Hotel Living – Part 1

With my recent job change, I’m still figuring things out.

Like where to live.

The new job is about 100 miles away from the old job, but it’s not commutable. 

Ok, technically, it is physically possible but with weekend call, early morning procedures and the wintery weather – and accompanying icy roads – it doesn’t make sense to drive back and forth each day.

The original (and still current) plan was for me to stay near my job during the week and come home on the weekends. A month into the process, this is working out ok. Not perfect, but ok enough.

I used to love to travel for my old job, typically to medical conferences in nice (read: warm in the winter) places. I loved staying in luxury hotels, decadently ordering room service when it was on the company dime or indulging at local restaurants.

Things are different now.

Without an expense account, I have suddenly found myself becoming much more frugal, especially with where I’m staying. I’m still loyal to Starwood Hotel brands, but I had to swap the W for the Four Points Sheraton. I’m scouring the Starwood Preferred Guest app for upcoming deals and taking advantage of them. Even though there are several Starwood Hotels in the metro area where I’m staying, usually the Four Points Sheraton is the cheapest and most convenient to my new primary office. I’ll mix it up, though: last Sunday night I found a great deal at the Westin – closer to work and much nicer – so I booked one night there.

The upshot: I’m getting a lot of Starwood Hotel points.

Starwood recently merged with Marriott, so it isn’t clear where this will end up, but currently Starwood has a Lifetime Gold program. This requires five years of Gold status and 250 total nights of eligible stays, although they don’t have to be within that five-year frame.

Through savvy hotel swapping and work-related travel, I was able to achieve Gold status for the past six years. Gold requires 10 independent stays or 25 nights in a calendar year. Platinum is much steeper: 25 individual stays or 50 nights. Platinum also comes with some incredible perks, including automatic upgrades to the best available room at check-in. Hello, Presidential Suite!

Previously, though, while achieving Gold was possible with some effort, Platinum was always out of reach. 

But it might not be this year.

If I’m doing my math right, I will make Platinum by May, which means I will be Platinum for about half of 2017 and all of 2018. Status earned during one calendar year is good for the next calendar year (since many people probably don’t reach the required number of stays/nights until late in the year), but it kicks in immediately for the current year once you hit it.

By June, I think I will also reach the 250 nights total (this is spread out over about 8 years) to make Lifetime Gold. I came into the year with 188 nights.

Also by June, I am hopeful that Spouse and the kids will be able to move here (we’re waiting for the school year to end), and all of this hotel living will be over.

Since I like getting something extra wherever I can, though, I am making lemonade out of this situation and dreaming about free hotel stays and suite upgrades for family vacations in 2018.

Next up: suitcase living, hotel hacks and dietary considerations

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Brand Loyalty – Starwood

Almost exactly five years ago, I had a reservation to stay at an unnamed hotel to run in a race.

I chose that exact hotel based on proximity to the start/finish line, so I knew it would be within easy stumbling distance at the end.

When I got there, the desk clerk informed me that they were oversold, and that my guaranteed, pre-paid room was, in fact, not guaranteed and not available.

However, they were happy to send me over to another hotel about 10 miles away, which totally defeated the purpose of staying near the finish line.

Spouse and I drove through increasingly sketchy parts of town to get to the new hotel, and at one point we passed an overturned car on fire.

car on fire

When we got to the new hotel, it was something like this:

badhotel

I took one look at the parking lot and decided that since I didn’t feel like being murdered in my sleep, there was no way I would be staying there.

I got on the phone and immediately booked a room at the local W, a hotel chain I’d long admired but had never stayed.

That W was heaven. I was hooked.

Since then I’ve stayed at nearly a dozen different Ws, mostly because I also committed to nearly always staying at Starwood hotels as part of their Preferred Guest program.

starwood

Even though I don’t usually do a great job of concentrating airline miles or other “reward” points or programs, I am pretty fierce about Starwood, particularly since their Preferred Guest Program is recognized as one of the best loyalty programs out there. (Marriott wins the top spot).

Although the 40+ properties in the W chain are still my favorites, Starwood has many great brands including Westin, Aloft, St. Regis, Sheraton and Le Meridien.

I don’t quite garner Road Warrior Status, but I travel just enough to be able to maintain Gold Status with Starwood, which gives me perks like free internet, free drinks, late check-outs (4 PM in some places), and significantly faster points accumulation over regular membership. Best part is that it’s free to join.

Reaching Gold Status requires either a total of 10 different stays or a total of 25 nights within a calendar year. (Platinum Status requires 25 stays or 50 nights, which would be impossible for me to do).

Here are a few tips for how I’ve made (and kept) Gold Status:

  • If I’m short on stays, I will consider staying at two different Starwood Hotels in the same city during the same trip. Switching hotels is obviously required and can be a pain, but sometimes it’s worth it. Consider this, too, if there is one hotel that is much nicer but more expensive and another Starwood that is nearby but less costly. Downtown Chicago is a great example: there’s a Sheraton within about 4 blocks of the Lakeshore W. The first is often cheaper than the second, allowing a few nights of economy and a few of splurge.
  • Book two rooms in the same hotel under different reservations. A few times I’ve invited either my mom or my in-laws on a weekend getaway, and I separately make a reservation for one room for each party. This is slightly different from making one reservation for two rooms; this is making two reservations for one room each. You get double credit (two stays) if you book them individually.
  • Book one night at a time at the same property. I discovered this by accident, and technically, I don’t think the system allows this, but it worked twice for me. There were two occasions where I thought I would only be spending one night at a particular hotel, and in the end, my schedule changed and I ended up staying for two nights. In each case, I had already booked and pre-paid online for the room for one night. I went back online and made a reservation for the following night. Both times, I explained at check-in that I would really be staying for two nights, not one, and I didn’t have to switch rooms. The system gave me credit for two stays, when normally a two-night stay would have been considered a single episode.
  • If you’re going to Disneyworld, stay at the Swan or Dolphin hotel. Both of these are Starwood hotels located on Disney property, right next to EPCOT and Hollywood Studios. You can take Disney transportation to any of the parks. The Swan is a Westin and the Dolphin is a Sheraton, but both are nice. I like staying at the Swan slightly better, but the Dolphin is bigger and has a casual restaurant and a nicer one (Bluzoo) where I like to eat.
  • Don’t forget about the boutique brands. Starwood has a Luxury Collection that includes some smaller properties that some people may not realize are part of the group. One example is the cool and historic Palace Hotel in San Francisco.
  • Think outside of the conference block hotel. If I’m traveling for a work conference, I always check to see if any of the designated hotels are Starwood. If not, I check the map for proximity and usually book a Starwood hotel on my own. My work doesn’t require me to stay at designated conference hotels, which is nice.
  • Look for crossover rewards. These don’t count as stays, but they can help accumulate points. I have my Starwood account linked to my Delta frequent flyer account.
  • Always sign up for double and triple point promotions. Starwood is having one of these right now called “More For You.” Stays with a Friday or Saturday night earn triple points until the end of the year and other stays of two nights or longer get double points. You just need to sign up by October 31st.

Here is my home for the next week:

westinhonolulu