Hotel Review: Radisson Hotel Trinidad

The Radisson Hotel Trinidad is one of the few hotels you can book with points (44,000 Club Carlson) that has lots of birding options within day trip range.  It’s centrally located in the main city, Port of Spain.  Driving from the airport, this lighthouse is a landmark and signal to start watching for the hotel on the right.  Once you see it, flip a U at the nearest opportunity, come back around and into the hotel’s free parking with security guard.

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We arrived just after dark.  It’s not a good idea to wander around Port of Spain at night.dscn3563

There is a large lobby with the usual services.dscn3565

Room was pleasant, good-sized and the wifi worked well.  dscn3567 dscn3569 dscn3568 dscn3566 dscn3799

In the morning, we could see the view of the Hyatt, the port and the swimming pool down below.

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The night we arrived, we decided to treat ourselves to the revolving restaurant on the top floor-the only one of its kind in the Caribbean.  dscn3570

There are lower priced items on the menu like pastas so this doesn’t have to be too expensive.  It was cool to see the city views change as the restaurant slowly revolved.dscn3571 dscn3572 dscn3573

I’d say this hotel is a good use of Club Carlson points if you have them.  Trinidad can be pricey (as is most of the Caribbean) and the hotel is pretty nice.  Staff were friendly and eager to help and answer questions.  People on Trip Advisor tend to give it 3-5 stars, I gave it 4.

A Pleasant Surprise From Club Carlson & US Bank

A few months ago, Club Carlson got rid of the best benefit on their US Bank Visa card which gave the last night free on any award booking.  Many of us (me included) called in to complain and got 7500 points.  Now, they seem to have realized how much they have alienated their customers and out of the blue have emailed many of their customers (Club Carlson’s Twitter says it was targeted) a free eCert valid anywhere in the world!

CC Bonus3People are reporting on Flyertalk and other blogs that they either got one for each Club Carlson credit card they have or were left out completely.  Luckily, I seemed to make the cut!  Clicking on the red Book Today button lead me to the booking page with my unique eCert code and general promo code pre-filled.

I wasted no time in redeeming it for 1 night in Port of Spain, Trinidad which will be convenient for an evening tour of Caroni Swamp, a top birding spot.

CC Bonus1 CC Bonus2As you can see, I just saved $179 if I had been prepared to pay for this hotel or at least $120 for booking an independent hotel.  Trinidad is small enough that we can drive to all the birding hotspots such as Nariva Swamp, Aripo Savannah, Asa Wright Centre, Yerette and Caroni Swamp so this worked out very well indeed!

5 Hours Left For Big Savings On Club Carlson Panama & India

The lucrative BOGO award night that comes with the Club Carlson Visa will be gone in 6 hours.  However there is an overlap with a new promo to save 25% on Latin American hotels that you can take advantage of if you are quick.  Two nights at the Radisson Summit for 11,250 points!

Radisson SummitMost Club Carlson hotels in India went down as of 1 June so there is a small window of opportunity for a BOGO award there too!

Club Carlson – Good While It Lasted

There are very few hotel programs useful to people who like to get off the beaten path and out into the bush where the birds are.  After a major mass burning of points last year, I was down to 2 useful programs – Club Carlson and IHG.  One day remains on the lucrative benefit of the Club Carlson Visa in which you could redeem one free night for one award night.  Club Carlson did have a few properties that were well located for eco-tourists such as the Summit in Panama,  the Radisson Blu Port Elizabeth and the now defunct Radisson in Tahiti.  I also burned quite a few points to visit Tel Aviv and Nice using the free night benefit while we were in Europe attending the World Parrot Conference in Loro Parque.

I still had ample points for the radisson in San Juan where it would have made a nice base for visits to El Yunque Rainforest but that property has since left the Club Carlson chain.  I managed to use the last few points I had for 2 free nights in Bogota  where we can make a day trip to Chingaza NP and 2 free nights in Minneapolis to visit family next year.  The last few points I have will probably get sent to an airline when I need to bump up the miles.  I’ll be cancelling my Club Carlson Visa when it next comes due.  If they had more properties in places where we will be traveling, I might have kept it but there are just too few Club Carlson hotels in exotic places!

So goodbye Club Carlson, it was nice knowing you for the last few years!

I still have the annual IHG free nights from the Chase card and enough points for some redemptions at airport hotels as required.  IHG is larger and has hotels in more locations I can use.  Otherwise, I will be booking independent hotels and earning airline miles using Pointshound and Rocketmiles from now on!

Any Value In Daily Getaways For Eco-Tourists?

Longtime miles & points junkies will be familiar with the annual US Daily Getaways Program.  In the golden days, it was once possible to leverage cheap Wyndham Rewards points to cheap airline miles and I must admit to taking full advantage in years past.  That all came to a halt last year when Wyndham devalued their transfer ratio and the Daily Getaways put up their price.

This year the promo will run 23 March to 24 April and the first 3 weeks have already been posted.  Since there is no longer any value in airline transfers unless you just need a couple 1000 as a top up, the best reason to buy these points is to use them for hotels.  I know all the miles/points/travel blogs will be covering the best deals in a general sense so I will only address the best deals specifically for eco-tourists who want to use points to stay cheaply some place within a day trip of a good bird watching location.

In all of the examples below, you need to determine if it represents a good value to you.  You need to check if the chain hotel is where you really want to be or would you prefer to just pay for a night in a non-chain hotel.  For myself, I have decided that I will not pay money to stay in chain hotels but I will stay in them if I get an extremely good deal from a credit card.  The only credit cards I deem useful to me are the IHG Rewards & Club Carlson Visa.  I have no interest in any other hotel chain credit cards.

Daily Getaways 1

Daily Getaways Week 1

 

WEEK 1

3 major chains have points on offer, – IHG, Club Carlson & Hilton

IHG does have some good properties in places like Accra, Ghana (day trip to Shai Hills, my review coming soon), Tahiti (between hops to Rimatara & the Marquesas), Panama (day trip to Soberania NP) & Puerto Rico (day trip to El Yunque).  Historically these points won’t sell out quickly as you can buy IHG Rewards using the book & cancel method.

Club Carlson also has a property in Puerto Rico and Panama suitable as above.  I also used the Radisson Blu to good advantage for a day trip to Birds of Eden, Tahiti on a layover and a pre-flight stay in San Jose, Costa Rica.  These points will go moderately fast as they are very useful to anyone who has the Club Carlson Visa card and gets a free night for at least one night booked on points.

The Hilton packages don’t seem to be that great of a value and I don’t see them selling out.  While we did enjoy our stay in Mauritius last year which cost 80,000 points for 2 nights, there is no way I would have spent $500 to purchase 100,000 points for those 2 nights.  We got those points by doing social media games which are no longer running for free.  If we hadn’t had the points, we would have used Pointshound to book something cheap and earn miles.

Daily Getaways 2

Daily Getaways Week 2

 

WEEK 2

Nothing here to interest eco-tourists.  The Choice points on Friday are excellent value when used in Europe but that’s out of scope for this blog.  Here is a good example of a blogger who is making excellent use of this promo for his trip to Europe.  Last year, we used 10,000 Choice Rewards to stay in Venice at a hotel that would have cost over $300!  They are the only thing I see going fast so if you want some you will have to be ready to go right at 1:00 pm ET.  (US time zone as in New York if you need a converter).

Daily Getaways 3

Daily Getaways Week 3

WEEK 3

Once again, nothing of interest to eco-tourists.  The Hyatt packages will go extremely fast because people who want to stay in luxury hotels will snap them up but Hyatt doesn’t have any properties in places that also have good birding.

WHAT AM I DOING?

Sitting out this year!  Since I am a good advance planner, I have already determined that I have enough hotel points for our needs for the next 3 years.  Most of our stays will be at independent properties, I just like them much better and I like having more choice.  Nothing worse than being stuck in a bad location because that’s where your points hotel is!

A Major Weedout Of Hotel Programs

If you saw yesterday’s post about the Radisson Blu in Port Elizabeth, you got a general idea of how having the right credit card can save you lots of money on accomodation.  Mainstream travelers who mostly visit cities have a huge advantage over eco-tourists because they tend to stay in one city for a couple days at least.  Maximizing the Club Carlson Visa assumes you want to stay in one hotel for at least 2 days.  There are a few places around the world where there are good birding sites within a short drive of a Club Carlson property so you can take advantage of the freebies and not waste your time in a city when you would rather be in a rainforest lodge.  The example of Port Elizabeth with the day trip to Birds of Eden is one such example, Panama City is another and I really saved a bundle in Tahiti when we had to wait 2 days for the next flight to Rimatara to see the beautiful Rimatara Lorikeets.  We also made good use of the “get one night free” during our travels in Israel & Europe before we went to Tenerife for the World Parrot Conference at Loro Parque.

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WHY DID I HAVE ALL THESE HOTEL POINTS ANYWAY?

Although I am by nature a “free agent” and prefer to choose hotels by location and convenience, not because of loyalty to one chain; between 2009-2011 I found myself a member of just about every hotel program in the book.  Why?  Because I wanted “hits” in the US Airways Grand Slam promo.  This was the cheapest way to get a large number of miles with very little extra cost over what I would normally pay for something.  I did direct a lot of our discretionary stays to these programs to get these “hits”.

Fast forward to 2012.  Everyone in the miles & points community was expecting Grand Slam to happen again in the usual time of Sept-Nov.  We painstakingly did surveys, played Facebook games and did Foursquare “check-ins” to get free hotel points.   Well guess what?  2012 came and went and no Grand Slam.  2013 came and went, still no Grand Slam.  And now US and AA are merging so there won’t ever be a Grand Slam again.  I had all these hotel points and had to do something with them.

Since we usually stay in small eco-lodges in remote locations, we have very little use for hotel points other than what has been mentioned above.  Mostly we use them at airports before or after a flight.  After several devaluations were announced, I knew I had to spend these points asap before they were totally worthless.

2014 was my year for massive burning of hotel points.  100,000’s of Club Carlson were used as above.  100,000’s of IHG Rewards were burned in French Polynesia, Israel & Africa (actually this includes the annual Chase free night certificate).  I used E-Rewards to top up Hilton just enough to get us 2 free nights in Mauritius and used Choice for one night pre-cruise at the Comfort Inn Diana in Venice, then sent the remaining points to United Airlines.  Now here I am at the end of 2014 and the only hotel points I have left are about 25k in Club Carlson, 30k in IHG and about 12k in La Quinta from the Facebook game last year.

MAKING THE DECISION – WHO STAYS AND WHO GOES

Looking to 2015 and beyond, I now need to assess which hotel programs (if any) I will keep.  I also need to know which hotel credit cards to get rid of.  To do this, I used two maps made by Drew at Travel is Free.  One for Club Carlson and one for IHG.

1. IHG is a keeper for the long run.  The $49 for the card which gets a free night certificate is easily worth it.  In any given year, we would need at least one stay at an airport hotel and IHG serves this market well.  They have properties at most of the gateway cities we would be transiting to get to eco-lodges.

2.  La Quinta is easy, there is one near my Mom’s house so I know what to do with them.

3.  Hilton, Marriott, Hyatt, Choice, Best Western & Wyndham are either zeroed out or have a few orphaned points (less than 1000) and we won’t be needing any of these chains for the foreseeable future.

4.  SPG is more valuable for airline transfers into otherwise difficult programs such as Flying Blue.  I have the credit card because of the bonus but never use it because they have no category bonuses and they charge forex fees.  Plus I can use my Aussie Amex to transfer into SPG so this card can go, but I will keep my SPG account active.

5.  My Club Carlson Visa also comes up for renewal next month – $50 since I only have the basic card (silver status) not the more expensive one that gets gold status.  Using Drew’s maps, I can easily see that the only places I want to go to that have Club Carlson properties are Puerto Rico and Trinidad.  I can see spending 2 nights at the Puerto Rico one as it is within easy driving distance of El Yunque National Forest and the value of 2 nights is easily more than the $50 fee.  This trip is planned for mid 2016 so will be bookable in Oct this year.  In Trinidad, a trip planned for 2018, I would much prefer to stay at the Asa Wright Centre’s Lodge for the superb birding, even though it costs more than paying the card fee for 2 more years would cost.  So the verdict is keep this card one more year, then cancel it.

SO WHERE WILL I BE BOOKING HOTELS?

By the end of next year, I will be down to only one program – IHG for the annual Chase certificate.  SPG doesn’t count as it will be used for airline miles, not hotels.  The best thing for me to do moving forward is use the hotel booking engines that GIVE airline miles, not COST hotel points.  No more being stuck at inconvenient locations just to get a free night!  On the plus side, many eco-lodges also can be booked with these engines.

POINTSHOUND – I use it for AA or Flying Blue miles.  Has a wider variety of hotels than Rocketmiles and cheaper options.  Using my referral link gets us both 250-1000 miles depending on what promo they are running.

ROCKETMILES – larger miles payouts but limited selection and sometimes hotels cost more so check carefully.  Good for United or Flying Blue miles.  Using my referral link gets us both a 1000 miles bonus.

HOTELS.COM – used if I would rather get 10 nights for one free night (value is average expenditure for the 10 paid nights).  For example if we have 5 nights at a $150 hotel, 3 nights at a $50 hotel and 2 nights at a $100 hotel the total we spent for the 10 nights is $1100.  The average for the 10 nights is $110 so that is the maximum value of my free night.  It’s best to get as close as possible to that maximum value as you don’t get any left over value.  If you choose a $125 hotel you pay the difference of $15.  If you choose a $95 hotel, you forfeit the balance of the free night value of $15.  You can always maximize by booking a larger/better room or a bed & breakfast rate.  Sometimes they have good 5x bonuses in the Chase Ultimate Rewards Mall or Shop with Chase as they call it now.  I haven’t seen a referral program for this company.

BOTTOM LINE

Having a good idea of where you want to travel in the next few years or even having a bucket list of ALL the places you want to go if you either get the miles or win the lottery helps you make wise choices in which hotel programs (if any) to participate in.

 

 

Hotel Review: Radisson Blu Port Elizabeth

The seaside town of Port Elizabeth was the ideal gateway since our first destination was 3 hours east and our planned day-trip to Birds of Eden was around 2 hours to the west going towards Cape Town.  Port Elizabeth is easy to get around and the roads are well-marked.  The Radisson Blu Hotel is in the seaside suburb of Summerstrand.  Just follow the signs, stay as close to the sea as possible when roads diverge and you can’t miss it!

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This hotel is a bargain for those who have the Club Carlson Visa, only 38k points for 2 nights!

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Like I said, you can’t miss it!IMG_3574 IMG_3165

Nice spacious lobbyIMG_3166

They have one of those annoying “open” bathrooms but at least there is a shade for those who prefer privacy.  I must say I would have preferred the bathroom be completely enclosed, I’m not a fan of those open bathrooms.  Beds are comfy with a nice assortment of pillows.IMG_3171 IMG_3168 IMG_3167

There’s a tv and work desk with a view of the sea.  Internet connection was pretty good.  There is also secure free parking.IMG_3169 IMG_3170Overall, this hotel was a good option for us as we used our points.  If we didn’t have points, we probably would have spent the night in a town closer to Birds of Eden to save a long drive but we had to spend at least one night in Port Elizabeth any way to catch an early flight to JNB.  The breakfast was not included for a points stay and the restaurant didn’t have anything of interest so we went the cheapie route and bought food at the supermarket next door.

Just Returned From Africa – Exhausted But Exhilirated

This trip has been in the works for over a year and was originally planned for late 2015 and referred to as “The Mother of all African Adventures“.   I decided to bring it forward to Nov 2014 because it relied heavily on United Mileage Plus and I had concerns that a devaluation could either make the trip impossible or knock us back to economy and since these flights were really long I wanted business class.  I was also afraid that a change to United’s generous routing rules (better explained by Drew at Travel is Free) would kill my planned stopovers.  This routing required both an open jaw and a stop-over and cost 320,000 miles in J class for both tickets.

United redemption on BR, CA, SA, ET & TG

I used British Airways Avios for some local routes on their South African partner, Comair.

Avios redemptions

The only paid ticket was Air Austral from MRU to TNR.  The only way to get this route with miles is Flying Blue on Air Mauritius but the taxes make it poor value since it is not easy to get Flying Blue miles.  Also, they didn’t fly on a Monday and I had no flexibility as I had specific places to go birding in Madagascar.  I could have flown Air Madagascar but they have had so many problems with flight cancellations and long delays, I chose not to take the risk and went with Air Austral via Reunion.