Friday, June 15, 2018

My experience at United Business Class AKA Polaris

After seeing the misleading advertisement about United Polaris, we decided to try their product on our trip to Asia. 

It was a long flight LAX-NRT (Tokyo Narita) so we were excited that we were able to upgrade using 30,000 United points and paying US$350 per person on top of our Economy rate. It's interesting that United charges for the upgrade even if they cannot confirm it. I guess greed has no boundaries.

When we first boarded the plane, we noticed the old 2-2-2 configuration that most airlines ditched to offer a superior product, but United is selling Polaris class seats and delivering an old and tired product with a cheap facelift. And note that this is the new 787 plane.

So this is what they advertise 1-2-1, new seats:

But this is what you get:


The seat is narrow and short. I'm 6'3, large built man and I could not fit in this cramped seat.
This is my post on Instagram during the trip. It seems funny but actually was the most uncomfortable long-haul flight I ever took.


Service was cordial but cold. Then, the food. They give you a menu to choose from. My partner is Japanese and he chose the Japanese meal. Third row on Business Class: "We are sold out on the Japanese meal." Good planning, United!
Even the regular meal looked more like economy class prepackaged tasteless food.

Overall the Polaris product was a huge disappointment and a waste of money and points. If you compare to other business class products, like American and Cathay Pacific,  United has a lot to learn.

Safe travels everyone!


Monday, June 4, 2018

Hotel Taxes in Peru - SCAM ALERT

Traveling to Peru any time soon? You better read this post if you don't want to overpay your hotel stay!




"Based on local tax laws, Peruvian citizens and foreigners staying more than 59 days in Peru, must pay an additional fee of 18% (IVA and/or VAT). To be exempt from this 18% additional fee your passport must be presented.

This official paragraph is pretty simple to understand. There is an 18% tax that applies to Peruvian citizens and foreigners staying in the country for more than 59 days. This tax law also applies to hotels in Peru.

What is astonishing is the fact that the majority of hotels in Peru add the 18% tax to the room reservation forcing the uninformed traveler to pay for a tax that he doesn't owe. 


Tierra Viva Lima


The Peruvian hotel chain Tierra Viva (https://tierravivahoteles.com/) states during the reservation process: "Rates do not include 18% VAT (sales tax)" That is the only hotel I could find that explains the issue to travelers.



Belmond Hotels (https://www.belmond.com/peru)
does not charge the 18% on their reservation process and doesn't mention it either.



But the majority of  American & European hotel chains and local hotels as well, include the 18% tax as part of the rate, without warning travelers about the law in Peru.

I booked the luxury hotel Tambo del Inka in Urubamba, Sacred Valley (that belongs to SPG/Marriott group that have several hotels in Peru). Let's look at the screenshot of my reservation:



It says "Room Rate Excludes Sale Tax 18% Per Room / Night and Service Charge 10% Per Room / Night" and then it adds to my room total. The reservation doesn't inform me about the 18% law, doesn't even mention IVA or VAT that I won't need to pay, it only says "Sales Tax". So one can assume that the hotel will pocket the money since they don't need to pay taxes for that stay to the Peruvian government. And if you prepay for your reservation you will be paying in advance for a tax you are not supposed to pay.


Doubletree Hilton Lima
That is a scam in my book. I called the hotel and they informed me that the 18% would be removed from my bill after checking my passport. But I think about thousands of tourists that didn't know about the Peruvian law and paid for this tax, without questioning.
                               
 The same applies to the overpriced Doubletree Hilton Hotel in Lima, Best Western, IHC Hotels (Holiday Inn & Crowne Plaza),  the new Hyatt Centric San Isidro that specify the 18% tax as "IGV Peruvian Tax" (although to be fair, they informed after I asked, that the 18% tax would be removed from my bill) and the list goes on and on.


                                    


So beware and don't be afraid to ask about this scam when booking your trip to Peru.

Safe travels everyone! 


Friday, June 1, 2018

Memorable Hotels in Europe


Exploring Europe is an amazing experience. I love the culture, the history behind every monument, plaza, cathedral and so on. In the Old Continent, many hotels are much more than a place to shower and sleep. I stayed in places that have a rich background that enhances the whole experience. Here are three very good examples:

LONDON

This is a building that was built in 1883 and through the years it housed The Metropole Hotel, Government offices, and even the M19, the British Military Intelligence from 1939 to 1945. You can read more about the building history by clicking HERE


The Metropole Hotel 1885

After being unoccupied from 2004-2007, the building was acquired and transformed into the ultra-luxury CORINTHIA HOTEL LONDON that opened its doors in 2011.






During the first years, they offered affordable rates to promote the recently opened property and I had the privilege to stay at this hotel twice, one of them as a guest to write about my experience. And both of my stays were nothing short of phenomenal. 



 "Perfection, top notch, second to none" are a few of the adjectives I can use for this hotel, but for sure, this is one of the best hotels I ever stayed! 


You can read my first review on TripAdvisor HERE and my second review HERE.





VIENNA

Who would think that the 100 years-old building that housed the Bank of Austria would become a luxury hotel? That's exactly what happened when the Park Hyatt Vienna opened for business in 2014.




We spend 3 nights at this property in April 2017 and we were blown away by how they incorporated the hotel into the bank structure. For example, the bank's vault became the pool area, the cashiers' area became the Bank Brasserie & Bar, that is by a long mile the best restaurant I ever been to! The offices became the rooms and suites. We were upgraded to one of the suites and it felt like an apartment that I never wanted to leave!




You can read my review on TripAdvisor and see more pictures by clicking HERE


LORCH IN THE RHEINGAU, GERMANY


Now, imagine going to a school built in 1933 in the Rhine Valley, and meeting your future wife in that school, marring her and years later buying this historical building and turning it into a charming hotel in 2013, but keeping the original structure. That happened to the couple that owns the Hotel Im Schulhaus in Lorch, Germany.


This is a very affordable 3 Stars hotel but with this incredible story behind it and it's in the perfect location for those exploring the Middle Rhine Valley, a unique cultural landscape that was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2002.  

We spent one night in this property in May 2018. The rooms are large and comfortable. They also offer a delicious breakfast every morning. 




You can read my review on TripAdvisor and see more pictures by clicking HERE


Before booking your next vacation, research about the hotels you chose, maybe that is a hidden historical gem that will bring something extra to your experience.

Safe travels everyone!

Monday, June 19, 2017

Most beautiful River Cruise in the World - Li River Karst Mountains

Guilin is a large city in southern China, with a population of 5 million, but it has a colonial feeling to it. Like if time stood still for the city surrounded by limestone karst hills.





How to get to Guilin? It's just a quick one hour flight from Hong Kong. You can fly Dragon Air, that is part of Cathay Pacific, with brand new planes 737-800.

I hired a local company called Guilin Photography Tour to guide us around China and it was the best choice to fully enjoy this trip. Jessica picked us up at the airport and took great care of us for the next five days. 

Where to stay in Guilin? Lots of choices. We stayed at Shangri La but even though I was blown away by their property in New Delhi, India, their Guilin hotel was huge but not up to par with the other hotels of this upscale chain. We spent two nights there, visiting the city and ancient villages in the countryside. It is as magical as it sounds.


Shangri La Hotel Guilin

On our third day, we got in an old and rusty boat heading to another city called Yangshuo. And nothing cold prepare us for the scenic boat ride on the Li River that was ahead of us. The South China Karst is part of the UNESCO World Heritage List and for a good reason - it's spectacular!




As the 4 hours boat ride began, we got immersed in the karst landscapes and that is something so unique that literally, it takes your breath away. See the images bellow that I captured along the way...


We arrived in Yangshuo, a remote town in the Guangxi region, but in the heart of the karst mountains. We stayed in a charming rural hotel called Tea Cozy and the warm service and beautiful accommodations added to our unforgettable experience in that region.

Tea Cozy Hotel - Yangshuo

There was one morning in Guilin that I woke up at 4:30 in the morning to be able to capture the sun rising over the karst mountains. It was January, the cold was almost unbearable but the images I captured that morning were the highlight on this incredible journey.


I can't recommend enough a trip to this region of the world that, with New Zealand and Yukon Territory in Canada, they make my list of the Most Beautiful Places on Earth!


Safe travels!






Saturday, June 3, 2017

Best credit cards to get points for travel

Getting points every time you use your credit cards and then redeeming them into a hotels or airlines programs with a good ratio, can be challenging for many people. And usually I see people wasting their hard earned points buying stuff on Amazon for a terrible ratio, instead of getting a room for free on a luxurious US$500+ a night hotel somewhere. From all the credit cards offers out there, this is the choice that I made and it changed the way I travel and honestly, it changed my life!

I have to confess that I learned the best way to do this years ago, reading The Points Guy Blog and following him on Facebook and
Twitter. Thank you, Brian Kelly!

First I got the Chase Sapphire Preferred and at that time (3 years ago) they were offering 100,000 points bonus after you spend US$3K within three months. And then the magic began! I transferred the points to my Hyatt account (ratio 1:1) and I started to book hotel nights. You can book a great hotel in US or overseas, on their category 4 property using 15K per night or 7,500 points plus US$100 in cash. 100,000 points can go a long way.


Then I added Chase Freedom, Chase Ink and Chase Hyatt card and with that combination I hardly pay for hotels when I travel... and believe me, I do that very often. The beauty is that you can combine all the points from all your cards into your Sapphire account (even adding family members with different accounts) and then transfers to partners like: Southwest, United, Virgin Atlantic, British Airways, KLM, Air France or hotels: IHG brand (Intercontinental, Crowne Plaza, Indigo, among others), Marriott Hotels, Ritz Carlton and of course, Hyatt.

The sign up bonus now (June 2017) for Chase Sapphire is 50K.
There is also the new Chase Sapphire Reserve card that gives you 3 points for dollar spent on travel and restaurants but it comes with a steep US$450 annual fee - vs US$95 for Sapphire Preferred.

Every time you pay hotels, restaurants, car rentals, any travel related expense, you receive 2 points per dollar on the Sapphire Preferred.

Chase Freedom card has a different promotion every quarter and you get 5 points per dollar when you use the card in supermarkets (April-June) or restaurants (July-September) and so on. This is a powerful way to add points to your Sapphire account - specially if you add a spouse to the equation.

Chase Hyatt gives you two free nights when you sign up in any hotel of their brands (and that includes Park Hyatts all over the world - including the Park Hyatt New York and Park Hyatt
Paris-Vendôme  - with nightly rates going for US$1,000). Then on every card anniversary you get one free night at any hotel up to category 4.


Chase Ink for business gives you 5 points per dollar for phone bills, internet bills and office expenses.

In the last three years I stayed in many 5 stars Hyatt properties all over the world - Hong Kong, Cambodia, Tokyo, Paris, Vienna, London, Costa Rica, Hawaii, just to name a few, using the points that I got paying bills with my Chase credit cards.


Andaz Peninsula Papagayo Resort - Costa Rica
Sweet deal, right? What are you waiting?

Safe travels, everyone!