Thursday, May 31, 2012

Rodeo Drive

Among the more famous streets of Beverly Hills is Rodeo Drive, where you can find numerous designer label stores and haute couture boutiques. Among them, you can also find a few gems like these anti-aging clinics and plastic surgery offices if you're so inclined.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Andaz West Hollywood

After two nights at the Category 2 Hyatt Place Ontario/Rancho Cucamonga, we decided to splurge a little on the points and go for the Hyatt Category 4 (requiring 15k points per night) Andaz West Hollywood (aka Riot House) located on the world famous Sunset Boulevard. Parking can set you back a bit though at their rather pricey $32/night overnight valet-only rate.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Hyatt Place Ontario/Rancho Cucamonga

Just recently spent a brief weekend for fun in Los Angeles and decided to try out the new Hyatt Place. This was the Hyatt Place Ontario/Rancho Cucamonga located near Ontario Airport next to the rather large Ontario Mills mall. As a Hyatt Gold Passport member, you can redeem one free night here for 8k points as a Category 2 hotel. The only knock against this hotel might be its location as it is rather far from most of the attractions in the greater Los Angeles area although its pricing definitely offsets that.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Hotel Program Point Conversion Partners

Each of the hotel loyalty programs have multiple partners that allow for earning points or transferring to partners. Car rental partners are fairly common but the few total points involved in car rental transactions generally wouldn't push me to one program or another.

Aside from credit card earning opportunities, Hilton is the only program I am aware of which allows transfers from American Airlines miles here at a rate of 6,000 miles to 10,000 HHonors points. While this 1 air mile to 1.67 HH is generally less than the minimum 3 HH/$1 you get from Amex Hilton spending, it's still a decent enough transfer rate than you usually find.  Also, Hilton allows transfers from the points programs at Virgin Atlantic and Hawaiian Airlines at a rate of 1 mile to 2 HH which is pretty decent!

On the flip side however, you might need airline mileage top up from time to time and Starwood's transfers (at a 1:1 ratio) for a number of major carriers makes this program very valuable.  Here, I've done an analysis on airline transfer partners.

But aside from this, it appears the program with the easiest way to easily get additional hotel points via a conversion from other partners is the Hilton HHonors program.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Hotel Program Cash & Points Redemptions

One of the most flexible and cost-effective ways to use your hotel program points is using the cash & points redemption if there is one. As far as availability is concerned only Starwood and Hilton have a decent program available for this.

Starwood offers the Cash and Points program at the following standardized rates. This is one of the biggest differentiators between the Starwood program and the rest of the pack.

Starwood Preferred Guest ranges from Categories 1-7
Hotel Category:
SPG Points for 1 Night:
1,200 + $25
1,600 + $30
2,800 + $45
4,000 + $60
4,800 + $90
8,000 + $150

Hilton offers a Points & Money Rewards program but the policy is not standard across their hotels and it can sometimes be difficult to find this offered. However, when it is offered, you can get some good value out of it depending on the regular room rates and what they charge in addition to the points. At the moment, there doesn't appear to be any way to redeem with a cash & points option for either Marriott or Hyatt.

In this case, both the SPG program and the Hilton HHonors program outpace their competition in this area with SPG generally showing more availability for the Cash & Points option.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Hotel Program Elite Levels

One of the most alluring parts of hotel loyalty programs is its elite membership status and all its benefits. The four programs (Starwood, Hyatt, Hilton, Marriott) we've been looking at so far all have a fairly consistent tiering system and we'll be comparing the key aspects of each program's tiers. I'll leave out an in depth discussion on elite bonuses for points earnings as those were already discussed here.

General Points earning rate
2 points / $1
10 points / $1

Double Dip allows an extra 5 points / $1
5 points / $1
10 points / $1 (at most brands)
5 points / $1 (at some brands)
Lowest Tier Point Bonus
Preferred (None)
Silver (15%)
Gold (None)
Silver (20%)
2 pm Late Checkout
Blue (varies)
Free Internet
Gold (if goodies not selected)
Room Available Upgrades
Mid Tier Point Bonus
Gold (50%)
Gold (25%)
Platinum (15%)
Gold (25%)
Minor Goodies (Bottled water, snacks, etc)
Gold (if free internet is not selected)
Platinum (extra awards)
Lounge Access
Gold (if upgraded to executive/club floor)
Gold (if upgraded to executive/club floor)
Continental Breakfast
Platinum (if other goodies not selected)
Gold (if not choosing 1000 HH points)
4 pm Late Checkout
Full Breakfast
Top Tier Point Bonus
Platinum (50%)
Diamond (50%)
Diamond (30%)
Platinum (50%)
Suite upgrades
Diamond (4 times on paid stays)
Platinum (if continental breakfast not selected)

At the time of posting, these were more or less the privileges conferred upon elite statuses at each of the hotel chains. This table more or less reflects what is generally provided at most of the major chains although certain brands may have slight modifications to this. Individual hotels also have some leeway to interpret these at their discretion and while some hotels offer nothing for the optional fields (such as room upgrades), others might go above and beyond what their program terms dictate.

So just based on the above chart, if we don't consider other factors such as number of qualifying nights required to achieve tiers and various status match/challenges available for some of the programs, the best mid-tier (Gold) program clearly goes to Marriott with Hilton and the rest following behind. And with the top tier being more or less evenly matched, that means I'd say Marriott has the most generous elite program overall in terms of their privileges.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Chase Hyatt Card

Chase has among the best credit cards in the industry and the Chase Hyatt card is no exception. Beginning with 2 free award nights at any Hyatt in the world (including such aspirational properties as the category 6 Park Hyatt Tokyo or the Park Hyatt Paris Vendome) after your first purchase, this card definitely has big drawing power.

In addition, you also get complimentary Hyatt Platinum status, which is their mid-tier elite level, as long as you have this card which offers decent privileges such as room available upgrades, free internet, late checkout and point bonuses for stays etc.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Lunch in Granada

If you plan on doing a day trip from Sevilla to Granada, be sure to leave plenty of time in the morning and the evening. While there are trains running between the two cities, trains typically take about the same amount of time as the buses which are often cheaper. We ended up taking the bus which set us back 36 euros each for a return journey.

Once you get to the bus station in Granada, you can ask around at the information desk for more information about places to explore - but if you're here to see the Alhambra, you'll need to take another bus, which stops right outside the bus station, into the city center to get to the palace. Each bus ticket was pretty cheap at 1.2 euros each.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Kyumei Byoto 24 Ji 3 (24 Hr Emergency Ward Season 3) Review (2005)

Drama Rating: ***
Personal Rating: Enjoyable

24 Hours Emergency Ward is back for the third season with Dr Shindo returning from his international aid assignment to Tokyo. Incidentally, just after a seminar/conference on emergency earthquake preparedness, he is caught in the middle of a massive earthquake and finds himself back in the ER with his former colleague Dr Kojima. This drama explores those crucial initial moments after the disaster and how their 24 hour emergency ward copes with the immediate aftermath.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Last Dinner in Krakow

Although it was our last meal in Krakow before departing, it was definitely one of the best I had in the city. The name of the place, if I recall correctly, was Wieczorki Gitatowe and came highly recommended by other travellers. They've got a really nice atmosphere with lots of rustic, homely decorations that definitely exuded a lot of charm. Seating was very much cafeteria/beer hall style although the tables definitely felt very sturdy and not cheap.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Chase Fairmont Card

Chase just bagged another one! That's right, Chase just collected yet another respectable hotel chain in its massive arsenal of reward-rich credit card offerings. The Fairmont chain is a fairly upscale hotel chain with a decent number of locations around the world but generally more heavily focused on North America with just a smattering of hotels in the rest of the world.

The Fairmont visa card itself (application here) actually offers pretty similar benefits as the current Chase Hyatt card with two complimentary nights at any Fairmont hotel worldwide! To best the Hyatt offer however, they even toss in complimentary breakfast for two on those 2 nights, all for just spending $1000 in the first 3 months!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Free 100 Starwood Points!

The Facebook Starwood Preferred Guest page is offering a 100k SPG point giveaway here and each member gets 100 SPG points for free just for signing up, so get 'em while its hot!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Welcome RobinD!

Dear Readers,

Please join me in welcoming RobinD, my friend and fellow blogger who will start to contribute posts here! As the number of blog posts has grown, we have decided to maintain two blogs together. The Worlds Within blog will continue to be updated with korean, japanese, taiwanese drama reviews and we will be adding movie reviews to it as well. In keeping with the theme of Worlds Within, aside from exploring the world of drama with you, we will also continue to explore the world we live in through our travels!

As for discussions on credit cards, points and hotel programs, those posts will gradually be migrating over to RobinD's new blog The Financial Sage, where we will discuss everything from credit cards, to stock market tips, to hotel points and interesting deals.

Once again, we thank you for your continued readership and hope to continue to find ways to make your experience here a fulfilling and enjoyable one.


Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Last Day in Krakow

It was with some mixed feelings as we got to our last day in Krakow. The former Polish capital was one of the more fascinating European cities I've been to and I had definitely enjoyed my stay but I was also hyped for Budapest which was next on the list. We began the day with another round of pierogies and delicious cabbage rolls.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Cape No. 7 Review (2008)

Drama Rating: *****
Personal Rating: All time favourite!!

Cape No. 7 (海角七號) tells of Aga, a rock band singer and newly-assigned town postman, who is given a chance to perform when Japanese singer Kousuke Atari is invited to a performance in at a beach resort/hotel in his town. An assistant from Atari's company, Tomoko, is tasked with managing the ragtag group of local musicians put together by the Aga's stepfather Town Representative Hong for the show. In the meantime, Aga comes across a set of love letters sent around WWII in the 1940s. How will the concert turn out and how will Aga manage to find the owner of the letters?

Wieliczka Souvenirs and Meals

Having completed the tour of Wieliczka, the gift shop was the final stop before heading back up to the surface. Here, there is another elevator which takes you to another observation level within the mine.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Underground lakes at Wieliczka

The Weimar room was definitely one of the highlights of the tour. This famous cavern has been visited by many a noted figured including Frederic Chopin, Nicolaus Copernicus, Bill Clinton and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, author of Faust and one of the more famous visitors to the mine. A sculpture made to his likeness is seen here.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Chapel of St Kinga

Continuing our expedition in the Wieliczka Salt Mine, you can see salt as you venture through the tunnels and escavated paths the tour takes you through. Just as a note, the tour takes about two hours and you'll be with a large group of people typically so don't get trapped underground if you're not really into salt mines!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Westin LAX

The Westin Los Angeles Airport is conveniently located on West Century Blvd straight east right outside of LAX airport. This was a great deal when I stayed as a category 2 hotel but its now gone up to a Starwood category 4 hotel, which I think is a poor use of points.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Chase Marriott Card Review

To be complete, I figured I should write about the lower fee Chase Marriott card as well, the lower priced sibling of the Chase Marriott Premier card I had applied for and was approved for previously. At the time I had also glanced at this Chase Marriott card and concluded quite easily that this card was not as valuable as its more feature-rich albeit pricier sibling.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Hotel Program Stay Point Earnings

Point Earnings Program Comparison

One thing to consider when deciding which hotel to stay at is the number of points you can collect for your stay.  Again, we'll look at the Starwood, Marriott, Hilton and Hyatt programs for comparison.

The base (entry) level Starwood Preferred Guest program offers 2 SPG points per $1 spent at their hotels.  Gold and Platinum members get 3 SPG points per $1 spent at their hotels.

Hyatt Gold Passport offers a much higher 5 points per $1 spent at their hotels to their base (entry) Gold level members while Platinum's get a 15% bonus on top of that (5.75 points per $1) and Diamond's get 30% on top (6.5 points per $1).

Marriott Rewards offers an even higher 10 points per $1 at almost all of their chains aside from a few that give just 5 or 2.5 points per $1.  For Silver elite members, 20% bonus is added, Gold members get an additional 25% while Platinum members get 50% bonus.

Hilton offers up to 15 points per $1 at almost all of their hotels (assuming the Points & Points option is selected) and offers an additional 15%, 25% and 50% to Silver, Gold and Diamond Members respectively.

Assuming the very base level for each program, a $1000 hotel stay would net 2k SPG points or 5k HGP points or up to 10k MR points or up to 15k HH points. Given the free night redemption options available for each program, the value of these points would be most useful with the Marriott or Hilton programs. Even with the added bonuses at the elite levels, Marriott and Hilton's elite programs retain their advantages over the competing Hyatt and particularly the Starwood programs. Obviously, the value of Starwood also lies in their flexibility in using Cash & Points redemptions and other valuable features but all things being equal, the Marriott and Hilton programs would probably be the most effective way to collect points for hotel stays.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Residence Inn San Diego Sorrento Mesa-Sorrento Valley

I had stopped for a stay in San Diego at the Marriott Category 4 Residence Inn San Diego Sorrento Mesa Sorrento Valley. While this was a decent hotel to stay at, I am often left puzzled at how Marriott determines their categories as I felt this was a huge difference from the splendid experience I had at the Courtyard Seoul Times Square, now a hotel in the same category as this one.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012


After making the rounds at the historic Longshan Temple, I wanted to head to Ximending and decided the best way was probably to just walk their directly. Here, I passed by the local police department and was somewhat amused to see a scooter parking lot out front =)

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Longshan Temple

Stopped by a temple in Taiwan, the Longshan Temple in Taipei. This place of worship was originally built in 1738 and destroyed several times in various fires and earthquakes. You can easily get there by the metro; as you exit the station, there will be clear signs directing you to the temple itself. And just outside is large rock with the name of the temple engraved.