Priority Club / IHG tagged posts

A Little Report from Berlin

Category: HotelsTrip Reports Comments: One comment

My report from Berlin is going to be fairly brief. Not only was I just in Berlin two years ago, but I stayed in the exact same two hotels as I did last time: the Intercontinental and the Grand Hyatt.  Both were excellent last time, both were excellent this time.  The only difference was cash rates at the Intercontinental were nearly three times as much as they had been 2 years ago on the same weekend, so I spent two nights there using points.  I then used my Hyatt Category 1-5 annual Visa cardholder certificate at the Grand Hyatt Berlin for my last night again.  I’m not going to do a full review of the properties again as there was nothing appreciably different.  Check out my review of the Intercontinental Berlin here and my review of the Grand Hyatt Berlin here.  If you’re interested in more of what to see and do in Berlin, I’d recommend this post as a supplement to my 2014 report, available here.

Berlin and the River Spree

Berlin and the River Spree

As I did last time, I took the public bus from the airport to the Zoo Garden station and walked about 10 minutes to the Intercontinental.  The stay was really just lovely, and reminded me why I’ve stayed at about 20 different  Intercontinental properties (with return visits to several) over the years: the consistently good service and treatment of elites.  (And I generally find Holiday Inns and Crowne Plazas underrated too!).  This stay was no exception.  At check-in, I was asked how my trip was, and told “Welcome Back.” While this should be a no-brainer at any hotel, I’m rarely asked these questions as a Hilton Diamond.  Although I was on an award stay, I received the same upgrade I had two years ago, and was proactively offered a 4pm checkout.  Just after I checked out, I realized I had left my passport wallet in the room, and the front desk clerk profusely apologized to me, as if *they* had done something wrong.  Good job, Intercontinental Berlin.  It makes me excited for my upcoming stay at the Intercontinental Wellington.  (And note, I did not have a free breakfast or lounge access, yet still came away feeling like a valued guest of the hotel.

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A Brief Sao Paulo Stay and the Intercontinental Sao Paulo

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Due to a series of events, my short time in Sao Paulo provided even less time to experience the city than I had planned – I didn’t explore the nightlife, restaurants, or museums at all really, and only saw a few of the main sights. Part of it was how late I got to my hotel on the first night, but there were also work crises that took up a good portion of my time there, rainy weather, and problems with my phone which required multiple trips to a market that sold tech accessories and a wipe of my phone. But what I did experience I enjoyed, and Sao Paulo was unlike any other part of Brazil I’ve been, with the feeling of a bustling mega-metropolis and a great energy. Plus, my stay at the Intercontinental was fantastic.

The Intercontinental Sao Paulo

The Intercontinental Sao Paulo

Pulling up at the Intercontinental late at night felt really good after my days in bug-infested Morro de Sao Paulo. It was shiny, clean, and fancy. The lobby and common areas were sleek, modern, and well-maintained. I had reserved two nights at the hotel on points at a rate of 40,000 a night. Just before my trip, the rate dropped to 35,000 points a night, but there were no award nights left at that point, and my attempts at asking IHG Reservations to adjust me the difference went nowhere. The hotel is in the Jardins area of Sao Paulo, which is relatively safe, clean, and fairly convenient to get around.  The concierge an front desk staff were helpful and friendly, and the hotel felt like  a retreat from the busy city.

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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.
6
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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One City, Three Hotels: Reviews of the Imperial Palace, Four Points by Sheraton Seoul – Namsan, Holiday Inn Express Seoul Euljiro

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I spent a total of four nights in Seoul, which ended up being split between three hotels.   The first hotel I booked was the Imperial Palace in Gangnam, for a great rate on Skyauction.com. Unfortunately, when my plans changed and I wanted to add a third night, there were no rates via Skyauction available. Since I’d be heading to the train station on the morning after my third night, I figured I’d find a hotel closer to Seoul Station. I originally booked an award night at the Millenium Hilton, but then I decided to book a revenue stay at the new Four Points by Sheraton Namsan, also walking distance to Seoul Station. After my trip down to Gyeongju, I also booked an award night at the Millenium Hilton, but then decided to switch to the new Holiday Inn Express Euljiro, not terribly far from Seoul Station.

In a city with hundreds of hotels, I don’t particularly recommend any of the three, although I would consider the Imperial Palace. Now to the play by play…

Imperial Palace

Imperial Palace Seoul

Imperial Palace Seoul

The Korean Air Limo Bus from Incheon dropped me off across the street from the Imperial Palace, and the driver called over to have a bellman meet me as I walked over. The hotel is fairly large, with multiple towers, and an opulent lobby with bar and live music area. The property looks like it was built in the late 90s, and has a “European” theme, which isn’t my personal aesthetic, but works.

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Hotel Review: Intercontinental Sydney

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For my second two nights in Sydney, I stayed at the Intercontinental Sydney. The hotel is the older of two Intercontinentals in the city, but more centrally located. It was a short walk from the Radisson, a bit closer to Circular Quay, the Opera House and the train, but a little farther from the restaurants and shopping of the CBD.  I don’t have a lot to say about the Intercontinental, but it was very nice.

Intercontinental Sydney

Intercontinental Sydney

The hotel was definitely a 5-star hotel, feeling much more luxurious than the Radisson. It wasn’t cheap. The Ambassador Weekend rate was 419 AUD a night – about $320—far more than I’d typically pay. But it was a good use of my annual BOGO certificate, as $320 for two nights was a great deal.

Architecturally, the Intercontinental is stunning – an old building with a new tower built into it. The lobby level features a massive atrium in the older building, while the rooms were actually in the tower. The entrance was a little hard to find, as the main entrance is a car only entrance, but I found the pedestrian entrance and got to check in.

Old part of the Intercontinental Sdney

Old part of the Intercontinental Sydney

Atrium

Atriu...

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Hotel Review: Intercontinental Berlin

Category: HotelsTrip Reports Comments: One comment

For my first three nights in Berlin, I stayed at the Intercontinental Berlin, near Tiergarten in the Western part of the city. I really enjoyed my stay, and highly recommend it.

Getting to the hotel from Tegel was very easy. I took the X9 bus from right outside to the terminal to its terminus, Zoo Station, and then had an easy 10 minute walk down Budapester Strasse to the hotel. Even with traffic, the whole trip took about 45 minutes, and I bought a day pass for all of Berlin’s public transit for 6 Euros at a machine at the airport.

The Intercontinental Berlin

The Intercontinental Berlin

The outside of the Intercontinental is modernist and plain, with two separate towers connected by a shorter main lobby area. The lobby area was large, with a jazz lounge with live music in the evenings. Also on the main floor was another bar, and several event/conference facilities. In my days there, there was both a Bar Mitzvah and a wedding, both of which had fun DJs and crowds to observe. At check-in, I noticed there was an area dedicated to a Nike-sponsored athletic event. At the time, I didn’t know what it was, but throughout the stay, I saw a lot of rather attractive men in workout attire. I later learned they were long jumpers and high jumpers for “Berlin Fliegt,” a 4-country meet held at Brandenburg Gate.

Lobby of the Intercontinental Berlin

Lobby of the Intercontinental Berlin

Check-in was prompt, and the agent mentioned how nice an upgrade I got twice. I had booked a Superior room, the lowest level room, for only 79 Euros a night, which is pretty cheap for an Intercontinental. Within a day of booking, I had been upgraded based on my Platinum Ambassador status to a Deluxe room, a one category upgrade – which is guaranteed. So I wasn’t sure what to expect when I got to my room. Based on my research, I wasn’t expecting to be offered lounge access or anything, though reports suggested a discounted rate of 39 Euros, which includes breakfast and substantial evening food. I didn’t come to Berlin to stay in the hotel, though, and Berlin is a pretty cheap city. Lounge access wasn’t mentioned at check-in, but I was offered breakfast at a “discounted” rate of 27 Euros.

When I got to my room, I found the ...

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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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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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Hotel Review: $125 Floral Arrangements and the Holiday Inn Presidential Little Rock

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As I always say,  hotel experiences are all about expectations. What is acceptable at a Fairfield Inn for $79 may be completely unacceptable at a J.W. Marriott going for $250. So when I booked a room at the Holiday Inn Presidential in Little Rock for only 15,000 IHG points (which can be purchased for $105), I wasn’t expecting more than a clean room, free wifi, and the free airport shuttle mentioned on its website. And it met all of these expectations, which was all I really needed on this short stay.

The Holiday Inn Presidential Little Rock

The Holiday Inn Presidential Little Rock

Initially when I booked my Little Rock trip, I’d hoped to use a free Marriott night certificate I have that was expiring in January. For some reason, I made the stupid mistake of thinking that it was only good for Category 1 through 4 properties, none of which are in downtown Little Rock. I realized the day of my trip that the certificate covered category 5 properties, which would have had me in a centrally located Marriott, or very new, better located Courtyard or Residence Inn. D’oh. Somehow this is the second year in a row I’ve made a mistake not redeeming a free night I could have used for a better hotel on a mileage run and ending up at a Holiday Inn.

I ended up looking at IHG properties. There were a number of IHG properties available on Point Breaks, for only 5,000 points, but none were near downtown, and I didn’t intend to rent a car. So I booked the Holiday Inn Presidential for 15,000 points (I’ll get 1,500 back as a IHG Visa cardholder, for a net of 13,500 points). The hotel is not quite downtown, but in a residential area near the highway. But it’s a bit about a 10 minute walk to the River Market area, and not too far from the Clinton Presidential Library.

I called the hotel the day before I actually left to ask about airport pickup, and was told to call when I landed. After being placed on hold for about 7 minutes, an agent hung up on me, but I finally got through and was told I could expect a pickup in 12-15 minutes. Sure enough, a new model minivan with the Holiday Inn logo picked me up right on time, and the friendly driver got me to the hotel in under 10 minutes.

Holiday Inn Presidential complimentary shuttle

Holiday Inn Presidential complimentary shuttle

Check-in was straightforward...

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Hotel Review: The Panama City Hotel Scene and the Intercontinental Miramar Panama

Category: HotelsTips and ToolsTrip Reports Comments: One comment

I had written a really thorough review of my stay at the Intercontinental Miramar. I lost it. So here is a less thorough one reconstructed by memory.

There is no shortage of hotel options in Panama City. All of the major international chains have at least one hotel downtown, and there are many others in the nearby beach areas. There are also two very large non-chain luxury properties, the Trump Ocean Club and the Hard Rock (a pseudo-chain?). As a result of all of these options, in the 6 weeks between when I booked my airplane tickets and when I traveled, I had no less than five different reservations. Whoops!

The first reservation I made was for my last two nights – a reservation I actually made and kept, for the Radisson Decapolis in Panama City. I booked using points, and as a Club Carlson Premier Rewards Visa cardholder, I paid the super cheap rate of 28,000 points for two nights. I could have paid for a third night, but given the options, that would be no fun.

First, I made a reservation at the Waldorf Astoria – which is brand new and was going for about $110 a night – probably the cheapest I’d ever seen a Waldorf Astoria. It looked great, had good reviews, and seemed luxurious. . .

But $110 isn’t as good as free. I also had a certificate for a free night at a Marriott, category 1 through 5. Marriott has a bunch of properties in Panama City at that level, but the nicest appears to be the Marriott Panama. So I booked that.

But free isn’t free. My low status with Marriott means I’d be paying for internet or anything else, plus I could use the Marriott certificate somewhere else. And then the IHG Rewards Club PointBreaks list came out. For those not familiar, IHG regularly releases a list of hotels that are available to be redeemed for the bargain rate of only 5,000 points a night – which costs about $35. I had never found a hotel in an area I was interested in on the PointBreaks list before, but sure enough, the Crowne Plaza Panama was available. It seemed pretty comparable to the Marriott, and I’d get free wifi as a IHG Platinum Elite member. I have plenty of IHG points, and sure enough, the Crowne Plaza Panama was available on PointBreaks. Not a luxury property, but good enough for one night.

5000 points isn’t really free either. And a few weeks before I left, I found a low rate for the Intercontinental Miramar Panama – lower than on Intercontinental’s own website – which meant it qualified for IHG’s generous Best Rate Guarantee program: a free night if you find a lower rate for an identical room. I had wanted to stay at the Intercontinental, but the rates hadn’t been worth it. So this worked out great. It also ended up providing a great contrast to the Radisson, in that was a real 4-star property, albeit one showing some wear.

Intercontinental Miramar Panama

Intercontinental Miramar Panama

The Intercontinental is located right on the water, on an odd plot of land situated between the two directions of traffic on Avenida Balboa, between a parking lot and a huge condo complex. It’s a few blocks from the restaurants and nightlife of Calle Uruguay, and very close to the Le Meridien and Waldorf-Astoria. The lobby looked very similar to the Westin Zagreb and other older Intercontinentals I’ve stayed in, with a marble floor and very Old World feel. I checked in without issue, and was given an explanation of my Platinum Ambassador benefits, including an upgrade, free wi-fi, and lounge access.

My room was beautiful, and had been very recently renovated, with...

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