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Winter Ski Trip To Mont Tremblant

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.

There is also a Westin Beaver Creek and Sheraton Beaver Creek in the area. When I checked for President’s Day weekend, there was availability for both on Cash & Points which is fairly surprising.

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!

If you really have Points to blow, then I’d recommend the St. Regis Aspen.

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 is a Westin in Mont Tremblant that looks really nice, so that is where we will be staying.

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.

Recap

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!

-Parag

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Westin Times Square – New York City Review

This past Friday – Sunday, I stayed at the Westin Times Square in New York City. This was pre-Huricanne Sandy, so everything was still functional at the Hotel.

Location – A+

“Here it is, heart of New York City, Times Square. Named for the good times you have when you’re in it. Most people when they come to New York, they go straight to the Empire State Building, that’s pretty touristy. I come here. Great places to eat. We have Bubba Gump Shrimp, Red Lobster down there. Ya know. This is, this is the heart of civilization, right here.” -Michael Scott

As the name would imply, the Westin Times Square is located 1 block from the clusterf@#$ amazing tourist attraction that is Times Square. Thankfully the Hotel entrance is not directly in Times Square, so you can still feel the Times Square energy, but far enough away that you don’t have flashing neon lights outside your window or throngs of crowds outside the door. That being said, while trying to get to the Hotel, my iPhone died, so it was quite a struggle trying to find the Hotel because I actually thought it was located within Times Square.

The Westin Times Square is also located right next to 2 Subway lines, so it is really easy to get to via Public Transportation or if you are trying to get anywhere else in the City. Overall, this is probably the best location in the City for site seeing because many of the major attractions (Central Park, Rockefeller Plaza, Empire State Building, David Letterman, Penn Station, Grand Central Station, etc) are all within 1 mile walking distance of the Hotel.

The Westin Times Square is the letter “A” below and the the Red Box is Times Square.

Lobby – B

The lobby of the Westin Times Square is on the 2nd floor, and is very spacious with lots of couches to sit on.

The one thing I found surprising is that there was no free internet in the lobby. I have stayed at quite a few Westins in the past and they have always had free internet in the lobby.

Room – A

The Hotel Room was on the 39th floor and was a fairly decent size. I am not sure if this was normal or because it was a handicap accessible room.

The room faced West 42nd Street, so although we were fairly high, there wasn’t necessarily a city view because of all the other skyscrapers. However it is New York, so that is expected.

The room featured a King Size Heavenly Bed (which I love), a desk with a chair, flat screen tv, 2 night stands, and a chair near the window.

Bathroom – B

The Bathroom was interesting. As I stated before, I believe this room was handicap accessible so the bathroom was quite large and had hand rails, etc. The one thing I didn’t understand though was the sink. As you can tell in the picture, it is very industrial and almost out of a prison movie. Of course it is just a sink, so it doesn’t really matter, I just thought it was a bizarre choice given the other furnishings in the room.

As for the shower, although it didn’t have the normal dual shower heads (again most likely because it was handicap accessible) that you find at most Westins, it did its job and was fine.

The amenities in the Bathroom were standard Westin products.

Cost – C+

Given it was a weekend, the normal room rate was $380 a night. I was fortunate that my friend got the room through work for free, so I didn’t have to pay anything. In my opinion, I don’t necessarily think it would be worth paying $380 if you had to pay for the room out of pocket. However it is Manhattan, so you are paying for location and space, and this Room / Hotel certainly had both.

The Westin Times Square is a Category 6 Property (out of 7) and costs 20,000 Starpoints for a free night. The only two Category 7 Starwood Properties in New York are the St. Regis and The Chatwal, which both cost 30,000 Starpoints a night. To help put this in comparison, the Four Points by Sheraton in Peoria, IL only cost me 3,000 Starpoints for a free night.

I just signed up for the Starwood American Express Card and earned 35,000 Starpoints for free, however if I was going to use Starpoints for a Hotel in New York City, I probably wouldn’t stay at the Westin Times Square.

The only reason for this is because it costs 20,000 Starpoints a night, while the Westin Grand Central, which is just down the street, only costs 12,000 Starpoints a night! Similarly there are some Sheratons in the area that also cost 12,000 Starpoints a night.

The 8,000 Point difference might not sound like much, but if you are staying 3 nights, that is the difference between 60,000 Starpoints or 36,000 Starpoints!

If you have a ton of Starpoints to blow, instead of spending 20,000 Starpoints at the Westin Times Square, I’d definitely recommend using those 20,000 Starpoints at any of the four W Hotels in New York. If you want to go big, then I’d recommend using 30,000 Starpoints for St. Regis or The Chatwal.

As I said earlier, the $400 Westin Room was free for me, so I can’t really complain too much. However for other people who are thinking about going to New York, those are my recommendations.

Overall – B

If this review was based solely on location, then the Westin Times Square would get an A+, as it is situated in one of the best locations in the City. However when you factor in the cost, it becomes a little more tricky since there is another Westin in the vicinity and cost almost half as many Starpoints.

I would have given the Westin Times Square a B+, had it not been for the no internet issue in the lobby! This is my number 1 pet peeve!

Back in the late 90s and early 2000s, I can understand that Internet was something of a novelty and only Business people had Laptops therefore it made sense for Hotels to charge a premium for it. However it is now 2012, and even my 5 year old Niece has a iPad. Hotels don’t charge you to watch TV, why do they charge for Internet?

The one thing I will never understand about Hotel Internet is why the lower end brands like Starwood’s Four Points and Intercontinental’s Holiday Inn can provide free wi-fi, but properties where you are paying $400 a night, they feel the need to get an extra $15 out of you.

Similar how Southwest has built their television commercials around the fact that they don’t charge you Baggage Fees, any of the major Hotel Chains could easily do something similar by providing Free Internet at all their properties (not just the lower end ones) and use that in a marketing campaign.

Anyways, outside of that I really enjoyed my stay at the Westin Times Square, and would have no problem returning as long as the price was right.

I am sure many of you have stayed here before, so curious to hear your impression of the property.

-Parag

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W Beds On Sale At Ideeli

Just in case any of your missed out on the 35% off W Bed Sale that I talked about last week, I thought I’d point out that the W Beds are currently on sale at flash-sale site Ideeli.

Link To Ideeli

The sale is going on for the next 5 days so you have time to decide.

The prices are about the same as the 35% off W Sale and include free white glove delivery and no tax.

I wasn’t able to find any additional Cash Back opportunities and you won’t earn any bonus Starpoints for your purchase, but it is still a good deal.

-Parag