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IHG just released a list of last minute rewards nights for this coming weekend (Friday/Saturday/Sunday) and you need to book them by Thursday night. These last minute rewards nights are offered at 50% discount of the usual number of points needed. This time they have 103 hotels on the list of which only one is InterContinental.

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The latest Point Breaks list is out as well. There are quite a few nice hotels that you can book at 5000 Priority Club points per night.

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Yesterday, I was looking to book the Hilton hotel in Colombo (Sri Lanka) where I have been few times in the past. This time, however, the Hilton Colombo and the Hilton Colombo residences were apparently both sold out.

There have been a lot of problems with the Hilton’s website lately. More often than not there are 404 pages, connection issues, and timing outs. Sometimes when the Hilton.com is not working you can use Hilton.co.uk to make a revenue booking. You cannot use the latter website to make an award reservation, however.

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First, when I am logged in at Hilton.com and search for availability for April 3rd for one night, there is none.

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Then when I check the box for Hilton HHonors availability, it gives an option for Diamond Guarantee room at the Hilton Colombo Residence.

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As a matter of fact, it gives an option to choose from three different room types.

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But, when I uncheck the Use HHonors points, it shows the room types that are bookable using cash as well, although these were not supposedly first available.

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hilton-colombo-residence-6-nor1-more

I made the booking and was then presented number of Nor1 upgrade options for cash. I always disregard these. These might be worthwhile if you don’t have Gold or Diamond status with Hilton HHonors. (You can get the Gold status easily by following instructions here or here)

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When I checked the reservation today for tomorrow arrival, the hotel had already processed the upgrade to a 3 bedroom business suite.

hilton-colombo-residence-8-business-suite-10500-points

Then a week later, they have this same suite for 10500 points as a HHonors Special. Makes you wonder?

Conclusion

There is something wrong with the website that doesn’t first show paid availability when you are checking out hotels. As a Diamond member, I have “guaranteed”room availability, if I book at least 48 hours in advance. To get these rates to show up you need first check the box that you are using points and then uncheck it. Also, Hilton has really made using points for hotels like a roller coaster. At this Hilton Colombo Residence the number of required points seems to fluctuate from 10500 to more than 100000 per night.

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We now have the details of the deals for the first two weeks of the Discover America. These are brought by the US Travel Association and American Express. You can use any credit card to pay, but you will receive 10% discount if paid using American Express branded card.

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Having a quick look there really aren’t any “deals” that I would need to participate in the first two weeks.

Here are three deals that are worth having a look:

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1. Priority Club point packages on April 8th

InterContinental Group is selling 10K points for $67, 40K points for $267 & 25K points for $167. You can buy Priority Club points any day by doing cash + money redemption for $60 per 10K Priority Club points. Canceling the reservation doesn’t reverse the point transaction, however.

The benefit of buying Priority Club points through Discover America is that these points will count toward the elite qualification. You can make a Priority Club Platinum by buying 60K points.

2. Avis Chairman’s Club Membership for $1115

This can come handy if you are doing lot of airport rentals. This membership includes an airport drop off and delivery. This could truly be a timesaver. I was actually contemplating buying this membership the other year as I used to rent a lot from Avis.

discover-daily-marriott

3. Marriott Travel Cards at 20% Discount When Paid Using Amex

Marriott tends to run promotions for buying Marriott gift cards with number of airlines. You usually get a 10% discount or 10% premium and airline miles. When bought directly from Marriott, you do get the bonus points for buying the card using Marriott branded credit cards. If you buy it from Discover America, the purchase is not coded as Marriott and you lose the bonus points for Marriott purchases.

Marriott has sometimes run promotions that are tied to a type of credit card the bill is used to settle. Marriott Gift cards used to be Visa’s, but no longer. Just a thing to keep in mind.

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Here’s the monthly hotel promotions wrap up.

Best Western Rewards

Best Western’s promotion for a $50 travel card won’t start before April 15th. You can also earn Air Canada AeroPlan bonus miles + bonus points for booking online and paying using Best Western MasterCard.

Best Western Rewards Spring Bonus Offer JUMP12 – $50 Travel Card for 3 Stays + Bonus Points & Miles

best-western-spring-promo

Carlson Hotels – Club Carlson

No promotions as of now.

Choice Hotels – Choice Privileges

You will earn 8000 Choice Privilege points for every two stays. Note that in lower quality Choice brand a stay is defined as two or more nights for this promotion. This promotion that started on March 8th runs until May 8th.

Choice Hotels Promotion – Stay Two Separate Times & Earn One Free Night

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Hilton HHonors

You should sign up for the two promos below. Even if you are Diamond with Hilton, you can still get 40K HH for four Hilton stays.

Register Your Visa and Get 1000 Hilton HHonors Points + 4000 Bonus for Spending $100

Instant Hilton HHonors Gold Status for Visa Infinite Card Holders + 40K HHonors Points After Four Stays (For All?

Hilton’s second quarter promotion is for double points or miles. You need to choose one or the other, and you cannot change your selection.

Hilton HHnors 2nd Quarter 2012 Double Your Honors Promotion – Double Points or Miles

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The following promotion expires at the end of this month. You can get a free night certificate after five night resort stay or two after ten. You can also do two give night resort stays.

 ‘Resort Escapes’ Promotion – Free Night Certificate After Five Nights and Two After Ten Nights

Hyatt Gold Passport

Hyatt’s promo that expires at the end of April is for up to 44000 extra Hyatt Gold Passport points after 16 nights.

Spring 2012 Promo – Earn up to 44000 Bonus Points

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InterContinental Hotels Group – Priority Club

As always, Priority Club has number of promotions that you should sign for.

Double points or miles end on April 30th.

Double Points or Miles – 2X More

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Priority Club 2nd Quarter Stay/Night Bonuses

This time Priority Club has two parallel promotions. One is based on nights and the other is based on stays. You can earn 5000, 10000, or 15000 depending how many nights/stays you have during the promotional period until June 30th, and to which promotion you sign up for.

Three Priority Club Points Promotions That You Should Sign Up For

One is for 1000 bonus points per stay for 90 days after registering (this is the most lucrative if you have number of paid stays), another one is for 3000 bonus points after a stay, and the third one is for 1500 welcome back bonus.

There is a forth one that I have yet written about. It is 1500 Priority Club points after a stay. The promotional code for that one is 5109. I tested it last week when I was staying at an IHG property. It posted without a problem.

Marriott Rewards

Marriott has two promotions running until the end of April. MegaMiles and MegaBonus.

Spring 2012 MegaBonus Announced – Few Variations of the Offer.

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MegaMiles Promotion – Earn Up to 50K Bonus Miles

Marriott Rewards MegaMiles

Ritz-Carlton Rewards

You can get two free night certs after four stays. This promotion expires on April 15th.

Ritz-Carlton Rewards – Earn Free Night Certificate After Two Stays Promotion

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Starwood Preferred Guest

Starwood promotion Better by the night is expiring on April 8th. We don’t have information about their next move.

Starwood Preferred Guest 1st Quarter 2012 “Better by the Night”–promotion

There is a promotion of 1000 extra Starpoints for booking a Club accommodation at Sheraton hotels and paying using an American Express card.

1000 Bonus Starpoints for Sheraton Club Floor Bookings

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Some renovated Sheraton hotels are also offering 1000 bonus Starpoints.

1000 Bonus Starpoints for Staying at a Newly Renovated Sheraton Hotels

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Wyndham Rewards

Wyndham has two promotions. One is for North America (US, Canada, and Mexico) and the other one is for rest of the world. In my opinion the rest of the world is better.

Wyndham Rewards Spring 2012 Promotion – Stay 2 Get 2 – Double Points or Miles + Up To 4 Movie Tickets

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Wyndham Rewards Spring 2012 Promotion (non-North America) 10000 Bonus Points Every Two Stays – Max 30000 Bonus Points

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Whenever you receive an email from an airline or hotel program that has a title “Changes to the Etihad Guest programme”, you can be 100% certain that there is no good news. This was the case with the Etihad as well. Under this ”enhancement” you are only better if you fly on full fare business or first class. Vast majority of flyers on discounted economy will earn only half what they used to.

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Basically, they are moving to the same six tier system that Emirates has been using for a while. The only difference is that Emirates uses zones to determine the number of earned miles where Etihad uses actual flown milesetihad-new-base-earnings

You have different number of miles earner for:

– Discounted Economy 50% (E, U, V, L, Q, M, K)

– Economy 100% (H, B, Y)

– Discounted Business 130% (W, D)

– Business 175% (C, J)

– Discounted First 180% (R)

– First 250% (A, F)

Unless you are flying in on full fare economy, business, or first class, you will earn less miles after this change on June 1st than before. To be frank, Etihad’s program has been generous giving full miles for discounted economy as well, but I think that it has to do of being an underdog compared to the neighboring Emirates out of Dubai.

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You will still earn the same TIER MILES or TIER SEGMENTS that are used to determine the status with Etihad’s program. You will get the “base” miles at economy or 1 tier segment, 50% bonus for business or 2 tier segments, and 100% bonus for first or 3 tier segments. You can qualify for the status either by tier miles or segments.

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As you can see from the Etihad’s charts above, the only times the new chart is better is when you are flying in full fare business or first. In all other cases the number of miles earned is lower than previously

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The international version of the Wyndham Rewards Spring 2012 promotion, that runs from March 29th to July 12th promotion, is 10000 bonus points for every two stays up to 30000 bonus points. So, you can max this promotion by staying six times. The North American version of this promotion was for double points or miles for the first four stays + movie tickets.

wyndham-reward-spring-2012-non-north-america

You can transfer 30000 Wyndham Rewards points to number of airlines for 12000 miles.

This international promotion is more lucrative unless your first four stays would cost more than 1500 USD (20 points per dollar = 30000 Wyndham Rewards points) not counting in the value of the movie tickets, and what you would earn for the spent in the non-North America promotion.

If you do six stays and get the 30000 bonus points, the number of bonus miles earned per stay would be 2000 (if you would transfer the points to miles).

My Wyndham Rewards account is based in the United States. I do, however, have an address in the EU as well. I might just transfer my account to Europe to participate to the promotion that is valid for non-North American members.

BTW it doesn’t make any sense to use Wyndham Rewards points for cinema tickets that is part of this promo.

Note the participating locations:  “Participating Hotels” are Ramada®, Days Inn®, Baymont Inn & Suites®, Hawthorn Suites®, Howard Johnson®, Dream®, Night®, Knights Inn®, Microtel®, Travelodge® (U.S. hotels only), Wingate® by Wyndham branded hotels and Super8 – however Super8 China does not participate in this promotion. Wyndham Hotels and Resorts® properties located in Europe, North America, Latin America, the Caribbean and China also participate in this promotion.

The Terms and conditions of this offer: [click to continue…]

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Wyndham Rewards just launched their spring 2012 promotion (United States, Canada & Mexico) that is valid for stays from March 29th to July 8th, 2012 with a check out date no later than July 12th.

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There are two separate components for this promotion:

Double Points or Miles:

1. You will receive double points/miles beginning from your first stay if you book the stay at any Wyndham website (wyndhamrewards.com, daysinn.com, ramada.com, wyndham.com, wingatehotels.com, hawthorn.com, super8.com, baymontinns.com, microtelinn.com, hojo.com, travelodge.com, knightsinn.com, dreamintl.com, or nighthotelny.com)

2. You can earn double points or miles ONLY for the first four stays during the promotional period.

3. US Airline Carriers (American Airlines, Delta, Frontier, Southwest, United & US Airways), Air Canada & AeroMexico are valid for double miles.

4. This promotion requires registration at wyndhamrewards.com/movie and is only valid for US, Canada, and Mexico residents (Wyndham Rewards account address)

Movie Ticket

1. You will receive an email with a code for Hollywood Movie Money certificate up to 24 USD, 24 CAD, or 288 MXP after your second and fourth stay during the promotional period.

2. Valid for US, Canada, and Mexico only.

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Should I choose miles or points?

That is always an interesting question. In general hotel points are best used for hotel awards, but sometimes there are promotions from airlines for partner activity i.e. US Airways Dividend Miles. But, even if you prefer miles over Wyndham Rewards points it does make sense most of the time to collect the points and later transfer them to miles.

You earn 10 Wyndham Rewards points per dollar spend except at Hawthorne Suites where you get 5 points per dollar. Both are doubled for the first four stays during this promotional period.

With airline partners the number of miles earned is dependent of the partner. Also, the number of miles earned at Wyndham hotels & Hawthorn is capped at 500 miles per stay.

You can exchange Wyndham Reward points for airline miles. You can get 12000 American Airline miles for 30000 Wyndham Reward points.

If you think, 20 Wyndham points per dollar is essentially 8 American Airlines miles per dollar spend when you transfer in the chunks of 30000 Wyndham Reward points. You only get 4 American Airline miles per dollar if you choose miles instead of points during the promotional period.

At the Wyndham Hotels & Resorts the situation is bit different due to the 500 miles per stay that is doubled to 1000 miles during the promotional period. If your folio is under $125, you are better by choosing the fixed miles (doubled) instead of points.

The situation is yet different at Hawthorne properties that have lowered point earnings of 5 Wyndham reward points per dollar spend. Your folio needs to be in excess of $250 to be better off by choosing double points instead of double miles.

Overall to make things easy, I would say that the reasonable choice is to choose double points, and later transfer them to miles if needed.

The Terms and conditions of this promotion: [click to continue…]

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The saga involving BMI has been now going on for months if not for years. Back in December Lufthansa and IAG agreed about the sale, but it had to be approved by the European Union Competition Authority due to British Airways’ dominance (53% off the landing slots) at the London Heathrow airport.

bmi-logos

Now, the deal is expected to close around April 20th. It is unclear at this point whether the BMI will exit from the Star Alliance on that the day as well. The announcement is unclear. If you have BMI Diamond Club miles left and would like to use them for Star Alliance flights, it would be wise to start booking them now.

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It is really sad to see the Diamond Club being swallowed by British Airways’ Executive Club, and my Diamond Club miles turned to Avios points. Although I have flown quite a bit on Oneworld alliance, the Star Alliance has served me better due to the number of airlines and destinations served.

I have loved the flexibility that Diamond Club has given me when redeeming miles. I have done numerous trips in business and first class that wouldn’t have been possible using other frequent traveler programs. I have never considered my BMI award tickets to be “free”, but rather highly discounted business or first class ones due to high taxes and YQ’s.

Now, it is time to get the last BMI Diamond Club award redemptions in. Just did two last night. Still have more than 200K BD DC to play with.

RIP British Midland International & Diamond Club. You will be missed.  (Not so your Indian call center for award tickets that has probably shortened my life by few years)

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The new Priority Club Point Breaks list is finally out. These were all available for booking several hours ago, but International Hotels Group’s Priority Club took their time to update the list. These are valid until May 31st, 2012. But, some of the more popular properties will drop off the list far sooner.

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This is a great way to save on redemptions. I just made a week along bookings for both the InterContinental  Asiana in Saigon and InterContinental Manila properties. I think that these good represent a very good value using points.

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I really cannot get too excited about most of these Point Break hotels, but I might book the CP in Prague for few days later next month as well as the HIX in Cape Town. The Holiday Inn Ploenchit  is an excellent property, but I find it hard to use points in Bangkok considering how inexpensive the better properties are.

My tips for booking Point Breaks:

1. The popular properties will drop off the list in a day or two. You need to act fast.

2. Book Point Breaks one day at a time. This way you have more flexibility to cancel/shorten your stay if needed. It might also show better availability this way, when some room types are sold out.

Things to consider

Most of the Royal Ambassador benefits do not officially apply when you redeem points for free nights. I would say that it is often fifty-fifty if you get them though. More unlikely if the property is on the Point Breaks list due to rise in free night redemptions. [click to continue…]

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Last August, I was on my way from Marrakesh to Bangkok and decided to use BMI miles for a business class award ticket. Using their award chart it was actually cheaper to have the final destination in Maldives, and to have an extended stopover in Bangkok on my way there. I had been to Maldives before and stayed at the Hilton hotel that has been since converted to the Conrad brand. I didn’t like the treatment that I received there as a Hilton HHonors Diamond member and left after three nights, although my award was for six.

There was lot of chatter on the various frequent traveler message boards about this property that was being converted from Alila brand to the Park Hyatt one. Some guests were complaining that it wasn’t the Alila that they had booked, and the ones that had booked it as the Park Hyatt one weren’t all satisfied either.

Park Hyatt  Maldives Hadahaa

As I had been to many of the Park Hyatt hotels (Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, Washington DC, Buenos Aires, Madrid, Johannesburg, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Shanghai, Ho Chi Minh City, Sydney, Melbourne, Tokyo, Seoul – some of these are no longer under Park Hyatt brand) all over the world, I was quite frankly very interested to have a look at, how the Park Hyatt brand would work in a non-urban environment.

BOOKING

You can use cash, points, or stay certificates to stay here. I used points, but wished that I had remembered to check the stay certificates as well. They are terrific value when used here. You can read the piece I wrote about getting a good deal at the Park Hyatt Maldives.

PREARRIVAL

After booking the hotel, I was contacted several times by the hotel to confirm my arrival details.  Couple of days before my arrival, I had a change in my schedule that had me arriving and departing a day later than originally planned. It was not a problem for the hotel to adjust both my arrival and departure dates.

For sure, the resort can book your overnight accommodation in Male, but in my case this was not needed. I had been to Male before and can take care of a simple hotel reservation and transfer by myself.

Mookai Hotel MaleMaldives View Of The City 2 August 2011

If you haven’t been to the city of Male before, I would suggest spending a a night int he city before or after your Park Hyatt stay. It is a small vibrant city and there is definitely enough to see and do for a day.

TRANSFER EXPERIENCE TO THE RESORT

I stayed at the Mookai hotel in the male proper. It is very close to the pier where all the jettys to the airport island leave every ten to twenty minutes or so. The transfer itself costs maybe a buck in the local currency, and at the same time is quite a scenic journey.

At the airport, I just followed the directions to the domestic check in terminal. I had used the Maldivian Air Taxi before that leaves from the other side of the airport. These “real” airplanes just have a different check in area close to the international terminal.

The check in was very efficient. To my surprise they didn’t want to weight just the bags but the passengers as well.

Maldivian Departure Lounge Male Reception Area

After the check in, I was given an invitation to use the Maldivian lounge. The lounge was outside of security on the domestic terminal. You could get a free wireless code from the ladies working the desk.

Lounge was basic but did what it was supposed to do. They had soft drinks, tea, coffee and some snacks available. Here I met a guy who was a representative of the resort. He just confirmed who I was. The lounge was first rather crowded. After a flight or two it was rather empty.

The flight was announced and it was time to move to the tarmac and further to the aircraft itself. The security check was very cursory.

Maldivian Dash 8 Aircraft MLE KDM

Not sure but there appeared to be a “first” class on the flights south. On my way back there was none. Maldivian offers two kinds of fares. The lowest ones are only sold for local people who travel between islands. It was quite surprising to see that those on the local fares were offered nothing during the flight. Others flying to resorts were offered some beverages.

The KDM airport is small as one can expect. After landing the luggage came out in no time. There were four/five other guests transferring to the hotel. I was bit thirsty and walked to a café next to the airport building and picked up a coke.

Park Hyatt Maldives Hadahaa Transfer Boat

The small harbor, where boats are is few hundred meters from the airport building. The boat from the resort was waiting. We were advised to put on the life vest upon entering. Soon we were on our way. We were then offered water bottles. The sea was calm and the ride to the resort uneventful.

RESORT

Park Hyatt Maldives Hadahaa Resort Map

The resort itself consists of 14 over water villas, 20 pool villas, and 16 garden villas. Handful of the pool villas also have an unobstructed ocean view. For privacy the villas with the garden view are better, as everybody walking around the island on the beach can see the villas that don’t have the vegetation protecting their privacy. The employees all live in the middle of the island on their own quarters.

The resort has two restaurants and one bar. Moroccan themed Battuta’s restaurant is open for the dinner (they are now changing the concept of this restaurant). I probably should have read about the Maldivian history but apparently it was a Moroccan who found the islands in the first place and introduced the Islam there. By the main poo,l they have the all-day dining restaurant Relish/Horizon and the Bell’s bar.

park-hyatt-hadahaa-google

You can find the island using Google Maps. If you choose the satellite view you can get an idea what it was before anything was built there.  If you use Bing Maps on the other hand, you can see what the island looks from the air (partially) today. You can also interlace it with the resort map to see what pool villas have the ocean view and which ones do not.

park-hyatt-hadahaa-bing

Upon arriving the General Manager was there to meet all the incoming guests. Here I met my island host for the first time as well. She took me to my pre-assigned villa on a buggy and showed the villa around. There was a handwritten welcome note signed by the GM, some biscuits/sweets, a fruit tray, and a properly chilled bottle of Laurent-Perrier champagne waiting.

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The villa itself was very spacious and had an outside shower area.  Loved the Blaise Mautin amenities that you can find at some Park Hyatt hotels. I am not sure I f the brand of the shampoo and the shower gel were the same brand as they were in jars.

park-hyatt-maldives-hadahaa-garden-villa-view

The biggest drawback of this villa I had, that others may prefer, was the ”being in the jungle” feeling, or some might call it privacy. There was lots of vegetation in front of the villa and the beach itself. I am not even sure of there was a way to get through the bushes to the beach.

park-hyatt-maldives-hadahaa-over-water-villas-1

The following day, I had a look at couple of other villa; a pool villa and an over water villa. Decided, that I would prefer to move to an over water villa; instead of continue staying at the garden one. I was moved there promptly.

BREAKFAST

Park Hyatt Maldives Hadahaa Main Restaurant

The breakfast menu is extensive consisting of western and Asian dishes.  I typically went to the breakfast after 10:30AM, so it was more like a brunch for me. Every morning they would bring three different bakery items with the tea I ordered. Then, I would just pick two to three items from the menu.

park-hyatt-maldives-hadahaa-breakfast-curry

The breakfast is served at the main restaurant by the pool. You can decide to sit either inside or outside. I always chose the outside option. It was a wonderful way to start the day.

FITNESS CENTER

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Oh well. This was bit of a disappointment. It was rather small and not equipped with the latest equipment. Probably most of the visitors don’t bother using it anyway.

AMENITIES

park-hyatt-maldives-hadahaa-fruit-plate

Every day during my stay there was bottle of still and sparkling water brought to my villa. These were not foreign ones but bottled at the resort. Fruits were refreshed daily and some evenings they brought some delicacies.

park-hyatt-maldives-hadahaa-garden-villa-welcome-amenity

TECHNOLOGY

The resort has wireless internet on the villas but not everywhere on the public space. Sometimes I was able to get a wireless signal at breakfast or at the nearby bar but not most of the time. There were not any issues when it came to the speed itself inside the villas. I was able to do the usual browsing and couple of Skype calls without issues.

To my surprise they didn’t have BBC or CNN on the television. They did, however, have Russia Today and Deutsche Welle. I was told that they were looking at the issue and trying to get the lineup changed.

DINNER WITH THE GM

One day I had a letter waiting inviting me for a dinner and drinks with the GM. Over the years I have attended quite a few events at hotels where the management have meet and greet type of cocktail party with some of the hotel guests.

I have learned to go to these events always maybe half an hour late. Little did I know that I was actually the only guest invited.  So, I made the GM to wait me for twenty minutes.

Park Hyatt Maldives Hadahaa Bar Bells Bar

We had a cocktail at the Bell’s bar before going to dinner at the Moroccan themed restaurant. Over the dinner we discussed wide range of issues from how the hotel is run in the Maldives to Park Hyatt in Dubai where he was starting up the hotel.

It came obvious that the GM is very hands-on person at this property, that is probably required in a place like remote island somewhere in the Maldives.

TRANSFER FROM THE RESORT

For logistics reasons the property probably tries to schedule the guests to leave on the same flights. I didn’t like the early flight that they have scheduled for me. It wasn’t a problem for the property to switch it for a later one. I was going to the Sheraton resort close to the airport, but didn’t want to go there too early in the morning. I left on an afternoon flight.

park-hyatt-maldives-hadahaa-departure-kdm-flights

The boat took me to the KDM airport. The check in was breeze and I then had an access to the Maldivian departure lounge that was reserved for resort guests. I was the only on there. The flight that I was on was serving mainly locals on their way to Male.

Conclusion

park-hyatt-maldives-hadahaa-main-pool-view-from-the-bar

I had absolutely fantastic three nights at this property. In retrospect, I probably should have stayed few days longer, but I was going to spend some time and burn SPG free resort nights at the Sheraton Full Moon resort.

Park Hyatt Maldives Hadahaa Over Water Villa Sunset View From The Deck

The over water villa I had was really stunning. The best part of the day was to lie on the sofa on the deck while the sun was going down on the horizon.  It was very relaxing.

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InterContinental Hotels Group’s Priority Club is about to launch their second quarter 2012 Points Break list. Point Beaks are great way to use Priority Club points at deep discount as all these hotels are only 5000 Priority Club Points per night. The list is not available yet, but the hotels are bookable at the lower 5000 Priority Club points per night rate.

priority-club-point-breaks-march-2012

I will do another post when I have access to the complete list.

holiday-inn-bkk-pb

There are few of jewels on this list. The Holiday Inn Bangkok that is next to the InterContinental hotel is excellent value at 5000 Priority Club points per night. This is one of the better Holiday Inn hotels in the system, and I have stayed there number of times. Of course hotels in Bangkok aren’t really that expensive.

intercontinental-saigon-pb

Another good one, which I will book for few days, is the InterContinental Hotel Asiana in Saigon. When I was in Ho Chi Minh City last time, they were about the open this hotel in few weeks’ time.  This one is a good value as the price of western hotels has really gone up in Vietnam recently.

intercontinental-manila

Manila is not for everyone. It is one of the most chaotic cities to get around. I thought that I was going to miss the flight just sitting on the traffic jam. Anyway, the InterContinental there is also an excellent value for 5000 points per night. I have not stayed at this property before as I was staying at Mandaring and Hyatt when I visited there few years ago.

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There were quite a few changes announced to the SPG program back in January. The ability to earn lifetime Gold or Platinum status, continental breakfast for Platinum members in lieu of the 500 point amenity, 10 suite night awards for PLT members with 50+ nights, and an extra Starpoint + flexible 24 check in/out for 75+ night Platinum members.

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What was not “officially” announced or listed under various Starwood Platinum benefits, is the Starwood Ambassador for those with more than 100 nights with Starwood in 2011. I had 130+ nights in 2010 and around 110 in 2011. My nights actually went down, but I was assigned an Ambassador due to this new program wide initiative.

The Starwood’s Ambassador Program is not a new one. It was launched back in 2009 to serve better those high value guests that weren’t necessarily even members of the Preferred Guest program. Previously, there wasn’t any number of night requirement to become a Platinum member that is Ambassador managed, but the qualification was rather based on the dollar amount spent.

You will have the same Platinum status as the guest staying 25 stays or 50 nights yearly. The only difference that the front desk or the hotel can see, if they dig around a bit, is the fact that you are an Ambassador managed Platinum guest.

The Starwood Ambassadors are there to ensure that the hotels are aware of the preferences of the member and treat them to the utmost respect. These Ambassadors are basically spiced up Platinum concierge that are assigned number of guests to deal with. As is the case with Platinum concierge, they are supposed to deal with all kind of travel related requests from the guest even when they are not Starwood related.  I am not entire sure, however, why people would use them for issues that you can easily Google and sort out yourself.

I do understand why Starwood launched this Ambassador program. They are trying to capture a greater share of the travelers’ hotel dollars by providing personalized service that other chains i.e. Hilton, Hyatt, InterContinental, & Marriott cannot match.  Once you have used to program to fulfill requests to the level that the Ambassador program does, it is very difficult to switch chains.

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There was recently a puff piece about the Starwood Ambassador program on Bloomberg Businessweek. You should not expect to receive the level of service described on this article from the run of the mill Ambassadors. Based on my own experience, I have needed to coach the Ambassador about the promotions that the program is running. Also, I don’t need the level of service described on this article. I can live without having my favorite champagne chilled and waiting for me in my suite when I arrive, or to have guacamole and chips sitting on the table.

All what I need from the Ambassador, is to sort out things when I am not able to accomplish them by myself i.e. the website is acting up. I have been to about 70 countries and have spent more than 300 nights yearly at hotels every year since 2004. I don’t think that there is a lot value added the Ambassador can bring to table by sitting on Starwood’s call center and contacting the hotels/using Google to fulfill requests. I rather handle my travel by myself. I don’t use Starwood exclusively. The chain gets about third of my hotel nights.

I have to say, however, that couple of friends of mine that have been part of the program longer, are huge advocate for it. It appears to help with upgrades in more popular Starwood hotels that have high number of Platinum members checking in.

Conclusion

Would I go out of my way to hit 100 nights with Starwood to get an Ambassador? I would absolutely not. I have and will always prefer having a top status with number of chains. Although Starwood has quite good global coverage, it is not present everywhere. Having a number of hotel statuses helps with promotions too. I like to participate to a number of exciting free and bonus points promotions over the year. Starwood doesn’t always have the best promotions every quarter. Besides, it would become boring after a while to stay same hotels over and over.

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Starwood Preferred Guest members have been eligible for earning Starpoints when drinking and dining at SPG properties, even when not staying, for years. You only need to present your SPG member card at the time of settling the bill. The property is supposed to fill out a credit card style slip and the points would show up (or maybe not) in your account few days later.

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Now, Starwood has launched dining discounts at number of SPG hotels for Preferred Guest program members. There are more than 500 participating restaurants & bars. The discount varies from 10% to 30% depending of the venue. Individual properties have often offered dining discounts for in house guests.

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The website interface for locating bars and restaurants, where these offers are valid, appears to be working well. I was able to locate 21 establishments in Abu Dhabi offering discounts. It clearly shows the discount offered by various restaurants.

There are separate regional Starwood Privilege programs that offer even greater dining discounts usually around 50%, but these are restricted for residents of these counties and packages are not sold for visitors.

Around the World in 5 Meals

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This is a competition to promote the SPG Restaurants & Bars program. You need to choose five participating restaurants on the map and fill out your SPG number and email address. If you dine at any participating restaurant before the sweepstakes end, you will get an additional entry.

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Good luck!

TERMS AND CONDITIONS [click to continue…]

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EVA and Star Alliance will sign an agreement in Taipei 29th of March for the airline to join the alliance in about 12 months’ time. The carrier is expected to join the alliance in 2013 after meeting all the entry requirements. The bigger Taiwanese carrier China Airlines joined the rival alliance SkyTeam.

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Ethiopian Airlines joined the Star Alliance in 2011 and Avianca/TACA and Copa are both expected to join the alliance shortly.

EVA operates to four destinations in Europe of which three are operated via Bangkok. Only the Paris route is direct.  In the Americas the airline has non-stop service to Vancouver, Seattle, Francisco, Los Angeles, Toronto, and New York. Obviously the carrier has extensive network to China, North and Southeast Asia. The only destination served in Australia is Brisbane.

Taiwan is a natural connecting point from traffic coming from Americas and continuing to Southeast Asia and China.

Taipei is a very interesting and modern city to visit for a long weekend. I have been there couple of times. My plan is to travel, schedule permitting, to other cities around the island as well to see the more traditional Taiwan.

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