Tim Foolery

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Monthly Archives: January 2015

Sixt Car Rental

We rented a car at CDG from Germany based rental company Sixt. Sixt has over 2,000 locations in more than 100 countries. It has a limited presence in the United States, but can be found in 30 locations in 10 states. We chose Sixt because they were the most reasonably priced – we were getting some big surcharges for picking up the car in France and returning it to Switzerland with other rental companies. By selecting Sixt we saved about 500USD on our trip – that’s a hell of a lot of cash on a trip like this.

We quickly found the rental car counter at CDG just meters from our baggage claim carousel. Two Sixt employees were just hanging out at the counter that Sunday morning, but as we approached they were quick to start working. They spoke near perfect English and were very helpful. It took us less than 10 minutes from the time we walked up to the counter until we were in our rental.

We were given a 2013 Volkswagen Beetle, in red. I was surprised at the size of the trunk, which fit everything we had – it was a tight fit, but it fit. I didn’t drive, as I can’t drive a manual transmission – as I always say, “I don’t drive, I am driven”. The car had good pickup and handled well.

We had one issue – and this issue will keep me from ever renting from Sixt again. As we made our way from Beaune to Bern we took a mountain road and were met with quite a bit of fog. We turned on the fog lights and made our way without incident to the Holiday Inn Bern – Westside and parked in the garage shared by the mall and the hotel.

We got up the next morning to load our luggage into the car and found that we left the fog lights on all night. Dammit. We head back into the hotel and find that they aren’t allowed to jump car batteries. The mall employees weren’t allowed to either.

We called the local Sixt rental agency and asked for assistance. We were told that since we rented the car in France we had to call the Paris rental office. We called Paris and were told that we had to call Roadside Assistance. We called Roadside Assistance and were informed that since we weren’t alongside the road, but inside a garage, we had to call customer service. We did. We were told that customer service couldn’t help, but we had to call Roadside Assistance. We spent nearly an hour trying to get Sixt to help us with the car.

We decided to call a third party Roadside Assistance group – a Mercedes Benz Roadside Assistance Company. They showed up in about 45 minutes. They wanted us to buy a new battery for 600CHF. After some discussion, the Mercedes guy agreed to use his battery charger to turn over our engine. It worked like a charm.

I had to pay 185CHF for this service, which should have been included in the Sixt Roadside Assistance Plan. After we returned to the US, I emailed and called Sixt customer service to explain the situation and hopefully get a refund. I never received a response from the emails and the response to my phone call was that they’d look into it. I’ve never heard back from Sixt.

We are the ones who caused the issue with the car. We were also the ones who got the run around from this agency both in our time of need and also after we got home. We got a nice deal on the rental car, but the service sure wasn’t there. I won’t be renting with this firm again.

Have you rented with Sixt? Did you have any issues with the rental? Have you had car troubles when renting a car? If so, did the rental agency help you out, or were you on your own?

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Tour of Bern

After checking out the room at the Holiday Inn Bern-Westside we hopped on the train and headed into the City Center. The hotel staff told us the train took about 20 minutes, but they couldn’t have been more wrong – the train takes just about 10 minutes, which is why I wouldn’t hesitate staying at this hotel when visiting Bern again.

We arrived in the old City Center right around 16h30 and the streets were bustling. I was surprised at how many tourists were out and about. We ran into so many tourists from Asia snapping pictures with their iPads and stretching to take selfies with their iPads too. Such a strange sight.

Who needs a camera when you can use your iPad.

Who needs a camera when you can use your iPad.

Bern is the capital of Switzerland and is quite small, with only about 150,000 people, making it the forth largest City in the Country. When the City was founded, the Duke said he would name the City after the first animal found on the hunt. This ended up being a bear and ever since then the City has been called Bern and the bear has been the symbol of the City – or so legend tells us.

Bear - Symbol of the City

Bear – Symbol of the City

The Old Town area was named a Unesco World Heritage site in the early 1980s and is really the stereotypical old German city that I was expecting. There is a great tram system that radiates from the Old Town area. We didn’t have much planned for Bern, other than walking around the Old Town, grabbing some dinner and a drink. The second day, before we continued on to Zurich, we wanted to swing by Einstein’s house.

We followed a Frommer’s self guided walking tour of the Old Town, which was mildly interesting, which I’ll share a few pictures from below.

Old Town Bern - Tram & Clock Tower

Old Town Bern – Tram & Clock Tower

 

Old Town Bern Clock Tower

Old Town Bern Clock Tower

Old Town Bern - Under a Bridge

Old Town Bern – Under a Bridge

Old Town Bern

Old Town Bern

Several blocks from the main train station, we found BärenPark, which is a small bear habitat along the river. We even found a single bear hanging out, eating some grass. The weather was pretty warm for November, so I think the bear was enjoying his time outside as much as we were.

BärenPark - Resident

BärenPark – Resident

BärenPark - Residential Close Up

BärenPark – Residential Close Up

We found a few recommendations for dinner from TripAdvisor and Frommer’s and decided to wander aimlessly ourselves to see what looked good. We were surprised that so many bars and restaurants wouldn’t open until 18h00. I’m not use to that – anywhere we traveled. We found a highly recommended casual Swiss restaurant on the main street we were walking between the Train Station and BärenPark and walked in right at 18h00. The woman working there didn’t speak a word of English, and my German was a little rusty. We figured out, eventually, that we could sit and have a beer, but couldn’t have dinner because the restaurant was fully booked. But we later found that if we wanted dinner we could order it exactly at 18h30 when the kitchen opened, but would have to hurry, eat and leave as there was a full booking that night. We had a beer and left.

We wandered around a bit more, looking for the other restaurants on our list and found our number two choice pretty quickly. We decided to give it a go. The hostess at this new restaurant didn’t/wouldn’’t speak English, but my simple German managed to get us a table: “Wir haben keine reservation. Haben Sie einen Platz für uns?” – “We don’t have a reservation, do you have a place for us?” I know this isn’t proper German, but it served us well a few times.

Our meal was simple. I had a veal schnitzel with a nice local beer and MS had a steak with spätzle. Our server didn’t speak English either, but we were getting along pretty well, considering it has been 15 years since I studied German and the most use I get out of it is really on an intra-Europe Lufthansa flight once or twice a year.

We were tired from a day of driving through the French and Swiss countryside and days of drinking wine and gorging on cheese in France was starting to take its toll. We hopped on the train back to the hotel around 21h00 and decided to have a quiet evening at “home”. Knowing we’d be up early the next day to hit the Einstein museum then heading off to Zurich for our final night on the trip.

We ended up missing the Einstein House/Museum because of car issues (check the next post). We decided to keep that Museum on our list for the next trip and just head out to Zurich.

I enjoyed Bern – while we didn’t see a whole hell of a lot, it was nice, relaxing visit. It is really a beautiful old city with extremely nice people. The food we had wasn’t world class, but it was good. When planning this trip, I wanted to skip Bern and go to Basel, but I was vetoed (everyone gets a veto in trip planning) and I don’t regret our visit at all. I would like to return and see the Einstein Museum, but other than that I’m not chomping at the bit to return.

What should I put on my list for my next visit to Bern?  Or should I just skip Bern and go to Basel or another City?  Were you surprised by the restaurant opening times in Old Town?  What about the lack of English?  I’m fine not speaking English, that’s the fun of travel, it was just surprising considering everything else about Switzerland.

Holiday Inn Bern – Westside

We decided to stay at the Holiday Inn in Bern, Switzerland. MS usually has to stay at an IHG Hotel when traveling for work, so we’ve got a ton of points built up – and since Switzerland is so expensive, it made sense to burn some of these seldom used IHG points. We usually stay in the center of whatever City we are visiting – we don’t like the burbs at home, we don’t like them on vacation, but based on the various reviews…and well, availability the days we were in town, we decided to stay on the edge of town.

The Holiday Inn is connected to a large shopping mall and is adjacent to a commuter rail line that takes you into Bern Central Station. There is just one stop that separates the Holiday Inn Bern-Westside and the Central Station – this trip took less than 10 minutes. Another benefit – the good folks at the Holiday Inn gave us a free transit pass to get between the hotel and the Center. Not an Earth Shattering Perk, but a nice surprise nonetheless.

We checked into the hotel at around 15h30 and were greeted by some very young looking gentlemen who were working the front desk. They thanked MS for his loyalty to IHG and recognized his status (I don’t think the status got us anything – or maybe the free train ticket was a benefit…who knows). We were efficiently checked in and given a rundown of the facilities, which included direct access to the mall, complimentary internet and access to breakfast in the hotel (not complimentary). They also explained to us how the gym access worked, but 1) we had no intention of using it and 2) the explanation was long and complex so even if we wanted to use it, we probably couldn’t have figured it out – the explanation was mostly about open hours and how to get to the gym.

We were on the 7th floor of the hotel in a standard room. The room had a queen size bed, a small desk, a small closet with a coffee station and a safe.

Holiday Inn Bern-Westside Bed and Seating Area

Holiday Inn Bern-Westside Bed and Seating Area

Holiday Inn Bern-Westside Queen Bed

Holiday Inn Bern-Westside Queen Bed

Holiday Inn Bern-Westside Coffe Closet

Holiday Inn Bern-Westside Coffe Closet

Holiday Inn Bern-Westside Desk, TV and Oddly Placed Art

Holiday Inn Bern-Westside Desk, TV and Oddly Placed Art

The bathroom was clean and modern – as was the entire hotel. The building looks to be only a couple years old and despite it being a Holiday Inn, it is in really great shape. That being said, I will say that the European Holiday Inns are usually much better than the ones I come across in the US.

Holiday Inn Bern-Westside Efficient Bathroom

Holiday Inn Bern-Westside Efficient Bathroom

I did find it interesting that the room was pretty bare. There was but a single piece of art hanging on the walls. It was a bit above the TV, sort of bridging the gap between the TV and the closet – a large expanse of white walls. It looked strange where it was hung and the subject matter was odd: the picture was of different chocolates. When in Switzerland, I guess.

Holiday Inn Bern-Westside Another View of the Oddly Placed Art

Holiday Inn Bern-Westside Another View of the Oddly Placed Art

One of my biggest concerns in a hotel anywhere is that we have hot water and good water pressure in the morning. This hotel was perfect in both respects. God I hate getting up with a luke warm drizzle shower.

We did have one issue at the hotel and it was all our fault. When driving up to Bern from Beaune, we hit some pretty heavy fog so we turned on the fog lights in our rental car. We neglected to turn them off when we parked at the hotel. As we left, we noticed the lights were on, but very dim. There was a bit of juice in the battery, but not enough to turn the engine over. I’ll write about the awful customer service provided by the rental agency Sixt later. Long story short, the hotel and the shopping mall helped us eventually get the battery jumped and we were on our way – wasting about 2.5 hours of the day and requiring us to miss a couple sites we wanted to see in Bern. Now we have a real reason to go back!

Speaking of going back to Bern, I wouldn’t hesitate staying at the Holiday Inn Bern-Westside again. The location isn’t ideal, but the train connection is frequent (and free), the hotel is modern, clean and with a great staff. I’d prefer it to be in the Center, but you can’t be perfect. One recommendation though, skip the breakfast at the hotel and walk to a coffee/pastry shop inside the shopping mall. You’ll get a great selection of food and two people can eat for less than half the price of one person at the restaurant in the hotel.

Citi AAdvantage World Elite – Results

Earlier this week I wrote about how the $450 annual fee was coming due on my Citi AAdvantage World Elite credit card and how I really didn’t use the benefits that came with the card.  I really applied for the card because of the 100,000 American AAdvantage miles earned after reaching a certain spend threshold.

My plan was to call Citi Card and see what I could do to either get the fee reduced, get a statement credit to offset the fee or earn additional bonus airline miles for meeting additional spend requirements.  Well, how did that turn out?  Not very good, that’s for sure.

I called and explained that I wasn’t sure if I wanted to keep the card because I wasn’t really using the benefits associated with the card.  The first rep explained some of the benefit including lounge access (I only used the Admirals Club 3 times in 2014 — mostly because I’m a United guy and in most airports United and American aren’t necessarily near each other), no foreign transaction fees (my Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and my AmEx Platinum both have this benefit), then he explained some really esoteric benefits, like Accidental Death and Dismemberment coverage – yeah, I’m keeping a $450/year credit card for that.

I then said that I wasn’t sure if those benefits were really that useful to me, especially for the large $450 fee.  I was then transferred to another rep — which is when I thought I’d actually start to make some headway.  I explained that I was toying with the idea of canceling the card because the cost out weighed the benefits.  This second rep, who was very friendly as well, said that she couldn’t do anything about the fee.  I mentioned that last year I was eligible for a $200 statement credit, but was quickly informed that nothing was available this year.  Well, is there anything else that might be available to a Citi customer?  Nope.  Wait…yes, we can transfer some of your credit line to another one of your Citi Cards.  Hmmm.  Well, I was concerned about impact of canceling this card and reducing my overall credit, so this was something.

I couldn’t get anything out of Citi.  I’ve used this strategy with other cards that I wanted to cancel and it has always worked.  I ended up canceling my card.  No annual fee, no more lounge access.  Not ideal, but saves me some money.  This kind of reminds me of dealing with Comcast – cable fee goes up, you call and threaten to move to a competitor and then they reduce your rate and throw in HBO for 12 months…except that ONE time, when they offer you nothing and immediately cancel your service without even attempting to dance with you.  Oh well, 12 months with this card netted me an additional 100,000 AAdvantage miles, 3 visits to the lounge and a $200 statement credit — all for $450.  Pretty good rate of return, if you ask me.

I know a bunch of you grabbed this Citi AAdvantage World Elite card last January and your annual fee is coming do — did you get any additional benefits from Citi, or did they just let you cancel?

Miles/Points Credit Cards and High Annual Fees

I’ve said it before, I’m not really into the Credit Card Sign-Up game (you know, churning credit cards just to get the bonus miles then cancelling them before the annual fee is due).  Some people have a set schedule and sign up for cards every 91 days, meet the spend then cancel and start it all over again.  I will, however, sign up for a Credit Card if here is a huge bonus — like 75,000 – 100,000 miles/point bonus.

In January 2013, American Express offered a 100,000 point sign-up bonus for their Platinum Card.  I signed up.  In January 2014, Citibank offered 100,000 American AAdvantage Miles for signing up with their Citi AAdvantage World Elite card.  I’ve found that I get pretty good benefits from the American Express Platinum Card ($200 annual airline credit, access to Fine Hotels and Resorts, Starwood Preferred Guest Gold Status — although I already have that based on stays — Complimentary Boingo WiFi, AmEx Offers and access to the Delta Lounge — which I’ve used just once).  This card has  $450 annual fee – which I think is totally worth it for me considering all the benefits.

The Citi AAdvantage World Elite card has an annual fee of $450 as well. The benefits to me of this card is really only that it offers access to the American Airlines Admirals Club.  I only use the Admirals Club in Nashville, so it’s not a huge benefit.  I really signed up for this card just for the 100,000 miles.

I mention this because it is time for the annual fees again.  I’m keeping my American Express Platinum Card for at least another year and at that point I’ll reevaluate.  I can’t really rationalize paying $450 to keep a card that offers me no real benefits other than access to a lounge (that I used 4 times in 2014 — I could buy day passes for $50 each).   I’ve got a huge credit limit on the World Elite Card too – so canceling the card could impact my credit score (reducing total credit increases your credit utilization percentage).

So what’s my plan?  I’m going to keep the AmEx Platinum, but I’m going to call Citi and see if they will offer me a bonus for keeping the card for another year.  Best case scenario – they’ll waive the fee and offer me a mileage bonus.  Do I think that’ll happen: Nope. Hopefully I’ll get something.  I’ll report back on my results once they are in.

Do you have any experience with Citibank and asking for a retention bonus?