McMenamin’s Has Cornered the Weird and Wonderful Hotel Category

McMenamin's Grand Lodge, Forest Grove, Oregon
McMenamin’s Grand Lodge, Forest Grove, Oregon

Ask anyone who lives in Portland, or Seattle, and they’ll probably know what the name McMenamin stands for.  It’s two brothers, Mike and Brian McMenamin, who have cultivated a big following for their eclectic one-of-a-kind hotels and breweries which are all in Washington and Oregon, with 54 in all.

We recently stayed at McMenamin’s Grand Lodge, in Forest Grove, Oregon, where the building was once a home for aged Masons.  The brothers are big fans of the Grateful Dead so you could call the theme of many of the hotels “a hippy-influenced free spirit.”  Dark colored walls and ceilings, lots of customized art, glitter, and posters from the dozens of years that concerts have been played in their venues or in nearby theaters.

 

The hotel's kitchen garden provides a whole lot of the restaurant's needs.
The hotel’s kitchen garden provides a whole lot of the restaurant’s needs.

 

They name the rooms at the Grand Lodge after famous books, and inside, each room is painted by hand, lots of darks and not many overhead lights. More the dim mood type.

The Grand Lodge has a feature that’s popular in these hotels, a Japanese soaking pool. It’s a very hot tub, about the size of a regular swimming pool, outdoors.  It is better than 90 percent of the hotel pools I’ve ever dipped into.

It’s a different experience than just a pool, it has a rustic feel.

The McMenamin brothers also really like movies. That’s why so many of the converted schools, homes for the aged, and former municipal buildings they convert into hotels include a movie theater.  So you can often catch a first-run movie at many of their hotels, which are considered resorts that many people enjoy for a long weekend.

As Grateful Dead Fans, the McMenamin Brothers adopt that theme in many of their hotels.
As Grateful Dead Fans, the McMenamin Brothers adopt that theme in many of their hotels.

The Japanese soaking pool is just a little hotter than most hot tubs and plenty spacious.

The Japanese soaking pool is just a little hotter than most hot tubs, and plenty spacious.
The Japanese soaking pool is just a little hotter than most hot tubs and plenty spacious

 

If you’re traveling to Oregon or Washington, find a McMenamin property on Bonwi, and when you book you’ll earn points to use…on rental cars or perhaps even a stay in a different McMenamin hotel another time.

Atlanta is Full of Festivals This Summer

Attack of the Killer Tomato Festival in Atlanta, GA.
Attack of the Killer Tomatoes festival is a summer highlight in Atlanta.
The Attack of the Killer Tomatoes festival is a summer highlight in Atlanta.

Festival season is in full-spring in Atlanta, Georgia this summer. Go down south to the Peach State to embrace some seasonal fun as the weather gets hot.

For foodies, there is plenty to eat. Check out Taste of Atlanta to try a bite from over 90 Atlanta restaurants all in one location. The whole family will love the 7th annual Atlanta Ice Cream Festival on July 28, 2018,

Enjoy the sumptous Ritz-Carlton in Atlanta this summer and get lots of Bonwi points to spend later!
Enjoy the sumptuous Ritz-Carlton in Atlanta this summer and get lots of Bonwi points to spend later!

at Piedmont Park. From an ice creaming contest to free health screenings, there something for both kids and adults.

Wine connoisseurs can’t miss out on the Atlanta Food & Wine Festival, a weekend dedicated to good Southern delicacies and drinks. From May 31 to June 3, more than 250 restaurants, artisans, and chefs will be producing their best food and wine tastings for guests.

Movie buffs need to hit up the Atlanta Movie Tours to see the filming locations of various movies and television shows. For horror lovers, go into the basement where Samara was in “Rings” or visit the sites of “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” and “Mockingjay Part 1 & 2.” Stop at Tyler Perry’s Madea house or walk through the fictional town of Woodbury from “The Walking Dead.”

For something more out of the ordinary, attend the 10th Annual Attack of the Killer Tomato Festival at the Westside Provisions District on July 15th. Inspired by the 1978 film, Chef Ford Fry takes elements from local produce and southern culture to create this unique experience. Mixologists and chefs alike craft tomato-based dishes and cocktails.

Stay at the five-star Ritz-Carlton Atlanta during your festival-hopping days. Only minutes away from Centennial Olympic Park and by the Museum of Design Atlanta, you will have plenty to do during your getaway. Take a break from the summer heat in your air-conditioned room and watch a movie on your flat-screen television before heading back out to explore Atlanta.

The Ritz-Carlton Atlanta will cost $449/night and will earn you 18,458 points to spend how you please when booking it through Bonwi. Check out Atlanta hotels and see how much you can earn and save!

Most Loyalty Rewards Programs Are Really Only for Road Warriors

Hyatt resort near Fort Myers

Hyatt resort near Fort Myers

A recent travel trade article on airline and hotel reward loyalty rewards programs pointed out a clear trend: for most of us, these programs are getting worse. While the road warriors at the top elite levels are getting showered with perks – those who stay 75 nights a year out of 365 with Marriott for instance – the rest of us are getting less and less for our flights or hotels stays.

As U.S. airlines moved from a distance-based to revenue-based model, the only loyal members with something to gain were those who bought expensive business class tickets. Those at the top of the elite pyramid. Everyone else started finding that their 6,000-mile flight was earning them 1,000 “miles” now because it was based on ticket price. At that rate it can take 25 flights to earn even the lowest domestic ticket.

That model has already spread to one major hotel chain. Hyatt gave its loyalty program a new name, World of Hyatt, and promptly made it more difficult for all but the most frequent biz traveler guests. The new system awards 5 points per dollar instead of a set amount per stay, though you’ll need to spend at least 10 nights at Hyatt properties in a year to get to the lowest of three elite levels. The head of the program, who is now gone, made it clear in interviews announcing the change that the program was aimed at one tier of guests: the most loyal ones, those spending the most money each year.

If You’re Not First, You’re Last

As we’ve seen in the airline industry, this kind of program quickly leads to a two-tiered system. The highest elite level members get most of the freebies, get the best rooms, and earn the most points for every stay. The rest of us get stuck with what’s left, whether it’s a cramped middle seat or the smallest room with no view.

Like a well-trained magician performing a sleight of hand, the bad changes for consumers are usually buried within news of big “improvements” the loyalty rewards program will bring. With the hotel programs, they’re usually touting your ability to combine points and dollars (a dubious win at best) or buy merchandise with your hard-earned points.

The dirty little secret of the latter is that your points value plummets if you do a merchandise buy instead of cashing in points on a hotel. Here’s what Skift noted in their article:

While these new tools are a boon for airlines and hotel mileage programs, their value to consumers is still somewhat mixed. When United launched its pay-with-miles Wi-Fi service, Maphappy took a look at the value of the purchase in cash or in miles. Its conclusion? ‘The premium on paying in mileage was about 117 percent higher than the cash price,’ Maphappy found.

If you purchase a pair of headphones or get a Best Buy gift card, it can be even worse. Often these transactions can degrade the point value to a small fraction of what it was in hotel or airline value. Here’s what you’ll have to pay for a $30 item via IHG’s program:

$180 of rewards for $30 item

Where You Can Earn More and Not Lose Value

With Bonwi Rewards points, you have a lot of advantages over these programs from the airlines and hotels:

1) You can use your rewards on any hotel, not just one company. When you cash them in for a hotel, you can get 20%, 25%, or 30% return on your spend. With the average direct loyalty program you’re lucky to rise above 10%. (In other words, you have to spend $10,000 to get $1,000 in value–even if you do everything right.)

2) You don’t have to be loyal to one company. You can choose any hotel in any location at any price and earn Bonwi Rewards, even picking which one has the highest payoff to maximize your return. When it’s time to cash them in, you have just as many choices.

Bonwi points payoff
3 nights at either earns you a plane ticket or a night’s hotel stay.

3) Points earned on hotel stays can be redeemed for flights. Forget about blackout dates, restrictions, or the lack of seats at lower tiers. With your Bonwi points you can book on any airline at any time, based on a simple 1-cent per dollar redemption figure. If you have 30,000 points, you have $300 for a flight, and no, you won’t have to still pay for the taxes if they’re included in the fare, as you would with the U.S. airlines.

4) You aren’t penalized for choosing a rental car or gift cards. That 1-cent per mile redemption figure that’s so easy to understand applies to rental cars and gift card purchases too. You won’t see your rewards value decrease just because you made one spending choice rather than another. Your Bonwi points have a clear intrinsic value.

So book your next hotel stay with Bonwi and see how easy it is to be on Easy Street, instead of feeling like your loyalty is only getting you kicked to the curb.

Article by Tim Leffel, editor of the Cheapest Destinations Blog and author of the book Make Your Travel Dollars Worth a Fortune.

Top 10 Most Luxurious Hotels In The World

When comparing high-end hotels around the globe, there’s luxury and then there’s luxury. This week’s Travel Tip Tuesday explores the absolute pinnacle of hotel decadence. The top 10 hotels on our list offer impeccable service and accommodations that are second to none.

Burj Al Arab
Dubai, UAE

The Burj Al Arab has repeatedly been voted the world’s most luxurious hotel. It offers the finest and most comprehensive service, which includes an optional chauffeur-driven Rolls-Royce, helicopter trips from its iconic helipad, private beach access, terraces with pools and cabanas, as well as some of the world’s best dining venues.

 

Hotel President Wilson
Geneva, Switzerland

Hotel President Wilson is situated on the shore of Lemon Lake just steps from the most beautiful parks and the boutiques in the renowned Rue du Rhône. It offers wonderful panoramic views over Lake Geneva, the Alps, and Mont Blanc, as well as Michelin-starred cuisine from the famous Chef Michel Roth. The hotel is well-renowned as an international conference venue with 12 meeting rooms including an expansive ballroom that can accommodate up to 800 guests.

Waldorf Astoria
Orlando, Florida

Waldorf Astoria Orlando offers contemporary luxury nestled inside a 482-acre nature preserve. This hotel features stylish sophistication with countless amenities and personalized service. Guests will find no shortage of recreational activities for relaxation and entertainment. Enjoy an award-winning lazy river and world-class dining with 12 restaurants and lounges, including the famed Bull & Bear.

Palms Casino Resort
Las Vegas, Nevada

Situated on nearly 30 acres, the Palms Casino Resort is a boutique property with three distinct towers. Each offers unparalleled views of the fabulous Las Vegas Strip and the surrounding mountains. Recognized for its exceptional accommodations, high-energy night and day clubs, and world-renowned restaurants, the Palms is one of Las Vegas’ most sought-after resorts. It’s also the only hotel in the world with a suite that includes its own basketball court.

Rosewood CordeValle
San Martin, California

Surrounded by the picturesque countryside of San Martin, Rosewood CordeValle is the ideal sanctuary for recreation and relaxation. The property features a 260-acre, 18-hole championship golf course designed by the legendary Robert Trent Jones, Jr, in addition to a full-service spa, a fitness center, tennis courts, hiking trails, and swimming pools.

Resort at Pedregal
Cabo San Lucas, Mexico

From spacious guestrooms to four-bedroom Los Cabos suites, every room has an ocean view and a private terrace, providing unbelievable scenic views of an undisturbed landscape. Rooms feature refined design details that include curated reading material, premium amenities, plush bedding, a relaxing rainfall shower, and a private plunge pool.

Zarafa Camp
Selinda Reserve, Botswana

Zarafa Camp is renowned for its remarkable concentration of wildlife, predators in particular, and luxuriously-appointed tented accommodations. The boutique camp has only four campaign-style canvas suites offering travelers a unique experience of Africa. If you’re looking for indulgence, great game viewing, knowledgeable guides and service, this is the place.

Triple Creek Ranch
Darby, Montana

Triple Creek Ranch offers an all-inclusive vacation experience of rustic elegance, gourmet cuisine with an excellent wine list, and welcoming five-star service amidst a forested mountain retreat. Adult travelers enjoy a truly romantic setting with incomparable scenery, a wide variety of native wildlife, an almost endless menu of all-inclusive outdoor activities, and the option of adding on some of the finest off-ranch Western adventures in the United States.

Twin Farms
Barnard, Vermont

Nestled in a valley in northern Vermont’s Green Mountains, on 300 acres of rolling farmland, dense forest, gardens and ponds, Twin Farms is all-inclusive in the most exclusive sense. Guests enjoy gourmet cuisine, personalized menus, along with an endless supply of top-shelf liquor and fine wines (from a 26,000-bottle cellar). Available activities include hiking, biking, fly-fishing, canoeing, tennis, croquet, and come winter, ice skating, snow-shoeing, sledding and skiing on the resort’s private six-trail slope with all equipment provided.

Temple House
Chengdu, China

The Temple House Hotel is a stunning, luxury hotel in the heart of the vibrant city of Chengdu. The property is a distinctively different type of luxury hotel, where old-world grandeur and cutting-edge contemporary design seamlessly come together. Rooms are sleek and stylish with thoughtful design and generous amenities. The cafe, teahouse, two restaurants (Chinese and Western cuisine) and impressive heated swimming pool all carry the strong aesthetic of The Temple House.

Hear from our experts on all elements of travel as they share their personal experience and knowledge, which spans everything from fascinating must-see locations, to practical and informative suggestions. Let Bonwi.com help ensure that your next getaway is the best one yet.

New Orlean’s Jazz Fest Is a Great Reason to Visit The Big Easy

Jazz musicians in New Orleans. Ann Banks photo.
Musicians on stage during the 2017 Jazz and Heritage Fest in New Orleans. Susan  J. Weiand photo.
Musicians on stage during the 2017 Jazz and Heritage Fest in New Orleans. Susan J. Weiand photo.

Time to start planning for Jazz and Heritage Fest which is just around the corner, so why not head down to the jazzy city of New Orleans, Louisiana?

This year’s fest includes Aerosmith, Sting, Jimmy Buffet, Beck and many many more. The spring is the perfect time to get a more relaxing experience of the city, after the wild celebrations of Mardi Gras in February are complete.

Start your trip off with a stroll around Jackson Square, a picturesque park in the French Quarter. Take in the local artists and performers, while you overlook the Mississippi River. Jackson square is full of history, from the beautiful St. Louis Cathedral, the oldest Cathedral in North America, to the Lower and Upper Pontalba Apartments, which are home to oldest apartment buildings in the United States.

Once you’re done seeing the sites, check out the shops, museums, and restaurants that line the square. Stay close to the square by booking the Andrew Jackson Hotel on bonwi.com, for an average of $169 per night, and get 2,782 points in return to spend toward your flight home.

With GuideAdvisor you can learn about your next destination from a passionate and knowledgable guide.
Explore the colorful streets of New Orleans.

It’s not a trip to New Orleans if you don’t visit Bourbon Street. The famous street is the ideal place for a fun night out, filled with burlesque clubs, cool bars, and great food. Aside from the nightlife, Bourbon Street, like Jackson Square, is filled with history. Head into Galatoire’s Restaurant, which was founded by Jean Galatoire in 1905, for lunch to enjoy a fusion of French Creole dishes.

Walk down the street to have your ears filled with foot-tapping tunes, what the city is famous for. In the almost 200-year-old Fritzel’s European Jazz Club, enjoy the old-school side of music, where you can dance to live traditional jazz music every day of the week.

End your night by plopping down on your bed at the elegant, 4-star Royal Sonesta Hotel. The site of the hotel dates back to 1721 when the city of New Orleans was first designed by Adrien de Pauger. Opening in 1969, the hotel’s architecture embodies New Orleans, having an exterior to replicate the feel of 1830s New Orleans’ houses.

Booking a $179 room now with Bonwi gets you 1,313 points to spend at your leisure.

Why Convertible Reward Points Are Better Than Airline Miles

airlines don't deserve loyalty

airlines don't deserve loyalty

In case you haven’t noticed, the U.S. airlines don’t care much about you as a customer. Even the people who fly so much that they are at the top elite level status don’t always get upgraded, so even they are grumbling about the lousy service, the cramped seats, and the bare-bones amenities on the big 3 legacy airlines.

Plus the airlines are hitting you with every fee that they can legally get away with. You can no longer assume even international flights will get you a free checked bag unless you are on a superior foreign airline or on Southwest. They intentionally make it hard for you to figure this out too in the booking process, then hide the rules, ones almost guaranteed to result in a “gotcha fee.” On American Airlines, for example, a flight to Panama includes a bag, but one to Costa Rica does not.  For El Salvador it depends on the time of year. For Mexico and Colombia it depends on what city you’re landing in. No joke.

Having the airline’s credit card won’t get you out of the fees either. If you pull it out on an international flight with a bag fee, the airline agent will shake their head and say, “No, that’s only for domestic flight bag fees.” Why does the destination matter? Because you don’t matter, that’s why.

Airline Loyalty Doesn’t Pay

The only way to strike back at this system is to forget loyalty and either go for the best fare (Allegiant and Southwest will actually treat you better than American these days anyway) or to fly for free whenever possible.

It used to be rewarding to fly with a single airline and rack up frequent flyer miles. But now you don’t earn many miles from actually flying. Here’s what I earned on a recent flight all the way to Central America and back via Houston—for flying thousands of actual miles.

hotel miles versus airline miles

Notice that Houston to Tampa is 635 miles in one direction, but a paltry 235 “miles” the other direction. Driving 235 miles from Tampa would not even get me to Atlanta, but now the “miles” are based on airline revenue and fare class, not distance, a change that has drastically weakened how much you can earn for your loyalty. So now most airline miles come through credit card spending, not flying, because it’s a simpler penny per mile or more for spending, not a complicated formula that’s great for the airlines but terrible for the customer.

This is why you’re far better off collecting points and miles that can be used across multiple programs. Some credit cards allow you to do this, such as the Amex Membership Rewards program and the Chase Sapphire/Venture program. For the former you transfer the points in chunks whenever you want, topping off your airline miles account to get to a specific mileage level or transferring large enough amounts to get your whole ticket. For the Chase program, you simply use the points’ value to book any ticket, without going through the airlines.

Bonwi points work the same way as the Chase ones during redemption. If you have 30,000 Bonwi Rewards points, you purchase a $299 ticket and have a buck to spare. No blackout dates, no restrictions. You also don’t get dinged for taxes and fees like you would redeeming airline miles since that’s part of the ticket price. (I recently paid $77 for my “free” ticket to Belize on Delta and American Air once wanted nearly $300 in taxes and fees for an even less free ticket that stopped for a layover in London. Instead I flew Singapore Air through another airport instead with United miles and paid $49 in fees.)

Bonwi rewards points Chicago

Here’s the advantage though: it’s not simply a point per dollar or maybe two points you could get from Chase. You could conceivably spend $200 per night on a hotel but get more than 10,000 Bonwi Rewards points for a two-night stay. It’s not uncommon to see a payback of 15 to 30%.

If you really want to play this game right, pay for that hotel stay with a premium Chase card on top. Then you’re double-dipping without giving loyalty to an airline that doesn’t earn it. You won’t earn a paltry amount of airline miles that are hard to cash in, but a hefty amount of reward miles that have real value for redemption. Just one vacation can pay for another weekend away.

Vote with your wallet—instead of nostalgic airline loyalty—and reap bigger rewards for more travel with Bonwi Rewards!

Contributor Tim Leffel is author of one of the leading books on living abroad and is also author of Make Your Travel Dollars Worth a Fortune. See his regular rants on the Cheapest Destinations Blog

Can We Really Keep Up With All These Hotel Brands?

30+ hotel brands to keep track of with Marriott

30+ hotel brands to keep track of with Marriott

Quick – if you have 30,000 Starwood or Marriott points, at which of their brands can you probably stay one night for free?

If you have 50,000 points with IHG, what does that really mean for which hotels you can stay in as a reward?

What do you get if you have points with Wyndham, Choice, Carlson, or Hilton?

Well, that picture at the top of this post will give you a clue about how hard this is to answer. As hotel chains have merged, spun off, been acquired, and split up, it’s hard to keep up with who’s who. It’s hard to know one big hotel company is owned by the Chinese, while another is owned by the French. One big conglomerate is Spanish and the Four Seasons is majority-owned by Arabs. Do you know which of the ever-expanding brands you can get into with your loyalty points?

The Head-Spinning Hotel Brands Game

The problem isn’t that you aren’t aware of who’s who. The problem is that only the most dedicated lodging geek could possibly keep up. Ritz-Carlton wasn’t always part of Marriott. Kimpton wasn’t always part of Intercontinental Hotel Group. Fairmont wasn’t always part of Accor – home to Sofitel and Mercure. Motel 6 was part of that chain, then it wasn’t.

Then just when you think you have a brand pegged, it shifts again. Orient-Express Hotels become Belmond. Andaz is launched as a hipper Hyatt. The roadside motel chain Best Western starts launching nice beach resorts right on the sand. Radisson hotels are usually dated and second-tier in the USA, but it Asia if you put “Blu” on the end it might be the nicest property in town. In Stockholm I stayed at a Clarion and it looked like this:

Clarion Amaranten in Central Stockholm restaurant

The problem comes in when you’re limited to a specific set of brands by your hotel loyalty program. Looking at that Marriott list at the top, do you have any idea what you’ll end up with if you cash in points for Delta, Tribute, Protea, AC, or Moxy? If you have Hilton Honors points saved up, do you feel comfortable trading them for a stay with Canopy, Tapestry, or Tru?

Sure, it’s nice to be able to trade Wyndham Rewards points in for a free stay, but there may not be a Wyndham Grand where you’re headed. Your only choice may be Super8, Days Inn, or Howard Johnson’s.

Points for Any Hotel, Anytime, Anywhere

If you book your stay with Bonwi, you won’t have to worry about any of this. Your points build up with any hotel brands, so there’s no need to compromise and pick an inferior choice. You can choose the hotel that earns the most reward points or just choose the hotel – from any brand – that is closest to your meetings or convention. You will usually earn more points than you would have with the corporate program, but your choices of what to do with them aren’t limited. You can book an independent hotel not part of any chain and still earn points that are worth real money.

You can earn points from a Hilton stay that you then apply to a Holiday Inn Express. Points from a stay at an Econolodge can top off your point balance to get you into a Four Seasons. You can rack up points with a Banyan Tree resort in Asia and take your family to any all-inclusive resort in the Caribbean you’d like.  No restrictions, no redemption tiers, no reward chart to memorize. Just earn points, cash them in, get free stays.

See how it all works here.

Portland, Oregon: A City of Bikers, Transit Lovers and Artists

Portlandia, the female symbol of the city of Portland, atop a downtown building.
Portlandia, the female symbol of the city of Portland, atop a downtown building.
Portlandia, the female symbol of the city of Portland, atop a downtown building.

Portland, Oregon, is a city that gets quite a bit of good buzz.  Perhaps that’s because of where I live, in Massachusetts, which is very similar to Oregon in how people vote, view the world, and what they expect from their fellow citizens. 

We visited Portland two weeks ago, and we found the city to be just as progressive and similar to the TV show, “Portlandia”, as we expected.  We even got a chance to see the original Portlandia statue, an 85-foot high statue of a woman sticking out of a government building downtown.

Portland has a lot of reasons to be proud, among them that the percentage of residents who either use public transportation, bikes or walking edges up to nearly 50%.  With services like bike paths serving just about every part of the city and residential recycling for food waste, it’s an eco-paradise!

The city’s Japanese Garden has trails to enjoy and serenity near the falling waters and replicas of Kyoto’s famous rock garden formation. In February, The first Art in the Garden exhibition beginning the Garden’s Year of Kyoto, will be of the fine Japanese bamboo art from the Kansai/Kyoto region, presented with changing displays of ikebana.

The city made a great decision in the 1980s when they decided that a four-lane highway that cut the Willamette River off from the city should be torn down.  So today, where there was once a giant blockade of cars, is now a beautiful green space, and here is where festivals, concerts and other events take place for most of the year.

Portland's Japanese Garden is a wonderful place to explore and enjoy peacefulness.
Portland’s Japanese Garden is a wonderful place to explore and enjoy peacefulness.

Our visit to Portland also included a stay in a very cool city hotel called The Sentinel.  This hotel, located in the heart of downtown, costs about $300 per night, and if you stayed there, you’d earn about 1082 points for a two-night stay. You’d love the comfy stylish rooms, and the wonderfully homey lobby with big chairs.

If you have to go to Portland for business, take advantage of what Bonwi offers by using the points you can accrue for a future stay in a different hotel.

There are many Portland hotels you can book for around 5000 Bonwi points per night, if you want to save money and go for something more basic.  And even with these low price, hotels you will still come home with more points to use in the future.  Bonwi= win-win!

The Hotel Zones of Tampa Bay, Florida

Tampa Bay beach resort

Tampa Bay beach resort

Tampa Bay’s airport is often filled with families and couples on a getaway trip to sun and fun in Florida. The area also gets a lot of overflow traffic from Orlando, with people heading to the beach after the overstimulation of theme parks and loud chain restaurants. Tampa Bay is a big, spread-out metro area though, so where should you stay?

The metro area includes a lot of different towns and neighborhoods, from some of the USA’s best white-sand beaches to urban locations filled with museums, cultural events, and conventions. Here’s a rundown on the options for when you’re feeling overwhelmed by 200+ lodging choices.

Clearwater Beach

Often voted one of America’s best beaches, this three-mile stretch of sand is pedestrian-friendly and kept in pristine condition. The water is warm and calm most of the year and the powdery white sand feels great between the toes. There are a lot of restaurants and bars to choose from here, with a family-friendly atmosphere.

Clearwater Beach hotel Opal Sands

Top Choices: Opal Sands (pictured above), Hyatt Clearwater Beach, Wyndham Grand Clearwater, Sandpearl Resort

St. Petersburg Beach Sirata Beach Resort hammock on St. Pete Beach, Florida in the Tampa Bay area

More spaced-out than Clearwater Beach, the white sands of St. Pete Beach never feel very crowded, even on holiday weekends. You could walk for an hour before having to turn around on this beach and smart zoning practices have meant that hotels are set well back from the tide lines when a hurricane blows through.

Top Choices: Don CeSar, Kimpton Hotel Zamora, Guy Harvey Outpost, Sirata Beach Resort (pictured here), Postcard Inn

Downtown St. Petersburg

With a wide, white-sand beach just a few miles away, why would you stay in downtown St. Pete? Ten years ago that would have been a hard question to answer, but now this is one of the most attractive urban areas in Florida, with lively nightlife and great cultural attractions. The Dali Museum is worth a visit by itself, but you also have a Chihuly Glass Works museum, a highly regarded fine arts museum, and multiple performance halls and music clubs.

Vinoy Hotel St. Petersburg, Florida

Top Choices: Vinoy Renaissance St. Petersburg (pictured above), The Birchwood, Hilton St. Petersburg Bayfront

Find your perfect Tampa Bay hotel here. 

Sand Key, Treasure Island, Indian Shores, and Redington Beaches

In between Clearwater Beach and St. Pete Beach are a slew of similar-looking stretches of sand making up the barrier island chain separated by bridges from the mainland. It’s hard to tell when you’ve left one and entered another unless you’re paying close attention to the street signs. So if you’re just looking for a beach with a nice sunset, you’ll do fine on any of them.

Top Choices: Sheraton Sand Key, Marriott Suites Sand Key, Treasure Island Resort, Sunset Vistas, Thunderbird Beach Resort

Tampa Downtown

The actual city of Tampa is on the bay, not the Gulf, so it was the first area to be settled as a port city. It really thrived as “Cigar City” in the early 1900s as Cuban cigar rollers shared the Ybor City port area with immigrants from Spain, Italy, and other parts of the world. There are a few hotels in Ybor City, but most of the best ones are concentrated downtown, near the convention center. The top boutique hotel is in South Tampa though: Epicurean.

Top choices: Le Meridien Tampa (pictured below), Marriott Waterside, Westin Harbour Island

Le Meridien Hotel Tampa downtown

Tampa Airport and Causeway

If your business is near the airport and local office complexes rather than downtown.  There are clusters of hotels by the airport, a few near Kennedy and Westshore, and on the causeway that leads out to the beach areas. There are also a few budget and mid-range options (plus an Embassy Suites) near the Busch Gardens amusement park.

Top choices: Tampa Airport Marriott, Westshore Grand, Renaissance Tampa Plaza, Westin Tampa Bay, Grand Hyatt Tampa Bay

Find the best deals on Tampa Bay Hotels and earn valuable points back for every stay—at any hotel—with Bonwi.com. 

Rewards Points Battle: PointsHound vs. Bonwi

earning loyalty points Las Vegas
earning loyalty points Las Vegas
Who has the higher points payoff in Las Vegas?

Who is going to get you to a free flight faster: PointsHound or Bonwi?

We say the best way to rack up rewards points fast is to use Bonwi for hotel bookings, but how much more do you really earn in practice? We’ve put services to the test before, showing you how much faster you could earn rewards compared to both an online travel agency like Hotels.com and a direct booking program with a hotel chain like IHG Group.

Now let’s look at another site focused on rewards: PointsHound.

How the PointsHound Program Works

For this program, you choose your city and dates for a hotel booking, then earn points based on which hotel you choose. Points are applied to one of 19 airline frequent flier programs, such as American, United, or Finnair. On most there is no maximum, but you have to play by the specific program’s rules, so the site says, “For example, United MileagePlus imposes a maximum of 100,000 Miles annual limit that can earned through PointsHound.” Since it says you can earn “up to 10,000 points per night,” we assume you’ll never see earnings higher than that either for individual nights.

All programs are not equal either. So you could possibly earn 6,000 miles on JetBlue for a booking, but maybe only 2,000 if you picked Eithad instead. The only way you’ll know is to start the process over. You eventually get rewarded for loyalty here: you earn a bump up in points after your 5th and 20th stays, though it doesn’t say by how much. The program covers more than 300,000 properties worldwide.

How the Bonwi Program Differs

With Bonwi you don’t have to choose an airline program ahead of time since your points can be applied to any flight on any airline, with no blackout dates, no restrictions. It’s a simple 1-cent redemption value.

If you want to use your points for something else, no problem. You can cash them in for hotel rooms (at a better than 1-cent value) or use them for rental cars or gift cards to top-brand retailers—without the devaluation you see with airline points used elsewhere.

There’s no cap on how many points you can earn per night (sometimes it can top 20,000 at luxury properties) and no cap on how many points you can earn per year.

Comparison of Points Earned

So how do the differences play out in the real world? We pulled up sample dates a month from now to see how many points we would earn in different programs. We randomly chose United as our airfare carrier on PointsHound since it’s part of the Star Alliance, with the best partners overall. We chose popular business travel cities that road warriors spend a lot of time in.

First up, we headed to Las Vegas, home to the largest hotels in the world and some of the biggest convention spaces. As luck would have it, the two top points earners in both programs were the same, so let’s start there. Here’s what you would get on PointsHound:

PointsHound earnings Las Vegas

Not a bad payoff. Thanks to a promotion, you would get 6,700 or 7,150 United miles total by booking one of these hotels at $180 to $199 per night before the dreaded “resort fee.”

Bonwi points earned Las Vegas

If you booked either of these properties with Bonwi, however, you’d earn several thousand more miles—without paying more. 11,090 at the Aria or 12,215 at Cosmopolitan.

What about if you go further down the list? Bonwi comes out ahead almost every time. You get 7,783 at The Palazzo compared to 5,850, or 8,047 at Rio instead of 4,850, or 3,488 at the Hard Rock instead of 2,400.

Vegas is a strange animal in many ways though, of course, so let’s head to Chicago and see how it looks there.

Here are the top two “Big Earn” listings for PointsHound, giving you 3,800 or 3,750 United miles for a two-night stay.

Pointshound earnings Chicago

Now here are the top-earning listings for Bonwi. The difference is certainly not minor. You have to scroll to their second page of listings (#16 on) to get less than 10,000 points. You have to get to listing #65 in points order on Bonwi to finally get to a hotel offering what the #1 listing does on PointsHound.

Bonwi rewards points Chicago

Using Your Points

With PointsHound, the idea is that you are adding to your frequent flier balance at the program you use most, or you’re “topping off” an account to get to a desired level. You’re not expecting to use those miles right away. Good thing, because you wouldn’t have enough. You’ll need 12,500 miles even for the lowest tier one-way domestic ticket—if you can find availability.

If you booked the top two earner hotels in these examples, your four nights at the Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas and the Waldorf-Astoria in Chicago got you 10,950 United miles for your $1,080 rooms rate (before taxes and added fees). That’s a pretty good payoff if you really needed those miles, but it’s not enough to do anything with yet.

On Bonwi, that same expenditure would have earned you 29,587 points. Not only do you have enough for a one-way domestic flight, you have enough for a round-trip one in many cases: any flight that’s $295 or less! Here’s what else you could get with those points:

– A Saturday night at the Marriott, Hyatt, or Sheraton in Anaheim, CA (take the kids to Disneyland)
– A $250 gift card to the Apple Store, Best Buy, or Amazon
– A rental car for five days

Not only does Bonwi come out way ahead on earnings, it also gives you more options on what to do with those earned points. Do a search for your next hotel here.