Starwood’s $1,000,000 Room

Tonight when I checked hotel pricing for an upcoming trip, I stumbled across an interesting room. The Sheraton in College Park, MD was pricing out at $999,999 for a base room. With taxes, it jumped to an astounding $1.13MM a night.

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Anybody gutsy enough to reserve the room, and ask the front desk agent for a discount?

It Lives: The Starwood 2014 Q1 Promo is now alive for Registration

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Register now at this link (spg.com/bringonthenights). The Bring On The Nights promotion is now live for Starwood’s 2014 Q1 promo. It adds a new wrinkle because there are no blackout properties which is perhaps a game changer in the hotel promo industry.

A smart traveler might combine this promotion with some early mattress runs to get set for 2015 SPG Gold/Platinum qualification. I know I am leaning on doing this during January 2015 so that I can get a jump start on my qualification.

 

A little bit more about the promotion…

-From Jan 5, 2014 through Apr 30, 2014

-EVERY PROPERTY IS INCLUDED

-You receive 2,500 Bonus SPG points for each 5 nights, and 5,000 SPG points when you hit 25 nights during the promotion. This makes the maximum bonus total of 15,000 SPG points if you hit 25 nights.

 

If you coordinate strategically, you could obtain the bonus and re-qualify as an SPG Platinum member during the promotion. If you did (25) 1-night stays, you would earn the 15,000 Bonus points plus (25) “check-in” points of 250/500 for each stay. This could yield 27,500 SPG points before adding in the SPG points earned for each dollar spent (up to 6 SPG points per dollar).

Regardless of your SPG plans, register today so that you can earn bonus points if you make a stay or two this spring.

157 MPH On the Autobahn: Lufthansa First Class Strikes Again

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This weekend I will be traveling to Frankfurt to fulfill one of my life’s dreams. I will be driving a 2013 Porsche 911 (991) on the famous German autobahn. Fortunately, when you fly Lufthansa First Class through Frankfurt, they have arranged a sweet deal with Avis. For a mere 99 Euro, you can have up to 3 hours and 150km (a rough 1 Euro per km for each additional km) of fun on the autobahn. Even better this includes all the gas and insurance which you will surely burn flying up and down the A3.

In an upcoming trip report, you will see my crazy adventure which includes the “old” First Class product on the A346 from Vancouver (YVR) to Frankfurt (FRA), another trip to the famous First Class Terminal, the Lufthansa-Porsche experience through Avis, and the “new” First Class product on the 747-8 from Frankfurt to Washington, DC (IAD).

As stated above, it has been one of my “bucket list” items to drive a Porsche on the autobahn, and I am treating myself to an early birthday present with this trip. I’ve got my camera and GoPro packed so you can get a good idea of what’s in store when you visit Frankfurt and drive your Porsche.

Sadly, there are strong rumors that Lufthansa will be cutting First Class redemptions for Star Alliance members. This means that are once valued United miles will be further devalued because Lufthansa First is one of the top redemption options (until Feb 1, 2014). This means that you will need to use Lufthansa Miles & More miles to redeem a First Class ticket.

Well my friends, all hope is not lost because Barclay’s is running a 50,000  (now updated with terms as listed below) mile signup for the The Lufthansa Premier Miles & More World MasterCard® through this Sunday. It is normally 20,000 miles, so get the deal while it is hot so that you too can keep your options open if Lufthansa closes up partner availability.

 


A little more about the card…

  • Earn up to 35,000 award miles with qualifying transactions
  • Earn 20,000 award miles after your first purchase or balance transfer
  • Earn up to 15,000 award miles with balance transfers (1 mile per $1 transferred) within 30 days of account opening
  • Earn 2 award miles per $1 on ticket purchases directly from Miles & More integrated airline partners
  • Earn 1 mile per $1 on all other purchases
  • Complimentary Companion Ticket after first purchase, then annually thereafter
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • $79 Annual Fee, waived for SEN and HON Circle Members

 

Starwood’s 2014 Q1 Promo: No More Blackout Hotels!

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Starwood just announced its new promotion, and there is good news and bad news. First, the good news is that there are no more blackout hotels. This can be a burden when you have to check the list each time you plan to book a hotel. Under the old promotions, many times whole cities (like New York and Boston) would be non-participating properties.

Now onto the bad news… this promotion isn’t as exciting as previous promotions and it continues the downward trend in SPG promotions.

Here are the particulars:

-Runs Jan. 5, 2014 – Apr. 30, 2014

-Earn 2,500 SPG Bonus Points for every 5 Nights (up to 10,000 SPG points for 20 nights)

-If you hit 25 nights, you will get an additional bonus of 5,000 SPG points for a total of 15,000 SPG points for 25 nights.

-Registration opens in 2-4 Weeks.

 

Keep in mind that you can obtain SPG Platinum status with 25 stays. If you were to complete 25 1-night stays, you could earn Platinum and 15,000 bonus points in the first quarter alone.

 

Great News: Le Meridien Khao Lak Will Remain in Starwood Family!

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The Le Meridien Khao Lak is one of my favorite Starwood value properties. It is located about an hour north of the Phuket Airport, and it provides endless relaxation. This past summer it was announced that they planned to leave Starwood in January 2014. Fortunately, this has just been extended through the end of 2014.

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This past spring I had the opportunity to stay at this property for six nights around the Easter holiday. While I could only be upgraded for the final night (busy season), I enjoyed the property and all of its offerings.  They even have a baby elephant named Naam-Waan they comes out twice a day to play on the beach.

When I went, it was an insane value as a Category 3 Property. This past spring it was increased to a Category 4. Like all Cat 4 properties, it will cost you 10,000 SPG Points per night or 5,000 SPG Points + $75. When I stayed, I used Cash and Points and it was an amazing bargain. Especially when you compare Khao Lak to Anytown, USA Cat 4 property.

The location is a great way to escape the hustle-bustle of Phuket, and it offers the possibility of visiting the Surin or Similian Islands on a quick day trip. I had the opportunity to visit both of these island chains, and they were magnificent.

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This is great news for me because I love this property, and I plan to visit Asia twice in 2014. Hopefully I can stay here one more time before it ultimately leaves in January 2015.

“Starwood Hotels & Resorts as the resort Management Company, and owning company Vitya Holdings have a foundation partnership that continues to work together in the best interests of our arriving guests in 2014 and the Le Meridien brand.” commented Mr. Lothar Pehl, Senior Vice President Operations and Global Initiatives, Starwood Hotels and Resorts Asia Pacific.”

Winter SPG Point Sale: Buy your way to a night at the St. Regis in Rome?

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From time to time, Starwood will reduce the price on SPG points. Well my friends, that time is now and you can save up to 25% off the regular price. Through December 13, 2013, the following reduced prices will be in effect:

  • Pricing Group 1: Buy 500 through 4,500 points and you shall receive…NOTHING (no discount for this group) [3.5 cents per point].
  • Pricing Group 2: Buy 5,000 through 12,500 points and you will receive a 20% discount (not too shabby) [2.8 cents per point].
  • Pricing Group 3: Buy 13,000 through 20,000 points and you will receive a 25% discount (the king of the mountain) [2.625 cents per point].

Is it worth it for you? It depends on your needs, and we will explore the options below.

 

The Discount Option Comparison

To help your buying decision, I’ve broken down the options into the following groupings:

  1. Convert to Airline Miles and get the 5,000 Mile Bonus
  2. Category 6 Redemption Option (Pure Point Redemption)
  3. Category 6 Redemption Option (Cash & Points)
  4. Category 2 Redemption Option (Pure Point Redemption)
  5. Category 2 Redemption Option (Cash & Points)

 

Option 1: Convert to Airline Miles (and get a double bonus!)

Converting SPG points to airline miles can be quite lucrative. When you transfer 20,000 points to a Starwood transfer partner, you receive a 5,000 mile bonus. In this case, your 20,000 SPG Points would convert to many carriers (like American Airlines, Alaskan Airlines) at a 1:1 ratio. Effectively you would buy 25,000 airline miles for $525.00. This is a nice rate at 2.1 cents per mile.

How does this compare with current pricing of miles ?

Program Total Cost  Cost Per Mile Notes
SPG Transfer $525.00 0.0210
Alaskan $550.00 0.0212 Currently offering bonus miles for purchase. This is actually 26,000 miles for $550.
American $577.50 0.0231 Currently offering bonus miles for purchase.
Delta $875.00 0.0350

 

As you can see, the airline transfer option beats buying miles outright. However, Alaskan’s current promotion barely misses the Starwood level. If you were thinking of transferring to Alaskan, you would be better off just buying the miles from Alaskan Air. Why use your Starwood miles for almost the same value when you are limited to a low 20,000 SPG Points per year?

 

Option 2:  St. Regis Here I Come (w/ Points)

Like all Category 6 properties, the St. Regis in Rome requires 20,000 points (off-peak). This is a great comparison category because it shows us the possible value of buying the maximum 20,000 points for $525. Right now, a room at the St. Regis will cost you $445 a night (with the same flexibility of a points redemption). Without calculating anything, you can see this is a terrible value at 2.225 cents per redeemed point.

 

Option 3:  St. Regis Here I Come (w/ Cash &  Points)

How does the St. Regis fare with Cash and Points? For a Category 6 property, you will need 10,000 points plus $180.00. If you were to buy the maximum amount, you could get 2 nights for your 20,000 points and $360.00.

In this redemption option, you will receive better value at 2.65 cents per point.

 

Option 4: Give me a Category 2 Hotel (w/ Points)

If you don’t demand the luxury of a Category 6 property, a Category 2 can offer you great value. Category 2 properties need 3,000 points per weekend night and 4,000 points per weekday night.  In this example, we will use the Le Meridien Vilnius (Lithuania) and we will use the weekend night cost of 3,000 points (as we used the off-peak pricing in our prior example).

The flexible rate at this property will cost $114.50 for the same date as the St. Regis Rome. This would net you a value of 3.082 cents per point. A nice value.

 

Option 5: Give me a Category 2 Hotel (w/ Cash & Points)

Category 2 properties require 2,000 points and $35 per night. Basically, you are buying those 1,000 points for $35. In our example with the Le Meridien Vilnius, this would be a poor redemption option because you would be saving those same 1,000 points at a purchase price of $26.25 while “buying” them for $35.00. At the Le Meridien Vilnius, the value would be 3.975 cents per point. While at first blush this may appear to be a good value, its value is reduced when you remember that you “bought” those last 1,000 points for a much higher price.

 

Conclusion

 If you plan to convert these points to airline miles, it can be very lucrative. Before buying the miles with this plan, you need to check the pricing of each airline. Some airlines, like Alaskan Air, are offering holiday sales which offer almost the same pricing.

If you plan to stay at a Starwood property, my advice is to stay at a Category 2 or 3 rather than a Category 6 because of the better values that the lower tiered properties can offer.

 

The Fine Print

  • Points may only be purchased in 500-point increments.
  • Your SPG account needs to be activated for at least 14 days (so if you are signing up for an account, you will need to create a new account by November 29, 2013).
  • Only a maximum of 20,000 points may be purchased within a calendar year (if you anticipate purchasing miles in early 2014, it might be a good idea to buy now so you have the freedom to buy an extra 20,000 points in 2014).

How to High Five the Queen of England: Getting to Europe for Pennies on the Dollar

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If you are looking to visit Europe from the United States, it can get a little confusing. There are so many options and it may seem overwhelming. However, this is not a bad thing. There are so many options which make it easy to fly on these popular routes.

Today we are going to examine the popular options that can be redeemed from the American Express Membership Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards systems. At the end of the article, you will know how you too can visit the Arc de Triomphe, the Berlin Wall, the Amalfi Coast, and high five the aforementioned monarch (legal bills excluded from our calculations).

This series will focus on the two biggest redemption partners to Eurp[e – British Airways and United. A subsequent piece will focus on the other transfer options to Europe including Alitalia, Iberia Plus, All Nippon, Air Canada, Delta, Air France, and Singapore Airlines.

 

The Big 2: British Airways Avios vs. United

We will start our analysis by focusing on British Airways Avios program. It is one of two options to Europe shared by Chase and American Express (the other option is Virgin Atlantic). British Airways allows Avios to be used on One World Alliance partners. While many of you may be familiar with zone-based frequent flyer systems, Avios is a little bit different. Avios uses mileage zones rather than continental zones. This can be beneficial on some routes but it may also be highly costly. Additionally, Avios are calculated per segment. For example, JFK-LHR-FCO will be more costly than JFK-FCO because of the additional segment. With Avios it always depends on the route.

United is the gold standard for Star Alliance redemptions. They have generous stopover rules on roundtrip flights, and they do not charge costly fuel surcharges like British Airways. They follow a zone or continental based redemption program which can be very lucrative when you discover that AKL-LAX-LHR takes the same number of miles as JFK-LHR.

To help illustrate the difference, we will show you comparisons of Avios vs. United for selected routes:

 

Let’s say you want to visit London or Rome. However, you don’t know which program to use…

 

Comparison 1: East Coast to London

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Sample East Coast Route: IAD-LHR

Avios

United

Coach

40,000

60,000

Business

80,000

100,000

First

120,000

135,000

 

 

 

 

 

At first blush it appears that Avios are a great bargain when flying to London directly from the East Coast. With a 15,000-20,000 point mile difference (depending on class of service), it surely gives this impression. However, this advantage is offset by fuel surcharges which British Airways applies on European routes. These surcharges can add hundreds of dollars to the cost and can be highly burdensome in coach because they may cost almost the same as a purchased ticket. At present, United does not have fuel surcharges.

 

 

Comparison 2: East Coast to Rome (through London)

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Sample East Coast Route: IAD-FCO

Avios

United

Coach

55,000

60,000

Business

110,000

100,000

First

163,000

135,000

 

This comparison is important for a few reasons. First, it shows the difference of mileage based programs (like Avios) and zone based programs (like United’s Mileageplus). You will notice that with United, the routing doesn’t increase the total mileage needed for the trip. However, in Avios, the difference can be 15,000-43,000 Avios for the added LHR-FCO segment.

 

 

Comparison 3: West Coast to London

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Sample West Coast Route: LAX-LHR

Avios

United

Coach

50,000

60,000

Business

100,000

100,000

First

150,000

135,000

 

In this comparison, you can see the big jump from moving from east coast to west coast. It still takes fewer Avios for coach, but this advantage is eliminated at the business and first class levels. In fact, the first class option is now a 15,000 mile premium over United and the fees are approximately $1,000 per passenger. In comparison, fees on United will only hit you for only about $300 in the first class cabin.

Note: British Airways is showcasing its new A380 on the LHR-LAX route. Some people may be willing to pay more miles to try out the new aircraft and sit next to a celebrity in the first class cabin.

 

Comparison 4: West Coast to Rome (through London)

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Sample West Coast Route: LAX-FCO

Avios

United

Coach

65,000

60,000

Business

130,000

100,000

First

195,000

135,000

 

This comparison eliminates the Avios advantage to Europe. At every level it is more costly. In fact, it costs only 5,000 more miles to fly United First instead of British Airways Business. Unless you want to try out the new British Airways A380 on this route, it is highly recommended to use United miles for this adventure.

 

So What Should I Do?

If your goal is to go to Europe for the lowest amount possible, the MMS recommendation is to accumulate as many United miles as possible. Fortunately this is not difficult in the current marketplace.

The current United Explorer offer is 55,000 miles after achieving a very low spend requirement of $1,000 within 3 months and adding a secondary user. After meeting your spending requirement, you will have 56,000 miles. You are now absurdly close to your roundtrip coach ticket to Europe.

The next step is to sign up for the United Dining program which is offering a bonus of up to 3,000 miles through October 31, 2013. With just a little more spending, you can hit the next 1,000 miles (perhaps send mom flowers through the MileagePlus shopping portal?).

Maybe you want a little more luxury and prefer business class? Well my friend, you are a single step away from that goal. Right now you can get 40,000 Ultimate Rewards points from the Chase Sapphire Preferred card. These points transfer instantly to United at a 1:1 ratio which means after meeting the spending requirement of $3,000 within 3 months you will receive 43,000 United miles. Three simple steps to flying business class to Europe. Enjoy the fine wine with spending nary a dime.

 

What’s Next?

With the information above, you can fly to Europe at almost no cost. If you would like more information about getting to Europe, the next part of this series will discuss the other Ultimate Rewards and Membership Rewards options to get you to Europe.  We will focus on Alitalia, Iberia Plus, All Nippon, Air Canada, Delta, Air France, and Singapore Airlines. You may be wondering about our inclusion of Singapore Airlines but Singapore flies its premier Suites class from New York to Frankfurt. Cheers to the next part of our European redemption series.

 

 

Bad News? 2013 Starwood Hotel Category Changes

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The new category changes are hot off the presses. The timing comes off the additional terrible news that the Dom Hotel in Cologne will now be leaving the Starwood family. This is an amazing property with a location that cannot be beat. I had the opportunity to stay there during the Christmas season of 2009, and the views of the Dom (with the Christmas markets below) were unbeatable. Starwood will need to work some deals to build a bigger presence in this area of Germany as it has now lost a marquee property.

What changes does Starwood have in mind for 2013?

The link to the new changes: category_changes_2013_SPG.

 

Relevant Changes for Hotels On My Upcoming Trip through Europe and Southeast Asia:

Surprisingly only one Starwood hotel will be changing categories. On my upcoming trip I will be staying at the Sheraton Malpensa (Milan, Italy), Hotel Eden (Rome, Italy), Royal Orchid Sheraton (Bangkok, Thailand), Le Meridien Bangkok, and the Le Méridien Khao Lak Beach & Spa Resort (Khao Lak, Thailand).

 

1. Le Méridien Khao Lak Beach & Spa Resort (Thailand) [Cat 3 –> Cat 4]

  • I’ll be staying there 6 nights on my upcoming venture to Thailand. Staying on Cash &Points it is a steal.
  • With the changes in Category and the C&P increased rates, not as big as a steal, but still looks like a great property

 

 

Big Droppers (2+ Categories)

Only one hotel made the cut.

  1. Sheraton Baltimore North Hotel (Maryland) [ Cat 3 —> Cat 1] (Good Mattress Run Potential)

 

Big Risers (2+ Categories)

  1. Aloft New York Brooklyn [Cat 3 –> Cat 5]
  2. Sheraton Denarau Villas (Fiji) [Cat 4 –> Cat 6]

 

Movement At The Top (Category 7)

Hawaii is getting a little more difficult as multiple properties have moved into the elite Category 7. No Category 7 property fell.

  1. Moana Surfrider, A Westin Resort & Spa, Waikiki Beach (Hawaii)
  2. The Westin Ka’anapali Ocean Resort Villas (Hawaii)
  3. The St. Regis Deer Valley (Utah)
  4. Santa Marina Resort & Villas, Mykonos (Greece)
  5. Vedema Resort, Santorini (Greece)
  6. Hotel Danieli, Venice (Italy)

The Great Maze: Use Your American Express Platinum to Get Delta Perks

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If you were one of the lucky people to grab the 100k point American Express Platinum offer, you might be missing out on some hidden Delta perks via Starwood.

As discussed earlier on this website, Delta and Starwood have united to offer perks to each others elite members. This, combined with American Express Platinum’s free SPG Gold status, can yield some nice little perks on Delta (if you don’t have the requisite Delta status or credit card).

First, what can you get on Delta if you are a SPG Gold member?

  1. Unfortunately, you will only get the extra Starpoints for your Delta flights.
  2. If you were a Starwood Platinum, you would get a free checked bag, priority boarding, and priority check-in

It never hurts to get extra Starpoints, so if you have an AMEX Platinum, follow the below listed steps:

  1. Register for an SPG account (if you don’t already have one).
  2. Call the phone number on the back of your Platinum card (1-800-525-3355).
  3. Tell them that you would like to get your Starwood account upgraded to Gold Status.
  4. At this point, they will ask for your Starwood account number and then place you on hold while they connect to Starwood.
  5. About 5-10 minutes later, you will be upgraded to complementary SPG Gold status.