The Points Guy Thu, 18 Dec 2014 04:14:53 +0000 en-US hourly 1 New American Express Lounge at Sydney International Airport Wed, 17 Dec 2014 21:45:51 +0000

American Express has recently been opening up a bunch of their own airport lounges, known as the Amex Centurion Lounges. I had the opportunity to attend the Lounge Preview of the San Francisco location last month, and I’ve been impressed with other locations in New York LaGuardia, Dallas/Ft. Worth, and Las Vegas. Amex also recently announced plans for a Centurion Studio Lounge in Seattle, and a full Centurion Lounge is expected in Miami in 2015.


The new American Express lounge at Sydney International Airport.

The latest announcement is of the recent opening of an American Express Lounge (which isn’t considered a true Centurion Lounge) at Sydney International Airport in Australia. This lounge is located near Gate 24, and (similar to the US Centurion Lounges) provides complimentary access to both American Express Platinum and Centurion cardholders.

Screen Shot 2014-12-16 at 10.27.26 PM

Guests can enjoy complimentary food and drinks.

The new lounge is operated by global airport service specialists Plaza Premium, and offers cardmembers the following benefits:

  • Complimentary food and beverage featuring Australian producers
  • Shower suites
  • High-speed Wi-Fi
  • Computer and copy facilities
  • Flight information screens
  • A selection of local and international magazines and newspapers
Screen Shot 2014-12-16 at 10.28.38 PM

Both Amex Platinum and Centurion cardholders have complimentary access.

I don’t know the next time I’ll be in Australia, though I’d love to go back soon. In the meantime, I’d love to hear from readers about their experiences. If you’re flying through Sydney and have a chance to visit the new lounge, please share your thoughts in the comments below.

Share you feedback if you're able to check out this new lounge.

Share your feedback if you’re able to check out this new lounge.

Overall I’m pleased with this announcement, and perhaps we’ll see more international locations in the future. Which cities are on your wish list?

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Europe’s Best Christmas Markets Wed, 17 Dec 2014 20:39:37 +0000

Headed to Europe to enjoy the wonder of the holiday season? Then read on as TPG International Correspondent Lori Zaino and TPG Contributor Lane Nieset share their picks for the most dazzling Christmas markets on the Continent. 


Prague’s Old Town Christmas Market. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

Prague, Czech Republic: Old Town Christmas Market

November 29, 2014 – January 11, 2015
10 a.m. – 10 p.m. daily

Set in Old Town Square and decorated with glittering lights and a nativity scene, Prague’s huge, festive Christmas market is one of the most famous in Europe – and quite possibly the cheapest. For about $4 US, you can enjoy a barbequed sausage, a delicious trdelnik (a Czech sugar-coated cake), and a cup of hot chocolate, a Pilsner beer or a glass of mulled wine. Purchase lace, toys, ceramics, candles, Christmas decorations or puppets at one of the many wooden stalls, and listen to the sounds of carolers and street performers as you inhale the deep scents of pine and spices. Kids will be delighted to pet baby goats, sheep and donkeys as well as visit the Three Kings. Swathed in bright lights and décor, the market’s beloved giant Christmas tree, imported from the pine forests of the northern Krkonose Mountains, is switched on daily at 5 p.m.

Tip: On the hour, look up at the tower of the Old Town Hall to catch a fun display pop out of a trap door in its famed Astronomical Clock. If after you’ve enjoyed the Old Town Market you’re still itching for more, visit the markets in Wenceslas Square, Namesti Republiky and Hevelske Trziste. - Lori Zaino

Christmas Market at Cologne Cathedral (Photo courtesy of Dieter Jacobi/KolnTourismus GmbH)

Christmas Market at Cologne Cathedral. Photo courtesy of Dieter Jacobi/KolnTourismus GmbH. 

Cologne, Germany: Cathedral Christmas Market

November 24 – December 23, 2014
Sunday-Wednesday, 11 a.m. – 9 p.m.; Thursday and Friday, 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m. – 10 p.m. 

One of the largest in Cologne, this market is set under the city’s landmark Gothic cathedral. Its centerpiece, an 82-foot-tall Nordmann fir, is the largest Christmas tree in the Rhineland, lit up with 50,000 LED lights and located beside a stage that hosts 100 holiday performances troughout the month. The market also features 160 wooden stalls selling crafts like ceramics, Christmas ornaments, and wood carvings from Germany and other parts of Europe, as well as regional and organic specialties like the “Original Christmas mulled wine,” served in special mugs.

Tip: While shopping in the center of town, stop at Cologne’s oldest Christmas market, the charming Angel’s in Neumarkt, where girls dressed as angels wander through the stalls and stars hang from trees overhead. Open November 24-December 23, Sunday to Thursday, 11 a.m. – 9 p.m., and Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. – 10 p.m. - Lane Nieset

Berlin Christmas Market (Photo courtesy of visitBerlin/Wolfgang Scholvien)

Berlin’s WeihnachtsZauber. Photo courtesy of visitBerlin/Wolfgang Scholvien.

Berlin, Germany: WeihnachtsZauber

November 24 ­– December 31, 2014
11 a.m. – 10 p.m. daily (open until 6 p.m. on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve)
One euro entry fee ($1.24); kids under 12 free

With 60 markets spread throughout Berlin, you’ll run into a Christmas-themed fête in almost any neighborhood. While some focus more on handmade crafts and others have carnival rides and ice skating rinks, one of the most beautiful markets in the city is in Gendarmenmarkt Square, tucked between the domes of the German and French cathedrals. While this market requires a small entry fee (1 Euro), it’s worth it to stroll underneath the sea of white, pointed tents topped with stars and more than 1,000 strings of lights. Of course the scene is especially stunning come nightfall, but this market is also a great one to visit during the day to explore the artisan goods crafted by jewelers, embroiderers, and glassblowers. Escape the cold in one of the heated tents with Michelin-starred chefs preparing meals, or sit back with a glass of wine and French food at Galeries Lafayette’s wine cellar. Don’t forget to get a glass of glüwein (mulled wine) and take home the souvenir mug.

Tip: Another of Berlin’s top Christmas markets, Wintertraum am Alexa, near Alexanderplatz, is more of a fun fair filled with carnival rides and street-food vendors serving bratwurst and mulled wine. The market is open November 24 - December 28, 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. on weekdays; noon to 10 p.m. on weekends. - LN

Basel, Switzerland Photo Credit

Basel Christmas Market 

Basel, Switzerland: Basel Christmas Market

November 27 – December 23, 2014
11 a.m. – 8 p.m. daily

The largest in Switzerland, Basel’s Christmas market stretches over both Barfüsserplatz and Münsterplatz squares. Over 100 pine trees line the two squares, and there are over 180 wooden market stalls selling items like Christmas ornaments, folk art, pottery, linen, spices, toys, and clothing. Delicious aromas and live music waft through the market, creating a warm and friendly atmosphere amidst dazzling lights. Though this market has more of a focus on crafts and gifts, food and drink are still available.

Tip: Although the Hilton Basel seems to be geared more towards business travelers, it’s only a 15 minute walk from the Christmas market, and room rates in December start at about $150 US or 60,000 Hilton HHonors points. - LZ

Manchester Albert Square Market Credit Mark Waugh

Manchester’s European Market in Albert Square. Photo by Mark Waugh.

Manchester, England: German Christmas Market & European Christmas Market

November 14 – December 21, 2014
German: November, 10 a.m. – 7:30 p.m.; December, 10 a.m. – 8 p.m.; food and drink areas open until 9 p.m.
European: 10 a.m. – 9 p.m. daily

Manchester’s original market, the German Christmas Market in St. Ann’s Square, has been going strong for years. The event features delicious German fare like mulled wine, bratwurst, schnitzel and Bavarian strudels, and there’s plenty to shop for, including sheepskin products, paper lampshades, doorknobs, Christmas decorations, faux fur hats and scarves, and hot water bottles.

The Albert Square European Market is the biggest in town, and you can find a wide variety of jewelry and leather goods, as well as gourmet foods from all over Europe, such as Dutch cheese, Italian nougat and panettone, French patés and Spanish charcuterie.

Tip: Enjoy market-hopping throughout the whole city of Manchester, as there are also Christmas markets located in Brazennose Street (World Christmas Market), King Street (French Market), Exchange Street (Arts & Crafts Market), New Market Street and New Cathedral Street. - LZ

(Photo courtesy of Visit Brussels)

Brussels’ Winter Wonders 

Brussels, Belgium: Winter Wonders 

November 28, 2014 ­– January 4, 2015
Monday-Thursday, noon – 10 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 11 a.m. - 10 p.m.
Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve, noon - 6 p.m.; Christmas Day and New Year’s Day, 1 – 10 p.m.

The entire city of Brussels transforms for the Christmas season, and this year’s Winter Wonders celebration is honoring other cultures, with art installations from Quebec City, market fare from Lapland, and wrapped in one thousand lights and erected in the Grand-Place, a 72-foot-tall fir tree  from Riga, Latvia, the city said to have been the first to decorate Christmas trees. The Brussels Christmas market spans almost 1.5 miles and features 230 different chalet-style stalls filled with crafts, beer and wine, and holiday cuisine, as well as an ice rink in the Place de la Monnaie, a stage for DJ sets and dance shows, and a Ferris wheel and fair rides.

Tip: The “Electrabel Nights” show takes place every 30 minutes from 7-10 p.m., transforming the 19th-century Sainte Catherine Church into an “ice cathedral” through lights and video. - LN


Tallinn’s Traditional Old Town Christmas Market

Tallinn, Estonia: Traditional Old Town Christmas Market

November 21, 2014 – January 10, 2015
10 a.m. – 7 p.m. daily; drinks served until 11 p.m.

Tallinn claims to be the first city to have created a public Christmas tree display in Europe, set up in the Town Hall Square in 1441. Today the tradition continues in the same square, though now the tree is surrounded by more than 20 stands selling handicrafts and gifts such as wickerwork, quilts, wool items and candles, all of which can be gift wrapped for you on the spot. Kids will love the mini-zoo featuring rabbits, goats, lambs, geese, even reindeer, and they can also have pony rides, play games, and visit Santa.

A full cultural program runs on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, showcasing song and dance groups and choirs from several countries. Feast on sauerkraut and black pudding, followed by some gingerbread and a hot glass of mulled wine as you admire the various intricate ice/snow sculptures.

Tip: After you visit the market, stroll around the medieval center of Tallinn to see some of the city’s most beautiful architecture. Spend the night at the Radisson Blu Sky Hotel which is just a 10-15 minute walk from the Town Square and the Market. In December, rates start at €95 ($120 US) or 38,000 Club Carlson points per night. - LZ

Montmartre Place du Tertre (photo courtesy of Elise Bondel)

Montmartre Place du Tertre. Photo courtesy of Elise Bondel.

Paris, France: Montmartre Christmas Market

December 5, 2014 ­- January 4, 2015
10 a.m. - 8:30 p.m. on weekdays, 10 a.m. - 10 p.m. on weekends

The market running along the Champs-Élysées may be the largest one in town, but you’ll get the best views of the city from quaint Christmas village in Montmartre, known as the highest Christmas market in Paris. Stroll around the base of the Sacré-Cœur through the 50 stalls of traditional handicrafts and holiday fare like beignets, canneleés (pastries), and vin chaud (hot mulled wine).After grabbing a bite to eat at the market, make your way to the artists’ square, the Place du Tertre,filled with Christmas lights and artists working and selling their art. The smaller Place des Abbesses market, also in Montmartre, runs from November 28-December 31, featuring 20 wooden stalls surrounding the carousel selling gifts and holiday favorites like roasted chestnuts.

Tip: Stay in the only five-star hotel on the Champs-Élysées, the Paris Marriott Hotel Champs-Elysees, a Category 9 Marriott hotel requiring 45,000 rewards points (or rates starting at 549 Euros or $682). You’ll be in a prime location to set out and explore the Christmas market and 150,000 Christmas lights running along the Champs-Elysées and into the Place de la Concorde, where you can take a ride on the Ferris Wheel. - LN

Vienna Christmas Village (Photo courtesy of WienTourismus/Christian Stemper)

Vienna’s Christmas Village at belvedere Palace. Photo courtesy of WienTourismus/Christian Stemper.

Vienna, Austria: Christmas Village at Belvedere Palace

November 21 – December 23, 2014
Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. – 9 p.m.; weekends and holidays, 10 a.m. – 9 p.m.

What really makes this market stand out is its backdrop: the Baroque Belvedere Palace. Explore 40 stalls from vendors who hail from Austria and nearby countries, with six food stands serving up mulled wine, Austrian punch, traditional sweets and street food such as Kasnocken (cheese dumplings) and Vienna sausages. The market also features a carousel for the kids and music by gospel choirs, Austrian brass bands and tower trumpeters. For a taste of Viennese tradition, visit the Old Viennese Christmas Market on Freyung, which dates back to 1772.

Tip: Just a short walk away, the 138-room Hotel Imperial, a Luxury Collection Hotel is set in Prince Württemberg’s former palace and the design of the regal rooms looks like it’s still fit for royalty. The popular coffee house 1873 Café Imperial (named after the year the hotel opened) is located here, featuring the special Imperial Torte. The SPG Category 6 property requires 20,000–25,000 Starpoints per night, and cash rates start at €425 ($528 US) per night. - LN

(Photo courtesy of Shutterstock)

The Ferris wheel at the Lille Christmas Market. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

Lille, France: Lille Christmas Market

November 19 – December 30, 2014 (closed December 25)
Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m. – 8 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. – 9 p.m. 

Located in Northern France, Lille is about an hour from western Belgium and only an hour-and-a-half from London on the Eurostar. Set in Place Rihour, Lille’s Christmas market features a 164-f00t-high Ferris wheel, a 59-foot-tall Christmas tree draped in sparkling lights, and more than 80 wooden stalls featuring gifts, decorations and handmade goods. Chow down on French cheeses, pastries and mulled wine. Check out the Lille Tourism Web for packages including tours of the city and the market, plus hotel deals and mulled wine tastings.

Tip: Once you’ve shopped ‘til you’ve dropped at the market, pick yourself back up and continue on throughout the city – Lille has over 3,900 shops! - LZ

Copenhagen's Tivoli Gardens (Photo courtesy of the Copenhagen Media Center/Tivoli)

Copenhagen’s Tivoli Gardens 

Copenhagen, Denmark: Tivoli Gardens

November 15, 2014 ­­­­– January 4, 2015
99 DKK or $17 US (free for children under 8)

The Tivoli Gardens are a must-visit any time of the year, but winter is particularly special as the Christmas market and holiday celebrations take over the gardens and amusement park. Running through the center of the gardens, the Christmas market has 50 booths with traditional holiday gifts and food, including gløgg, the Nordic version of mulled wine. While you’re there, hop on one of the 27 rides, like the world’s oldest running wooden roller coaster, or catch a Danish version of the Christmas classic, The Nutcracker, in the Tivoli Concert Hall. One of the main highlights of Tivoli during Christmas will be the return of last year’s Nordic theme, with cute wooden houses and Christmas decorations. Don’t miss the Christmas Fireworks Festival running Christmas day through December 27 over the Tivoli Concert Hall.

Tip: For a Christmas market that’s a bit more out-of-the-box, head to the hippie town of Christiana and visit Grey Hall, the largest concert hall in town, for a bazaar featuring unique gift options from handmade jewelry to leather masks. The bazaar takes place December 5 – 20 from 2 - 8 p.m. during the week, and from noon - 8 p.m. on weekends. - LN

Budapest Christmas Fair (photo courtesy of BFTK Budapest Festival and Tourism Centre)

Budapest’s Vorosmarty Square Christmas Market 

Budapest, Hungary: Vörösmarty Square Christmas Market

November 28 – December 31, 2014
Sunday-Thursday, 10 a.m. - 9 p.m. or until 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday
Open until 2 p.m. Christmas Eve and closed December 25-26; handicraft stalls closed December 25–31

Set inVörösmarty Square centrally located in the Pest side of Budapest, the Christmas market has over 122 stands selling handcrafted leather and bone items, ceramics, jewelry and blue-dyed textiles, as well as gingerbread, chocolate, and lángos, a Hungarian street-food specialty composed of deep-fried flat bread dough topped with cheese, sour cream and garlic. The fair also features other Hungarian holiday favorites like stuffed cabbage, goulash soup, and kürtoskalács, a hollow pastry. If you happen to be collecting mulled wine mugs, the market has three different red and white mugs for sale along with the hot drink. In addition to tasting the local cuisine, check out some of the shows taking place on the market’s two stages, or hop on the vintage merry-go-round decorated with folklore from the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen.

Tip: Le Méridien Budapest on the Pest side of the river is just a short walk away from the Christmas market in Vörösmarty Square, as well as an additional Christmas market with an ice skating rink in front of St. Stephen’s Basilica. The SPG Category 4 hotel requires 10,000-20,000 Starpoints or rates start around €121 ($150 US) per night. - LN

Wherever you’re headed in Europe this season, we hope you have a magical time at the markets!

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Delta Medallions Receive Hertz Elite Status Benefit Wed, 17 Dec 2014 18:59:36 +0000

We’ve written extensively about Delta changing their Skymiles program for 2015, and most of the changes have been negative. However, Delta promised that there was “more to come” and one of those new additions is a partnership with Hertz, allowing Gold, Platinum, and Diamond Medallion members to enjoy complimentary elite status in the Hertz Gold Plus Rewards program.

Delta Elite Hertz

Delta Medallions can get elite status with Hertz

The following chart illustrates which Delta Medallion levels qualify for specific elite status levels within the Hertz program:

The qualifying levels

The qualifying levels for Hertz Gold Plus Rewards Status

Some of the elite status benefits in the Hertz Gold Rewards Plus program include exclusive lines, expedited service and eligibility for one-car class upgrades (subject to availability).

In order for you to obtain the complimentary Hertz elite status, follow these steps:

  • Login to your SkyMiles account
  • Enter your Hertz Gold Plus Rewards number into your Car Loyalty Program under Hotel & Car Preferences of My Account (If you are not already a Hertz Gold Plus Rewards member, then please follow links provided on this page to complete enrollment)
  • Click “Save Changes”
  • Follow the link that appears to enter your Delta SkyMiles number for verification and opt-in to receive your benefit.
  • Allow up to eight weeks for your status to be reflected in your Hertz Gold Plus Rewards account

This new elite status perk from Delta is a nice complement to their Crossover Rewards partnership between Delta and Starwood.

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Last Chance: Chase Freedom 20,000 Sign-Up Bonus Wed, 17 Dec 2014 17:49:39 +0000

As I’ve written about before, I’ve had the Chase Freedom card for years now and it becomes even more powerful when combined with the Chase Sapphire Preferred and/or Ink Plus cards. The standard sign-up bonus on the Freedom card is $100 (10,000 points) when you spend $500 within the first three months of card membership, however, today is the last day for the increased $200 (20,000 points) sign-up bonus.

The card offers rotating quarterly bonuses that allow you to earn 5 points per dollar in certain categories, up to $1,500 per quarter. So if you maximize each 5x quarter, you can bank 30,000 valuable Ultimate Rewards points per year on $6,000 in spend. Per my recent valuations, I value Ultimate Rewards points at about 2.1 cents a piece, meaning you can earn $630 worth of points each year from this card.

The Chase Freedom is currently offering an increased sign-up bonus.

The Chase Freedom is currently offering an increased sign-up bonus of 20,000 points.

In addition to the increased sign-up bonus, Chase just announced their first quarter categories for the Chase Freedom which will be grocery stores, Starbucks and movie theaters. As a reminder, if you are already a cardholder, you can register here to activate your spending bonus each quarter.

Here are the card details on the Chase Freedom card:

  • For a limited time, earn a $200 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening. Offer ends December 17, 2014. Apply now!
  • Earn a $25 Bonus after you add your first authorized user and make a purchase within this same 3-month period
  • 0% Intro APR for 15 months on purchases and balance transfers. After the intro period, a variable APR of 13.99-22.99%
  • 5% Cash Back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases between October 1 – December 31, 2014 at, and select department stores
  • You’ll enjoy new 5% categories every 3 months like gas stations, restaurants, and It’s free and easy to activate your bonus each quarter!
  • Unlimited 1% Cash Back on all other purchases
  • No annual fee and rewards never expire

For more info on the Chase Freedom card, check out these posts:

Ways to Maximize Each Ultimate Rewards Partner
Quarterly 5% Bonus Categories: Chase Freedom & Discover It
Chase Freedom Ends 10% Annual Bonus & Other Changes
How To Get 1.34 Cents Per Point For Travel With Chase Freedom
Chase Freedom 5x Category Bonuses Announced For Throughout 2014

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Would You Fly Malaysia Airlines? Wed, 17 Dec 2014 16:20:11 +0000

I’m flying on Malaysia Airlines for the first time tomorrow due to a pretty cheap business class fare (and my need to requalify for American Airlines Executive Platinum!) and I have to say I’m not worried about it. However, almost everyone I’ve told has either laughed or looked at me like I’m crazy for “jeopardizing my safety” for a low fare or elite status. In fact, many people that I’ve spoken to in Asia and the US have told me they’d refuse to fly them. Am I off-base here thinking it’s fine to fly them (especially now they’re going through some financial distress after two major aircraft losses this year)? I created a poll below and would love to hear your thoughts!

Would you fly Malaysia Airlines? Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

Would you fly Malaysia Airlines? Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

The Big Picture
If we are going from a records standpoint, many airlines have worse records. It seems as if Malaysia has recently run into a bout of bad luck that may/may not have been their fault. We still don’t really know what happened to flight 370 and it may stay a mystery (just as many plane crashes are unsolved mysteries) and arguably there isn’t much that Malaysian could have done to avoid getting shot out of the air by (likely) a terrorist missile.

After their second incident, passengers who wished to postpone or cancel their travel plans (including those booked with non-refundable tickets) could obtain a refund and members of Enrich, Malaysia Airline’s frequent flyer program, could also receive fee waivers for any changes to their travel itinerary, as well as refunds of miles should they choose to cancel their redemption tickets if notified by July 24th, 2014. Did any TPG readers out there actually cancel or postpone a flight?

Per the 2014 Safety Rankings by Jet Airliner Crash Data Evaluation Centre (JACDEC) Malaysia Airlines is the 34th safest airline in the world, ahead of the carrier I just flew to asia, Japan Airlines (46) and even my go-to carrier American Airlines (41). I’m not sure if this includes MH17, which happens in July, but the bottom line is that statistically, they’re better off than most carriers. 

I'll be chilling in business class, just like this guy. Not a worry in the world!

I’ll be chilling in business class, just like this guy. Not a worry in the world!

According to AskMen’s Top 10: Most Dangerous Airlines, Malaysia Airlines didn’t even make it on the list. Here’s their ranking of the worst:

1. Cubana Airlines
2. China Airlines
3. Iran Air
4. Philippine Airlines
5. Kenya Airways
6. Egyptair
7. Pakistan International Airlines
8. Avianca
9. Thai Airways
10. Garuda Indonesia

I still find flying to be way safer that other methods of travel, like getting into your car is riskier than flying. In fact, I am looking forward to trying out their business class. Make sure to follow me on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for live social media updates and photos of my Malaysia Airlines experience, in addition to updates and photos of my trip in general.

Note: There is a poll embedded within this post, please visit the site to participate in this post's poll.

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Starwood Offers SPG Members Free Internet Access Wed, 17 Dec 2014 14:45:46 +0000

Last month, we wrote about how Marriott Offers Free Wi-Fi to All Marriott Rewards Members, and speculated if other brands such as Starwood would follow suit. Our speculation paid off as Starwood just announced today that SPG members who book their stays either through, one of their hotel brand websites, or using their SPG App, will receive complimentary internet access during their stay.

SPG members will receive free internet access if they book through Starwood.

SPG members will receive free internet access if they book through Starwood.

Per their announcement, “SPG is happy to announce that all SPG members who book through Starwood’s digital channels will be offered free standard in-room Internet access during their stay at all SPG participating hotels worldwide. This benefit is in addition to earning Starpoints and getting our Best Rate Guarantee when booking through Starwood channels.” 

Gold and Platinum members receive the highest speed internet access.

Gold and Platinum members receive the highest speed internet access.

Beginning February 2, 2015, free in-room Internet access will be available to SPG members who book their hotel stays through Starwood’s many digital channels including:,, brand websites, mobile sites, the SPG app or through a travel professional, who books on Here is how it breaks down for each tier:

  • Preferred members will receive standard in-room Internet access and have the ability to upgrade to the highest tier of internet, where available, for an incremental charge.
  • Gold members will receive the highest level of Internet access available as well as a welcome gift choice of Starpoints or complimentary beverage.
  • Platinum members currently receive the highest level of in-room Internet access.

My Thoughts

In addition to offering free internet access, Starwood recently announced their SPG Keyless feature on the SPG App, where SPG members can bypass the check-in process at select hotels and go straight to their rooms and unlock the doors with their mobile phones.

I think this new policy of complimentary internet access for all SPG members is a great thing and is a step in the right direction for such a popular global brand. In the travel industry’s monkey-see, monkey-do landscape, I hope that other large U.S.-based hotel brands, such as Hyatt and Hilton, will soon follow suit.

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Guide to Maximizing Points and Miles for Baby Purchases Wed, 17 Dec 2014 14:30:29 +0000

 I often stress the importance to award travelers of earning points or miles on every dollar spent, and since having kids isn’t known for being cheap, today TPG Contributor (and new father) Nick Ewen offers his strategies for earning travel rewards from baby (and parent) related purchases.

If you’ve read some of my posts from earlier in the year, you may have known that my wife was expecting our first child in November. Well, Evelyn Elizabeth Ewen was born on November 28th at 11:16 pm, and naturally, as a points and miles writer, I immediately started thinking of how to maximize the (many) purchases we’ll be making for her as an infant and beyond. Today I’ll share some strategies I’ve used (and plan to use as she gets older) to make the most of these baby purchases.

I want to state right off the bat that these suggestions are not only for those with kids. Many of our friends have had babies over the last few years, and I used several of these tricks to make the most of the gifts we sent them. So even if you’re not expecting, these strategies will still help!

Evelyn Elizabeth Ewen is the newest addition to our family, and I am already thinking about how to maximize rewards on purchases for her!

The newest addition to our family, and soon to be a frequent flyer!

Loyalty Programs

While this first tip doesn’t pertain to purchases, it’s an important consideration for anyone with children. Kids (including babies) are generally eligible to earn points and miles with frequent flyer or hotel programs just like anyone else. Sign your kids up with your favorite programs and manage their accounts; think of it as a college travel fund so they can’t cite pricey airfare as an excuse for not coming home to visit during breaks.


When my wife and I announced that we were pregnant, one of the first questions people asked was where we had registered. While my wife loved the cutesy things from Pottery Barn Kids, I was drawn to the practicality of Wherever you register (or wherever you are purchasing registry items for a friend), there are several ways to get the best bang for your buck on these purchases:

Babies R Us is one popular retailer for baby registries that is available on several online shopping portals.

Babies R Us is one popular retailer for baby registries that’s available through online shopping portals.

1. Go through online shopping portals: Purchasing baby gifts online not only saves you a trip to the store and cuts back on the hassle of arranging shipping; it also gives you a wealth of bonus earning potential. Many common sites that couples use to register are found on various online shopping portals, including Target, Babies ‘R’ Us, Pottery Barn Kids, and Wal-Mart. Remember that is a great starting point for figuring out which portals offer the best deals.

For example, Target is currently offering 4 AAdvantage miles per dollar spent when you go through the AAdvantage eShopping portal. You could purchase the Britax Marathon G4 Convertible Car Seat (the same one given to us by my wife’s sorority sisters) for $259.99. Let’s say you bought it through the AAdvantage portal using your Barclaycard Arrival Plus; you would earn:

$260 x 2 Arrival miles per dollar = 520 Arrival miles
$260 x 4 AAdvantage miles per dollar = 1,040 AAdvantage miles

Based on TPG’s November valuations, which pegged Barclaycard Arrival miles at 1.1 cents apiece and AAdvantage miles at 1.7 cents apiece, you’re looking at a value of $23.40, or roughly a 9% return. is a little more challenging when it comes to these online shopping portals, as they tend to limit their earning bonuses to Ebates, Mr. Rebates, and MyPoints, and the categories are limited. However, I have seen bonuses for baby items as high as 8 %, and they tend to change all the time, so check back regularly to see if registry items are an option.

Speaking of Amazon…

Bonus categories like the Freedom's can earn you a ton of extra points. is one of the sites that gives you 5% cash back on the Chase Freedom card this quarter.

2. Use the Chase Freedom. For the rest of the year, is one of the merchants offering 5% cash back (on up to $1,500 in purchases per quarter). Chase also announced their 2015 bonus categories earlier this month, and Amazon will again be included in the fourth quarter. The timing was perfect for us, as we’ve been purchasing some final items ourselves and plan on spending the full $1,500.

However, because I also have the Chase Sapphire Preferred and Chase Ink Plus cards, that 5% cash back can actually become 5 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent (see this post for more details). By spending exactly $1,500 on purchases this quarter, I’ll earn 7,500 Ultimate Rewards points. These are worth $157.50 based on TPG’s valuations, for a stout 10.5% return.

3. Take advantage of completion discounts. This applies to couples who are expecting a baby (or have had one recently). Many retailers will offer you a one-time discount for purchases made within a certain window leading up to (or after) the birth of your child. This article from U.S. News provides a great overview of these options, though note that many of these discount certificates or codes cannot be combined with other offers.

Giving birth in a hospital can be pricey, but most health care providers to take credit cards. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Giving birth in a hospital can be pricey, but most health care providers take credit cards. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

Medical Expenses

Having a baby is an expensive proposition. Insurance policies vary widely, and without coverage, bills can easily reach well into the five-figure range. Fortunately, many health care providers do accept credit cards for these expenses. However, it’s essential that you’re able to pay the credit card bills for these purchases in full, as any interest charges will more than negate the value of rewards you earn.

Suppose you’re on the hook for $2,000 out-of-pocket after insurance. If you put that entire amount on the US Airways Mastercard, you would earn 2,000 Dividend Miles, worth $38 according to TPG’s valuation of 1.9 cents apiece. However, an interest rate of at least 15.99% would offset that value and then some.

Any large out-of-pocket expense would be a good opportunity to meet spending requirements for credit card sign-up bonuses (again, assuming you can pay the bill without interest). That same $2,000 bill would be enough to earn the bonus of 50,000 Avios from the British Airways Visa, for example.

Amazon Mom is one way to make the most of your diaper purchases.

Amazon Mom is one way to make the most of your diaper purchases.

Diaper purchases

Diapers are a significant expense with a new baby (I’m surprised at how many little Evy has already gone through). Fortunately, there are some easy ways to make the most of these purchases:

1. Amazon Mom. This is a terrific service that’s basically an extension of Amazon Prime. $99 per year gets you free two-day shipping, instant access to movies, TV shows, and songs, and a 15% registry completion discount (as opposed to the standard 10%). In addition, if you sign-up for monthly diaper deliveries, you receive 20% off those as well. Remember that both the American Express EveryDay and Everyday Preferred cards come with a year of Amazon Prime for free, and Amazon Mom can be added for free to existing Prime accounts, so this is a nice way to take advantage of these discounts.

2. Honest Company. Another option for monthly diaper shipments is the Honest Company, which counts Jessica Alba as a co-founder. You can sign-up for repeat diaper (and wipe) deliveries, and save up to 35%. Plus, their products are eco-friendly and completely safe for use on (or with) children. With free shipping and no up-front fees, this is a convenient way to get diapers to your doorstep.

Unfortunately, there isn’t any type of online shopping portal you can go through to maximize your earnings, but the repeat delivery option can be a great way to meet an annual spend threshold on a credit card. For example, the Citi Hilton Reserve card gives you a free weekend night certificate after spending $10,000 in a cardmembership year. With a bundle price of $79.95 per month, a year’s worth of diapers gets you almost 10% of the way there. is another option, and they are on several online shopping portals. is another option, and is available through several online shopping portals.

3. A third option for diapers is the very originally-named At a quick glance, their prices appear to be similar to those on Amazon. For example, a 216-count box of Pampers Swaddlers Size 1 goes for $47.19 on (or $44.83 with monthly delivery). has the same box for $47.99 (or $43.19 with the auto-ship option).

Here’s where things get interesting. is available on multiple online shopping portals, and like Target, they’re currently offering 4 AAdvantage miles per dollar spent. Unfortunately, you could only go through AAdvantage eShopping for a one-time purchases and not the auto-ship option. Let’s assume you made the purchase with your Citi Double Cash card, which gives you an effective cash back rate of 2%. Here are the two scenarios:

Option 1: One-time purchase through AAdvantage eShopping
$48 x 0.02 = $0.96
$48 x 4 miles per dollar = 192 AAdvantage miles (worth $3.26)
Total value of cash back & miles = $4.22

Option 2: Auto-ship option
$43.19 x 0.02 = $0.86
Total value of cash back = $0.86

Option 2 is thus the better option. Even though you give up the bonus miles from the shopping portal, you’re saving $4.80 by going the auto-ship route, which is more than the extra $3.36 of “value” you get with the one-time purchase through the AAdvantage eShopping portal.

You can purchase a Toys R Us gift card online through Staples and earn 5 points per dollar with a Chase Ink card.

You can purchase a Toys R Us gift card online through Staples and earn 5 points per dollar.

Gift Cards

Gift cards are among my favorite items to give and receive for birthdays, holidays, and all other gift-giving occasions (yes, I am unoriginal!). If you have a friend or family member expecting a baby, consider purchasing a gift card for her, either in store or online. And if you just had a baby, gift cards can be a great way to earn bonus points on expenses that fall into a “standard” category for earning purposes.

You can find gift cards at many pharmacies, gas stations, and supermarkets, but my favorite method for maximizing points earned on gift cards is going to office supply stores and using my Chase Ink Plus card, which earns 5 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent. An even better option is purchasing electronic gift cards online from Staples, since that opens up additional earning opportunities with online shopping portals. You can also earn 5% cash back at office supply stores with the Amex SimplyCash Business card.

Here are some options that would be great for a baby (or even a toddler):

  • Clothing: Kohl’s, Sears, JCPenney, Gap, Nordstrom, Old Navy, Carters/Osh Kosh
  • Baby items: Toys R Us (valid at Babies R Us)
  • General items: Target, Kmart
  • Pictures: Krome

You could also consider purchasing a restaurant or SpaFinder gift card to pamper yourself (or your friend/family member) either before or after the birth. After all, mommy and daddy deserve a little TLC too! is one site you can use to pay nannies or baby sitters with credit cards. is one site you can use to pay nannies or babysitters with a credit card.


Another common expense is childcare, whether you’re paying for a private in-home nanny, full-time daycare, or even just a babysitter on a Friday night. Here are some things to consider when it comes to earning points and miles on these expenses:

1. Check your daycare provider’s credit card policy. Many private daycare providers will accept credit cards as a form of payment. However, it’s important to check and make sure that they don’t charge a fee for doing so, as that could negate any earnings. For example, the daycare where we enrolled Evy (starting in March) charges a 3% fee for credit card transactions. I don’t have any cards that would give me a return that would cover that fee.

However, if your daycare takes credit cards with no fee, go for it! According to the National Association of Child Care Resources & Referral Agencies (NACCRRA), center-based daycare costs an average of $11,666 per year in the United States. You could use a card like the Starwood Preferred Guest American Express (TPG values SPG points at 2.4 cents apiece) to earn 11,666 Starpoints for those expenses, which is almost enough for a free night in a Category 5 hotel like the St. Regis Abu Dhabi. Expenses like this would again be a good opportunity to meet minimum spending requirements ad earn sign-up bonuses for whatever cards suit your needs.

2. Consider While my wife and I have not yet considered a night out (after all, Evy is only three and a half weeks old!), is a popular site for hiring across the spectrum of child care services. You can also make payments directly to care providers using a credit card, so this is a great way to avoid writing checks or taking out cash.

3. Consider using a prepaid debit card. This is probably the least desirable option, mainly because retailers of reloadable prepaid cards have all but eliminated the ability to purchase these with a credit card. However, if you have a local supermarket or pharmacy that somehow still allows you to purchase things like Green Dot MoneyPaks, you can then apply those balances to your prepaid debit card, like American Express Bluebird or Serve. These cards then allow you to cut checks to individuals that don’t take credit cards.

Bottom line

Having a kid can be an expensive proposition, but as award travel enthusiasts know, spending and earning tend to go hand in hand. I’m still navigating the ins and outs of fatherhood, but my wife and I are taking advantage of every opportunity to maximize our purchases for Evy. I hope these strategies have been helpful for parents (and soon-to-be parents), as well as those who need to purchase gifts for loved ones who are expecting.

What are your favorite ways to maximize purchases for your kids?

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Credit Card Combinations for a Paris Vacation Wed, 17 Dec 2014 13:08:03 +0000

When talking about award travel, it’s easy to focus on earning points and miles and lose sight of the actual traveling. Today, however, TPG Senior Points and Miles Correspondent Jason Steele offers a detailed analysis of how you can use your travel rewards to get to Paris.

Last week, I looked at credit card strategies for award travel to Hawaii. The premise was to find combinations of four cards that could send two people on a Hawaiian vacation, including flights and at least four nights of lodging. Today I’ll discuss a similar scenario, but with the goal of a trip to Paris.

Paris is arguably a more difficult award travel destination that even Hawaii. Although its distance from North America is comparable to Hawaii (actually quite a bit closer to the East Coast), awards to Europe generally require more miles. On the other hand, there are many more points hotels in Europe, with a wide range of price levels.

Europe is a tough award ticket to book for families, so it is vital to book next summer early. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Looking for ways to get to Paris?  Read on. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

The basics of award travel to Paris

The good news is that Paris is a major destination served by every major airline (or its partners). That said, limiting this exercise to four credit cards that will include air and hotel, means that that there will be very limited opportunities to travel in business class or even premium economy, but we’ll try.

When it comes to lodging, I would love to find some moderately priced hotels, as most people go to Paris to see the city, not their hotel room. On the other hand, some of the best sign-up bonuses are for luxury chains that offer few mid-range options, or are in the form of free nights that can be used at any hotel, not just the affordable ones. Given the choice of using free night certificates for a mid-range hotel or a luxury property at the same cost, I’ll go with the luxury hotel, especially if I arrive after an overnight flight in economy class!

Finally, if Paris isn’t your cup of café au lait, many of these credit card combinations and strategies will apply equally well to other European destinations, depending on availability of airline service and the properties offered by each chain.


The Park Hyatt Paris Vendome is favorite of award travel enthusiasts.

The Vendoming Plan

“Vendoming” has become a euphemism for using points and miles to splurge on outlandish luxury. Some people use it in a derogatory sense, but you can ignore them when you check into the Hyatt Paris Vendome using the total of four free nights that you and your companion will receive after signing up for the Hyatt Visa from Chase. As a new applicant, you’ll receive two free nights at any Hyatt property after spending $1,000 on your card within three months of opening the account. There’s a $75 annual fee for this card that is waived the first year, and no foreign transaction fees. Plus, cardholders instantly receive Platinum status in the Hyatt Gold Passport program, which offers room upgrades, late checkouts, and free Internet service. This card also offers a free night at a category 1-4 Hyatt hotel each year upon the cardholder anniversary.

To get to Paris, I recommend both travelers apply for the Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select, which offers 50,000 miles after spending $3,000 within three months, along with two Admiral’s Club one day passes.  There is a $95 annual fee for this card that is waived the first year. After meeting the minimum spending requirement, each traveler will have at least 53,000 miles, which is just short of the 60,000 needed for an economy class, round-trip award to Europe. Nevertheless, cardholders will have more than enough miles for an economy class, off-peak award between October 15 and May 15, which is a real bargain at only 40,000 miles round-trip.

AA Off Peak

American Airlines off-peak awards to Europe between October 15 and May 15, are a real bargain at only 40,000 miles round-trip!

The costs: The great thing about this plan is that all four cards have no annual fee the first year, and even the second year’s annual fees aren’t terrible when you consider the Hyatt free night certificate. In addition, the minimum spending requirements for all four cards adds up to just $8,000, which is fairly low for these high end rewards cards with generous sign-up bonuses. Finally, the Hyatt card offers an EMV smart chip and no foreign transaction fees, which is perfect for a trip to Paris.


Flying Blue Promo Awards can get you to Europe at a low mileage cost, but watch out for surcharges.

The Promo Award Play

Start with the Starwood Preferred Guest card from American Express for each traveler. This card offers 10,000 Starpoints after the first purchase, and another 15,000 after you spend $5,000 within six months. There’s a $65 annual fee that is waived the first year. You could then get a single Starwood Preferred Guest business card with the same sign-up bonus, yielding a combined total of 90,000 points after all of the minimum spending requirements are met.

These points can then be transferred to Flying Blue (the loyalty program of Air France, KLM, and others)—with a 5,000 point bonus awarded for each 20,000 points transferred—and used for two premium economy tickets via Flying Blue Promo Awards. The current offer is for 50,000 miles round-trip to Paris from either New York-JFK or Toronto. With 20% wider seats, 20% more leg-room, and upgraded dining, this premium economy product is a nice compromise between economy and business class service.

Club Carlson is the hot new thing in the hotel world offering lucrative promos and credit card

The free last award night feature on the Club Carlson card is one of the best credit card benefits out there.

For hotels, you could get away with a single Club Carlson Premier Rewards Visa Signature card ($75 annual fee), which offers 50,000 points after your first purchase, and another 35,000 points after spending just $2,500 within 90 days of account opening. Since this card offers 5x points per dollar, you’ll have a total of  97,500 points by the time you complete the minimum spending requirement.

Spend another $500 and you’ll reach an even 100,000 points, which is enough for two nights at the Radisson Blu Hotel, Paris Boulogne, along with your last night free (a benefit of the credit card), for a total of three nights. For your fourth night, you could use your remaining 10,000 Starpoints, plus another 2,000 – 6,000 to spend the last night in the Sheraton Paris Airport Hotel & Conference Centre, conveniently in the Charles De Gaulle Airport terminal.

Alternately, you could stretch this to five nights by doing two nights in the Radisson Blu for 50,000 points, followed by a night in the nearby Le Méridien Etoile for 12,000 -16,000 Starpoints, before returning for two more nights at the Radisson, since you do have to split your stay up to use the last night free benefit twice.

The costs: This one is a little on the pricey side, as you’ll need to spend $17,500 on the cards to meet the minimum spend, plus a few thousand extra to round out the awards. There’s a combined total of $270 in annual fees after the first year. Finally, you’d still have to pay fuel surcharges on the Air France tickets, and any other costs of getting to New York, Toronto, or another Promo Award gateway.


The lack of surcharges on United award flights to Europe helps keep your out of pocket costs down.

The Mid-range Marriott plan

This plan leverages the mid-range hotels in the Marriott portfolio by starting with the Marriott Rewards Premier credit card from Chase. Cardholders receive 70,000 bonus points after spending $2,000 within three months of opening an account, plus a free night in a category 1-4 location. There is an $85 annual fee for this card that is waived the first year.

Unfortunately, there are no category 4 Marriott hotels in Paris other than the poorly located AC Hotel Paris Le Bourget Airport. So with this plan, you’ll want to pick a mid-range property such as the Courtyard Paris Saint Denis which is 25,000 points per night.

I would then get two Chase Ink Plus cards at the branch, each of which offers 70,000 Ultimate Rewards points after you spend $5,000 within three months. After meeting the spending requirement, you’d have 150,000 points, enough to transfer 120,000 to United Airlines for two round-trip award tickets in coach, and still leave 30,000 points left over for a fourth hotel night. Since Marriott gives you the fifth award night free, you’d really be getting two extra nights with those points.

But wait, we’re only at three cards! The fourth could be a Chase Sapphire Preferred, which offers a sign-up bonus of 40,000 points after spending $4,000, for a total of 44,000 Ultimate Rewards points (with an annual fee of $95 that is waived the first year). This would give you enough points to upgrade to business class one-way (I would choose the longer, overnight flight to Europe rather than the return), and still have 19,000 Ultimate Rewards points left for that fourth hotel night. You’d need another 6,000 points to transfer to Marriott if you wanted to take advantage of the fifth award night free, but you could also use those 19,000 points to book the hotel directly through the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel center, where you can redeem for 1.25 cents per point.

The costs: There is a total of $17,000 in minimum spending requirements and $190 in annual fees for the first year ($370 thereafter).

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

Picking the best card combination

As much as the Promo Award Play brings to the table by avoiding economy class, it suffers from high minimum spending requirements and the restriction of having to get to an Air France/KLM gateway. Paying Flying Blue’s fuel surcharges is also quite unattractive.

If my travel dates fell within the October 15 to May 15 range of American’s off-peak awards, I would probably have to go with the Vendoming plan, as it’s tough to say no to a $1,000 per night hotel in Paris, even if it means crossing the pond in coach. Cardholders would also be fairly close to a standard award as well. This plan has decent award availability, the lowest minimum spending costs, and you walk away with Hyatt Platinum status as well.

The mid-range Marriott plan comes in at a close second, especially since you could fly one-way on lie-flat sleeper seats, or get away with three cards instead of four.

Paris is one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations, and as you can see, there are plenty of great opportunities to visit using your points and miles!

How would you plan your dream award trip to Paris?

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8 Nights of Hanukkah Hotels Tue, 16 Dec 2014 21:45:26 +0000

Like a bag of shiny gelt (gold-wrapped chocolate coins), it’s a treat to gather with your extended mishpachah (family) for the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, which this year spans December 16-24. Based on the eight U.S. cities with the largest Jewish populations, TPG Assistant Editor Melanie Wynne suggests a menorah’s worth of hotels to inspire celebrating the Festival of Lights with out-of-town loved ones.

Here's a hotel for each candle on the Hanukkah menorah - even the shamas (Image courtesy of Shutterstock)

Here’s a hotel for each candle on the Hanukkah menorah – even the shamas. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

Largely points properties, the following hotels in New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami Beach, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Boston, Washington, D.C. and Tel Aviv presently have availability during Hanukkah. Remember that you can maximize your chosen stay by using credit cards like the Marriott Premier, IHG Rewards Club Select, Starwood Amex, Hyatt Visa, Citi Hilton Visa and Hilton Amex.

Hotel Indigo Brooklyn is close to four Brownstone neighborhoods and three Metro stations.

The artsy Hotel Indigo Brooklyn is close to Brownstone neighborhoods and three Metro stations.

1. Hotel Indigo Brooklyn. Though Jews live all over New York City, a dense population live throughout Brooklyn’s brownstone neighborhoods, making this Brooklyn Heights hotel a beautifully central Hanukkah stay in the borough. Close to the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges, Cobble Hill, Boerum Hill, and three subway lines, the friendly, 128-room Hotel Indigo offers free Wi-Fi, artsy furnishings, relatively large guest rooms for the Big Apple (some with kitchenettes), and if you’re willing to brave the winter cold, good views from the rooftop deck. Rooms start at $152 or 35,000 IHG Rewards per night.

The InterContinental in L.A.'s Century City is near Beverlywood, Beverly Hills and West LA.

The elegant  InterContinental in L.A.’s Century City is near Beverlywood, Beverly Hills and West LA.

2. InterContinental Los Angeles Century City. This 361-guestroom high-rise hotel is surprisingly elegant and romantic for its business district location near a popular shopping mall, and features a rooftop spa, an outdoor heated infinity pool, and backyard garden patio. Many room views spread far across Los Angeles; to glimpse the Pacific, ask for a high floor facing the back of the hotel. Close to the heavily Jewish neighborhoods of Beverly Hills, Beverlywood and West L.A., you’ll be close to several temples, chabads, Jewish delis and kosher restaurants, and quite possibly your aunt and uncle’s condo. Rooms start at $289 or 40,000 IHG Rewards points per night.

The swanky lobby of the Renaissance Chicago North Shore.

The swanky lobby of the Renaissance Chicago North Shore.

3. Renaissance Chicago North Shore Hotel. The bulk of Chicago‘s Jewish community lives in its North Shore suburbs, such as Lake Forest, Skokie and Northbrook. In the latter, you’ll find this comfortably swanky 382-room, three-suite hotel, which has three on-site restaurants, an indoor heated swimming pool and close proximity to a half-dozen temples. Rooms start at $79 or 20,000 Marriott Rewards points. Starting January 15, 2015, Marriott Rewards members will receive free Wi-Fi at the property, but until then, you’ll pay between $9.95-$13.95 per day.

Miami Beach's Fontainebleau has great views of the Atlantic Ocean.

Miami Beach’s Fontainebleau has great views of the Atlantic Ocean.

4. Fontainbleau Miami Beach. Close to a historically Jewish district of Miami Beach, this fancy beachside hotel is a popular during the High Holidays and Passover—so why not Hanukkah, as well? Originally opened in 1954 on Collins Avenue’s Millionaire’s Row, this fully renovated, 20-acre, 1,504-guestroom oceanfront property features a huge outdoor poolscape, 40,000-square-foot Lapis spa, 12 on-site restaurants and lounges, and LIV nightclub–just in case your bubbe and zayde like to dance. Rooms start at $444 per night; if you’d prefer a points property that’s less expensive, check out the nearby Blue Moon Hotel from Marriott’s Autograph Collection.

The chandeliers at San Francisco's Palace Hotel are like their own Festival of Lights.

The chandeliers at San Francisco’s Palace Hotel are like their own Festival of Lights.

5. Palace Hotel, San Francisco. The Jewish community in San Francisco doesn’t have much of a core, but is instead peppered throughout much of the city and across the Bay into Oakland and Berkeley, so you might as well stay somewhere with beautiful architecture, stunning views and close proximity to a BART station. Set just a few blocks from Union Square’s shopping and holiday ice rink, one of the best features of this Beaux-Arts grande dame hotel is the atrium-ceilinged Garden Court Restaurant, which despite being decorated to the hilt for Christmas, would still make a lovely place to gather for a Hanukkah toast. Rooms start at $182 or 12,000 SPG Starpoints per night. 

At Philly's grande dame Hyatt at the Bellevue, you could have a family dinner surrounded by wine.

At Philly’s grande dame Hyatt at the Bellevue, you could have a Hanukkah dinner surrounded by wine.

6. Hyatt at the Bellevue, Philadelphia. Much of Philly’s Jewish community has spread to the suburbs, but a vibrant presence remains in and around the Center City, where you’ll find this glamorous 1904 French Renaissance hotel, which has 172 guestrooms, retail shops on the ground floor, four on-site restaurants, a full-service salon and spa, and a 93,000-square-foot fitness center. In addition to being close to the Walnut Locust Metro stop and two PATCO train stations, the Bellevue is walking distance from the Etz Chaim Center for Jewish Studies and Rittenhouse Square’s Conservative Temple Beth Zion-Beth Israel. (For a calendar of Hanukkah events in the Philly area, click here.) Rooms start at $209 or 15,000 Hyatt Gold Passport points per night.

At the Courtyard Marriott in Boston's Brookline area, the rooms and lobby are large and full of light.

At the Courtyard Marriott in Boston’s Brookline area, the rooms and lobby are large and full of light.

7. Courtyard Boston Brookline. Set in cozy Coolidge Corner in the heart of Brookline, home to one of Greater Boston‘s largest Jewish communities, this airy, comfortable eight-story brick hotel has 187 rooms, a small indoor pool and fitness center, and is near five temples as well as the Coolidge Corner station on the MBTA’s Green Line. Like most Courtyard properties, the lobby has a bistro counter that serves three daily meals, Starbucks coffee, and wine and beer beside a sprawl of casual public seating areas with a courtyard view. Nightly rates start at $169 or 35,000 Marriott Rewards points.

DC's Embassy Suites is one of the only properties in Chevy Chase with an indoor pool.

DC’s Embassy Suites is one of the only properties in Chevy Chase with an indoor pool.

8. Embassy Suites Washington, D.C. at the Chevy Chase Pavilion. This well-appointed mid-range property, which features two onsite cafe/bars and an indoor pool,  just completed a full-scale renovation in October 2014. Set in Northwest D.C.’s Friendship Heights area, the hotel is surrounded by pockets of a large Reform Jewish community, celebration-friendly restaurants, and shopping malls (e.g., Chevy Chase Pavilion, Mazza Gallerie, etc.). The adjacent Friendship Heights Metro station connects you directly to Bethesda, Silver Spring and downtown D.C. via the Red Line. Rooms start at $189 per night, and while you can’t redeem Hilton HHonors points here during the holiday, a special nightly rate of $198 allows you to earn 2x bonus points per night.

Right on the Mediterranean, the Sheraton Tel Aviv offers cool decor and beach access.

Right on the Mediterranean, the Sheraton Tel Aviv offers cool, modern decor and beach access.

And because no menorah is complete without a shamas to light the other candles:

9. Sheraton Tel Aviv. You could do worse for Hanukkah than to visit the Holy Land and lounge beside the sparkling Mediterranean. One of the most stylishly renovated points properties in this seaside Israeli city, the 318-guestroom high-rise property is perched on the lively Tel Aviv-Jaffa beach promenade and features four on-site eateries, complimentary Wi-Fi and a huge spa that includes two Dead Sea treatment rooms and a hammam-style bath. Note that unlike other Starwood properties, this Sheraton doesn’t automatically offer the usual perks extended to SPG Platinums (e.g., confirmed suite upgrades, comped breakfast, etc.); nightly rates start at $227 or 12,000 Starpoints.

May your Hanukkah be full of dreidel playing, latke eating—and safe travels!

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Deal Alert: $44 American Airlines Flights from Chicago Tue, 16 Dec 2014 18:29:06 +0000

Per the Flight Deal, American Airlines is running a fare sale with flights from Chicago to Orlando or Tampa starting at just $44 each way for travel in January and February.

$44 American Airlines flights.

$44 American Airlines flights between Chicago and Orlando.

If you are interested in scoring any of these fares for $44, be sure to book sooner than later because typically, these fare sales usually sell out rather quickly. If you’re looking for an easy way to earn 2,000 elite qualifying miles for $80, then it could also be a quick easy mileage run for some.

You could even book a cheap same day mileage run for $80.

You could even book a cheap same day mileage run for $80.

These are valid for domestic, nonstop travel on: Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays, Jan. 6, 2014 through Feb. 11, 2015. If you are looking for a quick getaway down to Orlando or Tampa, then you may want to take a look at some of these deals.

Remember, you can earn 3x on airfare with the American Express Premier Rewards Gold or 2x on the Chase Sapphire Preferred. Check out this post for more on maximizing airfare purchases.

Report your success if you can actually snag any of these!

Hat Tip: The Flight Deal

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