ACTIVITIES TO DO IN VAIL

In my previous post, I wrote a detailed review of the Hotel Talisa where I booked a $7k stay for only 200k Marriott Points. We did get out of the hotel quite a bit though.

Now we rented a car via Avis, (good corporate leisure rate through work) but my wife didn’t fly the same day as the rest of our family so she took Peak 1 Express Shuttle. It was about $90 with tip and taxes from Denver Airport to the Hotel.

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My kids and I got to do 4 days of Skiing while my wife joined us for 3 days. What is great about Vail is that from just about every lift (except for back bowls) you can ski down some type of green. So we didn’t have to plan out our runs too much, just get up the mountain and figure it out.

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Our kids have been skiing for a few years, but we usually do a ski lesson on the first day to get their ski legs back. Its about $249 a kid ages 7-14 for an all day group ski lesson (includes lunch but not skis or the lift ticket). My sons lesson only had 3 kids in the group most of the day, but apparently one got cold every 5 minutes and they had to wait often for her to warm up. My 8 year old daughter was in a group of about 6 11-13 year olds, which was actually pretty good to push her a lil bit and she learned a lot.

I got down to the base around 3pm and decided I didn’t have enough time to do a run and be back when ski school let out at 330, so I had a drink while watching for the ski schoolers to come in.

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There were also plenty of trails that went through trees that my kids loved throughout the week. As you can see in the video below, they are shorter than me and don’t hit as many tree limbs as I do.

 

Vail and skiing are expensive to begin with so I always look for every way to save money. My wife rented skis as mentioned in the previous post on site at Hotel Talisa. Since the kids and I had more time and were skiing more days, we decided to rent from Vail Ski Tech in Lionshead Village. 4 Days sport skis were $32 a day compared to the hotel of $44 and junior skis were $16 compared to $24.

Besides skiing, there are other activities in Vail. Of course there are Lionshead Village and Vail Village which have lots of stores and restaurants. (free parking after like 3pm)

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Night in Vail Village

I am not really a foodie or a shopper so I won’t share my opinions too much on those. However we did eat at night at the top of the Eagle Gondola at Eagles Nest Bistro 14 restaurant. It was neat to ride the Gondola up at night. (no cost) The food was good, but I was hoping for a little nicer atmosphere at night. It was just the same tables as during the day, just a better menu. Reservations are recommended. They showed all booked on open table, but it was probably only 50% full.

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The day that we didn’t ski, we drove all around and had a great time. We did dogsledding last year but they were booked out for weeks at this time of the year. We were able to find a few snowmobiling reservations open, but our kids decided to pass on the big snowmobiles as they watched too many YouTube videos of people doing jumps and crashing. However we did find a place about 45 minutes from Vail called Nova Guides that had kids snowmobiles that you paid for by the minute. Our kids had a great time going round a small track and they want to do real snowbmobiling next year.  Our kids probably did it for only about 20 minutes, and the guy only charged us $20 total and we tipped him $10 as he was very informative.

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Before we headed off to Nova Guides we stopped by City Market and bought two $15 sleds. We figured we would see some place to sled along the way. City Market is less than a 5 minute drive from our hotel or from Lionshead Village, and a good place to get beer and food for the week. They have a separate liquor store inside the market, so it makes it easy to shop when you have kids with you as well.

We did find a huge hill at a place called Meadow Mountain which is right at I-70 and exit 171, so only a few miles past the Vail exit. It was huge and a lot of cross country skiers and snowshoers were here. They had a hill for sledding, but it was a hike up to it, and very bumpy. It wore you out and beat you up more than what it was worth, a least without fresh snow when we went. We did that a few times, and then went to a park called Ellefson Park which was in Vail close to City Market. It was a smaller hill, but very smooth and had some jumps if you wanted them. (Short Video of Ellefson below)

 

Also, on our way to Nova Guides, we drove through a nice little town called Minturn. It was a great place for some photo ops as well as to get out of Vail and have a homestyle lunch at the Turntable Restaurant.

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Fried Chicken Eggs Benedict at the Turntable Restaurant.

The main attraction of Vail is the mountain. There are plenty of ways to get off the mountain and see some different places. While we had a car, there are shuttles or buses that will take you to most of these places as well. If you are booking a dogsledding or snowmobiling tour, just about all the companies will pick you up form your hotel.

REVIEW: HOTEL TALISA VAIL, LUXURY COLLECTION BY MARRIOTT

This post is specific to the Hotel Talisa while my other post reviews activities in Vail.

I’m gonna start this post with saying my first impression of Hotel Talisa was not a favorable one. However after 6 days the hotel grew on me, I enjoyed my stay and I would go back.

Our family knew we wanted to ski over the holidays. I had originally booked the Doubletree by Hilton Breckenridge on Points. I have stayed there before and it’s a good solid hotel, close to the lifts, and a steal on points during the high season. However I then found the Hotel Talisa in Vail open up on points and I booked 5 nights for 200k Marriott points. 50k points per night with 5th night free. Rates for holidays were over $1,100 a night. 200k points or about $7k makes it an easy decision to go with points.

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After a 3 hour drive (some traffic) from the Denver Airport to Vail, we pull up to Hotel Talisa around 4pm. (I traveled with the kids while my wife took a late flight the next day because of work) It’s easy to find and an impressive driveway.

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Front entrance to hotel during the day
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Front Driveway during day
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Front driveway during night
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Front entrance at night

Valet and Bellman welcome us and get all of our luggage on a cart and they go park my car as I go check-in. (Longest wait for Valet was 5 minutes. They were always running in the ice to get cars and working hard) After a long day with 2 kids, all I want to do is get settled into my room. I am informed my room isn’t ready but will be soon and they take my number and will give me a call. We walk around the hotel for about a 1/2 hour and take in a few activities. I then go back to the front desk at about 4:30 and my room isn’t ready still. So I go back to valet and decide we will go into town a little bit. We get ski’s from a cheaper off site option , get some groceries and drinks and still no phone call. So we get some dinner and come back to the hotel around 7:30. Go up to the front desk lady and she tells me that my room is now ready. Not sure why I didn’t get a phone call….

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Front desk during morning
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Main entrance during morning.

 

I am assigned room 247 and walk down the hall to my room. I noticed that the room is 2 doors down on the main floor from the lobby and main area which is very noisy. I walk in, look at the room and immediately walkout and back to the front desk. I tell them I need a different room as that room is very noisy due to its location. The front desk person informs me that is the only open room they have but can move me the next day, so I say fine. I end up going there the next day asking what room I am being moved to and they say the same thing and are unable to move me. While the room was loud during the day, it wasn’t that bad at night. Note there was also rooms across from the ski shop that were probably even nosier.

The room itself was nice and pretty normal hotel room. I was having some problems with my camera because of the cold and the room pictures didn’t upload. It was a hotel room, 2 queen beds (I did not like the original pillows and asked for softer pillows), decent amount of storage space, good amount of outlets, small but bright bathroom, and had a small mini fridge. Our room also had a nice balcony. Because it was so cold, the balcony could also double as a fridge to keep drinks cold.

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Keep water and beer cold outside during winter
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View from balcony of room

As a platinum member, I received a coupon good for 2 free full buffets or $70 of credit at the Gessner restaurant. The food was very good there and it was nice to be able to get the buffet or get a unique breakfast dish. The full buffet is $34, continental is $24, kids full buffet is $19. Most unique dishes were around $20-$25, and you could get kids breakfasts for about $12. My wife an I typically shared a unique breakfast and kids got the buffet and it was all covered and we left a $10 tip. What was annoying though is that each day I showed the coupon and they would say that only coverers 2 adults buffets. I would inform them at check-in I was told I could use it as $70 credit and each day they would have to go and check with their manager…

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Lots of hot options, eggs, pancakes, bacon, sausage and more
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Cook to order eggs
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Lots of breads and yogurts
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Fruit, cheeses, and meats
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Eggs benedict were delicious

The hotel had a on site workout room which was brand new. They also had free access to the Aria Health Club that was across the street but attached via an enclosure. Aria was great and had a basketball gym, lots of classes, workout rooms, spinning, racquetball, outdoor pool and hot tub, and a nice locker room.

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Aria gym also had a foosball and pool table

The best part of the hotel is its location. When we were walking around our first night we walked out a door and the lift was 10 feet from the door. My son was worried that wasn’t safe as it was so close. There is also an onsite ski shop. My kids and I got our skis offsite since we had more time, and my wife got her ski’s onsite. There is also a ski valet here (included in the resort fee.) The lift isn’t for newbies though. It’s easy to get on the lift and you can end up on greens. However to ski all the way in there are some medium blues. There is also a way to take the lift down from the mountain to the hotel but that requires a short blue as well.

 

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Ski lift area onsite
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Vail Ski Ticket office just 20 feet from hotel door. By online for bigger savings.
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Ski rental info

The resort has a lot of stuff to do each day. While it is nice, you are paying for it with the $38 resort fee, and it can me more of a pain than what it’s worth. I went over the holidays so it was always busy and felt like work just to get a hot chocolate.

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Best item was make your own cupcakes for kids
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Line to get hot chocolate one day. This was also right outside our room. They also had cookies, but those were gone before the plate ever made it to the table
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Waiting in line again
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Had smores one night. Some other nights we went to make smores but they were already out before the time ended
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Schnapps not included in resort fee 🙂
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They had a daily champagne toast but be there at 4:30 before its all gone. One day they even had a Moet tasting from 4-8, but by 6pm they were out of glasses.
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Dailey Activities

A few other Pics and captions

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Shuttle was great. Usually a 5 minute wait. Very nice but crowded. Took ya from hotel, to Lionshead, to Vail Village,
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Concierge area. Some of them were great and others not so much. I was disappointed as we asked the concierge for a dogsledding or snowmobiling activity. She called one place and left a message and that was it and said sorry…. We booked our own. Also we contacted the hotel ahead of time as we wanted a cake for my daughters 8th birthday. They forwarded the note to the concierge to get back to us and never did. We found our own bakery as well.
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Common area during morning
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Common area at night
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Gessner restaurant was reservations only while we were there for dinner so we never ate there. Luckily we had a car or would have been annoying that you cant even eat at the hotel restaurant without a reservation.
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NYE balloon drop ready!

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Don’t see this kind of vending machine everyday

A few other notes.

They have a small food market onsite. Its good for a quick (expensive) bite. It also has a microwave and you can warm up leftovers there as there are no microwaves in room.

I didn’t like the pillows so we asked for some softer pillows and they brought us 4 more pillows while we were gone, meaning we had 12 pillows in our room. I left $5 and stacked up 4 pillows with a note saying please take these the next day. The pillows were still there when we returned from skiing, but $5 gone and I had to call housekeeping to get them out of the room. 12 pillows in a hotel room just gets in the way.

One day our room wasn’t made when we returned at like 4pm. All we really needed was towels to take showers and get ready for dinner. We called housekeeping and they said they would have some in just a minute. 20 minutes later we call again and they say there are some on the way. Then they call us saying they have no clean towels and are washing some now. I tell them this has to be a joke that there are no clean towels in the entire hotel. We got towels 5 minutes later.

Since our room was not an ideal location, I wanted to have some white noise to drown out the hallway noise. The thermostat fan only went up to low and was nice but not loud enough. I asked the front desk if there was a way to override it. English was not her first language and she didn’t know what I meant and said she would send someone to look at it. That person came and his first language was not English either and did not know what I was asking.

If you had to checkout before you leave you can store your bags there as well as use the facilities and the health club. Our last day we ski’d in the morning and then all took showers and got ready in the health club. It wasn’t too bad.

Checkout.  I asked several times before our last day for a late checkout and each time was told to check back the morning of checkout. As a platinum member, I usually get late checkouts and since I couldn’t check in until 4 1/2 hours after check-in time, I figured that shouldn’t be a problem. Well the front desk lady said they are at capacity and no exceptions for late checkouts. I asked to talk to her manager who tells me the same thing. However she says she will reimburse my resort fees for my inconvenience. Even though I stayed on points, I knew I had $190 in resort fees, so that was a fare deal. Now when I actually checked out, she also refunded the $190 in parking fees as well. So I was very happy with getting $380 back and having to use the health club to get ready and shower instead of our own room.

Overall I would return. I felt like everyone at the hotel tried, but not everyone hit the mark. I expected a little more polish for a 5* Luxury Collection Hotel in Vail. I would use points again during the holidays in a heartbeat, but I would not pay the $1k a night they were charging. During off weeks I would go back and pay maybe $400 a night.

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REVIEW: 3 747’S ON KOREAN AIR AND AN A350 ON DELTA. MY FIRST MILEAGE RUN TO SEOUL AND HONG KONG AND NOW I AM HOOKED

Last November I posted about receiving a $9k Delta Voucher for getting downgraded on my business class ticket. Our family has used a lot of that $9k for domestic economy and Caribbean flights. I still had about $1,500 left that was expiring in November. I was also about 15k MQMs short of obtaining Delta Platinum status. So I decided to do my first ever mileage run to get as many MQMs as I could get for $1,500.

I am very glad I did this. I got my status, and saw some new amazing places that I want to go back to. I also used some free night Marriott certificates in Seoul and Hong Kong, so this was almost a free trip. I ended up walking over 25 miles over the 2 nights I had just getting lost in the cities. I always felt safe. Usually I have a few drinks on a plane, and especially at bars around the city. I knew I  was spending as much time in the airplane as on the ground over 3 nights so I kept my drinking to a minimum. I really do think this helped with my energy though. I never felt really tired and was able to see more than most people would on a long layover.

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View of Hong Kong from Victoria Peak

While I searched fares for a while, I found some crazy legs around the US for much cheaper that I could get that many MQMs over a few weekends. (something like OKC-ATL-LAX-LGA-ATL-OKC just didn’t sound like fun even for $500, and the repeat 2-3x) I wanted to get it all done in one weekend and visit some new places. The best itinerary was OKC-ATL-ICN and stay there a night, and then onto HKG for a night, and then HKG-ICN-ATL back the next day. While I could have cut out a day and not stayed in Seoul for a night and saved $200 on airfare, I figured I might as well stay in Seoul for 18 hours and see a new city for a night.

First I want to talk about the 3 747’s on Korean Air. From ATL-ICN, ICN-HKG, then HKG-ICN.

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I had a window seat each time, and the layouts were very similar each time. The only difference I could tell was a different color blanket. The seat pitch is about 34 inches which is larger than any US airline. While 15 hours in an economy seat sucks, it was doable with that pitch.

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On the 15 hour flight, there was a bottle of water, slippers, and headphones waiting at my seat. On the shorter flights there was only headphones.

The IFE was identical on each flight. The screen was decent and they had about 30 US movies. Not a huge selection, but enough to keep me entertained for a few trips.

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The food was pretty good on Korean Air. Their bibimbap was delicious, and was available on all flights. Even on the shorter flights, there was free wine and alcohol served. On the 15 hour flight, they served dinner 2x and had some strange meat roll as a snack in the middle of the flight.  I do wish they had more snacks throughout the flight. They also walked around several times with water cups. They walked fast though so you had to wave them down, or use your flight attendant call button.

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I ended up watching a lot of movies, doing a lil work on my laptop, and dozing off every once in a while during a movie. I had prepared myself and the time went by pretty fast.

Now on my flight back to the US I got to fly on Delta’s new A350 from ICN-ATL These seats only have 31 inches of pitch. As I was a gold member I was able to pick a preferred seat which was right behind a bulkhead seat with no one in front of me. So I had plenty of legroom.  At my seat was a pillow and blanket, earphones, earplugs, and a sleep mask. Even though I could stretch out my legs, the seat was extremely hard and uncomfortable. I ended up using my pillow to sit on.

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The IFE was Delta Studio, which I think is excellent. Plenty of entertainment for days.

The food was pretty bad. Some kind of chicken after takeoff, a bad sandwich halfway through, and then a omelet before landing at 5pm in Atlanta. I like to eat, but didn’t finish any of them.

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My seat allowed me to relax. I felt sorry for the row in front of me, as there was often 5-6 people waiting to use the bathroom impeding their space.

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Because of Delta’s entertainment selection, the 13 hour flight home went by pretty quickly.

A quick comparison of the 2.

Food- Korea Air

Entertainment- Delta

Friendliness- Korean Air

Seats- my seat on Delta was great, but there are only 2 of those in economy, so I would go with Korean Air unless I could get 1 of those 2 seats on Delta.

Amenities- Tie.  Basically Korea Air had slippers, while Delta gave ya earplugs and sleeping mask.

If I were to travel with my family, I would definitely pick a Korea Air flight.

All of my flights were on time. That probably really affected my attitude on this mileage run. It was successful and I was glad I completed it. I am now always looking for cheap fares since I don’t have any credits left to go on my next weekend adventure.

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REVIEW IN PICTURES. MY FAVORITE COURTYARD- COURTYARD SEOUL NAMDAEMUN

After a “quick” 15 hour flight from ATL-ICN, decided to take a bus from the Airport to a drop off near the hotel. This was pretty easy and was able to buy a ticket via a machine right outside the bus terminal at the airport. There was a line to talk to a person and use a credit card, but I already got some cash out via an ATM and was able to buy a ticket using cash from a machine. The bad thing is this was almost a 2 hour bus ride on a Friday night. (usually 80 minutes) The hardest part was being dropped off and then trying to figure out which direction the hotel was. But it was only about a 5 minute walk from that station.

This hotel runs around $150 a night. Its a category 3 hotel with Marriott. I had some Cat 1-4 certificates expiring this year so I decided to use one of them at this hotel. Not the best value redemption, but I was on a mileage run so I decided to burn it here.

The overall location was great. While I didn’t have much time here, there was plenty to walk around and see.

 

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Outside of Courtyard by Marriott
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Check in Counter is on the second floor. Was upgraded to what they called a junior suite, but was a typical suite in the US. Very Very nice, with some great views. As well as got access to Exec Lounge for being a Marriott Platinum member.
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1st stop was lounge on 22nd floor since they would stop serving alcohol soon. I just got a quick beer and took it back to my room.
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Drinks in lounge.
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I missed the appetizer spread, but they still had some small snacks.
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Welcome gift in my 20th floor room. Don’t typically get this in a US Courtyard.
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Sitting area in my suite.
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View of sitting area with TV.
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King size bed with large TV that had a few US cable stations.

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Bathroom was huge with double sinks, Good amenities, and bottled water in bathroom.
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Separate tub and shower.
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Shower
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View from 20th floor bedroom.

 

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View from 20th floor bedroom.
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Nightstand next to bed. Lots of charging options, as well as all the rooms lights could be turned off and on from here.
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Fridge to put anything you want in, as well  as storage for the tea and coffee items.
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Tea and Coffee pot.
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Entrance way into the suite.
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Closet with safe, ironing board, and a scale.
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my room
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Looking down into the lobby.
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Very nice and large 24 hour workout room.
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Nothing like working out at 5am…
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Lots of treadmills.
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MoMo restaurant, but never went in there.

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Bar n lounge area on the 2nd floor by the lobby.
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Up to the executive lounge for breakfast. Laid out very nice to get your morning energy food. As a plat member, I got lounge access which included breakfast. I was not able to get free breakfast in the restaurant.
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Exec lounge business center
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Exec lounge seating area.
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Lots of food options, both western and eastern. Better than offering in US lounges.
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Exec lounge breakfast.
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Exec lounge pastries
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Exec lounge drinks and cereals.

 

 

Upon leaving, I ended up taking a cheap taxi to Seoul Station to catch the express train. I walked past Seoul Station about 5x the night before while wondering around, but didn’t want to wonder around while trying to get to the airport.

Overall this was a great stay. An upgrade and great lounge for a platinum member always helps that.

 

GETTING A $6 HOTEL CONVENIENCE FEE REFUNDED

My son recently had a soccer tournament in Wichita, Kansas (they came in second). So while it’s an easy drive from Oklahoma City, its fun for the kids to be able to sleep in a hotel for a few nights and eat out and swim with their friends.

The team stayed at the Hampton Inn Wichita Airport. Of course I am pretty picky when it comes to hotels and getting a good deal. There aren’t a lot of choices in Wichita, I am Hilton Diamond and this hotel was just fine with me as it was under $100 a night plus taxes.

I did a mobile checkout and reviewed the bill the next day. This hotel charged a $3 convenience fee per night. I have no idea what it was for. I checked my reservation and saw they only mention the taxes, nothing about a convenience fee.

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I immediately emailed Hilton Honors. They contacted me within an hour saying that they consider this closed as the hotel had already contacted me and closed this. The next day I emailed Hilton back saying I have yet to receive any correspondence from the hotel. Hilton responded about an hour later saying that a $6 refund should be posted in the next few days- and it was.

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$6 is not a big deal, but I am ticked off at Hilton that they charge this and do not disclose it. I wonder how many people pay this. Shame on you Hilton!

LE MERIDIEN TAHITI CHANGING TO SOFITEL TAHITI BY ACCOR

As part of our 2019 Tahitian Vacation, we have one night booked at the Le Meridien Hotel on Papeete. We plan on exploring other islands, but need to stay close to the airport the night before our 730 am flight.

Well I just got notice that this hotel will be changing to a Sofitel effective as of NEXT WEEK.

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I used points to book this hotel. One of the reasons was to get free breakfast. While it says all rates and conditions remain the same, not sure how that will turn out in 9 months. I already wasn’t too happy with the reservation process as the hotel policy says children under 12 can stay for free with existing bedding. The hotel contacted us about a week after we booked our reservation. Well for the room we booked, children actually means 1, and we are having to pay $80USD for a larger room that can accommodate 2 children.  We had quite a few interesting emails about the definition of child vs children. I was going to complain to Marriott, but what’s the point now.

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When you travel often, its nice to book a refundable reservation and then not worry about it for a little but. Not sure if we will keep this reservation or not, but I am not going to worry about it for a few more months. Probably see some reviews on what the changes are as well.

REVIEW: NAPA AND SONOMA FOR A WEEKEND

The wife and I and 2 of our good friends recently went to Napa and Sonoma for a quick weekend. This is a brief review of just a few things and what we are glad we did, and what we would have done differently.

FLIGHTS

I still had some of my $9k Delta Voucher, so we knew we had to fly Delta and connect through SLC. The big decision was do we fly into San Francisco, or fly into Sacramento? Sacramento was about $50 cheaper per person so we decided to fly into there. They are both about the same distance from most wine activities. Of course that also depends on where you are staying or going. We took a late flight and got into Sacramento around 11pm, so it was an easy drive after that. Leaving though we had a 5pm flight. We were able to find plenty of activities in Wine Country to do, but if we would have been flying out of San Francisco, we would have done something in the city for a few hours.  We were perfectly happy with flying into Sacramento.

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Where to Stay

This is something I changed my mind on several times. Central Napa and Sonoma are ridiculous prices. I originally booked a VRBO in Glen Allen. Then I ended up cancelling it as I said to myself, well we still have to Uber everywhere, so might as well stay somewhere cheaper. We ended up getting 2 hotel rooms in Fairfield. We got a great rate at the Hilton Garden Inn for $93 a night. An Uber ride to Napa was about $30 and 30-40 minutes. This location was right off the highway, and lots of chain restaurants and a mall within walking distance.

There are several major hotel chains in Napa and Sonoma. They can actually be a very good deal on points, because they are quite expensive. I didn’t want to use points for me, and then have our friends spend $700 a night for a hotel room so that’s why we didn’t stay there.

What I didn’t realize before going to Napa Valley, is there are numerous little towns all over.  I originally thought you had to stay in central Napa or Sonoma or else you would be out in the middle of nowhere. Next time I would do a google earth view of some of the VRBO’s to see what close by.  There are lots of little fairly inexpensive cottages that are walking distance to a winery or a small little restaurant throughout wine country. Central Napa and Sonoma have a ton of bars and nice restaurants, and a lot of tours start there.

The $93 a night rate is hard to beat. Next time I will definitely look harder to see what VRBOs are off the beaten bath, but still walking distance to a winery or a restaurant.

TOURS

On Friday we did the Napa Trolley Tour. We originally wanted to do this tour on a Saturday, but they were sold out about 2 weeks beforehand when we tried to book. There was about 25 people on this tour total and it takes you to 4 Wineries. It was about 6.5 hours long, and also included lunch and water. It was a great first tour to see multiple wineries. The Trolley was fun and comfortable. (although cold and a lil windy in the morning, but they did have a small inside section.) We didn’t get to pick the Wineries and I don’t even remember all the names. They were all nice though and provided different inputs on wines. Each winery had a tasting fee of $25 per person, for 4 wines. 4 wines tastings equaled about one glass of wine. Some places you had to pay the tasting no matter what, some places you could split it between 2 people, and the last place I know was Andretti Winery and they didn’t care as long as you bought something. So we bought a $30 bottle and split it between 4 people. Another place also waived the tasting fee as long as you bought a bottle of wine. So most people bought a $35 bottle of wine and got the $25 tasting for free.

This was a great introduction to wine country and very glad we did it. I would recommend one organized day of winery tours like this, and then the rest of the days on your own.

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The end of the Trolley tour drops you off in downtown Napa at like 430PM. About 12 of the people including us were still thirsty and all headed out to a local pub and had a great time.

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The next day we decided we wanted to see Sonoma. We drove there and found a local bike shop. There are several to choose from. We got there at about 930am and were able to rent 4 bikes for the day at about $40 a bike.  While there are several bike routes where you can easily get to wineries, we ended up just making our own bike route. We first went to Ravenshead or something like that and bought a bottle wine and sat outside. It was very nice and relaxing. Then we were on our way to another winery and found a nice park where we stopped at before we got to the winery and drank a bottle we brought with us. We rode around  little bit more and found a few other places to stop. Packing some snacks, a few bottle of wine, and just biking through the countryside was a great way to see some sights in a relaxing manner.  While they are some organized bike tours, we were glad to just take our time and be on our own schedule.

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There is also a square in Downtown Sonoma that seemed to have something going on just about every weekend. The weekend we were there was some kind of wine and arts festival. It was as great place to have another bottle of wine, some food, enjoy some music and people watch.

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On Sunday we knew we wanted to explore a little more but not do a full day of wine tasting before our flights. After eating a drinking for a few days, we wanted to get some exercise. There are all kinds of parks in this area and we found some good trails. Then we found some breweries and small tasting rooms in the Fairfield area. We visited Heretic Brewing and Sonoma Harvest Wine and Oils. Interesting this wine tasting was not in a vineyard and only $10 for 5 wine tastings….

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For a short trip to Napa Valley, we sure did do and see a lot. It was great to participate in a few organized activities, and then play a few by ear. I really wouldn’t change much. Maybe staying at a different place, but it all depends on lodging costs and what deals can be had.

 

 

 

APPLIED AND APPROVED: DELTA BUSINESS AMEX FOR 70K MILES

I just referred my wife to this card as this is not a current public offer.

In March of 2018, I applied and was approved for Delta Business Platinum American Express card. The offer was 70k points, plus $100 credit on Delta in the first 3 months, for a $195 annual fee. Just recently there was the same public offer, but that expired a few weeks ago. However I have a referral for the same 70k points after meeting $3k spend in the first 3 months (no $100 credit though). Plus I get 10k bonus points. So if course I referred my wife. There are a whole bunch of benefits with this card like 10k MQMs, companion certificate, and free checked bags. Of course the 70k points is what draws people in though.

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The application took a whole 2 minutes and my wife was put in pending stage with a request to call AMEX to verify business information. We have had a small personal business we pay taxes on since 2010. My wife hates having to call in to verify information though. The next day I wrote down some of the general company information like revenue, income, why she needs another card, etc. Then we made the call to AMEX. After confirming her identity, she was instantly approved without having to talk to a live person! We have both have had several business cards in the past few years, and it seems like AMEX just wants to quickly verify your information and phone number to approve.(I have had to call AMEX on my business cards as well in the past)

Think you don’t have a business- well have you sold something on eBay this year? or held a garage sale? You don’t need millions of dollars in revenue to have a business. You don’t need a Tax ID number either, just your social security number is fine.

After using the card we will easily have 75k Delta miles. These miles can be used for 3 round trip economy tickets in the US, or a one way business class ticket to London, Paris or other destinations in Europe.

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JFK-LHR openings in Business Class

In 2016, our family took  our vacation together using Delta Miles to fly on Virgin Atlantic’s Upper Class to London. Our kids have been spoiled since then.

 

If you are interested in this non-public offer, here is the link!

http://refer.amex.us/DAVIDT2yiK?xl=cpce

 

2019 TAHITI VACATION ON POINTS

We recently booked our 2019 summer vacation, or a least one of them. As I wrote about here, we passed on an African Adventure for Tahiti. Well here is how we booked a great vacation mostly on points and miles.

There are not a ton of flights to Tahiti from the mainland US.  You can find some decent point deals coming from Australia or from Asia though. We wanted to have minimum time away from work, so as much as we would have loved to spend some time in Australia or Singapore, it just didn’t work out for us. The way this trip works out, my wife only has to take 3.5 days off, which means we have time to go on another summer adventure.

For our flight out to Tahiti, we started looking at using American Airlines miles to fly on Air Tahiti Nui from LAX to PPT. When looking on AA’s website, you will see no award availability. The only place to see award availability is on Expert Flyer. For the dates we wanted they had up to 9 economy seats, but no business seats from LAX. They often have 9 economy seats, but very rarely have business class seats open.

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Just example, not our actual dates

You have to call AA to book this, and inform them that Air Tahiti Nui uses the code “F” for economy. Even when I told an agent this, it took me 3 phone calls before the final agent knew what to do. Now I am coming from OKC where flights can be a pain. We ended up finding a flight from DFW-LAX to get us there in time to make our LAX-PPT flight. Unfortunately we could not find an saver award flights from OKC-DFW, so we will rent a car and drive the 3 hour drive from OKC to DFW. A one way rental will be about $200, but that’s not bad in the big scheme of things, but when we are flying the rest of the way for only $5.60 plus 40k AA miles per person, its now like paying $55 a person.

For the way back we are booked an Air France from PPT-LAX. (Air France continues from LAX-CDG, but we aren’t making that flight…) AF is a member of the Flying Blue mileage currency so you can look there for award travel. You have to login, but their website is pretty easy to use. I usually search for 1 ticket and then for 4 ticket to compare the difference in availability. For the dates we wanted, I was able to find 3 tickets at 70k miles each, but the 4th ticket at 90,500 miles in business class from PPT to LAX (Plus $150 in taxes and fees).

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Just example, not our actual dates

I called Flying Blue and was able to put these tickets on hold as 2 separate reservations for 72 hours. I then slept on it and transferred 320k AMEX points to my flying blue account. This was an instant transfer. I then called Flying Blue a day later and almost had a heart attack. I had the confirmation number, but they couldn’t find it. After about 20 minutes though, they found it and it was booked! I have flown on an AF 777 in Business class a few times from CDG-ATL before. Its just OK as its in a 2-3-2 configuration. I went online to pick my seats for LAX-PPT and saw this is a new configured 1-2-1 plan and pretty happy about that.

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While I was booking the flight, I was also looking at hotel availability. I was able to find 2 nights during our stay at the Hilton Moorea for 80k points a night.(or $672 for a standard room)

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Just example, not our actual dates

I can’t find any other point hotel openings at any of the other hotels like St. Regis, Le Meridian, IHG, Conrad, etc. So I also booked 4 nights at the Hilton in an overwater bungalow using my Citi Pretige card where you get the 4th night free. This is kind of my backup plan if we cant find hotels with point openings. Its fully canceable until a week beforehand.

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Hopefully some point openings will come up between now and next year. Especially since it seems like Marriott brands in Bora Bora are not releasing some point openings at their higher end hotels. Although word has it that between Dec 11th and Dec 31st, they will be open (if available) during an IT conversion. Then we also plan on staying a few nights in Tahiti at the Le Meridian which does actually have point availability at 35k points (or about $370) per night.

So basically we are using miles to get there, but none of this is searchable using a United, Delta, or AA website.