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.

Sheraton – Salzburg, Austria

Hotel Review

The Sheraton Salzburg could not be in a better location and the hotel was beautiful.  My room looked out over the Mirabell Gardens, famous as setting for much of the Do Re Mi song from The Sound of Music movie.  A two block walk takes you to the river Salzach and into old town where Mozart once lived and filled with small shops and tourist traps.  The staff was super and I wish I had been here more than one night.

The only possible criticism I could level at this property was the fairly slow wi-fi network.  Perhaps it was a temporary issue while I was there but was noticeable.

Final Grade: A

Points and Dollars

At the time of my booking, the best rate was $187 USD.  The standard point redemption was 12,000 points per night which would have yielded a redmption value of 1.56 cents per Starpoint.  Alternatively, I could book at “Cash & Points” award for 4,800 points plus $90 per night which pushes the redemption value up to a little over 2 cents per Starpoint.  Since I earned 632 Starpoints due to my Gold Amenity and spend on incidentals during my stay, it was as if I only redeemed 4,168 points which would take the redemption value to 2.3 cents per Starpoint. 

For my one night stay, my total bill was $281 with tax. As a result, I earned 632 Starpoints based on the following breakdown:

  • Base points = 41
  • Elite 50% bonus = 21
  • Gold Amenity = 250
  • SPG AMEX (2 points per dollar) = 320

Sheraton Meadowlands – Seacaucus, NJ

Hotel Review

The Frequent Traveler University (FTU) event brought me to this property located just off the NJ Turnpike and Rte. 3 by the Meadowlands.  Check-in was fine and I receieved a pretty standard room.  As a SPG Gold member, there is no access to the Club level or lounge.  Instead, you get a choice of free internet or a free drink or some other amenity.

I took the internet option but have to say that the wireless internet in this hotel was the slowest I’ve had for a while.

The meeting facilities themselves were very good.  Their is a Starbucks in the lobby and the restaurant and bar was nice.  There are several nearby restaurant and shopping options but make sure you have clear directions on how to get back to the hotel because it can be tricky.

Incidentally, had dinner at Minado, a Japanese seafood buffet in nearby Little Ferry.  It was outstanding!

I’m not sure I would stay here on next visit as there are plenty of options in the area, but wouldn’t go out of my way to avoid it, either.

Final Grade: B

Points and Dollars

My total spend for my two nights was $351.

For this, I earned 626 base points SPG Elite 50% bonus of 313 points.  Since I charged it to my SPG American Express Card, I will also receive another 702 points (2 points per dollar) for a total of 1,641 points.

Travel Executive Summit Recap

This morning’s Travel Executive Summit was well-attended and featured a couple of high powered panels moderated by Randy Petersen.  The morning session was a robust debate about the role of loyalty points and whether they will evolve into something like currency.  I tend to side with the folks who think this movement would significantly degrade their role in program loyalty.

The second panel featured senior level reps from several hotel loyalty programs including upscale Hilton HHonors and Starwood Preferred Guest.  It was clear in listening to them, that the decisions they make and the motivation behind their plans are to reward and show value to their loyal customers.  That may sound a more than a bit obvious (after all, they are called loyalty programs) but if you read enough flaming posts on the internet about these program you might need to be reminded.

Tonight, it is the opening reception of Frequent Traveler University with two jam-packed days of information ahead.

Westin Crown Center – Kansas City, MO

Hotel Review

I was anxious to try out my new Starwood Gold status that I recently activated for free via my AMEX Business Platinum benefits.  I have not stayed at many SPG properties having been a very loyal Hilton traveler with occasional stays at Marriott properties as my back up.  However, having read so many rave reviews of Starwood and having had a really nice stay at the W Mexico City last year, I decided to give some of their properties a try this year even though their small footprint (at least relative to Hilton) eliminates them as an option on many trips.

In this case, the Westin was the hotel of choice due to their proximity to my client I was meeting.  On arrival, check-in went smoothly with a very proficient front desk clerk.  He informed me that I had been upgraded to the Preferred floor.  Translated, this means a pretty basic room on a high level floor (16) with a decent view.

After check-in, I headed downstairs to catch the second half of the Kansas Jayhawks basketball game at the lively brassiere on the lobby level.  A bit more character than the typical hotel bar and an attentive wait staff. This was probably the best service experience of the stay.

Nice, spacious lobby area

This property is connected to the Crown Center, a quirky shopping mall owned by the founders of Hallmark Cards who are headquartered in the same complex.  At some point, it was obviously one of the premier hotels in the area, but it was a disappointment to me.  It was built in the late 1960’s and, as is noted on many review sites, it is tired and has the problems associated with age – slow running bath drains, pitting and rust on brass fixtures, ancient mini-fridges, etc.

From an amenity perspective, I was surprised there was no newspaper for me at my door in the morning but found one at the front desk so no big deal.  However, there is no free Internet at Gold status, no breakfast, and no free business center.  In fact, other than being able to print my airline boarding pass for free, there was a charge to use the business center computers.  A rate of $5.95 per 15 minutes plus $.40 per printed page at black and white and $1.00 per page color seems outrageous to me.  When you add in $15 for self-parking or $19, you start to feel like there are a lot of extras that have to be paid that are not included in a fairly high room rate for the area.

Final Grade:  C

Points and Dollars

I spent $293.84 and earned 627 SPG points due to my Gold status (valet parking, taxes, etc. do not count towards points).  In addition, I will earn another 882 SPG points because I used my SPG Amex card which earns at 3x points for dollars spent at SPG properties.