitting at a cafe.  Oh, and I didn’t want to spend a lot of money, I didn’t want to repeat a city I’d been to recently, and I wanted to be able to get there relatively quickly from DC.

Berlin seemed like a great choice, as I’ve only been once — in 2004 with my study abroad program on a “study tour.”  10 years older, and for leisure travel, it would be a completely different city.  Berlin is also a very reasonably priced city, and would serve as a place to use my expiring free Hyatt night that I get as a Hyatt Visa cardholder, as the Grand Hyatt Berlin is somehow only a category 4 hotel.

But late July is not the best  time to be looking for premium transatlantic availability for Labor Day,  particularly to a city like Berlin that has almost no direct transatlantic service  — just Newark to Berlin on United, and Chicago and JFK to Berlin on Air Berlin.  So I wasn’t surprised to see there was nothing available on the days I could travel.  So I watched  both Star Alliance and One World availability on all transatlantic flights like a hawk for a few days, and when a flight from Venice to Philadelphia on US Airways in Business class opened up, I grabbed that for 50,000 American miles  (which ends up as 45,000 miles since I’m an AA credit card holder).  Unfortunately, there was no Air Berlin connection into Venice that would get in that time, so I figured I’d fly in the day before and have 22 hours in Venice.  I hadn’t realized how expensive Venice hotels were though, and 22 hrs is kind of a rush through a city like Venice.  So I figured I’d keep my eyes open, as AA has a free change policy on award tickets so long as the origin and destination are staying the same.

I wasn’t that concerned about an outbound flight, because I...

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Hotel Review: Radisson Blu Le Dokhan’s Trocadero, Paris

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We had a total of five nights in Paris. We could have done an Airbnb or apartment rental, but instead we split the stay into two different hotels – mindful of my boyfriend’s no-fun rule that he will not change hotels if it means less than two nights at a given property.

Paris is a pricey hotel city, so it’s a great place to make use of points and what not. But for the most part, you have to keep everything in perspective, as even some of the fanciest, most expensive hotels lack the amenities you’d see in comparable properties in New York, Tokyo, London, or even a place like Warsaw.

For our five nights, we ended up splitting the stay into 3 and 2. I have had a certificate from Club Carlson for almost a year and a half, good for one night at any property. I almost used it a few times, but always found great other deals, so this ended up being the time to use it.  We figured we’d use that for one night at one of the three Radissons in town, and then do two more nights using Club Carlson points- noting that, as a Club Carlson Visa cardholder, I would only be charged points for one of those nights. For the last two nights, I had convinced my credit-wary boyfriend to get the Hyatt Visa, with its generous bonus of two free nights at any property with a $1,000 spend, which we used at the Park Hyatt Paris-Vendome.

Picking a Radisson wasn’t so easy. The best Radisson in Paris, the Radisson Blu Ambassador, left the chain last year, and became a Marriott. That left three properties in the center city, and one, the Radisson Blu Boulogne, on the outer fringe. Of the three in the city, we quickly eliminated the Radisson Blu Champs Elysees, as my boyfriend said it wasn’t a particularly nice or convenient neighborhood, and the folks on Flyertalk seemed to agree it wasn’t a particularly special hotel. That left the Radisson Blu le Dokhan’s Trocadero, and the Radisson Blu le Metropolitan, which are owned and managed by the same company, and are about two blocks away from each other in the 16th arrondissement, which I have come to refer to as the Upper East Side of Paris. The reviews said there wasn’t much difference between the hotels in terms of room size or amenities, though le Metropolitan has a small indoor pool. Le Metropolitan has a more modern design, and le Dokhan’s has a more classic French theme. My boyfriend prefers the classic French, so we went with that. Of note, as of May 1, all three of these properties jumped up to a new top tier redemption rate of 70,000 Club Carlson points – up from 50,000 when we booked and stayed. It’s also been speculated that these properties will become part of Club Carlson’s new luxury “Quorvus Collection” brand, but so far, they have not been part of the initial three properties announced.

Radisson Blu le Dokhan's Trocadero

Radisson Blu le Dokhan’s Trocadero

Le Dokhan’s was very easy to get to by public transport, even with luggage, and is a few blocks from the Boissiere metro, and a short walk to the Trocadero metro. Approaching from the outside, the hotel really looks lovely – well maintained, landscaped, and lit, on the corner of two smaller streets. On the inside, the lobby area is charming as well, though not really conducive to seating, and really just feels like a small Parisian hotel. One reason I had given into the older-style Le Dokhan’s was that Flyertalkers had reported that Club Carlson Gold Elite members frequently were upgraded to “Business Class” rooms, or were given complimentary breakfast. Consistent with my experiences with Radissons in Europe, alas, neither were offered, and I even asked about breakfast.

Le Dokhan's Lobby

Le Dokhan’s Lobby

Everyone talks about the elevator at this hotel, as the walls are an old Louis Vuitton trunk cu...

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And we’re off… to the Seychelles and France!

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I’ve been a bad boy and haven’t uploaded my thrilling summary of what to do in Little Rock.  Hopefully in the next few days, as tomorrow morning, we’re off on our Three-Last-Hurrahs mileage burning adventure to the Seychelles and France.

We’ll start off tomorrow bright and early with a flight from Dulles to Addis Ababa, in Ethiopian Airlines’ Business Class — “Cloud Nine”.  For a 13.5 hour flight, it won’t be super-luxurious, with only angle-flat seats, but a newish plane and should be pretty comfortable.  After a few hour layover in Ethiopia, we’ll take the 4.5 hour flight to the Seychelles on one of Ethiopian’s older planes.  While Ethiopian may not be the fanciest airline, it is still pretty cool to be able to get from DC to the Seychelles with one stop.

We’ll spend several nights a...

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