Saturday, March 30, 2013

Hyatt - Suite Upgrades With Points

Sometimes, my father really outdoes himself.

Last month, he scored us a ridiculous 6 night stay at the Conrad Koh Samui for FREE using Hilton HHonors points before the big devaluation that happened yesterday (March 28). While that was an amazing hotel and a standard room, this time around, we're staying at a very nice hotel but in a phenomenal room - or shall I say, suite.

After discussing a few weeks ago about shifting loyalties to Hyatt Hotels (see post "Looking Hard at Hyatt"), this stay at Park Hyatt Mendoza reminded me to highlight one of the truly amazing Hyatt Gold Passport program deals that Starwood doesn't have: the 6,000 Hyatt Point Suite Upgrade.

Room Types 101
As some of you traveling lapchildren know, there's 3 buckets of rooms at a hotel: (A) standard rooms, (B) club lounge access rooms and (C) suites.
  • Standard rooms are... well, regular rooms. They come in different sizes and locations, but they're all basically a studio bedroom with varying levels of comfort/quality views.
  • Club lounge access rooms are generally the same as standard rooms, but offer entry into the hotel's club lounge where you can get free breakfasts and afternoon drinks/snacks in addition to computers and wifi. 
  • Suites are often entirely larger accomodations with a separate bedroom and livingroom area. Sometimes it's just a studio with a wall/door put up (you New Yorkers know what I mean). But other times, they're the equivalent of massive 1 bedroom apartments, large enough to have some killer Disney Princess sleepover parties. Each hotel property is different so you need to do your online homework beforehand.

Now back to Hyatt.

If you have an existing paid (cash) reservation coming up and some extra Hyatt Gold Passport points to redeem, you can call Hyatt and use your points to upgrade from a standard room to either a club room for 3,000 points or a suite for 6,000 points for up to 4 nights (assuming you have a cash booking at an eligible rate). You can also apply for the points upgrade at the same time you make the original booking.

And to be clear, that's just 3,000 (club) or 6,000 (suite) points TOTAL for 4 nights (i.e., 750 or 1,500 points per night). Ugh...too much math makes my head hurt.

But unfortunately, you can't redeem points for the suite upgrade over the world wide web. You need to call and have the Hyatt agent look up availability manually like we're still in 1993.

Points Upgrade - Hyatt vs. Starwood
This 6,000 Hyatt point upgrade for up to 4 nights compares very favorably to Starwood, which requires 100% the award night cost in points PER NIGHT. So for a nice (but not super luxury nice) Category 5 Starwood hotel like the W Santiago Hotel we just stayed at, it would cost 12,000 SPG Points per night to upgrade our standard room to a suite (as seen in the chart below).

In case you're not Asian bad at math, a 4 night upgrade at the W Santiago would run 48,000 total SPG Starpoints vs 6,000 total Hyatt Gold passport points (in addition to paying the daily cash rate for the standard room).

Cost vs. Value of a Hyatt Suite Upgrade
Now, Hyatt doesn't adjust the price of a points upgrade based on the tier of hotel, so to upgrade a Hyatt Category 2 stay ($100/night Hyatt Morristown in NJ) will cost the same 6,000 Hyatt points as you'd need to upgrade at a luxury Category 6 ($329/night Park Hyatt Washington DC).

I personally value Hyatt points at about $0.02 a piece, so that means it costs about $120 total in points to upgrade from a basic room to a suite. But since Hyatt points have become so easy to earn (via Chase Sapphire Preferred and Ink Bold credit cards), you might as well upgrade just about every paid Hyatt stay you have coming up.

To be crystal clear, I'll walk you through this example for a 1 night stay on May 10th:
  • Hyatt Morristown (Category 2) - $97/night standard room and $117/night suite
  • Park Hyatt Washington DC (Category 6) - $329/night standard room and $429/night suite
After doing the math, you'd see that the points upgrade at the Park Hyatt Washington DC makes more sense if you're staying more than 1 night ($120 cost in points vs. $100 cash value/night benefit) and it doesn't really ever make sense at Hyatt Morristown (because I'd rather just pay an extra $20 cash each night than blow 6,000 valuable Hyatt points).

However, at some properties, you can really extract a ton more value, particularly the more expensive Hyatt hotels outside the US where the dollar has a weak exchange rate.
  • Park Hyatt Milan (Category 6) - $667/night standard room and $1,077/night suite
  • Grand Hyatt Istanbul (Category 4) - $399/night standard room and $687/night suite
  • Hyatt Regency Mumbai (Category 3) - $132/night standard room and $295/night suite

Fair Warning
First, when you use points for a suite upgrade with Hyatt on an existing reservation, you are essentially (a) cancelling the original reservation, (b) re-booking a new cash reservation for a standard room at the then current rates and (c) redeeming 6,000 Hyatt points. But when the new cash rate is booked, it may (or may not) be the same rate you originally booked. So as you get closer to your check-in date, the standard room rates may have gone up significantly, and you're SOL.

Second, not all suites are created equal. Some Hyatt suites are magnificent, spacious accommodations that could fit a large Catholic family. But other Hyatt "suites" are modestly larger than a regular room with a psuedo-wall in the middle. You need to figure out which Hyatt properties have which types of suites before you try to upgrade your room.

And third, within a single hotel property, there are often multiple types of suites with varying sizes and features. For example, the Park Hyatt Mendoza (where we're at right now) has 3 different suites.
  • Park Suite - 1,200 sq ft including marble bath and generous workspace
  • Governors Suite - 1,400 sq ft including the above + kitchenette
  • Presidential Suite - 1,600 sq ft including the above + full kitchen + guest bathroom + separate study + view of the Andes
Generally speaking, if you use the Hyatt points suite upgrade, you will get the basic level suite (usually called the Park Suite at most properties). So before you go squander 6,000 Hyatt points, make sure you're comfortable with "only" getting the basic suite and do the math to see if it's worth it.

But sometimes, on super rare occasions when all the stars are aligned, you have Hyatt Diamond Status, and you flash them your cutest baby smile, you get super lucky (like we did yesterday) and end up kicking it Presidential style.

To be continued...

Friday, March 29, 2013

Friday Photos - Chile

Flight #43 – LAN 932
Santiago (SCL) – Mendoza (MDZ)
Friday, Mar 29, 2013
Depart: 3:45PM / Arrive: 4:40PM
Duration: 55min 
Seat: 13A and 13C (Economy) 
Earned: 121 miles 
Lifetime Miles: 89,738 miles 

By the time you're reading this Friday morning, I'm likely heading to SCL Airport for my short LAN flight back to Argentina. 

But this time, we're heading to the mountain town of Mendoza, the wine region of the country and home to more than 1,200 wineries, for 4 nights before returning to Buenos Aires on Tuesday.

Since today's a travel day, I don't have much to write, but here's a few photos from the past 5 days in Chile.


Thursday, March 28, 2013

Pablo Neruda's Isla Negra House

Since my Asian father made me study up on Chilean history on the plane ride over, I knew that their national treasure was the celebrity poet, Pablo Neruda.

But aside from being a beloved literary artist, he was also a pretty avid collector of all things interesting that his homes became museums. So my parents decided to have a Culture Day and spend it in search of Pablo Neruda's 3rd house in Isla Negra (the other 2 are in Santiago and Valparaiso).

On Wednesday morning, we rented a car (procured by W Santiago's concierge) that was delivered at 10AM to our hotel. Including GPS and taxes, it came to $105 USD for 1 day. Aside from a 19% extra charge for using a credit card and a 500 CLP/USD exchange rate, it made much more sense to just pay in US Dollars, though we did so after returning the car (so that if we had any accidents, we'd be covered under our credit card's car rental insurance protection). They also gave us the car with only 1/8 tank of gas. Thanks, Chilean Car Rental Company.

Getting from Santiago to Isla Negra is a pretty easy 90 minute drive (or so my father says), only 3 big roads and then a few twists and turns at the end.  But make sure you go Tuesday-Sunday, because they're closed on Mondays.

View Larger Map

Before you try to make the drive though, make sure you have some cash on you because there's a bunch of tolls along the way after you leave Santiago - 3 to be exact.  The first two tolls are 1,600 CLP each ($3.20 USD) and the 3rd toll is 1,150 ($2.30 USD).  Then obviously, you need to pay all three tolls on the way back as well.  This is in addition to the Santiago tolls but those are usually paid automatically by radio waves using an EZPass-like device in the rental car.

When you get to Isla Negra, you'll be surprised as how barren the town is. You're really in the middle of nowhere. There's one main road with a handful of restaurants and tourist shops along it. There were no signs, no tour buses, no lines of tourists. Nada! Being a small kid, I was pretty scared we were lost since there were no signs at all showing the way to the Pablo Neruda house.

But my father had been here 5 years ago so he knew where to go. Here's what you should remember if you decide to make the trip. First, the house is along the Pacific Ocean so you should focus on the side of the road that is closest to the water.

Second, the road you need to turn down should look like this dirt road here.  You'll be able to identify it because there's a mural of Pablo Neruda down at the far end of the Cafe (see above the yellow car).

After you go down the road, you can make a left turn by telephone pole followed by a right at the benches you'll find in the path.

The other way is to just go straight down this first road and then turn left at the end until you reach the point where you're lost. Eventually you'll find some people walking to/from the Pablo Neruda house and can just ask directions.

When you do find the Neruda house, you'll walk into the boleteria (ticket office). Prices are 8,000 CLP ($16 USD) per person. Adorable babies (and even ugly kids under 7 years old) get in free. Students pay a discounted price but must flash their student ID.

When my father went 5 years ago, they had guided tours in English or Spanish and you had to wait for a specific tour time/guide. He had to wait about 45 minutes back then to get on the English tour, but it was worth it because you got a lot more color and context to the 19 different parts of Neruda's house.

But now, they just send you off alone with an audio device that you can hold up to your ear or plug your headphones into. I preferred actually to forego listening to the guide and rather to just run around trying to touch everything I could get my little baby hands on.

I learned that Pablo loved the ocean and made his house look like the interior of a ship (tight narrow doorways, curved ceilings, all rooms with windows facing the ocean). He also had a ton of paraphernalia he's been collecting and he collects EVERYTHING (butterflies, Chilean foot warmers, ships in glass jars, seashells, portraits of poets, Japanese and tribal masks).

All I wanted to do was just rip everything off the tables and play with them, but my mother didn't agree and kept me on lockdown during the tour. My father wanted to take some photos but you're are not allowed inside the house/museum. But you can take as many as you want outside.

Overall, it was a fun day with my parents. I'm glad I came along with them instead of hanging by the W hotel rooftop pool again.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

W Santiago

Hotel Stay Details 
Hotel: W Santiago
Dates: March 24-29, 2013 
Rate Paid: 4,800 SPG Points + $90 /night 
Regular Rate: $429 / night (incl. taxes) 
Total $ Savings: $1,695 
Point Redemption Value: 7.1 cents/pt

After trying out a budget boutique version of a W Hotel in Buenos Aires, we went back to our beloved Starwoods for the real thing during our 5 night stay in Santiago. I love W Hotels, but the W Santiago elevator set up was frustrating.

The W Santiago was a very expensive property, going for about $429 / night if we paid in cash or 16,000 SPG points if we paid in points. That would have been a redemption value of 2.7 cents/pt. But since we'd be staying 5 nights, the 5th night would be free, bringing down the per night point requirement to 12,800 per night (3.4 cents/pt), or 64,000 SPG points total.

However, if we used SPG Cash & Points, we'd be paying $90 cash per night but only using 4,800 points per night. That meant the 4,800 points would save us $339 USD a night - an amazing redemption value of 7.1 cents/pt. That way, my father could also save his SPG points for future hotel stays instead of blowing his load using them all up at once.

Unfortunately, the Cash & Points (as well as the Free Night Award) doesn't get you breakfast included in your rate, but we didn't need the 1,000+ calorie morning meals anyway, especially since we woke up around 11:30AM each morning.

We took the pre-paid taxi (20,000 CLP or $42 USD) from Santiago International Airport (SLC) and arrived quickly to the Las Condes area (high end Santiago neighborhood where the banks and embassies are located). The W staff helped us unload the car as soon as we pulled up and escorted us up to the Lobby on the 4th Floor.

The hotel shared space within a larger commercial building that included corporate offices, retail stores and restaurants, so the elevator set up was quite complicated.
  • There was the first set of elevators to take you from the ground floor entrance to the 4th floor lobby. 
  • Another set of elevators on the 4th floor to take you to floors 3 (gym) through 11.
  • And still another set of elevators to take you from the 4th floor to floors 12-21 (rooftop pool).
I suppose there was a reason for the elevator insanity (like forcing people to take the stairs in an emergency) but I didn't mind, because it forced us to walk through the stylish lobby area on the 4th floor.

The 4th floor also had the hotel restaurants including the Tea Library, Wine Tasting Room, Noso, Whiskey Blue, Osaka. Since I've been throwing a fit whenever I'm at a nice restaurant, my parents didn't take me to eat in any of these places, opting for the Room Service option instead. But they all looked very posh and tasty.

Our Room
After checking in and confirming our dates, we eventually found the right bank of elevators to get to our room on the 10th floor and, to my delight, the room was very close to the elevators (Room 1019) just like we requested. But I was in for a real treat, because upon entering, I was amazed at how high the ceilings were. And I'm not just saying that because I'm 2 feet tall.

Unlike most of the hotel rooms I've been frequenting, this room had almost 20 foot ceilings. The height of the room really made you feel like you had a massive room, even it it was just a regular studio.That being said, the square footage of the room was also pretty large for W hotel standards.

But the main eyecatcher was the pop art along the wall behind the bed of the famous Andes Mountains. I immediately ran to the phone to call Reception to thank them.

In typical W Hotel style, they also had the open bathroom with an exceptionally large opening to the bedroom area. The large foot print of our room gave us plenty of space both in the sink area as well as in the walk in rain-shower. And of course, they had my mother's favorite lemon-sage scented hotel amenity set - Bliss.

The rest of the room was pretty standard but much cleaner/simpler than other W hotels, which I preferred. Many other W hotels go over the top with tchotchkes that clutter up the room instead of add to the ambiance like they think.  We asked for the 10th floor (could have taken a 5th floor room) because we wanted the better view. I wasn't sure which side we were facing (I think North) but you could see some mountains in the distance and that was enough to appease me.

Rooftop Pool
Since it was mid/high 80s during our week here in Santiago, we spent yesterday lounging at WET (the W Rooftop Pool) on the 21st floor. As I mentioned though, getting from our 10th floor room to the 21st floor meant we had to stop by the 4th floor and walk through the Tea Library/Lounge in our swimsuits to get to the other elevator bank that would take us up to the rooftop. Aside from my brief embarrassment flashing my  chubby baby legs to the traveling businessmen and their model-esque girlfriends, I was happy when we finally got upstairs to the pool.

As you might imagine, it was quite a scene with more high end Santiago socialite-types than adorable babies like me, but my father and I stuck to the empty end of the pool with the covered cabanas while the "see & be seen" crowd got their suntans on the uncovered far end where they practiced flexing their bodies while trying to appear as if they weren't. Ah, the W Hotel crowd...

But despite all the scenesters, not too shabby for only $90 USD a night.