Monday, January 30, 2012

Contest: I'm Giving Away 9,000 of My Club Carlson Points - Enough For a Free Night!

It's contest time! Yay for free points!

If you've been actively following the blog, you sure know that I have been blogging frequently about my Texas Road Trip made entirely possible by redeeming Club Carlson points (hopefully I'm not boring you to tears!).

What's a more appropriate prize than giving away 9,000 of my very own Club Carlson points to a lucky reader? Just so you know, 9,000 points are enough to redeem for a free night in a Category 1 Club Carlson hotel.

So how do you enter?

Entering is easy, and there are 3 ways to do so. All you have to do is one of the following (brownie points and a smile if you do all 3!)

After you've done one (or 2, or all) of the above, then post a comment below sharing your best points-redemption story. I will randomly choose a winner using from the comments on Friday, February 3, 2012 at 9:00 AM EST.

Winner will be notified by email and must be able to provide me with their Club Carlson Gold Points account number so I could transfer the points in. If you don't have an account, you may register for one at

Good luck!

Hotel Review: Park Inn Houston North Hotel & Conference Center, TX

After saying farewell to Austin, the next stop on our Texas Road Trip was Houston. Upon arriving downtown, we spent some time at the Houston Aquarium and then grabbed a quick lunch at Bayou Place, Houston's entertainment hub located in the heart of downtown's theater district.
The Houston Aquarium
Tiffany and I
After lunch, we thought it would be best to call it a day, hang low, and head straight to the hotel because we would be driving 15 hours the next day to Knoxville, TN. The Park Inn Houston North Hotel is conveniently located about 15 miles from downtown Houston (via I-45) and only a few miles away from Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH).

When we arrived at the hotel, I was impressed with the fresh, welcoming scent that filled the lobby, and we were instantaneously greeted by Derek at the front desk who had already checked us in and had our room keys ready. The Park Inn Houston North Hotel is a Category 1 Club Carlson property (reward nights are 9,000 points), and I booked it during Club Carlson's "Redeem Points. Earn Points" promotion, making this stay completely free for us.
The lobby was spacious with high ceilings and a cozy fireplace.
Derek and Shana at the front desk were two super helpful, warm, and welcoming individuals!
Having elite status with Club Carlson, I was happy to know that we were upgraded to a HUGE townhouse suite. While walking to our room, I had a moment to chat with the hotel's GM, Victor, who gave us a warm welcome and informed us of some of the exciting upcoming renovations that are in store for the property.

When we opened our door to our room, we were incredibly impressed with the size of our suite. No wonder why they call this the townhouse suite - it was definitely designed to be a nice home away from home, with separate rooms and lots of living space. Our suite included a huge king sized bed, 2 desks (one equip with a desktop computer), a dining room, a full-sized living room with a flat screen TV, a bar/kitchen area, two full bathrooms and plenty of closet space.

Below is a photo tour of our room:

The spacious bedroom area of the suite (king bed, desk, flat screen TV, and sliding doors leading to the hotel's courtyard).
Bathroom #1:located in bedroom and stocked with plenty of towels, toiletries, cotton balls/swabs, and Park Inn's signature rubber ducky!
A close up of the toiletries - Vaseline body lotion, Pantene shampoo and conditioner, Jergens bar soaps, make-up remover wipes, a shower cap, and small sewing kit.
The very large and spacious bedroom work desk
There were plenty of snacks for us scattered throughout the room.
In the next room over, we had a huge full-sized living room furnished with leather couches.
Adjacent to the living room was another work area with a ready-to-use desktop computer.
The next room featured a complete dining area with a full-sized dining room table.

The kitchenette/bar area was pretty basic, but a nice touch to the dining area. Too bad it wasn't a fully-loaded bar LOL.
Bathroom #2 was nicely decorated and also fully stocked with toiletries. I really loved the colorful flower accents!
While exploring our room, we received a phone call from Shana at the front desk and Elizabeth of management asking how we liked our room; the customer service we've experienced so far has been outstanding.

Shortly after, there was a knock on the door, and to our surprise, we were handed a gorgeous platter compliments of the executive chef along with a hand-written card from the management team. This was incredibly generous of the staff!
Executive chef, Richard Roane, prepared a beautiful welcome platter for us complete with a cheese assortment, crackers, fruit, chocolate-covered strawberries and Voss water.
A beautiful hand-written card from Victor and Elizabeth of the hotel's management!
After settling in a bit, we decided to explore the hotel a bit and squeeze in our very first workout of the trip. I was relieved to be able to get some fitness in knowing that we'd be driving for 15 hours starting promptly at 4 am the next day.

The fitness room was larger than other hotel fitness centers of its class, featuring plenty of cardio equipment, exercise machines, free weights and fitness mats.
After a brief workout, we set to explore some of the hotel amenities including the outdoor pool, the bar, and very large restaurant (Sam Houston's) before showering and getting ready to have dinner and drinks on site at the hotel.
The interior of the hotel's restaurant, Sam Houston's.
Another shot of Sam Houston's restaurant.
A snap shot of Sam Houston's hotel bar (photo was taken during non-operational hours).
This outside courtyard was accessible from our suite via our in-room sliding doors.

Here's a shot of the outdoor pool. If Mr. Sunshine was out, I'd be tempted to tan poolside - it was a nice warm day!

We started off our evening by visiting the Sam Houston's bar to grab a drink. Alma, our bartender, made Tiffany and I amaretto sours (we're such girls, I know). We then went to visit our new friend, chef Richard, by grabbing dinner at Sam Houston's. The service was great and the food was very good!
Here's Tiffany pretending not to pose while looking at the menu.
Tiffany ordered the pecan-encrusted grouper filet with home-style mashed potatoes and string beans. Yummy!
I opted for the Sam Houston's salad which included pecans, cranberries, and goat cheese.

From the bottom of my heart, I'd like to thank the entire staff of Park Inn Houston North for their tremendous hospitality. Never in my life have I received such over-the-top treatment during a single hotel stay. My stay here certainly puts the icing on the cake for customer service. I look forward to sending a personalized note to Park Inn and Club Carlson letting them know of my wonderful experience here. In this day and age, excellent customer service should never go unnoticed. Thanks again for a great stay!

Sunday, January 29, 2012

I Traded My Car For Points... Really

Here's a story you probably don't hear often, but I can certainly bet that my fellow points and miles fanatics can relate and appreciate my intentions... Or maybe I'm just crazy, but hey, that's OK too.

Up until yesterday, I had two cars - my cute little 2010 Mazda3 and my "beater" car, a 2002 Pontiac Sunfire that I had since high school. When I say beater car, I really do mean it. Sure, it runs great and it's a safe ride, but the car's paint was peeling so badly that one time someone actually asked me if I gave it an acid rain bath (not joking), and 2 years ago, an elderly woman backed into it (she was too darn cute to be mad, or accept money from to repair, so I let it slide).

For the longest time, I have been keeping the car in my garage as my "just-in-case" car, until finally I realized it was foolish to keep two cars insured when I only use one anyway. Another incentive to give it up was knowing that my college-aged brother (who only drives a motorcycle, and just "winterized" it), did not have a car.

Of course, I would never take money from my family, and I had just planned to drop the car off and let him keep it, but I was surprised that he offered me a token of appreciation that I could not refuse.

I recently blogged about booking inter-island Hawaii flights for 6,000 miles via Virgin Atlantic, and since Kevin and I are in the midst of planning a nice Hawaii trip in June, we're going to be flying from Honolulu to Maui, but definitely did not want to shell out lots of money for the short flights.

Long story short, my brother offered to give me 12,000 Starwood Preferred Guest points as a "thank you" for the car. SPG points transfer on a 1:1 basis to Virgin Atlantic's Flying Club, and is enough for us to redeem for two round trip flights between HNL and OGG.

Now that's a "Win-Win" and "Happy Travels" for both my brother and I!

Who else has experienced something similar? Please do share! :)

P.S. Now that we're on the topic of SPG points, you can get 250 free SPG points simply by joining the mailing list of The Westin Charlotte via their Facebook fan page. (Hat Tip: Deals We Like).

P.S.S. Speaking of Facebook fan pages, be sure to "like" Just Another Points Traveler on Facebook to stay connected (just launched the official fan page today!).

Friday, January 27, 2012

Hotel Review: Radisson Hotel & Suites Downtown Austin

I'll admit that I originally booked the Texas Road Trip specifically to take advantage of Club Carlson's "Redeem Points. Earn Points" promotion, so I was strategic in only choosing Category 1 Club Carlson properties along the way from NJ to Texas. There were only a handful of Category 1 properties in Texas, primiarily in the metropolitan Dallas and Houston areas, so immediately I limited our stays to Dallas and Houston.

However, after sharing my trip planning with close friends and family, they all said something along the lines of, "you can't possibly drive all the way to Texas and not visit Austin". It didn't really take much twisting of my arm to add another day to itinerary; after all, it was a vacation.

Being the points/miles fanatic I am, you can bet I was looking for the "best points scenario". At first, I figured that since I've already completed one stay for the Wyndham Rewards Gift Me Promotion, then I might as well bite the bullet and go for stay number 2, getting me my 6,500 free bonus points (enough for a free night).

However the points Gods must have been on my side somehow, and during communication with Club Carlson about my trip (they were aware of my redemption strategy/planning in progress), I was ecstatic to find out that they offered to comp us in their Category 5 Radisson Hotel & Suites in Downtown Austin! Again, very generous of them, and I'm very grateful!

Now lets get to the review already, shall we? We left Dallas around 8 am and arrived in Austin right on time around 11:30. Being starved for lunch at that point, we were excited that there was a full size TGI Friday's restaurant right inside the lobby of the hotel (and a Starbucks too!). Do know that there is an onsite parking garage that costs $16 a day for hotel guests.

Upon arrival, we were impressed with the decor and comfort of the lobby. There are plenty of sitting areas, mesmerizing aquariums, and a warm fireplace to relax by. Megan at the front desk told us that our standard room was not ready yet (we arrived early), and I casually told her that I had elite status and asked for an upgrade if it was available. She told us that a lakeside view suite with one king bed would be ready in about 30 minutes, which was fine because we were going to have lunch at Friday's before going to the room anyway.

During lunch, Megan called my cell phone and told us that the room was ready when we were. We headed up to our suite (room 1039), and within minutes Megan called us and asked us if everything was OK with the room, which was a nice touch of good customer service. As far as location, the hotel was nested right in the center of town, walking distance to Austin's famous 6th Street and many restaurants (too bad it wasn't bat season in Austin, it would be been cool to see the famous bat colonies). Take a look at some of the pictures we took of our suite and the hotel below.

We were excited that there was a full size (bar included) TGI Friday's in the hotel. It was nice to grab lunch before checking into the room.
The lobby was spacious and inviting with plenty of couches, a warm fire place, and the elk chandeliers were a cool touch.
The living room area of our suite - a bit dated, but clean and spacious.
The desk was situated in the living room of the suite, and was big enough to work comfortably.
The coffee machine was located on a separate nook between the bedroom and living room area.
We were given two complimentary bottles of Dasani water.
The shower was pretty basic, but clean, and had good water pressure and plenty of hot water.
The bathroom sink area was stocked with Radisson's signature Asira product line (Shampoo, Conditioner, Body Lotion & Body Soap Bar).
We shared a very large king size bed, and the bedroom had a door to separate it from the rest of the suite for added privacy.
All Radisson rooms are equip with Sleep Number beds (not my favorite, but my sleep number is 30 if anyone cares).

After a short nap for us in the room, we decided to hit the town and walk to check out 6th Street; believe it or not, Austin seemed to be dead all around (I'm blaming it being Sunday and the Super Bowl playoffs), so we had some dinner and drinks at Manuel's (Upscale Tex-Mex, which ended up being excellent) ultimately because we got a coupon for a free loaded nachos appetizer from the front desk. After dinner, we decided to head back to the room and watch the game (not that we are football fans or anything, but we did feel a sense of obligation to support our Giants...).

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Club Carlson News: Gold Points for PayPal $ and 30% Off Asia Sale

After spending 6 consecutive nights at Club Carlson properties along the route of my Texas Road Trip, I've become pretty familiar with the brand and several of their new promotions. In my eyes, Club Carlson has had some of the best promotions as far as free nights and point bonuses. However, I'm not the slightest bit crazy about their new way to "cash in"...

Redeem Points for PayPal Deposits
Yesterday, Club Carlson announced that you could now redeem Club Carlson Gold Points for Paypal deposits. Take a look at the redemption options below:

Considering that you can redeem 9,000 Gold Points for a free night at a Category 1 hotel and 15,000 Gold Points for a free night at a Category 2 property, I would steer clear of cashing in with PayPal - No Bueno in my eyes. Club Carlson has one of the most convenient free-night redemption tiers, and Gold Points are relatively easy to earn. I value my Gold Points far too much to cash in for anything other than free nights.

Club Carlson Asia 30% Off Sale
In honor of the Chinese New Year, Club Carlson is offering 30% off of select hotels in Asia if you book at least 2 consecutive nights by February 19, 2012 and stay before December 31, 2012. Plus, Club Carlson members booking the Hot Deals offer will receive 1,000 bonus Gold Points (in addition to the 2,000 bonus points for booking online), a free room upgrade, and free internet access during your stay. As far as T&C for this offer, it looks like it can not be combined with any other offers (such as Triple Points Promotions).

EDIT: As seen in the comments below, a reader called Club Carlson & commented saying that they will honor Triple Points with the 30% off rate. 

T&C states: "Not to be used in conjunction with any other discounts, promotions or offers, and cannot be exchanged for cash or other products." I'm guessing they are referring to any other discounts to the price, not points-earning opportunities? Hopefully someone can keep us posted!

What is your opinion on the value of Gold Points? Are you saving them for free nights or cashing in for PayPal deposits?

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Quickies: Public Chicago $1 Sale, Wyndham Rewards "Gift Me", Priority Club Point Breaks + 10,000 Points

I apologize for the lack of posting, I literally just got back to my apartment after 14 hours of driving from Tennessee (and the day before that consisted of 15 hours of driving; jeez... I wonder if I have bed sores from sitting for so long?).

Here are some quickies for you to enjoy now, and I look forward to sharing more details of my Texas road trip tomorrow!

Public Chicago $1 Sale: Last week, I lucked out and was able to book 2 nights at the Public Chicago hotel for $1.16 a night (including tax). It's not surprising that with a deal like that, rooms sold out within 10 minutes. If you missed out on the deal the first time around, you now have another chance at scoring the room for $1. Public Chicago will soon be announcing another round of 270 rooms available for $1. You must register your email address to be notified of the sale.

Wyndham Rewards: The Wyndham Rewards "Gift Me" promotion has been extended until March 5, 2012. Stay 2 nights at any Wyndham Rewards property and you'll receive 6,500 bonus points. Please see my complete post about this promotion here.

Priority Club PointBreaks: Priority Club has released their PointBreaks across select properties across the globe for nights up until March 31, 2012. PointBreaks are available for only 5,000 points per night. And, since PointBreaks are such an incredible value, they are only available at select locations for a limited time. Be sure to check back often. PointBreaks are updated frequently. Be sure to check out the complete list of participating properties here. I was excited to see a Tahiti property as a PointBreak (look under Asia). Boy would I love to visit Tahiti right about now...

Also, if you aren't quite at 5,000 points yet, remember that you can buy points (1000 points sell for $11.50 to $13.50 . Members can buy up to 50,000 points per calendar year.

10,000 Priority Club Points for Paying Energy Bill: Not sure if this would apply to everyone out there, but I did receive this offer in my email today. With Energy Plus, you'll earn points every time you pay your electric bill and get a 10,000 point enrollment bonus.

Earn points when you enroll your electric account
  • Earn 10,000 Priority Club points as a special bonus after your second month as an Energy Plus customer*
  • Earn Priority Club points every month — 2 points for every $1 on the supply portion of your electric bill*
  • Save up to 10% — Energy Plus has a current supply rate for new customers that is up to 10% below your local utility company**
  • Enjoy the same service without risk, fees, or long-term commitment

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Hotel Review: Park Inn DFW Airport South, TX

For our 2nd night in Dallas, we stayed at the Park Inn DFW Airport South instead of the Radisson Hotel Dallas East (as originally planned) because the next morning we were set to hit Austin, and we wanted to be as close to the highway as possible. Both the Radisson Dallas East and the Park Inn DFW Airport South are Category 1 properties with Club Carlson, meaning that they both redeem for 9,000 points per night (with the "Redeem Points. Earn Points." promotion, I'll be getting the points back).

We arrived at the hotel around 9 pm after a long and fun-filled day of exploring Fort Worth and Uptown Dallas. When we pulled up to the hotel, I was happy that the hotel was situated right off of route 183 (Airport Freeway, near route 35), making it convenient to continue our travels.

Being very tired from a long day, we were pleased that the check-in process was quick and easy. We were not given an upgrade or mention of elite status, but we were so tired that it did not even matter - all we wanted was a nice bed to rest in! :)

My first impression upon entering the hotel was that I was in love with the open floor plan of the lobby and common areas. As you can see from the pictures below,  almost every room on every floor had a view of the lobby bar and pool, and the floor-to-ceiling windows provided some gorgeous natural light.

We were given room 235 which was a standard room with 2 queen size beds. The room itself was a bit dated, but extremely spacious, open, and clean (cleanliness is top on my list to ensure utmost comfort during a hotel stay). I personally liked that the sink/vanity was located outside of the bathroom, ideal for those early morning shower/getting ready situations when rooming with someone.

All in all, I will say that I was pleased with my very first stay at a Park Inn. My favorite thing about the brand is that they believe in "adding color to life" and do so by incorporating small bursts of color throughout the room (a bright orange flower near the sink, the rubber ducky, the colorful package of gummy bears...). Hey, maybe it's just me, but I really do appreciate the little colorful touches in life! Good job, Park Inn!

The exterior of the Park Inn DFW Airport South in Irving, TX
The hotel lobby, bar area, and front desk were all part of one open floor plan which I loved.
The indoor pool certainly had an "outdoor feel" with floor-to-ceiling windows allowing for abundant sunshine.
The beds were comfortable and the package of gummy bears on the pillow was a nice, colorful treat!
The sink area was located outside of the bathroom, which is ideal when there are two girls scrambling to get ready in the AM, LOL.
The bathroom was basic, but very clean and stocked with a nice supply of towels.
The shower looked a bit older and basic, but it was immaculately clean and had great water pressure.
The little kid in me really appreciated this rubber ducky, a small touch, but enough to make me smile!
The toiletries included Vaseline body lotion, Pantene Shampoo and Conditioner, and Jergens soap.
The in-room coffee machine was located on the vanity nook directly outside of the bathroom.