We’ve written a bit here on rsts11travel about FoundersCard, a membership program for entrepreneurs and small/medium business operators that provides lots of travel, business, and lifestyle benefits for an annual fee of $295-595 (usually $395). We’ve also answered questions on various travel forums about it. But we haven’t really given a detailed review.
The short summary I’d give would be that, if you run a business or work for a small business where you manage your own travel, or if you find yourself in Las Vegas or Lake Tahoe or Atlantic City more than once a year, it’s pretty easy to make up the value of the membership fee without too much effort. If you travel more, use business and lifestyle services (more on that shortly), or buy technology for your business, it truly becomes a no-brainer. If you are limited to corporate travel or no travel and don’t use business services, it’s probably not for you.
We’ve been members for about three years now, with Robert (the site owner) having the annual membership and his partner having the spouse membership (which is a one-time fee for life). The first year we saw about $1,000 in value, and the second year at least half that (which exceeded the total cost of membership). The third year was looking a bit light due to less travel, but in one week in Las Vegas we recouped this year’s cost and then some.
A caveat for anyone considering membership: If you are choosing to apply because of one benefit, keep in mind that there’s no guarantee that any particular benefit will be renewed from year to year, or will remain the same from year to year. Think about a range of benefits that may be of use to you before putting the money down, to minimize the disappointment if your one sacred benefit goes away in a few months or a year.
Welcome back to rsts11travel. Today we have a story of a hotel redemption that came to 3.6x the TPG valuation for the points in question, and the story of a hotel about due for redemption.
We’re members of a car club for a particular American car platform (the GM Kappa platform, as seen in Pontiac Solstice and Saturn Sky convertible roadsters), and we had a run a couple of hours from home earlier this month. It wasn’t so far as to warrant an overnight before the run, but with it being in the fringes of wine country, we decided to stay overnight after the run.
We chose the $75 cash plus 6,000 World of Hyatt Points option, intending to use a travel eraser card to cover the room copay and taxes/fees and breakfast. Turns out this was an unexpectedly excellent value on its own, as the room was renting for $449 and up on Saturday nights. That means $374 of hypothetical room value covered by only 6,000 points, or about 6.2 cents per point. Compare that to TPG’s August valuation of 1.8 cents per point, and it’s pretty impressive.
To be fair, we’d never spend $449 for a quick overnight stay, but considering that we made up the points and more during a work trip to Las Vegas the week before, thanks to the MGM Resorts partnership with Hyatt Hotels, it was still a good deal.
Alas, the hotel, while good, was not up to Hyatt Regency expectations.
The Hyatt Regency Sonoma Wine Country is conveniently located on Railroad Ave in downtown Santa Rosa, blocks from downtown and a LOT of dining and shopping options. It’s a three story hotel with a central courtyard, a modest conference facility, paid self-parking ($10 when charged to the room, possibly a recent change according to some web reviews of the property).
It’s in the process of converting, apparently, from a Hyatt Regency to a regular Hyatt property (“Vineyard Creek” is seen on some of the materials in the hotel, but the corporate branding is still Regency). The restaurant has been closed for a while and has two months of construction left, so the dining options are room service, the small lobby bar, and a breakfast buffet set up daily in one of the convention rooms.
As mentioned, there are lots of great options for dining off property, but if you’re just looking to stay on site for the night, it’s somewhat suboptimal. We considered Guy Fieri’s Tex Wasabi’s, Russian River Brewing, and Toad in the Hole Pub, before deciding on Perch + Plow on the old courthouse square about half a mile from the hotel.
The room itself was spacious and comfortable, but felt more like an Aloft class hotel, or maybe a W, as opposed to a flagship property. It also fell short in the lighting category, with no switched lighting beyond the bathroom and entryway, and the corner between the bed and the bath (on the right above) being very dark in the evening even with the lights on. Our room was shower only, no tub, but unlike many of the hotels we stayed in recently, it did have a coffeemaker (with the disposable plastic filter trays and powdered “creamer”) and mini-fridge (no mini-bar, but that’s okay with us).
We didn’t get photos of this, but the power source arrangement was unique. The desk, the tv stand, and both sides of the bed headboard had an AC outlet and two USB charging ports, which made it easy to charge up all of our devices overnight. We’re used to one or two inconvenient outlets, or a lamp with one outlet in it, so this was a very modern offering that was unexpected.
For the property as a whole, aside from the restaurant being closed, things were acceptable. The staff were very friendly and helpful, even when we left our card keys in the room (and couldn’t get out of parking or back up to the third floor without them). The breakfast buffet, which is effectively a pop-up restaurant with omelet station, was pretty good as well (although it wasn’t free–$25.73 each with tax and tip). The $10/car parking charge was annoying, and unexpected for California wine country hotels, but we’ve paid far more for parking elsewhere before.
Mobile checkout worked quickly and seamlessly from the Hyatt mobile app, which also unexpectedly showed a current tally of room charges when we checked while checked-in. That saved us having to turn the TV on to look at the folio before checking out. We’re hoping the other major brands bring that functionality to their mobile apps as well, if it’s not already hidden away.
So wrap up the story for us
We were not blown away by the Hyatt Regency Sonoma Wine Country hotel, but for the redemption value and location, we were not disappointed. If availability leaned that way, or if we wanted to walk to Guy Fieri’s place, we’d be happy to return, hopefully with the restaurant in operation.
Odds are, though, our preference would be a return to the Renaissance in Sonoma, although it will eat 40-60k points per night (or 22-27.5k plus $165-225 depending on season).
Where have you stayed in Sonoma County for a good redemption value or even just a good wine country experience? Share in the comments, or join us on Facebook.
We’ve posted an updated version of the annual summer conference tips and tricks post on rsts11.com today. Feel free to check it out.
After a relatively sedentary winter/spring, I’ve started traveling again, and will be headed to Cisco Live in Orlando next month as well as the Cisco global sales kickoff in August in Las Vegas if all goes well.
I posted some tips and tricks a year ago on rsts11travel, with a focus on Las Vegas. A lot of the advice there is still relevant. In this post I’ll focus on hotel promotions you should look into, as well as some new product recommendations (with affiliate links, so you can help with my gadget addiction and hosting fees).
Update 2018-02-01: The FoundersCard/Total Rewards partnership has been renewed. See below for details.
It looks like the news has been filtering out for two months, but somehow we just learned of this today. Caesars Entertainment has made some notable adjustments to the Total Rewards tier benefits for 2018.
For many Diamond members, and most Seven Stars members, this won’t be a severe downgrade. If you stay at Caesars properties regularly and leave a lot of money in the casino, you’ll probably be okay. But for people barely squeaking in to Diamond (or getting in through tier matching or FoundersCard), you’re going to notice some differences.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”→
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.