Trip report: Marriott Marquis Washington DC

[Note: This post was written in early October and got forgotten for a little while. It’s still valid and we’re finally posting this report for your enjoyment.]

We’re back from nearly a week in the nation’s capital, Washington, D.C., for a little bit of sightseeing and a lot of the Splunk annual user conference, .conf2017.

A funny thing happened on the way to the Capitol, so to speak, and we’ll look at the unexpected benefit of using the Admirals Club instead of Centurion Lounge at SFO in a recent post. We also cover the change to Centurion Lounge access for non-Platinum cardmembers in another recent post.

Hotel: The Marriott Marquis, Washington, D.C.

The event was held at the Walter E Washington Convention Center, which is connected by underground tunnels to the Marriott Marquis. Having learned years ago that the event hotel is usually the best hotel for an eventgoing person, I chose to switch from my original reservation at the Grand Hyatt Washington (about 15 minutes walk, with a club room and Explorist status), to the Marriott Marquis (Not quite 15 minutes, but indoors, with a standard room, M Club access, and Gold Marriott Rewards status).

At check-in, the agent acknowledged my request for a feather-free room, and offered a $50 property credit which I promptly used on dinner that night. The lobby was mostly empty and there were only two people checking in at the time, so the process was quick and courteous as expected.

I got a two-doubles room facing the street, and an in-app request for body wash had been fulfilled with a bag of extra toiletries including body wash and hand wash. Marriott uses Thann products, which I’ve been happy with.

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I was disappointed to find that the coffeemaker is one of the disposable-tray models, not the Keurig Mini I’d seen in review photos. It seems the upper floors offer Keurigs, whereas the lower floors offer the standard Marriott coffeemaker (which is almost the same as the standard Hyatt coffeemaker). So my box of Tayst single cup pods stayed in the suitcase, and I actually didn’t use the coffeemaker nearly as much as I’d expected.

Join the Club

Silver, Gold, and Platinum guests receive access to the M Club lounge on the 12th floor, even if they don’t get club rooms. A long, thin room with a nearly-as-long  outdoor patio, the lounge offers coffee, tea, milk, sodas and waters, an espresso/coffee machine, and a still/sparkling water tap 24/7.

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View of Washington from the M Club lounge patio at dusk

In the mornings a modest breakfast was offered, with scrambled eggs, sausage and bacon, potatoes, baked goods, and a few other items along with the regular beverage offerings and orange juice.

In the evenings, a bartender serves drinks (which you can charge to your room), and various hors d’oeuvres are available as well. Later in the evening, dry snacks and take-out style packages were offered, so you could grab some pretzels or other munchies and take them back to your room.

A hotel employee was checking people in for breakfast and hors d’oeuvres, but other times you just needed a qualifying key card to get in.

The coffee was exceptionally adequate, so I only ended up using my room coffeemaker once. It was just as easy to head up to the lounge and get a coffee and a snack.

Hotel Dining and Amenities

The hotel features a couple of dining options that were not disapointing.

  • The lobby bar with a light bar menu and, of course copious drink options
    High Velocity, the sports bar offering lots of televisions and lots of meat (including a good chicken sandwich and some excellent burgers)
  • Anthem, a diner-style restaurant with breakfast and lunch service. The breakfast buffet was a good deal when taken with coffee and juice (as most hotel buffets are).
  • The Dignitary, a bourbon bar next door (which I didn’t make it to)
  • Arroz by Mike Isabella, a southern Spanish restaurant next door (which I also didn’t make it to, but wanted to)
  • There was also a Starbucks in the lobby, which closed at 4pm. I never made in there, but the coffee in the M Lounge was quite adequate.

A small but reasonably-stocked gift shop is located around the corner from the main desk. There is a very convenient CVS pharmacy half a block from the back side of the hotel, which combined with the mini-fridge in the room (under the coffeemaker) could be very convenient for families staying here.

Exploring the Area

This was my first time in Washington in over 30 years, so I was happy to have a day to explore the Capital before my convention began.

washington-dc-hike-201709

I was quite surprised with the convenience of the hotel’s location; my tourist walk started with a bit less than a mile’s walk to the White House, continuing around it to the National Mall, the Washington Monument, the National World War II Memorial, and on to the Lincoln Memorial. The final walking tally was a bit over two miles, and I decided to take a ride-share back to the hotel from there.

If you’re visiting Washington, be aware that not everything is open, and not everything is as open as it used to be. For example, since repairing a crack in the Washington Monument from the 2011 earthquake, they found that the elevator needed to be replaced as well, so the Monument itself is closed through at least 2019. And for those of you wanting to get close to the fence at the White House, you probably won’t be able to. Security is very visible and there are additional layers of fencing all around, and line corrals near the Pennsylvania Ave gates.

Some coworkers and I went back out a couple of nights later for a night-time bus tour of the landmarks. For $39, it was two hours well spent, with an entertaining guide and only minimal interaction with tree branches in the open-top double-decker bus.

Most meals were taken at the hotel, or provided by the conference at the convention center. However, I did have a chance to visit a couple of restaurants, specifically the Rocket Bar, and Matchbox in Chinatown twice. I was quite pleased with Matchbox’s mini burgers (their apparent claim to fame) during a party, and returning with a colleague the next day we had a chance to enjoy the tomato mozzarella arancini and a pizza.

Those are our highlights from the trip, both at the hotel and around the City. I’d intended to visit Martin’s Tavern in Georgetown, where Senator John F Kennedy proposed to Jacqueline Bouvier in 1953, but didn’t make it quite that far out of the center of the capitol this time.

What do you think we missed? What are your go-to locations in Washington for dining, sightseeing, or just relaxing?

 

Photo credits: Map courtesy of Google Maps and its contractors. All photos (C) 2017 by Robert Novak, taken during this trip.

 

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Quick take: Starwood Preferred Guest quarterly promo

This just in:

The latest quarterly promotion for Starwood Preferred Guest members is available for registration now.

spg-q4-2017

Go ahead and register now, even if you don’t have Starwood stays planned. Check the links on the linked page to see if the ones you do plan are offering the bonus points. And remember that the SPG/Uber promotion applies after your first qualifying stay per year.

Quick Take: Rideshare partnerships to double/triple dip

Most of our readers are rideshare users, whether Lyft or Uber or both. And most of you also use other travel providers, right? What if you could take advantage of multiple promotions to make the most of your rideshare usage?

Well, you can, and in this quick take we’ll point you toward the ones we know about. If we miss any, let us know in the comments and we’ll update accordingly.

Lyft

We’ve found two Lyft partnerships that you can sign up for as a rider, and one driver promotion as well. Check your Connected Services page while logged into Lyft to see if you’re already registered.

JetBlue (Lyft, JetBlue) offers 30 TrueBlue points for every airport ride you take with Lyft. Incidentally, rides near an airport may count; we’ve seen a number of Las Vegas Strip rides report the 30 point credit in the app, even going from hotel to hotel, although this may only apply if one of your ride endpoints is adjacent to the airport (i.e. Mandalay Bay complex).

Delta (Lyft, Delta) offers 1 Delta SkyMile per dollar spent on rides, and through November 1, 2017, 3 SkyMiles per dollar on airport rides.

Shell Fuel Rewards (Lyft, Fuel Rewards) has a special offering for Lyft Drivers only (not riders). If you’re in the driver’s seat for Lyft, this one will be worth looking into, but for riders/travelers, it’s not so useful.

Uber

We’ve found two Uber partnerships that you can sign up for, and two you may already be getting. Check your Rider Profile page to see if you’re already connected.

Starwood Preferred Guest (Uber, Starwood) lets you earn 1 Starpoint per $2 spent with Uber anytime, and 2 Starpoints per $1 spent with Uber during a Starwood stay. There is a catch, in that you have to have one qualifying Starwood stay before the points promo will be effective. Also, it appears that only paid nights on “eligible rates” qualify to activate the promotion.

American Express Platinum (Uber, Amex) also offers a valuable Uber benefit, as long as you have a Platinum charge card linked to your account (you don’t even have to pay for rides with it). As of Summer 2017, Amex Platinum cardmembers receive $15/mo in Uber credits, with a $20 December bonus (or $35 total for December), as an automatic benefit of the expanded annual fee. Uber VIP status is also granted where available. See our earlier coverage of the Platinum changes, and remember that Platinum *credit* cards like the Delta cards do *not* count for this benefit.

American Express Membership Rewards offers 2x MR points on Uber rides charged to an eligible American Express card that earns MR points, or you can use points to pay for an Uber ride. The earning is a better deal, in that your Uber redemption is only 1 cent per MR point. But you can choose on each ride when you apply an eligible Amex card.

VISA Local Offers (Uber, VISA) is also worth a look. This is a program that is tied to specific credit cards, and if you use a card registered with Local Offers at a venue offering the promotion, you are eligible for a credit to your Uber account based on spend at the venue. We’re not seeing this option in our app though, so your mileage may vary (or we may have already registered for it).

Credit card travel benefits may apply

Remember that some credit cards offer promotional bonuses for travel expenses including rideshare spend.

Cards like Discover, Chase Freedom, and the like offer quarterly categories that may include ground transportation, but you’ll need to register each quarter and keep track of the categories. It doesn’t look like Discover or Chase have any ground transportation promos for the rest of 2017 though, but check again in December.

Capital One has been known to offer promos with their Quicksilver cards.

Chase Sapphire Reserve and Preferred have a year-round bonus earn for travel spend (see right) which generally includes taxis and rideshares.

And of course, cashback cards are a reasonable option if you don’t have a better option, especially those like Citi Double Cash that offer a flat 2% back.

Did we miss any tips and tricks that you’ve used to optimize your rideshare benefits? Share in the comments and we’ll investigate and update appropriately.

Disclosure: All offers are valid as of September 5, 2017, as noted; no links in this post (above this disclosure) as of September 5 are affiliate or referral links. If you do still need to sign up for Lyft (RSTS11TRAVEL) or Uber (DHOVJ), you can use the codes/links  just mentioned, or the links at our Support Rsts11Travel page.

Trip report: Standard King at the Beverly Hilton, Beverly Hills, California

A couple of weeks ago, my niece sent me a note letting me know she was on my coast for a change, staying in LA for a couple of weeks with her grandmother. Since I hadn’t seen her since last fall’s Disney World trip, and won’t be down there for another year probably, I decided to try to make a road trip work.

After looking at major chain locations within half an hour of the suburb she was staying in, we decided to try the historic Beverly Hilton, perhaps obviously a Hilton property, a few blocks from Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. Known for the Daytime Emmys and Golden Globes as well as numerous other entertainment industry events, it’s an older hotel (opened 1955) that’s seen some interesting ownership changes and refurbishments over the last 60+ years.

There is a brand new Waldorf Astoria adjoining the Beverly Hilton, but the rates would’ve been exorbitant for what was meant to be a crash pad stay, not a spa getaway. Maybe next time we’ll try something on that scale.

Thanks to expensive work stays at New York City Hilton properties over the last couple of years, we easily had enough Hilton Honors points for a two night stay. We booked with about thirty hours notice, dug into local exploration options, and packed up for the drive from San Jose to Los Angeles.

Staying at the Beverly Hilton

Unbeknownst to us, the weekend we visited had the Television Critics Association conference and the PBS conference back to back, so it was a bit crowded and there were no upgrades available. We did share air with a number of celebrities, and passed Nicole Kidman outside the Lobby Bar at one point.

The only reward rooms available were single king bed rooms, and there were no upgrades available, which complicated things for a two-teens-and-two-adults stay. We got a complimentary rollaway bed, and picked up an air bed for additional sleep space.

Our check-in agent was kind enough to upgrade our complimentary continental breakfasts to buffet passes, in consideration of the lack of a Hilton Honors Gold upgrade. We also got a pod-style coffeemaker, with plenty of pods and a bonus bottle of water, at no extra cost.

The King Bed Standard room went for 60,000 Hilton Honors points a night, including two bottles of Evian a night and breakfast passes for four. For super-short notice we would’ve been looking at $328/night, or $365/night for the breakfast plan, plus 15.5% + $0.80/day taxes.

That comes to $844.75 or 0.7 cents per point. The Points Guy has a valuation of 0.6 cents, and we got a total of four upgraded breakfasts (about $15 value each) and three bonus buffet breakfasts over the course of the weekend (about $50 value each), so we came out well ahead of the average.

The hotel and the room

The room we stayed in was a single king room, at about 356 square feet with an odd shower/tub (left) and a view of the driveway and one of the hotel signs (shown at the top of the page). It felt larger than, say, the basic rooms at the LAX Marriott or the Sheraton in Midtown Manhattan, but wasn’t all that cramped.

The bathroom had a sliding door, more of what you’d expect for a closet than a bathroom. For family it wasn’t too bad, as we’ve been in closer quarters, but there wasn’t much soundproofing from the sliding door.

Coffeemakers are available on request, at no charge, featuring a dual pod brewer and Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf coffee pods. A reasonable minibar is also provided, with an unchilled courtesy shelf in case you need to stash some leftovers.

The parking was either valet and self-parking, at $42/night including tax either way. The hotel also advertised a courtesy vehicle for trips of a mile or less from the hotel, but they were backed up due to crowds (even with the critics show having their own limo service), so after 20 minutes we called an Uber (which arrived at the same time as the courtesy vehicle).

Dining and sightseeing

We chose to have breakfasts at Circa 55 on the lower level of the hotel, with the standard buffet on Saturday morning and the “champagne brunch,” described as “a Beverly Hills tradition,” on Sunday morning. Our other meals were outside the hotel, to get some different local flavor. We didn’t make it to Trader Vic’s for a Mai Tai, unfortunately.

The included breakfast coupons covered the standard buffet (approx. $30 plus 18% service charge), or an equivalent credit toward other purchases (i.e. the Sunday brunch at $45). I believe the credit also included a proportional credit for the service charge when we upgraded our meal.

Saturday we had a great experience, with an attentive waitress and great service at the omelet station. Sunday, the omelet station was still good, but we waited nearly half an hour from seating to get drinks ordered. It was at opening time for the full buffet, but the property was not crowded so this experience was disappointing. The food was good though. Comparing the $45 “bubbly brunch” to the $95 Sterling Brunch Buffet, which is our regular “tradition” buffet in Las Vegas, I’d say it might have been a bit overpriced on its own, but the typical hotel premium makes it about right.

For the first night’s dinner, we went to Roni’s, a little hybrid Italian/Cajun/Mexican/little-bit-of-everything joint just across Melrose (but on the far side, so a bit of a hike). The food was great, although the TVs on the walls of the small venue were a bit distracting.

Black Pastrami Reuben at Brent’s Deli in Northridge

Two friends from different parts of our lives recommended Brent’s Deli in Northridge, so we took the whole family there after a visit to the Los Angeles Zoo, and we were not even slightly disappointed. Plenty of food was provided for a great value (under $20 each with beverages), and the range of choices was amazing. It’s hard to pass up a good Reuben (the Black Pastrami Reuben is pictured below0, although my niece appreciated her “SF Burger” and a couple of other choices rounded out the table.

While we didn’t make it to these two other options, they’re worth noting. On the corner of Santa Monica and Wilshire Blvd was a Starbucks Reserve location that would’ve been tempting if they hadn’t closed before we finished dinner. These locations tend to have upscale decor and extra beverage choices, including custom sodas, Clover coffee brewers, and sometimes even alcohol.

And on Rodeo Drive amidst the upscale shopping experiences, a tasting room for St Supery winery just opened in August and should be open through August 2018.

Closing thoughts

This trip was unusual, both in the sense of driving my own car in a “distant” location (rather than a rental), and in being able to spend time with my extended family on my coast for the first time ever. The drive was cheaper than flying three of us down on a day’s notice, and we had the chance to stop off at Pyramid Lake on the way home.

I would say the hotel had glamour but not luxury, although it was comfortable and convenient for our needs. The Sheraton Universal might have been more spacious, but I’ve stayed there several times so it wouldn’t have been adventurous (and we might have been tempted by Universal Studios rather than the LA Zoo, which would’ve been costly, especially for a Disney family). We’ve had some spacious rooms at the Coast Annabelle in Burbank (walking distance from the Walt Disney Studios), but the dining there wasn’t all that great.

We’re not all that likely to head back very soon, since the family is on the other coast most of the year and my job doesn’t take me to the LA area very much anymore. But it was a fun experience and a reasonable value for the hotel experience we had.

 

Magic Kingdom For Sale? Making the most of your Disney adventure from a rewards perspective

As we head into the weekend, rsts11travel’s Robert Novak is here with an apology to Terry Brooks and a tip sheet for finding great deals or saving money in general with your trips to the Disney theme parks and facilities.

I (Robert) worked for the Walt Disney Company for three years, and in that time I had the best deal you can get without being on the board or executive staff of TWDC: a magical device formerly (and generally) known as the Silver Pass.

Given to full-time salaried employees after two weeks, and hourly staff after a substantially longer time, the Silver Main Entrance Pass gave cast members (inside and outside the parks) free entrance for themselves and their registered/benefitted dependents, or for a fixed number of guests if one didn’t have spouse or dependents to report. The pass was valid for something in the neighborhood of 300+ days per year.

This made me pretty popular when I was at events near the parks, and I also got some free passes every six months to give to friends or family. But since I didn’t live near the parks, I didn’t use these benefits very often.

People would often ask me to get them discounts, but the discounts for outright purchase of tickets were pretty light (similar to the discounts Apple gives on current products to employee purchase programs–not very much at all). So I surprised friends by telling them to go outside the company. Now that I don’t have the pass anymore, I too go outside the company, and I’ll share some guidelines that will help you make the most of your efforts and funds. Continue reading “Magic Kingdom For Sale? Making the most of your Disney adventure from a rewards perspective”

Travel Quickie: Status Match for Wyndham Rewards and Caesars Total Rewards

We saw this mentioned on Doctor of Credit over the weekend… while Starwood Preferred is no longer a Caesars Entertainment partner, you now have the option to pair up Wyndham Rewards with Total Rewards, getting a status match in whichever direction makes the most sense for you.

It wasn’t entirely clear where to set this up, in Total Rewards or in Wyndham Rewards, but a quick Google site search found the www.wyndhamrewards.com/caesars/ portal page. From here you can see what benefits and matches apply today, and start the status match in whichever direction you choose.

Continue reading “Travel Quickie: Status Match for Wyndham Rewards and Caesars Total Rewards”

Quick take: World of Hyatt (and MLife Rewards) promo opportunity

Update below (2017-05-05): Stays that crossed the April 1 boundary count!

Hyatt Gold Passport turned into World of Hyatt in March 2017. The first big promo for World of Hyatt launched recently, offering double base points for your *second* stay and beyond, through June 30, 2017.

Sign up for the “Double Points For Being You” promo here at hyatt.com. You need to be a World of Hyatt member of course (Hyatt Gold Passport members were cut over March 1st).

Continue reading “Quick take: World of Hyatt (and MLife Rewards) promo opportunity”

Travel tips for Cisco Live (and other summer Las Vegas conferences)

[See disclosure/disclaimer at the end if you’re into those things.]

Many of our readers will be headed to Las Vegas over the next couple of months. Whether it’s InteropITX, Cisco Live, VMworld, or something else, you may be curious about the quickest way to optimize your rewards and your stay while you’re there.

While reading all the other posts on rsts11travel would be the most thorough way to learn your way around Vegas, we figured we’d put together a unified list of things to do and think about as you head to what will be Tech City for much of the summer.

Continue reading “Travel tips for Cisco Live (and other summer Las Vegas conferences)”

A second look at Amex Fine Hotels and Resorts at Delano Las Vegas

It took a couple of weeks, but the rsts11travel review of Aria Las Vegas’s Aria Sky Suites property finally came out this week. One of the prods to stop editing and just post it was that we were booking another stay for this summer that was somewhat related. Not everyone will celebrate a birthday and aim for MLife Gold in one weekend, but about anyone with the right charge card can take advantage of these benefits.

Delano’s all-suite plan makes it a very comfortable place for longer-term stays on the Las Vegas strip

We’ve written briefly about Delano Las Vegas in our Hidden Gems piece earlier this year. It’s one of our favorite properties on the strip, especially when attending an event being held in Mandalay Bay Convention Center. With its small lounge and bar, coffee shop with pastries and snacks, and Della’s Kitchen breakfast/lunch venue, you can get a lot done without passing Michael Jackson, and with Delano itself being a non-smoking, non-casino hotel with a separate entrance, those with sensitivity to noise or smoke can escape those discomforts in their “home” hotel. But you’re a few hundred feet from Cirque du Soleil, the Mandalay Bay casino, their dining options from fast counter service to posh sit-down service, and of course the rest of the strip.

Continue reading “A second look at Amex Fine Hotels and Resorts at Delano Las Vegas”

Changes in Amex Platinum – and 3 reasons to keep the card

Over the last couple of weeks American Express has revealed tweaks to their personal Platinum charge cards. Most of the finance and travel bloggers I read agree that, while Amex has been under pressure to improve their offerings in response to the Chase Sapphire Reserve card, they’ve made changes that were not as much of an improvement as many cardmembers had hoped.

Imagine Bart Simpson pointing at a cake right about here.

In return for a $100/year increase in annual fee (now $550/year), the personal Platinum card offers up to $200/year in Uber credits, 5x Membership Rewards (MR) points on prepaid hotels booked through amextravel.com, and… that’s about it for tangible enhancements.  Continue reading “Changes in Amex Platinum – and 3 reasons to keep the card”