As I talked about last month, my 25th birthday is in January. I am fairly certain most of you are older than 25, so I will refrain from talking about how old i feel…
The original plan was to go to Vegas for my 25th, and that is still the plan but it has been moved back to Superbowl Weekend at the beginning of February due to scheduling conflict with Friends.
As I have talked about many times before, since the tickets are booked on Southwest, I was able to change them to the new dates FOR FREE online! I didn’t even have to call in or deal with any non-sense service charges!
People love to mock Southwest, but what other Airline lets you completely change your ticket without a fee?
Vancouver – Whistler
I still want to go somewhere for my Birthday and ever since the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, I have always wanted to go skiing and release my inner Picabo Street (hopefully she is still a skier…).
Anyways, after seeing the Vancouver Olympics on TV, I ended up going to Vancouver last Summer and took the Greyhound to Whistler for $35 round trip (great deal!). Even though there wasn’t snow on the ground, Whistler is just as big of a summer mountain biking destination as it is a Ski Resort. We took the Gondola up to the “summit” and the views were absolutely amazing.
Since Whistler was awesome during the Summer, I made a note to come back during the Winter to ski. Once Vegas got pushed back, I figured that we might as well still go somewhere President’s Day Weekend, so I took a look at Whistler.
Although there is a Westin at Whistler (costs 16,000 Starpoints a night or $348 a night), I am running low on United Miles, so I either wanted to use Southwest Points or British Airways Avios. Not to mention it is a 4.5 hour flight to Vancouver and then another 2 hour drive to Whistler!
Colorado – Beaver Creek
The next idea involved going to Colorado to ski. I was in Denver last year for the SMD3 and made it out to Boulder for a day and it was beautiful.
Luckily, there are also far more properties to use Points at in Colorado than at Whistler. My Friend just applied for the Hyatt Card, so we have 2 Free Night Certificates to burn.
There are quite a few Hyatt Ski Properties in Colorado but the nicest one seems to be the Park Hyatt Beaver Creek which goes a cool $570 a night. At that price, it would be an excellent use of our Free Night Certificates.
Since I still have Hyatt Diamond Status from SMD4, I figured I would just tag my Hyatt Number to the reservation and hopefully get bumped up / get some Diamond benefits.
If you don’t have any Free Night Certificates, this property goes for 22,000 Hyatt Points a night, which a steal considering you can transfer them over from Ultimate Rewards.
The Sheraton Beaver Creek is only 4,000 Starpoints & $60 a night, which is great deal considering the daily rate is $344!
Colorado – Aspen
Thanks to Dumb & Dumber, I decided to also look at Aspen. Although Aspen is outrageously expensive, since I wasn’t paying for the Flights or Hotels, I figured I might as well go all out!
In Aspen, there is a Hyatt Grand Aspen, which is a Hyatt Residence Club. I suspect that means it is a Time Share property, however the pictures that I saw look extremely picturesque and the interiors are full condos, which to me is way better than a Hotel Room.
Not surprisingly, the rate of the Hyatt Grand Aspen is $499 a night, which is probably loose change for the target clientele of Aspen.
That being said, there is a interesting discrepancy in the Daily Rate and how much it costs to use Points.
Since the Hyatt Grand Aspen is considered a “Hyatt Vacation Club”, the rates are extremely reasonable. It is only 12,000 Gold Passport Points for a Studio or 30,000 for a 3 Bedroom!
If anyone is interested, all the Hyatt Vacation Club properties are below. There are quite a few in Colorado, and as you can see from above, they are really cheap in terms of Points but really nice in terms of location and interior!
I don’t know which is worse, the $783 a night or 30,000 Starpoints!
If I hadn’t have used my 2 SPG Free Night Certificates for a stay at the St. Regis Washington D.C, I definitely would have used them at the St. Regis Aspen!
In the end, although there was availability on flights to Denver, none of them were direct to Beaver Creek or Aspen (which would have been the best option). Normally this wouldn’t have been an issue, but since we would leave Chicago in the evening on Friday, January 18, we wouldn’t get into Denver until 11PM. It is then a 2.5 hour drive to Beaver Creek or 4 hour drive to Aspen! Probably not the safest thing to do at 11PM in snow…
Also not surprisingly, Aspen and Vail have some of the highest lift ticket prices in the Country, at almost $100 a day. That isn’t terrible considering the Hotel & Airfare would be free, but something to consider.
Quebec – Mont Tremblant
I looked into a few other places like Park City, Utah, but the flights didn’t work out. As I was Googling to see what other Ski Properties Starwood and Hyatt had in North America, I came across Mont Tremblant in Quebec.
I went to Montreal this past July and absolutely loved it (you can read about it here). On Wikitravel, I remember reading about Mont Tremblant but it was during the Summer, so we didn’t venture out there.
For those of you not familiar with Mont Tremblant, it is 90 minutes outside of Montreal and was built by the same Resort Company who built Whistler. From the photos I saw online, it looks like they basically copied the layout of a Swiss Ski Village in the Alps and dropped it in Mont Tremblant.
Not to mention because of the heavy French influence, although it is only a 2 hour flight from Chicago, hopefully it will feel like we are skiing somewhere exotic in Europe.
There was no Cash & Points availability, but it is only 12,000 Starpoints a night which isn’t terrible. Certainly better than paying $284 a night out of pocket! I have around 35,000 Starpoints from signing up for the Starwood AMEX. Although it is hard to justify spending 24,000 Starpoints for 2 nights, at the end of the day, that is what Miles & Points are for!
For Friday night, our Flight gets in fairly late, so we are just going to stay at a Sheraton Airport Hotel in Montreal.
For Flights, similar to when I went to Montreal this past Summer, we will be using British Airways Avios to fly on American Airlines for 15,000 Avios a person.
I don’t what the deal is with the Chicago – Montreal route, but you can always find availability. 15,000 Avios a person is a absolute steal because the normal cost of a paid seat on this flight is really expensive. When I went in July, it was $1,200 and now it is $708!
Even better, as I talked about yesterday, I received 12,000 Avios from transferring my long lost 12,000 BMI Miles, so almost 1 of these tickets is now paid for.
Another nice thing about going to Montreal is that the Flight is only 2 hours or so, so you don’t feel jet lagged.
Hopefully this little ski summary either gave you some ideas for skiing this Winter, or inspired you for next Winter.
Although normally waiting this late to book results in nothing being available, from what I saw, there are still quite a few Hotels with Point availability. Flights might be a little harder to find, but if you are flexible, you should be able to find something.
Skiing as a whole is definitely expensive, just the lift tickets will set you back close to $100 a day. However if you can minimize the 2 main expenses of Travel, the Hotel and Airfare, you can make an extremely expensive weekend trip into something far more reasonable.
As you can see from the prices that I posted above, in our case, the total for this entire weekend trip to Montreal would be close to $2,086 not including ski passes if we paid out of pocket…
Montreal Airport Hotel: $100
2 Flights to Montreal: $1,416
2 Nights At Westin Mont Tremblant: $570
There is no way I could afford or justify spending $2,086 on a 3 day ski weekend, however with Miles & Points, I will be spending only $57.72 on the taxes for each of the Award Ticket. Everything else is paid with Miles & Points!
I am really excited to visit Mont Tremblant, and hopefully next year I will plan it earlier in advance so I can visit either Aspen, Beaver Creek, or Whistler!
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Last weekend prior to the start of the Star Mega DO 4, I had the pleasure of staying at the Andaz West Hollywood.
For those of you not familiar with the Andaz Brand, it is owned by Hyatt and operates in the same niche as Starwood’s W Hotels.
Hyatt was gracious enough to give everyone who participated in the SMD4, Hyatt’s Top Tier Diamond Status until February 2014.
Although I have had Mid Tier Status at many Hotels over the years, I have never had Top Tier Status, so I was excited to try it out.
The biggest perk of Hyatt Diamond Status is that you get 4 Confirmed Suite Upgrades every year on paid stays. This means that if you have a paid stay, you can call Hyatt and request a Suite (up to 4 times a year) and they will confirm it for you if there is availability. This is great feature because you don’t need to wait until check in to see if you have been upgraded!
As I talked about last month, Hotels in LA are relatively expensive, and I couldn’t find a good value on Points. Our flight got in at 10PM Friday night, so instead of having to deal with renting a Car and driving all the way to Andaz West Hollywood just to sleep, I opted to do a Best Rate Guarantee and stayed at the Radisson LAX for $77.
Conveniently, that was booked under Radisson’s Stay 1 Night, Get 1 Night promotion, so we got a Free Night Certificate out of our $77 stay. We got into the Hotel really late, so I didn’t have time to take photos of that property or review it, but I am staying there again next week for Frequent Traveler University, so I will review it in detail at that time.
As for the Andaz, I was originally planning on staying at the Hyatt Regency Century City since I had gotten a Best Rate Guarantee on that rate too. However as I figured out later, by using European Hotel sites, you can score some massive Best Rate Guarantees with Hyatt.
Using Hyatt’s generous Best Rate Guarantee process, I was able to find an after tax rate of $226 on Olotels.com, which Hyatt matched with an additional 20% discount, so the final total per a night for the Andaz was $155.34 pre-tax. I reader just emailed me this morning, and using the same site and process, he got it down to $141 a night pre-tax for a 5 night stay!
To make things even better, as a Diamond Member I was able to use a confirmed Suite Upgrade and we were upgraded to an Andaz Suite King which normally goes for $500 a night.
Basically with the BRG and Suite Upgrade, we got a 70% discount off of the regular room rate of the Suite, however I still earned Hyatt Points on our stay because it was considered a Paid Stay!
After checking out of the Radisson LAX Saturday morning, we met some friends in Beverly Hills for Brunch. It was a beautiful day, so we ended up just driving around Beverly Hills taking in the sites. My friend absolutely insisted that we do the TMZ Hollywood Tour. I was a bit apprehensive but who am I to say no, right?
Although it was $50 a ticket, the TMZ Tour was surprisingly fun and I’d recommend it. All those tours are a bit ridiculous to begin with, so at least this one poked fun at itself.
On the tour we saw such “famous spots” as the Laugh Factory where Michael Richards (aka Kramer from Seinfeld) went on his racist tirade, the Beverly Hills Courthouse where Lindsay Lohan has spent a fair amount of time, and finally you can’t forget about the Hotel where Paris Hilton filmed her Sex Tape (no word on if it was a Paid or Award Stay). Although we didn’t see any Celebs on the tour, the TMZ Tour was still pretty fun.
We ended up getting to the Andaz West Hollywood around 7PM on Saturday night.
For anyone that is not familiar with Los Angeles, it is enormous and it is imperative that you rent a car. That being said, since you have to drive everywhere, there isn’t exactly a great Central location to be. The Andaz West Hollywood is on Sunset Boulevard near Hollywood, and relatively near Beverly Hills, so it suited us just fine. If you want to be closer to the beach, then I’d recommend a different Hotel.
Since the Hotel is in a fairly bustling area of Los Angeles, parking at the Hotel was $32 a night. This is somewhat ironic since I only paid around $25 a day to rent the car but oh well! We learned the hard way about how expensive Cabs are in LA when we spent $80 roundtrip to go 7 miles on Friday night…
Lobby / Check In: C+
On the 2nd floor entrance to the Hotel from the Parking Lot, they have a mural of all the famous guests who have stayed at the property over the years, which I thought was pretty cool.
Over all the Lobby is really cool. It was dark when we arrived so I didn’t get any good photos, but I can best describe it as “very hip” with lots of couches and sitting areas. In the evenings from 5PM – 7PM, they also have a free happy hour with beer and wine in the Lobby, which was cool.
While I really liked the Lobby, I am not sure how I felt about the Check In process.
If you have read any of the other Trip Reports on Andaz Properties, the one unifying complaint is that you have no idea who is working at the Andaz or who is a guest.
There is no formal “Check In desk”, as the Staff primarily uses iPads. Luckily I had read about this, but even then I still had to awkwardly ask someone if they worked at the Hotel.
Luckily the person I asked did in fact work at the Hotel, although it was hard to tell because he was wearing a winter peacoat and looked like a guest. He brought us over to the Couch area and offered us a drink which was a nice touch. We accepted 2 glasses of wine, although instead of him having someone else get the wine while he checked us in, he did it himself which greatly increased the amount of time it took to check in.
After bringing us our wine, we were checked in via the iPad.
As a Diamond Member, we were offered either a $15 Food & Dining Credit or 1,000 Hyatt Points. I took the $15 Food & Dining Credit.
To our surprise, one of our friends had also called the Hotel in advance and had given us an additional $75 Food & Dining Credit which was really nice. Thanks Ashley!
Overall while I enjoyed the Lobby, and the casual atmosphere of the Check In process, to be honest is a little too casual.
The free wine when we checked in was a great touch, but it is really awkward for Guests when they don’t know who works at the Hotel. I know Andaz is trying to be edgy so they don’t want their Employees dressed in formal suits, but even something simple like a branded Andaz Tie or Scarf in a bold color would be enough for Guests to figure out who actually works at the Hotel.
After checking in on the iPad, we were given our room keys to our Andaz Suite King on the 12th floor.
One thing that I really liked was that the room keys are all RFID, meaning you don’t have to swipe them. Instead you can just waive them in the elevator or at your door and it will “magically” open.
Although I had read Trip Reports from other Bloggers who have stayed at this property, I myself have never even stayed in a Suite, so I had no idea what to expect.
All I can say is WOW!
Upon entering the Suite, there was a extremely large Living Room with a long granite table and chairs.
Behind that there was a glass enclosed sitting area with 2 chairs and a wall mounted tv, that featured floor to ceiling views of LA.
To the left of the Entrance there was a large L shaped couch along with a flat screen TV, desk, and mini fridge with free snacks and non-alcoholic drinks.
There was also an additional bathroom and shower just off of the Living Room.
As for the Bedroom, it was fairly large and had it’s own bathroom.
Although dual sinks are nice, I will say that dual bathrooms has revolutionised my life. With 1 bathroom, you have to plan who is showering when, etc. With 2 bathrooms, you can each take your time and spread your stuff out without getting in the other persons space.
If I ever buy a house, I am going to make it a point to get His & Hers full Bathrooms.
As we were already running late to meet friends, we decided to just eat at the Hotel Restaurant.
The Andaz West Hollywood Restaurant is called RH, which stands for “Riot House” or “Riot Hyatt”. While I was waiting for my friend to get ready, I was flipping through the information in the room and this particular property has a ton of Rock n Roll history.
Back in the day, the Andaz West Hollywood used to be called the Continental Hyatt House. Due to its proximity to all the Clubs on Sunset Boulevard, it was a favorite place to stay for Led Zeppelin, The Who, and the Rolling Stones. Led Zeppelin would rent out the entire 11th floor when they came to town and drive motorcycles down the hall. Most notably Keith Richards dropped a TV out of one of the rooms. These days the windows are sealed, so you can’t do that!
Anyways, we went down for Dinner and the restaurant was surprisingly fairly empty.
I ordered a Burger and my friend ordered the Salmon. Both were delicious. I’d say my Burger was in my top 10 for best burgers I have ever had.
Surprisingly, for being a Hotel Restaurant our bill for 2 Entrees and a $40 Bottle of Wine was only $80. We had $90 in Dining Credit, so I went ahead and ordered us 2 mojitos.
After Dinner our friends came over and met us in the room. We were planning on going out, but when you have a Suite like this and know that at one time Led Zeppelin roamed the halls, you have a certain obligation to try and recreate the atmosphere. So that is what ensue but don’t worry we put everything back and cleaned up after ourselves!
We ended up moving some of the furniture around to play some “games”. Let’s just say that Hyatt doesn’t skimp on quality. It took 4 guys to move that Granite Table, so we could re-purpose it for some beer pong.
Of course we didn’t have plastic cups, so we had to use glass cups which made it is classiest game of beer pong that I have ever played, not to mention the stunning view of LA in the background.
Another nice thing about the Suite was that there were iPod speaker hook ups in each room, so you could play music.
After a couple hours, we went next door to the always classy Saddle Ranch, where not only do they have a mechanical bull but according to TMZ, Jennifer Lopez has been spotted there…
Breakfast was served in Hyatt’s RH Restaurant.
When we checked in, I inquired to see if we could have breakfast in the room, but was told that it was only served down in the Restaurant.
So Diamond Members get Breakfast included for up to 4 people according to Hyatt.com
Daily complimentary full breakfast inclusive of one entrée (or standard breakfast buffet), juice and coffee (tax, gratuity and service charges included) will be provided to the member and each registered guest in the room, maximum four (4) people when staying at Hyatt Place properties, Hyatt House properties, or Hyatt Residence Club resorts.
When I inquired with our Server about what was included as a Diamond Member, he told me only the Breakfast Buffet was included. I hadn’t checked Hyatt.com before eating, so I just assumed that was true. The Breakfast Buffet looked okay, but I was more in the mood for French Toast, so we ended up just ordering off the menu, along with Orange Juice.
While waiting for our food, I took a look around the Restaurant and noticed quite a few familiar faces. I then realized that it was a bunch of MegaDOers getting ready to departing for Zurich that afternoon for SMD4. Small world!
As for our food, I will say that the French Toast definitely looked far better than it tasted. The Orange Juice though was delicious.
Our total bill for 2 French Toasts, 2 Orange Juices, Taxes and 18% Gratuity was around $55.
Check Out: C-
To be honest, I never really check Hotel Bills. Normally this is because I know there are no additional Restaurant or Room Charges to the bill.
At the Radisson Blu in France, I forget to check the bill when I checked out, and the Hotel apparently forgot to charge me for the room (something with the BRG I did), so we got a $700 stay for free. However in this case, I wasn’t certain about Breakfast charges and wanted to check that our $90 Dining Credit was applied to our Dinner, so I went ahead and did Hyatt’s Web Check Out.
As I was checking out, I was greeted by a nice surprise of a $750 bill for 2 nights!
I looked over it and it seemed they were charging the regular rate for the basic room (not the Suite), and not the BRG rate I had found.
In an effort to get this sorted out, I went downstairs to talk to someone. Again, I had issues figuring out who was working at the Hotel and who was a Guest.
I finally found someone and asked to Check Out. Similar to the Web Check Out, the total again came to $750!
I explained to the Agent that I had done a Best Rate Guarantee and the rate should have been $150 a night. While she attempted to “look into it” with a very annoyed attitude, she explained that they never have rates that low, especially for the Andaz King Suite.
I explained to her again that it was a BRG, hence the extremely low rate and as a Diamond Member, I had used a Suite Upgrade. Again, she said there was nothing in the computer documenting the lower BRG rate.
I am not sure if it is because I am young or what the deal is, but I always run into issues like this at Hotels in which I am basically talked down upon or given bad service. This is really frustrating because “technically”, I am a Diamond Member.
Anyways, since it seemed the BRG wasn’t in the computer, I had to pull out my iPhone and pull up the email confirming the old rate. After showing it to her, she still wasn’t convinced, so she emailed it to herself form my iPhone and said she would “investigate”.
I was assuming she would call me to follow up or at least email to me tell me what happened (since she had my email), but that was not the case. I saw a charge of $400 from Hyatt on my AMEX, so I logged into Hyatt.com and it looks like my original BRG rate was applied. As a whole, even from the perspective of a regular guest who may not be an Elite, I would have thought the Agent would have followed up by email at least. Since I didn’t hear anything back, I spent the entire MegaDO wondering if I was going to be charged the full rate because I missed some fine print saying Suite Upgrades can’t be used on BRGs or something.
The final rate including tax, was around $177 a night. Breakfast was in fact included even though we did order off of the menu, which was nice. Although it was more than I would normally spend for a night in a Hotel, since we split the cost between the 2 of us and were upgraded to a Suite, plus had breakfast included, I’d say it was well worth it!
Although the Andaz West Hollywood still needs some work in the Check In / Check Out department, and how knowledgeable the Restaurant Staff are about Elite Benefits, outside of that I was extremely impressed by the Hotel and our Suite.
For the price we paid and for what we got, I don’t think you can find a better value in Los Angeles.
Even if you don’t have a Suite Upgrade, I’d still recommend this Hotel if you need a place to stay in LA.
Although my Hyatt Diamond Status only goes until February, due to the great experience I had at this property, for the next 3 months, I am going to go out of my way to stay at Hyatt Properties if possible.
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