Monthly Archives: May 2011

Hawaii Review – Sheraton Waikiki

Our family took our first trip to Hawaii this past February.  It was an absolutely amazing vacation.  We cannot wait to go back.  I talked about the basics of the trip in a previous post.  I’ll cover the details of the trip in a series of posts.

Our trip started in Oahu.  We got in late Saturday night and we left on a Monday morning flight to Maui.  We stayed at the Sheraton Waikiki.  Our stay at the Sheraton was great.  However, there were some issues leading up to the trip.  I booked our stay at the Sheraton Waikiki using Priceline Name Your Own Price in May (9 months ahead of our trip).  I called a few weeks before the trip to make sure they had the reservation.  Two days before our trip, I received an email from Priceline stating that the hotel was overbooked.  It said they were going to move us to the Sheraton Princess Kaiulani.  They would give us an ocean view room, free breakfast for 2 one day, and access to the Sheraton Waikiki pools.  Priceline also gave me a $50 coupon to be used on a future booking.  None of that was acceptable to me.  While the Sheraton Princess Kaiulani is nice, it is not the same quality as the Sheraton Waikiki (which is located right on Waikiki Beach).  I was less than happy to put it mildly.

I called Priceline’s customer service line to complain and tell them that this was not acceptable.  They just kept saying that I could either cancel my reservation for a refund or accept what was offered to me.  Canceling wasn’t an option since we were traveling sure winter break and almost no other rooms were available at any hotel in Waikiki.  I spent 45 minutes saying that those options weren’t acceptable only to have the representative say that’s all they could do (and they said it was the hotel’s fault).  So I decided to try Starwood’s customer service.  They told me that they sell blocks of rooms to Priceline so this issue was Priceline’s fault.

I was about to give up when I decided to try calling the hotel directly.  I told them about the email that I received.  The hotel representative said she wasn’t aware that they were re-booking people at the Princess Kaiulani.  She asked if she could look into it and call me back.  I said yes, not thinking that they would actually call me back.  But they did.  They told me that there was a glitch in the system that allowed them to overbook the hotel.  So they contacted Priceline so they could let people know about the situation before they arrived.  She told me again about what they were offering.  I told her that wasn’t what I wanted and I didn’t think it was fair that I should be moved considering I booked this room 9 months in advance and they obviously weren’t overbooked then.  She said that luckily they had some cancellations that day and they would still be able to accommodate me.

I talked to my sister who used to work at a hotel about what happened.  She said that this happens a lot with hotels; she said that hotels overbook rooms just like airlines overbook flights.  And the hotels will try to move the people who paid the least for their rooms to a sister hotel.  So the moral of that story is to call the hotel directly if it happens to you.  Make sure you resolve it before the trip if you can or before accepting the room if it happens when you arrive.

With all that unpleasantness before arriving at the hotel, we were skeptical that we would have a good time when we actually got there.  But we were so happy that we were wrong.  The hotel was amazing.  It was literally right on Waikiki Beach.  You walked down some stairs from the hotel to the beach.  The hotel had an infinity pool for adults.  And they had a pool that had a water slide for the kids.  I think our kids would have been happy to spend the entire day at the pool.  Heck, I even loved the water slide.  I would definitely recommend this hotel to friends.  The location was amazing and the staff was great.

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Chicago Seminars 2011

If you want to learn a lot more about how to travel for nearly nothing, you may want to consider attend the Chicago Seminars 2011.  This seminar is the place to meet and learn from the experts in this field from the Frugal Travel Guy to Mr. Pickles to Lucky.  They will cover topics including: award booking, Priceline bidding, mileage runs, travel credit cards, and others.  At $75, it’s a real bargain.  You could combine this with the recent American Airlines award 30% discount.  So you could get there using only 17,500 miles round-trip.

If I could convince my husband, I would totally go.  Alas, I don’t think that will happen so I think I’ll have to live vicariously through others.

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Free Credit Score Web Sites

Your credit score can affect your life in so many ways – from your ability to obtain credit to your insurance rates to possibly your ability to get a job.  It’s important to know the factors that affect your score.  And it’s important to know your credit score.  There are 3 credit scoring agencies that companies use when determining if you are a good credit risk – Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax.  You are entitled to get a free credit report from each agency on a yearly basis.  You can get that from the Annual Credit Report web site.  It’s a good idea to check all 3 agencies.  You want to make sure that the information on the report is correct.

The annual credit reports do not give you your credit score; they only show you the accounts and inquiries for your credit.  However, there are sites where you can get your credit score for free.  These sites are do not charge anything; they are not a trial period service.  They try to sell you financial products based on your credit.  Some people do not like the sites for that reason.  Others do not like them because some of them require you to give your social security number to get your score and they worry about how well these companies will secure that.

Credit Karma – (requires social security number input) This site gives you your TransUnion credit score.  They also give you a credit score report card which gives you a letter grade for each aspect of your credit score.  That will show you which areas are negatively affecting your score so you can work to improve it.  It also has a credit simulator that allows you to make changes to your credit report to see how it affects your credit score.

Credit Sesame – (requires social security number input) This site gives you your Experian credit score.  It allows you to set up credit goals and gives advice on those goals.  I don’t necessarily agree with the advice that they gave me.  I found it a bit misleading saying that I’d save money by switching our 30-year fixed mortgage to a 40-year fixed mortgage with a higher rate.  They claimed we’d save money every month because of a lower monthly payment.  However, from what I could see, they didn’t factor in that we’d be paying for 10 more years.  However, I do like that you get your credit score for free each month.

Quizzle – (does not require a social security number to be input)  This site gives you your Experian credit score and credit report.  This site has information about your home and what houses in your neighborhood have sold for.  It also has information about saving, such as how much you should have in a rainy day fund based on your salary.  It will give you a credit score the first time you log in.  If you want it updated, you will need to pay a one-time charge each time or sign up for a monthly service ($7/month).

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American Airlines 30% MileSAAver Discount

As part of the American AAdvantage 30th anniversary, you can get MileSAAver award redemptions for 30% fewer miles for travel within the Continental U.S. and Canada.  You do not need to pre-register for this deal.  You just need to book the trip by June 10, 2011 for travel between September 7, 2011 and November 8, 2011.  Here is the link to the deal.

If you are not already an American AAdvantage member, you can join the program and enter promo code ADV30 to get 500 bonus miles.

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Amtrak Guest Rewards

I am not one for train travel.  I like to get places quickly and I really enjoy flying.  As my dad says, “It’s always a sunny day when you’re flying.”  My mom on the other hand is none too pleased with all of the “scanning” that TSA is doing now.  And she is refusing to fly within the U.S. as a result.  So she asked me if I knew of any deals with Amtrak.  I told her I would look into her options.

Right now, I don’t see any incredible deals on Amtrak.  There are some deals, but none that I would list as outstanding.  Here’s a link to their deal site.  One that families may be interested in is that kids ride this summer for $19 on the Auto Train with a paid regular fair adult.  Tickets must be purchased by June 5, 2011.

There are also credit card options for getting Amtrak Guest Reward points.  Amtrak has a credit card with First USA, but it’s not your best option.  There are several credit cards that allow you to transfer points to Amtrak Guest Rewards.  Here are the 2 best options that I see right now:

  • Chase Sapphire – This credit card comes with a 50,000 point sign-up bonus.  These points can be transferred to Amtrak 1:1.  You have to spend $3,000 on the card in the first 3 months to get the bonus.  There is a $95 annual fee which is waived the first year.
  • Chase Continental - This credit card comes with a 30,000 mile sign-up bonus.  These miles can be transferred to Amtrak 1:1.  This card will go away with the merger with United, so it’s a good card to get now.  You get 25,000 miles after first purchase and another 5,000 if you add an authorized user within the first 2 months.  You also get a $50 credit after first purchase.  There is a $85 annual fee which is waived the first year.

Tickets on Amtrak require less points than tickets on an airline.  Here is a link to the Amtrak Guest Rewards Redemption site so you can see how many points you’d need for a trip.

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