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1
On The Road / Hyatt Cardmember - Get 10% of Your Redeemed Points Back
« on: July 16, 2018, 08:04:47 PM »
I got an email with the following:

Enjoy this cardmember exclusive: Get 10% of your redeemed points back!   

Register today then redeem your points between August 1 and September 30, 2018.

Redeem your points for free nights, Points + Cash stays, room upgrades, or dining and spa services completed between August 1 and September 30, 2018. You'll get 10% of your redeemed points back as Bonus Points. They'll automatically be deposited into your World of Hyatt account after your points have been used.

2
Intro
I had planned on going to Philly for a few days last year but it fell through so when my sister who lives outside of Philly told me to come for Shabbos, it presented a chance to follow through on that planned trip. It was also good timing because I had an Chase IHG night to burn which was expiring soon.

Since Kimpton Hotels are now bookable with the Chase IHG free night I figured Iíd try the Kimpton Hotel Monaco Philadelphia. I donít remember what the cash rate was but it costs 55k IHG for one night, so Iíd say the $49 I spend on the annual fee for the card was well worth it. When I checked in, I found out that as an IHG elite member I get a free $30 spa credit (which I didnít use), and a free $10 raid the bar credit which can be used either at the hotel bar or for the mini bar.

The planning for the trip had basically already been done, since it was supposed to happen a year earlier, but I did make a few small tweaks to the plan which didnít work out as well as planned. The funny thing was that the one real change I made to my plan was to add a museum which I didnít end getting to go to.

The only detail I had yet to work out (and wouldnít end up doing until the last minute) was whether Iíd drive into the city and pay the $50 at the hotel for parking, or leave my car by my sister and use uber/public transportation to get around. I ended up driving downtown and regretting it. My rationale was that Ubers to and from the few attractions I was planning on that werenít in the center of town (near the hotel), would cost close to the $50 parking fee and having the card downtown gave me the option to go out for dinner. What I didnít factor in was the cost of tolls & parking. While the Ubers themselves would have cost ~$45-50 I crossed the Ben Franklin Bridge twice ($5 each time) and had to pay for parking at 2 of the attractions I went to, which cost another ~$15. So my actual cost of driving downtown was ~$75.

As per a suggestion I saw in the Philadelphia Master Thread, I looked at the Philadelphia Pass, and saw that everything I was planning on doing (that wasnít free) was on there. I could have bought the 2-day pass for $84 but once I totaled all the things I planned on doing and took into account the 20% discount you get for adding 2 or more attractions to your pass, I was saving $1.24 by going with the build your own.

Sunday
I left my sisterís place around 10a getting downtown around 1030a. My first stop was the hotel for two reasons. One I always like to check-in early, to drop off my stuff, and to be able to go back and relax during the day if I feel like I need it, secondly, to be able to park my car. Everything I planned on doing Sunday was within a 10 minute walk of the hotel, so there was no need for my car. Thankfully I was able to check in and drop off my stuff. I didnít remember if you needed to pay for Independence Hall and on the website, I saw that you need a specifically timed ticket which can either be reserved online for $1.50, or picked up at the visitors center a few blocks away. I didnít think it would be a problem going to the visitors center to get a ticket, but my the time I got there at 10:45, the next available tour wasnít until 12:40p. That was in theory going to cause some problems for my schedule but it ended up working out well.


Hotel Monaco-Bed


Hotel Monaco-TV & Desk


Hotel Monaco-Bathroom

I went from the visitors center to the Liberty Bell. They have a few exhibits and a short video about the history of the Liberty Bell. Then you see the bell. No I did not lick it. I didnít watch the video, and spent a total of about 15 minutes there after getting past security which took about 15 minutes itself.


Liberty Bell-Glass Plate


Liberty Bell-Chrome Plated Brass Bread Tray


Liberty Bell-Bell with Freedom In Several Languages


Liberty Bell-The Bell

I had some time to kill since I didnít need to be at Independence Hall until 12:20p for the security check. In reality I didnít need to to get there until 12:35 because I flew through security (even without the help of TSA-Pre-Check). In addition to the Independence Hall tour, on Independence square, you can also see the Great Essentials Exhibit in the West Wing and the Museum of the American Philosophical Society. The tour of Independence Hall itself was interesting and started with a brief history, then you enter the two main rooms. The first room you see is the Courtroom of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, and the second room is the Assembly Room, where The Declaration of Independence was written and signed and the Continental Congress met, wrote, and signed the Constitution. Pretty important historical stuff.


American Philosophical Society-Franklinís Library Chair with Folding Steps


Independence Hall-Courtroom of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court


Independence Hall-Assembly Room

From Independence Hall I went on to the National Constitution Center. It was about a 5 minute walk but just my luck, thatís when the rain picked up. I made it through the rain alive and it was time for the museum.

I remember the museum being much bigger (then again most museums I went to as a kid seemed bigger than they actually are). It starts off with a ~20 show with images/videos and live narration, called ďFreedom RisingĒ about the history of the Constitution. Which was a kinda interesting, but I honestly didnít feel like having the live narration of a woman who was walking around the theater added anything.

After the main exhibit on the second floor, I checked out the Signers' Hall which has statues of the signers of the Constitution. There was also a small exhibit on Alexander Hamilton on the first floor. Iíve heard people say great things about the museum, and I remember my family liking it when we went years ago, but I honestly found the museum to be a bit disappointing.


National Constitution Center-Hamilton-Burr Dueling Pistols


National Constitution Center-Dueling Steps

Once I was done with the National Constitution Center I walked over to National Museum of American Jewish History. Originally I had planned on doing this before the Constitution Center, but I realized that the Jewish History Museum was open until 530p, which would give me an extra half hour (which Iíd need). They recommend you start on the top (5th) floor and work your way down, so thatís what I did. The top floor has the special exhibits, which at the time was one on Leonard Bernstein who was born and raised in Philly. It was an interesting exhibit about his life in Philly, his career, and his connection to Israel.

Floors 4-2 go chronologically. The floors went as follows: 4th floor-Foundations of Freedom: 1654-1880, 3rd floor-Dreams of Freedom: 1880-1945, 2nd floor-Choices and Challenges of Freedom: 1945-Today. The first floor has a separate exhibit called the Only in America Gallery, which focuses on the stories of 18 American Jews and their impacts on Jewish American life overall.  I thought the museum was well done and had a wealth of information and artifacts. So much so, that I didnít have time to see everything in my 2 hours there.


National Museum of American Jewish History - Leonard Bernstein Exhibit-Score for Gustav Mahlerís Symphony No. 2 in C Minor


National Museum of American Jewish History - Leonard Bernstein Exhibit-Ticket for Israel 20th Anniversary Concert with Itzhak Perlman


National Museum of American Jewish History - Leonard Bernstein Exhibit-Program for Memorial Concert for Leonard Bernstein 11.14.1990


National Museum of American Jewish History-Ahron Lintel - Lancaster, PA


National Museum of American Jewish History-South Carolina Currency with Hebrew Letters


National Museum of American Jewish History-Acrostic Commemorating Abraham Lincoln


National Museum of American Jewish History-Yiddish Baseball Diagram

Once I was done (and by done, I mean I had to leave because the museum was closing), I went back to my hotel to relax a little before heading out for dinner.

After consulting with a few people, I decided on Cherry Grill for dinner. One would think with ďGrillĒ in the name, that it would be a grill with burgers and that type of food, but no, itís really a Chinese place that also serves grill food. Anyway, the I got pepper steak and it was a pretty good and a nice size portion. My only complaint was the service, while I was seated quickly, it took a while before someone came back to take my order and then a while for me to get a waiter to get me my check. I went back to my hotel and watched hockey.


Cherry Grill-Pepper Steak

Monday
I started off with a short walk to the US Mint. Unfortunately they donít allow pictures (understandably), but it is interesting to see the history of coin production and the process itself. Between the exhibits on the history and walking through (above) the production facility, I was there about 45 minutes.

Here is where I made a mistake. I then planned on going to the Independence Seaport Museum which would require me to pick up my car from the hotel. The problem with this, which I realized later, was that I was planning on going to the Museum of the American Revolution which was down the block from my hotel. It kinda worked out because at the end of the day I didnít have time for the Museum of the American Revolution anyway. So I picked up my car and was off to the Independence Seaport Museum. The museum doesnít have its own parking but there are two public lots right there, both of which were super expensive ($25-$30, I think) so I parked on the street a few blocks down and paid a meter ~$3 for the two hours. I think I got the better deal.

I found the museum itself more child friendly than I would have liked, but what I did enjoy were the ships, that are part of the museum. With admission to the museum, you also get to see the USS Olympia & USS Becuna. The Olympia is the oldest steel warship afloat in the world, which is pretty cool. The USS Becuna is a Balao-Class Sub which saw action in WWII, and served several missions during the Cold War.


Independence Seaport Museum-Boat Shop


Independence Seaport Museum-Christening Bottle - USS Philadelphia


Independence Seaport Museum - USS Becuna-Forward Torpedo Room


Independence Seaport Museum - USS Olympia-Junior Officersí Wardroom


Independence Seaport Museum - USS Olympia-5Ē40 Breech-Loading Rifle

I got back to my car and headed for the Battleship New Jersey, which is in Camden, NJ just over the Franklin Bridge. Launched exactly a year after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Battleship New Jersey saw action in WWII, Korea, and Vietnam. The New Jersey is US Navyís most decorated battleship and surviving warship having received 19 Battle and Campaign starts. The coolest part about the ship, is that you can go inside the rear turret which is something Iíve never seen on another ship.


Battleship New Jersey


Battleship New Jersey-M-2 Browning Gun


Battleship New Jersey-Captainsí In-Port Cabin


Battleship New Jersey-Glass Recreation of Christening Bottle


Battleship New Jersey-View of Franklin Bridge from Ship & Flag Conning Station


Battleship New Jersey-Close-In Weapons System (CIWS)


Battleship New Jersey-Tomahawk Cruise Missile


Battleship New Jersey-Inside Turret #3


Battleship New Jersey-Inside Turret #3

After leaving the New Jersey I headed for Eastern State Penitentiary, the countryís oldest penitentiary. I actually went to Eastern State in the late 90s with my family, and at the time, the building was unsafe and visitors had to wear hard hats and sign liability waivers. Things have changed, and now the building is secure. While there are guided tours daily at 2p, I missed that and had to settle with the audio tour. Online it says the audio tour takes about 35 minutes so I figured Iíd leave myself an hour for extra exploring of the site, what they donít tell you, is that the 35 minutes is for the basic audio tour, but there are a number of other ďoptionalĒ stops and recordings you can listen to for a more in depth tour. I spent a little over 2 hours there (until they closed at 5p) an still didnít get to listen to all the recordings and see all the ďextraĒ parts.

Two special sections that I saw that I found especially interesting were the Shul, and Al Caponeís cell. The shul, which is assumed to be the first in an American prison, was created in 1924 and was used continuously until the prison closed in 1971. It was actually the first space in the prison fully restored to its 1959 appearance which was seen from photograph from the time. In addition to the shul itself, they have a space behind it which was turned into an exhibit on Jewish life overall in the prison. While Al Capone only spent 8 months at Eastern State, he certainly made his space his own, filling his cell with fancy furniture, rugs, paintings, and a radio. They actually have an update to the recording on his cell, that explains that further research has led historians to believe that some of these ďadded comfortsĒ may not have been special to Capone, and that other inmates may have also had radios and other comforts.


Eastern State Penitentiary-Cell Block 1


Eastern State Penitentiary-Cell Doors


Eastern State Penitentiary-Inside Cell


Eastern State Penitentiary-Recreated Cell


Eastern State Penitentiary-Upper Level of Cell Block 7


Eastern State Penitentiary-Solitary Exercise Yard


Eastern State Penitentiary - Synagogue-Aron


Eastern State Penitentiary-Al Caponeís Cell


Eastern State Penitentiary-Main Entrance Gate

While I realized I wouldnít get to see the Museum of the American Revolution, I enjoyed what I did and donít feel regret for having missed it, only that I paid for it. After Eastern State, I went back to pick up my sister and we went to Espresso Cafe & Sushi Bar for dinner.  I donít know if it was the fact that it was 530p or that it was a Monday night in an out of town restaurant, but we were the only ones there. The food was good, but the service was a little slow, but not unbearable.


Espresso Cafe & Sushi Bar-Penne Alla Vodka

Overall I really enjoy my little trip. It was nice to have a little getaway and to experience as an adult all these places I had experienced as a child.

3
Planning

I was talking to some friends fielding suggestions for my post tax-season vacation (Iím an accountant, but please donít ask me accounting questions) and one suggested Charleston, SC and said that a mutual friend of our had been there last year and loved it. My first step was to go to the Charleston Master Thread to see what there was. After checking out that thread, I was quite worried, but after talking to my friend whoíd been there, and being reassured there would be plenty to do, I figured Iíd be alright. Since the Charleston Master thread was such a dud, I checked out TripAdvisor to see what there was to do. When it comes to ďthings to doĒ TripAdvisor can sometimes be a major fail. When Iím looking for things to do, having the top 7 ďthings to doĒ being different types of tours is not exactly helpful. Also having a bridge at in the top 10 did not leave me feeling very satisfied. Iím honestly not sure whoís doing the rankings when Fort Sumter (the location of the start of the Civil War) is number 26. Anyway, after googling ďthings to do in CharlestonĒ and talking to my friend I came up with a list of some good things to do.

While Iím not someone who needs to eat out while Iím on vacation, I do like to have the option, (for those of you thinking ďoh, just buy from POM, theyíre amazing,Ē Iím sure they are but if Iím not eating out at a restaurant, I donít see a reason to overpay for my food). I was told there were two Kosher food options in Charleston. One semi-normal, and one that seems beyond strange, but apparently is legit. For some reason, (unknown by me) the College of Charleston has a Kosher cafe, its vegetarian, but to be honest it wasnít as bad as I thought it might be. The other option is just plain strange. There is a non-Kosher seafood restaurant called Hymanís, which is owned by a Jew but is not even remotely Kosher, BUT, due to the ownerís connection to Chabad, he has meals which are prepared by the local Chabad, and heated up and served like airline meals. I went there twice and both times were much better than I expected. Heads up for anyone might be going there, Iíd advise calling ahead and seeing what they have (they donít always have the complete menu) and Iíd suggest having them heat it up before you arrive. The first time I went, I waited almost 40 minutes for it to be ready.

One of the reasons I picked Charleston, in addition to my friendís recommendation, was that they had reasonably priced direct JetBlue flights, and I had $175 in travel bank credit from this which would be expiring in August, so I figured this would be a good time to use it. The flight cost $169 (I put $5 on my Sapphire Reserve to get the travel protection) and used almost all my credit from that delay.

Once I had my flights booked it was time to look at hotels. I took a look at all the major brands, SPG only has an airport hotel, so it was out, I looked at Marriott, and the only two ďgood optionsĒ where all the way on the west side of the city, far from pretty much everything Iíd be doing, I looked at Hilton and found the DoubleTree in the Historic District, but at 240k for my 4 night stay, I said no thank you. Finally I settled on the Hyatt House in the Historic District which was 12k/night (48k for the whole stay). When deciding between the Hyatt Place and Hyatt House (which are literally attached, and share a check-in desk) I decided on the Hyatt House because it looked like Iíd have more space (not that I needed it), but for the same price, why not?

Now that my travel arrangements were set, it was time to actually plan out the trip. As those of you who have read my other TRs, may (or may not) remember, I generally plan things out down to the minute, and things always go at least a little bit wrong. Well, I was leaving on April 29th, and as of April 18th, (the actual end of tax season this year) I had nothing planned, so it was time to get to work. I worked on my plan (often while at work, now that I had time to breathe) and as I got closer, things started to take shape, and my trip started to look like a trip. Before I knew it, April 28th was upon me and I had to pack and get to sleep because I had a 713a, flight out of JFK.

FYI, for those of you curious, the rest of the TR is written, it just needs to be proofed, and should be posted shortly.

4
Credit Cards / Chase Offers - Now on Hyatt Card
« on: April 17, 2018, 05:10:59 PM »
Looks like the same thing as this just now on the Hyatt Card.

Link

Wasn't sure if this deserved its own thread or should go on the Chase Offers Marriott thread, if it should mods can merge.

Offers include:

Spend $50 @ Lowes get $10 Back
Spend $75 @ Boxed get $20 Back
Spend $100 @ Exhale get $20 Back
Spend $50 @ HelloFresh get $15 Back

There are others too.

5
Up In The Air / 25% more LifeMiles when Converting Hotel Points
« on: April 05, 2018, 10:08:41 AM »
Link

They have Marriott as a transfer partner, I don't know if the Hotel + Air Packages qualify for the 25% bonus or not.

I assume the SPG transfer 5k bonus still applies if you transfer in blocks of 20k.

6
https://mrrewardsplus.com/en_US/

Looks like a 20% bonus on a straight transfer of Marriott points to UA miles and 10% bonus on miles+nights packages.

ETA:Original Link

7
Up In The Air / 25% off Iberia Avios Bookings US to Madrid
« on: March 06, 2018, 12:17:56 PM »
Fly US to MAD. Book by 3/18/18 fly 10/1-12/15/18



Link

8
I don't know if its targeted or not, I got an email this morning.

"Limited time offer for ShopRunner Members
Get a free 1-year UPS My Choice Premium Membership"

Use code: C8RG92DG8

9
Credit Cards / Chase trying to copy Amex Offers? (on Marriott card)
« on: November 14, 2017, 11:52:12 AM »
I just got an email from Chase:
THE MORE YOU SHOP,
THE MORE YOU GET BACK.
Earn statement credits and watch the dollars add up!
Register now
Shopping bags
Sign up for Chase Offers to get statement credits when you use your Marriott Rewards Credit Card at popular merchants like these:
Nordstrom logo   Wholefoods Market logo   Regal Cinemas logo
20% back (up to $30) on your purchase1   Spend $25, get $10 back on your purchase2   10% back (up to $50) on your purchase3
Offers expire 12/15/17. 1 redemption per offer activation / account. See terms below.

https://chase.visaoffers.com/marriott/

Looks like they're trying to create their own Amex Offers.

10
Intro/Planning

The idea for this trip began, as many of my trips do, in the Next Vacation - Ideas thread.  I asked for suggestions, and after weeding out the cities Iíd already done, I got a suggestions of San Diego/San Francisco and both. If figured those were both good for a few days and I could spend Shabbat in Los Angeles in between.

Once I decided on my destination(s) it was time to figure out how to get there. I (thought I) had an interesting idea, of possibly flying VX using Alaska miles since Alaska allows you a free stopover. I thought Iíd be able to fly VX (not lie-flat) JFK-LAX, then a few days later, fly LAX-SFO on the same ticket for 25k. I know the VX first/business isnít the best product in the world, but since I was flying on a late night flight but not a red-eye, Iíd be able to get a little sleep and then sleep when I got out west. The problem with my plan was that apparently you can only use an Alaska stopover domestically on AS metal, so while AS and VX are theoretically in the process of becoming one airline, this didnít seem to help.

Since my Jetblue mileage run last year, Iíve thought about flying Mint, and figured this was a great chance to do it. I knew, in general availability on transcon flights in business is hard to come by, and surprise surprise, UA and AA had nothing in their lie-flat business for saver availability. DL doesnít have an award chart so Iím not sure what saver availability would be, but I the cheapest I saw JFK-LAX was 115k, yeah...no thanks. I figured Mint would be my best outbound option. While not cheap at 73.2k, it was the specific redemption I had in mind when I earned the miles so I was ok parting with it. The flight SFO-JFK would have been cheaper but I didnít have enough miles to fly Mint R/T and I didnít have any other options so Mint it was.

When I started looking for the inbound flights out of SFO, my big three options were slim yet again, at least on direct flights. I was able to find a DL flight via BOS for 31,250 FB (which Iím assuming means it had ďsaver availabilityĒ). That flight was Delta One, but it was on the 757, so unfortunately there was no direct aisle access from every seat. My other DL option was shelling out 65k for Delta One on the 767 which is (AFAIK) the only Transcon business where each seat has direct aisle access. I had flown Delta One on the 767 JFK-FCO on my way to Israel a few years ago, and it was nice, but I didnít really wanna spend that much, especially since Iíd be spending over 70k on my Mint flight. I had decided on the SFO-BOS-JFK for ~31k FB.

I thought it might be a good idea to get the Barclays Jetblue Business card for the 10% rebate (plus the 30k signup bonus and 5k anniversary points) to cut down on the Mint cost. I applied for the card which turned out to cause some problems. I didnít get instantly approved, which caused me to delay booking my flights. I applied on a Thursday night, and after being given the runaround by Barclays recon and having to send in some documentation about my Business, I was told it takes 7-10 days to review the docs. That was Monday morning. There was no way I was gonna wait 7-10 days to book my flights so I decided to just book the flights and lose out on the 10% rebate. I checked Jetblue and FB to make sure the flights I wanted were still available, but uh-oh, the DL flight was no longer available. I was pissed as hell since I couldnít think of another option to come home. For a while I toyed with the idea of flying in economy JFK-LAX (I know the horror!) and using my Jetblue miles to fly the red-eye SFO-JFK, but in the end, I didnít want to sit in economy for ~6 hours especially since after landing at LAX Iíd be driving halfway to San Diego and with the time difference my body would think its 3am.

It looked like my trip was dead. Monday night, I get an email from Barclays that I was approved for the card. That was pretty helpful now. Iíd never been so annoyed at having been approved for a credit card.  Now knowing that Iíd be saving 7.2k on Mint flight I was willing to pay a little more for my other flight, if I could find one. I was thinking of even (and to some this might be worse than sitting in economy on a transcon) spending 50k on UA standard, which was on the 757 and didnít have direct aisle access. When thinking maybe Iíll spend 50k I thought, why donít I look to see what AA charges in business and maybe Iíd use my TYP and get 1.6 CPP. I looked and saw that the red-eye SFO-JFK was $808 which would cost ~50k TYP, but it would also be considered a revenue flight so Iíd earn miles. I decided that was the way to go and was ready to book. I looked back at Jetblue to see if the flight to LAX was still available and much to my surprise the price actually dropped from 73.2k to 57.7k (plus Iíd be getting the 10% rebate from Barclays for a  net of 51.9k). I booked the Mint and the AA on the A321. I later booked on the LAX-SFO segment on DL for 5.5k, which turned out to be pretty good value since flights were around ~$110.

After my flights were complete, it was time to start working on hotels. I had a Marriott Cat 1-5 night that was expiring 8/24/17 so I wanted to use that, I also had a Hyatt Cat 1-4 night (not that it was expiring any time soon but I figured I might as well use it), and a Hilton weekend cert that was expiring 11/1/2017.

So hereís what I booked: I decided a good place to stop between LA & SD was Mission Viejo so I used my Marriott cert to book the Fairfield Inn Mission Viejo. I generally have trouble find city hotels that are cat 5 or lower so I was fine with using my cert on a cat 4 here. For San Diego I booked the Hyatt Regency Mission Bay Spa and Marina for two nights, one with the anniversary night and one for 15k Hyatt points. I was planning on spending Shabbat in LA with a friend, but for a reason he couldnít explain he could have me for meals but not to sleep so I ended up booking the Beverly Hills Marriott for 40k/night. In SF I used my Hilton weekend night for the Hilton San Francisco Financial District for Sunday night and booked the Sheraton Fisherman's Wharf for the 12k SPG for the other night.

Summary:

Flights:
B6 1123 JFK-LAX - 57.7k B6 (plus 10% rebate) - Cash Cost $758.2 - Value 1.45 CPP
DL 2756 LAX-SFO - 5.5k DL - Cash Cost $110.20 - Value 1.9 CPP
AA 276 SFO-JFK - 50,162 TYP - Cash Cost $802.60 - Value 1.6 CPP

Hotels:
Fairfield Inn Mission Viejo - Marriott Cert - Cash Cost $215.32
Hyatt Regency Mission Bay Spa and Marina - 1 Hyatt Cert +15k Hyatt - Cash Cost $599.17 Value - 2CPP
Beverly Hills Marriott - 80k - Cash Cost - $768.21 - Value .96 CPP
Hilton San Francisco Financial District - Hilton Weekend Cert - Cash Cost $313.25
Sheraton Fisherman's Wharf - 12k SPG - Cash Cost $375.46 Value  - 3.13

After all accommodations and travel were booked it was time to figure out what I was gonna do in SD & SF for three days each. I headed to the San Diego Master Thread and saw the wiki was full of suggestions. Balboa Park is listed, but what is unclear about that is that Balboa Park is not just a park, itís a park which includes a number of museums and the San Diego Zoo (not to be confused with the San Diego Zoo Safari Park which is north of the city). My only real problem with planning my SD portion of the trip was that many of the attractions are only open 10a-4p/5p. When youíre limited to 6/7 hours and certain things like the Petco Park tour are at specific times, it can be tough to fit in all youíd like to do.

11
Trip Reports / The Very Windy City (Three Days in Chicago) May 2017
« on: May 29, 2017, 10:35:28 PM »
Intro and Planning
 
It all started when I noticed I had a Hyatt anniversary night expiring and a friend nagging me to visit. After reading that sentence youíd think Iíd be using my anniversary night in the city where my friend lives, but youíd be WRONG!
 
Living in NYC (NYC doesnít have any Hyatt category 1-4 hotels), I was thinking of where I could go for a day or two that isnít too far but would also allow me to get good use of my free (really $75 since itís the only reason I keep the card) night. I had settled on Philly but for a number of reasons (which arenít relevant to this TR) that fell through. This was 5/1/17 and my Hyatt night was expiring 5/14/17. I figured since the night is book by not stay by, I can just plan something for a few weeks away. Apparently I was wrong, and the anniversary night is check-out by not book by.
 
[Side note about the Hyatt anniversary night (and possibly the sign up night). The website is very misleading, as long as you have a free night available in your account, it will show as bookable for any standard room regardless of date or category. Meaning if your anniversary night expires 5/1 and youíre look to book a hotel for 5/15 it will show as available but will fail once you try to complete the booking (and it wonít tell you why). I found this very confusing and it almost cost me my free night.  End of rant]
 
Getting back to the TR. I have a friend in St. Louis who keeps nagging me to come visit. So I thought to myself, ďI have this expiring anniversary night, why donít I go to STL for Shabbat, then fly somewhere else for a few days.Ē One great thing about STL is that itís relatively centrally located and (supposedly) no more than a 4.5 hour flight to anywhere in the contiguous United States.
 
I decided on Chicago. I figured it was a short flight from STL and while I had been there a few times, I had never actually explored the city. I knew there were plenty of things to do and plenty of quality Kosher food.   
 
Once I decided on a destination, it was a matter of trying to book flights. Obviously the cheapest option would be 7.5k Avios from LGA-STL another 7.5k Avios STL-ORD and another 7.5k Avios ORD-LGA, but with the sad state that is AA availability, finding one flight with SAAver availability is no easy task, let alone three. Since my Hyatt night was expiring 5/14 it had to be this weekend, so I had to take a shot.
 
Before I looked for award availability, I figured it wouldnít hurt to see how much cash tickets would cost. Not surprisingly flights from NYC to STL and STL to ORD were pretty expensive (~$230 NYC-STL, and ~$365 STL-ORD). Surprisingly, (maybe not so surprisingly considering the number of flights AA has) AA flights ORD-LGA were pretty cheap ~$110, and since I have the Citi Prestige I can redeem TYP for 1.6 CPP for flights on AA. Especially since there was no SAAver availability, I figured my 1.6 CPP on AA with my TYP was a good deal.
 
After seeing that revenue flights were not a reasonable option (as I had predicted) I started searching for award tickets. My first choice would have obviously been 7.5k Avios on AA but going out of NYC those flights are hard to find, and there was nothing available Thursday night or Friday morning. (After I had booked I later saw a 1:25p flight out of LGA opened up, but flying out of LGA on a Friday afternoon is not a gamble Iíd like to take.) Deltaís flexible award chart generally means that last minute tickets are gonna be expensive and this was no exception. If I recall correctly, the cheapest flights LGA-STL were 32.5k, no thanks. My last option was United. I had thought about transferring SPG or MR to Aeroplan and booking a multi-city award ticket (which if I understand the system correctly would have given me two flights for the price of one) but since United flies to STL out of EWR and I wanted to fly into LGA, the system wouldnít let me create that award ticket since they require you to depart and arrive from the same airport. Anyway, I found UA had a flight out of EWR Thursday night which worked out pretty well for 12.5k, the only issue was that since I was booking within 21 days (within 3 days actually), Iíd have to pay a $75 close-in. But then I remembered there were ways to ďtake care of that,Ē (ways which as I write this TR are no longer available, at least not online) so that flight would work perfectly.
 
Now that I had my NYC-STL and ORD-NYC flights booked it was time to find the STL-ORD leg. AA has a bunch of flights and I was lucky enough that there was SAAver availability, sadly it was only on the 5a, 6:10a, and 7:19a flights. 7:19a it was. I kept checking (until sat night to see if a later flight would open up, but nothing did).
 
To recap my flights:
EWR-STL 12.5k UA + $5.60, Cash cost: $364.20, Value: 2.87 CPP
STL-ORD 7.5k BA + $5.60, Cash cost: $229.20 Value: 2.98 CPP
ORD-LGA 6,324 + $5.01, Cash cost: $106.20 Value: 1.6 CPP
 
Now onto the accommodations. In STL I spend Shabbat by my friend so there was no need for a hotel, he was even willing to drive me to the airport (about 10 mins from his house) so I didnít have to get a hotel for the early morning flight. Since this trip was planned basically so I could use my Hyatt anniversary night, I looked to see what Cat 4 Hyatts there were in Chicago, I found 2 Hyatt Places and the Hyatt Regency Chicago. Iíve had good experiences with Hyatt Regency in the past and while I donít think Hyatt Places are bad hotels, I donít see them as ďfancyĒ hotels, I figured Iíd use the free night for Sunday and points (15k) for Monday night. Much to my disappointment, there was a major conference going on and there were no standard rooms available Monday night and I didnít really feel like paying $200+ for a second night in the hotel, so I set off to find a place to stay Monday night. I knew my IHG anniversary night was expiring soon too, so I went to see what IHG hotels there were in the area. I saw that thereís an Intercontinental, but that wasnít available Monday night, but there was a Crowne Plaza. It was available and I booked it, a decision I would not regret.
 
Once my flights and accommodations were set, it was time to figure out what I was gonna do while I was in Chicago. As much as Iíd like to be sometimes, Iím not the kind of person who can just veg out at the pool or beach (especially Chicago isnít really the place for that), so I needed to find things to see and do. My parents went to Chicago last year and they found this pass called the GoChicagoCard (GoCard). Itís similar to CityPass but it includes many more things and itís available in 1, 2, 3, or 5 day passes. Looking at it, it covered most of the things I was interested in doing and I picked it up. The 3 day pass was $165.
 
The next complicated aspect of planning was deciding if I should rent a car or not. When I first looked, most car rentals were in the $150-$200 range. Add the $67+tax at the Hyatt and $49+tax at the Crowne Plaza for parking, and i was looking at ~$300-$350 for the car, hotel parking and gas, and that doesnít even include what it would cost me to park at whatever attractions I went to. The decision leaned heavily in Uberís favor. The night before I left, I found a car for about $110 which still would have made it $200-$250 for the whole auto expense and I figured Iíd still beat that with Uber.
 
With that decision made, it was time to finally actually go. I guess the one good thing about planning a vacation so quickly is that you donít have that anxious time leading up to the vacation, because 54 hours after booking my first flight, I was in the air.

12
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« on: April 19, 2017, 09:38:13 AM »
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Trip Reports / (Not) Born on the Bayou: Big Apple Meets the Big Easy
« on: December 13, 2016, 03:39:44 PM »
Intro - Pre-Trip
I donít remember how exactly I came up with the idea to go to New Orleans. If I recall correctly I was looking at the DDF Master Thread Of Master Threads: Links To 125+ Destination Threads! and I wanted to find somewhere different and more importantly not cold. I settled on NOLA (New Orleans -NO, Louisiana-LA) and then the research began.


I headed over to the NOLA thread and found a few small TRs but nothing big. I was planning on going Sunday-Thursday and the 2 TRs I saw were shorter than that so I headed to TripAdvisor to try and find other things to do.  I made a list and then the time came to start looking at flights and hotel options. I saw that AA doesnít fly direct from NYC to MSY so use of Avios was out of the question. I saw on UA they only fly out of EWR (a pain from Queens) and I looked at the ITA Matrix and saw that cash flights were relatively cheap. I found a DL flight in basic economy for only $177 R/T but with basic economy I wouldnít be able to upgrade to Delta Comfort or pick my seat in advance, which I planned on doing with my Ritz card. So I paid the extra $20 and booked a regular main cabin seat for $197 and use my Ritz card to upgrade to Delta Comfort.


This would be my first time sitting in Delta Comfort and let me tell you, for the extra $10 I paid, it was well worth it. The amount of legroom was huge. The entertainment system was a huge plus since I was having issues with my Kindle.


After booking and upgrading my flight it was time to look at hotels.  I looked at hotels, Hyatt, SPG, Marriott, Hilton and IHG, and nothing seemed to be really worth using points. The cash rates were either low enough or the points rates were way too high. I also figured that since I was going to be staying 4 nights I could use my Prestige and get the 4th night free. I was looking at the Citi ThankYou travel site (not realizing these werenít the same prices as the Prestige 4th night rates) and I saw the Hyatt Regency New Orleans for $411.85. Comparing that to the $204 a night pre-tax on Hyatt.com I figured it was a mistake and I should book it immediately. I called the Prestige # only to find out that the ThankYou travel rates werenít the same as the Prestige :(.  Figuring I wouldnít be able to beat a rate of $103/night I booked the ThankYou Travel room.


Once I got the confirmation I called Hyatt to add it to my HGP account so I could earn points and hopefully apply a DSU. Apparently, 3rd party bookings arenít considered ďeligible ratesĒ and therefore arenít eligible for point accrual or DSU. They wouldnít even let me add it to my HGP account so that I could receive my Diamond benefits such as best (non-suite) room upon check-in and free breakfast. I tweeted at Hyatt and they confirmed that I should have been eligible for the benefits. Not wanting to fight with them I decided to let it go for now and Iíd either live without Kosher breakfast and hopefully be able to get the best room at check-in or deal with it later.


As it got closer to the trip I kept checking the rates at both the Hyatt Regency and the Hyatt Centric French Quarter (formerly Hyatt French Quarter). I saw they had a special rate, which required a minimum two day stay (not a problem for me since Iíd be there for four nights) and a first night deposit. That second part was an issue for me. I saw the rate on Hyatt.com which means I should have been able to book it with the Prestige, but I didnít want to book it, pay for the first night and run into the 3rd party booking issues.  About a week before my trip, I saw that special rate drop to $129/night and I then remembered that I had the Hyatt Amex Offer which would save me $60 on every $200. Since with taxes the total would come out to just under $600 that meant that Iíd save $120 or about $30 less than Iíd save with the Prestige and I didnít have to worry about any 3rd party booking issues. I made the reservation, called Hyatt to apply the DSU and I was set with only a few days left until my trip. Thatís when I started to check the weather.  That made things interestingÖ.More on that later.

Don't worry, the rest of the TR is written, I just need to put the finishing touches on it. They'll be up soon.

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