Hope everyone is well! Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on one’s perspective) work continues to get in the way of my free time so I have been neglecting the blog!
Anyway, a friend taking a quick trip – with flights already booked on miles – jokingly asked how to get the rest of the trip for free. So I promised to pass along a few deals. Since I was compiling it all anyway, figured I’d post it on my little corner of the Internet in case anyone else finds it useful. 🙂
Uber Eats is offering $20 off your first order. Feel free to use my referral code eats-ubermywanderlux (enter it in the “Promotions” tab of the app).
LivingSocial Restaurants Plus is offering $20 off your first meal at a participating restaurant. You need to join, register a credit card, and pay for your meal with that credit card. You’ll then earn a statement credit equal to the meal price (up to $20). At this time they have restaurants in only a handful of areas, but they are major metropolitan areas.
Grubhub frequently offers $10 off your first order of $15+. You need one of the ever-changing promo codes, but if you sign up for their emails I’m sure they’ll come. Be on the lookout for the $10 code, not the inferior $7 code. I seem to get a code at least weekly (I give them my spam email account, of course). Alternatively, try one of the recent codes on RetailMeNot.
Travel Is Free has a handful of additional ideas here.
Both Uber and Lyft are offering signup bonuses. I don’t think I actually know anyone under age 60 who doesn’t already have at least one of those accounts, but perhaps you only have one and not both? If so, sign up for the other and get a bonus from that.
Every few months, InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) releases a new PointBreaks list. I consider PointBreaks one of the best deals in hotel loyalty programs, with award nights offered at the deeply discounted rate of 5,000 points per night.
IHG brands consist of the following:
A new set of PointBreaks properties will be released for booking on Monday (October 26). The list of properties can be found on IHG’s blog (here), and I have also pasted it below.
I value an IHG point at 0.7 cents, so being able to book a room for 5,000 points is like spending $35. Having the co-branded credit card gives you a 10% rebate on redemptions, effectively lowering the cost to 4,500 points per night.
$35 a night is a good deal at just about any decent hotel anywhere. But among the 100+ properties on each PointBreaks list, there is usually a handful of extraordinary deals – InterContinental, Crowne Plaza, and Hotel Indigo properties that normally require up to 50,000 points for an award night (or several hundred dollars for a paid night).
There are also a few properties within a short drive or flight of my home that I’ll consider for weekend getaways
Ways to acquire IHG points
If you’re short on points, I previously suggested ways to earn IHG Rewards points. Among the methods described is a way to indirectly buy points for $0.007 each.
These properties are offered at the PointBreaks rate from October 26, 2015 to January 31, 2016, but award nights are capacity controlled and desirable properties only last a few hours (if that). So if you’re interested I’d be poised to book as soon as the booking window opens.
The PointBreaks rate usually loads sometime between 8 to 10 AM Eastern on the day booking opens. However, the official PointBreaks page usually doesn’t display the new properties until the afternoon – by which time many desirable properties are gone. (If you go to that page before the new round is loaded, you’ll just see properties from the prior round still there.)
So here’s my strategy in advance of each new round:
Check out the preview list now and identify properties I’m interested in.
On the Eastern Time morning of the day booking opens (Monday, October 26 for this round), go to the webpage of each desired property (accessible from the links below) and navigate to the booking page.
Find the 5,000 points-per-night rate and book it! Again, the exact time the PointBreaks rate loads is unknown, but it’s usually between 8-10 AM EST. I just periodically refresh the page until it appears (while working on other things in another window).
Below is the full list as of this writing. Once a property sells out of PointBreaks nights it drops off the PointBreaks page and the 5,000-point rate no longer displays.
Remember each member may make up to two PointBreaks reservations per property. A reservation can be of any duration (availability permitting).
The Staybridge Suites Birmingham had been open barely a year when I arrived – I hoped that meant they were old enough to have worked out the initial bugs yet new enough that the rooms were nice and clean.
Staybridge Suites is InterContinental Hotels Group’s extended-stay brand, and since I was in the middle of a month-long trip I also looked forward to the extended-stay amenities.
In the end it was a great stay and a phenomenal deal – only 4,500 IHG points per night (5,000/night for those without the co-branded credit card) as the hotel was a PointBreaks offering at the time.
Location is almost always the most important attribute of a hotel to me, and as a city girl I found this location ideal.
It is right in the city center, easily reachable by and accessible to all kinds of transportation (including my favorite kind – walking).
There are restaurants right outside the front door and a Sainsbury’s supermarket around the corner. Shopping, banking, and most other services are but a few minutes away on foot.
That said, I believe a location closer to the canals (such as that of the Hyatt Regency) would be more picturesque yet still easily walkable, so I suggest considering staying closer to the canals if you prefer a less hectic environment.
As you’d expect at a new property, furnishings were new and modern.
My L-shaped room had a sleeping alcove on one end and the kitchen on the other. The design is space-efficient, but a little awkward as there’s not much clearance on either side of the bed.
In addition to ample closet space, a basket is provided in case you plan to use the laundry facilities.
The kitchen had dishware, flatware, basic cooking supplies, a stovetop with two burners, a small refrigerator, a microwave/convection oven, and a dishwasher.
Since the hotel caters to mostly business travelers it lacked a few small details that would’ve made it more comfortable for double occupancy.
There was no sofa; only a single upholstered armchair – so it wouldn’t be a great place for relaxing conversation. Likewise, there’s just one chair at the desk/dining table – not brilliant for two-person meals.
I think the table in the corner was supposed to be a desk, but the TV occupied most of its surface so I always worked at the kitchen counter, which was comfortable enough with the padded desk chair.
The bathroom was clean and functional, but again pretty cozy (space-wise).
The service was always polite and friendly.
I arrived at 7:30 AM and they couldn’t check me into a room until 11:00 (which is totally within their right since the published check-in time is 3:00 PM). I told the agent I’d traveled through the night, thanked her for finding me a room early, and said I was looking forward to taking a nap as soon as I got to the room.
A few minutes after I got in the room, she called to say they’d planned to test the fire alarm at noon but could reschedule if that would bother my nap. I told her not to worry and that they should proceed as planned, but I very much appreciated the gesture.
Housekeeping is provided every weekday, but if you want it on the weekends you have to request it 24 hours beforehand. I didn’t mind this policy (I often decline daily housekeeping anyway) and in fact liked knowing I wouldn’t be disturbed on the weekend.
The only snafu was that I’d checked in on a Friday so by Monday I was out of supplies. Yet when housekeeping came on Monday they did not replenish some supplies. I had to call down for toilet paper and soap. It actually took several hours to arrive and I had to call several times. Not a huge problem, but I’m just saying it wasn’t a flawless experience.
I swear I took pictures of the amenities, but the dog must’ve eaten them?
Daily breakfast is included in the room rate, but after a few days I realized the hot-food menu only varied by one item: eggs were scrambled one day and omelet-style the next. The only other hot items were sausage and baked beans, both prepared the same way every day. However, there’s a nice selection of breads, pastries, yogurt, fruit, and beverages.
There is also an evening reception Tuesdays through Thursdays. It’s a nice touch, but again don’t plan your life around it and definitely don’t expect to make a meal of it. For the primary clientele – business travelers – these receptions are a convenient way to congregate with colleagues in the evening.
The laundry room had maybe 5 or 6 washers and the same number of dryers. The one time I used it, machines were readily available.
The fitness room was bigger and nicer than I expected, but I’d rather just go outside for exercise (weather permitting – this is England 🙂 ).
Overall I enjoyed the stay and the location is ideal if you like being right in the city. I wouldn’t hesitate to say here again if the price were right.
New, clean, and modern
Amenities for long-term travelers
Just some nits as described above
4,500 IHG points/night. Since I value an IHG point at $0.007, I equate the cost to $32/night all in. A great deal for the quality!
Update: Deal is gone. Hope everyone managed to book what they needed before the music stopped!
Happy weekend, everyone! Apologies for the rushed post, but this is too good a deal to ignore. 🙂
Orbitz is offering $100 off a hotel booking of $100 or more with code MASTERPASS.
There’s a short fuse as travel must occur by September 30, but if that works with your plans then it’s hard to beat $100 off $100!
Most major chains are excluded, but I was able to find many good options that do qualify. To save yourself some frustration, input the promo code (again, it’s MASTERPASS) in the search box on the main search page before commencing your search. That way, qualifying hotels will be tagged “Promo Code Eligible.”
Input the promo code in the box that looks like this:
Then look for the “Promo Code Eligible” as shown here:
Also note you must pay via MasterPass (a digital payment service) and the code doesn’t cover taxes.
Although I haven’t been to Bonefish Grill in a while, I recall some entrees priced in the low teens (or maybe even single digits?), so $10 off is a great deal since there is no minimum required for the coupon.
The lobster tails pictured above don’t look too bad.
Terms do say “one coupon per table” so…everyone sit separately at the bar? 😉
Finally, Choice Hotels is offering a $50 gift card after two qualifying trips.
Gift card options include Amazon, Walmart, several gas stations, and a handful of restaurants.
Do note the promotion requires two separate qualifying “trips.” Per the FAQs, consecutive nights at one hotel only count as one trip, regardless of check-ins or check-outs.
Also, a trip is defined as one night or more at some brands (Comfort Inn, Comfort Suites, Quality, Sleep Inn, Clarion, Cambria, and Ascend Hotel Collection) while 2 or more consecutive nights at other brands (Econo Lodge, Rodeway Inn, Suburban Extended Stay Hotel, or MainStay Suites).
And note the somewhat-convoluted redemption process. After the two qualifying trips you’re awarded 8,000 points which can then be redeemed until 10/31/15 for one $50 gift card.
If you value 8,000 points more than a $50 gift card to one of the participating retailers, then don’t redeem them for the gift card. To help you decide, I previously wrote a long analysis when they ran this offer last year.
Registration is required (register here) and check-in must occur by August 19.
These are from reputable corporate sellers (not a random person selling on eBay) and the good ones tend to sell out quickly.
To double dip, pay with eBay gift cards acquired at a discount. For example, Kroger grocery stores currently have a digital coupon for $10 off when you purchase $50+ of eBay gift cards. (Download the store’s app to your phone, log in to load the coupon to your account, then go to the store and buy the gift card.)
To triple dip, earn 2% back by via eBay Bucks (enrollment is free).
Spirit airfare sale
Spirit Airlines is having a nice sale, with routes priced at $68 roundtrip including taxes.
Many routes are included; here are just a few examples:
From Los Angeles:
Book by 11:59pm on July 21, 2015 for travel on select dates from August to November.
Spirit is a low-cost carrier so do factor in extra costs (such as carry-on bag fees, although a personal item is still free) and set your expectations for a no-frills experience.
But $68 for a long-haul flight across the country is a bargain (albeit only a mediocre deal for the shorter routes)!
Finishing my Fredericton Trip Report and Pondering the Wisdom of Off-Season Travel (this post)
For many, travel decisions are mainly driven by the destination. People decide where they want to go, then book flights and lodging accordingly.
That’s a perfectly reasonable approach, but it doesn’t work as well for me. Because my travel list is long. Basically, I want to go (almost) everywhere.
When “everywhere” is your preferred destination, specific locations are somewhat irrelevant.
Combine that with my other favorite sport – deal hunting – and much of my travel decisions are driven by economics. Where can I go cost-efficiently at this time? (To clarify, “cost-efficient” and “cheap” are not synonymous.)
With this strategy, I’ve had some fantastic travel experiences for nearly-negligible costs.
For example, an award flight might not be available on my preferred date. So I have to adjust my schedule.
Or – to the point of this post – I end up visiting a place during the off-season. Like the arid desert that is Egypt in the peak of summer.
Or Fredericton, the capital of New Brunswick, in the middle of winter.
My week-long Fredericton trip was almost entirely economics-based, with a total cash cost of about $100 – flights and hotels included. (I don’t typically count meals and ground transportation since I incur those regardless of whether I’m traveling.)
The flights were free. I didn’t even spend frequent flyer miles because I added Fredericton as a stopover en route to Birmingham, England. (On a round-trip international award ticket, United allows one free stopover.) I probably paid incremental airline fees and taxes, but I don’t have the breakdown for the Fredericton portion so let’s just say $25.
A week at the Crowne Plaza Fredericton cost $0 in cash. A PointBreaks hotel at the time, it cost 4,500 IHG points/night (the 5,000 PointBreaks rate minus a 10% rebate from my IHG credit card). I have a six-figure IHG point balance – earned through reimbursed business travel or other low-cost means – so this stay hardly made a dent.
In the on-season, my hotel costs would have been much higher as I doubt the Crowne Plaza would have been offered on PointBreaks.
So what’s Fredericton like in the off-season?
In a word: cold.
For those unfamiliar with Fredericton’s location, it is in eastern Canada, above the US state of Maine. So it’s basically like going to Maine in January. Except colder.
This was Fredericton’s town square when I visited:
Ideal for ice skating – if that’s what you’re there for.
Alas, I didn’t bring my skates. And everything else there is to do outdoors was severely constrained by weather.
Not that I had a bad time. In fact, it was a nice – if not optimal – trip.
I toured the Beaverbrook Art Gallery when it was otherwise devoid of visitors. While paying the entrance fee, the cashier made small talk and I mentioned I was visiting from California.
A few of the rooms were closed for renovation so he charged me half price, then left me to roam the exhibits. The collection was okay. For a small gallery in a remote-ish part of the world, you can’t expect The Louvre.
As I was about to leave, a staff member approached and said, “They told me you’re visiting from California. I’m sorry some of the rooms are closed to the public but if you like I can take you to see them.” While I didn’t think much of the collection at that point, I did not want to refuse the gracious offer so I accepted.
Turns out, the non-public rooms held all the gems. There were some stunning paintings and tapestries. This person not only escorted me through them, but took time to explain many of the pieces and the general history of the museum, including how some of its treasured pieces were acquired.
It’s unlikely I would’ve been offered this very detailed tour of the museum’s restricted areas during peak season.
The museum has several famous works, including three Salvador Dali pieces and one by Lucian Freud (grandson of Sigmund). Of course, with my impeccable timing, all were on tour at the time.
So, as with everything else in life, off-season travel has its pros and cons.
Is off-season travel worth it?
On the balance, I’d say yes – in moderation.
At the extremes, it’s not worth it if you can’t at all enjoy the destination’s intrinsic appeal. To point out the obvious:
You can’t snow ski in summer when there’s no snow.
You can’t go sailing in winter when the water is frozen.
I wouldn’t try to hike the Inca Trail, which requires long days of trekking and several nights of camping, during rainy season.
Conversely, other destinations are only mildly inconvenient in the off season. In those cases, I’m willing to go if the cost-benefit analysis is favorable.
I didn’t mind Egypt in the summer. While it was hot, most of what I wanted to do didn’t require extended outdoor exposure or high physical exertion.
I was driven to the Pyramids and other sites in air-conditioned vehicles; I only had to get out and walk around a little once there, and that was tolerable with good sunscreen and proper hydration.
The remainder of the trip was spent gorging myself on gourmet food while sailing the Nile on an air-conditioned luxury boat. Do-able.