Sunday, November 24, 2013

Newark to Tel Aviv for $395/Person!

One of my father's favorite websites/blogs is called The Flight Deal. They do a great job of promoting amazing fares for frequent flyers and leisure travelers alike.

Last November, my parents booked a $400/person flight on TAM Airlines from New York to Buenos Aires, Argentina for late March 2013. Normally round trip flights to Argentina were about $1,200+, so we were quite excited to get in on this "mistake fare." It also helped that TAM Airlines was in the Star Alliance at the time, so we could credit our 12,000 miles towards our United MileagePlus Accounts helping my father earn Gold status and my mother Silver for 2014.

This past Saturday, we had another opportunity to capitalize on another mistake fare. While my parents and I were out celebrating my belated 2nd birthday watching Disney on Ice, my father noticed that The Flight Deal posted an amazing $343 deal on trans-Atlantic flights on United Airlines.

Apparently, a Norwegian airline website was pricing out United fares at ridiculously low levels for winter travel through March 2014. Normally economy flights to Europe and beyond cost well over $1,000 a person, sometimes closer to $1,600+. But for some reason, this little Norwegian website was pricing them at less than half of the normal prices!
  • For example, many people were able to book round trip flights from the US to Dubai or Mumbai for $400-500/person. 
  • Fares to European destinations were even better, with many people getting round trips to Oslo, Stockholm, Dublin for $250-350/person. 
  • The best deal was a round trip to Milan for just $149 round trip!
Since the original post only had $343 deals to Europe in the winter, we didn't pay much attention. My father's not a huge fan of European travel (relative to other amazing parts of the world) to begin with, and the idea of walking around in the cold to see more cathedrals didn't entice him any more. However, a few hours later, The Flight Deal announced that the amazing deals were also applicable for Middle Eastern destinations, including Israel where my grandparents live!

Likely, this phenomenon was due to some mistake on the website that incorrectly coded and mispriced fares. Normally, such "mistake" fares tend to get resolved very quickly by the airlines (max ~2 hours), so the window of opportunity shuts well before "regular people" are able to book anything. However, for some reason, the Norwegian website didn't catch the error for almost 10 hours (perhaps because they were busy enjoying their socialist weekends off).

In fact, my father just assumed we wouldn't get back in time to take advantage of the opportunity. But by the time my parents and I returned home at 6PM, we were still able to book a ridiculously cheap $600/person flight to Tel Aviv for the 3 of us in mid-February. So we booked quickly knowing that we could cancel for free within 24 hours if we changed our minds.

But after looking around more, we found an even better deal in late January during my mother and grandfather's birthdays for just $395! So we booked a second trip to Tel Aviv and only then did we cancel the February booking. It's important we did it in this exact sequence, because with random websites getting abnormally high visitor traffic, there's always a chance your transaction won't go through completely.

We booked the second reservation at around 7:30PM on Saturday evening. We immediately received a confirmation email from Wideroe (the Norwegian airline site) with our booking details, but my father knew that we had to wait for the booking to be TICKETED before anything was even semi-official. Upon ticketing, our credit card would be charged. So we waited for the final ticket numbers to appear on, but due to the heavy backlog of bookings, Wideroe was likely backed up processing orders. Since Wideroe was the ticketing agent, it was their responsibility to complete the transaction, not United.

Unfortunately, the United website said the booking would be cancelled if not ticketed by "midnight on Saturday Nov 23," but YOU SHOULD NEVER EVER CALL the airline or the agents. By involving an actual human being, there's a strong likelihood that the mistake would be quickly identified and corrected (meaning that people's bookings would be cancelled), ruining the deal for everyone.

But as expected that United midnight deadline came and went without any issue. My father eventually just went to sleep with complete understanding that there was a high chance this deal was "too good to be true" and that it might be cancelled outright. If it worked out, great. If not, no harm done.

Around 9AM Sunday morning (over 13 hours later), our booking was finally ticketed by Wideroe, and our ticket numbers appeared on United's website with the same fare we booked the night before. So now we wait and see if the airlines will honor the fares. The fact pattern in our favor includes:
  1. Our credit card was charged for the correct expected amount of $395/person.
  2. United Airlines shows our EWR-TLV booking on their website.
  3. Wideroe sent us confirmations with our ticket numbers.
After the reservation was ticketed, we could then see the fare details on the receipt (seen here from United's website). We saw that the Fuel Surcharge (YQ) was not listed at all. So we booked 3 round trip tickets for 7,254 NOK (or ~ $1,185 USD) total - which came out to just $395/person. Note: 6 NOK = $1 USD.

While many people think a Fuel Surcharge would just be a modest % of the actual base fare, it's oftentimes much more. To see for himself, my nerd father replicated our same itinerary on the ITA Matrix website. In our case, the YQ Fuel Surcharge was actually $606 USD per ticket - almost double the $310 USD base fare! So it appears that Wideroe didn't include the Fuel Surcharge when it was pricing out the United tickets.

Now, there's always a chance that United and/or Wideroe may find a way to cancel the bookings even after ticketing, but I'll keep my toddler fingers crossed and hope that I'll get to see my grandparents in Israel in a few months.

And just so that I'm giving everyone a complete unbiased picture, I wanted to highlight a few pitfalls of trying to get in on these mistake fares. The negatives are as follows:
  1. Your booking may not ultimately be honored. Depending on how widespread the bookings were, the airline may rather face the wrath of negative press than lose millions of dollars on mistake fares. In fact, United cancelled and refunded passengers on another mistake last year when its website accidentally priced out First Class awards to Hong Kong for just 4 miles (vs 140,000 miles normally).
  2. You may book other non-refundable travel based on the flight working out (hotels, other flights, car rentals) and then lose money if you have to cancel.
  3. You may get your hopes up (and those of your friends & family who were expecting to see you).
  4. If the "mistake fare" is actually an active consumer manipulation of the computer systems rather than an actual mistake, the airlines may take severe action against you (including prosecution and shut down of your frequent flyer accounts).  See this example from earlier this month!
  5. The airlines will eventually fix their errors, which may mean that people will get fired and/or smaller companies may be forced to go out of business.

Friday, November 15, 2013

No More Lap Child Status

As some of you may know, I recently celebrated my 2nd birthday. The good news is that I'm getting really good at math, but the bad news is that I'm going to start costing my parents more money.

The Lap Child rules of most airlines is that infants under the age of 2 can fly for free if they sit on their parent's laps. And now that perk has ended. It's been a long time since my very first flight to Chicago when I was about 4 months old, but I'm ready to start earning my own frequent flyer miles.

In fact, as the big day approached, my father started applying for my frequent flyer programs with United Airlines, American Airlines, and Aegean Airlines. I also have my own Starwood Hotels SPG account as well, just in case they decide to target me for any special free night promotions the way they did for my mother (which got us a free night at the Paris Westin Vendome).

I suppose since the TSA doesn't check ID for children under 18 years of age (and since most people can't tell how old Asians are), I could just pretend to be a younger sibling who is still under 2 years old, but I think that would cross the ethical line for my parents.

So now we're looking at 3 paid tickets for each trip we're on. It's a far cry from the days where my father would just book the cheapest ticket, board with just his carry on and crash on a friend's couch for a long weekend trip. Now, we're using nap time strategies when picking flight times, checking car seats and strollers, and booking family friendly hotel accommodations.

As I look back on the past two years of my life, here's a quick recap of the memorable flights we've taken:
So while I'm no longer a lap child, I think I'm going to retain the blog title of Lap Child Diaries since I'm pretty sure I'm going to continue climbing on my mother's lap for a while even though I'll have my own seat.

Well, on to the next chapter of my life!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

IHG Hotels - Big Win Promotion

As all three of you LCD readers know, my father's a loyal avid Starwood fan. But from time to time, it's hard to ignore the special promotions offered by competing hotel chains, such as Diamond status trials from Hyatt or the Big Win Promotion by IHG (InterContinental Hotel Group, formerly known as Priority Club).

During slower periods of business travel, the hotel chains will offer bonuses (free points or nights) to encourage you to book through them. Most of the time, the traveler is already planning to go somewhere (business trip, family vacation, etc.) so it's just a matter of the hotel getting them to choose their properties. My father, on the other hand, is more of an investor, taking advantage of pricing arbitrage opportunities without actually needing a hotel stay at all.

Mattress Run
First, we should discuss a "mattress run." A "mattress run" is an unnecessary paid hotel stay with the sole purpose of earning hotel elite status and/or loyalty points. To many people, a mattress run would appear to be a giant waste of money and time. But to those who live in this travel hacking world, earning top tier hotel status can be very beneficial, especially to young families, because it frequently includes upgrades to larger rooms or suites, free breakfasts, late check outs, and other perks. Further, the paid hotel stay earns points which can be redeemed later on for free hotel stays or suite upgrades.

A. IHG Big Win
As many other have posted, there's a current Q4 2013 promotion by IHG called the Big Win. In many ways, it's sort of a hotel scavenger hunt where you earn bonus points for completing certain tasks. They customized the individual task requirements and bonus point offerings for each individual IHG member, so while my mother's offering wasn't that compelling, my father's offer was attractive enough to book a few mattress runs in addition to some planned hotel stays we'd need anyway for our December vacation in Puerto Rico.

His specific Big Win promotion (from August to December 2013) was structured as follows:
  1. Try 1 & Done: 1,000 points for staying at any IHG hotel
  2. Stay More & Earn More: 6,700 points for staying a total of 5 nights
  3. Explore Our Brands:  22,000 points for staying at 3 different IHG brands
  4. Book With Us: 2,400 points for booking 2 stays on IHG's website/mobile app
  5. Survey the Win: 100 points for taking a 5 minute online survey
  6. Live the City Life: 12,000 points for staying in 2 of select city/metro locations
  7. Spend It To Get It: 1,500 points for paying for 1 stay on your IHG credit card
  8. Big Win: 46,000 points for completing all 7 tasks
Total earning potential: 91,700 IHG points worth between $640-900 of hotel redemption value to my father.

The best part of the promotion is that all the tasks are stackable. Meaning a single hotel stay will count for multiple task categories. For example, my father booked a 2 night hotel stay recently at a Holiday Inn Express outside Chicago for $94/night including all taxes/fees ($188 total).

This single two night stay completed the following:
  1. 100% of the single stay goal
  2. 40% of the 5 stay goal
  3. 33% of the 3 brand goal
  4. 50% of the 2 booking goal
  5. Already completed
  6. 50% of the 2 city goal
  7. 100% of the credit card goal
  8. Some % of the overall goal (I'm only half Asian, so I'm not that good at math yet)
B. Regular IHG Promotions
What makes this deal so attractive is that the Big Win is in addition to the regular promotional offers that you can register for. IHG is infamous for having frequent smaller bonuses that you can register for. The list isn't readily available on their website, but many travel bloggers such as Loyalty Lobby have monthly lists where you can just click on links to add the promotions to your IHG membership account.

You have to manually sign up for each promotion on the website before your stay. And because some promotions are time based (i.e., within the next 60 days), I suggest signing up a day or so before your first check in date so maximize the promotional window.

So in addition to the credit towards the Big Win, the same 2 night stay at Holiday Inn Express earned my father an additional 34,550 IHG points! By our math, that's a redemption value of $240-350.

1. 1,700 points (10x for the actual stay)
2. 850 points (50% extra for being Platinum)
3. 3,000 Welcome Back Bonus
4. 5,000 Elite Member Next Stay Bonus
5. 5,000 Elite Member Next Stay Bonus (different)
6. 3,000 Next Stay Bonus
7. 3,000 New Member Bonus
8. 2,000 Next 60 Day Bonus
9. 3,000 Elite Member Next Stay Bonus (different)
10. 3,000 Elite Member Next Stay Bonus (different)
11. 1,000 Next 60 Day Bonus
12. 1,000 Anniversary Bonus
13. 1,500 Welcome Back Bonus
14. 1,500 Next Stay Bonus

C. IHG Credit Card Bonus
And because we charged the hotel to our IHG Visa credit card, we earned another 5x points on our $188 hotel spend, so another 940 IHG points. Not that significant, but another $6-9 of redemption value doesn't hurt either.

The earning power of this credit card isn't that amazing, but my parents have this card for other reasons: (A) the 80,000 IHG point sign up bonus, (B) Free top tier Platinum status that gets us free internet and occasional room upgrades and (C) the free night award every year you have the card good at any IHG hotel, including our upcoming free stay at the InterContinental Hong Kong (~$500/night savings).

D. Shopping Portal Rewards
And finally, if you're REALLY into optimizing your travel rewards, you can actually first click through various shopping portals that will then take you to the IHG website. By going through the shopping portal first, you earn an extra bonus from the portal (essentially a partial payment of their commission from the hotel).

We could have chosen the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal, but that would earn 3 UR points per dollar spent while Upromise (an affiliate of my College 529 plan) would give us 6%. We value a Chase UR point at about 2 cents/pt so it was about a wash between the two, but we had a lot of Chase UR points already and would have preferred the 6% in cash (about $10) deposited into my 529 Plan.

Final Tally
The hotel cost us $188 in cash outlay upfront. For the 2 night stay, we earned the following
  1. Big Win - estimated 50% credit towards the 91,700 IHG points, so about $320-450
  2. Regular Promotions - 34,550 IHG points worth about $240-350
  3. Credit Card - 940 IHG points worth about $6-9
  4. Shopping Portal - 6% of the base rate, about $10
Excluding the implied value of the free breakfast offered each morning at the hotel, we've (potentially) earned $576-819 of value. Now of course, if my father fails to complete the entire Big Win challenge, then these values come down significantly. But even excluding the Big Win completely, we're clearly earning enough IHG points to cover the $188 cost basis.

Not bad for a two day investment.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Looking for Vanilla in Scottsdale

Since we had 4.5 days in Scottsdale, we decided to trek around a bit and visit a few places that we don't have in New York.

The first place was Menchie's, a frozen yogurt concept popular on the West Coast. While my mother was more of a Red Mango fan, she loved the self-serve concept as well as the kid friendly design and color scheme.

My parents, however, didn't love the actual yogurt itself though. While their variety of flavors were really unique and diverse (i.e., cotton candy, pop-arazzi popcorn, toasted marshmallow, etc.), we found the flavor to be too strong and preferred a more muted frozen yogurt with just a hint of flavor. On the other hand, I'm more equal opportunity and love all frozen dessert flavors.

But the real treat was the other place we went to while in Scottsdale -- CVS. Why was the pharmacy chain such a popular spot for my parents, especially when there are so many in New York City?

Photo from "Million Mile Secrets"
Well, unlike the ones in Manhattan, these CVS stores sold the elusive Vanilla Reload cards and accepted credit cards as payment. I've eluded to these Vanilla Reload cards before (here and here), but the basic idea is that you buy these prepaid reload cards using a points earning credit card (loading up to $500 per Vanilla card) and pay the $3.95 fee. You will earn 504 points from this initial transaction.

Then we use the Vanilla to reload another card called Bluebird by American Express. The Bluebird isn't just a regular card, but rather it's an online checking account for people who don't want to (or can't) have regular accounts with traditional banks. Just log in online and have Amex send paper checks in the mail to whomever you want. Essentially, we are now able to use a (points earning) credit card to pay for things you normally had to use paper checks for.

Now that my father's Bluebird account was loaded, he can use it to send checks to our apartment landlord, make insurance payments, pay friends we owe money to, or better yet, pay down our credit card balances! So aside from the nominal $3.95/card fee, we can just rack up 504 points without actually spending $504 because we can immediately pay off the credit card used to buy the Vanilla Reload card in the first place. Looking at it another way, we bought 504 points for $3.95 or about 0.8 cents/point. When you can redeem your points at 2-4 cents/pt (or $10-20 of value per Vanilla card), you can see why this Vanilla/Bluebird transaction is so compelling.

And when your father has a special Citi Thank You Preferred card (no longer offered) that earns you 5 Citi Thank You points per $1 spent at drugstores, you understand why my father went overboard when we were in Scottsdale with these readily available Vanilla Reload cards at CVS. Those 2,520 Citi Thank You points per Vanilla Reload card are worth at least $25.20 in cash, but can be worth up to $31.50 of airline travel if transferred first to my mother's Citi Thank You Premier card. Said another way, each $500 Vanilla Reload card we bought was like earning $27.55 of "profit."

So how many cards did we buy during those 5 days in Scottsdale? According to my father, not enough...

Fair warning though, putting all your CVS spending on the same credit card will likely elicit suspicion from your credit card company. As such, it makes a lot of sense to spread out your transactions across a variety of different credit card issuers (Amex, Chase, Citi, Barclays, Bank of America, etc). The last thing you want is to have your bank shut you down for unusual behavior.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Using SeatGuru for US Airways

Flight #69 – US Airways 622 
Phoenix (PHX) – New York (JFK)
Wednesday, October 30, 2013 
Depart: 3:20PM / Arrive: 10:58PM 
Duration: 4hr 38min 
Aircraft: Airbus 321 
Seat: 17A and 17B (Economy) 
Earned: 2,153 miles
Cost: $166 / person (one way)
Lifetime Miles: 136,097 miles

Time and time again, whenever we fly a domestic non-United flight, we remember why we should stick with United. US Airways isn't a bad airline, per say, but when the plane isn't configured well (without all the amenities), you realize how spoiled you've been.

We could have found a United flight from Phoenix that would take us back to Newark, but Phoenix was a hub for US Airways so there were plenty of US Airway options. We planned to credit my father's US Airways flight to Aegean Airlines to help with his pursuit of lifetime Aegean Gold Status since US Airways flights usually credit 100% of mileage flown to Aegean while many United flights only credit 50% mileage.
Before we went to the airport, my father checked out what the flight would be like on The website is a valuable resource to any aspiring frequent flyer who flies enough to care, but not enough to have memorized different aircraft configurations. Here's the link to the Airbus 321 flown by US Airways. If you're not smart enough to know which aircraft your flying, then you can search by airline and then by route (destinations). Hopefully you will know that much.

Seating Chart

As you can see, they show you how the seats are configured and color coded which seats are better or worse. When you move the mouse over the seat, a small text box will pop up explaining why the seat is color coded (White = neutral, Green = good, Red = bad, Yellow = slightly negative). For example:
  • The red seats in Row 20 will say "Seat 20 has limited recline and the proximity to the lavatory may be bothersome."
  • The yellow seats in Row 1 will say "Seat 1A is a standard First Class seat, however, there is no floor storage during take off and landing, and over head space is limited. Viewing the movie may be difficult from this seat. It can get cold in this area due to the unconditioned cargo hold under these seats. The proximity to the galley may be bothersome."
That's helpful when you have a choice of selecting advance seat assignments, but even more helpful is the detail on the rest of the page, including In Flight Amenities. Unlike our United flight which had DirecTV in each of the seat backs, our US Airways flight had pretty much nothing.
"US Airways has discontinued all in flight entertainment on all fights except for international and Hawaii flights effective November 1st. Both first and coach class have LCD screens that drop from the ceiling every three rows. Movies are usually shown on flights longer than 3 hours, short subject programming (TV shows) is shown on shorter flights. You can bring your own double-prong headset for free or you can buy a headset to keep for $5."
However, not having a personal TV to watch my Disney Junior cartoons wasn't the end of the world. We still had our iPad, but according to Seatguru: "On US Airways' new A321 aircrafts, there are no power ports." So at least we knew in advance to have our electronic devices fully charged before boarding.

While the US Airways flight did offer wifi (via GoGo Air), it was pretty expensive for the 4+ hour flight and we opted to make do without paying $20 for the short flight.

Given our flight time was going through dinner time, we needed something to eat during our flight. After confirming on SeatGuru that meal service wasn't provided for economy passengers (something we knew anyway), we originally planned to buy something at the airport to take with us on the plane. However, returning our rental car, waiting for the shuttle and clearing security (without elite status) took a bit longer than we anticipated so by the time we got past the TSA checkpoint, our flight was already starting to board.

Thankfully, we could buy a snack on the flight, so we shelled our $3.49 for a bag of Chex Mix to hold us over until we got back home. We would have purchased a "meal" for $7, but the choices really weren't better than the Chex Mix.

By the time we landed at JFK Terminal 8, it was just before 11PM Eastern time (8PM Phoenix). Being unfamiliar with this airport, we underestimated how long of a walk it would take to the baggage claim as well as how long it would take the ground crew to unload our luggage. By the time we collected our things and got into a taxi, it was closer to midnight.

To be fair, it wasn't a horrible flight. We took off on time and arrived safely. The airline didn't lose our luggage, nor did they keep us on the tarmac for hours, but it just wasn't a memorable last flight to finish your career as a lap child.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Is Free the Same as Unlimited?

So are my parents the only ones who take the hotel shampoos and soaps back home?

The Remede bath amenities at The Phoenician are pretty high quality stuff and are usually found in the St. Regis brand hotels and resorts. It's much better than the Dial we typically use at home.

Some people say it's the brand's way to getting access to their target consumer base, so they want you to bring their products home. Others say my father's just really cheap.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Taliesin West - Frank Lloyd Wright

When we came to Scottsdale, my parents and I didn't really have any plans. We were really just taking advantage of a fortuitous set of circumstances that allowed us to take a cheap/free vacation for a few days. But as we started looking into the area, we found out that Scottsdale had a lot more to offer than swimming pools and golf courses.

One of such offerings was Taliesin West, former home of the famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright. If you know my father well, you'll know he (like many other young egoists) was influenced by the writings of Ayn Rand and her infamous novel, The Fountainhead. Writing about a radical individualist architect who rejected the traditional classic aesthetic, Rand constantly rejected the assertion that her novel's lead character, Howard Roark, was based on the real life Frank Lloyd Wright. But the parallels are hard to ignore and looking at some of FLW's body of work, you can visually appreciate what the Fountainhead was describing with words.

The site is about a 30 minute drive northwest from The Phoenician. It's pretty easy to get to, though it gets a bit tricky when you cross Frank Lloyd Wright Boulevard. Just follow the Taliesin West insignia signs and your parents should be fine.

Before Your Tour
First, if you plan to visit, you should know that you should book your tickets in advance online (via Zerve's online booking website) as there are set tour times each day. For the basic 90 minute guided "Insights Tour," prices run $35/person ($32 + $3 booking fee) but it's free for adorable toddlers under 4 years old. Additionally, for some reason, Tuesdays and Wednesdays are $6/person cheaper, so if you have the flexibility, you can save a few extra dollars for some In-N-Out Burgers later. I suppose you can also take your chances and just show up at Taliesin West without purchasing tickets in advance, but the prices will be a few dollars higher.

Second, the tour is inside and outside the main home and surrounding buildings. While we were able to bring my trusty travel stroller, there were some small sets of stairs to negotiate, so keep that in mind if you're planning on doing the same. But given it's a dessert home, the ranch style building didn't have many big sets of stairs.

However, be mindful that there's not a lot to keep a young child entertained during the full 90 minutes. When I got bored, I started to make a fuss and my parents had to take turns taking me outside as the tour guide continued her explanations of the various points of interest.

And finally, cameras were allowed (and welcomed) as long as they were used outside and the photos were only used for personal use. However, all photos of the interior rooms were prohibited. Fortunately for us, we had a beautiful sunny day so my father's amateur point & click photography looked halfway decent.

The Insights Tour
As we found out, the entire property was built by Wright and his apprentices out of the stone and sand that surrounded them in the Sonoran desert on the foothills of the McDowell Mountains. Similar to the fictional Howard Roark, the modernist architect FLW wanted his structures to blend seamlessly into the natural backdrop of whatever setting he was working with.

Around the corner we saw a glimpse of the front fountain and the main building which served as FLW's personal home and work studio for the last several years of his life. Today it functions as the campus of the Frank Lloyd Wright Architecture School.

Surrounding the main building were many sculptures, landscaping and other works of art that had a strong Asian influence.

Behind the building, you found another fountain as well as a separate cabaret theater and music pavilion buildings.



Toddler Thoughts
While my father really enjoyed learning about the legendary architect, my mother was more fascinated by the eclectic artwork surrounding the property and less by the building design. As a soon to be 2 year old, however, I was probably too young to appreciate anything at all. Oh well, at least my ticket was free.

Friday, November 1, 2013

The Phoenician Resort - Part 3

But as nice as our room and hotel interior were, what made the Phoenician a great family resort was the expansive outdoor property. As seen here, there were several different swimming pools, a golf course, multiple tennis courts, a cactus garden, a driving range, a large koi pond and even a children's playground.

Our room was on the top (6th) floor of the main building facing the mountain. In addition to the traditional hotel rooms (SPG Category 5, 12k points/night), the Phoenician also has another part of the resort (SPG Category 6, 16k points/night) with Casitas, which are villas/townhouses with full kitchens. You can see on the map below the pool area. Sometimes when you book a room in the Category 5 hotel, you can get upgraded to those Category 6 Casitas, but we were there on a busy weekend so no complimentary suite upgrades this time around.

But everyone could enjoy all the amenities available across the entire property. My father and I continued our walk towards the lower pool area where we found some serene grassy areas and a very well landscaped path toward the Casitas area.



But of course, the main attraction (and my personal favorite) was the swimming pool area. Among the various pool areas, our favorite was the Cabana pool which was at the bottom of the hill. Along one end of the pool, you could rent one of these yellow cabanas for the day (for about $200) where you'd have your own private room, reserved sun loungers and chilled bottled waters. While we did save thousands by using SPG points for our 5 night stay, we weren't about to blow $200 for a few walls and a nice mirror when we could just sit on the other side of the pool for free.


Since we were there on an early Saturday morning, the pool area was pretty empty. But we found out that every morning at 9:30AM, I could feed the koi in the pond on the other side of the pool. While most koi ponds have a small handful of elegant Asian fish swimming gracefully, this pond was more of a koi Apocalypse where every fish was fighting for its survival as it caught the small bits of fish food from my toddler hands.


After I ran out of fish food and my God-complex wore off, we went back towards our room but instead of going through the hotel, we decided to walk along the Cactus Garden in the back of the building. Not even being 2 years old  yet, I have never actually seen a real cactus, so everything was pretty exciting for me. That was until I actually touched one of the prickly needles. Most parents would have protected their young children, but not my Asian dad. He likes me learning lessons the hard way.


The next few days were spent by the pool and various resort restaurants for the most part, though on some mornings, there were some nice ducks who would come by the koi pond to say hello.


We didn't get a chance to do any golfing during our stay (I didn't have my baby clubs with me), but we did go by the stunning tennis court area at the far end of the resort...


...but not to play tennis. Right by the courts, they had a great children's playground, half basketball court and sandbox area that was completely empty the few times we went. While I like playing with other kids, it's really nice to have the entire place to myself.