Posted by Beth | May 1, 2016
As you know by now if you’ve been following our blog even in the slightest, our nine-month round-the-world trip would not be possible if it weren’t for the millions of hotel points we redeemed for hundreds of free nights. Thanks to generous sign up bonuses on the US Bank branded cards, Club Carlson points were our top currency. So our booking strategy typically involved first checking to see if Club Carlson was an option. Luckily for us in Cape Town there were four different properties.
For whatever crazy reason I decided to save a few points by splitting up our stay in two different hotels, the new(ish) Radisson Blu Le Vendome Hotel (38,000 points per night) and the Park Inn Foreshore (28,000 points per night). At the time of booking, we were still able to redeem the bonus award nights, which are no longer available as a perk on the credit card unfortunately, so our grand total for four nights ended up being 66,000 points. Right before our Cape Town arrival we ended up actually extending our trip to five nights and redeemed a free night certificate from Club Carlson (sent to cardholders as an apology essentially when all the negative card changes went down). For our fifth night we transferred to the most expensive hotel, the Radisson Blu Waterfront.
Though it was clearly less convenient to switch hotels not once but twice in Cape Town, it did give us the unique perspective to compare three different properties and explore different neighborhoods. We did have a rental car, which made the transition smoother.
In the end our clear favorite was the Radisson Blu Le Vendome hotel. Preferring the mid-range option is consistent with our overall points redemption experience across all hotel brands on this trip so far. We have found that we have been the most comfortable, received the greatest value from our points, and typically benefits from our status when redeeming points for hotels somewhere in the lower-middle of the award chart. This is what we’ve come to term our “Goldilocks” redemption. I.e. this hotel cost very few points but is crappy, this hotel is way too fancy and we feel out of place, but this hotel is just right. And for us in Cape Town that was the Radisson Blu Le Vendome.
We could have been partially influenced that this was our first hotel and we fell in love with the city from the moment our plane touched down. Driving along the coast and up to our hotel, being greeted with a free cold glass of Sauvignon Blanc and escorted to our room with a balcony and ocean view put us on a pretty big points high. The hotel offered free covered parking and was only a few minutes walk to the beach in Sea Point as well as a trendy restaurant street in the other direction. There was a nice pool and outdoor bar area, and prices at the restaurant were surprisingly affordable.
For our third and fourth night we stayed at the Park Inn by Radisson Foreshore. This hotel was in the heart of the downtown business district. There were some good restaurants within walking distance, but generally the area is not considered safe at night. Parking is paid, but we luckily found free street parking right out front (just had to be out by 8 a.m.). I had expected there to be free breakfast for gold members since it was a Park Inn (had read online there was), but we were told it was not included. There was a small bottle of wine and cheese plate in the room, which was a nice touch. Our biggest beef in the room was the air conditioner never really worked very well, even after maintenance had come to look at it. There was supposedly a pool on the rooftop but it was basically the size of a fish tank and was closed for a “private party” the whole time. By no means was this hotel a shit-hole, we were just slightly disappointed coming off our great experience at the Le Vendome. The extra 10,000 points a night to stay there instead would absolutely be worth it.
Finally, our fifth night we stayed in the Radisson Blu Waterfront. It was in a great area right on the water, within a short walk (or free hotel shuttle) to the V&A Waterfront, a major Cape Town attraction. Though this hotel was fabulous, it was almost a little too nice for us. We felt underdressed walking in our backpacker attire and couldn’t afford the food at the restaurant. The infinity pool overlooking the ocean was pretty dang cool, but not enough to justify spending 70,000 points a night (nearly double!) to stay here versus the Le Vendome. Our room at this property was the smallest yet, and we weren’t offered any type of upgrade or amenity as gold members.
Typically all a hotel has to do for us to like them is to give us a bottle of wine or free food/drink vouchers. Our experience at other chains as well is that mid-range hotels are most likely to honor status by providing special touches. Using Hyatt as an example, a Hyatt House or Hyatt Place won’t typically offer Diamonds anything that isn’t available for all guests anyway, and the Park Hyatt or sometimes even Grand Hyatt won’t typically have a lounge or offer a lot of perks since most guests are either top-tier status or have paid a lot for their room. So with Hyatt our “sweet spot” or “Goldilocks redemption” is usually a Hyatt Regency. Almost all have a lounge, which means free drinks and snacks, above and beyond the free breakfast. As a funny story, when we walked in to our very first hotel of the trip, the Grand Hyatt Santiago, with our big backpacks on and a sweaty mess from attempting public transit from the airport, the bellman gently asked if we were instead looking for the Hyatt Place hotel. We kindly told him no, we were looking for the Diamond check-in at this hotel and he sent us straight upstairs to the lounge. And that hotel is one of our favorites yet!
So to wrap up this somewhat pointless, rambling post, the best points redemptions are the ones that work best for the individual traveler. Some prefer to make points go as far as possible by always redeeming the lowest available property, and some travelers prefer to splurge on the fanciest hotels no matter how many points it cost. While we certainly swing both ways on this trip, we prefer to land somewhere in the middle, maximizing comfort and freebies while also strategically redeeming points to last the length of our trip.
One final word of advice is to do a bit of research before booking award nights if there are various options available with your preferred hotel chain in that city. You can usually find threads on Flyer Talk breaking down the amenities and features of each hotel if that’s helpful for you. For us hotels that offer free meals, drinks, shuttles, etc. are most valuable because that saves cold hard cash versus just having a bigger room, nicer pool or better view. Recently when we had to spend an extra two nights in Queenstown, New Zealand and were able to redeem Hilton points at the last-minute to stay at the Double Tree. This particular property was attached to the Queenstown Hilton and shared all the same facilities, including pool, spa, fitness center, restaurants (for free gold or diamond breakfast) but was 20,000 points less a night, and the Double Tree included our own kitchen, which saved us money when Caleb made us a killer salmon and stir fry dinner.