Tag Archives: spg

Four Points by Sheraton Ventura Harbor Resort Hotel Review

Two weeks ago, it was my cousin’s birthday and he wanted to visit Santa Barbara since he has never been. It was a last minute trip, so I fired up spg.com and found out that there are no Starwood properties in Santa Barbara, but there was the Four Points by Sheraton Ventura Harbor Resort which is located 25 minutes away. The standard rate was showing $159 + taxes or 4,000 Starpoints. I value 4,000 Starpoints at $120 minimum, so this was a no brainer for a Starwood redemption.

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I’ve stayed at this property five years ago and since then, it has gone under a huge renovation. It has recently earned its right to be called a Resort in the Starwood portfolio. It’s so weird having the words Four Points and Resort in the same sentence, since Four Points is the red headed stepchild of the Sheraton brand.

As I approached the Four Points Ventura, I noticed that the parking lot is now secured and gated with a moveable arm. Five years ago, the parking lot was openly free to park and I guess free parking is rare nowadays. The weird thing about this gated moveable arm mechanism is that there is no “Ticket” to grab. As your car approaches the moveable arm, the sensors raise the arm automatically. I thought it was weird since this is suppose to be a secured lot.

As I checked in, I was greeted by a cheery front desk agent named Barbara. I asked if there were any rooms available at this time since I arrived at noon. Barbara said that as a Platinum member, I was entitled to the best room available. I was pleased to hear this, but I know there wasn’t any suites available since I checked on the SPG iPhone app. Even though I knew there weren’t any suites available, I asked Barbara if there were any suites available anyway. She responded with “The hotel is completely sold out of suites and nearly at capacity due to a huge convention in town.” I booked a standard two queen bed and was upgraded to an oversized two queen bed with an oversized balcony overlooking the Ventura Harbor. Barbara was overjoyed and rest assured that I will like the room and can invite my friends over for a party, which she kidded.

i inquired about the possibility of having breakfast as a Platinum amenity and she said that it was a continental breakfast which consisted of pastries, fruit, juice, and coffee. I value breakfast for two much better than 250 points as a Platinum amenity at a Four Points property. Barbara handed me a colored ribboned goodie bag for Platinum members, which consisted of a granola bar, 2 bottles of water, 2 apples, and various candies.

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I asked Barbara about the possibility of a late checkout, but she said she could only do 1 or 2pm. I didn’t press the issue further because I didn’t need it. I believe as a Platinum member, a 4pm guaranteed late checkout is granted except for Resorts and Conference hotels. There is also free wifi available throughout the property regardless of your Starwood hotel elite status. I was curious and asked about the parking gate arm and why there wasn’t a ticket mechanism. She said that the hotel was working on it and asked if I parked my car. (Doh, I should not have mentioned it). I replied with yes and she responded with “There is a $10 overnight parking charge” and she noted it on my account. I should have shut my mouth so be aware if you are staying at this property to not mention that you parked your car or else you will be hit with a $10 parking charge. I don’t know how else you can arrive to this property without a car!

As I approached my room, I was greeted with a large room equivalent of a junior suite. There was definitely a lot of space to move around even placing the two queen beds in the room. There was a large 32″ TV, oversized executive desk, and a blue fabric chair.

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There were two complimentary bottles of water along with a coffee maker and tea.

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In the bathroom, there are various amenities such as mouthwash, bar soap, shampoo, conditioner, lotion, shower cap, cotton balls, and a nail filer.

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The best part about the room was the balcony and its fantastic view of the Ventura Harbor. This balcony reminded me of the Cosmopolitan Wrap-around Suite Balcony where you can fit a large party of 20 comfortably.

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The balcony also consisted of a large wooden table with four chairs. I don’t know what the party policies are for the Four Points Ventura, but you can really throw a serious party and even fire up a BBQ since it’s outdoors. With all jokes aside, I’m sure there is a no party policy and definitely a no lighted fire ordinance in a hotel room balcony even if you bring your own BBQ.

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The Platinum continental breakfast included hot pastries and fresh fruit for up to two guests. There is no buy-up to have the full breakfast buffet, but it was located at the lobby lounge outside the hotel’s main restaurant which was kind of odd.

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Overall, I would definitely stay at this hotel if I needed to be around the Santa Barbara, Ventura, Oxnard, or Camarillo area since it’s basically the only Starwood in the California Central Coast community. The Platinum recognition was awesome, but the parking charge downright stinks. In the end, I received 10 Starpoints for the parking charge, so I don’t’ know how the Four Points codes it since you don’t normally earn Starpoints for parking. Hmm….. seems a little fishy!

Aloft San Francisco Airport Hotel Review

Two weeks ago, I bought tickets to the San Francisco 49’ers game against the Green Bay Packers and I used 9,000 Avios to book the roundtrip flight. The million dollar question I ask myself was, “Where do I stay?”. Since I am only loyal to Starwood Preferred Guest and I’m a Platinum member, I only look ar Starwood Hotels first. I wanted to stay near the airport since Candlestick Park is nearby and I found a low AAA price of $109/night + taxes for the Aloft SFO Airport hotel which I consider bargain. I have never stayed at an Aloft hotel before because there are so few of them around the world. Last year when I went to San Francisco, I stayed at the Westin SFO Airport hotel and passed by the Aloft SFO several times when it was under construction. The Aloft SFO is a recently new property that was converted from a Clarion hotel.

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Having checked out the property on spg.com and knowing beforehand that overnight hotel parking was $20/night, I began to look for alternatives. Thankfully, my stay was on a weekend and there is a nearby BART station in Millbrae that doesn’t charge for parking on Saturday and Sundays. The Millbrae BART station is a 10-15 minute walk to the hotel which is basically located on the same street on Millbrae Ave. It’s tricky to cross the bridge since there is an on-ramp for the 101 freeway that cars basically speed to get on even though there is a marked crosswalk. So, be careful and look for oncoming cars before crossing since there are no signal lights.

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I was astounded on how the Aloft SFO hotel looked from its exteriors because it looked so futuristic. The Aloft hotel is the red headed stepchild of the W Hotels and I say that because the Aloft brand is a W Hotels concept brand. The Aloft tries to be hip like the W Hotel Starwood brand with a trendy lobby, bar, and hotel rooms. As I approach the Aloft SFO, I hear top 40 music blasting from the exterior speakers. That’s a pretty cool way to approach the lobby since the music sets you up in a good mood.

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The lobby has a cool, unique, and hip feel to it with upscale modern decor. The lobby also has a “Living Room” area where you can watch TV, lounge around, and relax. In addition, there is a little market adjacent to the front desk check-in area called “re:fuel” where you can purchase snacks and drinks.

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You will also find the wxyz bar in the lobby where you can mingle during the night with friends and perhaps meet new people. I checked in during noon and the bar was closed during that time, but the wxyz bar was a happening place during the late evenings.

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As I checked in, I was recognized as a Platinum member by a young lady and was able to check-in early at noon since standard rooms were available. There are no suites at the Aloft SFO, hence there is no possibly of a suite upgrade for Platinum members. I chose 250 Starpoints as a Welcome Amenity for Platinum members.

During check-in, I was presented with a voucher for a free drinks which the coupon says that apparently Gold members can receive as well. Although the voucher says “enjoy a free hot sip on us”, you can choose any kind of drink from the “re:fuel” refrigerator. I chose to keep my voucher to redeem for the morning after, which I redeemed for a Naked juice.

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As I entered the room, I was encountered with a large working desk and a large King sized bed. It’s a no frills airport hotel with IKEA-like modern furniture in the rooms. The standard room does its job if you just need a place to crash for an early flight in the morning. This hotel also includes free wi-fi to all guests regardless of Starwood elite status.

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There were two bottles of water in the room by the cool looking blue clock and I also found two more bottles of water in the closet area along with a coffee maker.

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The best thing about the room are the Bliss amenities which can be found in the bathroom. You can find a mini blue bar of soap and a body lotion in the sink area. The shower had a built in Bliss shampoo and conditioner, dispenser which is awesome since you don’t have to limit yourself to the small little bottles.

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I basically stayed in the hotel room for one hour before leaving Candlestick Park festivities. After the San Francisco 49’ers victory against the Green Bay Packers, I arrived back to the hotel around midnight. Earlier when I checked in, there was a letter in the room indicating that there was going to be overnight maintenance on the water pipe infrustruture from 12am-3am. I slept for a few hours before waking up at 4:30am and I noticed that the water looked contaminated as I turned the sink on. I couldn’t be bothered since I had a 6am flight so I didn’t get to take a hot shower as I need to pack and get on the shuttle to SFO airport.

I checked out at 5am and told the front desk lady that the water was still contaminated looking even after running the faucet continuously for 10 minutes. She didn’t seem to care, and it angered me because what about the other guests that might have this problem when they wake up. I tweeted out my frustrations to @AloftSFO and @spg and was instantaneously tweeted back by @spg apologizing for the situation.

Aside from the water problems, the Aloft is a great property with genuinely friendly staff. The hotel shuttle is shared between the nearby Westin and the Aloft which runs every 15 minutes 24-hours a day. It’s only a 5 minute shuttle ride to the airport and the service is very friendly.

In the end, I heard back a few days later via e-mail and a voicemail from the GM of the Aloft SFO. I replied back to the e-mail and the GM apologized profusely. He invited me back to the hotel the next time I am in town and deposited 3,000 Starpoints as a gesture of goodwill. In addition, @spg from twitter deposited 1,000 Goodwill Starpoints to my account. I value the 4,000 Starpoints at 3 cents each, which brings the future rebate redemption value at $120. I feel like I received a free stay because of the water inconvenience and because my one tweet to @AloftSFO & @spg made a huge difference. That’s the power of social media and elite status, so use it to your advantage. 

How To Receive Elite Benefits on a Starwood Third Party Reservation

Sometimes you’re just stuck with a third party reservation whether you booked a package deal with a tour group or a travel agent flight + hotel combination package. I like to use American Airlines miles on http://www.useaamiles.com since I get a heavy discount for being an Executive Platinum elite member and sometimes you can find bargain mileage redemption (think of it like hotel mistake fares). Last year I booked the W New York hotel for 5,000 AAdvantage miles on 4th of July week when the hotel was asking $350 + taxes for a standard room on spg.com.

After you have booked your third party reservation, I would call the hotel directly to ask if you can confirm your arrival. Make sure the hotel operator does not transfer you to Starwood’s main central reservations because they will not be able to help you out on third party reservations. When you get a front desk agent on the phone, simply ask if you can add your Starwood number to your reservation. If the agent can’t find your reservation, then your third party booking company might not have faxed over your reservation details yet. Don’t fret because this happens all the time with third party reservations. In that case, I would give them a call back a week later or a few days before arrival. This is important- Before hanging up, ask what your confirmation number is and write this down. If the agent refuses to add your Starwood number because he noticed that you booked through a third party, I would simply say “I just want to see my reservation on my spy.com profile” or “I understand, but I can earn Starpoints for incidentals correct?”.

After you have successfully added your Starwood Preferred guest number to your reservation, you will be able to see it on your spg.com profile under “Upcoming Stays” within the hour. If you do not see your reservation details on your spg.com profile within the hour, then the hotel might not have added your Starwood Preferred guest number correctly. A phone call should remedy this situation.

When you log onto your spg.com profile, you will see under the hotel details, “This is a complex rate, we are unable to display your information details” and a “Send Confirmation” button will appear below that text. You are most likely not able to successfully click on “Send Confirmation” since your e-mail address won’t be on the reservation. Luckily, I have come across a workaround for adding all your details, including name, address, special request messages, and even apply your Suite Night Award upgrades (if applicable) to your third party reservation.

You will need to modify your third party reservation with the Starwood Preferred Guest iPhone App. You will be able to see your third party reservation displayed on the iPhone app if you successfully completed the steps prior by asking the front desk agent on the phone to add your Starwood number to your third party reservation.

On the SPG iPhone app, click Reservation Details, then View All Details, and then click on Modify Reservation. Your screen should look something like this:

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You will be able to see what type of room your third party has booked for you. It is important to not change the Room & Bed or else you will be hit with a change fee. Under the Rate, you can see that the third party paid $86/night for my room and there are additional details including “Resort fee waived per contract”.

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If you scroll down a little further, you will see a lot of empty fields which you will need to fill in, such as your Title, First Name, Last Name (can’t be modified), Address, City, State, and Zip/Postal Code. You MUST fill in the fields with the asterisks or else you can’t continue to the next step.

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You also need to enter in your Telephone number and this is the most important step, E-mail address. You will need to enter your e-mail address since the whole point of the “Send Confirmation” is to send your reservation details straight to your e-mail.

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You are required to enter your credit card number with the expiration date so the hotel can charge you for incidentals. Don’t worry, you won’t get billed for your room rate under any circumstances since this is a prepaid reservation. Your SPG number will be pre-populated and leave the StarChoice number blank. You can enter special requests under “Optional Information”. I always like to enter “SPG Platinum Guest- Please upgrade to the best suite available. Thanks”. You can also change your time of arrival in this area if you wish.
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Click on Continue to the Next Step:

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On the next screen, it is imperative that you click on “Continue to the next step (Don’t change my room rate)”

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You will see that your entered information will be highlighted in yellow. If you didn’t make any errors entering any of your personal information, then scroll all the way to the bottom and click “Complete Changes Now” .

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The next screen will say “Changes Complete” Your reservation has been changed. What this means is that you have added additional information to the reservation just as if you had handed over your credit card and passport/ID to the clerk. You will not be charged any additional fees on the credit card you have provided.

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Now, go back to your spg.com profile and you will be able to click on “Send Confirmation” You will now be able to receive an e-mail copy of your third party reservation. Refresh your screen and you will now be able to see all you reservation details including applying Suite Award NIghts (if applicable).

Note- I was able to apply a suite award night, but the hotel was completely sold out and the automated suite night award system returned it back to my account a day before check-in since there were no suites available for an upgrade.

There is a glitch in the spg.com system where you can receive a stay/night credit, but don’t hold your breath because the system will only award you Starpoints for incidentals. Also, when you check-in, do not ask for the 500 point Platinum amenity since spg.com won’t credit you. In this case, I would ask for a breakfast voucher or the local amenity.

In some cases, the front desk agent can deny you of your Platinum benefits if they mention that you booked through a third party. Don’t argue with the clerk and accept the reality that hotel can’t offer you your Platinum benefits under a third party. I always add some kind of incidental charge on my third party stays since it can trigger a stay/night credit (sometimes you get lucky). In many cases, I would add a minibar charge or lunch/dinner. For free Platinum internet, I would add the internet charge to your hotel room and kindly ask at checkout if it could be removed. I usually telephone in the morning after if they can remove the charge since they can see you are a Platinum member (make sure you don’t get the same agent). Remember, different agents = different responses. Happy booking!

Upcoming Trip to Las Vegas this New Years Weekend

This is an annual tradition for me to get away and spend New Years in Las Vegas with friends. I’m going with two of my best friends from college and I’ve planned a three nights stay utilizing a combination of AAdvantage Miles and American Express Fine Hotel & Resorts program.

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For Saturday, I booked a $209 Fine Hotel & Resorts rate at the Venetian Hotel, which includes room service breakfast for 2, a complimentary lunch or dinner (amenity benefit), noon check-in, late checkout, and a complimentary upgrade if available. I’ve attached my Priority Club Platinum membership number by calling the hotel in advance to utilize the “Invited Guest Check-in” priority line. On Sunday evening, I booked a standard suite at Mandalay Bay’s THEhotel (all suites property) on a $200 Fine Hotel & Resorts rate, which includes a complimentary upgrade if available, noon check-in, $100 spa credit, $80 worth of breakfast vouchers, and a late checkout. For Monday, I am staying at the Westin Lake Las Vegas on 10,800 American Airlines AAdvantage Miles, which is a superb value since rates on New Years are sky-high in Las Vegas. I value AA miles to be 2cpm (cents per mile) and since I have a mid 6 figure AAdvantage miles balance, I will gladly spend the miles. The Westin Lake Las Vegas is going for $256, which I gladly will pay in miles. I used http://www.useaamiles.com to book my hotel using AAdvantage miles and since I am an American Airlines Executive Platinum member, I get discount prices. In addition, I called the hotel in advance and asked the front desk agent to add my Starwood Preferred Guest Platinum number to my reservation. It’s a gamble to see if they will honor elite benefits on a 3rd party stay, but it’s Las Vegas after all! Stay tuned……