Category Archives for Hotels.

Hotel Review: Alexandra Doubletree Barcelona, Dream Suite

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I wrote about my experience arriving and checking-in to the Alexandra Barcelona, a DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel.

Lobby of the Alexandra Doubletree Barcelona

Lobby of the Alexandra Doubletree Barcelona

It couldn’t have been better. I was upgraded to a Dream Suite worth ~$1,660 as a Hilton Diamond member.

Now, I want to show you the Dream Suite and review the hotel more in-depth.

The Dream Suite at the Alexandra Doubletree Barcelona

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My Hilton Diamond Experience in Barcelona (With Suite Upgrade Worth Over $1,600!)

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I was super looking forward to visiting Barcelona.

From the initial disappointment of not getting the best deal (but still a very good deal) on the flights, to wondering which hotel to stay at, to finally getting a Citi Prestige card and choosing the Alexandra Doubletree, it was a bit of a ride.

In the end, I was able to book 6 nights via Citi Travel Concierge with Hilton’s Winter Sale rate and 4th night free.

Here’s how it all shook out.

Booking by the numbers

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Booking Barcelona: Citi Prestige + Hilton Diamond at Alexandra DoubleTree

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The hotel stay for Barcy is all set. And, I booked it – again – with Citi Prestige. I wrote about my first experience booking a hotel room it for Martinique.

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Gonna eat the hell out of that free breakfast

I settled on the Alexandra Barcelona, a DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel.

I’d originally booked the Hilton Barcelona as a Points & Money reward.

Why the switch?

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Taking Another Look at Hilton, Hyatt, and Diamond Elite Status

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To begin, I must say I’m disappointed I wasn’t one of the lucky ones to receive Hyatt Diamond status. Although I did luck out with Hilton Diamond status.

I realize I’ll likely sound like a spoiled brat whining about something I didn’t get for free. Especially when others have spent much more time and money to actually earn the status. That said, the way Hyatt handled the Diamond status match – from free-for-all to the later restriction to only match SPG Platinum members, and all the missteps in between- was very mishandled.



Hyatt had an opportunity to capitalize on the SPG/Marriott merger and they blew it – unless you got the match, then you win. I likely would’ve gone out of my way to stay with Hyatt more in 2016 and beyond. This whole thing has left such a bad taste behind that it makes me want to actively avoid Hyatt, and only use them for free award night stays.

Although I think what Hilton is doing is genius, at least from a marketing perspective. And, let’s face it: Hilton has a much larger footprint than Hyatt (4,100+ hotels compared to ~600). And Hilton is in every place there’s a Hyatt with few exceptions.

For example, there are NO Hyatt hotels in Barcelona (where I’ll be in a few weeks). But there were 4 Hilton options:

Furthermore, the next time Hyatt has a Diamond status challenge to stay 12 nights, I won’t even consider doing it (even though you can complete it with only 9 nights if you have Citi Prestige). Why would I spend $1,000 on something so many others got for free?

Anyway, that’s my preamble – just wanted to clear the air here. Again, I completely understand I don’t “deserve” the status in way. It just sucks to see so many get it for free, even though my credentials where enough – at one point – to get me in, too. A case of “early bird gets the worm” if there ever was one.

But now, I’m taking another look at Hilton, as I expect to have more paid stays there, at least for now. And, it’s not as bad as you’d think.

Hilton Diamond Vs Hyatt Diamond

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5 Hyatt Category 4 Hotels Where the Hyatt Card Annual Free Night Rocks

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I’ve had some pretty good experiences with Hyatt points, even though the way they handled their recent Hyatt Diamond promo was a disaster. #jaded

Anyway, one can have a finite number of Chase cards, but I choose to renew the Chase Hyatt card year after year.

That’s because you get a free night certificate when you renew the card each year, and it’s good at Category 1 through 4 hotels. So obviously, I try to use them at Category 4 properties to get outsized value.

Last year, I gave my free night away to Jay’s grandparents for a night at the Hyatt Regency St. Louis at The Arch (which is a Category 2), because the certificate was about to expire and it was their anniversary. Jay and I both have the Chase Hyatt card, so we gave them 2 nights at the hotel. They loved it!

hyatt category 4 hotels

New year, new options!

I just renewed the card again and paid the $75 annual fee, so I thought I’d take a spin through the Category 4 hotel list to see where I might use the annual free night in 2016.

I found at least 6 hotels where you’ll recoup the annual fee 4x over… or more. It got me thinking.

Never change

Never change

Oh, and because these are all Category 4 hotels, you can also redeem 15,000 Hyatt points for a free night. In many cases, you’ll get over 4 cents per point in value!

5 Hyatt hotels worth 4x or more than the annual fee on the Chase Hyatt card

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Hotel Review: Hyatt House Dallas/Uptown

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After staying at the Hyatt Place in “Austin”, I headed to Dallas to do some house-hunting.

Picking up the rental car was a nightmare, but once on the road, I was at the Hyatt House Dallas/Uptown in about 25 minutes.

The parking garage is beyond a gate where you have to swipe your room key, and there are maybe 4 parking spots outside the hotel, as it’s located off a major thoroughfare (Harry Hines Boulevard), which, if there are more than a few people checking in, creates a huge, annoying queue.

Thankfully, I got a spot, grabbed my wallet, and headed to checkin/get a room key within a couple of minutes.

Checkin and arrival

After flying and driving, it hit me that I was super thirsty once I saw the water for sale near the checkin desk.

The desk agent greeted me warmly, and quickly found my reservation.

He acknowledge my Hyatt Platinum elite status, which is completely useless except for random scenarios like this checkin.

I didn’t know parking was an extra $14 a day, and had a 3-night stay… an extra $42.

For some reason, I thought it would be included as the hotel isn’t in downtown Dallas or in a particularly clogged area. Whatever, I asked if he could add it to my Chase Hyatt card along with… abottleofwaterI’msothirsty.

He validated my parking, gave me a room key, and said there would be no charge for the parking, and to enjoy the water. In fact, he gave me another bottle to take to the room!

I was bowled over by the gesture after getting through a flight and driving and parking and finding the place. It was very kind, and I was grateful. It really is the little things.

So, checkin could not have not any smoother. And the gracious service from checkin continued through the entire stay.


Hallways of the Hyatt House Dallas/Uptown

Hallways of the Hyatt House Dallas/Uptown

Everyone, from the cleaning staff to the bartenders to the other desk agents were attentive and professional the entire time.

The room

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Hotel Review: Hyatt Place Austin/Arboretum

File this under “Writing about it before I forget it happened.”

First impression: Wow – there are a LOT of chain hotels in Austin. I… had no idea there were so many.

In fact, there are three Hyatt Place locations in Austin:

But I’ll focus on the last one.

We passed many, many other hotels on the way to it.

I flew down to Austin for a work meeting, and that’s what I did most of the time. So I didn’t get to enjoy the amenities of the hotel, like the pool or gym.

I kinda flew down, checked in, and slept there in the evenings. Which was fine. Here’s my take on it.

Arrival and check-in

Great! I was harried. I’d left my ID in the rental car, and was a mess of bags and random crap after traveling all day. But the desk agent could not have been more thorough or professional or welcoming.

My Hyatt Platinum elite status was acknowledged, and she asked which room I’d prefer. I opted for the bigger room on a higher floor near the elevator: PERFECT.

Hyatt Place Austin lobby

Hyatt Place Austin/Arboretum lobby

I got room 516 on the 5th floor, was given a wifi code, and was told about the free breakfast in the morning.

The room

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Booking Barcelona: A Hilton Points Dilemma

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It’s been a minute, but remember when I was tempted by the 75,000 Hilton points signup bonus on the Citi Hilton Visa? And then I went ahead and got it anyway?

OK, flash forward to now. I have the 75,000 Hilton points, and just booked a trip to Barcelona in January.

Those are all great things, so what’s the dilemma?

To Points & Money, or just money?

This is how life has been lately: I think one thing sounds good, then turn it over in my mind and convince myself of its opposite. Then repeat, like an annoying little hamster wheel of indecision.

Why stop now?

Here are my conflicting ideas.


The setup

Within the image above are the raw materials for a room at the Hilton Barcelona in January. The options are:

  • The room rate at $150 a night, prepaid (AKA $935 for 6 nights after taxes)
  • 30,000 Hilton points a night (AKA 150,000 Hilton points for 6 nights with 5th night free)
  • 12,000 Hilton points + $50 a night (AKA 72,000 Hilton points + $310 for 6 nights)

Pros and cons

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Grand Opening: Choice Hotels Opens First Cambria Hotel & Suites in Manhattan

The Cambria Hotel & Suites in Manhattan celebrated its grand opening on July 14, 2015.

Cambria is part of Choice Hotels, and the Chelsea location is the first in New York!

Out and Out was excited to attend the grand opening celebration, and to talk with key members of the Choice Hotel senior management team about the hotel and Choice Privileges, the hotel chain’s loyalty program.

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Hotel Review: Hilton London Tower Bridge

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Oh man. Talk about a blast from the past.

I stayed here in October 2013 and never got around to writing a review about it. However, I still remember it all so clearly…

It was right after I used Delta miles to fly on Virgin Atlantic. It was my first time on that airline, and my first time at the Wingtips Lounge @ JFK T4.

It was also my first time staying on the “other side” of the River Thames, as I’d always stayed closer to Soho/Hyde Park. So staying in Southwark was a totally different experience.

And I’ll never forget the wonderfully curated, breathtaking Paul Klee exhibit at the Tate Modern and walking around overwhelmed by the artworks afterward.

I went to see the Tori Amos musical “The Light Princess” at the National Theatre. Anyway, suffice it to say it was a good trip. And the Hilton London Tower Bridge was a big part of that.

Arrival and check in

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Hotel Review: Radisson Blu St. Helen’s, Dublin

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Ireland was my last hurrah with the Club Carlson program, which is now dead to me.

After leaving the Radisson Blu in Limerick and kissing the Blarney Stone, we drove into the city of Cork, and then looped back up to Dublin to stay our final night at the Radisson Blu St. Helen’s in Dublin.

Arrival and check-in

The hotel is located in an area that is rez. ee. dent. shul. OK?

That means that traffic is terrible at rush hours, because people are going to or from work.

It’s about 3 miles (~Whatever kilometers) from Dublin proper, but there is free parking in a huge lot right in front of the hotel. For late night escapades, you can easily get a taxi to the city center and back.

The reason I chose this location was because:

  • It was a new property for me
  • It was near the M1 which goes right to the airport
  • The property looked gorgeous

Because I had an early-ish flight back to Boston on Aer Lingus, I wanted to hop right on the highway and get outta there.

I knew the traffic would be bad, and I budgeted time for that, but wow. It was really bad. We were stuck on the same 3-block stretch for over 20 minutes.

Anyway, arrival and check-in.

We parked in the rain after a lovely day in Cork, and walked in.

You’re instantly transported to some other era, where opulent mansions still exist.

Upon opening the door to the Radisson Blu St. Helen's

Upon opening the door to the Radisson Blu St. Helen’s

Indeed, this property is a 1700s estate converted into a hotel. And it is lovely.

The desk agents checked us in within a few minutes and told us how to climb through a maze and get to our room.

Hallways of the Radisson Blu St. Helen's

Hallways of the Radisson Blu St. Helen’s

Again, no upgrade to a business class room, but we figured we’d eat in the lounge at DUB and then again on the flight over. So whatever. Ireland was 50/50 with the upgrades for Gold status elites in the Club Carlson program (through the US Bank Club Carlson Visa Signature which is now deep in a sock drawer and will never be used again).

The room

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Hotel Review: Radisson Blu, Limerick

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After an underwhelming experience at the Radisson Blu in Galway, we hopped in our rental car and drove the ~2 hours to Limerick.

Through Shannon to Limerick

Through Shannon to Limerick

It was a pretty easy drive, except for the zillion confusing roundabouts.  And the fact that I don’t really know how I got to the Radisson Blu in Limerick other than dumb luck and some hairpin turns.

It’s literally one weird turn off the highway and then a narrow road into a parking lot that also randomly has a hotel in it. There seemed to be nothing around, but apparently it was only 15 minutes into downtown Limerick.

We didn’t end up going into the city because there was a marathon going on that day. Traffic was terrible and there was no parking. Instead, we drove to Killarney National Park for a day trip (though I could’ve spent several days there).

In a forest in Killarney #Ireland

A photo posted by Harlan Vaughn (@harlanvaughn) on

Anyway, we got to the Radisson Blu in Limerick and had a bite to eat and put our things down before we left again. But it was a fine crash pad.

Irish beers at the bar

Irish beers at the bar

Arrival and check-in

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