KLM Facebook Promotion

KLM is currently running a Facebook contest where they will award a “Holland Classics” package to one lucky entrant.  The package includes:

• Two KLM Economy Class round-trip tickets to Amsterdam
• A visit to the Keukenhof including a tour and tulip bulb package
• A visit to the Van Gogh Museum
• A cheese tasting by Henry Willig
• A tour through the Amsterdam canals
• A city tour by bus through Amsterdam
• A hotel stay in Amsterdam

To enter:

• Visit the KLM USA Facebook account
• ‘Like’ the KLM USA Facebook account
• Click on the ‘Holland Classics’ tab
• Answer the quiz questions

Why AAA Membership is a “No-Brainer” for Me

It used to be that one got a membership in the American Automobile Association (AAA) for two reasons.  First, you wanted the emergency roadside service in case your battery needed a jump, you ran out of gas, or got a flat tire.  Second, when preparing for a long road trip (in the days before Google Maps, MapQuest, GPS, and the internet) you would get a custom-made “TripTik” that would highlight your route, hotels you might stop at, and the closest thing to turn-by-turn directions you could get in that day and age.

While I still like the peace of mind afforded by the emergency roadside assistance, the number one reason that I keep my AAA membership is that it saves me hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars each year in discounts.  An annual membership to AAA cost $78 but offers discounts on all sorts of services such as:

  • Amusement parks and museums
  • Restaurants
  • Sporting events and movie tickets
  • Retail stores
  • Hotel rooms

The last item is the one that I use over and over again.  On the AAA site, they advertise anywhere from 5% to 15% discounts off of major chains “best rate.”  When booking a reservation with the AAA rate, they are almost always allowed to be cancelled within 24 hours with no penalty.  So, what I will often do is book a room as soon as I know my dates at the AAA rate and then watch for price reductions as I get closer to my stay.  If I find a lower rate, I make a new reservation and cancel my original one.  Or, if my plans become absolutely lock solid and the advance purchase rate is lower than my AAA rate, I’ll make the change.

For instance, I checked a few different hotels for upcoming dates in April (4/10 to 4/13) for various cities with three major chains.  Here is the savings, per night by using the AAA over the next lowest, refundable rate:

 

London

NYC

Shanghai

Kansas City

Hilton

$20

$19

$16

$20

Starwood

$18

$44

N/A

$26

Hyatt

N/A

$37

N/A

$13

Certainly, the pre-paid rates at these hotels were usually lower (although, not always by much) but I would probably be hesitant to lock myself into that situation this far out.  And, I have current reservations coming up where I have the AAA rate and the prepaid rate is now higher so there is no reason for me to switch it.

So, for me, the $78 membership fee saves me hundreds of dollars on hotels and I get the emergency roadside assistance for free, if I need it.  A “no-brainer,” eh?

Global Travel Security Risks

When most people think of travel risks, they think of either an aircraft disaster or a terrorist incident like the hotel attacks in Mumbai or the bombings in Jakarta.  However, most risks are much more mundane and much more common.  Car accidents in China, sanitation in India, pickpockets in Rome, or a twisted ankle in Dubrovnik are the types of things that are more likely to affect your trip.

Still, it makes sense to monitor global hotspots relative to crime, terrorism, and social unrest.  There is  a current article over at Hurman Resource Executive Online that highlights a recent study, 2012 Global Security and Travel Risks, conducted by International SOS and Control Risks that identifies top concerns for business travelers in 2012.

The Arab spring, nuclear disaster in Japan and the worldwide financial crisis — combined with other political and security issues — made last year an “extremely turbulent” one for business travelers, expatriates and their organizations

That’s according to Iain Donald, vice president and director of Global Risks Analysis for the Americas at Control Risks in the New York area.

During a recent webinar, Global Political and Travel Security Risks 2012: Looking Ahead, he said organizations need to take a fresh look at their security and travel policies and procedures in light of past and future global risks, which are becoming “more complex and interconnected.”

Periodically, NoteFromTheRoad will post specific security and safety tips for travel.  You don’t have to be Jason Bourne to stay safe on the road.  Instead, simple preparation and behavior modifications go a long way to keeping you out of harm’s way.

Eleuthera, Bahamas – Trip Report

When most people think of the Bahamas, they naturally think of Nassau, the Atlantis resort, Cable Beach, or maybe a cruise stop in Freeport.  And, I have been to those places and they were lots of fun.  However, from here on out, I will always think of Eleuthera.  My wife and I recently had a chance to rent a house there with a few other couples and completely unwind for a week.

Eleuthera is an outer island that stretches 110 miles from north to south but is only about 2 miles wide.  It has three airports – North Eleuthera (ELH), Governor’s Harbour (GHB), and Rock Sound (RSD).  They basically serve the north, mid-island, and south of the island respectively.  Eleuthera is probably best known as the island where Prince Charles and Lady Diana spent their honeymoon and for a Club Med property that operated there until it was destroyed by Hurrican Floyd in 1999.

Today, the most popular parts of the island for tourists are at Harbour Island at the north of Eleuthera and the Rock Sound area in the south.  This post will focus on our week in the middle of the island between Governor’s Harbour and Palmetto Point.

This part of the island is not for everyone.  There are no fancy resorts and no drinks with umbrellas.  When you go into town to get supplies, you’ll see chickens walking around the streets, goats in pick up trucks, and locals drinking Kalik beer at 8:30 in the morning.  But, you will also find extremely friendly locals, gorgeous beaches, small restaurants that will give you an authentic experience, and places where you can get away from others.

We got to GHB via Bahamasair which I posted about previously.  The terminal at GHB is building of about 1,500 sq. ft. and don’t expect to find an Avis or Hertz rental car counter.  In fact, there are no rental chains anywhere on the island.  Instead, there are a couple of locals who run a rental car service, of sorts.  You will be paying cash and there will be no contract.   You will get a vehicle that is likely to have 150,000 miles or more on it and most of the warning lights on the dash will be lit up from the get-go. 

Our group has been using Stanton Cooper for years and also recommends McClain Pinder.  We got a relatively “new” Astro van that only had about 95,000 miles on it.

We rented a house across from “Club Med” or “French Leave” beach.  You can read a review of this gorgeous strip of beach here

Sunrise - Club Med Beach

Most of our days were spent exploring for isolated beaches or new sites.  We got to see Surfer’s Beach with several surfers in action.  Apparently, we were they during “high season” for waves.  We saw Ten Bay Beach, Twin Beaches, Winding Bay, and, our favorite beach, an unnamed beach on a lagoon just south of Winding Bay.  We spent a day there and during the course of eight hours saw exactly zero other people.

As for dining options, my favorite place has to be The Beach House on Banks Rd., just south of Governor’s Harbour.  It sits right on Club Med beach and offers live music a couple of nights a week.  Other options include Tippy’s, the Buccaneer Club, and Mate and Jenny’s, a pizza place in Palmetto Point.  Your other option is to catch your own meal or buy direct from the fisherman that operate in every little community on the island.

Probably my favorite meal of the week was when the guys were up north in the Gregory Town area.  We stopped at a hut of a bar and asked about dining options.  The guy we asked, Dennis, asked us to hold on a minute and made a quick phone call.  He pointed us to a house on the hill where a young woman carrying her daughter came out to the porch and asked us if we wanted fish or chicken.  I’m sure she was probably Dennis’ daughter or niece or cousin, but the food she served us was great and she was suddenly $40 richer.

Another recommendation is to visit Island Farm which sells fresh bread, local jams and jellies, and assorted fruits and vegetables when in season.  My primary caution is to NOT go to the Friday night fish fry in Governor’s Harbour.  That is, unless you want to watch a bunch of tourists and ex-pats doing the Macarena and other inane dance songs.  Next time, I’m trying the fish fry down in Tarpum Bay.

As you can tell, it was a great, relaxing week.  Please just don’t go the same week we are there..

Hampton Inn – Orlando/John Young Pkwy

Hotel Review

I selected this hotel for a two night stay for me and several employees because it was a perfectly located to our business in the area.  The hotel is only four years old and was a very nice Hampton property.  We had five rooms and we were all happy with the stay.

The only issue I had was related to earning Hhonors points.  Under the T&C of Hhonors points, I’m supposed to be able to get base points for two rooms as long as they are under one folio.  The only problem is that when this is mentioned to the front-line personnel, they seem to have no idea how to do this.  I followed up with a call to their Sales Manager who was very helpful.  Since the folios were already closed out (the desk clerk at check-out had no idea what I was talking about), she offered to give me “Planner Points” for the five rooms.

However, I have not seen these post as of yet, so will have to update the post when, and if, I see them hit my account.

Final Grade: B

Points and Dollars

I had booked the room a month or so ago at the AAA rate of $134.  By checking rates 48 hours in advance of our stay, I was able to rebook the rooms at $109 which netted me a savings of around $250 in base rates fro the five rooms at two nights each.  My total bill came to $1,253.

Based on earning points only on my room, I earned 2,180 base points plus my Diamond 50% bonus and the MyWay 50% bonus.  I also got 1,000 points per night for the Q1 promotion and a 500 point bonus for booking on-line with my AMEX bringing my total to 6,860.  Since I paid for all five rooms with my AMEX Hhonors Surpass card, I will earn 9 points per dollar for another 11,277 points.  Notwithstanding any “planner points” that might arrive, I netted 18,137 Hhonors points.

I also earned 2,012 Delta Skymiles as part of their Q1 promotion.

UPDATE:  The “Planner Points” never came through so I simply sent an e-mail to Hilton detailing my efforts to earn the points for the second room and asking for a credit for the difference in points.  Within two hours, they had it taken care of and responded to me.  This resulted in an additional 4,873 HHonors points. Of those, 2,437 were additional base points which count towards elite qualification.  My new total HHonors total for this stay, with the points earned via the Surpass card, now comes to 23,010.

SpringHill Suites – Newnan, GA

Hotel Review

I used to stay at Marriott properties pretty regularly and have typically found their SpringHill Suites brand to be relatively reliable but nothing particularly special.  And, I’m okay with that.  As a frequent business traveler, I don’t always need to be impressed or “wow’d” by the hotel room.  Clean, affordable, and functional works pretty good for me.

In January, I had a brief one night stay at the SpringHill in Mason, OH that was not worthy of a post in and of itself.  This past week, I had four rooms for one night in Newnan, GA, a location I’ve stayed at a few times in the past couple of years for work with a client.

This hotel serves its purpose but is starting to get a little tired. The green carpet in the hallways and elevators looks older than it probably is and the continental breakfast is pretty simplistic.  But, there was nothing particulary wrong with the hotel and the front desk was responsive to any requests or needs.

Since I had multiple rooms that I was paying for, I wanted to make sure I maximized my reward earnings.  According to Marriott’s T&C, you can earn credit up for up to three rooms as follows:

A Member is eligible to receive Points/Miles for staying at participating Marriott brand hotels or Ritz-Carlton hotels for his/her room and up to two additional rooms. At least one of the rooms must be reserved and registered in the Member’s name and the Member must pay for all rooms, which payment arrangement must be requested at time of hotel check-in. The Member must also stay in one of the rooms. To ensure Points are automatically posted to the correct Membership Account, the Member’s Rewards Program Membership Number must be present on his/her room folio and up to two additional rooms, as applicable.

What I like about this is the simplicity of the process.  As long as my rewards number is in each room’s record, I automatically get the additional credit.  This is much simpler than the Hilton process which I will talk about in an upcoming post.

Final Grade: B

Points and Dollars

For the Mason, OH stay, I spent $75 and earned 670 base points plus a 20% bonus of 134 points.  For my stay in Newnan, GA, I spent $436 dollars for the four rooms and received 970 base points and a 20% bonus of 194 points for each of the three rooms for which I received credit.  Therefore, I spent a total of $511 and earned 4,296 Marriott Reward points.

I charged all of the expenses to my Chase Sapphire Preferred and earned double points for a total of 1,022 Ultimate Reward points.  Finally, all four of these nights counted towards my elite status qualifying and towards the MegaBonus promotion resulting in two free night reward certificates that are good through the end of September.

Clearing the Air: Pollution in China

There is a really good article over at The Economist’s website about the levels of air pollution in China.  When I was in Beijing last summer, the air was absolutely apocalyptic.  You could taste it but you could hardly see through it.  Buildings that were 300-400 yards away could not be seen in the swirling smog.  Twice in the last couple of months, flights at the airport have had to be grounded due to the lack of visibility.

This represents a true health concern for anyone who has respiratory issues.  Reliable data from the Chinese government is hard to come by, hence the reason some are trying to measure pollution levels via satellite imagery as discussed in the article.  Other industrial cities can be just as bad so go prepared and aware.