Trip Report: Amsterdam, Iceland and Munich

Trip Report: Amsterdam, Iceland and Munich
Review: Iberia A340-600 Business Class
Review: Kimpton DeWitt Amsterdam
A Brief Tour of Amsterdam
Review: Sheraton Amsterdam Airport Hotel and Conference Center
Review: Radisson Blu 1919, Reykjavik
Review: Center Hotel Plaza, Reykjavik
A Week in Iceland
Review: aloft Munich
Visiting Dachau
A Brief Tour of Munich
Review: Hilton Munich Airport

The genesis of this trip was a friend telling me about a group tour of Iceland that several friends were going on and asking if I wanted to go or not. Of course the tour wanted to sell us airfare and options using points and miles aren’t all that plentiful, especially if fixed dates are involved.

The group tour was only a week and since October is when we we usually take a two-week vacation anyway, my travel companion and I decided to use our miles to get to Europe, enjoy a few days there, then buy tickets to Iceland, do the tour and then fly to another city in Europe where our miles could get us back to the US in business class. Continue reading

Categories: Award Travel, Europe, Germany, Hilton, Hotel, Iberia, Iceland, Icelandair, IHG, Marriott, Netherlands, OneWorld, Radisson, Starwood | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Regent Hotels Joining IHG Rewards Club on February 1

Yesterday IHG announced that the six hotels of the Regent Hotel chain will become part of the IHG Rewards Club starting on February 1st. There are four Regent Hotels in Asia and two in Europe:

Regent Taipei
Regent Berlin
Regent Porto Montenegro
Regent Beijing
Regent Chongqing
Regent Singapore

These are considered luxury properties, on par with – or even higher than – Intercontinental Hotels, which are already under the IHG umbrella.

We stayed at the Regent Beijing in October 2017 for the kickoff to our Roof of the World tour with Viking River Cruises and were generally quite pleased with the room size and amenities. You can read our review of the property here.

The IHG portfolio is far-reaching and covers the full array of property types.  Adding Regent Hotels helps to beef up the top end.  Here are the current brands available within the IHG Rewards Club portfolio:

Which of the properties would you like to try next?


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Review: Holiday Inn Vail

My travel buddies and I needed a weekend getaway to escape the heat of our respective cities.  I read an article about fun things to do in Vail and as Colorado is a 2-3 hour flight for each of us, it made a nice, central place to meet up.

Knowing that lodging wouldn’t be nearly as hard to get in the summer as in the winter, I’d hoped to get a 2-bedroom condo at a reasonable price.  That way we’d each have our own bed and plenty of space.  It turns out that most of the condos can’t be rented for a single night.  I did have a travel agency track down one place but they wanted $300 for the one night.  No thanks.

I looked at what hotels were available on points and there weren’t a lot of reasonably-priced choices there either but I did find the Holiday Inn had a room that could sleep three adults.  The hotel is actually across I-70 from the resort but during the summer, there’s no charge for the parking deck at Lionshead so we were only a short drive away.

The valet greeted us promptly upon arrival. Leaving the car with the valet is really the only parking option but the price is cheaper in the summer than in the winter.  In the end, we were not charged at all.  I don’t know whether that’s due to my Platinum status, because we booked the room on points or if they just forgot.  But when I checked out there were no charges billed to the room.

Once inside we had a brief wait while other customers were being assisted but then were welcomed warmly and our room was assigned quickly.


Hallway to our room.  Carpet could use refreshing.

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Convert IHG Rewards Club Points to United MileagePlus Miles


Between now and October 10, 2016 you can transfer your IHG Rewards Club points to United MileagePlus miles.  For each 10,000 points you transfer you get a 50% bonus.  The kicker is that 10,000 IHG points usually becomes 2,000 airline miles. With this special you’ll end up with 3,000 UA miles.  So it’s not a great ratio, obviously.

The process is quite simple.  First go to the United site and register for the promotion.
Next, contact the IHG Customer Care Center to initiate the transfer.

Is this something you want to do?  As usual, it depends on your personal situation.  If you are IHG points-rich and just need a few miles to top off a UA award then, perhaps.  Otherwise I’d give this one a pass.

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Review: Crowne Plaza Milwaukee West

Back in April I visited with a couple of friends for a long weekend.  The Crowne Plaza Milwaukee West is actually in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin which is where one of my friends live.  I used my annual free night certificate from the IHG Platinum MasterCard.

I arrived late on a Sunday afternoon and had a short wait to check in.  Once I reached the counter my Platinum status was recognized and the friendly associate soon had my room assigned.  I was given a king room on the 7th floor.  Though it overlooked a busy intersection, I never had any issue with traffic noise.

CP MKE West King Bed

Crowne Plaza Milwaukee West King Bed

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Free 500 IHG Points

2015-09-24 IHG Promo

If you have the IHG® Rewards Club Credit Card you can get a free 500 points by adding the card to your Rewards Club profile by October 31, 2015.

Rewards Club is the loyalty program of the Intercontinental Hotel Groups, which owns the Holiday Inn, Staybridge Suites, Candlewood Suites, Crowne Plaza and Hotel Indigo brands, among others.

Just by owning the credit card you get Platinum status with IHG, though it’s not worth a whole lot – but can be used for status-matching to competing hotels. Best of all, the credit card gives you one free night per year at any IHG brand hotel, including their top-level Intercontinental hotels, all for a low annual fee of just $49. And the fee is even waived the first year! The card earns 5 points per dollar at IHG hotels and 2 points per dollar at gas stations, grocery stores and restaurants. So the card pays for itself.

IHG Credit CardIHG hotels do have a large world-wide footprint with over 4500 properties. If you want to apply for the card, check out this blog post from The Frequent Miler on how to get an 80K sign-up bonus AND a $50 statement credit.

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Free IHG Reward Points for Joining e-Rewards

I recently received an email from IHG Rewards Club announcing that they’d award me 600 IHG points when I joined e-Rewards and completed two surveys within three months.  As it turns out, I’ve been an e-Rewards member for a long time so I’m not eligible for this promotion.

2015-08-22 IHG e-Rewards Promo

If you’re not familiar with e-Rewards, it’s an organization that sends out surveys and awards you currency for taking those surveys.  You can then use that currency to “buy” hotel points, airline miles or gift certificates.  For example, $25 in e-Rewards currency can be used to “purchase” 500 American Airlines AAdvantage miles, 1000 Club Carlson Gold Points or a gift certificate to Best Buy.  Once you’ve accumulated $25 in e-Rewards currency you can choose to spend your currency at one of 33 merchants (including a few charities).

Some partners have a straight redemption value.  For example, when redeeming e-Rewards currency for American Airlines miles, it’s $25 = 500 miles, $50 = 1000 miles and $100 = 2000 miles, so the redemption value is the same.  On the other hand, Club Carlson will give you a bonus for redeeming more currency. $25 in e-Rewards currency nets you 1000 Gold Points but $50 will bring 2500 points and with a $100 redemption you get 4500 Gold Points.  So you need to keep an eye on what currency is useful to you to know when it’s best to redeem.  Note that you are often limited to one redemption for a particular merchant within a certain time period so if you’re close to the next-higher-level award, it may make sense to wait to redeem.

You’ll be sent survey links and even if you don’t qualify for the survey, you’ll get a token amount of e-Rewards currency.  There are surveys that will award you $5 or more in currency but they are usually quite involved and take a fair amount of time.  I prefer the shorter surveys to fill in the time between doing other things at work.  The currency adds up before you realize it and soon enough you’ve got 500 frequent flyer miles ready to transfer to your account.  Note that the transfer sometimes takes a few days, so plan accordingly.

So if you’re an IHG Rewards Club member, check your email for a similar offer and your personalized link.

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IHG Adds New Top Tier Loyalty Level

IHG, the company behind Intercontinental Hotels and Holiday Inn, has announced that they’re adding a new top tier loyalty level that will be the next step above Platinum. Platinum has been fantastically easy to achieve because you can “earn” it just by holding the Chase IHG MasterCard, although you can also earn it the hard way, by staying 50 nights or earning 60,000 points via hotel stays. The IHG MasterCard has possibly the lowest annual fee of any status-earning credit card at only $49 per year. Paying the annual fee also entitles the card holder to a free night at any IHG hotel.

But now a new tier has been added though we don’t yet know its name. Check out the graphic from the IHG website – it’s just called New Membership Level:2015-04-14 New IHG Loyalty Levels

If you get Platinum status the hard way, the good news is that it’ll be easier to attain, requiring only 40 nights or 40,000 points through hotel stays. The new level requires 75 nights or 75,000 points earned at an IHG hotel. Platinum members get a 50% bonus on points for paid stays while the new level members will get a 100% bonus on points earned. They’ll also receive an annual 25,000 point bonus or they can choose to gift Platinum status to a friend or family member.

Another change is that points will now expire after 12 months of inactivity in your account. To get around that you can transfer in points from Ultimate Rewards. As a general rule I’d transfer as few UR points as allowed as URs are much more valuable than IHG points.

And on May 1st IHG will be reclassifying some 450 properties, though they claim that less than 300 will be increasing by 5000 – 10,000 points per night while 150 properties will decrease by 5000 points.

I typically don’t stay at IHG properties though in the last four months I have stayed at two different hotels. My Platinum status didn’t help at all at a Candlewood Suites but it got me an excellent free breakfast buffet at a Crowne Plaza.

The IHG website does state that all stays in 2015 will count towards the new level, so if you often stay at IHG properties, maybe this will be a benefit to you. As long as I still get breakfast and wifi I’ll hang on to the credit card just for the free night. Once any of those benefits goes away I’ll have to re-evaluate.

HT: Frequent Miler

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Review: Crowne Plaza Los Angeles Airport

I arrived in Los Angeles very late on a Friday night and stayed here for one night while waiting for a friend who would fly in the next morning. I took the free shuttle to the hotel. Note that LAX is extremely busy, even late at night, on Friday evenings and it may take quite some time to get to the hotel, even though it’s just a short distance away.

As a platinum member I stepped to the priority check-in lane – but unfortunately got there just after a small group of people stopped to ask the front desk staffer some questions. As a result, the people in the non-priority lane actually got assisted before I did. Part of me wishes they’d been directed to the other check-in lane but the staff member was very professional and answered their questions thoroughly before they left. Once he assisted me it was a very quick process to get my room key and choose my welcome amenity and I was on my way to a club room on the top floor.

Crowne Plaza LAX Club Floor Hallway

Crowne Plaza LAX Club Floor Hallway

Crowne Plaza LAX Room 1623

Crowne Plaza LAX Room 1623

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Review: Candlewood Suites, Brentwood, Tennessee

I recently went home to the Nashville area for Christmas and due to a family member’s illness (nothing serious) I ended up staying at the Candlewood Suites in Brentwood, Tennessee for three nights. The rates were extremely reasonable at under $100, but I had a free night certificate since I hold the IHG credit card as well as a plethora of IHG points and no plans for their use at the moment, so I used my certificate and 10,000 points per night for my stay. Did I get maximum value for my points? Absolutely not. But since I only found out the day before I arrived that I’d need to find alternate lodging, it was nice not to have to shell out any unexpected cash.

The free night certificate cannot be booked online, so I called in to make my reservation. At the time I thought it was unusual that the customer service representative asked what time I’d be arriving. Once I got to the hotel I realized it was because the front desk is not manned 24/7 and they have a locker-type facility where after-hours arrivals can enter a code to get their keys. The phone in the room did indicate there is a 24-hour contact number in case something goes wrong after hours, which is good to know.

I arrived mid-afternoon and was promptly checked in. I only interacted with the front desk staff at check-in and checkout but they were both very nice and very efficient. My platinum status (from holding the credit card) was recognized and I was offered a choice of welcome amenities: 500 points or a gift bag. I’m not even sure what the bag contained, but I selected the points.

There were a couple of luggage carts handy so I used one to take my luggage and Christmas items up to my room. I’d driven from Memphis to Nashville and since there was no limitation on how much “stuff” I could bring, I brought more than I would have if I’d flown somewhere.

My room was on the third floor on the back side of the building. This was great because there’s no parking lot behind the building, just a green space, so it’s very quiet. This property is located in a large office park that’s quiet most of the time anyway so I’m willing to bet that outside noise is never a problem.

Since the hotel was not full, I was glad the staff had spread the guests throughout the hotel, which also kept noise down. I don’t think anyone was staying in either room next to mine.

I just had a standard room, which features a queen-sized bed, a recliner, a large desk/table combination that runs the length of the living area and a kitchenette. The first thing I noticed when I walked in was a sharp perfume-y smell. I’m not sure if it was air freshener or what but I noticed it right by the door and in the bathroom. The next thing I noticed was that my shoes were sticking to the kitchen floor. This also happened in the bathroom. I’m not sure what caused this either but it was a bit annoying. But as it was Christmas Eve at that point and I’m sure housekeeping had left for the day, I didn’t want to bother anybody about it.

Large Closet

Large Closet

I liked the rather large, deep closet. If I were staying here for an extended period it would be a fine place to store my suitcase without having to struggle to get it in there.  Not shown is an iron and ironing board that were included.

Desk and drawers

Desk and drawers

The desk area ran along one wall then turned in an L-shape as it reached the kitchen. The desk chair was at the corner of the L which was very handy, like an L-shaped desk. At the end of the L was another chair, which I used for eating breakfast each morning.

Table and chair

Table and chair

Breakfast is not included at this Candlewood Suites. Not sure if that’s standard across the brand or not. I’d thought Candlewood was meant to be a competitor to Marriott’s Residence Inns and I think all the RIs where I’ve stayed have offered breakfast in the lobby, so it surprised me that Candlewood did not. But since I was driving, I just brought items from home so I didn’t have to go out and buy anything and it was not a big deal.

The kitchen seemed to be furnished with two place settings of dining utensils and glasses/plates/bowls, etc. A full-size dishwasher and a full-sized refrigerator/freezer were included as were a 2-burner cooktop and a coffee maker.  There was a fair amount of pots and pans but if you needed something that wasn’t in your kitchen, there was a locker down by the front desk where you could check out specialty items and take them back to your room. This locker also had games and DVDs available. I thought that was a nice touch.

Kitchen counter and cabinets

Kitchen counter and cabinets

Some of the provided dishes

Some of the provided dishes

Dishwasher and drawers

Dishwasher and drawers

The bathroom was a good size and had a shower/tub combo with a curved curtain rod. The showerhead was minimally adjustable but I couldn’t get the water pressure to beat down as hard as I’d like. I suspect this is because of the good “green” rating this hotel has and the pressure is probably limited on purpose.

Shower/Tub and Toilet

Shower/Tub and Toilet

The vanity was slightly high, which I like more as I get older – it means I don’t have to bend over as far over the sink! And there was plenty of counter space for one person’s toiletries. Two bars of soap (one for the sink, one for the bath) were provided as was a combination shampoo/conditioner by Pantene. I really prefer separate shampoo and conditioner but this was fine for a few days. No lotion or other amenities were provided. The hair dryer was tucked in one of the shelves under the sink and I had to look a bit for it. It was actually pretty strong and I like that it was not one of those that was fastened to the wall.

Bathroom Sink and Vanity

Bathroom Sink and Vanity



The towels were pretty decent, though naturally not as thick as ones you’d have at home. Maid service only happens once a week at this property though you can get more towels at the front desk in between cleanings, if needed.

Bed and recliner

Bed and recliner

The bed was pretty comfortable though a couple of the pillows were lumpy. Fortunately there were two other pillows that were ok. I liked that the bed had a fitted sheet, a top sheet and a duvet. I do miss that top sheet when I’m in hotels that don’t provide one!

I was able to keep the room comfortable at night by turning the thermostat all the way down (I like it cold!). There was a note that the thermostat cuts off when you leave the room for 15 minutes. I don’t know if it does that if there’s no activity in the room while one is asleep or not but I did wake up hot at one point but I can’t remember if the air came back on or not as I threw the duvet off for awhile.

Wi-fi was free but seemed to get a little bogged down in the evenings when lots of people were connected. I woke up in the middle of the night at one point and was browsing on my tablet and it seemed much faster then.

Downstairs there was a surprisingly good gym. Not large but it had quite a few machines. I wish I’d thought to bring workout clothes to make use of it. There was also a cupboard area where you could fill a bag with food items for a single price and take it to the front desk to pay for it. Very convenient for those who don’t want to trek to the grocery store. There were also free laundry facilities in this space. I saw at least three pairs of washers and dryers. That would be extremely handy were I staying here longer term.

Gym - Cardio Area

Gym – Cardio Area

Gym - Weights

Gym – Weights

Candlewood Cupboard

Candlewood Cupboard

Laundry Area

Laundry Area

Would I stay here again? Well, the price was right. I do feel like it’s a half-step down from a Residence Inn. There is a Residence Inn in the same area though I don’t have nearly as many Marriott points on hand as I do IHG points. Plus my Marriott points can be used at Ritz-Carltons, where I get much better value for them. Even for paid stays, the Candlewood Suites are much less expensive than the local Residence Inn. So, I’m not sure what I’d do next time – hopefully everybody will be well and I can stay with family for free!

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