October 19, 2017

Q&A For Southwest Airlines No Change Fee and No Cancellation Fee Policy

The thing about purchasing airline tickets, you have to purchase well in advanced most of the time to get a reasonable cheap ticket. You have 24 hours after purchasing the ticket for a free cancellation. Airlines make money when you want to change or cancel flight. United, American, Delta airlines are charging hefty fees to change a purchased ticket. Sometimes, the change fee is even higher than to just purchase a completely new ticket.

Southwest Airlines, on the other hand, provides flexibility when it comes to changing or canceling an already purchased air ticket. Their policy is simple, No Change Fee and No Cancellation Fee. I reached out to Southwest Airlines agent to learn more about this policy because I have upcoming trip that I am not too sure about whether I will be able to make it or not.


How many fare classes with Southwest Airlines?
It's good to start by understanding the fare classes so that you know how your refund will be processed. Southwest has Business Select, Anytime, and Wanna Get Away fare classes. The Wanna Get Away is basically the most economical fare and therefore it's non-refundable. The other two fares are fully refundable. If you are using Rapid Rewards points to book flight, that's also considered a fully refundable fare.

I thought Southwest Airlines has no change and cancellation fees, what's with the refundable and non-refundable terms?
For Southwest Airlines, non-refundable refers to the money that you paid but when you cancel or change your purchased ticket, the money actually goes back to you in the form of voucher for future flights. Whereas refundable, the money goes back to the method of payment that you used to purchase the ticket.

How does the no change fee policy work?
As the name of the policy suggests, there's no fee to change your ticket. You have up to 1 hour prior to flight departure to change the ticket without any change fee. You can change the routes, dates, etc. but you are responsible to pay for any differences in fare for the new itinerary ticket.

What if I find a lower fare ticket on Southwest?
If you find a lower fare ticket, the difference will be processed depending on what fare class your ticket is. So if your ticket's fare class is Wanna Get Away, you will receive the fare difference in the form of travel voucher towards your future travels. Please note also that, the voucher is only good for one year from the date your purchase the ticket, not the date you travel.

How does the no cancellation fee policy work?
Should you change your mind or you no longer want to travel anymore, you have up to 10 minutes prior to flight departure to completely cancel your reservation. The refund will be processed depending on what fare class your ticket is. If you purchased the lowest fare class Wanna Get Away, a full refund will be processed in the form of travel voucher that is good for one year from the date you purchase the ticket, not the date you travel. If you purchased more expensive fare classes, you are entitled to a full refund back to the method of payment you use to purchase the ticket.

If there are two passengers on a single reservation, do I receive full combined travel voucher of both for future travel if I cancel the reservation? 
Unfortunately, no. The way it works is that, each passenger will receive a full refund in the form of travel voucher. That's being said, the voucher only belongs to the name on the cancelled ticket, not on the reservation. So each passenger will have to use the voucher, one year from the ticket purchased date, for any future travels.

How about change and cancellation policy for award tickets or flights that are booked using points?
Southwest Airlines still does not charge for change or cancellation fees for award travels. Flights that are booked using Rapid Rewards points are considered fully refundable fare. It means that if you cancel an award ticket, your points will fully be returned to your Rapid Rewards account. Airport and security taxes will be refunded to the method of payment you use to get the ticket. However, if you want to change an award ticket, it's better to cancel that instead because when you change a refundable fare ticket, it becomes non-refundable fare ticket. Later if you want to cancel that ticket, your points will still be returned to your Rapid Rewards account, but the airport and security taxes will be in the form of travel voucher.

Refundable fare becomes non-refundable fare?
Yes. This does not only apply to award tickets, but also cash tickets. Southwest does warn you before you make any modification to a fully refundable fare ticket though. So watch out for that. The best practice for fully refundable tickets is always cancel, then re-book.


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October 18, 2017

My Review On Holiday Inn Club Vacations Timeshare Presentation - A Trip to Myrtle Beach

Disclaimer: Please note that, the views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in the blog post solely to the author and based solely on the author's personal experience and analysis. Your offers and experience may vary. 

Introduction
I heard horrible stories about Timeshare Presentations from people that I know and online. I had buyer remorse after I signed up for the VIP guest offer with the Holiday Inn Club Vacations in the amount of $199 for a 4 days 3 nights vacation getaway. I had to attend the timeshare presentation for 2 hours and in return I either receive that $199 back or $100 + 20,000 IHG Points. The booking process has to be done on the phone and they almost put me in a hotel that the location is not ideal at all. I also had to do some planning well in advanced to ensure I could get cheap airfare with the dates that align with the availability of the hotel property that I wanted to stay at. The whole process was so inconvenient that I almost gave up that $199. If you sign up for this offer, be sure the dates and what property that you want to stay at before committing to a reservation; otherwise, they charge for change fees and no show in addition to the $199.

You can read all about my My Unpleasant Experience With Holiday Inn Club Vacations Timeshare Deal - A Trip to Myrtle Beach

Nevertheless, me and my travel companion still went ahead with the deal as we were pleased reading reviews on the hotel that they had for us - Surfside Beach Oceanfront Hotel. We went in for the presentation with open and curious mind as we have never been to a timeshare presentation before. Although our hotel is located in Surfside Beach, South Carolina, the presentation actually took place in Myrtle Beach, the popular tourist destination for beach vacation in South Carolina. It was a great excuse for us to make a trip down there for sure.
It was a good excuse for us to get away to Surfside South Carolina an stay at Oceanfront
Timeshare Presentation Check-In
Our presentation was scheduled at 9 in the morning at the Holiday Inn Club Vacations in Myrtle Beach. I had with me the welcome letter that was provided by the Surfside Beach Oceanfront Hotel as it has a voucher that needed to be signed after the presentation to cover the cost of our 3 night stays (except tax). We arrived there around 9 o'clock with our rental car. I had to go to the Guest Registration because the gate requires entry code. I told them that we were there for the presentation and they handed me a small piece of paper that has the entry code with direction to the meeting's building.

Upon arrival at the meeting place, which is inside a nice setting building, the front desk girl checked me in by re-confirming all the questions and status they originally asked when I signed up for the offer such as employment status, income, marital status, etc. then we proceeded to the waiting room with some refreshments such as muffins, soda drinks, coffee, and water. It's worth mentioning here that, your employment and income should not be changed at that point or your deal is void. You certainly can make more money than their minimum income requirement but if you make lower or lose job, they may not let you go through with the deal.

The Presentation
Do not worry that you are the only one there. We were sitting in the waiting along with others that were either new like us or existing timeshare owners (my companion overhead the conversation). I heard crazy stories that they may split us up for the presentation, but that did not happen. A well dressed gentleman came and took both of us to a table where we sat down, talked, and he asked some basic vacation questionnaire such as how often do we travel, where we typically stay, etc. This is all done in a public environment.

After that, he took us inside a room to watch a video about the Timeshare's vacation benefits. We have been to many places so that did not impress us so much. The advertisement also focuses mainly on family with kids type of vacation, which clearly does not apply to us at all. Once the video was done, he came to get us back to the same table. We sat down and started talking about the background of the Holiday Inn brand in which I found interesting as I am a loyal Platinum IHG rewards member, and then onto the price structure and how the program actually works. That was where all things began and what you should expect as consumers.

** I want to throw in a little disclaimer that, before continue reading about my personal analysis on the timeshare deal, please note that your experience and offer may vary but hopefully this should give you some basic concepts about their timeshare program.

Timeshare Program's Price Structure
Our offer was:
  • One time $48,000 paid upfront and receive 200,000 Club Points (This is not IHG points, I'll talk about this later).
  • Annual maintenance fee of $1,200.
  • Annual membership fee of $126. 
To elaborate on this - You have to pay $48,000 upfront, one time only, to get in the program and receive 200,000 Club Points for this fiscal year. The 200,000 club points are available each year around January but they do not accumulate. Unused points will be forfeited. That's being said, if you pay the annual membership and maintenance fees each year, they will deposit 200,000 club points into your account every year. You can buy as many club points as you like, but it will incur more money.

What Are The "Points" of It All?
Simply put, you receive those club points and you can use those points to redeem for night stays. I don't want to call it "free" stays here because each point is worth something and you actually pay to get those points. Moreover, there are also redeeming fees that range from ~$59 to ~$278 depending on what type of getaway places.

It's my understanding that, those points can be used for 3 types of getaway places: Vacation Clubs, RCI Timeshare such as condos and resorts, and InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) that most of us is familiar with such as Holiday Inn, Crowne Plaza, InterContinental, etc. They partner with other hotel chains such as Hilton, Marriott, etc. and no-chain hotels as well so you are not just stuck with the Holiday Inn properties only. This is similar to what I experienced that they booked me into the Surfside Beach Oceanfront Hotel, which is not part of the Holiday Inn.

Talking of IHG points redemption, the mentioned Club Points are NOT the same as IHG rewards points. You will have to transfer from club points to IHG points at a 5:4 ratio. So for 200,000 Club Points, you get 160,000 IHG Points to redeem for hotels and resorts under IHG.

According to that representative, the points required for each property vary by seasons and availability. I am not familiar with the points redemption for Clubs and RCI, so I can't say if his statement is correct or not; however, let me tell you about the IHG's redemption. Unless there's a promotion going on, the points required for night stays are fixed and they are based on the category of each hotel property. The lowest category ones requires 10,000 IHG points per night, whereas the highest category ones requires 60,000 IHG points per night. The high category ones are typically nice and in better location than the low ones, so it is obvious that they require more points for award stays. Therefore, if I want to stay at the InterContinental in Bora Bora which requires 60,000 points per night, those 160,000 IHG points are not even enough for 3 night stays there. I have to wait until next year to receive another 160,000 IHG points. Of course, you can buy as many club points as you like, but it sure incurs more money.

My Complete Honesty Analysis, "Points" Precisely
I don't call myself guru in hotel points, but I do love traveling far, less money with the help of airline miles and hotel points. Based on my valuation of IHG points, each point is worth 5 cents a piece. So for 160,000 IHG points, it's worth merely $800 to me. Mathematically, they wanted me to pay $48,000 upfront, and then pay on-going $1,200 and $126 per year in order to receive 160,000 IHG points, which worth only $800 each year. That is such a terrible deal! Based on this, it would take me 60 years to get back the $48,000 for the $800's valuation per year, and not to mention all those maintenance and membership fees that I have to pay every year, plus the stay's redeeming fees.

What's interesting is that, IHG sells points with 100% bonus each year from time to time. The maximum points you can purchase is 60,000 IHG points, which costs $690. During that promotion, you can get 120,000 IHG points (60k + 60k bonus points) for only $690, which makes each point worth ~0.52 cents. So to get the same IHG points offer that the Timeshare rep gave us, I would pay only ~$832 to buy 160,000 IHG points directly from IHG. Why bother to pay upfront and additional maintenance and annual membership fees?

One thing to consider too is that, from time to time, IHG does change some hotel categories in the past. Some properties go down a category or so, and some go up. The nice ones typically go up and therefore require more IHG points. The rep guy kept telling us that our points won't inflate. I don't know about the Clubs and RCI points, but IHG points can devalue at the discretion of IHG and therefore some properties may require more points for redemption in the future.

Another factor that was asked by my travel companion was what if the person is bankrupt and can no longer afford paying the maintenance and annual fees? What will happen? The rep guy did not seem to clearly answer the question. My hunch was he did not know the answer to that.

Wrapping Up
After all said and done, our rep took us to tour the Holiday Inn Club Vacations property's room and swimming pool little bit before going to a more private area, where he brought out another salesman that I presume it was his manager. The new guy's sales pitch was way worse than our rep who was very professional the entire time. The discussion all the sudden turned into sales pressure to a point that he offered discounted upfront cost to purchase lower club points, but wanted us to sign right there on that only day in order to receive this so called "great" deal, but yet he would not let us think things through before signing. So in the end, we declined the offer and our rep guy wrote on the paperwork as "No Commitment" - He escorted us to another room where another agent signed the hotel voucher and told me to take that back to the hotel that we were staying at to avoid any room charges. Then we proceeded to the check out desk and the girl took all the paperwork from me, except the hotel voucher one, and gave me back $199 cash that I paid to get on this timeshare's deal in the first place. With this being my first time doing this timeshare presentation, I did not know what to expect during check out. In fact, I later found out that I should have given $100 cash and 20,000 IHG Points instead of $199 because as I mentioned in my article on My Unpleasant Experience With Holiday Inn Club Vacations Timeshare Deal - A Trip to Myrtle Beach, I actually picked the $100 cash and 20,000 IHG Points, not $199 cash. Either way though, both options would give me the same $200 value for the wonderful stays at the Surfside Beach Oceanfront . So I'm okay with it.

Nice Bedroom at Holiday Inn Club Vacations South Beach Resort at Myrtle Beach, But Not Great Deal!
The Welcome Letter Needs to Be Signed by Holiday Inn After the Presentation
Conclusion
So there you have it! The presentation was scheduled for 2 hours, but we were done in one and half hour. I had no idea whether we were fast, or the rep felt that we did not fit the type of people that they were looking at.

In my honest opinion, the deal is not good at all regardless that sales manager kept saying it was a great deal. After the completion of the presentation, the check out desk took back all the paperwork during the presentation, so you will go home with nothing to look at or think about. Basically, you only have that moment time frame there to decide whether to sign or not. According to the sales manager, because this is such as great deal, the offer is only valid on that only day in that room. We called that bull crap! If it's a great deal, then why not allow us time to think through, get more questions answered instead of pressuring us to sign and send us home with no paper trails to review, nothing. There were even no follow up calls.

All in all, the $199 4 days 3 nights Timeshare Presentation VIP offered by the Holiday Inn is not a scam, but the timeshare deal is not a good deal. But once again, your experience may be different than ours. This timeshare deal just does not work for us with all the fees that we have to pay to receive club points that I can get the same amount of points with the price that's lower than the annual membership and maintenance fees. It's a bad investment if you ask me. For what it's worth, I did enjoy learning more about the history of the Holiday Inn during the presentation.

Learn the History of Holiday Inn During the Presentation
If you consider going for the timeshare presentation, please be careful about it. I know some people don't handle well with sales pressures and end up signing things that they regret later on. They even offer financing option there with a terrible 15% interest. They will try to convince you it is a wonderful deal and will save you thousands of dollars to vacation each year, but in reality I am sure there are a lot of buyer remorse people out there that just want to get out of it and therefore are willing to sell their part at a discounted price. If you are convinced to purchase the timeshare, perhaps buy from those that want to get out instead.


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October 13, 2017

Hotel Review: Surfside Beach Oceanfront Hotel With Holiday Inn Club Vacations Timeshare Deal Myrtle Beach

The review of this hotel is the result of my Holiday Inn Club Vacations Timeshare Deal that the presentation took place in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina in October 2017.
Room Type: Two Queen Beds with Ocean View Balcony.
Room Floor: 826 (8th floor is the highest).


Price
This was booked with the Holiday Inn Club Vacations Timeshare Deal, but it’s not part of  IHG hotels group. The hotel just partners with Holiday Inn to accommodate those that are arriving for the timeshare presentation. So I’m not aware of the price of this hotel, but from doing a dummy booking, the room rate is not over $100 before tax for low season. Although the Holiday Inn pays for the room, you are still responsible for the tax fees. In our case, we paid $24.97 for 3 nights. Holiday Inn timeshare deal was 4 days 3 nights for $199.


Check-In
The check-in registration office is on the first floor. There were people with Harley-Davidson event in front of me, so the check-in was a little bit slower than expected. There were 3 staff and they were friendly. The girl that worked at the front desk handed me the welcome letter form the Holiday Inn Club Vacations. It’s basically just a piece of paper that outlines the presentation time and the hotel voucher that will be signed by the Holiday Inn agent and me after completing the Timeshare Presentation to cover the cost of our room there. Our presentation was taken place in Myrtle Beach, last day of our stay at 9:00 AM in the morning. Once again, do not sign the letter until you have completed the presentation.

Lobby: Complimentary Coffee and Water for Guests Every Day
Welcome Letter Needs to be Signed by Holiday Inn After Presentation and
When You Check Out the Hotel
Location
I personally picked this hotel because it is Oceanfront. I originally wanted to stay with Holiday Inn there, but it was not available. This hotel is not part of Holiday Inn, but it partners with them. My complete experience of coming across this hotel can be found here. Overall, the location is excellent. It is far away from the hustles and bustles of Myrtle Beach. It's located in Surfside beach. There are a few restaurants, shops, and beach bars, one of which is hotel owned within walking distance. So we did not have to drive at all. Best of all, the sandy beach is just a few steps away from the hotel.

Surfside Beach Oceanfront Hotel 
Beach and Ocean Just A Few Steps Away
Room
Our two Queen Beds room has a balcony which provides beautiful of miles and miles of ocean view. The room decor is pretty old but it gets the job done as far as comfortable sleep goes. This room is supposed to accommodate up to 4 people, but personally I think that'd be a little bit too small for that many occupants. The beds are very soft and comfortable, and the plus side about this room really is the ocean view. I honestly think that the hotel was strategically built. All of their rooms actually provide ocean view but the higher floor you get the better view. They put us on the highest 8th floor so that was nice. In general, do not expect the room to be fancy.

Two Queen Beds Room
Balcony With Ocean View
Miles and Miles of Ocean View
Beach Amenities
Beach chairs and umbrella can be rented from a local Beach Service. The beach that's right in front of the hotel, there are blue umbrellas and chairs set up in the morning. There is a note on each chair that tells people about the rental service, so don’t worry once you secure a spot just sit down and some guy in the driving truck will drive by to collect the rental fee. You pay $30 for all day until 4 P.M. If you want to save $5, you can purchase the voucher from the hotel's front desk. Besides towels, the hotel does not provide much beach amenities.

Beach Umbrella and Chairs Rental
The Truck Guy That Collect Beach Chairs and Umbrellas Rental Fees
The Property
The rest of the property is just okay. Free parking. The pool is small and there's a hot tub. There’s a bathroom there if needed. The fresh shower is also available for cleaning up sand and salt water. No gym but if you want to work out, they offer 20% off at a local fitness center. There are only two elevators. On our first day, it was horrible because only one elevator worked. So it was super slow to try to get up and down. That is the only complain I have about this place until both elevators started working again.
Swimming Pool and Hot Tub
Restaurants & Bars
These are the restaurants nearby:
Bubba’s Fish shack
Surf’s Diner
River City Cafe
Bar & Grill
Scotty’s Beach Bar
Enjoy Happy Hours Drinks at Scotty's Beach Bar
During your stay, you also get 10% discount at a couple local restaurants above (Bubba's Fish Shack and the River City Cafe) and 20% off at hotel owned Scotty's Beach Bar. If you receive the parking slip, there are also food coupons on the slip for those restaurants as well. Our favorite is the Bubba's Fish Shack. For breakfast, if you want to avoid lines and crowds, go to the Bar & Grill for a simple breakfast. These two seem to be the only ones that serve breakfast. Scotty's Beach Bar is great for karaoke night and their happy hours. We did not get to try the River City Cafe.

Seafood at Bubba's Fish Shack
Conclusion
The Surfside Beach Oceanfront Hotel is strategically built that each room has balcony to provide miles and miles of ocean view. We got to stay in this property because of the Holiday Inn Club Vacations Timeshare Deal. They paid for our 3 night stays there and we just had to pay the tax fees. The property and our room are mediocre but it was nice enough to get enough comfortable sleep each night. The oceanfront location is the highlight of the property. It's just a few steps away from the sandy beach. Beach chairs and umbrella need to be rented. Restaurants and bars are within walking distance, so there's no need to drive. We really enjoyed our time there as it was so relaxing, quiet, and being far away from the tourist Myrtle Beach did help a lot. All in all, we loved our time spent at Surfside Beach, South Carolina and stay at the Surfside Beach Oceanfront Hotel.

Each Room Has Balcony With Ocean View

Check out more timeshare articles in South Carolina

My Review On Holiday Inn Club Vacations Timeshare Presentation - A Trip to Myrtle Beach


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September 19, 2017

Everything You Want To Know About The San Juan Islands

Where Are the San Juan Islands?
San Juan Islands are archipelago in Washington State of America.

How Many Islands Are There?
There are many islands that make up the San Juan Islands. However, only four islands that are accessible by the Washing State Ferry Service. They are San Juan, Orcas, Shaw, and Lopez.

Which Island to Visit?
If you are looking for a pedestrian friendly town on the island and it offers a lot of things to do, then go to the Friday Harbor on the San Juan Island. If you are looking for more tranquil time, then consider going to Orcas Island. I'd say that for any first time visitor, these two islands are the most popular ones among all four. Lopez island is ideal for a day trip from these two islands, and so is Shaw island; however, Lopez has a lot more to offer than Shaw. Lopez is the flattest island among all four for biking. Shaw island has more local residents than tourists.

For more information on which island to visit, check out my article on San Juan islands Planning Part 1: Which Island? You can read up on more in depth about each island.

The View of Roche Harbor on San Juan Island

How To Get To Each Island?
Visitors can reach each island via seaplane, commercial flights, charter boats, etc. but the most economical way is through the Washington State Ferry Service. The ferry is a great way to reach each San Juan island. The port on the mainland to get to the San Juan Islands is in Anacortes town, which is about 1 and half drive from Seattle.

Washington State Ferry Docked in Anacortes

How Much Does A Ferry Ticket Cost?
The Washington State Ferry website is a great tool to determine the cost. But do keep in mind that, as long as you are traveling Westbound, you will NOT be charged whether you bring vehicle with you or not. You will only be charged if you are traveling Eastbound. For examples:
  • Anacortes to any of the four islands - Yes charge.
  • San Juan to Orcas island - Free of charge. 
  • Orcas to Shaw island - Free of charge.
  • Shaw - Lopez island - Free of charge. 
  • Any of the four islands to Anacortes - Free of charge. 
For island hopping, the inter-island ferry service is free of charge for pedestrians and those with bicycles only. It does not matter it's Westbound or Eastbound.

Go here to check out the Washing State Ferry Tickets Fare

Is Ferry Reservation Required?
It is strongly recommended to make ferry reservation during peak season. Even so, if you are bringing vehicle with you, it's best to secure a spot in advanced as the Washington State Ferry provides a very generous cancellation policy that reservations must be canceled by 5pm the day prior to travel in order to avoid a no-show fee of $10. Unlimited changes are permitted up to 5pm the day prior to the reserved sailing. Be sure to create an account on the website so that you can easily change/cancel reservation.

Washington State Ferry Service allows only advanced reservations for the following routes:
  • Anacortes to all four islands
  • Friday Harbor to Anacortes
  • Orcas to Anacortes
All other routes do not require reservation and are on first comes first served basis. It is worth noting that the inter-island ferries are not busy at all.

For more information on the ferry, do check out my article on San Juan Islands Planning Part 2: Washington State Ferries Fares and Reserve Ferry Tickets

The Date that I want to Sail is not Available. What to do?
This is why it is important to plan well in advanced if you are set on the date that you must sail. But do not worry. There's still some hope. Washington Ferry releases space in 3 tiers:
  • 1st Tier - 30% of vessel space is released 2 months prior to the season start date. 
  • 2nd Tier - Additional 30% of vessel space is released 2 weeks before each specific sailing date.
  • 3rd Tier - The final 30% of vessel space is released 2 days before each specific sailing date. 
  • Last but not least, 10% of vessel space is always held open for emergency and stand-by vehicles.
Set a calendar reminder to come back first thing when additional vessel space is released based on the tiers mentioned above. You should be able to secure a space without any issues. I also don't recommend you count on that last 10% of vessel space. 

Are Pets Allowed On The Ferry?
Absolutely! In fact, San Juan Islands are very pet-friendly. You will notice that most restaurants and shops there have at least one water bowl for pets outside, so you and your pet(s) are very much welcome there. The Washington Ferry allows pets on board as well, here are their pet policy:

"Pets in carriers are allowed in interior passenger areas on vessels. Uncaged, unrestrained pets are not allowed to remain in interior passenger areas for the duration of a voyage. In some cases, described below, leashed pets may transit though interior areas in order to access exterior passenger areas. 

WSF recognizes that it is impractical to require walk on passengers and their leashed pets to remain on the auto deck for the duration of a voyage. In order to provide shelter to these patrons, walk-on passengers with leashed pets are allowed in terminals and to board vessels and remain in exterior passenger areas, including shelter decks, promenade decks and/or sun decks."
You Can Bring Your Fur Buddy Onboard the Washington State Ferry
Enjoy Beautiful San Juan Islands With Your Best Friend!

Are These Islands Under Developed?
Yes, especially Shaw and Lopez. San Juan island is more developed. You will find several hotels and restaurants on San Juan island's town Friday Harbor. Orcas island is also developed, but not as developed as San Juan.

Is Vehicle Needed on San Juan Islands?
If you want to explore the island beyond the ferry's port, then you definitely need a car. Vehicle rentals are very limited on the island. Unless you just want to stay in the touristic Friday Harbor downtown on San Juan island that is also the ferry's port and it has several restaurants, bars and shops. You can walk around there and possibly attend a couple tours that provide transportation, then you don't need a car. My recommendation is to take the car with you on the ferry as you will enjoy driving around and explore the island on your own. The money spend on taking the vehicle on the ferry with you will be well worth it.

Explore Each Island Beyond The Ferry's Port With Your Vehicle

How About Bicycles?
I do know a lot of people go to San Juan Islands to bike. However, keep in mind that the road is pretty hilly, especially on Orcas Island. Therefore, if you are not active with biking, you may find the experience is not enjoyable. The Lopez Island, the flattest among four, is still little bit hilly to bike that you may not enjoy at all.

Biking on Lopez Island - Still Hilly!

Is It Easy to Take Vehicle on the Ferry?
Yes. Just follow the signals of the crew members about which lane, where to park, etc. you are good to go. The process is pretty simple and stress-free.

What Are Things to Do on San Juan Islands?
As far as things to do, water activities such as kayaking, snorkeling, whale watching, swimming, sunbathing on the beach, hiking the Moran State Park on Orcas Island.. are pretty common there. As I mentioned earlier, a lot of visitors also enjoy riding bicycles there. If you just want to enjoy the island atmosphere, you can just hang out in Friday Harbor with good food and a few beers with outside patio seating. For us, driving around each island to see different things and take in the view along with beaches are incredibly fun things to do.

Beautiful Ocean View - Where Is Canada?

How About Camping?

Yes, camping is possible. Except for Shaw island, here are the available camp sites and I apologize but I do not have much information about each camp site, so please check out each camp site's website below to see which one meets your preference and budget.

San Juan Island
Free Horse Farm
Lakedale Resort At Three Lakes
San Juan County Parks Camping

Orcas Island
Doe Bay Resort & Retreat Camping
Leanto
Moran State Park Campground
West Beach Resort

Lopez Island
Lopez Islander Resort
Lopez Farm Cottages and Tent Camping
Odlin County Park Camping
Spencer Spit State Park

If you  have any other questions about San Juan Islands in Washington, please comment and I'll do my best to respond. Thanks for reading.

Check out more articles on San Juan Islands, Washington

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September 18, 2017

Options To Get From Incheon International Airport To Seoul and Arriving Inchoen Airport At Night

Incheon International Airport is located in Inchoen, which is outside of Seoul. The distance from there to the tourism city Seoul is a little bit away that can take up to 1 hour travel time. Below are the options that are available:

Non-Stop AREX Express Train
If you arrive in Incheon airport during the AREX's operation hours, this is the best way to get from the ICN airport to Seoul station around 43 minutes. The train ride is comfortable and has space for your suitcases. It also has free wifi and toilets on board.

The earliest time that this express train leaves ICN airport station is at 5:20 A.M in the morning and the last train that leaves the airport station is at 9:50 P.M at night. So plan accordingly.

How to Purchase AREX Train Ticket:
  1. After clearing the immigration and onto the Arrival Hall, look for the sign that says "Airport Railroad" 
  2. At the station, you can either purchase the ticket from the vending machine or from the agent at the AREX ticket information counter. You may also purchase the ticket from the information center of Inchoen airport that is orange color.
  3. The latest ticket's fare for adult is 8,000 KRW (~$7 USD) and child is 6,900 KRW (~$6 USD). Please note that if you purchase a single journey/one way ticket, an additional 100 KRW will be added to the fare. There is also a refundable deposit of 500 KRW that will be added and can be returned to you at your destination station using the refund deposit machine.
  4. Once you have gotten your ticket, tap the card to enter the station and simply board the train. 
Purchase AREX Ticket From Ticket Counter
Photo Courtesy of AREX

Purchase AREX Ticket From Vending Machine in English
Photo Courtesy of AREX

There's also another commuter train that I am still researching about. It's my understanding it takes longer as it has 10 stops.

For more information about the AREX Express Train, you can go to the following website: Airport Railroad Information.

Late Night Bus
If you arrive in Incheon airport after the AREX express train option, your best way to get from the airport to Seoul is via the late night bus. There are two companies that operate the late night buses. They are the Airport Limousine and KAL Limousine. Keep in mind that the late night bus option is not that frequent. So there may be some waiting to do.

Airport Limousine
There are two routes that this bus goes to, here are the two routes:
  1. Incheon Airport → SongJeong Station → Yomchangdong → Seoul Station. The first bus's schedule that leaves from the airport is at 00:15 midnight and the last bus's schedule is at 4:40 A.M in the morning. The bus stop is on the 1st Floor 5A stop.
  2. Incheon Airport → SongJeong Station → Yomchangdong → Gangnam Express Bus Terminal. The first bus's schedule that leaves from the airport is at 23:50 midnight and the last bus's schedule is at 4:10 A.M in the morning. The bus stop is on the 1st Floor 5A stop.
KAL Limousine
This is a Korean Airline shuttle service. It has two routes also, but they only leave once a day from the Incheon airport. Here are the routes:
  1. Incheon Airport → Palace Hotel (Banpo) → COEX (Samseong Station) → Jamsil. This bus leaves the airport at around 23:20 P.M at night everyday from Passenger terminal 1st floor 4A stop.
  2. Incheon Airport → Mapo(Seoul Garden) → City Hall(KAL building) → Seoul Station. This bus leaves the airport at around 1 A.M in the morning everyday from Passenger terminal 1st floor 4A stop.
The KAL Limousine service make stops at hotels, so be sure your hotel is on the route/near by. For more information on which hotel that this service stops at, go to the following website: KAL Limousine Schedule
For more information on the schedule and fares about the late night buses, you can go to the following website: Airport Late Night Bus

Airport Hotels
Another option if you arrive in Incheon airport at night is to consider airport hotels. Unseo, also known as the Airport town has several lodgings available that range from cheap hostels and guesthouses to high end hotels. They do offer complimentary airport shuttle to/from the airport. The only draw back of some of these hotels is that their airport shuttle does not operate 24 hours. Therefore, it is very important that you check with the hotel or look up hotel's information in regards to their airport shuttle's hours of operation.

If you are arriving before midnight, there are two well known airport hotels. I am not affiliated with the hotels but these two hotels get several reviews on the TripAdvisor and I was able to learn about their shuttle policy that hopefully you will find them useful as well. Their price is also reasonable.

Hotel Queen Incheon Airport - TA's Review 4/5
We offer free shuttle service as below.
  • Please call us at 747-0070 using public phone when you arrive at the Incheon airport. (By Cell phone +82 32 747 0070) (There are information booths on each floor-1st and 3rd floor and they can phone the hotel for a driver to come and pick you up).
  • Then, we will pick you up within 15 minutes.
  • Pick-up location: Take the lift to level 3 then exit the building a door 7. Cross over the first road to the island walkway and you will be picked up from there.
  • Notice: A complimentary hotel shuttle runs until 23:30 P.M. If you arrive after that, please go to "Door(Gate) 7 on arrival floor" and take Incheon direction taxi ($12-20).
  • Shuttle bus schedule from Hotel Queen to Incheon Airport: 06:00 AM, 07:00 AM, 08:00 AM, 09:00 AM, 10:00 AM, 11:00 AM, 12:00 PM, Around 01:00.
Hotel Sky Incheon Airport - TA's Review 3.5/5
  • From Airport To Hotel (when you check-in)
  • Hotel SKY Incheon Airport provides  free pick-up service from the ICN airport when guest check in. (06:00~24:00)
  • Call the hotel on 752-1101 upon your arriving at the airport and wait in front of Door No.7 on the 3rd floor (Departure Floor). Please wait on the 2nd sidewalk after cross the crosswalk.. There are information booths on each floor-1st and 3rd floor and they can phone the hotel for a driver to come and pick you up).
  • Hotel staff goes for pick-up (It will takes about 10~15 minutes / Silver color mini van, Sky Hotel logo on it).
  • From Hotel To Airport (when you check-out)
  • The Time schedule from Hotel to Airport (Book at the front desk when you check-in) is 06:00   07:00  08:00  09:00  10:00  11:00  12:00
Side Note: I also want to mention too that if you want to use points for free stay, there's a Grand Hyatt Inchoen and a Best Western available there. They also offer complimentary airport shuttle; however, please check with them on their shuttle hours.

AT The Airport Hotels
If you are just in transit, there are couple options:
  • Incheon International Airport is one of my favorite airports in Asia. Not only they have free shower facility, the free lounging area for relaxing and sleeping is quite nice. The only draw back is because it's free, so it's available first comes first served only. There's a chance that you may not get the lounge chair. 
  • The airport also has transit hotel that you can book by hours. For more information on transit hotels, you can visit the following website: Incheon Transit Hotel
If Seoul is your final destination and you are not in transit but you don't want to deal with all the hassles of catching shuttle bus, etc. after a long haul flight, you may consider clearing the immigration and then stay at the following hotels that are inside the airport terminal:
  • DRARAKHYU - Capsule Hotel by Walkerhill - they have a few room options that are available depending on your occupancy. 
    • Their rates are reasonable by block of hours. 
    • They do accept reservation online
    • The have generous cancellation policy: "No fee charged if cancelled prior to 08:00 AM on check-in date, 2017(hotel time.)" So you have up until the morning of check in date to cancel should you change your mind or your trip has been disrupted. I'd encourage to make reservation as early as possible. 
    • The hotel is located after the immigration control and on the 1st floor of Transportation Center in Incheon International Airport. great for those that are taking train from Incheon to somewhere else in South Korea!
  • Airport Spa on Air - this is another place to stay that's at the airport; however, you cannot make reservation. It's operated under first comes first served basis and therefore there's a chance that you likely do not get to stay comfortably. This hotel is also located after the immigration control. 
Stay at DRARAKHYU - Capsule Hotel by Walkerhill to Recharge After Long Flight
Photo Courtesy of Capsule Hotel by Walkerhill

Taxi
I am leaving this as the last resort option because the cost can really add up, especially if you are traveling alone. Besides the cost, this option is the most intuitive and convenient way to get from the airport to your hotel directly. I am all about traveling far with small money and I only consider this option if there's absolutely no other simple options.

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September 16, 2017

How To Book Wyndham Vacation Properties Using Wyndham Rewards Points

Right now, Wyndam has a very generous promotion that if you reserve the room using MasterPass as the method of payment and do 1 stay, you will earn 7,500 Wyndham Rewards Points. After 2 stays, you will earn 15,000 points. That's enough for one free night at any Wyndham properties worldwide. You can earn up to 30,000 Wyndham points via this promotion.

In my opinion, Wyndham rewards program is under-rated by points travelers out there. Wynham requires only 15,000 points for ANY of their properties (a.k.a Wyndham calls it Go Free). That's being said, if you can redeem those points for one free night stay at their top tier properties including their all-inclusive ones, you are way ahead of the game. On the contrary, if you redeem those points for low tier properties such as Days Inn, Super 8, etc. you are giving your money away.

Stay at Wyndham Shearwater Vacation Property on Kauai Island in Princeville for 15,000 Wyndham Points
Photo Courtesy of Wyndham's Extra Holiday
Wyndham Vacation Properties
Not only you can redeem 15,000 Wyndham points for hotels, resorts, and all-inclusive that fall under Wyndham chains, you are also able to redeem those points for Wyndham's vacation properties (well known as timeshares) as well. Before you ask, no, you don't need to attend any timeshare presentation. The only catch about it is you cannot redeem those points online. Here are the step-to-step on How To Book Wyndham Vacation Properties Using Wyndham Rewards Points
  1. Go to https://www.extraholidays.com and search for the vacation property that you want. Minimum two nights required. 
  2. If the dates that you want are not available, you will be presented with availability calendar. I find that super useful so that I don't have to search by each date. 
  3. Once you see the available date, check to see if the 1 bedroom/studio or the lowest room rate available because that room type requires only 15,000 Wyndham points per night. 
  4. Note down the date and call this number 866-370-8548 to book using Wyndham points. As a reminder because these properties require minimum two night stays, you will have to redeem 30,000 Wyndham points. 
There you have it! I love the convenience to be able to book hotels using points online, but in this case, you will have to call in. On the bright side, at least we can check availability on each property online before calling in to book with points.

Useful Availability Calendar

Wyndham's vacation properties look aspiring, especially the ones in Hawaii, Florida, even Idaho!! You can explore the properties destinations here. Link


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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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