Review: The Langham, New York City

Thanks to my cousin Salma Hatia for this detailed review on The Langham.

This was my 2nd time staying at the Langham in NYC, but my 1st time staying at the Langham as an AMEX Platinum Member—which was a whole new experience! Don’t get me wrong, I had a great first stay, it was what I expected for a 5-star hotel, however as an AMEX member I felt like the experience was so much better—like, seriously, who was I?When I checked-in, they immediately upgraded me to an executive suite with a kitchen on the 21st floor because I was an AMEX Platinum member. Along with the upgrade, they told me that I had a $100 credit to use on whatever I wanted, like the spa or room service, complimentary breakfast for 2 at their Michelin-star restaurant, Ai Fiori, and late checkout at 4pm, which was clutch because our flight was at 5:30pm on Sunday.

IMG-9727

When we went up to our room the first thing me and my cousin immediately noticed was the view through the large windows—we were able to see down 5th avenue and we could see the beautiful Chrysler building.

IMG-9754

View of Bank of America Tower and the Conde Naste Building (with H&M sign)

ChryslerBuilding

Beautiful view of the Chrysler building and looking down on Fifth Avenue

The 2nd thing we noticed was that we had a powder room—when does that ever happen? Needless to say, we had more than enough room. We even had some of our friends and cousins come up to hang out with us in the room, 6 adults and a baby were hanging out comfortably. All the cafes around us were closed, so we ordered lattes from room service (using my $100 of credit) and they were excellent!

bathroom

 

IMG-9734

Full kitchen via AMEX Platinum upgrade

IMG-9735

Views of Manhattan from the bathroom

IMG-9774

Soap, shampoo, and conditioner were all Chuan, a holistic proprietary brand owned by Langham

IMG-9743

Another huge selling point for the Langham is their location. The hotel is centrally located in Manhattan, so we were able to walk to most of our destinations on Saturday. We walked to Washington Square Park, Times Square, and the Highline. The next day, we had to check out by 4pm and catch our flight at 5:30pm so we didn’t have a lot of time to waste. We woke up at 8am and called the doorman to arrange a ride to central park at 11am using the hotel car service (which is free!).

Pro Tip: The hotel has a Jaguar that will drop you off wherever you want to go up until 59th street, they start taking appointments in the morning at 8 am, and it is on a first come first serve basis.

Jaguar

Jaguar that’s provided for guests of The Langham

After we had our ride set up, we got ready and cashed in on our complimentary breakfast at Ai Fiori—which was phenomenal! My cousin and I decided to order a couple of things and share. We ordered the buttermilk pancakes, uova in purgatorio, and the house potatoes —everything was phenomenal. You can see the picture below.

Breakfast

If you asked me what the stay was like after my first time, I would’ve said it was great—all the basics of a 5-star hotel. But, staying here as an AMEX platinum member really made this experience next-level amazing, to say the least! It is rare to have a travel experience where you don’t find yourself compromising on something, whether it be the room, service, or location. But I can truly say that there was no compromising at the Langham NYC, everything was at the top of its game—the room, the service, the amenities, the location, and the (free) food were all a 5 out of 5.

 

Chase Ultimate Rewards: Transfer Partners to Avoid

One of my friends asked me a pretty good question regarding Ultimate Rewards point transfers into partner programs: Which one should he avoid? While I’ve gone through many of the transfer partners that provide excellent value, I haven’t really addressed the transfer partners or scenarios that provide poor value and thus should be avoided. There are also certain situations where even a good frequent flyer program won’t provide good value if you transfer Ultimate Rewards points into the program.  At the very least, you want to get a value of 1.25 cents per point if you’re using the Chase Sapphire Preferred (CSP) and 1.5 cents per point if you’re using the Chase Sapphire Reserve (CSR). How did I arrive at those numbers? If you book through Chase’s UR portal, that’s how much value you would get. For example, by booking a flight using the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal, a ticket worth $150 will require 10,000 UR points if you have the CSR. $150/10,000 = 1.5 cents per points. That same ticket would require 12,000 UR points if you have the CSP $150/12,000 = 1.25 cents per point. Here is what you should do to ensure you get the best value using your points: Make a comparison of the number of UR points required if you were to book through the Chase portal, the number of points required if you were to book through the hotel or frequent flyer program, and the dollar amount required if you were to pay with cash. For certain programs, the answer will be obvious and you will get a clear idea of what not to do. For others, there might be a tie and you won’t come out on the losing end either way.  Let’s take a look at some transfer partners and see what type of value they might provide…

IHG

I’m going to use IHG hotels, the least valuable of all transfer partners in my opinion, as the first example. Ultimate Rewards points can be transferred into IHG on a 1:1 transfer ratio in increments of 1,000. Among the brands that are under the IHG umbrella are Holiday Inn, Intercontinental, Indigo, Kimpton, and Candlewood Suites. Let’s say you wanted to stay in Downtown Chicago between June 29th and July 1st at the Intercontinental Hotel on Michigan Avenue….

IHGCash

This would cost $233 a night. If you were to book as a CSR card holder straight through the Ultimate Rewards portal…..IHGURRedemption

A good redemption of just over 16k points a night. This is a value of 1.5 cents per point and the litmus test you should use if you’re a CSR card holder booking through Chase. Last but not least, let’s see how many points you would have to transfer into IHG’s program from Chase if you were to use their loyalty program to book this hotel:

IntercontinentalIHGpoints

A ridiculous 50,000 points per night, meaning you’d have to transfer a total of 150k UR points for 3 nights. If you’re reading this, please don’t ever transfer 150,000 Ultimate Rewards points to make a booking like this in which you’re getting absolutely ripped off.  If you do the math, $233/50,000 = 0.4 cents per point. You read that right. You’re getting less than a penny per point value if you transfer 150,000 UR points to book 3 nights at the Intercontinental Chicago on Michigan Avenue when the cash price is $233 per night. It’s unfortunate but these types of redemptions are the norm when using IHG points to book hotel stays.  This particular redemption is so bad, you would be better off exchanging 69,900 UR points for $699 cash and then using the cash to book the 3 nights at the hotel.  For this scenario, we would book straight through the Chase portal at just over 16k points per night. The only scenario you should consider transferring Ultimate Rewards points into IHG is if you need to top off your account and you’re just 5k or fewer points away from getting an award night at a higher redemption level. For example, if you’re at 29k IHG points and 30k would get you an award night, go ahead and transfer that 1k from Chase. The more you need to transfer, the more you’re losing value.

Marriott

Another transfer partner which provides terrible value when transferring points from Chase Ultimate Rewards is Marriott. Ultimate Rewards points can be transferred into Marriott on a 1:1 ratio in increments of 1,000. Don’t get me wrong, they have a very nice portfolio of properties which include upscale brands such J.W. Marriott and Ritz Carlton. But when you’re redeeming points, it’s all about getting maximum value and getting the most for your redemptions.  Let’s say you wanted to stay in the Miami area from March 29th-March 31st in a location close to the airport:

MarriottCashPoints

The TownPlace Suites would cost $175/night or a ridiculous 50k Marriott points per night for a total of 150k points. This redemption is even worse than the one we saw above. Please do not, and I repeat do not transfer 150,000 UR points for this type of redemption.  $175/50,000 = 0.35 cents per point redemption (lol). To put it into perspective, 60k UR points when transferred into United can get you a round-trip ticket to Europe. 60k UR points when transferred into FlyingBlue can get you two round-trip tickets to Hawaii. If you were to book straight from the Chase portal…..

TownPlaceURRedemption

A far more palatable redemption of nearly 12k per night, giving you the baseline value of 1.5 cents per point if you were a CSR credit card holder. If you carried the CSP instead, your redemption would require approximately 14,300 points per night for a value of 1.2 cents per point. In this scenario just like the one above, booking directly from the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal rather than transferring points into Marriott is the way to go.

Hyatt

On the opposite end of the spectrum, I’m going to use Hyatt, one of my favorite transfer partners and one that provides excellent value as an example. Let’s say you wanted to make a booking at the Hyatt Place in Downtown Chicago between June 29th-July 1st. Here is the cash price you would have to pay per night: At the very minimum, $531 per night (!!).

HyattPlaceCash

If you were to book straight through the Chase Portal as a Chase Sapphire Reserve card holder:

HyattURRedemption

At the very minimum, you’re spending 26,509 points per night. This gives you a redemption rate of 1.5 cents per point, the value you would get when booking through Chase as a CSR card holder.  And finally, let’s see how many Hyatt Points would be required to make this booking…..

HyattPlaceHPoints

We have our clear winner. For 12k Hyatt points per night, you can find yourself in a room that would cost you $531 per night were you to pay with cash. If you do the math, $531/12,000 = 4.4 cents per point. This would qualify as a fantastic redemption and one where it would be a no-brainer to transfer your points from Chase UR into Hyatt. Prior to transferring into Hyatt, make yourself a World of Hyatt account on their website. This is free and you will get an account number which you will need to link with Chase in their Ultimate Rewards Transfer Portal.  Below is just a simple schematic showing you where to go to transfer UR points.

airlinetransfer

When you click on your point balance, this will be the first page you see. Bring the cursor to “use points” and click on “transfer to travel partners”

WorldofHyatt

Click on World Of Hyatt and transfer the total number of points you would need. Since Hyatt requires 12k points per night for our redemption and we searched for 3 nights, we would transfer a total of 36k UR points into Hyatt. The cash price for those 3 nights would have been nearly $1,600.  The only downside of Hyatt is it’s relatively small footprint. They only have about 750 properties worldwide so finding a location where you can take advantage of this value can be challenging, particularly if you’re looking at international destinations.

      Airline Transfers

Generally speaking, transferring to the frequent flyer program of Chase’s airline partners provides very good to excellent value. A prime example of this would be transferring to British Airways Avios for domestic flights on American Airlines or transferring to FlyingBlue, the frequent flyer program of KLM/Air France for a round-trip ticket to Hawaii on Delta Airlines. However, there are certain situations where you’re better off booking a ticket by redeeming UR points through the Chase portal or using cash rather than transferring the points into a frequent flyer account to book a ticket.  For this example, I’ll use a round-trip ticket from Chicago (ORD) to New York City (LGA) from April 28th-May 1st.

UACash

Pretty good price for a round-trip ticket between Chicago and NYC. Keep in mind, these are economy seats, not basic economy which can be had for $129 round-trip but with limitations such as no carry-on bags and no advanced seat assignments. Now if you wanted to use United miles for this trip…..

UAmiles

25k miles for a round-trip itinerary. How much value would you get if you transferred 25k UR points into United? $169/25,000 = 0.67 cents per point. This would be a terrible way to use UR points since you’re getting less than a cent worth of value per point. If you were to hold a Chase Sapphire Reserve and you booked through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal, your redemption would require…..

UAurredemption

Just 11,240 UR points for a round-trip ticket. You would save yourself nearly 14,000 points, or enough for possibly another round-trip ticket by using Chase’s portal versus transferring into United. If you had the Chase Sapphire Preferred, your redemption would be about 13,500 UR points, a significant number of UR points saved.

 Recap

Prior to transferring into a program, evaluate whether you’re getting at least 1.5 cents per point if you’re a Chase Sapphire Reserve holder or 1.25 cents per point if you’re a Chase Sapphire Preferred holder. This is done by taking the cash price/the points required by the loyalty program.This should always be your litmus test prior to transferring. If you’re value matches or exceeds those numbers, transfer the points into the loyalty program. If not, then book directly through the Chase portal. The wildcard is if you happen to have status with a hotel chain. From my experience, hotels won’t extend status benefits if you don’t make the reservation through their own website or toll-free number. What what I do? I would still forego the benefits for IHG and Marriott if it means I’m going to get killed on the redemption when transferring UR points into either of those two brands. A free breakfast or room upgrade is not worth sacrificing a round-trip ticket to Europe, South America, or two round-trip tickets to Hawaii. If you want to read about the transfer partners that can provide tremendous value, you can read that here and here.

 

Using Ibotta for Uber, Hotels, and More

ibottaLogo

Of all the apps I have downloaded on my phone, there isn’t a single one that’s as rewarding as Ibotta. If you already have it downloaded and regularly use it, you know how it works. If you’ve never heard of Ibotta, I’ll introduce it and show you how you can benefit from your routine shopping. It’s available for both Android and iOS.

Ibotta rewards you in two different ways. The first requires you to upload your receipt from one of their listed retailers. Among them are Whole Foods, Target, Walmart, Jewel-Osco, Pathmark, Mariano’s, etc.  For example, Walmart will have tons of different grocery or household items that will be eligible for cashback in a given week. If you purchase those items and unlock them on the Ibotta app, you get whatever the cashback is for that particular item. Here is example of some of the breakfast items listed this week at Walmart:

Ibotta3

 

Clothing retailers work the same way. Until November 2nd, you can make a purchase at H&M, upload your receipt and you get 15% cash back. The purchase would have to be made in-store.

H&M_Miles4Places

 

The other way Ibotta rewards you is by using their app to launch another app and then making a purchase. For example if you click on Uber via Ibotta, it will automatically launch the Uber app that’s already downloaded on your phone. For every ride you take, you get a dollar back:

UberIbotta

 

The same goes for travel websites such as Hotels.com, Booking.com, Hotwire.com, etc. For these websites, you typically get between 4-6% back on your total cost.

 

Ibotta2

 

Make sure you have the apps for any of the above downloaded prior to making a booking. Ibotta will credit you the cashback once you have completed your hotel stay.

 

HotelsIbotta

 

Once you have $20, you can cash out via Paypal or Venmo. You could also select gift cards to retailers such as Amazon or Target.

You could also double dip using this app. For example, Walmart sells Hotels.com gift cards. You could use your Chase Freedom credit card to buy the gift card from Walmart and that will get you 5 points per dollar (Walmart is a 5x quarterly category for Chase Freedom this quarter). You can then make your booking on Hotels.com by launching the app via Ibotta and get an additional 5% back. Regardless of where you shop or travel, Ibotta has something that can benefit just about everyone. If you don’t already have Ibotta and you use my link to sign up, you get $10 back after uploading your first receipt or making your first purchase using the app. —->  https://ibotta.com/r/xq3zkq

As always, thanks for reading.

Credit Card Review: American Express Platinum

AMEXPlatinum

The AMEX Platinum currently has a 60k membership points bonus if you spend $5k within the first 3 months of opening the account. This card also has a steep annual fee of $550 (not waived the first year) so it’s not for everyone. The 60k points could easily net you $1,200 worth of travel and cover your annual fee for 2 years if you didn’t derive any other benefit the card offers. AMEX membership points can be transferred to a multitude of airlines and hotels.  I received an upgrade offer from AMEX a few months back that offered 60k points and I jumped on it. I still rate the Chase Sapphire Reserve as the best among the premium credit cards. However, the  AMEX Platinum might actually be of greater value for some of you. Here are some of the benefits you can get with the AMEX Platinum:

1) 60k bonus points after spending $5k over the first 3 months

AmexmembershipRewards

AMEX Membership Rewards points have a lot of value because of the multitude of airlines and hotels they have as transfer partners. Among the airline partners: Delta, Etihad, Emirates, Singapore, British Airways, Iberia, Air France/KLM (via Flying Blue), etc. Hotel transfer partners include Starwood, Hilton, and Choice hotels.

 

2) Credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre-check

global entry      tsaprecheck

AMEX will reimburse you the $100 fee for Global Entry or $85 for TSA pre-check. If you are in a major metro area, Global Entry is the way to go since it automatically gives you TSA pre-check. I’ve had TSA pre-check for about a year now and saves you from the inconvenience of taking off your shoes, removing your laptop/electronics from your carry, and going through X-ray machines.  Plain and simple, it saves a lot of time. Both of them are good for 5 years.

 

3.  $200 in annual airline fee credits

For this benefit, you have to select a particular airline and you would get reimbursed for incidental fees such as checked bag fees, in-flight internet, and in-flight food purchases. It’s not nearly as valuable as Chase Sapphire Reserve’s $300 travel credit, which covers everything from airfare, hotels, tolls, parking fees, etc. However, there is a way to get around this if you desire credit towards airfare instead. If you use this card to purchase $200 worth of American Airlines gift cards from AA.com, AMEX will treat it as an incidental purchase and credit you back the $200. Here is a screen shot below:

AMEXAA

It only took two days for them to reimburse me and I was able to put the gift cards to use a month later. I don’t think this trick works for any other airline. This was far more beneficial in my opinion since I don’t end up checking-in $200 worth of bags in any given year.

 

4. $200 Uber credit annually

uber.jpg

This is a really nice perk that can really help offset the annual fee for those who find themselves using Uber on a regular basis. AMEX gives you $15 Uber credit for each month and in December, they give you an extra $20. Just link the AMEX card with your Uber account and use that as the method of payment.

 

5. Complimentary Boingo Hotspot

boingo

We still live in a world where many airports still don’t offer complimentary wifi access for more than a half hour.  If you don’t find yourself transiting through one of these airports often, this perk may not be a huge deal. However, if you’re frequently traveling or connecting through airports such as Chicago’s O’Hare and Midway, NYC’s LaGuardia, JFK, and Newark, or LAX in Los Angeles, this might be of great value. These airports offer complimentary low speed wifi for 30-45 minutes. By the time your website is done loading, you have half the time left. This perk allows you to have complimentary access to Boingo’s higher speed internet, which would usually costs $7.95 per use.

 

6. Complimentary Access to AMEX Centurion Lounge

CenturionDFW1

If you are a traveler that routinely transits through New York’s LaGuardia, Seattle-Tacoma, Miami, Dallas (DFW), Houston (Bush Intercontinental), San Francisco, Las Vegas, or Philadelphia, having Centurion lounge access is an awesome perk to have. You get complimentary drinks, snacks, meals, massages (DFW), really high speed wifi, and a place where you can unwind between flights or just get some work done. You can also bring two guests free of charge. To get an idea of what the Centurion Lounge is like, you can read my review of the lounges at LaGuardia and Dallas-Fort Worth right here and here.

 

7. Complimentary Access to Priority Pass Lounges

PriorityPass.png

Here is another valuable perk to have if you find yourself at airports that have lounges that are part of Priority Pass.  Priority Pass has over 1,000 lounges at airports all over the world. There are even restaurants such as Timberline’s Steak and Grille (Denver International Airport) that are a part of Priority Pass. At Timberline’s, each guest gets $28 worth of credit towards food. So you and two guests can actually get $84 off an entire check.

 

8. Complimentary Access to Delta Sky Club (When Flying on Delta)

DAL_SKYCLUB_TERMB

If you fly on Delta frequently,  add this to the list of perks that comes with the Platinum Card. You would have access to Delta Sky Club lounges from coast to coast. Just show them your boarding pass and AMEX Platinum card and you’re in.

 

        9. Gold Status for Hilton and Starwood Hotels

PrinthiltonLogo.jpg

If you play your hand right, this benefit can cover the entire cost of an annual fee and then some. Having Hilton Gold status makes you eligible for free upgrades at any Hilton Hotel. You also get complimentary breakfast and high speed WiFi.  A couple of months back, my wife and I took a trip to Maldives and stayed at the Conrad in Rangali Island. Hilton gave us a complimentary upgrade from a water villa to a retreat water villa during our 4 nights there. The value of our upgrade was over $500. This doesn’t even include the complimentary breakfast, lunch, and mocktails we enjoyed as Hilton Gold members.  Add that to the value of the upgrade and we derived well over $700 worth of value simply by having Hilton Gold status.  I haven’t put the status to use at any Starwood hotels just yet, but I’ll keep you posted if I do.

 

10. Earn 5X Membership Rewards Points on Flights Booked Directly with Airlines or via AMEX Travel

This is the highest earning credit card for booking flights. You also earn 5X the points for booking a hotel through AMEX Travel. For the flights, you can’t book it via Expedia, Priceline, Orbitz, or any other third party site. For the hotels, it has to be booked via AMEX travel.  I’m really hoping in the future they just give you the 5X for all travel related purchases. Chase Sapphire Reserve gives you 3X Ultimate Reward points on anything travel related. It doesn’t matter if you booked on Expedia or directly from the hotel/airline.

 

 

 

If you are going to apply for the the card, do it during a time when you know you’ll be spending $5k over 3 months. Due to its exorbitant annual fee, this card isn’t a long term keeper for a leisure traveler who only travels once or twice a year or an individual who doesn’t travel for work. If you find yourself in a scenario where you can derive the benefits and perks routinely, this card can be extremely rewarding.

 

Airbnb vs Hotels

airBNBEven though Airbnb has been around since 2008, I never used it to book an accommodation until 2015. For those of you who have never used it, it is a website where homeowners rent out their houses, apartments, condos, cabins, even tree houses. There are filters that allow you choose what type of accommodation you’re looking for such as an entire place or a single room. I have used it seven times since and all but one of my stays were excellent. Five of those trips have been in Europe where I strongly believe booking Airbnb was the better option versus booking a hotel. During our trip to Prague, decent hotels were going for $140+ in desirable locations such as Old Town Square and Wenceslas Square. Nonetheless, there were many excellent apartments and condos near these locations that were listed on Airbnb.  These accommodations were just a 5 minute walk away from Old Town Square or Wenceslas Square, which eliminated the need for taxis, Uber, etc. Including taxes and cleaning fees, our total for 3 nights came out to just $67/night. I’ve included pictures of the place we booked below.

 

There are a few things to keep in mind prior to booking an Airbnb:

1) Make sure the place you’re interested in has a minimum of five reviews that are spaced apart (I ignored this step once and ended up booking a place that had no reviews.  This resulted in my one below average experience using an Airbnb.)

2) If the owner has not posted pictures of the interior, that’s a red flag and you should avoid it.

3) Try to book a place that is a short walking distance away from as many tourist attractions as possible. By doing this, you’re saving money avoiding taxis and Uber.

So whether you’re traveling somewhere where hotels might be pricey or if you’re traveling with multiple families and want to rent out an entire house on a beach, Airbnb is a great alternative to hotels. If you use my link here you will also get $40 off your booking of $75 or more.  If you have used it before, feel free to share your experience in the comments section below. As always, thanks for reading.

– Shiraz