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Tim Foolery

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Booking a Park Hyatt Award Stay When You Have Zero Hyatt Points??

We spent part of this weekend working on a  late fall trip.  We’ll be starting in Paris and ending in Zurich – two cities that are not cheap.  We decided to stay one night at a Park Hyatt – I’ve never stayed in a Park Hyatt before and haven’t stayed in a Hyatt since long before I started the points/miles game.  We’ll be spending just a single night in Paris and Zurich each.

Park Hyatt Paris Vendôme‎

The highly rated Park Hyatt was going for 540 €/night (or about 750USD).  I have never spent that much on a hotel for a night and I can’t imagine being in a situation where I would.  My flights to Stockholm in January and my flight to Shanghai the January before each cost about 750USD — and I’d much rather fly someplace across the planet instead of spending a single night someplace.

Park Hyatt Zurich – not as glamorous exterior as the Park Hyatt Paris, eh?

This Park Hyatt is a Hyatt Category 7 hotel – there are only 7 Category Hotels throughout the world (New York, Beaver Creek, Sydney, Tokyo, Paris, Zurich and Milan).  A Category 7 Hotel costs 30,000 points per night for a standard room.  Since I haven’t stayed at a Hyatt property in about a decade, I don’t have 30,000 Hyatt Gold Passport Points to spend.  Luckily, I have the Chase Sapphire Preferred Credit Card that allows card members to instantaneously transfer Ultimate Reward Points (the point currency used by the various Chase cards – including Freedom, Sapphire, Ink, etc).  Since I put most of my spending on either my Sapphire Preferred (or my AmEx SPG) card I had ample Ultimate Reward Points.

I confirmed one final time that the room was still available at the Park Hyatt for the night in question, then headed on over to Chase.com and transferred (instantly, mind you) to my Hyatt Gold Passport Account and booked the room.  It’s important to note that once you transfer the points from Chase to Hyatt (or any of the other partners like United, Marriott, Southwest, British Airways, etc) you cannot transfer them back – so make sure the award you want is available right when you transfer.  Some airlines allow you to hold a ticket while you transfer points in from another source — I don’t think you can hold a hotel room, has anyone out there had experience with this?

Have you stayed at a Park Hyatt before?  What should I expect as a non-elite member staying at one of these beautiful Category 7 properties?

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Thanksgiving Travel

How did this busy travel weekend treat you? Did you all take a trip to see family or did you stay home (or did you take a trip to get away from family)?  We took a quick trip to Mexico City (full trip report coming, I still need to finish Southeast Asia from earlier this year — I promise to have that report finalized before the end of the month) and on this trip, we ran into many of the people who make travel so difficult.

Firstly, we had some of the rudest flight attendants I’ve ever come across – both the outbound and inbound flights were crewed by people who had lost all love for their jobs.  Everything from aggressively providing completely inaccurate information to lacking all the basics of customer service (waking me up to ask if I want a drink, then getting angry with me as they set the full trash bag on my tray table/lap while navigating a busy aisle).

The crews weren’t the only ones who were struggling – we saw many people today who had the DYKWIA (Do you know who I am) mentality.  One guy was pissed because the flight from SFO-MEX had to land in Guadalajara because of fog in MEX. Evidently United should have called him before the flight left SFO to let him know he could sleep in (he was on the MEX-SFO leg).

All in all, we had no delays and very few personal run-ins with idiot travelers.  Obviously, Thanksgiving travel brings out the folks who aren’t frequent travelers, so those of us who are in the air a bit more need to cut them some slack and try to go with the flow. If you are a frequent flyer and you are stressed, just think about how people who fly but once a year feel.

What are your Thanksgiving travel horror stories?  Did you have trouble getting to your destination? Did you have trouble with house guests?  Did you have a guest use bath linens as toilet paper (I got two texts from friends who had friends/family do that this weekend)?

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Aloft Smart Check-In

I received an email from @SPG congratulating me on being specially chosen to participate in an exclusive program wherein they send me a special key card and when I stay at participating Aloft hotels I can by-pass the check-in desk and go directly to my room. The day of check-in, the hotel would send participants of this program an email notifying us of the rooms to which we’ve been assigned.

This is an interesting idea – and based on a few of the last hotel stays I’ve had, I would have loved this benefit.  Recently in Nashville I was stuck in line (in the SPG Gold/Platinum Line) behind people who seemed like they had never been out of their mother’s basement before.  The people in the non-Gold/Platinum line were even worse – they were demanding suite upgrades because they had a long cab ride in from the airport.  God I hate these people.

Usually when I check in to a hotel, I like to chat up the front desk people – mostly to see if I can talk them into giving me a better room.  At an Aloft that is usually just a room with a better view or located in a quieter part of the hotel (away from elevators, on higher floors, away from public outdoor spaces, etc).

I signed up for this benefit and once I make my first stay, I’ll report back on how the whole thing works.  I’m not at all sold on this “benefit” as of yet.  Since this is only for Aloft and there isn’t a chance for any real upgrade I don’t think any other benefits would be lost.

Who else got this “benefit”?  What do you think about it? Do you think there is any benefit to this new program? Have you received your new Aloft Card yet? Does it indicate your SPG status on it?  I’d hate to be stuck carrying two SPG cards (Aloft permanent room key, SPG Platinum Card…and my SPG Amex).

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#SNAPChallenge Round 2

I completed my first #SNAPChallenge in January and I had every intent on doing it each month in 2013. Unfortunately life, work, travel all got in my way. Not a valid excuse, I know.  I decided to do Round Two of Tim’s #SNAPChallenge starting next Tuesday (May 28-Monday June 3).

You can read about my first experience of this Challenge here.  I’ve got a decent amount of food left over, so this time I think I can start by adding some more healthy veggies and legumes and less carbs.  MS will be out of town the week I do this, so I won’t feel obligated to stray from this Challenge.

I’m also starting this the day after Memorial Day as I will be spending a good portion of that day on a plane, returning from London — can’t really do the Challenge whilst airborne.

Have any of you tried this Challenge since I did it in January? Do you have any more recommendations on food or recipes for me?  Who wants to join me in this #Challenge? As you read before, it isn’t easy, but it makes you really feel for others.

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Chinese Visa – The Experience

I am going to Shanghai later this month and needed to get a Chinese Visa.  Luckily there is a Consulate / Visa Office in Chicago, just a few blocks from my office.  First thing I did was check out the website to see what I needed to bring and since I was going on a tourist (not business) Visa, it was pretty straight forward:

  • Passport, valid 6 months after my intended visit
  • One Passport Photo
  • Completed Application
  • If already booked, details on hotel and airfare (if not booked, this can be skipped)
The visa office has some interesting office hours – 09h00-12h00 and 13h00-14h30.  
I stopped off at a local Walgreens to get my passport photo. After waiting in line and finally finding someone who knows how to issue passport photos, she takes my picture then wanders around the store for about 15 minutes before she comes back and says “Oh, damn, I forgot to tell you, we’re out of photo paper, you gotta go somewhere else.” Lovely. Luckily I work withing 2 blocks of three different Walgreens.  The next one I visit had a big sign that said the photo printing service was out of order. Strike two.  Head to the next Walgreens and stumble across a woman in her 60s getting her photo taken — 6 times. She didn’t like any of the photos and demanded the lady retake the picture. Good god, it is just a passport photo – deal with it.
With photo in hand, along with my completed application and my airline reservations, I head to the Visa office the Tuesday before Christmas.  I didn’t have hotel reservations as I am staying with MS and the room is in his name.
The waiting area was quite full. When you enter you get a number (like from the deli) and you find a seat and wait to be called.  After a short 15 minute wait it was my turn – 3 or 4 people were ahead of me.  I bring all of my documents to the window and after the woman spends about 10 seconds looking through everything and denies my Visa.  She said I needed a copy of the hotel reservation in my name. I explained I was sharing a room with someone who already had his Visa. She says I need to have him write a letter inviting me to China – but only if he’s Chinese, if he is not, I can’t visit.  
Change of plans. I leave and book a room (with no cancellation penalty of course) and try again.
I return two days later with the same info as before, plus the hotel confirmation.   I arrive at 08h45 and get in line again.  This time, there are 2 people ahead of me and the line moves very fast. I hand my documents over to another woman. She pulls out my hotel and airline confirmations and throws them away. She then tells me that confirmations are not required and I don’t have to waste time providing this info.  I did NOT tell her I was denied two days earlier because I wasn’t prepared.  Oh bureaucracy.
She then says “two”.  I don’t understand. She continues to repeat the word “two” 5 or 6 more times.  I continue to tell her I do not understand. She then hands me my receipt and tells me that my Visa will be available on January 2nd (TWO).  Got it!
On the second I arrived at 08h30 and was the first in line. I picked up my passport/visa, paid my bill and was out in just a couple of minutes.
First roadblock was overcome relatively easily. Did you have any issues getting Visas for China? What was your most difficult part? Anything else I should be wary of?

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