Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Finally a Hyatt in DTLA and a good promo for points!

My two fave hotel loyalty plans are Hyatt and Starwood.  I prefer Hyatts but Starwood have more hotels (they own the Westin, Sheraton, W, Le Meridien, and a few others).  So my loyalty bounces back and forth between the two and I maintain elite status with both of them.

It's difficult for me to maintain status with Hyatt right now.  There was no Hyatt in Downtown LA so it made it a little difficult to stay at them unless I wanted to go to Long Beach and drive up, and that commute sucks.  On top of that, late last year, my company, which usually negotiates a corporate rate for our business hotels, removed most Hyatts from our "approved hotels". 

I will outline the reasons to try to maintain status with more than one hotel brand later, but the biggest drivers for doing this is to be treated well and maximizing points earning if you have to stay at an alternate hotel as sometimes your preferred brand is not at the location you are working/vacationing.  The other one has to do with earning Lifetime Status, which several hotel groups will give you if maintain elite status over a number of years.

Anyway, the point is that late last year, one of the Marriotts in DTLA rebranded itself to a Hyatt and is going under a huge renovation.  It is currently calling itself The LA Hotel until it completes its change to Hyatt Regency. I've stayed at this Marriott before and it's a bit dated and was skeptical of this renovation and how long it would take. 

However, in a bid to get business, the LA Hotel first negotiated an awesome rate with my company, is only 3 blocks from my work, and, it has a promo going on if you stay there where each night you get 2500 points in addition to the points you earn normally.

Even though I use points quite frequently, they are not easy to get. Let me break down how difficult it is to earn hotel points.
  • Hyatt Gold Passport lets you earn 5 points per $1 spent.  Let's say it's a $150/night hotel. This means you earn 750 points per night.  So a 3 night stay you would make 2250 points. There are bonuses if you have status so I make more than this. 
  • To redeem, a Hyatt hotel at Category 5 hotel (which is like, SF, or Hawaii) is 18,000 points a night.  So to stay one night for free, you have to stay for EIGHT WEEKS before you get one free night. 
  • Granted, there are always good promos to take advantage of that increases the number of points you earn, but the catch is that you have to find and then sign up for them.
So as you can see, getting 2500 points for 3 nights at the hotel, plus the points you earn with the regular rate, quadruples the number of points I get in a week! Which means that I only need to stay for TWO weeks to get enough points to earn a free night.

And... this is why I am switching to Hyatt for a while.

The promo for the LA Hotel can be found here: http://losangelesdowntown.hyatt.com/en/hotel/offers/offer-detail.html?offerId=49539468&icamp=specialOfferId_49539468_landing&isBookable=true

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Aloha Hawaii!

Ok, so since most people who know me know that I head off to Hawaii several times a year, mostly because it is an easy 5 hour flight from California and that there are some cheap flights to be had.  I have been doing this regularly since I was 25, which is... a long time ago.  haha!

I went on one of these trips in late April and never posted because

a) I was actually looking at real estate, not aggressively, but just a thought since I'm there so much.  On the other hand looking at condos doesn't really make for good travel photos.
b) I was pretty lazy from the recent trip to Colombia and photo'd out.

The assorted photos are from my previous trips to Hawaii.

Anyway, most people think that Hawaii is a family destination, a honeymoon destination, or something really expensive.   I thought I'd update on a few things about WHY I go to Hawaii so much, what I think is awesome about it, and how it's possible to go there by yourself and not on some romantic honeymoon. 

Though I have been to all the Hawaiian islands, I generally go to Oahu for ease, the number of people I know, accessibility.  Honolulu Airport is on Oahu and is the largest city on all the islands.  When petrol was cheap, round trip flights were to be had for $250.  My personal record for a cheap round trip flight was $235. Score!  From California there are many flights and it's almost impossible to get a non-direct.  What are you going to stop in the ocean or something? lol.  Which brings me to my next point, timing.

Because of the time difference in Hawaii and the direct flights, it is really, really easy to take a weekend jaunt or a long weekend.  It is typically 3-4 hours difference in time between HNL and the west coast.  This means I can take a flight out Thursday around 6:30, and arrive in Hawaii at 9:30 pm the same day.  Then I have all of Friday, all of Saturday, and Sunday until 10 pm (essentially the full day) to hang out in Hawaii before heading back.  Yes, this makes Monday morning a bit rough.  But I'm a consultant so we power through Mondays anyway with a lot of coffee, and what do you think the people from the East Coast do when they come to Cali every week?  So I never complain.

Second, housing is NOT cheap in Waikiki, but you can find good deals. When with friends or family, I will shell out points to stay at the five star hotels, which range from the Grand Hyatt, the Westin Moana Surfrider, the Sheraton, or the Hilton Hawaiian Village.  If on a budget and with friends, I find a budget vacation rental on craigslist for $50-100/night. When by myself, I typically stay at this hostel: Which is less than $30 a night for a dorm bed.  Yes, you can stay in Waikiki for $30/night.  Go find yourself some L&L an you can also feed yourself for $5-10 a day.

What do I do there?  Well, first of all I work.  I get up at 5 am and work all day Fridays until about 5-6 pm PST, which, because of the time difference, is about 2-3pm Hawaiian time.  Then I have the rest of the day to relax!  This isn't really conducive to late night drinking in Hawaii but I don't really do late night clubbing anymore, though when I was 26 I totally went pub crawling and had tons of fun.  Saturday I will either go scuba diving and Sunday  I rent a surfboard for a day for $15. Or go out and have some beers, like with people here:

Scuba diving. Anyone who's been to Hawaii with me knows I love diving and though Hawaii is not the most beautiful destination I've been to (I've now gone on to 150+ dives in probably about 15 countries), it has a really nice amount of aquatic life, and a mix of coral and larger animals such as turtles.  Hawaii is not a tropical water destination as the currents come down from Alaska, similar to how the water in California is not as warm as in Florida.  You cannot dive here without a wetsuit (see photo from Colombia where I got attacked by the horrid jellyfish and burned all over because of no wetsuit).
 I have gotten all my certifications from here, from one dude in particular, who I consider a friend, someone I trust with my safety and life, and an entrepreneur I respect.  Gabe is the owner of Kaimana Divers and he's awesome.  I met him when he was newer to the islands and working as an instructor.  Now he owns his own biz and I'm rather proud of him.  It takes guts, risk and a lot of blood and sweat to start your own business.   I've gone on dives to military wrecks with him, black water pelagic night dives, dives where we had an octopus stuck to my head, lots of stuff. There is a thing called a Discover Dive for those of you who are not certified and want to try it out... Gabe would be happy to take you out on one of those and you can see if you like it.

Finally the food.  Hawaii is a great mix of local, Asian, American and everything food. My fave is poke, which is basically an ahi tuna ceviche with soy sauce instead of lime juice. I eat pounds of this stuff.  I don't care. It's awesome. I try to make it at home but ahi tuna is kind of pricey.

 Second, I like spam. I also don't care what you think.  Lots of people like Spam. You will find lots of things in Hawaii that have this.

 Other notables are tropical fruits, such as a large number of things with coconut, papaya, guava, pineapple, etc.

There are many things to do in Hawaii such as go scuba diving, see Pearl Harbor, go to the Dole pineapple plantation, or the swap meet at the Aloha Stadium, but I'll save it for a different post and focus on a quieter one.  On this trip I chose to stay at a different hostel in the North Shore for a change.

A note - you do need a car to go up to the North Shore.  Well, you can take The Bus (yes, the system here is called The Bus - its an island, people!) but its just easier to have a car. If you have the budget just do it.

I stayed at this hostel called Backpackers Lodge.  I give it pros for convenience (it was one block to the only supermarket in the north shore) and reasonable distance to a pretty good beach and surfing. I give it cons for the quality of the dorm rooms. it was like staying in a bunch of run down sheds. The water was leaking, the place was filthy and there were roaches in the kitchen. wifi sucked as it originated from one point on the lot and my dorm was too far to reach it.  But. It is the only hostel up there, they have a variety of rooms so next time I would probably ask for a different accommodation.

Haleiwa is a really cute place to get food to eat, look at shops for beach clothes and hang out at the beach right outside of it.  There is world class surfing right here and all along the North Shore.  Right now the big thing seems to be paddle surfing.  I saw places offering classes to paddle board EVERYWHERE.

All put together, my weekend in North Shore rained so I have little to report other than I drank a bunch of beer, ate some poke and went diving and laying on the beach when the weather wasn't acting up.  But I know I'll be back soon! Though next time I'm going to stay in Waikiki for cost reasons and laziness.  It might be super built up, but it's convenient if you're working and need conveniences such as internet, easy food, coffee shops and it's open till late.

There's a lot to like about Hawaii and I'm sure I'll be posting about it more in the future. But moving on... 

Coming soon - El Salvador!

Friday, May 17, 2013

Business Travel, the Millenial generation and other things

I have a post about Hawaii coming up shortly, but in the meantime I came across this article from Boston Consulting Group about business travel and the Millenial generation.

As I am on the tail of of Millenials (16-34... I have no idea why I am grouped in the same group as a 16 year old today but WHATEVER lol) I suppose this applies to me, but is just kind of fun overall.  It does say that older Millenials account for 90% of this sectors travel spending.

Millennial Business Travelers
Millennials who fly for business report significantly more generational diversity than non-Millennial business travelers: Millennial business fliers include 60 percent more Hispanics than, twice as many Asian Americans as, and 40 percent more women than non-Millennial business fliers.....
Millennial business fliers want different things from loyalty programs than do non-Millennials or Millennials who fly primarily for leisure. And the difference has clear implications for the strategies and tactics of airline loyalty programs. Millennials report more dissatisfaction with frequent-flier benefits such as miles, elite status, and rewards—and, especially, with how quickly points or miles expire: Millennials would rather use loyalty programs to earn free or discounted travel than to improve the travel experience with upgrades. Thus, while not the payment method of choice, cashing in miles or points on airline tickets is much more prevalent among Millennials than non-Millennials. Millennials also report greater willingness to switch from one airline program to another if they can get the same elite status, if they perceive the other frequent-flier program as more valuable, or if they think the other airline has a superior network of global partners. That said, because of their age and life stage, Millennials are far less likely than non-Millennials to use airline loyalty programs or credit cards today.

Millennial Leisure Travelers
...Half of the Millennials we surveyed report taking four or more overnight leisure trips per year compared with more than 75 percent of non-Millennials. It’s not surprising that the frequency of leisure travel increases with household income. High-income Millennials travel for leisure as much as non-Millennials, and much more than low-income Millennials. Those who report the most frequent business travel also report the most leisure travel, and this is especially true of Millennials and businessmen. Millennial women say that they take more leisure trips each year than do men who travel primarily for leisure, and Hispanic Millennials report the least amount of leisure air travel on average. Men of both generations report traveling alone for leisure more than do women.
For both generations, visiting family and friends is the most popular reason for leisure travel, but it is more popular among Millennials. This intensity appears to be generational rather than simply related to life stage. Outdoor adventures, shopping, and special events such as weddings, entertainment, and food and wine festivals are key reasons for Millennials’ leisure travel, and the presence of children in the household doesn’t change this. Millennials are also almost twice as likely as non-Millennials to travel for a hobby. And they travel more for personal interest, food and wine, entertainment, outdoor activity, and shopping than do non-Millennial leisure travelers. Male Millennials travel more for gambling and personal hobbies; female Millennials travel more for special occasions, to visit family and friends, and for cultural enrichment and sightseeing. For Millennials and non-Millennials alike, “relaxation and rejuvenation” is the second-most commonly cited reason for travel.
Members of all generations tell us that they respond to economic pressures by taking fewer trips, but Millennials—who book further in advance, book fewer (but longer) trips, and seek out good deals more than do non-Millennials—also tend to see booking as more of a game and respond opportunistically to low prices and interesting packages. On the other hand, non-Millennials say that they would drive instead of fly, stay with family or friends, vacation closer to home, or choose less expensive flights and hotels to save money. All of these generational habits and preferences have implications for travel promotions, packages, rewards, and OTA inventory.

The full report can be downloaded here.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

If you get bumped on your flight....


Or they lose your luggage.  Which happened to me when I checked my bag for a 30 day camping safari through 5 countries in Africa.  You CAN get something for this!  Because it's horribly inconvenient!  I had to deal with like one pair of underwear and no toiletries for six days and c finally broke down and bought $600 of camping gear... And then they found it.  Ugh lol.  But my  experience with Iberia is another story :)

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Don't know how to pay for that extended trip abroad? Consider a Working Holiday visa

This is something I wish I knew about back when I was 26... a working holiday visa.  This is a temporary visa which lets people, generally under the age of 30, to have an extended holiday (vacation) in another country and work at the same time to pay for it.

I really wish I had known about this when I was younger.  I would have gone to Australia to work, which is one of my life goals to get to one day.  I'm still working on it to this day.  I would have done it and worked as a freelance contractor for smart grid technology.  PARTICULARLY around 2009 when I was like, 28 and  a) the guy I was seeing was Australian and b) I was hating IBM and going through the massive layoff craziness during the recession of 2009.  I was heading off to my MBA later on - if I had known this existed I would have said adios to IBM, picked up and started a life for the next year and a half in Australia.  I'm sure it would have been effing awesome.  Maybe things would be different. Who knows.

This chart here outlines which countries have reciprocal working holidays with other countries.  Unfortunately, because America is sometimes not so nice to some countries, we have things such as reciprocity fees (see examples of Chile, Argentina, Brazil and goodness knows where else I had to pay at least $100 for a visa) and we only have a working holiday agreement with four countries - Australia, Ireland, New Zealand and Singapore. However if you have another citizenship you might be able to leverage that.

In summary, if you really want to live and work overseas, don't think it's impossible (or that you have to become an English teacher in Asia or something).  For me, this ship has sailed as I am over 30, and is one of my biggest regrets. BUT, for some of you this is a great opportunity to go overseas if you want to work and I highly encourage you to explore this option - there might be something that fits your needs.  Australia is only one of the options for a working holiday visa.   Take advantage of it before it's too late.