Category Archives: Hilton

The Mistake that Cost me a $690 Hotel Room

In this post I will describe the mistake that cost me a free stay at a posh hotel worth over $690.  More importantly, I’ll explain how you can avoid making this mistake!  It was a dumb mistake but I had never been warned about it, so I learned the hard way.

Oh well, sometimes the hard way is the best way to learn something.  But who says is has to be your hard way?  Read on to learn from mine. . .




My plan

The year was 2014.  I had just gotten my feet wet with my first ever points redemption and I was planning my next big trip.  Up to that point I didn’t have any experience with hotel programs; only frequent flier and miscellaneous points programs.  I only had one hotel credit card, the Citi Hilton Reserve.

I was in the middle of secretly planning the surprise European vacation for Nicoleen’s and my 10 year anniversary.  The flights were booked and all I had left to do was reserve a hotel room for the last night of the trip.  We would be flying out of Amsterdam but only spending one night in The Netherlands so I wanted to make it a memorable one.

Waldorf Astoria Amsterdam Goldfinch Brasserie

Waldorf Astoria Amsterdam Goldfinch Brasserie. CC Image courtesy of currystrumpet on Flickr.

What better way to make a one night hotel stay memorable than to book one of the fanciest hotels in the city, right?  (Ah, the fun things you can do when you use value tactics!)  I had my eyes on the new Waldorf Astoria Amsterdam.  The hotel is in the heart of the city and consists of six 17th century palaces, previously owned by the who’s who of the time, including two mayors.

Waldorf Astoria Amsterdam, by David van der Mark, Flickr

Waldorf Astoria Amsterdam.  CC Image courtesy of David van der Mark on Flickr.

I planned on using one of my free weekend night certificates from the sign-up bonus on my Citi Hilton Reserve card.  I had already finished the minimum spend for the bonus and was just waiting for the certificates to show up in the mail.

hiltonhhonors

In those ancient days the certificates still came in the physical mail.  What I didn’t know, however, was that the free nights were credited to your account 1-2 weeks before the paper certificates showed up . . .

What actually happened

In my recent post about another trip where I used the same kind of Hilton free nights, I touched on how to find available rooms on the Hilton website. In a nutshell, to use the certificate the room has to be available at the “standard” reward rate.  The standard rate is always a nice round number of points.  In the Waldorf’s case, it’s 95,000 points.

WAA

I knew the room wouldn’t be available forever.  In-demand Hilton properties have a very limited number of rooms available at the standard rate.  I was booking 7 months in advance but it was for July, right in the middle of vacation season in Europe.

Every day I checked the website and every day I still saw the room available I got more and more nervous.  The free night certificates had to be coming soon!

The moment of truth

Finally the certificates arrived in the mail!  This was going to blow Nicoleen away!  Staying at this ridiculously elegant Waldorf Astoria for free would really lock in the first class status of our trip!

That day I didn’t check the Hilton website.  I had just checked the night before.  What were the chances someone booked that particular room on that particular night, and that it was the very last one left at that rate?  I picked up the phone and called the Hilton HHonors booking line.  I told the rep the hotel location, the dates, and the payment method.

“I’m sorry.  That property is not available for that date.”

What??  How??  Sure enough, someone had booked the last room left at the standard rate, 7 months in advance, less than 24 hours before I called to reserve it!




What I should have done

The worst part about the whole deal was that the free nights had been credited to my account for two weeks before I got the certificates.  I could have reserved the room any time during those two weeks and it would have worked.  But no one ever told me about the delay.

According to the Flyertalk wiki the certificates now come via e-mail, and they come as soon as the free nights are credited on your account.  So the particular scenario that I screwed up isn’t a worry anymore.  However, there’s a broader lesson here. . .

The broader lesson for you

The take-away from my mistake isn’t actually about the timing of free night certificates.  It’s about the scarcity of hotel and flight award bookings.

This wasn’t the first time during this trip’s planning phase that I had to settle for my second choice.  When booking our first class transatlantic flight, I had planned flying business class.  For virtually the same seat and service, the business class seats were 50k miles, versus the 62.5k required for first class.  Days before I booked the award flight, all the business class options disappeared.

If the hotel or flight award booking is easily refundable/changeable, lock in your reservation right away!  Desirable award flights and hotel rooms are hot commodities, and they disappear all the time.  Don’t trust them to still be there after you get all your other plans lined up. If you end up changing your mind, most programs allow a quick and convenient way to have your points refunded.

A missed opportunity, but not a disaster

It all worked out in the end for Nicoleen and me.  We ended up staying at my second choice hotel, the Hilton Amsterdam I recently wrote a review of this awesome hotel.  It was not quite as blown out as the Waldorf Astoria, but we still enjoyed it and it served our purpose nicely.

Nicoleen walking down a typical street in Amsterdam, packed with bikes.

We had a great (but short) time in Amsterdam, despite staying in our second choice hotel.  The Hilton Amsterdam is definitely a worthwhile use of a free night certificate!

Some images in this post made available through a Creative Commons license.  Click here for info.

Our Hawaiian Get-Away 2016

In September of 2016, Nicoleen and I embarked on our long-awaited Hawaiian get-away.  This 7-night luxury trip to Maui was our first time to Hawaii, and knocked off one item in my bucket list.  It took some advanced tactical planning to get the flights and all the hotel stays to align properly.  Read on to find out how we planned and executed our much needed Hawaiian get-away and got $4,152 worth of lodging and airfare for $189 by tactically redeeming miles and free nights!Maui sunset from Grand Wailea

[Mostly] Free Hotels

After our involved and arduous planning phase, we accomplished our goal of 6 free nights at luxury resorts.  Since our flight didn’t arrive in Maui until late evening, we wanted to burn our first night at an inexpensive hotel near the airport.  That way we would get to enjoy our whole first day at the Andaz.

With a little help from Tripadvisor reviews (always part of my research) we settled on Maui Seaside Hotel in Kahului.  I had an e-mail offer from Rocketmiles for 4,000 bonus miles with my first booking.  The price for the room was only $11 more through the Rocketmiles price search.  Since I value 5,000 American Airlines miles at far higher than the $11 difference, the offer was well worth it.

maui seaside– Click for my full review of the Maui Seaside Hotel –

After the brief stay in Kahuilui it was on to the incredibly upscale southwest Maui town of Wailea.  There we stayed at the two resorts that our whole trip revolved around.  The first was the Andaz Maui at Wailea.  The second was the Grand Wailea, a Waldorf Astoria Resort.

- Click for my full review of the Andaz Maui at Wailea -– Click for my full review of the Andaz Maui at Wailea –

Grand Wailea Pools– Click for my full review of the Grand Wailea, a Waldorf Astoria Resort –

Our hotel schedule looked like this:

Cost Summary

Hawaiian Get-Away cost summary

* Add the $95 annual fee on the Citi Hilton Reserve to our lodging cost, if you want to count that.

Points earned on the trip were 4,993 Hyatt points, 4,693 Hilton points, 4,179 American Airlines miles, and approximately 1,500 Chase Ultimate Rewards.

Origin of Concept

I had known about the Chase Hyatt card and the Citi Hilton Reserve card from my early days of credit cards, points and miles.  These are very popular cards because of their sign-up bonuses: both cards offer two free nights at any category of property from their respective portfolios.  Obviously the value potential when redeeming these free nights is enormous.  Each card could conceivably be used for $1000+/night resorts.  I briefly discussed the possibilities for these free nights in this post when we first got these cards.

hyatt-hilton-smallBetween two people you’ll have a total of 8 free nights if each of you gets both cards.  It’s a little tricky though, because the Hilton free nights are only good on weekends (Fri, Sat, Sun nights).  So in order to get 8 nights in a row, you’d have to split your stay at the Hilton in two, with the 4 Hyatt nights in between.  We had no interest in switching hotels twice, so our goal was 6 nights split between 4 Hyatt nights and 2 Hilton nights.  (We had to do this anyway since I had already used both free nights from my Hilton card on previous trips).

The trick then became finding two amazing properties close to each other, one Hilton and one Hyatt. . .




The Planning Phase

As you may have guessed from the post I referenced above, I had already given some thought to which pair of Hilton and Hyatt properties I was aiming for.  There are a number of fantastic locations around the globe with worthwhile resorts from each chain near to each other.  But I had my heart set on Hawaii; specifically the Andaz Maui from Hyatt and the Grand Wailea from Hilton’s Waldorf Astoria collection.

The logistics of this trip were quite a feat to sort out . . . but possible with enough research and advanced planning!

The logistics of this trip were quite a tangled mess to sort out . . . but it was possible with enough research and advanced planning!

This trip was a real doozie to plan!  I had to coordinate 2 free hotel stays at highly in-demand properties.  The dates had to fit with our work schedules.  We needed to be reasonably certain we could arrange child care for the dates.  Plus, the hotel dates needed to mesh with available flights we could purchase with miles.

Here’s how my thought process worked as I approached this monumental task:
  1. Time window.  We got the card bonuses (free night certificates) in December and we had already picked out September or October as our target date range.  It’s a good time to visit Hawaii and it’s also a relatively slow time for me at work.  A 9-10 month lead time would also improve our chances of finding free nights and flights that all worked together.
  2. Free hotels.  There were multiple options for airlines and frequent flier programs to get to Hawaii, but we were aiming for two specific hotels with limited award night availability.  I knew that hotels would be the limiting factor, so that’s where I started.  The hotel availability was so limited that I didn’t even look at flights at all until I had the hotels set.  The free night certificates are completely refundable, so there was no risk to booking them “in the blind” as far as airfare was concerned.
  3. Free flights.  Once I locked down hotel reservations and used all 6 certificates, I began the flight search.  I checked my usual three: United, American, and Delta.  Right away I noticed that most flights from the lower 48 to Hawaii arrive in the evening, and most return flights are red-eyes.    That threw a wrench in the plans because I didn’t want to waste virtually the whole first day at one of the awesome hotels by getting in late.  So I moved my search for the outgoing flight up a day and figured we could stay the first night in an inexpensive hotel by the airport.  I settled on a Delta round trip, which would use up our entire Delta SkyMiles balances.  (good riddance!)
  4. Bonus night.  Because we would be arriving a night early, we would need to find a hotel for that first night.  I had recently seen an e-mail offer for bonus American Airlines miles when booking hotels through Rocketmiles.  I found a decent-looking hotel near the airport in Kahului and booked it through Rocketmiles for the bonus miles.
  5. Car rental.  We waited a little too close for comfort on this.  I think we reserved a rental car less than 2 months from the trip.  It ended up working out fine, but we should have taken care of it earlier, to be safe.

The struggle with free nights at the Andaz Maui

Certain Hyatt resorts are notorious for being difficult to book with points or free night certificates.  There’s a whole Flyertalk thread devoted to this annoyance.  It’s a combination of supply/demand, games some hotels play with room types, and minimum stay requirements.  The Andaz Maui at Wailea ranks up their with the worst of them, as it has all three factors going for it.

Example: If I try to book for two nights this coming September, it shows standard rooms available:

Check the box for paying with points and the rooms disappear:

But, if you extend the stay to 5 nights, the rooms are magically available again.  This is an example of a hidden minimum stay requirement:

The minimum stay requirement in the example above is probably the one that gets most people.  The minimum stays aren’t publicized; you just have to search around for room availability.  Some dates it’s 5 nights minimum, others it’s 2, or any other number.

Free night certificates can only be used to book “standard” rooms, which are the same ones bookable with points.  This is another way some Hyatts manipulate room availability.  They re-categorize a handful of rooms to a “lower” room type and calling that new type the “standard” room.  This new room type can exist for reasons such as a less desirable view or being on a lower floor.  I call shenanigans!

How we beat the shenanigans and booked the room

With a little help from reports on Flyertalk and blog posts like this one from Million Mile Secrets, I went to book our free rooms.  The Hyatt website was giving us the same minimum stay error for our selected dates as shown above.  I was anticipating that so I had Nicoleen call the Hyatt Gold Passport reservation line.

The rep put up a little resistance when the same online system didn’t let him book Nicoleen’s 2 night stay with her certificates from her Chase Hyatt card.  She played dumb and told him that each night showed up as available when she selected cash as the payment type.  And, she reasoned, if the same room type was available with cash, she should be able to book it with her certificates.  She was successful.  Two down, two to go!

Next It was my turn.  I tried the same thing but the rep I got actually cited the 5-day minimum stay.  I told him as long as the standard room was available (which it certainly was), I should be able to book it with my certificates.  He once again mentioned the 5 night minimum so I had to play my ace: “If it’s not possible, then how did my wife just book the two previous nights?  Here’s her confirmation number…”  The rep put me on hold and after about 10 minutes a manager greeted me.  She said usually it’s not possible, but in this case she would make an exception and book the room for me.

The Andaz Maui at Wailea is such an amazing property, it was worth the extra hassle to hunt and fight for the free night reservations.

The Andaz Maui at Wailea is such an amazing property, it was worth the extra hassle to hunt and fight for the free night reservations.

Apparently there is a way for the Hyatt customer service reps to book free nights and override the individual property’s minimum stay limit.  It might take a few HUCAs (Hang Up and Call Again) but it can be done.  Or at least it could be done when we booked this trip.  This type of thing is constantly evolving and I would recommend reading recent discussion in the Flyertalk forum for the latest intel.

Booking the Hilton free nights

Using the Hilton free nights from the Citi Hilton Reserve card is actually more restrictive than the Hyatt certificates, but it’s more cut and dry.

Hilton also limits their capacity of points-bookable rooms.  On top of the limited supply, they further limit the number of points-bookable rooms at the “standard” award level.  These are the equivalent of an airline’s “saver level” award seat.  Only the standard room type at the standard award level can be booked with the Citi free nights.  One more restriction: the Citi free nights can only be used on Fridays, Saturdays, or Sundays.

Despite the restrictions, it’s easy to search for available dates.  When searching for a room on the Hilton website, check the “flexible dates” and “Hilton Honors points” boxes:

hiltonplan1

The results will look like this:

hiltonplan2

You can then click “Forward a week” to scroll through the dates.  Standard award rates are always nice round numbers.  In the Grand Wailea’s case, it’s 95,000 points.  As of right now, September 8th-10th, 2017 is an available weekend stay!

Before booking the Hyatt nights, I had confirmed that the two days following that hotel stay were available weekend nights at the Grand Wailea at standard rates.  A few clicks later, and both hotels were booked!

Free airfare (the easy part)

By the time I got all the hotel stays to line up, our dates were the only stretch in our 2 month window that would work.  Being tied to specific flight dates typically makes finding free flights more difficult.  But we had a few factors working in our favor as well.  We had decent balances in all three major U.S. frequent flier programs (United, American, Delta), Hawaii is a popular place to fly, and we were starting our search 9 months in advance.

Right off the bat our specific travel dates narrowed us down to Delta flights.  Nicoleen and I had over 90k combined Delta miles.  Since Delta has the worst redemption rates in the universe for award flights, our round trip economy flights would cost us 45k miles per person.




The other option was to transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards to Korean Air and book the exact same Delta flight for 25k miles per person.  (For a full explanation of how this works, check out this post by Milevalue: Guide to Booking Delta Flights to Hawaii for 25k Korean Miles Roundtrip).

Despite living near a Delta hub (MSP) I value Delta Skymiles so lowly, I had previously resolved to use them the first chance I could.  So I gave up a potential 50,000 point savings on a 90,000 mile flight in order to get rid of my Delta balance!  I had to pay a $120 fee to transfer some of Nicoleen’s miles to me so we both had over 45k. . . and I still think I made the right choice!

My complimentary meal on the 5 hour flight LAX-OGG. The price of flying for free. :)

My complimentary meal on the 5 hour flight LAX-OGG. The price of flying for free. 🙂

Cost Breakdown

Airfare:

Our outgoing and return Delta flights were both two-leg economy flights with a layover at LAX.  The cash value was actually pretty reasonable at $605.01 per person, round trip.  We paid 45k Delta Skymiles per person.  There was a $120 transfer fee involved in order to get both our account balances up to 45k.  We also paid $25 each way to check a bag.

We earned the majority of our Skymiles with the Delta Gold American Express card, which we both got early in our credit card careers.

Lodging:

We stayed the first night of our Hawaiian get-away at the the Maui Seaside Hotel.  When all was said and done, it cost us $179.  With the stay we earned over 4,179 American Airlines Miles, which is worth at least $50 to me.

Our next 4 nights were at the Andaz Maui at Wailea.  We used 4 free night certificates that we earned by each getting the Chase Hyatt card.  The cash price for a fully refundable stay at the time we booked the room was $439.  With the mandatory valet fee ($25), daily resort fee ($40), and tax, the nightly total would have cost us $540, for a total of $2,160.  The resort fee is covered with the free night, so all we had to pay was the valet fee, $106!

The last two nights of the trip were at Hilton’s Grand Wailea, a Waldorf Astoria Resort.  The cash price for our room at the Grand Wailea was $327.  With resort fee, valet, and tax, two nights would have been $872.  Our cost was just the valet with tax: $62.50!

Ground Transportation:

We decided to see what the smaller, non-chain car rental companies had to offer on Maui.  Our search revealed some amusing results.  One particular company had a category called “old vans” which consisted of early 90’s minivans at a bargain price!

We went with a company called Maui Car Rentals that had Mustang convertibles for less than the price of compact economy cars at the major chain rental agencies.  I got this 3-5 year old Mustang convertible that ran and looked great for $223!  We got a free ride from the airport and they let us drop the car off at the airport after hours.  Maui Car Rentals nō ka ’oi!

Jpeg

We had a running joke with the hotel valet drivers.  When requesting our car we told them we had the white Mustang convertible.  I think about 90% of the cars on the island were white Mustang convertible rentals!

Conclusion

hawaii-get-away

This Hawaiian get-away for Nicoleen and me was the culmination of a lot of planning.  We had this or a similar trip in mind way back when we planned our credit card applications a year prior.  The Chase Hyatt card and the Citi Hilton Reserve cards make a potent combination if enough advanced thought it given to the bonus redemptions.  For us, the research and planning paid off!

We managed to stay at luxury resorts on Maui that we could have normally never afforded.  Throw in the virtually free airfare and the whole trip cost us less than a budget weekend to Florida would have cost!

Another added bonus of virtually free airfare and hotels is the freedom it affords you with other spending.  You can splurge on dining and entertainment and not feel guilty about it.

Lobster deviled eggs, Proletariat woodfired pizza, and the best fries on the planet - at Monkeypod farm-to-table restaurant in Wailea, Maui.

Lobster deviled eggs, Proletariat wood-fired pizza, and the best fries on the planet – at Monkeypod farm-to-table restaurant in Wailea, Maui.

Do you want to learn the tactics we used to plan and execute this amazing Hawaiian get-away?  Like the ValueTactics Facebook page, comment, ask, and interact!

For more on this Hawaiian get-away trip, check out these related posts:




Hotel Review: Hilton Amsterdam

Our free stay at the Hilton Amsterdam was a nice little bonus at the tail end of our anniversary vacation.  I wanted to get our return flight out of Frankfurt but there was nothing available in our date range.  I expanded the flight search to nearby airports and found a flight out of Amsterdam.  The flight left around noon so I figured a hotel stay nearby would make getting to the airport less problematic.  We didn’t want to risk missing the flight due to last minute ground transportation problems.

I had two free nights at any Hilton that I earned with my Citi Hilton Reserve card, so the extra night of lodging wouldn’t cost us anything.  As a bonus, we would get to experience a new city and add another country to our trip!

Hotel Overview
The Room
Executive Lounge
Dining
Cost and Value
Overall Thoughts

This post is part of a series reviewing our 2015 Anniversary trip to Europe.  For a full list of the posts in this series, and for an overview of the trip, check out the index page.

Hotel Overview

The Hilton Amsterdam was the first international hotel built in The Netherlands.  It’s an 11 story V-shaped building in a quiet part of the city, away from all the tourist traps.  The hotel has some interesting history; notably it was the site of John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s “Bed-In” for peace in 1969.  For more general info on the Hilton Amsterdam check out the hotel’s heritage page or its Wikipedia page.

The Hilton Amsterdam is currently rated 4.5 out of 5.0 on Tripadvisor and is ranked #42 of 364 hotels in Amsterdam.

The Room

Due to my Gold status with Hilton HHonors from my Citi Hilton Reserve card, we got a free room upgrade at check-in.  Our room was an “Executive King Room” on the 8th floor, which was dedicated to executive rooms.  Our room key also granted us access to the 10th floor, which is entirely taken up by the rooftop executive lounge.  More on that later . . .

Our room was impeccably clean.  It looked like it was recently renovated as well.  A clean, newly renovated room will get a great review from me every time!  Our executive king room at the Hilton Amsterdam was large enough for our needs and had a convenient lay-out.  The view of the city was fantastic.  Overall we were very pleased with the room.

Hilton Amsterdam room

Hilton Amsterdam bathroom

The top shelf was the only usable space for personal items in the minibar fridge. The other items were automatically charged to the room upon removal. Be careful!

The top shelf was the only usable space for personal items in the minibar fridge. The other items were automatically charged to the room upon removal. Be careful!

The complimentary bottles of water we got as a Gold Status perk. The Hilton pen that was by the note pad was the nicest hotel pen I have ever pilfered (until the Grand Wailea, that is).

The complimentary bottles of water we got as a Gold Status perk. The Hilton pen that was by the note pad was the nicest hotel pen I have ever pilfered (until the Grand Wailea, that is).

Executive Lounge

One of the reasons I chose the Hilton Amsterdam among the other Hilton properties in the city was the executive lounge.  Gold status gets you access to these lounges at any Hilton that has one.

After getting settled in our room we headed up to the rooftop floor.  The executive lounge is the only thing on the top floor, and only executive floor room keys will get the elevator to stop there.  The lounge was open from 6:00-9:00 in the evening, daily.  We arrived right at 6:00 so we got the first pick at the assortment of complimentary food and beverages.

ams-exec1

Poor Nicoleen was 7 months pregnant, so she couldn't take advantage of all the complimentary beer and wine that were available in parts of our trip. Pictured here, she finds solace in a carrot chip.

Poor Nicoleen was 7 months pregnant, so she couldn’t take advantage of all the complimentary beer and wine that were available in parts of our trip. Pictured here, she finds solace in a carrot chip.

Besides the food and drink, there were newspapers available.  The views of the city were beautiful, and overall the place had a very relaxing ambiance.  Most of the other guests appeared to be traveling on business.  I guess that fits the “executive” part.

The view of the business center of Amsterdam from the executive lounge at the city Hilton.

The view of the business center of Amsterdam from the executive lounge at the city Hilton.

I would have been happy to fill up on the free beer and hors d’oeuvres, but Nicoleen wanted to get a flavor of the city, so we headed out for supper.

Dining

The Amsterdam Hilton has three restaurants, a bar, and a fitness center.  The restaurants looked top notch, but we had other plans for dinner.  The one evening was the only chance we had to soak up some Dutch culture so we wanted to find out where the locals ate.

Nicoleen walking down a typical street in Amsterdam, packed with bikes.

Nicoleen walking down a typical street in Amsterdam, packed with bikes.

The great thing about the Hilton’s location is that it’s far from the tourist-trap center of the city.  A short walk from the hotel and we were surrounded by locals.  We found a small French café and ate a light dinner, which was enough after we had partially filled up on appetizers in the executive lounge.

Breakfast Buffet

Our gold Hilton status got us free breakfast at the buffet.  This was normally $30 per person so it was quite a good value!  The host seated us at a table and took our drink orders.  Thirty dollars for a hotel breakfast seemed a bit steep until we saw the wondrous cornucopia that awaited us!

The spread at the Hilton Amsterdam was probably the most extensive breakfast buffet I have ever seen.  It had anything you can think of from multiple cuisines.  There was the full European spread: multiple breads, meats, and cheeses; müsli, sweet bakery goods, and boiled eggs.  British specialties like veal sausage, tomatoes, and mushrooms were on hand as well.  There were French crepes and omelettes made to order.  The whole American breakfast experience was available too: bacon, sausage links, scrambled eggs, fruit, cereal, biscuits and gravy, etc.  There were even African and Asian dishes that I didn’t recognize at all.

It was like having several breakfast buffets from multiple continents, all combined into one!

On the way out, there was a table with to-go options.  That’s rare at a buffet!  There were little paper cartons you could fill with tiny muffins or fruit, and to-go coffee cups as well.  That’s awesome service right there!

The to-go goodies I grabbed on the way out of the buffet. "Have a nice day". . . don't mind if I do!

The to-go goodies I grabbed on the way out of the buffet. “Have a nice day”. . . don’t mind if I do!

Cost and Value

Our executive level room at the Hilton Amsterdam was a steal at $0.00!  I used one of my two free weekend night certificates on this hotel stay.  My gold Hilton status and the free night certificates are some of the perks of the Citi Hilton Reserve card, which I had opened a few months prior to planning the trip.

Had we paid cash for the same room at the time of booking, it would have cost $385.48.  I wrote above that the buffet breakfast was $30 per person.  But if we would have added the breakfast onto our booking as a package, it would have been an extra $20.47.  That brings the total value of our free stay to $405.95.  Not a bad deal for half of a credit card sign-up bonus!



Overall Thoughts

Our one night stay in Amsterdam could have been purely functional; it served the purpose of getting us close to our departure airport.  The Hilton turned our 16 hours in The Netherlands into much more than that.  It was a fun and refreshing finale to our anniversary trip!

All the staff at the Hilton were extremely courteous and professional.  I don’t know how much of it was due to our gold status, but we received white glove service throughout our short stay.  (No, really . . . the doorman was wearing a tail coat and white gloves!)  Like everyone else in Holland, the hotel staff all spoke perfect English.  The concierge helped arrange a taxi for us to get to the airport in the morning and everything went smoothly.

There were plenty of other hotel choices in the city.  Had we been paying cash for the room we would have probably chosen something cheaper and closer to the airport, but I don’t think the Hilton is overpriced for the service and room quality they offer.  It’s a clean, beautiful hotel in a beautiful, vibrant city.

🙂 Thanks for reading my review! 🙂

executive_loungerBW(This was actually my second choice for using my Hilton free night in Amsterdam, but that’s another story for another blog post. . .  )

Hotel Review – Grand Wailea: A Waldorf Astoria Resort

Grand Wailea title
The second major hotel stay on our 2016 Hawaiian get-away was at the opulent Grand Wailea, a Waldorf Astoria resort.  Our two night stay wasn’t nearly enough time to fully appreciate the scope of this place.  One of the first major resorts built in Wailea, it covers 40 acres and has almost 850 guest rooms.  Like every property in the Waldorf Astoria portfolio, the Grand Wailea oozes elegance. . . and has a price tag to match.  Including all taxes and fees, the cash price for our room was 480.90/night.  Our cost after employing value tactics?  $31.25/night!  Before I get to the full cost breakdown, here’s the review:




Grand Wailea Resort Overview

Coming directly from our 4 night stay at Hyatt’s Andaz Maui, we were shocked at the size of the Grand Wailea.  The resort boasts 847 guest rooms, 5 dining options, a swim-up grotto bar, a large spa and fitness center, an on-site wedding chapel, several shops and art galleries, a full service beach club, cabanas for rent, and a huge pool complex featuring water slides, a lazy river, a sand bottom zero-entry pool, Tarzan swing, SCUBA dive pool, a water elevator, an adults-only pool, and several hot tubs.

Add to all that countless koi ponds, waterfalls, lush tropical gardens and landscaping, huge open air atriums, scattered statues and other artwork, a large beach, and on-site Luau area. . . this place is IMPRESSIVE.  If you’re ever in Wailea, it’s worth a drive around the valet loop just to get a small visual taste of the Grand Wailea’s grounds and architecture.  If you don’t happen to be in Wailea right now,  you’ll have to settle for a few of my photos:
Grand Wailea Chapel

Grand Wailea Botero Bar

Grand Wailea Grounds

Grand Wailea Dolphin Pool

Grand Wailea Restaurant

It’s hard to believe a 2-night stay at a property like this is attainable for $62.50 and a single credit card sign-up bonus!

Around 1:00 on a Saturday afternoon, the front desk was a zoo.  At check-in Nicoleen’s Hilton Gold status was recognized and we were given 1000 bonus points, a $20 gift certificate for Bistro Molokini, and 2 drink vouchers for the Botero Lounge.

The bellman then escorted us and our luggage to our room on the 6th floor in the Molokini Wing, far, far away from the lobby.  He gave us a brief tour of the room and left to fetch a microwave at Nicoleen’s request.

The Room

Since we booked our 2 night stay with Hilton free weekend night certificates, we got the cheapest room category on the property, the “terrace view king.”  Of course this was code for “parking garage view.”

We knew this going in and expected the worst.  We were pleasantly surprised to discover that the beauty of Hawaii trumps the frugally devised room placement of hotel developers.  Even the worst views on Maui are beautiful:

Ignore the foreground and what do you see? The gentle slope of Haleakala on the left and the Pacific ocean on the right.

Ignore the foreground and what do you see? The gentle slope of Haleakala on the left and the Pacific ocean on the right.

In contrast to our room at the Andaz, this one was more about traditional luxury.  The king bed was very comfortable, with a custom embroidered Waldorf Astoria duvet cover and an ample pillow supply.  There was a writing desk with regular and usb charging outlets.
Grand Wailea bed

Grand Wailea room desk

I got to replenish my supply of my favorite hotel pens! The Grand Wailea had the same pens in the room as the Amsterdam Hilton. My kids took care of that one for me by taking it apart and smashing it 🙁

gw-room-outlet

Hidden, flip-down power centers on either side of the bed contained regular and usb charging outlets, which we found to be a nice added convenience.

The bathroom was marble and granite, featuring a separate shower and tub, toilet closet, and a large vanity.  Nicoleen appreciated the large vanity after the cramped situation in the Andaz bathroom.
Grand Wailea bathroom 1
Grand Wailea bathroom 2

Then lanai (balcony) was small but the furniture was comfortable.
gw-lanai-furniture

Unlike the Andaz, the Grand Wailea has mini-fridges in every room.  Above the fridge was a Keurig with a selection of coffee and tea.

Grand Wailea Keurig

This counter top was later cluttered with a microwave and all of our foodstuffs.

Amenities

Grand Wailea swimming pool complex

Grand Wailea Pools
The swimming pool area at the Grand Wailea is EXTENSIVE.  After 2 days of using the pools, we were still getting lost trying to get from one place to another.  All of the water features are woven into the garden landscaping.  The Grotto Bar, the beach & pool shop, Bistro Molokini (restaurant), and the Volcano Bar are all integrated into the pool area as well.  It’s truly an impressive attraction and is about as close as you can get to a water park experience without actually going to a water park.
from maps.google.com
Each day, registered guests need to check in at a pool desk to get the day’s wrist band, which is a different color every day.  We saw some lucky kids wearing 6-7 different colored wristbands all at once.  We only used the pools for 2 days but I wanted to be cool too, so I kept mine on all the way back to Minnesota 🙂  Towels and complimentary sunscreen were also available at the pool desks.




Understandably the pool area was pretty crowded most of the time.  However, despite what we read online, it wasn’t hard to get a chair or umbrella as long as we got out there reasonably early (8:30 and 90% of the chairs around the Hibiscus Pool were still available).
Grand Wailea Hibiscus Pool
With the number of pool features at the Grand Wailea, the easiest way to review them all is to list each one and offer some thoughts on each:

  • Hibiscus pool:  This large adults-only pool is made up entirely of 1″ mosaic tiles, with a 630,000 tile hibiscus flower design on the bottom.  Although some of the adults were acting like children when we were there, it was our go-to area to get chairs and was the most relaxing and quiet spot in the whole pool complex.
    Grand Wailea - Hibiscus Pool
  • Grotto Bar:  (covered in the “Dining” section below)
  • Lazy River:  This river doesn’t make a complete circuit.  It starts at the bottom of several cascading pools connected with tiny slides.  The first slide on the lazy river portion is wide enough for a tube.  The current moves you along the river, with chances to exit at all of the other major pool features.  We bought a cheap tube ($8) from the beach/pool shop and floated down the river one time.  If our stay would have been longer we would have probably utilized it more.  And in case you’re wondering, it’s perfectly fine to bring drinks with you down the river.
  • Water Elevator:  Supposedly this is pretty cool but after asking the attendant about it, we later returned to find it had just closed for the day.
  • Water Slides:  A quick search online will inform you that the largest and fastest slide recently closed permanently.  The other slides are apparently fun as well, but when we went to use them on our last afternoon at the Grand Wailea, they had just closed for the day.
  • Baby beach pool:  This is a zero-entry pool with a sand beach.  We saw it as we floated by on the lazy river.  It looked like the tiny kids were enjoying it.
  • Tarzan rope swing:  We didn’t try this but it was getting some pretty good use from lots of screaming, excited kids, so I assume they liked it.
  • SCUBA dive pool:  We didn’t use this pool but we thought it was pretty cool that there are mosaic tile fish and coral reef adorning it’s walls and floor.

Overall the swimming pool complex at the Grand Wailea was very fun, and we thought it had more potential we weren’t able to tap into during our short stay.  However, we have a few complaints.  The odd hours of the different pool features surprised us and prevented us from even trying out several of them.  A closer look at the resort’s website reveals the actual hours:

Pools: 7am – 10pm
Slides: 10am – 5pm
Water Elevator: 11am – 4pm

Even the Grotto Bar closes at 5:00 PM, being connected to the pool system.  The “normal” swimming pools close at 10:00 PM, which is standard for most hotels but nonetheless annoying.  With over a thousand guests, I’m sure at least a handful of adults would enjoy some late night relaxation in the hot tubs or Hibiscus pool.

Haleakala from Grand Wailea night

Haleakala at night from our balcony at the Grand Wailea

The last complaint about the swimming pool complex might be considered a nitpick, but many other reviewers have noticed it as well.  A lot of tiles were missing from all pool areas, the painted coating was worn down to concrete on some of the slides, and some of the concrete along the pool edges was crumbling.  This is to be expected for a resort of this age, but it did slightly detract from the experience.

Beach and Other Amenities

In contrast to our previous nights’ stay at the Hyatt Andaz, it was hard to figure out what was included with our $30 resort fee (waived for us since we used free night certificates) at the Grand Wailea.  The website says it’s good for free internet (which we got through Nicoleen’s gold status anyway), beach umbrellas for use on Wailea Beach, admission to twice daily SCUBA clinics, bike rentals, and free local phone calls (what year is this?).  We didn’t use the bike rental or SCUBA lessons.  The beach in front of the hotel is actually a public beach, so the umbrella perk was probably worthwhile for some people.  (NOTE: being a public beach means alcoholic beverages are technically not allowed.)
Grand Wailea Beach
The beach itself was much like the rest of the beaches in the area: spotless, calm in the morning and rougher in the afternoon, almost purely sand, and warm.

The on-property shops reminded us of the “impulse buy alleys” that you find on some cruise ship piers in the Caribbean.  However, unlike these duty free circuses, the Shops at Grand Wailea weren’t staffed by pushy salesmen.  There are several art shops/galleries, clothing and swimwear stores, and souvenir shops.  If we had the budget and the kid-free house (seems like those two things might go together) for fine art, we would have loved to buy one of the awesome glass framed photographic prints we saw, or one of the crashing wave glass sculptures.  I’m sure we would have been shocked by the prices on these pieces so we didn’t even check, but they were lovely to look at!

We were flying out the evening after our last night at the Grand Wailea, which meant we had an entire day to fill after checking out.  We had no luck trying for a late check-out, but we were offered the continued use of the pool and grounds until we departed.  Living out of a beach bag for most of the day is inconvenient but the front desk person made it easier by offering us the use of an hospitality room.  We just had to notify the front desk when we were done swimming for the day and they gave us a key and told us to try and keep it under an hour.  We were able to take showers, get changed, and repack our carry-ons.  The hospitality room available for us was a suite in Napua Tower:

Grand Wailea Suite

Our room for an hour. This Napua Nani Suite can be yours for a mere $2220 per night!

Neither Nicoleen nor I used the fitness center or the spa, so I can’t comment on these.

Dining

Of the multiple restaurants and bars available at the Grand Wailea, two were under construction during our stay.  Humuhumunukunukuapua’a was being relocated and the Volcano Bar was being renovated.  Humuhumunukunukuapua’a had plastic sheeting in the windows and the pool surrounding the restaurant had been drained.  The whole thing was an eyesore.  The Volcano Bar was getting boarded up while we watched the Sunday night NFL game from the nearby Grotto Bar.  They set up a temporary replacement bar with a limited selection of menu items in tents near one of the pools.  I guess there’s no good time to remodel a bustling resort, and yet it has to be done; but it’s still annoying when it happens to fall on the dates of your stay.

Bistro Molokini

Our first evening at the Grand Wailea we decided to use our $20 voucher at Bistro Molokini.  We made reservations for 8:40 and were promptly seated at an outer table overlooking the swimming pool area.  We ordered the onion ring appetizer and a kalua pork flat bread pizza.  The food was excellent!  The onion rings were very possibly the best I’ve ever had.

Bistro Molokini Onion Rings

Everyone loves having their picture taken while taking a bite of food, right?

The service however, was abysmal.  Our server never spoke to us from the time we ordered until she came to ask if we wanted dessert.  She helped adjacent tables several times and totally ignored us.  My beer glass was empty for the majority of the meal.  On top of it all, she was rude and unfriendly.  I’m a classic passive Midwesterner when it comes to things like this so I very rarely complain about restaurant service.  But this was really bad.  The manager must have overheard us talking about the server and offered us free dessert or another round of beers for our trouble.  We accepted the free beer.  (ValueTactics pro-tip: free beer is rare in the U.S. – take advantage of it when you can!)
Bistro Molokini - Grand Wailea
Aside from the bad service the place was also extremely loud, with groups of individuals standing by the bar emitting almost non-stop, boisterous, cackling laughter.  It’s probably not fair to judge and entire restaurant based on what was very likely just one employee’s bad day.  On the other hand, Bistro Molokini had one chance to make an impression on us and it was generally negative, so that’s the review I have to give it.  The only aspects that saved our dining experience from being a total disaster were the great food and lovely scenery.
Bistro Molokini view

Grotto Bar

After a valet driver called the Grotto Bar for us and confirmed that the Packers-Vikings game would be on the TVs, we decided this is where we would park ourselves for the Sunday evening (early afternoon in Hawaii) NFL game.  Nicoleen managed to find one open seat at the end of the bar right before the game started.  I joined her and we promptly staked a claim on the bar for Packer Nation:

Packer Nation at Grand Wailea Grotto Bar

(Just don’t ask how the game ended . . .)

Grand Wailea Grotto BarThe grotto was packed.  The lone bartender, Tim, was shuttling out $13 cocktails at an incredible rate.  We weren’t there for cocktails, however; a Packers-Vikings game requires beer.  Unfortunately for us, the draft beers all ran dry shortly after we arrived.  Even several of the bottled beer choices were eventually exhausted.  Apparently the Grotto Bar is a “while supplies last” kind of operation.  We were able to supplement our beverage needs with our own drinks brought from our beach bag.  I think this is acceptable as long as we periodically ordered food or drink from the bar.  Maybe the fact that the entire bar had one beer choice available (Corona cans) helped to soften their outside food and beverage policy.  Or maybe it’s always like that- I don’t know.

We ordered shredded pork nachos ($17) which was more than enough food to keep us full for the whole game.  They were filling, but otherwise unremarkable.

gw-nicoleen-packersSpeaking of the “whole game” here’s where our major complaint about the Grotto Bar comes in.  All three TVs had the same football game on.  The place was raking in many hundreds of dollars per hour with just the one bartender.  And yet, around the end of the 3rd quarter, we noticed that the water was being drained from the seating area.  Shortly after noticing this, Tim was taking requests for last call.  The Grotto Bar closes at 5:00 PM!  Even with one quarter left of a major sports game on the TV, there was no stopping the closing time.  We were shocked.  We had to make the 10 minute trek to our room to watch the end of the game.

Like the other swimming pool features, the Grotto Bar has a bizarrely early closing time.  Well, it was fun (and expensive) while it lasted.  (Props to bartender Tim for staying upbeat and super friendly despite the beer shortage and the angry mob of football fans having their game viewing cut short!)

Cost and Value

This is the fun part 🙂  At the time of booking (9 months in advance) the best available rate for our room was $326.80/night.  With the $30 resort fee, the $30 valet fee, and all taxes, the total would have been $435.93/night.  We used free weekend night certificates for our two nights at the Grand Wailea, earned as the sign-up bonus on Nicoleen’s Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve card.  The free night certificates cover the resort fee so our only cost was the valet fee plus tax.  In total we got an $871.86 stay for $62.50!

Even if you want to include the $95 up-front annual fee on the Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve card as part of our cost, it’s still extreme value!  When calculating the value of the annual fee, don’t forget the value of the perks that the gold status got us during our stay: free internet, the $20 restaurant voucher, the 2 drink coupons, and the 1000 bonus points (worth about $3).




Overall Thoughts and Tips for Your Stay

We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves at the Grand Wailea.  It definitely has a different feel than our previous hotel on the trip, the Hyatt Andaz.  (In the near future I would like to write an entire blog post comparing the two.)  It took us some time to adjust to the sheer size and scope of the place.  There is a bit of a learning curve to getting your full enjoyment out of this resort.  That’s not meant in a negative way; only to highlight the amount of opportunities the Grand Wailea has to offer.

The intuitive layout and elegant appointments of the guest room were definitely a highlight for us.  Despite the disappointing hours of operation we repeatedly encountered at the pool complex, this watery wonderland was also a major favorite of ours.  If we were infatuated with the design and landscaping of the swimming pool area, I can only imagine what the younger guests though of it.  I think my 10 year old self would have been in heaven at this place!

If you have an upcoming stay at the Grand Wailea, here are some random tips Nicoleen and I came up with, based on our stay:

  • Learn the hours of operation for the pool area features early, and incorporate this knowledge into your daily schedule.
  • Plan ahead when you leave your room; many of them require quite a long walk to get to the restaurants, pools, and beach.
  • If you’re in the Molokini Wing, bring your car to the north valet.  It will make a shorter walk for you and a shorter car retrieval for the valet drivers.
  • Don’t be shy about bringing your own beverages and snacks with you to the pool complex.  The nice attendant at the Hibiscus pool even got ice for us to mix our own drinks several times.  You can even sip your libations while on the lazy river.
  • Most basic rooms don’t include a microwave; request one early if you want one brought up for you.
  • If you can’t get a late check-out, take advantage of the hospitality room to extend your stay.

🙂 Thanks for reading my review! 🙂

Maui Vacation Field Report #2

Maui Vacation
Aloha from day 6 of our Maui vacation!  I’m writing this post on my phone on the Kahului Highway. We’re headed to the Hana Highway, although we don’t plan on driving all the way to Hana.  Because of the hotel switch we started the journey a bit late to do the whole trip to Hana and back.  We’ll see some of the sights along the way and then turn around.

Hotel Switch

Today we said goodbye to the Andaz and moved our stuff to the Grand Wailea.  The Andaz was amazing so it was sad to leave, but our room at the Grand Wailea is also super nice:
Jpeg
Jpeg

Weather

Since the last field report the weather has improved greatly!  Even the rainy day we had was not bad at all; we just hung out on the lanai and in the pools/hot tub.  The rain on the south/west coast was forecast to continue through Friday but we haven’t been rained on since Thursday.  It’s been sunny and hot for the most part.  Today it’s cloudy but still hot and humid.

Well, we just pulled into a parking spot in Pa’ia town.  We’re going for a late lunch at Pa’ia Fish Market.

As always, look for frequently updated photos at the ValueTactics Facebook pageAloha!

Bonus Redemption Plans for our New Cards

In the previous post I explained our recent round of credit card apps and why we chose those particular cards.  The main purpose of our choice was to end up with 4 free nights at any Hyatt property and 2 free weekend nights at any Hilton property.

The Possibilities

Finding Hilton and Hyatt luxury resorts nearby one another is pretty easy.  But with 6 free nights between the two, I want to get a good bang for the buck (or absence of bucks, as it were).  Two of the locations that show up in every list of where to use these certificates are Hawaii and the Maldives.  Both Hyatt and Hilton have amazing properties on both island chains.  The Maldives is home to the Park Hyatt Hadahaa and the Conrad Maldives Rangali Island, both of which are ridiculously awesome.

Park Hyatt Hadahaa in The Maldives

Park Hyatt Hadahaa in The Maldives

A land room with pool at the Park Hyatt Hadahaa

A land room with pool at the Park Hyatt Hadahaa

Ithaa underwater restaurant at Hilton's Conrad Maldives - Rangali Island

Ithaa underwater restaurant at Hilton’s Conrad Maldives – Rangali Island

Deluxe water villa with private deck and whirlpool at the Conrad Maldives - Rangali Island

Deluxe water villa with private deck and pool at the Conrad Maldives – Rangali Island

However, although stays at ridiculously awesome resorts can be free, they come with another kind of price: travel time.  The Maldives is almost as far from Minnesota as you can get on this planet.  The average travel time to Male is 32 hours, plus the required seaplane flight to the resorts themselves.  The jet lag from that kind of flight time would severely reduce the enjoyment of the trip, so a night or two at a stop-over city like Hong Kong would be necessary.  With five kids, a dog, and two full time jobs it’s hard to get away for any amount of time, so this trip will probably have to stay on the ValueTactics bucket list for a while.

The Plan

So we’re not willing to make the Maldives work just yet.  What does that leave us with?  A whole lot.  Remember, these free night certificates are good for any Hilton and Hyatt properties so we have a few thousand to choose from.  Well, not really thousands since we’re not going to waste the certificates on the local Hampton Inn!

There’s another redemption opportunity including two resorts, one Hyatt and one Hilton, which are close to each other and which are both highly regarded properties in their respective luxury brands.  I’m talking about Hilton’s Waldorf Astoria Grand Wailea and Hyatt’s Andaz at Wailea.  The rate for a standard room during peak season at the Grand Wailea runs $654/night + a $30 per day resort fee.  The Andaz runs $589/night + a $40 per day resort fee during peak season.  Resort fees are included when redeeming free night certificates so if we booked our 6 night vacation for late March we’d be getting a $3884 value for FREE!  (Or, for $95 if you want to count the Hilton Reserve’s $95 up-front annual fee.)

The Grotto Bar at the Grand Wailea

The Grotto Bar at the Grand Wailea

The three cascading infinity pools at the Hyatt Andaz on Maui

The three cascading infinity pools at the Hyatt Andaz on Maui

It’s hard to fathom that resorts like these are within our reach simply for signing up for a couple credit cards.  But that’s the beauty of being informed, and acting tactically!  You too can benefit from these and other credit card sign-up bonuses by staying informed: like ValueTactics on facebook and follow us on twitter. We’ll see you in Hawaii next year! 🙂

Our Fall 2015 Credit Card Applications

In the past few months we’ve added more new babies to our household than credit cards.  While babies are cute and cuddly, they tend to increase household costs.  Credit cards, on the other hand, are hard and plastic, but they can be worth hundreds of dollars in value.  A few days ago we got 4 new arrivals at the house and none of them was cuddly…but they were all valuable.  Here’s a breakdown of our latest round of card apps:

Nicoleen:
Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve

  • $95 annual fee due up-front
  • Two free weekend night certificates for any Hilton property worldwide after spending $2.5k in the first 4 months
  • 10x points earned on Hilton properties purchases, 5x on travel, 3x on all other purchases
  • HHonors gold status when card account is active

Ross:
Citi Thank-You Premier

  • $95 annual fee waived the first year
  • 50,000 Thank-You points after spending $3k in the first 3 months (worth a minimum of $500)
  • 3x points earned on travel and gas, 2x on dining and entertainment, 1x on all other purchases

And we each got:
Chase Hyatt Visa

  • $75 annual fee waived the first year
  • Two free night certificates for any Hyatt property worldwide after spending $1k in the first 3 months
  • 5,000 Gold Passport points for adding an authorized user
  • 3x points earned on Hyatt properties purchases, 2x on dining, airfare and car rental, 1x on all other purchases
  • Anniversary free night certificate good at any Hyatt property, category 1-4.

The Rationale:

The Chase Hyatt card was the driving force behind our choice of cards for this round of apps.  The Hyatt card has been on my radar for a while because of the incredible value potential in the two free night certificates per card.  A pair of these cards could potentially be worth almost $4,000 in lodging.  Two nights at a fancy hotel hardly constitutes vacation though, so the obvious tactic to maximize this card is for both of us each get our own card; then we’d have 4 free nights.

We have always planned on both getting the Chase Hyatt card at the same time, but it’s still a stretch to call 4 free nights a vacation.  The other major card offering free nights is the Citi Hilton Reserve, with its two free weekend night initial spend bonus.  If we could find a vacation-worthy Hyatt property in close proximity to a vacation-worthy Hilton property, we could get a 6 night vacation split between two luxury properties, for the $95 annual fee paid one credit card!  I earned the bonus on the Citi Hilton Reserve last year so I was ineligible for the bonus again.  (Furthermore, the most I would have been able to add to the proposed vacation would be one free Hilton night, since the certificates are only good for Fri/Sat/Sun nights.)

I always try to apply for only one card per issuing bank per app-o-rama.  We both had the Chase slot filled with the Hyatt card.  Nicoleen filled the Citi slot with the Hilton Reserve.  But I still needed a second application, and Citi had some good card options.  I settled on the Thank-You Premier with it’s 50,000 point bonus.

It seems like a pretty good plan.  We have a specific redemption idea in mind for the hotel free nights, all three hotel cards compliment each other, and the Citi Thank-You will add some points to the general pool for when it comes time to find airfare.  So this was a hybrid of both basic strategies I wrote about in this post.

Application set-up and results

Chase has been getting stingy and seemingly capricious about approving credit card applications lately.  This is concretely seen in their Ultimate Rewards earning cards, which they will now outright deny to anyone who has had 5+ new accounts with any issuer in the past 24 months.  But there have also been an increasing number of denial reports with co-branded Chase cards.  i didn’t want to take any chances because the Hyatt free night certificates are only good for a year, so it was crucial that Nicoleen and I have as much time overlap in certificates as possible.

To prepare for the Chase application I requested credit line decreases in two of my Chase cards: my Sapphire Preferred from $11.1k to $5k; and my IHG card from $9k to $4k.  I made both requests via Secure Message a few days apart, and both credit lines were lowered within a day of the request.  I had closed my United Mileage Plus Explorer account with a $9k credit limit back in April, so I figured between the 3 credit line decreases I would have plenty of overhead left with Chase.  The thought was to remove “maxed out credit limit” as a possible reason for denial.  It worked!
hyatt approved 3

Nicoleen had also recently cancelled her United card and she has fewer Chase accounts than I, so we didn’t do anything in particular before her application.  Our luck continued as she was instantly approved too!

In my experience applying for Citi cards is much more of a push-over.  The only time I was not instantly approved for a Citi card was when I got “pending” with a business card.  The call to the reconsideration line for that card was quick and painless.

So with nothing more than fingers crossed we applied for our respective Citi cards and experienced the always welcome instant approval notices!
citi hilton reserve approved
citi thank you premier approved

Within a week we had all 4 cards in our possession:
november card round

Minimum Spend and Redemption Plans

With a specific goal to use 3 cards’ worth of hotel certificates on a single trip, some tactics need to be employed to maximize the probability of everything lining up correctly.  Number one is to get all the hotel certificates ASAP.  This means getting the spends on the Hyatt cards and Hilton card taken care of.

The Chase Hyatt cards’ spends are easy, with only $1000 per card to get the certificates issued.  AND they are issued as soon as the minimum spend has been met; not after the statement closes like with the Hilton certificates.  Furthermore, getting these done before the Hilton is tactically important because with 4 contiguous free nights we could still cobble together a vacation.  But if we got the Hilton certificates and booked a room, only to have the nearby Hyatt property become booked while we were still working on the Hyatt card spends, we would have to regroup and make different plans.  So . . . Hyatt cards first.

Since there are many airlines that fly to our destination (Maui) but only one Hilton property we have in mind, Nicoleen’s Hilton Reserve gets the next highest priority for our card usage.  While the 50,000 bonus Thank-You points would be a nice help to our plans, they aren’t as critical as the Hilton free night certificates, so the Citi Thank-You Premier will be the last bonus spend we complete.

In my next post it’s on to the fun part: sign-up bonus bonus redemption plans!