Review: Conrad Washington DC

Review: Conrad Washington DC

 

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One of the newest hotels in Washington DC at just a couple of months old, my wife and I got to experience this beautiful property courtesy of our AMEX free weekend night certificates.  Unfortunately, the American Express Hilton Honors Ascend Card no longer has this benefit on the cardmember anniversary. Now you have to spend $15,000 in a given year to get the free night and I don’t think it’s worth forgoing points with Chase or AMEX Platinum/Gold to pursue a free night with Hilton in most instances. Since my wife and I both have the AMEX Hilton Honors Ascend Card, we were able to combine our free nights into a weekend stay. The nightly rate for our room was $450 so we got $900 worth of value plus $50 credit towards dining for the cost of the annual fee that we paid for both cards ($95 per card).

Check-In

When you walk into the hotel, take the elevator to the third floor. There is no second floor and the third floor is where the check-in desk, lounge, restaurant, and lobby is located. Upon checking in, the receptionist verified our Hilton Gold status, courtesy of the AMEX card and upgraded us to a room on the 9th floor. We were given a choice between 1,000 Hilton points and a $50 dining credit. We took the dining credit (please don’t ever take the points in this scenario). The receptionist was kind enough to give us a mini-tour of the hotel, Estuary restaurant, and some of the amenities this hotel offers.

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The circular lamp changes color each hour

My first impression when walking in was that this hotel did not have many 90 degree angles. The architect made a concerted effort to make the interior as curvy as possible. The lobby was beautiful and since the hotel was only 45 days old when we stayed, it still had that brand new scent.

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Looking down from the 10th floor to the lobby below.

Hotel Room

Our room was on the 9th floor which gave us a nice view of New York Street down below. Keeping up with the theme, the room was curvy but spacious and very comfortable.

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Coffee and snacks

As an avid coffee drinker, I always appreciate when a hotel provides a Keurig type machine with pods. The coffee was complimentary per usual but the snacks were completely overpriced. If you need snacks, there is a CVS across the street where you can get the same offerings for 1/4 of the price.

ConradShower

The bathroom provided two sinks and a separate blurred door to the toilet so two people can use the bathroom simultaneously while still having some semblance of privacy.

ConradToiletries

The toiletries were Shanghai Tang and the scent was very nice. Not too overpowering but not too light either. The room also provided slippers, a safe, laundry bag, iron, and bathrobes.

Estuary and Estuary Bar

Estuary is the restaurant on the premises which is located on the 3rd floor. We went there for breakfast on Saturday morning and ordered a custom made omelet and buttermilk pancakes. Both were delicious, albeit smaller in portion than your typical brunch diner.

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The Estuary Bar area was spacious and seating was plentiful during the day time. If there is an event going on at the hotel, it’ll likely get packed during the evening going into the late night hours. ConradLounge

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3rd Floor Terrace and Rooftop Bar

Since the hotel was only 45 days old during our stay, the Rooftop Bar was not officially open to guests so I could only take pictures from behind the glass door. At this time, it’s likely open and running.  The 3rd-floor terrace was open for use.

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View from the Rooftop Bar
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The Terrace on the 3rd-floor

Fitness Center

The fitness center was one of the better ones I had seen at a hotel. Upon entering, guests are greeted with towels, earphones, and apples.

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There are multiple treadmills, elliptical machines, and stationary bikes
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If you’re into lifting, they have that covered as well.

Miscellaneous

Although I forgot to measure the internet speed, I had no issues with speed or Wi-Fi connectivity. If you are planning to park your car at the Conrad, the price of parking at their garage was $36 a day. I opted to use the Parkwhiz app and found a garage two blocks away which allowed me to park for $14. There is also metered parking on the street but it has a 3-hour time limit during business hours and it’s free overnight. One of the most appealing aspects of staying at Conrad DC is that the National Mall, White House, Capitol building, Smithsonian, and many other points of interest are only 10-15 minutes away by walking. I also want to acknowledge the receptionists on the 3rd floor who always gave us complimentary bottles of water whenever we walked by. The staff made an excellent stay that much better. We look forward to coming back in the future.

 

 

 

 

Getting the Dreaded SSSS On Your Boarding Pass

Getting the Dreaded SSSS On Your Boarding Pass

Traveling using frequent flier miles and points certainly has many advantages, such as making business class travel attainable for the casual traveler, and regardless of the ticket class you purchased, you’re saving money compared to booking with cash. However, there are instances where you might book using points from one airline in getting to your destination and use points for a different airline during your return. As far as I can remember, I haven’t ever used miles for the same airline going and coming back. For example, I’ve flown on United miles going to Europe while flying on American miles coming back multiple times. I was able to minimize the number of miles I needed to use by planning my itinerary this way. The only issue? Booking international tickets one way will often result in getting the dreaded SSSS on your boarding pass. SSSS stands for secondary selective screening selection. For me, the biggest giveaway that I’ll end up with SSSS on my boarding pass on the return trip is when I’m unable to check-in for my flight 24 hours before takeoff. The mobile app will tell me “please check in at the airport” or I’ll get an error message.  For a traveler that’s designated SSSS, the only way to get check-in is at the ticketing booth at the airport. When you receive your boarding pass at the airport, the capitalized SSSS will be highlighted by the ticketing agent. Once you are in line and the security and the customs officer scans your boarding pass, either a red light will flash or there will be beeping sound, alerting the agent of your SSSS designation.  It’s also important to note that there are other factors that may also be in play. Your name (there may be someone with the same name or similar that may be on the watch-list), the region you are traveling to and from, and your citizenship status could all play a role.

 

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My SSSS designation from Dubai to NYC last summer

Every country differs on their protocol for conducting the secondary screening. In Reykjavik, Iceland, I was taken a to a separate room and all the contents of my carry-on bag were removed. All electronics were swabbed and scanned and the procedure was completed in 10 minutes. The personnel were very friendly and explained what they were going to do in advance. In San Jose, Costa Rica, the security personnel gave me a pat down and searched my bag right at the gate. I actually hated this experience since almost everyone on my Southwest flight headed to Baltimore was already at the waiting area. I had 170 pair of eyeballs watching me as one agent thoroughly searched and swabbed my backpack and all its contents while the other gave me a thorough pat down.

There are also instances where you might get SSSS on your boarding pass when traveling domestic. This occurred in 2015 when my wife and I returned from Istanbul, Turkey. Istanbul was deemed as a high risk travel area (it still might be), and anyone returning home from that area was getting SSSS on their boarding pass for the ensuing months. Upon returning, my wife and I had domestic flight from Chicago (ORD) to NYC (LGA), a flight we had taken countless times. This time, we both received the SSSS on our boarding pass, much to our surprise. The TSA officer asked if we had been anywhere recently. I told him we were in Istanbul the prior week and he explained everyone coming back from that region was being selected for secondary screening. He wasn’t wrong as even people with TSA Pre-check and Global Entry were being flagged from secondary screening. In this instance, we were both given thorough pat downs (more like a massage) and had every electronic device swabbed and scanned. Our laptops had to be taken out and powered on. Even The Points Guy had a similar experience upon returning from Turkey around that same time and you can read about that here.

If you do get an SSSS on your ticket, be cooperative and understand that the security personnel are just following protocol and doing their jobs. It will make the process easier, quicker, and you’ll be on your way a lot sooner. During my recent trip to Argentina, my wife and I did not get the SSSS (finally!). But if you can’t check-in 24 hours in advance, budget more time than you normally would when heading to the airport.

 

Chase Freedom 5% Quarterly Categories Include Walmart and Department Stores

Chase Freedom 5% Quarterly Categories Include Walmart and Department Stores

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Chase just released their 4th quarter 5% cashback categories for the Chase Freedom and this includes Walmart and department stores. For the months of October, November, and December, you will get 5 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar on the first $1,500 you spend on these categories. The inclusion of Walmart is a pretty big deal since many people shop there on a weekly basis for groceries, household goods, supplies, clothing, etc. It’s an added bonus that the inclusion of Walmart and department stores during the 4th quarter coincides with Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and the Christmas holiday season.  If you already hold the Chase Freedom card, remember to log in to Chase and activate the 5% cashback bonus. If you also own the Chase Sapphire Preferred or the Chase Sapphire Reserve, this would have added value since you aren’t limited to redeeming the Ultimate Rewards Points for cashback or gift cards. You are able to unlock more value by transferring the points on a 1:1 basis to one of the many airline or hotel partners. I wrote a couple of detailed posts about that and you can read that here and here.

Links to Referrals

Some of you have been kind enough to request referral links and I am very appreciative of that. If you happen to come across this page, you certainly aren’t obligated to use my referral links to sign up for any credit card or service such as Airbnb. But I will be very grateful if you do.

 

Airbnb: Click HereAirbnb is a great alternative to hotels in many locations around the world. If you use my referral link, you also get $40 off your first booking of $75 or more. You can read my post about Airbnb here

Chase Freedom: Click Here  The benefits of this card is the rotating quarterly categories that gives you 5 points per dollar on the first $1,500 spent on that category. For this quarter, the category is restaurants. Any restaurant, cafe, fast food place, etc will qualify for the 5 points per dollar. You can combine these points with the Chase Sapphire Reserve or Preferred if you have either. Having either of the latter two will allow you to transfer the points to one of many transfer partners that Chase has.

Chase Freedom UnlimitedClick here The benefits of this card is that it awards you 1.5 points per purchase on every single purchase. I use this card for utilities, car maintenance,  trips to Walmart (very unusual to find a credit card that offers more than 1 point per dollar at Walmart), and other categories which don’t fall in travel or dining. These points can also be combined with the Chase Sapphire Reserve or Chase Sapphire Preferred to maximize your benefits.

American Express Platinum: Click Here This card has a hefty annual fee of $550 but if you know how to use the benefits, you still come out ahead. This awards a 60k bonus after $5k spending over the first 3 months so unless you know you will be hitting that threshold, do not apply for the card. Receiving the bonus is a big deal since you can transfer the points to many airlines and hotels. You get $100 global entry credit or $85 TSA pre-check credit. This card gives you complimentary access to Priority Pass lounges, Delta lounges, and Centurion lounges. One day passes for these lounges cost at least $50. You can also bring two guests with you. You get $200 credit to Uber annually, $200 travel credit to a designated airline, membership to Boingo Hotspot, and gold status at Hilton, Marriott, and Starwood hotels. I already detailed how having gold status for Hilton netted me greater than $700 in value from the Conrad Maldives Rangali Island. You can read about that here and you can read about all the benefits of the card here.

American Express Hilton Honors SurpassClick Here and you can read about it here

Earning JetBlue Points on Emirates

For those of you traveling overseas on Emirates, don’t miss out on an easy opportunity to earn JetBlue points. You can make an Emirates Skywards membership and earn points  for Emirates but unless you’re traveling frequently or making multiple trips on business class, it will take a while to accumulate anything meaningful. Instead, you can enter your JetBlue number and earn miles for a program that doesn’t require a ton of miles for travel.  The number of JetBlue miles you earn is based on distance and class of booking. You can see the chart below

 

 

If you end up booking the cheapest fare on Emirates, economy saver, you will get 1 point for every 2 miles in distance that you have traveled. If you’re wondering how many JetBlue miles that will earn from your departure city, use a website such as http://www.webflyer.com and enter your departure and arrival city. I’ll use a round trip from New York City (JFK) to Dubai (DXB) as an example.

 

The round trip distance is 13,660 miles. Were you to book an economy saver fare, this would earn you half of that or 6,830 JetBlue points. If you booked economy flex, you would receive 13,660 JetBlue points and the amount increases as you increase your booking class. The most valuable aspect of JetBlue’s frequent flier program is that they allow a 2 adults and 5 children to combine their miles into a family account free of charge. The individuals do not have to be related so you can also share the points with a friend. If you have parents that are traveling overseas via Emirates, you can sign them up and have them earn points as well. And if they don’t intend on using them, they can book you an award ticket on JetBlue under their account.  So when you’re booking your ticket on Emirates, just remember to click the drop down tab under “frequent flyer program” and click JetBlue. Enter your TrueBlue number and those points will be credited to you in about 10-14 days after the conclusion of your trip.

When booking on Emirates.com, select JetBlue and enter your TrueBlue number on this screen. 

Leveraging Your Routine Spending into Points: JetBlue

As I’ve mentioned in a previous post the first step you should take prior to flying is enrolling in that airline’s frequent flier program (if you haven’t already). It only takes a few minutes and it’s free. And the best part about being part of a frequent flier program is you don’t necessarily have to travel to earn the miles. You can allow your routine spending habits do that for you. For this post I’ll go over the benefits of using JetBlue as a gateway to Amazon.com.

JetBlue – If you do any type of shopping on Amazon.com, JetBlue’s frequent flier program (TrueBlue) is one which you should absolutely sign up for. If you click on the Amazon.com link through JetBlue’s website and then make your purchase on Amazon, you get 3 points per dollar on your purchases. All it takes is a few clicks and I have posted screenshots below on how to get to the link. Just as an FYI, make sure your browser cookies are enabled so JetBlue can verify you shopped on Amazon using their link.  Another important thing to remember is making sure you add items to your cart AFTER clicking on the JetBlue link. If something was already in your cart, JetBlue won’t track that as a purchase you made via their link and the points won’t be credited.

Step 1) Make a TrueBlue account with JetBlue if you don’t have one. When you log in, this is the home screen. Click on the blue rectangle.

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Step 2) Click on “our partners” on the bottom left

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Step 3)  Click on “learn more”JetBlue3rdPage

 

Step 4) This is the last step. When you click on “shop and earn”, you are directed to Amazon.com.

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Once you are on Amazon.com, everything you purchase except Amazon gift cards will earn you 3 points per dollar. Amazon sells gift cards to retailers such as Starbucks and Whole Foods. Those also earn 3 points per dollar. From my experience, points will usually post one month after you have made the purchase on Amazon.

For those of you near JetBlue’s main hub in New York City  (JFK) as well as secondary hubs such as Boston, Los Angeles (Long Beach), and Fort Lauderdale, you would benefit the most since you have access to just about every non-stop route that JetBlue flies.

If you live in a city such as Minneapolis, Indianapolis, or St. Louis you might ask yourself if a few clicks are worth the trouble when JetBlue does not fly to your respective city. But let’s say you wanted to take a trip to California and you wanted to visit both San Francisco and Los Angeles. If time and fatigue were not an issue, you could make the 380 mile drive up or down the scenic Pacific Coast Highway. But if you wanted to save time and fly, that is a route that JetBlue serves. It is also a route that does not require a ton of points for an award ticket. A random search for an August date shows that it takes 3,000 points to fly from San Francisco to Los Angeles.

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One way flights from San Francisco to Los Angeles (Long Beach Airport) are as low as 3,000 miles per one way ticket.

 

For my Chicago friends and family, let’s say you wanted to visit South Florida via Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport. You could make this round trip happen in September for as low as 6,800 points or 3,400 points one way.  If you use Amazon with any type of regularity, don’t miss out on your opportunity to earn JetBlue points.  As far as I know, JetBlue is the only airline that has a partnership with Amazon which allows you to earn points.

ORDtoFLLFLLtoORD

In my opinion, JetBlue has the most family friendly frequent flier program of all the U.S. carriers. They allow 2 adults and 5 children to pool points into a single household account. The individuals do not have to be related so you can also make a combined account with a friend. This makes it much easier to accumulate and redeem for award travel. So while you’re signing yourself up for an account, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to get your spouse and kids signed up as well.