Review: DoubleTree San Francisco Airport Burlingame

The first thing you need to know about this hotel is that there are two DoubleTree Hotels at San Francisco Airpot (SFO) – North and South. I stayed at the one in Burlingame, just a 10 minute shuttle ride south of the airport – a pleasant service they offer every 15 minutes (at least during the day/evening).



I stayed there because of the National CPM Conference I was attending over my mid-winter break in February. As a math teacher it’s always fun to get and share ideas about how to engage our students. But I digress.

The truth is the hotel was very well put together. They had apparently just finished a renovation and put me in room 630, on a floor that had been recently redone. The door locks were all tap-based using your keycard (no more slots to worry about) and I could have even connected my Hilton phone app to be used to open the door.

The room itself was quite spacious; the bed very comfortable and large (king size!). By both sides of the bed were power sockets and USB ports for charging. The desk had the same. I guess hotels are really starting to make it easier for people to rely on their devices.

Speaking of which, Wi-FI was complementary as long as you are a member of the Hilton Honors program (recently changed from HHonors). The TV had several channels of movies and a rotating guide to see what was on in the moment.

The bathroom had a large bathtub, great water pressure, and lots of towels for you to use. The toiletries they offered were not expansive, but would work for you if you wanted them. They did had a sign saying that towels that were hung up would not be replaced in order to save the environment, but they did not heed that sign and replaced my towels daily for some reason.

I also used their fitness center while I was there. This was one place the hotel really shined – they had an extensive selection of machines and weights to use in the room. I spent time using their elliptical machine over the two days I was there. Towels were provided and so were earbud headphones!  It was quite nice to see they are thinking of their millennial customers in that way.

I had two major highlights of my stay there:

1. Upon entry they offer their guests a warm cookie. But how do they ensure it’s warm? They have an oven under the front desk! I have seen snacks given at hotels before, but never held in place in a warmer. I went back for second the next day!

2. As a Gold status member in Hilton (provided by my Hilton HHonors Surpass card) I was given free breakfast vouchers for each night of my stay (for up to two people). The breakfast was quite tasty and had cold/warm options available. Unfortunately, it was the same option each day, but since I like eggs I didn’t complain.

This is a very solid hotel. Over the time I was at the conference I used some of the meeting rooms and tried their tea offerings – it was definitely adequate and the rooms were mostly of good temperature (one was quite cold for some reason).

If you ever had a reason to use this hotel, please do. It’s well worth it.

Should you keep that credit card or not?

As many of you who read this blog know my wife and I have over 25 credit cards to our names. In some, she is the primary user and in some I am. We have accumulated all these cards because of their sign-up bonuses and various benefits like free checked baggage, access to lounges, elite status, etc. But, every little while it is a good idea to think about if you should keep a card in your wallet (or folio, in our case) or cut it free. In fact, The Points Guy has great posts on checking your credit card inventory once in a while.

The biggest question for me in keeping or cancelling a care is if I am getting a benefit that outweighs the annual fee every year. The easiest examples of “keepers” to me are cards for airlines I or my wife use frequently. For example, we have a United Mileage Plus Explorer card and an AAdvantage Aviator Red Card, each with a $95 annual fee, but we keep them year after year because we get benefits of free checked bags (a $25 benefit each flight per bag) and boarding status (we get to come on the plane earlier and make sure our carry-ons fit in the overhead compartment). As long as we have at least four bag-checks on each airline, it is worth it to keep those cards.

Other cards come with anniversary bonuses. The Amtrak Guest Rewards World card provides an annual Companion pass that, if used correctly, can offset its $79 annual fee. My wife and I travel to Providence, RI frequently enough that a round-trip train ticket + companion makes that doable. The JetBlue Plus Card has a fee of $99 but gives free checked bags and 5,000 points after every account anniversary.

Some cards come with status and not necessarily other benefits you might use. The AMEX Hilton HHonors Surpass card has a $75 annual fee but comes with Gold status at all Hilton-connected hotels. That has given me free room upgrades and free breakfast in at least three situations, totally that much money or more. Additionally, I have earned more points than usual, making it more possible to have a free night sooner. Basically, it does end up paying for itself.

It’s really the big, expensive cards that make me seriously think whether or not it’s worth it to keep them. I currently have a Citi Prestige card, which I got in December 2015 when the sign-up bonus was 50,000 ThankYou points. I applied because I knew that while it has a $450 annual fee, each calendar year it comes with a $250 airline credit. So by using it in 2015 to buy a flight and 2016 to buy a flight, I received $500 in credits to offset the fee the first year. Additionally, it also comes with a host of other benefits including access to the Priority Pass network of lounges across the globe, which my wife and I used extensively during our honeymoon. The fee just came up again and I am debating whether or not to keep the card. It is essentially a $200 annual fee card (with the offset airline credit) in order to access a whole host of lounges and potentially free hotel nights as well. I’m not sure what to do with it but I have some time to decide.

So there you have it – my basic analysis of the different types of benefits you can earn. It really is an individual decision whether or not to keep these cards and, as the Points Guy said at a recent workshop I attended, “do the math.”

Review: Homewood Suites by Hilton Philadelphia – City Ave

My wife, her grandmother, her great aunt, and great uncle all spent two days in Philadelphia to join my family in celebrating Chanukah together. It was such a lovely experience to be with both sets of families in my home of origin. And we made such tasty treats for Chanukah! Amazing!

But, really, this post is about a review of the location we stayed for those two nights: Homewood Suites by Hilton in Philadelphia – City Ave branch. We chose this hotel since it was relatively inexpensive, came with a free breakfast, and was close enough to my parent’s house to be conveniently accessible by car.

The check-in process was so-so. For some reason the room for my wife and me screen-shot-2017-01-03-at-8-07-15-pmwas ready but the room for the elders was not, despite us arriving at 4pm (their check-in time). We had to wait 30 minutes for the room to be prepared, and later I overheard from the service staff that it was not even completely ready. Unfortunately, it got worse in their room (more on that later).

Our room was pleasant – a studio suite with full amenities in the kitchen. It came with pots, pans, dish ware, glasses, and utensils to use had we wanted to cook anything. The refrigerator came in handy later on when we had leftovers from my parents. The bed was quite comfortable and the desk area had a supportive chair. The TV was on a swivel stand, allowing you to watch from either the bed or the sitting area. Finally, the bathroom was stocked with only a few bottles of shampoo (no moisturizer, which disappointed me).

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A big plus of this location was the quality of the breakfast in the morning. There were a variety of cereals, milks, fruits, drinks, and hot dishes (waffles, eggs, potatoes, bacon, etc.). We enjoyed the meal thoroughly, spending more time there than we really needed to.  The seats were comfortable and there was plenty of space (even on Saturday morning). It was a little on the early side (6:30am-9:30am) but still worth it to wake up.

Additionally, there were meals offered from 5-7pm on Monday-Thursdays. They were not the most robust, of course, but they existed and they came with free beer and wine.

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Back to the room issue, briefly. The elders were in a room that was incredibly cold overnight. While they didn’t complain that night they did the next morning and it took quite a lot of time to organize a different room. I was disappointed since this hotel was directly connected to another Hilton that we could have moved them to easily. The combination of the not being ready at check-in and this issue makes me wary of staying there again the future. Watch out: you might get what you pay for.

The big miles post: comparing what we paid for what we would have paid

As anyone who reads this blog knows, I truly love finding a great miles/points deal. So when my wife and I started planning our honeymoon I realized this was the opportunity of a lifetime to use our points to maximize our enjoyment of flights and hotels wherever possible. While we couldn’t use them all over the places we visited (specifically, in Indonesia) we received such benefit that our honeymoon was that much better and that much cheaper.

This all started about 2 years ago when I got involved in the miles/points game. We started signing up for credit cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred, Chase Freedom, Chase Ink Plus, and Chase Ink Cash. Each had a lucrative bonus of Ultimate Rewards points that we stored away for safekeeping. I also signed up for the Citibank American Airlines cards (both personal and business) in order to get 100,000 AA miles to supplement some I had from before the US Airways merger. I added the CitiBank ThankYou Premier card as well as Citi Prestige to get 100,000 ThankYou points as well. Finally, we signed up for a few hotel-based cards: We got the Starwood Personal and Business cards when the bonuses were 30,000 and 35,000 instead of the base level of 25,000 and we also both got the Chase Marriott cards. Sufficed to say, we had a lot of points to spend.

So, in this post I want to analyze the difference between what we paid and what we should have paid if we hadn’t used any points.

The first use of our points was our flights from New York-JFK to Denpasar, Bali. We decided to use Korean Airlines because they are a transfer partner of Chase as long as you have either the Sapphire Preferred or the Ink Plus. We took two flights to get there: one from New York to Seoul and another from Seoul to Bali. We decided to take a one day layover in Seoul so the flights below are not entirely accurate.

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The total cost using miles was 190,000 points + $166 in taxes. 

If we bought the tickets outright, the cost would have been significantly higher.

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As you can see, the tickets from New York to Seoul alone would have been $20,063.60 in total. For some reason I can’t seem to price out the Seoul->Bali ticket right now, but it likely would have been at least $2,000 each.

For our next major journey on miles we flew from Singapore to London on British Airways. We used American Airlines miles to purchase these tickets before the big devaluation it actually cost us less than quoted below: only 70,000 American Airlines miles each.

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With taxes and fees, the total cost was 140,000 miles + $588.40 in taxes and fees.

Running total: 330,000 miles + $754.40.

The actual cost would have been much more (although less than Korean Air):

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Total cost for this flight with two people: $13,057.60.

Running total: $33,121.20

The last major flight was our return home from Frankfurt to New York-JFK with Singapore Airlines. Our two tickets used quite a few miles because the saver award was not available. I had two transfer over 100,000 Citi ThankYou points and Chase points to get it, but it was well worth it.

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With conversion from the date of purchase, the total cost was 221,000 miles + $621.62.

Final total for flights: 551,000 miles + $1,376.03.

From the example below our flight cost would have been $10,183.12.

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Final total for flights: $43,304.32.

One major aspect of this travel I am not including in cost was all the lounges we visited. As a first class passenger we had access to a number of lounges at each airport and with the Citi Prestige we had access to even more through the Priority Pass network. Even in Lombok Airport – a tiny blip on the screen in Indonesia – there was a Sheraton Lounge that took it. We must have saved a few hundred dollars on food and time due to this benefit.

Now we can start discussing the hotels we stayed in because they were also heavily discounted. The first use of points was at the Four Points by Sheraton Hotel in Singapore. As it is a newly rebranded hotel there was a discount in the price although we used our points anyway. We booked to stay for 3 nights on points instead of paying the full price.

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Total hotel points used: 30,000

If we had paid for it outright, the cost would have been around $120/night, totalling $360.

Next, we stayed at a wonderful Sheraton property in London called the Park Lane Hotel. It is a beautiful old world hotel that has been converted to a Sheraton but retains much of its charm. Since we decided to stay in London for five nights we benefited from Starwood’s 4 nights + 1 free promotion when redeeming points. Normally the hotel is 20,000 points/night but it averaged to 16,000/night due to this deal.

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Total hotel points used here: 80,000. Running total of hotel points: 110,000.

Had we booked our room and paid fully, each night would have been a whopping GBP £218. Based on when we booked the hotel (i.e. before the Brexit), that would have been $316/night. Total cost would have been: $1,580. Running total: $1,940.

In Paris we switched gears a bit and stayed at a Marriott Hotel instead since we had all those points to use. I found a great location with the Marriott Opera Ambassador Hotel. It was conveniently located to many restaurants, museums, and right on public transit lines. We stayed four nights there at a cost of 40,000 points/night.

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Total was 160,000. Running total is: 270,000 points. At this point it is important to mentioned that not all points are created equal, especially when it comes to hotels. Obviously Marriott properties require more points than Starwood ones. Just keep that in mind for the future.

Had we stayed there paying outright, the room would have been 243 Euro/night, translating to $275/night. Total cost: $1,100. Running total: $3,040.

For our last night we stayed at the Hilton City Centre Frankfurt. I had accumulated many Hilton points and even had Gold Status due to the Surpass Card I had signed up for two months prior. While the standard room rate is 50,000 points I actually found a discounted Deluxe Park View room for even less!

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So the total amount of points spent overall for 13 free hotel nights was 311,157 points.

Had we paid out-of-pocket for that room it would have cost 139 Euro, or $157/night. Total cost of hotels would have been: $3,197.

This was a truly amazing trip. The sites we saw were fantastic (and more blog posts to come in that regard). The transportation we took was lovely and speedy. And the places we stayed were welcoming and enticing. I can’t wait to do this again in the future!

4 hour travel and 15 hours in Frankfurt

For the last stop on our honeymoon journey we took one more train ride to Frankfurt and a plane home from there. While Frankfurt was surprisingly amazing the real reason we travelled there was for the flight home: Singapore Airlines A380 (I’ll write a post soon). We only spent 15 hours so we could explore a bit, stay overnight at a local Hilton Hotel, and fly out the next morning.

The train over was amazingly fast, as most European trains tend to be. We opted to take it for more comfort and because a plane would have been a bit more time due to security and waiting at the gate. It traveled incredibly fast, breaching 300 kmh (somewhere around 185 mph) while still being a smooth ride. We watched as the fields passed by.

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Upon arrival we had our first unexpected fun interaction: our cab driver spoke Russian! We were planning to depend on Google Translate using a SIM card that we purchased in Paris but instead my wife talked about finding a good woman for him and how we would enjoy our stay! Sufficed to say it was a fun cab ride.

We arrived at the Hilton Hotel City Centre Frankfurt and were immediately upgraded due to my status provided by my Hilton Surpass Amex Card. It would have been convenient to have access to the lounge and for free breakfast there but since we had such little time it was almost inconsequential. We opted to drop our stuff off and go explore.

We walked around quite a bit and window-shopped until we ended up at the Frankfurt Archeology Museum, which just so happened to have a special exhibit on where Lego pieces were used to depict the local history. My wife got an English audio guide but I relied on Google Translate to take photos of blocks of text and translate it for me on the fly. It was interesting to learn about the local history that way.

Our walk from the museum brought us back through to a part of Frankfurt called Old Town that models what it looked like in the 1800s. It was definitely touristy but so worth it to explore, souvenir shop, and have some tea and and cakes at a local coffee shop. It was such a funny little place.

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On our walk back to the hotel before dinner we stopped off at a local square celebrating something called Apfelwein, a distinct alcoholic drink from cider. It tends to be drier than cider and there was a whole festival to its exploration. We purchased some at a local shop but had a true taste when a local started explaining the history of apfelwein and his dream of opening a museum to it in Frankfurt. He had his own home-brewed that he provided us and it really was tasty!

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Our last stop before bed and the flight was for dinner. We listened to our hotel and ate at a local eatery that had steak for me and fish for my wife. It also had some great beer! I ordered a local brew (can’t remember the name) which tasted divine and it turned out to be a great conversation starter with the locals sitting next to us. We had a wonderful chat with them about their travels, the end of our honeymoon, and our desire to return to Europe in the future. They were so kind and it was a great way to end our trip.

Our way home was really exciting but I’ll have to wait on that until the next post!

How to gain some HHilton miles right now

Both DansDeals and View from the wing report that you can earn 1000 Hilton points starting later today by simply changing your password. While not worth as much as other points they can still be useful for free hotel stays down the line. Their award chart is below – obviously the fancier a location the more points it costs per night. But there are some great deals