Trip Recap – Miles, Points, Costs

After my visit to Venice, it was back on the train to Milan Central Station and then onto Milan’s Malpensa airport on the Malpensa Express. I was able to get a great overnight rate at the Hilton Garden Inn near the airport for only 30 euros plus 8,000 HHonors points. To return home, I was able to book a one-way business class fare on Delta for just 62,500 and, unlike my experience with American on my flight to Vienna, got the promised flight configuration with Delta’s excellent lie-flat product on a 767.

No doubt that I’ve had a great trip and really enjoyed seeing some new places.  After all is said and done, I logged the following mileage:

  • Plane – 9,693 miles
  • Train – 570 miles
  • Bus – 621 miles
  • Ride-share – 305 miles
  • Bike – 26 miles
  • Walk – ???

This is not a trip that I could ever imagine affording if I was paying the full, retail cost. Of course, frequent flyer miles and hotel points are not “free” in the sense that they represent previous expenditures of time and money, but they can be heavily leveraged if one has flexibility of dates and destinations.

Here were my final costs:

  • Flights – $343 / 65,000 Delta points / 50,000 AA points
  • Hotels – $733 USD / 176,412 HHonors points / 4,000 SPG points
  • Trains/Buses – $255
  • Local Transportation – $100 (approximately)

Business class flights round-trip to Europe can run from $3,000 USD on up to $8,000 and these mileage redemption levels were steals. I averaged less than $50 per night on hotels, out of pocket, by using points pretty much everywhere  but Milan and Venice. Many of the rates were “cash and points” which offer some of the best values. My travel on bus and train was ridiculously cheap and almost always a good experience. I was doing great on my local transportation costs until my hotel selection in Ljubljana, which incurred 24 euros for two round-trips to city center, and the water taxis in Venice that were 8.50 euros for each trip.

As far as food, I’m not sure there was much more expense than when I’m home. Breakfast was included almost everywhere either in the rate or due to hotel status. Dinners were taken in Executive Lounges when staying at the nicer Hilton properties. I got two lunches and a dinner provided during my business meetings in Prague. And, I don’t tend to eat very expensive dinners on the road by myself.

In total, I got to visit 9 cities in 8 countries, most of which I had not been to before. Of the 9 cities, six of them were country capitals. No doubt it was a great trip and I hoped you enjoyed following along. If you ever decide to do this type of trip, I hope that this blog helps.

Hampton Inn – Waterloo: New Option in London

Over the years I’ve been visiting London, I’ve had a chance to stay in many of their properties in and around central London.  In the past two years, they have expanded their DoubleTree brand and have now introduced the Hampton brand.

This property offered an outstanding “Points and Money” option for the dates of my travel and, given the high cost of hotels in London, I jumped at it.  This four night stay cost me 20,000 points and 55 GBP per night.  My total bill was right about 250 GBP – the equivalent of just over $400 USD in a town where nice hotels routinely run to $250 USD per night and higher.

The location, 157 Waterloo Rd., is just two blocks south of Waterloo Station, a major transportation hub and a fairly short walk of 15 minutes can take you past the Southbank area and over the river to the West End.  Several restaurants and pubs are in close proximity and the famous Old Vic theatre is on the same block.

I did have the opportunity to have dinner at the very popular pub The Fire Station, which is named for the building it inhabits with ample evidence of its previous function.  This place is absolutely packed after work but offers a separate dining area that has a high-end menu and excellent steak offerings.  A ribeye dinner with two pints of beer ran to 42 GBP, so it is not inexpensive but I was very happy with the meal.

The Hampton is very modern, the rooms were comfortable and clean, and the service was always outstanding.  They have been open for only two months but seem to have hit stride quickly.  Their lobby has a unique approach with a bar area that is an extension of the front desk and service by the front desk personnel during non-peak times.  It reminds me of a bigger version of Hyatt Place’s combined front desk/bar area.

This is definitely a good option and one that I will check on when making future bookings in the London area.

 

Hilton Munich City – Munich, Germany

Hotel Review

For my first trip to Munich, I was looking for a Hilton property that was well-located, relatively easy to get to, and that offered either a really low rate or a “Points & Money” rate option.  I actually had two separate stays separated by a trip to Austria, but will combine the experience into one review for simplicity.

The Hilton Munich City fit all of my criteria.  Unfortunately, the “easy to get to” portion of the criteria became a major rub and a rare disappointment with Hilton and their management.  Here is what their web site says about transportion:

DIRECTIONS FROM THE HOTEL STAFF

Take the suburban train S8 from “Franz-Josef Strauss” airport (MUC) towards Munich. The train station is between Terminals 1 and 2. Trains run at least every 20 minutes and the journey takes 35 minutes. Get off the train at the Rosenheimer Platz station and follow the signs to ‘Gasteig’. The Hilton Munich City hotel is situated directly above the station. You do not even need to step outside the station, just follow the signs to “Gasteig” and take the elevator to the lobby.

This seemed ideal and upon arrival at the very nice Munich airport, I found the train station and took the designtated train without a problem.  The problem was that the train didn’t stop a the Rosenheimer Platz as the directions said.  Luckily, Iwas paying attention to the stops and realized that we were well past the intended stop when we arrived at the Pasing stop.  I got out and asked about and was told I would have to take a train back in the opposite direction, get off at the Ostbanhof station (East Station) and take a shuttle bus to a stop across from the hotel.

Two hours after I caught the train at the Munich airport, I arrived in the Executive Lounge at the hotel a sweaty, upset mess.  When the pleasant clerk asked, “Did you have a good trip in?” I replied honestly but not angrily.  She was obviously aware that the station had been closed for repairs.  I told her that I thought the Management had done a terrible mis-service to their guests by having the wrong information on the website and that they needed to change the information on the site.

What was perhaps most disappointing to me was that management never made any attempt to contact me to apologize or make sure they understood my issue.  I would have expected more whether I was a non-HHonors member, much less as a Diamond.  And, they have never changed the information on their website. 

It does turn out that the construction work only affects weekends and during the week, the station could not be more convenient, as advertised.  But, I have to think I was not first person to have wasted a lot of time and effort and that I won’t be the last.  In fact, this could be vastly more disastarous for a traveler who is not familiar with train systems, doesn’t speak German, etc.

There were a couple of other small misses on my second stay – an incorrect room service order; a completely empty mini-bar on check-in; no bath mat in the restroom.  None of these a major issue but, taken together, enough to warrant some attention from management.

The hotel location, once there, was excellent with a 10 minute walk bringing you across the river and into a wonderful outdoor market/beer garden and another few steps to the Marienplatz.

Final Grade: C

Points and Dollars

At the time of my booking ,the AAA (American Automobile Assoc.) rate, that allows cancellation, was $287 USD per night.  The standard point redemption was 40,000 points per night which would have equaled a redmption value of .72 cents per HHonors point.

Alternatively, I could book at “Points & Money” award for 20,000 points plus $69.24 per night. This would total to $207.72 which includes tax, which you have to pay on the cash outlay portion of the stay, plus 60,000 HHonors points. While you don’t earn HHonors points on the “Money” portion of the rate, you do earn points on incidentals and also receive a couple of the bonuses normally attached to Hilton stays. Since I earned 8,300 HHonors points on this stay (making my net point cost 51,700), my redemption value comes out to a very respectable 1.26 cents per point.

For my three night stay (total), my total bill was $281 with tax. As a result, I earned 8,300 points based on the following breakdown:

  • Base points = 692
  • “Points and Points” bonus = 346
  • Diamond 50% bonus = 346
  • Q3 Triple Points Promo = 1,384
  • AMEX on-line booking bonus = 1,000
  • Diamond MyWay Bonus =2,000
  • HHonors Surpass card by AMEX (9 points per dollar) =2,532

Hilton Olympia – London, UK

Hotel Review

For a trip to London this summer, about three weeks before the Olympics, I wanted to find a Hilton property that was offering a Points and Money option as London can be exruciatingly expensive during the summer months.  On recent trips, I have tried some Hilton properties that I have not been to before and on this trip I ended up at the Hilton London Olympia hotel in Kensington.  I have stayed out in Kensington before and while it is not right where I usually need to be, it is a fairly good base to operate from and typically has lower priced options than the West End/Mayfair areas.

On my initial night, I had a room that faced to the front of the hotel which is on Kensington High Street. Unfortunately, my window did not seal particularly well and there is mammoth construction going on directly across the street on a new apartment complex.  The noise was enough to prompt me to ask for a different room.  While I was out for the day, the staff moved my belongings to a nice, quiet room on the back side of the hotel and all was well with the rest of the stay.

The hotel was fine.  There was nothing particularly striking about it but they did have a nice restaurant/bar on the mezzanie level, Society Restaurant , that was nicely appointed and had a upscale feel to it.  The biggest issue is one that not much can be done about – its location.

The hotel is right next to the Olympia Exhibition center.  It was definitely my sense from several walks around the area that the heyday of this center has passed it by.  As a result, there is a dearth of restaurants, pubs, and shops immediately around the hotel.  Granted, it is only a half-mile walk from the hotel to the Kensington High Street Station but this is just long enough that it makes it a pain in the neck when it is raining or one is in a hurry and it is not far enough to justify a cab ride, either.

Bottom line is that the hotel is fine, be aware of the location and the construction but also give it kudos for its pricing and its willingness to offer Points & Money awards.

Final Grade: B

Points and Dollars

At the time of my booking ,the AAA (American Automobile Assoc.) rate, that allows cancellation, was $228 USD per night. At this rate, my total for the three nights would be $820.76 which includes London’s hefty 20% tax rate. The standard point redemption was 50,000 points per night which would have equaled a redmption value of .547 cents per HHonors point.

Alternatively, I could book at “Points & Money” award for 25,000 points plus $86.82 per night. This would total to $312.58 which includes tax, which you have to pay on the cash outlay portion of the stay, plus 75,000 HHonors points. While you don’t earn HHonors points on the “Money” portion of the rate, you do earn points on incidentals and also receive a couple of the bonuses normally attached to Hilton stays.  Since I earned 5,554 HHonors points on this stay (making my net point cost 69.446), my redemption value comes out to a respectable .73 cents per point.

For my three night stay, my total bill was $354 with tax. As a result, I earned 5,554 points based on the following breakdown:

  • Base points = 432
  • “Points and Points” bonus = 216
  • Diamond 50% bonus = 216
  • AMEX on-line booking bonus = 500
  • Diamond MyWay Bonus =1,000
  • HHonors Surpass card by AMEX (9 points per dollar) =3,190

Homewood Suites – New Orleans, LA

Hotel Review

New Orleans is a fairly popular convention and conference town, so I was there for the second time this year and wanted a hotel that was convenient to the appropriate venues but also had some separation.  The Homewood Suites on Podyras fits the bill.  It is within walking distance to the Superdome, the WWII Musuem, the convention center, and Bourbon Street but not too close to any of them.

The hotel itself was in great condition and I received excellent service.  The internet speeds were very good, the room package was fresh, and they had a large area for their breakfast and happy hour events.  Combine all of this with a decent rate and convenient location and this might be my “go to” location for future visits.  My only disappointment is that this location (nor most of Hilton’s New Orleans properties) did not participate in the Q2 Bonus promo.  I’ll write more on that issue in a separate post.

Final Grade: A

Points and Dollars

For my three night stay, my total bill was $677 with tax. As a result, I earned 18,533 points based on the following breakdown:

  • Base points = 5,970
  • “Points and Points” bonus = 2,985
  • Diamond 50% bonus = 2,985
  • AMEX on-line booking bonus = 500
  • HHonors Surpass card by AMEX (9 points per dollar) = 6,093

Hilton, Delta Score High on Customer Satisfaction Index

My two “go to” travel providers – Delta Airlines and Hilton Hotels – scored well on the American Customer Satisfaction Index that was released a couple of weeks ago.

Hilton scored first in the category beating runner-up Marriott Hotels.  Hilton’s large footprint, range of brands in both price and amenities, and their consistency of service are what keep me coming back to them

Delta scored third in the airlines category behind JetBlue and Southwest but firmly ahead of other “legacy” carriers such as United/Continental, US Airways, and American.  When reading other travel blogs and message boards where Delta’s frequent flyer program, SkyMiles, is held in such low esteem, I always wonder if I should try out some others.  However, as a butt in seat traveler, my number one concern is the product and I don’t think Delta’s can be beat..

Hilton Garden Inn – Pineville, NC

Hotel Review

For a quick trip to the Charlotte area, I was very happy to find a $89 room rate at a Hilton Garden Inn convenient to my meetings.  Check-in was easy and I had welcome letters from the property management both in my check in packet and in my room.  The room was typical HGI with a nice Aeron desk chair and high speed internet that worked very well for me.

They have a nice little fitness facility and pool.  The fitness room has a treadmill, elliptical trainer, and recumbent bike plus their is a nice selection of dumbbells and a bench for lifting.  The cooked to order breakfast was good and service friendly.  On arrival, I noted that their bar had to be the smallest one I had seen in a long time since it had room for exactly two people but noticed this morning that is was gone so it makes more sense knowing that it is a rolling, temp set-up.

Final Grade: A

Points and Dollars

For my one night stay, my total bill was $102.57 with tax. As a result, I earned 4,088 points based on the following breakdown:

  • Base points = 890
  • “Points and Points” bonus = 445
  • Diamond 50% bonus = 445
  • AMEX on-line booking bonus = 500
  • Q2 Double Points bonus =890
  • HHonors Surpass card by AMEX (9 points per dollar) = 918