August 1, 2017

Visit Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado and Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha this Summer With IHG PointBreaks Hotels For Only 5,000 IHG Points

IHG has released their Rewards PointBreaks for summer time that's valid through Oct 31, 2017. This promotion allows IHG member to redeem points for a free night stay at any IHG hotels that are on the participating list for only 5,000 IHG Points. I value IHG point at 0.7 cents per point, that means for 5,000 points, I am actually paying $35 for one night stay.

I happen to travel to two states that are on the list this coming August: Colorado and Nebraska. We originally wanted to stay in Wyoming for our road trip, but because of the Eclipse all the hotels are completely sold out on the date that we want. So instead, we started looking into Colorado. It appears that Longmont, Colorado that's not too far away has hotels available. What caught me by surprise is that it's only an hour away from the Rocky Mountain National Park. So, we are definitely going to check out the Rocky Mountain National Park for the first time and we decided to camp one night there prior to moving on to Omaha, Nebraska, etc.

Rocky Mountain National Park (Longmont, Colorado)
Fortunately, the Candlewood Suites in Longmont is on the list that participates with the IHG PointsBreaks promotion. I went ahead and reserved the room for 5,000 IHG Points per night. The property also accept pets for a fee; however, based on my experience, when I redeem points for IHG hotel stays, the hotels seem to waive the pet fees. I am not sure why or their system doesn't have a place to charge if it's an award stay or because of my Platinum Elite status with them. It's still a mystery to me! The regular nightly rate for the date that we want at Candlewood Suites is $171.50 before tax. With this promotion, I only pay 5,000 IHG points, which is equivalent to $35 based of my IHG point's valuation. So this is definitely a steal!

Stay At Candlewood Suites In Longmont Colorado This Summer For Only 5,000 IHG Points.
You Can Visit the Rocky Mountain National Park.
Omaha, Nebraska
Continuing on to Omaha, Nebraska - there are two properties that participate with the IHG PointsBreak: Holiday Inn Express & Suites Cherry Hills and Candlewood Suites Omaha – Millard Area. I took advantage of both places, but my preference goes to the Holiday Inn Express because they offer free hot breakfast that's not just continental breakfast. However, they do not accept pets. Whereas the Candlewood Suites does but they don't offer breakfast. I'll be staying at the Holiday Inn Express by myself for two nights (10,000 IHG Points) during my stays in Omaha and one night (5,000 IHG Points) in Candlewood Suites property when we have pets with us.

WHAT IS IHG REWARDS POINTBREAKS?
It is IHG hotel's special promotion that runs every 3 months for IHG rewards club members. Members can redeem points for a free night stay for only 5,000 points during the promotional period. I value IHG point at 0.7 cents per point, that means for 5,000 points, I am actually paying $35 for one night stay. The great thing about this promotion is that it's not just for IHG hotels in America, but also hotels around the world.

SO WHAT IS THE CATCH?
Do note that not all IHG hotels worldwide are participating with this promotion. Most hotels on the PointBreak's list that participate with this promotion are the ones that are usually in a destination that's less traveled to or the location of the property is not near tourist attractions; however, they do have good ones once in awhile. It makes it fun to wonder which awesome hotel could show up on the list. The popular ones obviously will be sold out quick, and therefore it's recommended that you jump on the deal quickly and cancel later as using points to redeem for an award night offers free cancellation up until check-in date. For those that will just happen to travel to the destination or on the road that has a participating IHG hotel on the PointsBreak's list, it's a fantastic deal to pass. It's also worth noting that each member can only book two reward nights reservations per hotel and each member also needs to have at least 5,000 IHG Points in his/her account to take advantage of this deal.

Complete list of IHG PointBreaks List Can Be Found Here


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July 31, 2017

My American Express Business Platinum Retention Offers

My American Express Business Platinum credit card's annual fee came due this weekend. It costs $450. That's pretty steep. However, I still love the benefits of this card a lot that I strongly believe that those benefits can really pay for the annual fee itself per year. Just with any other services, credit cards also have retention department that you can talk to someone to see if they have any offers prior to closing the card.

Enjoy Complimentary Drinks at American Express Centurion Lounge in Miami Airport With
American Express Business Platinum Credit Card's Privilege.

I called the American Express number on the back of my Platinum card. I said "cancel" to the automated machine. It then took me to a customer service representative. After verification, I told her about considering closing the card. That's when she had to bring up a specialist that handles retention. The process is rather simple and just be prepared to have a reason to answer the question why you want to close the account?

The specialist took a minute or so to check something out and then returned to offer me two options:
  1. $150 statement credit or 15,000 Membership Rewards Points - no spending requirement. 
  2. 6,000 Membership Rewards Points right away, plus if I spend $15,000 on the card in the next three month, I'll be rewarded additional 12,000 Membership Rewards Points
While #2 gives me opportunity to earn more points, but $15,000 spend is ridiculously high. So I opted for option #1. I picked the 15,000 Membership Rewards Points instead of the statement credit. The reason behind that is because I value points more than cash. Amex Membership Rewards Points are worth 1.9 cents a piece to me, so for 15,000 points that equals to $285. 

For the time being, I do think I'll keep my American Express Business Platinum Credit Card for now. As I mentioned above, although the annual fee is high, the benefits of this card can easily pay off the annual fee itself in a year. Here are the benefit that I value on this card:
  • Annual $200 airline credit - that lowers that annual fee to $250 per year. 
  • Access to American Express Centurion Lounges at airports. 
  • Access to Delta Sky Club at airports when flying with Delta. 
  • Access to Domestic and International Lounges at airports with Priority Pass.
  • Gold status with Hilton and Starwood (SPG). Great for complimentary room upgrade and earn bonus hotel points during paid stay. 
  • 10 Gogo in-flight wifi passes and unlimited wifi at Boingo hotspot. 
  • $100 credit for Global Entry and TSA Pre-Check. 
  • 35% points back when redeem Amex Membership Rewards Points for First & Business classes tickets with any airline. 
  • 5 points/$ spend on travel bookings through American Express Travel site. 
  • 1.5 points/$ spend on on purchases of $5,000 or more.
There are more benefits that come with this card such as purchase protection, rental car insurance, concierge services, etc. The concierge service was nice. I used it to book Broadway Tickets for New York City.


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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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