July 13, 2017

Why Buying Hotel Points Deals Is Cheaper Than Paying For The Stay At La Quinta JFK Airport?

Yesterday, American Express came out with a few travel offers. One of the offer is the #AmexLaQuinta. If you are new to American Offers via twitter, you can check out the Complete Guide to American Express Offers. The offer basically is if you spend $100 on American Express credit card, you receiver $20 back on La Quinta's hotel stay.

I have to admit, I never stayed at La Quinta before. I actually knew nothing about it. They apparently have their own rewards program called La Quinta Returns. You can earn the Returns points through stays. So I looked into their redemption process, which is very similar to other hotel programs out there. They do, however, list all of their properties into each tier and that makes things very easy to see which property that you are interested in requires how many points. You can check it out here La Quinta Returns Rewards Progarm.

I have a stay coming up in New York one night as I'll be flying out from JFK to Port Elizabeth in South Africa. I have looked at various hotels there that is by the JFK airport and provides airport shuttle. They are not cheap!

Because of the American Express offer, I looked up to see if there's a La Quinta property there. Fortunately, yes there is one by the Rockaway beach called La Quinta Inn & Suites Far Rockaway - JFK Airport. The location sounds nice already! It also offers free airport shuttle from/to JFK and free hot breakfast in the morning. However, the rate is as high as other hotels there. It costs $135/night before tax, around $157/night after tax. Then I looked into how many points required to redeem one free night there. It is merely 11,000 points to get a free night stay. So I went to see if I can purchase La Quinta points and surprisingly they are having sales right now on La Quinta points if you buy 10,000 - 24,000 points, you get 20% off the price.

Here's the quick look of the promotion for buying La Quinta points:
1,000 – 4,000 points = No offer
5,000 – 9,000 points = 15% discount
10,000 – 24,000 points = 20% discount
25,000 – 35,000 points = 25% discount

Queen Bed at La Quinta Inn & Suites Far Rockaway - JFK Airport
Courtesy Photo of La Quinta Inn & Suites

By purchasing 11,000 points, it costs me $105.60 total. The points got added to my La Quinta account instantly after the purchase. I went ahead and redeem 11,000 points for La Quinta Inn & Suites Far Rockaway - JFK Airport. Here's the breakdown of my redemption:

Room Type: 
1 Queen Bed

Rate Type:
Returns Free Night

Rate Description:
Non commissionable Includes Free Bright Side Breakfast

Per Night Rate: 0.00 USD

Subtotal: 0.00 USD
Estimated Tax*: 2.50USD
Estimated Total with Tax*: 2.50 USD

Keep in mind this is my first time booking a hotel stay with La Quinta using points, so I knew nothing about the process. Apparently, they do charge little bit of tax on award night stay. The cancellation is by 6pm on the date that I'll be checking in. Moreover, just like any other hotel's rewards program, points stay does not earn points. I am alright with that as I seldom stay with La Quinta so it doesn't make sense to accrue their points.

In conclusion, I paid $105.60 plus ~$2.50 tax on 1 night stay at La Quinta Rockaway Beach by JFK airport instead of paying the regular rate of $157/night after tax. That's a total saving of ~$48.9! I find this a great deal because of the property's location, airport shuttle, and complimentary hot breakfast items in the morning, especially considering other good hotels there are expensive.

As a reminder, always compare the regular rate and the cost of purchasing hotel points. You also cannot earn points if you redeem points for free night(s).


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July 7, 2017

Hotel Review: Goulding's Lodge At The Monument Valley

​As I mentioned in the "Everything You Want To Know About The Monument Valley" post, there are only two hotels that are located at the Monument Valley's Navajo Tribal Park. One being the View hotel that locates inside the park, which requires you to pay for the park's entrance fee of $20 if you stay there, and the other one being the Goulding's Lodge that locates outside the park. We decided to stay at the Goulding's Lodge as the room rate was more reasonable and they have better cancellation policy than the View hotel.

#RoomWithView
Our room type was Standard Room with 2 Queen Beds on the ground floor. The room was very nice and the bed was comfortable. The bathroom is little bit dated but practical. It has a patio that overlooks the valley from sunrise to sundown which is very nice. The room also has complimentary wifi, but it's not premium.

Room With The View of The Monument Valley

Comfortable Standard Two Queen Beds

Location
The location of Goulding's Lodge is good. Although it's not inside the Navajo Tribal Park where the 17-mile loop drive starts, it is also surrounded by the nature and mountain.

Goulding's Lodge Surrounded by the Mountain

Amenities & Attractions
Gouldiing's Lodge is tailored for tourism. You will find amenities there such as their qualify gift shop, restaurant on site, swimming pool, museum, and John Wayne's Cabin.

The lodge is an attraction itself. You can go check out the museum free of charge. The museum shows how Mr. Goulding used to live, and if you are a Western film lover, you will enjoy learning many movies were actually taken place at the Monument Valley. While there, you can also check out the John Wayn's Cabin. It's a very small cabin. There are tour company that actually take visitors to check out the museum and the cabin there. In addition, Goulding's Lodge also has its own Monument Valley tour for a fee and you can read my full review here. Monument Valley Tour Review With Goulding's Tour.

Goulding's Museum

Many Western Movies Took Place At The Monument Valley

Small John Wayn's Cabin at the Goulding's Lodge

Onsite Restaurant
The restaurant at the Goulding's Lodge is OK. The food is mediocre but the price is a little bit high. But given how under-developed the Monument Valley is, your only option is either to eat at this lodge or the View hotel. Please note that alcoholic drinks are not available on the reservation and therefore they do not serve alcoholic drinks there.

Conclusion
Goulding's Lodge to me is not just a beautiful hotel that is surrounded by the nature, but also a historical attraction site at the Monument Valley with free museum and John Wayne's Cabin to keep guests entertained. If you are looking for souvenirs, the town does not have any stores, but the hotel has souvenirs store that you can stop by to purchase. Monument Valley is not very developed so restaurants are so limited, but Goulding's Lodge has decent onsite restaurant. All in all, if you at the lodge, you would get to do all of that as a half day things to do without driving anywhere for free, and commit another half day to doing the famous Monument Valley tour with a Navajo guide from the Gouliding's Tour service.


Don't forget to check out: Everything You Want To Know About The Monument Valley

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July 6, 2017

Monument Valley Tour Review With Goulding's Tour

Let me start out by saying that the Monument Valley is so beautiful. It's located in Utah and on the Navajo Reservation. The Monument Valley is a sacred place belongs to the Navajo tribe. It is recommended that you attend a tour with a Navajo guide so that you can learn the history of the Navajo tribe, open your imaginations to many wonderful rock formations as pointed out by the guide, and best of all have the guide does all the driving on the unpaved dirt road while you just kick back and enjoy the narratives and views. For more information about the tour, the road condition on the 17-mile scenic loop, places to stay, etc. please refer to the Q&A post on "Everything You Want To Know About The Monument Valley"

During our visit to the Monument Valley, we wanted to stay near the Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, which is the entrance to the 17-mile scenic drive loop. Our options were either the View Hotel or the Goulding's Lodge. We decided to stay with the Goulding's Lodge as the rate is cheaper and their cancellation policy is more flexible. We also found out that the Lodge does provide their own Monument Valley tour, so that's super convenient for us.

Goulding's Monument Valley Tour Price
I did a few researches to see how much a typical Monument Valley tour charges, to my surprise, the Goulding's Lodge's Basic 17-mile tour costs $60/adult, which is cheaper than the competitors that I found. They also have reasonable price for the sunrise and sunset tours, but those tours did not work out for us. We originally wanted to do just the Basic 17-mile loop tour; however, we wanted to experience the back-country further, so we decided to pick the Deluxe tour instead. The Deluxe tour includes the 17-mile loop plus the back-country experience. It costs more than the Basic tour and it takes an hour longer too. The experience is well worth it!

Booking Process
You can either book online or book on the phone. If you are staying with them, you can book on the phone and they will just put the specific tour that you want in your reservation. You are not getting charged until your check-in day, making this a nice flexible cancellation. I did inquire the girl at the lodge too whether it's necessary to book in advanced. She said no, if the tour is ever sold out, they will just bring more tour shuttles. So it's completely up to you on 'when' you want to book.

Tour Check-In
The Monument Valley tour provided by the Goulding's Lodge is operated by the Goulding's Lodge itself. It's not a third party tour. So when you check in for your stay, if you have a reservation for your tour, it'll be confirmed during that time as well. They then will instruct you on what time to wait for the shuttle, etc. The tour fee will be charged to the credit card on file. The process is really quite simple. The hotel staff told us to wait at the tour pick up area which is at the bench by the swimming pool area. Our room was across the pool so that was very convenient!

Tour Shuttle & Guide
The shuttle has the Goulding's name on it. It has a few seats on it with open-air windows. There were only two of us on the shuttle at the time. We were there during the off-peak season, so it ended up being a 'private' tour just us on the shuttle, which was kind of nice. The weather was a little bit cold that day, but the shuttle has a flapper that blocks the wind. However, do monitor the weather to dress properly because the tour is taken place outside. We did see other tour company's shuttle has no flapper and it's just open-air, bur...

The Goulding's Tour Shuttle with Flapper for blocking the wind
Our guide is a nice Navajo gentleman. His name is Henry. He has his own saying and character that we found very funny (in a good way). We enjoyed his company and his narratives showing us the Monument Valley!

Our Tour Guide Henry Came Out From the Hogan - Navajo Home
The Monument Valley Tour
The tour itself was wonderful. We are so glad that we did the Deluxe tour, especially we did not drive our rental car on the unpaved dirt road of the 17-mile loop. We did see a few non-four wheel drive car attempted to do that and we felt sorry for them because they were struggling navigating on that rough road.

At the beginning of the tour, our guide Henry took us to the Hogan, a Navajo home, to show us how Navajo tribe lives, weave rugs, etc. which was quite interesting. Once we hit the 17-mile loop, he pointed out to us several rock formations. I feel like once you are in the Monument Valley, you have to open your imagination to see Christ the Redeemer, Elephant, Snoopy Dog, the Mittens, etc. He also told us many stories and pointed out to us where famous movies were taken place there in the Monument Valley. The 17-mile loop is incredible, but the experience of the back-country to see more views that cannot be seen from the 17-mile loop is another highlight of our trip. It's so quiet and it makes you appreciate so much about the natural wonders.

Navajo Woman Demonstrated Weaving
Join the Monument Vally and See the Mittens In Person
Do you see Snoopy?
Conclusion
If you are going to the Monument Valley and wanting to stay there for the night, I recommend that you check out the Goulding's Lodge. They also provide the Monument Valley for more reasonable price compared to the competitors. You want to join at least their Basic tour so you get to experience the 17-miles scenic drive where you get to see all the highlights of the Monument Valley. If you can afford, pay the extra money for their Deluxe tour to go back-country to experience beyond the 17-miles drive. You will go back home with wonderful experience and of course beautiful photographs. The Monument Valley is just amazingly beautiful. As our guide Henry would say: "That's how it is!"

Don't forget to check out: Everything You Want To Know About The Monument Valley

For Goulding's Lodge Tour Information about tour description, time and price: https://www.gouldings.com/tours/


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July 3, 2017

I Scored 5 Nights At A Marriott Property for $85 In Cape Town South Africa - Protea Hotel Cape Town Waterfront Breakwater Lodge

​It caught me by surprise when I saw a Marriott property in Cape Town South Africa "Protea Hotel Cape Town Waterfront Breakwater Lodge" that is only a category 2 hotel. That means I can redeem Marriott points to stay there, which costs merely 10,000 points per night. To sweeten the deal even more with this low redemption, as a Marriott Rewards Member, when you redeem 5 nights on points, the fifth night is free. So I decided to stay at that property for 5 nights on points for my upcoming trip to Cape Town in South Africa. The total stay costs me 40,000 Marriott points. That is only $85 as those Marriott points were earned from getting the Marriott Credit Card  that offers 80,000 Marriott Bonus Points early this year with the annual fee of $85. I even have some Marriott points left for other uses. The regular non-refundable rate of this hotel is $255 USD per night before tax for the dates that I want. So 5 night stays would have costed me $1,238 USD including tax. Ouch and no thanks if I were to pay for the stays there.

Protea Hotel Cape Town Waterfront Breakwater Lodge's Exterior Photo
Courtesy of Marriott
Marriott stay redemption isn't usual my favorite because it requires too many points for one night stay and their lower category tend to be not within walking distance to major attraction sites. That's why I'm surprised to see the Protea Hotel Cape Town Waterfront Breakwater Lodge by Marriott is only a category 2 property in Cape Town.

The location of this property is outstanding. The property is only 5 mins walk to the V&A shopping mall waterfront, which is a safe tourist area recommended by traveler's on TripAdvisor to explore and sight see. It's close to many restaurants and tour activities such as the ferry to the Robben Island. The hotel itself has mixed reviews on TripAdvisor and the standard rooms that are allowed for points redemption look small, but the reviews all said excellent location. I have Gold Status with Marriott and did request an upgrade to a nicer room if available upon check in. I won't have full review on this until I complete my trip to South Africa, but from what I know this is a property that falls under Marriott chain, and therefore I should expect the Marriott standards that I value such as conformable bed, nice pillow, good customer service, and especially reliable WiFi as I work remotely from the hotel. The hotel also offers airport shuttle with a fee which I plan on using. All in all, it looks like a decent hotel for a comfortable night stay and the location is fantastic. Moreover, Marriott properties outside of USA typically impress me more than the ones in the USA.

I'm pretty excited when I can travel far with small money. I'm also glad to see Marriott has such a low category hotel on points at a great location of waterfront in great destination - Cape Town.


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July 2, 2017

Everything You Want To Know About The Monument Valley Utah

Where is the Monument Valley?
It is located at the border between Utah and Arizona. It is in Utah.

Is 1 Day Enough to Visit the Monument Valley?
Yes. You will need at least 1 day in order to experience what the Monument Valley has to offer. A day trip from nearby destination such as Page is also possible if you start out early.

Are There Entrance Fees to the Monument Valley?
There's no fees to drive through the Monument Valley town, but if you want to see the rock formations, which are the highlights of the Monument Valley, you will have to go through the Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park - there's a $20 entrance fee per vehicle. However, there's a way to get that fee waived is to attend the native tour, keep on reading.

The Monument Valley

What Are the Highlights of the Monument Valley to see?
If you decide to tour the park on your own (but be careful), you can drive through the 17-mile loop of Monument Valley which you get to see the The East and West Mittens, John Ford’s Point, Three Sisters, the Totem Pole, the Artist’s Point, and the North Window viewpoints. These are rock formations, but they are very well known as they were filmed in several western movies (photos below).

If you decide to drive on your own, do keep the following park's hours for the 17-mile scenic drive:
Peak Season (May 1-Sept 30) 6:00am - 8:30pm
Off Season (Oct 1 - Apr 30) 8:00am - 4:30pm

Iconic East and West Mittens
Totem Pole
Our Favorite John Ford's Point
The Three Sisters Rock Formation
North Window View Piont
If you would like to see beyond the 17-mile loop, you will need to hire a tour guide. The Monument Valley is a sacred place that belongs to the Navajo tribe. Therefore, in order to go back-country, you will need to be accompanied by a Navajo tour guide. The back-country is an experience in itself and you will also get to see more rock formations such as the Sun’s Eye and Ear of the Wind, Natural Arches, and different viewpoints than the 17-mile loop road.

Back Country Tour: Ear of the Wind
You See the Native Man?
Is Tour Needed For the Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park?
No, not for the 17-mile loop. However, keep in mind that the road is an unpaved dirt road. It is recommended that your car is four-wheel drive. The road is rough, so drive carefully and be aware that driving a rental car there will void your contract in case of any damages. So it's best to join a tour. You will be transported by the native guide tour. The tour price itself includes the park's entrance fee of $20 per vehicle, and the guide will show you all the highlights of Monument Valley. Let the guide does all the driving and you can just enjoy the viewpoints without worrying about the car.

If you desire to go beyond the 17-mile loop for the back-country experience, you will definitely need the native tour guide.

Here's our full review on Monument Valley Tour Review With Goulding's Tour

17-Mile Loop - Unpaved Dirt Road
How Much is the Tour?
The tour price varies by the tour company. For the famous 17-mile loop, you are looking around at least $60/adult and more for the back-country tour. Tour price includes the park's entrance fees and hotels pick-up and drop-off services. The tour typically takes about 2 and half hours for the 17-mile loop.

Any Recommended Tour Company? 
There are a few tour company. Your best chance is to check with the hotel that you are staying with to see if they can arrange a tour for you or they offer any tours. We were staying at the Goulding's Lodge at the Monument Valley and they offer both the 17-mile loop and back-country tour. We did both tours and the $73/adult price that we paid was well worth it.
*Note: If the tour company does not provide pick up and drop off services, please make sure the tour price does include the $20 park's entrance fee. It's always good to inquire the tour company what the tour price does and does not include.

Do I Need to Reserve the Tour in Advanced?
If your travel plan is concrete and the tour offers easy cancellation policy, why not? One more thing you do not need to worry about when you get there. However, it's absolutely fine if you want to wait until you get there. There will always be tour available.

Tour isn't my thing. Can I See the Highlights such as the the Mittens, John Ford's Point, Totem Pole without going on the 17-mile dirt road to avoid going on a tour? 
Unfortunately not. The Mittens can be seen from the paved road, especially once you enter the park, the view of the East and West Mittens can be seen from the View Hotel inside the park. However, in order to see the other viewpoints, you will need to be on the 17-mile loop drive. If tour is not your thing, consider renting a four-wheel drive car.

Where Should I Stay While Visiting the Monument Valley?
Monument Valley is not a developed town. There are only two hotels that are at the Monument Valley. One being the Goulding's Lodge outside the park and another one being the View Hotel inside the park. Both hotels offer amazing view of the Monument Valley. The View Hotel is nice as each room offers the view of the Mittens. Because the View Hotel is inside the park, I am not sure if you have to pay for the park's entrance fee to stay there or the room rate already includes the fee, so do check with them. Other lodgings are also available, but they are outside of the Monument Valley.

Money Saving Tip: If you decide to stay with either Goulding's Lodge or the View Hotel, they both are available to book through third party travel sites such as Orbitz, Hotels.com, Expedia, etc. These sites are available on cash-back shopping portal. You will get cash back and earn their rewards program instead of booking directly with those two hotels. Also, don't forget to use a credit card that earns the best points with travel. For more information:

How About Restaurants?
Given the Monument Valley is not very developed, restaurants are also limited. Both hotels mentioned above have onsite restaurant and you don't have to be guests to eat there; however, please keep in mind that because Monument Valley is on the Navajo Reservation, alcoholic drinks are not available.


Our full review on Monument Valley Tour Review With Goulding's Tour

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