October 30 2014

Free Drink on Southwest, Great Hotel Deals in Vancouver, and a Chipotle Offer

Happy (almost) Halloween!

Complimentary drink on Southwest

If you’re flying Southwest tomorrow, enjoy a free cocktail on board.

SouthwestFreeDrinkHalloween

Southwest extends this offer on various holidays but doesn’t advertise it much, so it will likely be up to you to proactively ask for it.

And be a good neighbor – tell your fellow flyers and start an in-flight party. 🙂

Great hotel promotion in Vancouver

beVancouver is back with a great deal for off-season hotel stays in Vancouver.

Book a participating stay and receive an Amex Prepaid Gift Card of up to $125 at check in.

Gift card amounts vary depending on the hotel, but this can be a great deal. I checked a random date during the promotion period and found the following examples.

$11 per night (after deducting the gift card value) for the 3.5-star Executive Hotel Vintage Park:

ExecutiveHotelVintagePark

$20/night for the 3-star Best Western Plus Downtown:

BestWesternPlus

$61/night for the 4.5-star Sutton Place Hotel:

SuttonPlace

…many others.

Also, one in ten bookings is free so cross your fingers!

Details, per the offer website:

  • Make a booking at any of our hotels before November 16th 2014
  • Check-in must be before or on February 28th 2015
  • This Promotional rate is Pre-Paid, Non-Cancellable and Non-Transferable
  • The full amount of your booking will be charged by the hotel at the time the booking is made
  • If your booking is the 1 of 10 that is free, you will be alerted via email confirmation
  • Bookings can be made using VISA, MasterCard, or American Express
  • Guests will receive their AMEX Prepaid Gift Card per booking, not per night
  • Separate consecutive night bookings at the same hotel will not result in the guest receiving more than one AMEX gift card
  • A Maximum of 3 bookings per person is enforced – all subsequent bookings will be converted into normal Best Available Rate bookings (and will apply the corresponding Terms and Conditions) and the guest will not receive an AMEX Prepaid Gift Card
  • beVancouver Terms and Conditions Apply

Tips and notes:

  • These rates are prepaid and non-cancelable so be sure of your plans before booking.
  • If staying multiple nights, you’ll have to change hotels each night to maximize this deal.
  • Rates (and likely the gift card you’ll receive) are denominated in CAD not USD. Last year when they ran a very similar deal the gift card, although in CAD, could be spent at merchants in both Canada and the US. I’m guessing that’s also the case this time but you should confirm with beVancouver if concerned.
  • You’ll have to pay taxes on the full rate.

Chipotle Halloween Fundraiser

Finally, if you’re dressing up and will be near a Chipotle in the evening, drop in for a nice discount: get a burrito, bowl, salad, or order of tacos for $3. Chipotle will donate proceeds to The Chipotle Cultivate Foundation.

ChipotleBoorito

Have a safe holiday!

 

October 27 2014

Reno: Brief Thoughts and Hotel Review of Harrah’s

I seldom talk about my domestic travel, but last month I spent a few days in Reno and found it so unremarkable that, ironically, I thought it was worth a few words. Just in case anyone is on the fence about visiting.

And while I’m at it I figured I’d review the hotel I stayed at too.

Please note this post is only about downtown Reno. My thoughts do not apply to surrounding areas (such as Lake Tahoe) or even areas within Reno but outside the downtown core (such as the Peppermill Resort’s location).

Thoughts about the city

My only prior first-hand experience of Reno was transiting its airport on the way to and from ski trips to Lake Tahoe, never spending any meaningful time in Reno itself. From that narrow perspective I assumed Reno would have a Tahoe “feel” and draw a similar crowd. In reality, not so much.

(To be fair, this stay was in September, skiing’s off season.)

Reno calls itself “the biggest little city in the world.”

Reno Arch
Reno Arch

I’d say “little” is the more fitting adjective of the two.

Downtown Reno is literally three blocks long (from 2nd Street to 5th Street) by one street wide (North Sierra Street) – in practice if not in legal terms.

If you keep within that bubble, the area has some appeal. A few of the casinos are pretty nice (though there are no mega-properties as in Las Vegas). And if you’re the type who gambles for entertainment – rather than with designs on actually winning – you can place relatively smaller bets, meaning it takes longer to lose the same amount of money and therefore you can be entertained for a greater length of time.

Inside the Eldorado Resort Casino
Inside the Eldorado Resort Casino

Wander outside the bubble – even by just a block or two – and the ambience changes entirely, ranging from deserted to dodgy.

Deserted yet less than a block from North Sierra Street
Deserted yet less than a block from North Sierra Street

Although I did not feel particularly unsafe downtown, I would not have liked walking around alone at night (while don’t hesitate to do so, for example, almost anywhere in Manhattan or on the Las Vegas strip).

Unless you’re into gambling (in which case I think Las Vegas holds more allure – and is cheaper to fly into with LAS being a larger airport), I simply don’t see the appeal of visiting Reno other than passing through for a day or two enroute to or from Lake Tahoe. If even then.

Harrah’s Reno Hotel and Casino

I stayed at Harrah’s. Compared to (the small universe of) other hotel-casino properties in Reno, I’d say the hotel is probably mid-range.

Most sources rate it 3.5 stars, and I think that’s accurate to slightly generous.

The complimentary airport shuttle was great – it arrived early, departed at the exact posted time, and had complimentary bottled water on hand.

Check in was efficient and cordial but not super friendly.

The location

The location is good, with the property’s main entrance next to the Reno Arch (pictured above). Again, downtown Reno is only three blocks long by one block wide, and Harrah’s sits at the southern end of that stretch.

The room

The room was spacious with plenty of space for two queen beds, a sitting area and coffee table, mini-fridge, dresser, and desk.

Main

Main 2

Things were somewhat clean, but not at all spotless. For example, the linens had numerous small tears and a few stains. Not enough to call housekeeping for replacements, but enough that I feel it should be mentioned in a review.

Two other glaring cleanliness issues were that the shower curtain smelled moldy/sweaty and the tub was dicey-looking enough that I wore flip flops while showering.

Bathroom

Speaking of housekeeping, there were envelopes [plural] in the room for tips. I know tip envelopes are controversial; Marriott recently introduced them – to much criticism. But I usually don’t mind finding a [singular] tip envelope in the room. I tip housekeeping anyway and a dedicated envelope eliminates ambiguity. (Otherwise, housekeepers sometimes don’t take the tip I leave, probably unsure whether it’s a tip or money I just happen to have in the room.)

But two envelopes was tacky; the equivalent of holding your hand out.

Tip envelope #1: on desk
Tip envelope #1: on desk
Tip envelope #2: strategically propping open the safe deposit box (you know, where people place their money)
Tip envelope #2: strategically propping open the safe deposit box (you know, so you can’t miss it when putting away your money)

On the other hand, the HVAC system was great. It was cold the day I arrived so I cranked up the heat and the room got toasty quickly.

If you need to get work done from the room, power outlets are scarce. There were two under the desk (though one had a lamp plugged into it), two on a wall (though one had the mini-fridge plugged into it, as seen below), and two in the bathroom. Remaining outlets were either behind heavy furniture I didn’t want to move or otherwise not reasonably reachable.

Mini-fridge
Mini-fridge

Internet came with a fee, even for a Total Rewards member (although I’m just a base-level member; elites might get complimentary Internet). In-room Internet was $10.95/day, but there is a Starbucks inside the hotel if you just need minimal Internet.

The amenities

After forgetting to take pictures of the amenities on three hotel reviews in a row, I was determined not to screw up this time.

I made a deliberate effort to get pictures of the gym and pool.

And, in my always-impeccable timing, I got there after both were closed.

So this is all I have of the gym and pool 🙁

Gym & Pool Hrs

But I did manage to snap pictures of the lobby/casino and hallway. (Yay me!!!)

Lobby & Casino

Hallway

Trip cost

Since I booked it for next-to-nothing, my stay at Harrah’s was a very good deal. Using a Travelocity offer, I paid $88 for three nights ($82 for room and tax, $6 in city fees). Unlike most of its competitors, the hotel did not assess a resort fee.

Deducting the $20 food and beverage credit I received, my net cost was $23/night.

For flights, I used British Airways (whose distance-based award chart is great for short flights) miles to book award flights on American Airlines for 4,500 miles each way. Cash outlay was a combined $8 for taxes/fees on the flights.

Link to hotel website.

 

October 25 2014

Recoleta Cemetery: Burial Ground of the Rich and Famous

Posts from this trip:

With Halloween almost here, I thought it apt to talk about a cemetery.

But Recoleta Cemetery, located in the Buenos Aires neighborhood of the same name, is not just grass and tombstones. It is a mini-city of almost 5,000 mausoleums serving as final resting place to many of Argentina’s elite.

1

The interred include former presidents, Nobel laureates, philanthropists, and military officers. Arguably most famous of all is Eva Peron, First Lady of Argentina during the presidency of her husband Juan Peron.

Even those not versed in Argentine history likely know of her. She is the subject of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical Evita and was portrayed by Madonna in the 1996 film of the same title.

While the former First Lady’s tomb is probably most sought-out by visitors, it is very modest – almost nondescript – compared to many of the far more elaborate mausoleums in the cemetery.

2
Tomb of Eva Peron

The cemetery’s grid layout adds to its city-like feel, and the main entrance is itself quite grand. Passing through tall dark gates flanked by large Doric columns, you enter a foyer that opens directly into the “main street.”

Directory
Directory and map showing grid layout
4
Entrance

Sprinkled among the elaborate graves, most of them built of marble…

5

…adorned with intricate sculptures…

Tomb of Liliana Crociati de Szaszak, who tragically died in her 20s.
Tomb of Liliana Crociati de Szaszak, who tragically died in her 20s.

…colorful stained glass…

A stained glass window backlit by the sun
A stained glass window backlit by the sun

…and other fancy details, there is the occasional simple brick-and-concrete tomb…

More humble digs
More humble digs

…and not-so-well-maintained grave:

9

Each family is responsible for maintaining (for hiring a caretaker for) its own plot, so the condition of individual tombs varies widely.

Nevertheless, as a whole the cemetery feels both stately and serene. Since I am staying just a block away, I’ve visited several times in the last week. In the half hour or so before it closes, when the crowds are gone and the sun no longer beats down, I find it very tranquil.

Just don’t be like me and get lost in the labyrinth of graves right before it closes and work yourself into a mild panic about getting trapped in a cemetery overnight.

Logistics

The cemetery is public and entry is free. Tours in several languages are also offered for free (you just tip the guide at your discretion). I took an English tour and thought it was excellent, albeit a bit crowded (~25 people). The guide was pleasant and knowledgeable, and the tour lasted just over an hour.

Tour information (click to enlarge)
Tour information

Finally, let me leave you with a few interesting nuggets shared by my tour guide:

  • While some tombs are small and modest, others are larger than city apartments and can hold over 100 coffins.
  • Original inventory is long sold out, but it is possible to buy a burial site on the resale market. Prices fluctuate with supply and demand, but in general they are relatively low compared to past prices. Demand is lower these days as modern families are more inclined to cremate loved ones or have them laid to rest in private cemeteries.
  • She estimated that a mid-range tomb would fetch about USD 50,000 today if it were for sale.

Considering a mere parking spot can cost ten times that, to me $50k doesn’t seem terribly unreasonable for a marble-encased eternal resting place in one of the world’s most beautiful cemeteries.

 

October 24 2014

[Update] Quick Deal Note: 3.5-Star Hotel in Bangkok $29/Night

UPDATE on 10/24/2014: If you got in on this deal, a helpful reader reports that the hotel was hard to find as Google directions were inaccurate. For those intending to use the high-speed train from the airport, he shared the following directions and map:

From Suvarnabhumi Airport:

  1. Take Airport Rail Link train to Phaya Thai (last stop)
  2. Exit and go down to BTS Sky train ticket machines
  3. Buy ticket to Nana stop
  4. Get off @ Nana stop & hire a taxi to 42 Soi Sukhumvit 13. For taxi I paid 100 baht (about $3 US).

Expect the trip to take approximately an hour from the airport.

DvareeDiva Map
Click image to enlarge

__________

[Original post published July 30, 2014:]

By coincidence, a lot of people I know have travel plans to Bangkok soon. If that includes you, here’s a potential deal…

Hotels.com has the 3.5-star D Varee Diva Hiptique for $29/night in today’s Deal of the Day. I have not done any due diligence on this and don’t even have time to check dates at the moment, but I just wanted to get this post up before the deal dies.

Hotels.com Deal of the Day

Hope this works for some of you!

October 20 2014

Virgin America Discounts via LivingSocial

Hola! I only have a few minutes but wanted to post a quick note about an interesting offer from LivingSocial.

LivingSocial VirginAmerica

Discounts on Virgin America flights are offered at the following values:

  • $25 for $75 to spend on round-trip airfare for long haul flights
  • $15 for $50 to spend on round-trip airfare for medium haul flights
  • $10 for $25 to spend on round-trip airfare for short haul flights

As always, be sure to read all the terms & conditions, including deadlines and blackout dates. Among them are that travel must be booked by November 18, 2014 and occur by February 18, 2015.

Have a great rest of the day. Since I am currently in Argentina and yesterday was Mother’s Day here, my belated good wishes to all the moms out there!

IMGP1798
Happy Mother’s Day from Argentina!

 

October 8 2014

Up to $40 Free With Uber, 10% Rebate at Hilton & Embassy Suites

Good evening.

There are some travel deals I thought worth mentioning, but I have to keep it brief as I’m still at the hotel from hell (but checking out soon, thankfully).

The Internet here is…not fast. Today is actually one of the better days yet I’m still clocking dismal speeds.

I kid you not. This is from a few minutes ago:

Speedtest

Anyway, here are the deals!

Free $10 with Uber

A new Amex Sync promotion gives a $10 statement credit for spending $10 or more with Uber. The Twitter hashtag is #AmexUber in case the offer is not already in your account.

Uber Amex Sync

Additionally, if you don’t already have an Uber account you can get another free $30 in signup credit through a referral link (mine is here if you’d like).

If you’re unfamiliar with these sync offers see my Amex Sync primer, and if you’re unfamiliar with Uber I wrote about it here.

10% off at Hilton and Embassy Suites

If you have a Bank of America credit card, BofA currently has a couple of sync-like offers too.

One is for 10% cash back at a Hilton Hotels & Resorts property:

Hilton BankAmeriDeal

Another is for 10% back at Embassy Suites.

Embassy Suites BankAmeriDeals

You need to register for these offers, which can be done by logging into your credit card account and navigating to the “Cash Back Deals” tab.

A few tips:

  • Be sure to read the terms carefully as there are certain spending requirements.
  • Even though the offers expire November 11, it might be possible to “extend” that date by buying a gift card for future use. (I have not tried this so I cannot guarantee it, but I see no reason why you shouldn’t get the credit card rebate if you go to one of the qualifying properties and buy a gift card there.)
  • These rebates should combine with discounts and promotions offered by the hotel directly, so be sure to look for those too. For example, Hilton’s fall promotion is still going on.
  • The credit card charge needs to be from the hotel, so paying through a third party (such as Orbitz or Expedia) will most likely NOT work.

Enjoy!

 

October 6 2014

7,500 American AAdvantage Miles for Test Driving a Cadillac

As part of a new partnership between American Airlines and Cadillac, the companies are offering 7,500 American miles for test driving a new Cadillac at a US dealership.

This has just been announced so I have not yet seen a lot of details, but it has been reported widely today. (Well, at least widely in my view, but I probably consume too much financial media.)

If you’re in the market for a new car, why not earn some miles for test driving one.

 

October 4 2014

Travelocity $30-$40 Off, Earn Lyft Credit with TravelPony, and I Provoked Karma

Happy first weekend in October!

I am currently staying at a hotel, which will remain nameless, whose clientele I can only describe as – to be polite – trashy (for many reasons beyond the example below). How I ended up booking it is another story (let’s just say it was practically free after combining several promotions), but it seemed a solidly-ranked 3-star across several websites. I also read independent reviews and none raised red flags.

Apparently do-not-disturb signs are scarce here. But there was one in my room and I hung it outside my door when I arrived. Later I heard scratching on my door and someone mumbling something (probably an expletive). Of course I did not open the door.

That evening, when I left the room for dinner, my do-not-disturb sign was gone. After a quick glance, I saw it hanging on the room next door. (I know it was “my” sign due to a unique mark.)

Instead of calling housekeeping to request a sign, the neighbors apparently just helped themselves to mine – which I’d put there for a reason. Classy.

Now, I could’ve just taken it back. But I didn’t want to be spiteful, so I left it on their door.

However, when I came back from dinner I flipped it over to the other side – which says “early maid service please.”

Karma will probably bite me, but oh well. 🙂

Anyway, so as not to end on a rant, let me leave you with some travel deals for the weekend.

 

Travelocity mobile coupons

Travelocity is back with a couple of good discounts on hotels booked through the mobile app through tomorrow (October 5, 2014).

Travelocity mobile promos

Use code MOBILE30FALL for $30 off $100+ and MOBILE40FALL for $40 off $150+.

They often limit these discounts to first-time app bookings, but I did not see that requirement in the fine print this time. There are excluded properties though, so as always be sure to read the terms.

 

Lyft credit for stays booked through TravelPony

Speaking of apps, travel booking site TravelPony, which I recently wrote about, is out with one.

TravelPony & Lyft

They are offering Lyft credit when you book a qualifying hotel stay through the app. (Lyft is a competitor to Uber. If you’re unfamiliar, I describe the services here.)

Enjoy the remaining weekend.