Don’t Ignore the Independent Hotel Chains

Explora hotel Atacama

Inkaterra hotel in Peru, part of a local chain

You know a lot of the international chains when you pull up a list of what to book in a city, but sometimes the independent hotel chains are a better option in a specific location.

It’s easy to understand the appeal of the big international hotel chains. Just as you gravitate to a familiar food chain logo when you pull off an interstate highway exit, it’s easy to book a logo you know for hotels as well.

The hotel developers know this, which is why they would often rather be a Hilton, Holiday Inn Express, or Wyndham. That way they have far fewer decisions to make in the building (blueprints are ready), the furniture purchasing (it’s all in the catalog), and the staffing (hiring and training manual, check). They they can tap into a giant marketing and reservation machine that keeps the bookings coming. Even though there are around 30 brands just under Marriott, being one of them makes guests feel like they’re taking less of a chance.

There are plenty of smaller hotels chains that are not part of the big conglomerate system, however. This is especially true outside the USA, where guests don’t normally like the cookie-cutter approach as much as we Americans do. Maybe the people who gave birth to McDonald’s, Walmart, and Starbucks are just more comfortable with spending money on conformity, despite that whole “land of the free” sloganeering.

Keep your eye out for regional chains, especially when you travel outside of the states and Canada. Don’t forget that many of today’s best-known names, like Fairmont, Kimpton, and Swissotel, were once regional independent chains before selling out to a larger corporation. Orient-Express became Belmond and got bought up, but not by a typical hospitality company: they’re part of LVMH luxury brands instead.

There are still a few (for now) independent chains based in the USA as well, so let’s start there.

USA Independent Hotel Options

This batch of scrappy independents surely has suitors swirling around them this very minute, but as this post goes to press you can book a room at these  and be outside the conglomerate sphere.

– Thompson Hotels
– Joie de Vivre
– Rosewood
– Viceroy
– Montage
– Auberge Resorts

It’s probably no coincidence that these are all luxury brands catering to independent-minded globetrotters and style mavens.

At the other end of the scale, there are some regional motel chains that probably won’t get you too excited, but Graduate Hotels are located in college towns and the Drury Inn chain regularly rates at the top in its rate class for comfort and service.

Mexican and Caribbean Independent Hotel Chains

One of the largest hotels groups in the world that has remained independent is Grupo Posadas of Mexico, which is best known for the Fiesta Americana and Live Aqua brands. It also runs several others, like Explorean, and mid-range options.

Independent hotel chains include luxury resorts like Le Blanc Los Cabos

AM Resorts is based in Mexico but has other resorts in the Caribbean, all-inclusive beach spots mostly under the brands Secrets, Now, Breathless, Dreams, Zoetry, and more.

Palace Resorts is a big player in Mexican resort destinations as well, with 10 properties under several brands, including the high-end Le Blanc.

With fewer beds but often the top choice in some Mexican cities are Quinta Real, Grupo Habita, and Velas Resorts.

In the Caribbean, Jamaica-based Sandals Resorts is a major force in the resort world, with 16 all-inclusive beachfront places to stay.

Find the best rates and point returns in Mexico and the Caribbean.

South American Regional Lodging Groups

Across South America, it hasn’t been until the last two decades that foreign chains have really come on strong. More often than not, the independent hotels outnumber the chain ones. A few regional groups that stayed independent have some of the prime locations in some cities and often have competitive rates. Check into these when exploring the countries of South America.

Colombia: Estelar and GLH Hotels
Peru: Inkaterra, Libertador, Aranwa, and Casa Andina.
Chile: Vik Retreats (also in Uruguay), Explora, Tierra Hotels, and Singular Hotels.
Argentina: Alvear and Casa Sur for Buenos Aires, Design Suites in four locations.
Brazil: Fasano, Louvre (most has Tulip in the name), Nobile, Blue Tree, Transamerica

See more details on some of them on this list.

Explora hotel Atacama

Europe Regional Hotel Chains

Europe has plenty of regional hotel chainsThere’s an assumption that Europe has fewer chain hotels than North America and in some markets there are indeed a large number of independent properties. Chain hotels tend to have about a third to one half of the room count in many countries though since they are the largest properties. Those with the biggest percentage are the UK, France, and Spain, which not coincidentally have their own international chains based in the country.

Many of Spain and France’s biggest groups are international names you’ve heard of, under the Accor, Melia, Riu, and NH various brands. Here are some independent hotels chains on the scene though.

Britannia, MacDonald, Old English Inns, easyHotel, and Red Carnation in England
Valamar Riviera in Croatia
Louvre Hotels Group, B&B Hotels, and Apart City in France
Motel One, Steigenberger Hotels, and Maritim in Germany
Dinubius, Hunguest, and Mellow Mood in Hungary
Clayton, Maldron, and Tifco in Ireland
Valtur, Aeroviaggi, TH Resorts, and many more in Italy (country has 137 total)
Van der Valk, Fletcher, Bilderberg, and Bastion in the Netherlands
Colonia, H10, Hipotels, and Vincci Seleccion in Spain

Independent Hotel Chains in Asia

Some Asian brands have spread far and wide across the world but still have the most properties in their homelands, like Banyan Tree, Aman Resorts, Shangri-La, and Peninsula. Some of these listed below have just a few here and there abroad.

India: Taj, Oberoi, ITC, and Royal Orchid
Indonesia: Aston, Amaris, Favehotel, and Santika
Japan: APA, Tokyo Inn, Route-Inn, and Super Hotel
Thailand: Centara, Hop Inn, B2
Malaysia: Sunway, Tune, Hotel Seri
Vietnam: Muong Thanh, Vinpearl, A25
Philippines: Sogo, Hotel Go, GV
Singapore: Hotel 81, Fragrance, Village

So with all these choices out there, on top of the big international chains, how do you decide?

Well one way might be to look at how much of a payback you get from booking. Sometimes these independent hotel chains will earn you far more points on Bonwi than the international chains. Other times the big boys will come out on top. If you play the game right, you could earn a free night’s stay or an airline ticket from the points scored on your trip.

Search here for the best rates and payback.

Tim Leffel has been reviewing hotels across the world since the mid-90s and is the editor of Hotel Scoop.

How To Do A Staycation

How To Do a Stayvation

Your state may not be one that is aggrandized on the silver screen, but it’s likely filled with amazing places to see, food to eat and cities/towns to explore on your next staycation.

Whether you’re a nomad or a home-body, it’s awesome to get out, experience something new and recharge from time to time. But not everybody has the time or budget to hop on a plane and take a week or month-long vacation. Luckily, there are beautiful and inspiring things happening nearby. Here’s what you can do to get out of the house and start making staycation memories.

Do some online research

A smart way to connect or reconnect with your local area is to view your local region through the eyes of a tourist. What are travel bloggers saying about camping, outdoor activities, site-seeing, food and shopping in your area?Which hotels offer jaw-dropping amenities?

  • Set up a starter checklist of must-sees and must-stays in your hometown, county or region.
  • Dive deeper into city websites, forums and even social media accounts.
  • Sites like Instagram allow for location tagging so you can see exactly where some of the most iconic scenes are located.

Don’t be afraid to just hop in the car without a plan and just see where the day takes you.

Get out and drive

If you’re ever going to take the road less traveled, you may have to find it yourself. There are a ton of digital resources out there to find all kinds of amazing drives, hikes and eats. However, some of the best areas in your state aren’t going to come up on Trip Advisor, Yelp, travel blogs or even Google Maps! Don’t be afraid to just hop in the car without a plan and just see where the day takes you. Get wild and upgrade your ride by renting a convertible for a day or two.

Ask a local

If you’ve lived in multiple regions of the country, you likely know that the best way to get to know an area is by living there. Want to know the ins and outs of a new city? The quickest way to find out is to ask a local. Stopping for gas? See what the attendant has to say about the area’s food scene. Checking into your staycation hotel for a night or two? The front desk staff should have a great idea of some of the best activities nearby for your specific interests.

Get wild and upgrade your ride by renting a convertible for a day or two.

Trips from a hat

Just like the well-known skit from “Who’s Line is it Anyway”, placing different trips into a hat or bowl to randomly select keeps you and your partner, friends or family spontaneous. Whether it’s a state park, view, road, city or restaurant that you would like to see, failure to launch is a common struggle that keeps us tied to our normal routines. This hat trick will help.

In your research of local areas of interest, print out the names of each location and place them somewhere accessible. Set a regular time each week or month to select an adventure “from the hat” and say goodbye to the endless vortex that is:

“What do you want to do?”

“Oh, I don’t know. What do you want to do?”

Trust your instincts

Looking for a great bite to eat while out on the road? Searching for a change of scenery? The best thing to do may just be to follow your nose, eyes or gut. Some of the best local favorites an area has to offer may be so well known that they don’t focus on marketing their business. If this is the case, you could easily overlook an area classic for something a little more typical.

When you’re looking for a great escape, it’s okay to just slow down and feel out a given area. Use your senses to truly experience a given destination. If you smell something you like, go taste it! If you see something you like, go check it out! If something seems exciting, go explore it! If a place feels good to you, settle in and let it be your home for however long you’re there.

Failure to launch is a common struggle that keeps us tied to our normal routines.

Taking these little staycations can help you reset after a busy or stressful week, connect with your local area, inspire your sense of adventure and recharge your creativity. In other words, wander more and worry less! With Bonwi’s rewards system, you can accrue points with up to 40% back on hotel stays and car rentals. Where to?

Pittsburgh: A Renaissance City You Should Explore

Pittsburgh is at the confluence of three major rivers.
At the confluence three rivers, Pittsburgh PA is a city on the rebound, with lots to discover.
At the confluence three rivers, Pittsburgh PA is a city on the rebound, with lots to discover.

Famed for its steel industries during the Midwest’s industrial boom, Pittsburgh Pennsylvania is a place of red-bricks, countless depots, and arched bridges. However, taking a dive into the city’s riches will show any visitor a more characterful edge.

Pittsburgh’s museums are something not to miss, thanks to the investments of Andrew Carnegie in the 19th century.

Parks draped over the hills and riverside ridges of the downtown, Major League Baseball, Bavarian beers, and delicious eateries, make Pittsburgh a great place to visit. It’s one of the few small cities in the US that can boast a professional major league team in baseball, football, and hockey.

Things to Do in Pittsburgh

Eat downtown at the oldest restaurant in Pittsburgh.  The Original Oyster House, located in Market Square, first opened in 1870. The Original Oyster House is a designated historic landmark and represents much of what modern-day Pittsburgh is about, combining history with delicious food.

The Original Oyster House in downtown Pittsburgh is an institution in the Steel City.
The Original Oyster House in downtown Pittsburgh is an institution in the Steel City.

Old photos and Pittsburgh memorabilia cover the walls of this oyster house and bring a sense of nostalgia that makes you feel like you’re traveling back in time.

For some of the most breathtaking panoramic views of the Pittsburgh downtown and the waterways of the Ohio, Monongahela and Allegheny rivers, Mount Washington can’t be beat.

The hills of Mount Washington offer a picture-perfect broadside of the city’s skyscrapers and steely high-rises.

If you want to see something unique and cool, visit the Duquesne Incline, an old fashioned elevator that takes you up a steep hillside on the river.

Duquesne Incline in Pittsburgh.
Duquesne Incline in Pittsburgh.

The mountain features two funicular railways, wonderful eateries, historic spots supposedly once trodden by George Washington himself, and Emerald View Park, the perfect place for escaping the urban craze.

Experience the juxtaposition of something new in Pittsburgh’s historic Oakland neighborhood. The Oaklander Hotel is located in the heart of the collegiate and hospital districts. Considered the cultural center of Pittsburgh, Oakland houses Carnegie Library Main Branch, the Carnegie Museums of Art and Natural History, Carnegie Music Hall, and Phipps Conservatory.

This hotel features expressive accents and guest rooms where classic meets modern.

Featured amenities include the hotel’s modern fitness center, lounge with a cocktail at Spirits & Tales, and free WiFi access.

Distrikt Hotel is a new Curio by Hilton property in Pittsburgh, PA.
Distrikt Hotel is a new Curio by Hilton property in Pittsburgh, PA.

The Curio Collection by Hilton welcomed the Distrikt Hotel in Pittsburgh only two years ago. This unique downtown property combines both a historic yet modern look. Formerly the Salvation Army headquarters, the boutique hotel offers contemporary amenities while honoring the building’s architecture on the National Register of Historic Places.

This hotel is full of Pittsburgh pride with photo collages on each floor along with original limestone, woodwork, and stained-glass windows. The guest rooms include complimentary WiFi, a mounted 42-inch TV, mini-fridge, coffeemaker, Turkish linens, and a walk-in shower.

The suites at Distrikt Hotel have several options such as a separate living area, sofa bed, and floor-to-ceiling windows, and their Penthouse Suite includes a terrace overlooking downtown.

Grab a bite to eat at the hotel restaurant, The Whale,  inspired by the novel ‘Moby-Dick.’ This seafood an chop house showcases French specialties and local ingredients.

The Distrikt Hotel Pittsburgh has plenty of amenities for your stay, including a rooftop terrace, business center, state-of-the-art fitness center, in-room dining and valet parking.  Look for hotels in Pittsburgh and use your Bonwi points to stay even longer!

Disneyland Summertime Survival Tips

Disneyland Summertime Survival Tips

All year long your little ones have been admiring their favorite characters on the big screen and TV, quoting inspiring and hilarious lines and singing the songs from the many Disney films. Don’t wait until your kids feel all cooped up in the house during summer vacation to start making your travel plans. A trip to Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, California is just the summer vacation idea that your family can get behind.

So now that you’re on board with planning a trip to Disneyland Resort (Disneyland Park together with California Adventure Park), you’re probably wondering what you need to do for a fun, successful trip within budget.  If the whole family isn’t comfortable physically or financially, it’s going to put a damper on the experience. At Bonwi, our mission is to make travel easier, so that vacations can actually feel like vacations. Here are our survival tips to help you make the most of your Disneyland Resort experience:

Beating the heat

Step one is to stay hydrated. Whether you’re towing your own bottle with a carabiner or regularly buying bottles at a cart or kiosk, it’s super important to keep your family hydrated. With all of the extra fun and excitement working together with the constant sunshine, you’re bound to exude a lot of energy.

The right apparel is also key to keeping your family safe and comfortable. Make sure to pack plenty of breathable tops, bottoms and footwear for the long days of fun ahead. One or more of the adults may want to consider bottoms or bags with plenty of storage to hold everyone’s essentials. Select apparel that will be comfortable for walking and standing the whole day. Hats and sunglasses will help to protect you and your family from the harmful effects of the sun’s UV rays. 

Don’t forget to apply (AND reapply) sunscreen. Sunscreen should be applied to all skin that is exposed to the sun (remember to get the tops of your feet). There is a good chance that the protective effects will wash away after swimming, a water ride, excessive sweating or after a few hours.

The best tip of all for beating the heat at Disneyland or California Adventures is to hop on a water ride!

Keeping kids safe among the crowds

Let your kids know what to expect in terms of noise, excitement and crowds before your trip out to the park. Here’s how:

Talk to them ahead of time

It’s important to educate your children what to do in case you get separated for whatever reason. This can help reduce the overwhelm that children and parents may have heading into the experience.

Make sure phones are completely charged 

Setting devices to energy-saving mode helps lengthen the life of the charge. Bring your plug-in or solar charger.

Come equipped 

From the right strollers to safe and ergonomic carriers, the right equipment can help keep everyone’s legs fresh and ready for fun, while also ensuring that your children are safely within reach.

Consider buying ID bracelets for your kids

Customizable ID bracelets can include vital information such as your cell phone number, the child’s name, address, any medical conditions, etc. 

Come early and know where you want to go

By beating the crowds with early admission, you can avoid the issue of large crowds entirely. Having a good idea of the themes, characters, rides and attractions that your family wants to see/do while at the park will reduce idol time and confusion.

Maximizing the fun without maxing out your budget 

We all want to give our little ones the most amazing experiences possible. However, it’s important to keep in mind that any Disneyland trip should result in unforgettable memories. With a little bit of planning, your kiddos can have an amazing summer vacation in Southern California, regardless of your budget. Let’s focus on a few key areas that you can customize to plan the perfect Disneyland Resort vacation:

Characters

Where are your kiddos favorite characters? Do they have any special performances and when and where do they take place? For general admission, your family can interact with Disney’s most beloved cartoons come to life! There also a number of different dining options that feature some of the Disney greats, including Mickey, Minnie, Donald and Goofy!

Themes

What are some of the can’t miss rides and activities that your children have to see while they’re at Disneyland? Plan each day to weave through all of the excitement and amazing attractions to stick together as a family while still ensuring each kid gets to spend time in their own real-life fantasy!

Lodging

If you stay inside the resort, you’re waking up right inside the action, but it may cut into your overall budget for your trip. Weigh the benefits of having your Disneyland hotel nearby and starting your days earlier vs. having more budget to spend on food, travel and memorabilia for your Disneyland vacation.

Ticket packages

For larger groups or for families looking for a comprehensive experience, Disneyland Resort offers ticket packages that permit visitors access to unique experiences at a more affordable value.

MaxPass

For $15 per day, per person, you can beat long lines with FASTPASS access as well as download and save as many pictures from your stay as you want.

Other considerations

Get to know the Disneyland Resort rules and regulations. This will make sure that there are no surprises during your vacation. Check their FAQs for answers to any other questions you may have.

Creating lasting memories

With enough attention to detail, you can all but guarantee that your Disneyland trip will be unforgettable. When your trip does go off without a hitch, you might want to turn it into a family tradition. Look into saving money on your summer vacations and all of your other travels with Bonwi’s rewards program. Take a look at Disneyland Resort hotels, Anaheim hotels and other properties a short drive away right here.

disneyland-resort-summertime-tips

Loyalty Points Battle: Wyndham Rewards vs. Bonwi

Wyndham Grand Clearwater

How does Wyndham Rewards compare to Bonwi?

How many points will you rack up if you always stay with Wyndham hotels and are loyal to that brand collection, as opposed to staying wherever you want and earning Bonwi points?

Let’s take a look at points earnings and payoffs with the two programs: Wyndham Rewards and Bonwi Rewards. Wyndham’s program often shows up at #1 among the major international hotel brands when companies do a head-to-head benefits comparison. This is partly because their points don’t expire like the ones from Hyatt, Marriott, and the others do. They also used to have a flat redemption rate for all hotels, but that disappeared in 2019, so that might cause a slip in the rankings.

Do they have a chance of toppling Bonwi in the loyalty points payback race? Let’s take a look.

How the Wyndham Rewards Program Works

As with most branded loyalty programs, you only earn points by booking direct with the company, not if you use a third-party service like Expedia. Your earnings are determined by how much you spend. You earn fewer points for a cheap place than you do for an expensive resort. The program is straight-out dollar-based though, so it’s easy to determine.

For every qualified stay at a Wyndham Rewards hotel, vacation club resort, or vacation rental, you’ll earn 10 points per dollar or 1,000 points—whichever is more.

They have “9,000 hotels worldwide across 90 iconic brands,” but those icons may not be ones you want to look up to. If you go to cash in points, your only options might be a Days Inn or Super8 motel beside the interstate highway, with questionable business going on in the next room.

Your points earnings are limited only by your spending, though be advised the rip-off resort fees collected as some properties—including many of their Vegas ones—don’t count for points earnings. You can also earn points at their partners, like the usual rental car companies and  shopping partners, but also for booking tours at Viator or buying gas at Marathon stations.

How the Bonwi Rewards Program Compares

With Bonwi.com, there’s no set formula by brand on the earnings side and the points you earn are variable. Some properties may earn you less than the 10 per dollar Wyndham is offering, others will offer more. You have the whole market to choose from, however, not just one company’s brands. You can often earn enough for a free stay after just two or three nights. See how it works here.

If we travel to Vegas, where Wyndham has its own properties plus the Caesar’s ones, we can do a nice head-to-head comparison. Booking with Wyndham would get you 1030 points at Paris Hotel or 950 at Bally’s. Here’s how many points you’d earn with Bonwi though, four times more and 50% more.

Bonwi points at Caesars Hotels

For other cities it’s less clear-cut. The 10 points per dollar level is pretty generous by brand loyalty standards, so in some cases that wins, especially at the cheap motels. In others, especially internationally, Bonwi comes out ahead.

Redeeming Points With Wyndham Rewards and Bonwi

Wyndham now has three tiers of redemption, which in all fairness is still much less complicated than any of its competitors. (Marriott Bonvoy has eight.) I can’t find an award chart for them anywhere, so you have to go through the booking chart to know how many points you need. But they say 200 properties are at the highest level of 30,000 points. So that will get you into one of the Caesars properties in their portfolio (which includes Rio, Paris, and Planet Hollywood in Vegas) or a Wyndham Grand, like this one in Clearwater Beach, Florida.

Wyndham Grand Clearwater

At the other end of the scale, you only need 7,500 points to get into 3,000 of their hotels. That sounds like a lot, but remember they have Microtel, Day’s Inn, Super 8, Howard Johnson, La Quinta, Baymont, and Travelodge.

Everything in between is a flat 15,000 points. That is the most common, applied to more than 6,000 properties.

At Bonwi, the points redemption is variable based on demand and what the individual properties are offering. You may be able to get a room for less than 5,000 points a night, so you could get three nights for the price of one at Wyndham.

Other Redemption Opportunities

You can also transfer points to certain airlines or Amtrak to top off your balance at one of those. Usually this is nowhere close to a 1:1 trade though and you have to log in and start the process to see how many Wyndham points it will take. It requires 6,000 Wyndham points to get 1,200 American Airlines miles, for example, so you only want to do this as a last resort.

Bonwi points are always worth one cent each though, no devaluation required. So the math is easy: 6,000 Bonwi Rewards points are worth a $60 airline credit. Get to 30,000 points–which would only get you 6,000 AA miles with Wyndham–and you’ve got enough for a $300 round-trip flight.

The same is true for Wyndham redemptions for merchandise, gas cards, or gift cards. You’ll take a big hit to your points value to do this. With Bonwi, however, 10,000 points is a $100 gift card.

Overall, if you normally stay at Wyndham properties a lot and can compound your earnings by hitting elite status, it’s a better program than most. The earnings and redemptions are both clear-cut, so it doesn’t require an hour of research to figure out how to earn or redeem for what you need. This is an especially good program if you’re a road warrior staying at a lot of inexpensive motels by the interstate highways. Since it’s tied to a vacation ownership program, it’s also one of the few that can get you into a real condo with a kitchen when you’re with your family.

With Bonwi though, you have the flexibility to choose whichever hotel you want to stay at or whichever one gives the best point redemption where you’re going, regardless of brand. Your points also don’t expire here and you have a wider net you can cast for redemption since they’re worth a straight one cent each for flights or gift cards.

Check rates where you’re headed on the Bonwi home page.

 

 

Where to Stay in Syracuse, New York

Where to stay in Syracuse - best hotels

What are the best hotels in Syracuse to stay in if you’re headed to a university event, a Finger Lakes region tour, or a getaway vacation? We’ve got the scoop on your options around this easy-to-navigate city in upstate New York.

Where to stay in Syracuse - best hotels

Most people in the USA know of Syracuse, New York from it’s university. They mostly know that because of its history of great basketball teams. The university has a nice campus to stroll around, including the centerpiece building above which is the oldest. It is a fine college if you’re scouting out where to send your kid. But the city also has a lot of interesting history to dive into.

The historic Hotel Syracuse, now a Marriott and one of the best places to stayThe Erie Canal once went straight through downtown and was the reason Syracuse boomed in the first place. That canal mostly got built because of salt barons who were extracting this essential life element from a nearby lake in the early 1800s. Some 75% of the salt consumed in the USA in that century was from this area. The city because a technological center too, playing a big role in the advance of typewriters, gas lanterns, “China” dishes, bike gears, car gears, the airplane engine, and that metal thingy that measures your foot size for shoes.

This was also the birthplace of Gustav Stickley, the man who first developed his famous furniture here and started the Craftsman house movement.

It was one of the biggest beer brewing centers in the 1800s. Syracuse had more than 40 of them at its peak. Thankfully quite a few good craft brewers have emerged in this century too.

Take Amtrak here from Chicago, Toronto, or New York City, or pop over in a car from Niagara Falls or the Finger Lakes wineries. Here’s where to stay if you do.

Marriott Syracuse Downtown

When a tycoon bought this long-abandoned Hotel Syracuse building and restored it to its 1920s historic glory, the Marriott people kept telling him he was spending too much. It was getting too fancy to be a Marriott and execs worried that it turn out nicer than some of their JW Marriott and Ritz-Carlton properties. It did actually and that’s good news for guests because the Marriott Syracuse Downtown is a stunning place to stay, with interiors from a “don’t make them like that anymore” time.

Marriott Syracuse Downtown Hotel

Interesting restaurants and bars with a story will keep you happy when the city gets one of its famous snowstorms.

Sheraton Syracuse University Hotel

Sheraton Hotel Syracuse

The closest hotel to the university is literally steps from campus. It has a view of that Hall of Languages building at the top of this post (built 1873) and the equally impressive Crouse College building (1884) from one side of the property. From the other side you see frat houses in historic homes much nicer than where most students will call home after graduation. This is a well-run modern hotel with good food, an indoor pool, and a bar with a billiards table and a few craft beers on tap.

Jefferson Clinton Hotel

Part of the Historic Hotels of America group, the Jefferson Clinton Hotel was built in 1927 and like the Hotel Syracuse, sat empty during the darkest years in this emptied industrial powerhouse before people and companies started coming back to downtown. It reopened in 2001 and is right in the heart of the city near Armory Square. You can walk to every great restaurant and bar in the central city from here, as well as all the museums and attractions.

The Parkview Hotel, BW Premier Collection

The “BW” in that name stands for Best Western, but this is no roadside motel. It’s in a historic building across from a park with a fountain and is walking distance to most of the city’s attractions. Room rates are often under $100, though visitors seeing the elegant entrance and lobby may think it’s much higher.

Hotel Skyler

Hotel Skyler Syracuse

The full name of this property is Hotel Skyler Syracuse Tapestry Collection by Hilton. Old time residents of the city would know the building by a different name: Temple Adath Yeshurun. That’s what it was for decades after being built a century ago. The LEED-certified property has plenty of character in the lobby with a fireplace and with 58 rooms it is not too sprawling. There’s a fitness center, sofa beds in each room, included breakfast, and a complimentary shuttle for rides within three miles.

Crowne Plaza Syracuse

You can’t miss the Crowne Plaza here since it has 279 rooms in a 20-story circular tower you can see from all over the city. You’ll get chain hotel predictability and a good skyline view, though get a high floor room if you don’t want to be looking at the interstate highway passing by. Built in 1969, it has operated under at least five names, but went through renovations before the latest sign went up. It’s walking distance from the universities and local hospitals, but has its own restaurant and bar for those often chilly nights when you don’t want to leave.

When deciding where to stay in Syracuse, there are plenty of other options of course, especially if you have a car and don’t mind being further out. To get the best rate and earn loyalty points that are easy to cash in for your next vacation, search here for hotels in Syracuse on Bonwi.

Article and photos by Hotel Scoop editor Tim Leffel, who was hosted at two of the hotels here on different trips for article research and a conference. For more information on the area, see the official Visit Syracuse website.

Pigeon Forge Tennessee: Why Is It So Popular?

Pigeon Forge Tennessee show
The Great Smoky National Park is the reason so many visitors come to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. Max Hartshorne photo.
The Great Smoky National Park is the reason so many visitors come to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. Max Hartshorne photo.

Have you ever heard of Pigeon Forge Tennessee? If you haven’t, you’re missing out. Right next door to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park and birthplace of the famous Dolly Parton, Pigeon Forge has much more to offer than its comical name would suggest.

More than 9 million, yes MILLION visitors see this small Tennessee city every year, as they drive through the famous national park that’s right next door.

Speaking of the famous country singer, Pigeon Forge houses the Dollywood theme park. Partly owned by Dolly herself, the park includes a roller-coaster, waterslides (for the summer months) and a plethora of Blue Grass music.

Hatfield and McCoy dinner theater in Pigeon Forge: Corny but so fun!
Hatfield and McCoy dinner theater in Pigeon Forge: Corny but so fun!

If country music isn’t your style, the Titanic Museum is a must see – the entire museum is shaped like the late ship. Discover 400 pre-discovery artifacts in twenty galleries.

For a hands-on experience, visit the WonderWorks Pigeon Forge. With over one-hundred hands-on science exhibits, the kids will be entertained with hours. That, paired with laser tag, rope courses, and a 6D motion ride creates a wonderland no one in the family will want to leave.

Later in the evening head over to the Hatfield and McCoy Dinner show. The home-style eats and family-friendly environment provide a great backdrop to dancing and comedy shows.   The only bummer: No booze in many of these shows and in most of the restaurants in Pigeon Forge. It’s a religious kind of a town.

Shopping is a must on The Island Pigeon Forge; a collection of shops, restaurants and amusement rides. Upcoming events for the Forge include the SEAA Fast Pitch World Series Opening Ceremony on July 14th and the Chalkfest on October 5th.

If you’re going to visit the mountain community of around 6,200 residents, you’re going to need a place to stay. Not a problem; with an average of nine million visitors a year, the town is prepared for most anything. If you don’t wind up Margaritaville Island Hotel, at least pay it a visit. With friendly staff, easy access to amenities and a classically themed tropical-travel environment (compasses and maps galore), you’ll never forget that you’re on vacation while staying here.

For an experience on the opposite end of the vacation spectrum, check out Black Fox Lodge Hidden Forge. Designed like a giant wilderness lodge (complete with water slide and hardwood flooring) imagine you’re on a hunting trip without ever entering the woods. 

Though it’s not New York City or Los Angeles, Pigeon Forge will wow and delight the wanderlust tourist interested in venturing down the non-traditional touristic path. Find hotels in Pigeon Forge and Knoxville TN and save when you use Bonwi points.

Savannah Georgia: Ghosts and Whole Lot More

Earn points for your Savannah stay
Artillery-Demo-Fort-Pulaski, Savannah Georgia.
Artillery-Demo-Fort-Pulaski, Savannah Georgia.

Savannah, Georgia, famous for its famous ghost tours, beautiful scenery, and history, is filled with new experiences for any type of traveler. Ranked 17th among the top 25 U.S. destinations from Travel Advisor, travelers do not want to miss their opportunity to see this wonderful area.

Where to Stay:

Mansion on Forsyth Park, Autograph Collection

Mansion on Forsythe Park Savannah Georgia.
Mansion on Forsythe Park Savannah Georgia.

Located in Historic Downtown, this 4.5-star hotel is within close proximity of Forsyth Park, Armstrong House, and the Georgia Historical Society.

This beautiful hotel features 125 air-conditioned rooms that include refrigerators, pillowtop beds, complimentary wireless Internet access, and premium TV channels.

Enjoy a meal at a restaurant, or stay in and take advantage of the hotel’s room service.

The Highlights: Mansion on Forsyth Park, Autograph Collection has a full-service spa where visitors can enjoy massages and facials. If you’re looking for recreational opportunities, you’ll find a health club, an outdoor pool, and a steam room. Additional amenities include wireless Internet access, gift shops/newsstands, and wedding services.

Andaz Savannah – a concept by Hyatt

Located in central Savannah and only steps from Ellis Square and City Market, this 4-star hotel is within close proximity to both Johnson Square and First African Baptist Church.

Andaz Savannah includes 151 air-conditioned rooms featuring MP3 docking stations and flat-screen televisions. The pillowtop beds are covered in Egyptian cotton sheets. The hotel also provides complimentary wireless Internet access and cable programming.

Satisfy your appetite at the hotel’s restaurant which features a bar or spend some time at the coffee shop.

The Highlights: Enjoy a range of recreational amenities, including an outdoor pool, a spa tub, and a 24-hour fitness center.

See this related post on where to stay in Savannah.

Things to do:

Savannah, Georgia is famously known for its haunted ghost tours throughout iconic squares and old breweries. Spend some time brushing up on some spooky history as you learn about the old legends of Savannah.

Exploring the City by the Old Savannah trolley.
Old Savannah trolley.

It’s not a waste to spend some time driving or walking around the town. The beautiful streets are lined with oaks covered in Spanish moss while the old red brick buildings stand behind them.

The architecture of Savannah isn’t something any traveler wants to miss. Visitors can see replicas of horse-drawn trolleys, monuments, statues, cemeteries, and churches which all exemplify the Regency-style architecture of the town.

Downtown Savannah Georgia.
Downtown Savannah Georgia.

There are many tours to enjoy throughout Savannah. Spend your day on a trolley tour or take the city on foot. There’s tavern tours, culinary and cultural walking tours, and a haunted pub tour, along with a haunted walking and an African-American haunted ghost tour.

Breweries and more drinks in Savannah:

There are many breweries growing throughout Savannah including The Distillery, Coastal Empire Beer Co., and Moon River Brewing Co. Many of these feature citrus flavors and other specialty non-traditional brews.

Try the Alley Cat Lounge with rustic interior, PS Bar and Club Black Dream for dancing and celebrating. Other popular places include The Ordinary Pub, Betty Bombers, Green Truck Pub, and the Crystal Beer Parlor, with excellent meals.

When to go:

The best time to explore this beautiful city is during the Spring months when the area explodes with vibrant, natural colors. However, anytime is great to visit Savannah; most attractions go year-round with temperatures ranging from a January low of 39 and high of 60 to a low of 73 in July. Highs reach 92 during the summer.

Browse for Savannah Hotels and use Bonwi points for a return trip just for fun!

Omaha Impresses with the World’s Largest Dome

Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium
Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium
Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium

Omaha is home to the world’s largest indoor desert under the world’s largest geodesic dome above the world’s largest nocturnal exhibit next to one of the world’s largest indoor rainforests! (Yes, you read that right!) Gain some knowledge at The Durham Museum, explore hundreds of acres at Lauritzen Botanical Gardens, and gaze your eyes at works of art at the Joslyn Art Museum.

Fun Things to do in Omaha

Check out Old Market for street musicians, artists, and more entertainment around every corner. Cobblestone streets lined with boutiques and galleries are sure to keep your eyes occupied! Enjoy new restaurants, original steakhouses, local pubs, cafes, and jazz clubs that make Old Market one of the best stops in Omaha.

The Old Market is large enough to keep yourself busy but small enough to feel like you have conquered it in a day. Be sure to sit and soak up the atmosphere and while you’re at it why not indulge in a craft beer whilst listening to some of the top-rated street musicians in Omaha.

Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium boasts not only the world’s largest indoor desert but also North America’s largest indoor rainforest! There are also over seven acres of indoor exhibits, thousands of animals and underground caves covering a total of 130 acres.

Immerse yourself in a desert environment without leaving Nebraska. Guests have the opportunity to see plant and animal life from three of the world’s deserts: the Namib Desert of southern Africa, the Red Center of Australia and the Sonoran Desert of the southwest United States.

As you exit the Desert Dome, there is a special room designed to showcase newly hatched or young reptiles and amphibians. This area also houses some of the reptile related conservation and research projects taking place at the Zoo. Each window and skylight allows the young reptiles access to beneficial ultraviolet rays from the sun.

Additionally, guests can walk on the bottom of the ocean and come nose to nose with sea turtles as sharks circle above them in the 70-foot shark tunnel. Discover polar regions, temperate oceans, coral reefs, and the Amazon as guests explore the largest aquarium in a zoo.

The zoo is open all year making it great for rainy days as well.

Omaha guests have a wide selection from nine different breweries to sample the tastiest Omaha Craft beer. All the featured beers are produced by dedicated locals. Take advantage of the Omaha craft brewery tour, which stops at all nine breweries and provides you with coupons for nine free beers.

Accommodations in Omaha

Hotel Deco XV welcomes its guests with 89 luxury suites and rooms including four event spaces. Carrying a 1930’s style, this high-end accommodation effortlessly blends a contemporary hotel experience with an old soul.

Guest rooms feature extraordinary furnishings, surface flooring, and amenities to ensure the highest standard of comfort and satisfaction. The Front Desk staff will assist with dining reservations, travel, and provide tips on Omaha arts and entertainment offerings. Visit the new restaurant Monarch Prime & Bar featuring a methodically developed dry-aging program, wonderful cocktail menu and a newly designed wine list. Serving daily lunch, dinner and Sunday brunch.

Guests enjoy time at the Magnolia Hotel in Omaha.
Guests enjoy time at the Magnolia Hotel in Omaha.

Once standing as the Aquila Court Building, the Magnolia Hotel in Omaha is now structured to mimic the Bargello, a palace in Florence, Italy. Guests will discover the inviting warmth and hospitality in the center of downtown Omaha.

With only a three-block walk to Old Market, it’s easy to get around and enjoy the town. There’s a free shuttle bus service to downtown Omaha that is available from the Magnolia. Guests can also enjoy the 24-hour gym or the business center.

One review states, “From the moment you enter the property the staff, rooms, and amenities make it a real respite from standard living. The rooms are very well-appointed with a terrific coffee selection and superb bathroom. The beds…oh the beds!!! I never sleep as well as I do on trips to the Magnolia.”

Search for hotels in Omaha and your Bonwi points will cover an additional few nights stay!

Lima Hotel Zones: Where to Stay in the Capital of Peru

Country Club Lima Hotel review

Peru capital places to stay hotel zones

Most tourists don’t spend a lot of time in Lima hotels. The South American capital of Peru tends to be a one-night or two-night stop on the way to the country’s more enticing attractions.

Lima is the best foodie destinations on the continent though, plus it can be a fun place for nightlife. It’s also a good spot for a cooking class: in mine with SkyKitchen Peru we learned how to make ceviche, lomo saltado, a dessert kind of like funnel cakes, and a pisco sour.

More importantly for the hotel zones, this is a major business center in Latin America. Many international companies have big operations here and of course it’s an export leader in a lot of products coming out of Peru.

Traffic in Lima can move at a crawl during busy times, however, and there’s no metro system. So it’s important to pick carefully from the Lima hotel districts to make sure you’re where you’ll be spending most of your time. Here are the main hotel zones of the capital city. Head over to Bonwi.com for the best Lima hotel rates and you could rack up enough points for a room in Cusco, Puno, or Arequipa to go have some fun afterwards.

get the most points back for Lima hotel bookings with Bonwi

Best Lima Airport Hotels

If you are just stopping in Lima on the way to somewhere else, there’s a good chance your flight will come in at an odd time or leave at an odd time. You may end up with a 10-hour layover before your domestic flight to another destination in Peru. If that’s the case, there’s not much point in heading all the way into the city just to sleep for a few hours and come back. Get a room at the airport instead.

Lima airport hotel across from the terminal

The most convenient option is the Wyndham Costa del Sol Lima. It’s literally steps from the terminal. You walk out of the arrivals area, cross the street, and you’re there. That photo above was the view from my room when I stayed there. It’s a comfortable place with a decent restaurant and bar and the staff stays chipper at all hours. The other option is a Holiday Inn Express, which is only slightly further away. You could walk it if you don’t have much luggage, but that involves a pedestrian overpass to cross a 6-lane road so you may want to just hop a cab. Breakfast is included in the rates at these properties.

Miraflores Hotels of Lima

Miraflores Lima hotel zoneThis is the most desirable neighborhood for most tourists, with some of the best leisure hotels, a range of great restaurants, the seaside, casinos, and nightclubs. It’s a pleasant area to walk around, with a few things to see like the Huaca Pucllana pyramid structure that dates back to 700 AD and the Larcomar shopping complex for picking up some last souvenirs to take home.

There are high-end hotels like a JW Marriott and a Belmond—both with views of the Pacific Ocean—as well as some good mid-range and budget options. Atemporal Boutique Hotel is a good alternative to the chains, with just nine rooms. It’s a rather long ride from the airport to Miraflores though (as well as Barranco), so pick this area if you’re actually going to have time to enjoy it.

Barranco Hotels in Peru’s Capital City

Every city has its area where the artists congregated and made their mark. In Lima that’s the Barranco neighborhood, where abandoned historic structures and street art mix with lovingly restored mansions that are now boutique hotels.

Artsy boutique hotel in Barranco area of Lima

The best places to stay are Hotel B, part of the Relais and Chateaux collection, plus Casa Republica Barranco.

Hotels in San Isidro, Lima

The main business district of Lima is San Isidro, chock full of chain hotels and the international business travelers who book them. This area has the most embassies, multinational company offices, and accounting firms, but is rather staid when it comes to where you go to eat and drink. Thankfully there are some standout hotels that make it worth staying put.

Country Club Lima Hotel review

The best independent luxury hotel is Country Club Lima, with the feel of an elegant boutique hotel that’s also a social center for Lima’s elite. But there’s also a Swissotel, a high-rise Westin, and a bunch of mid-range Accor hotels from Ibis to Atton.

Slim Pickings in the Historic Center

In many Spanish Colonial cities, the historic center is the most interesting hotel zone and there are usually plenty of places to stay. Lima’s center tends to be a day tour kind of place though and there are surprisingly few good good hotels in the centro historico. There’s a very large Sheraton right downtown that averages $120 per night, but after that you have mostly small, independent budget hotels favored more by backpackers than flashpackers.

Tack on a couple extra days in Lima to visit the impressive Museo Larco with its vast collection of pre-Colombian art, have some great meals, and see the place where one-third of all Peruvians actually live. With this guide to Lima hotel districts, you’ll know where to stay depending on your main reason for visiting and what your flight schedules are like.

Get the best price for hotels in Lima and a nice rewards payoff too that you can use for another hotel, flights, rental cars, or gift cards.

Review and photos by Tim S. Leffel, editor of Hotel Scoop and Luxury Latin America.

Reward Points Battle: World of Hyatt vs. Bonwi

Hyatt Clearwater Beach

World of Hyatt versus Bonwi Rewards payoffs

How many points will you rack up if you always stay with Hyatt and are loyal to that brand, as opposed to staying wherever you want and earning Bonwi points?

Let’s take a look at points earnings and payoffs with the two programs: World of Hyatt and Bonwi Rewards.

How World of Hyatt Works

Like most major brand hotel programs, the World of Hyatt one is purposely complicated. It’s not as bad as some on the earnings side since it’s dollar-based with few exceptions, but that amount varies depending on your elite status (or lack of). Then how many points you have to spend to get a free night also depends on the class of hotel, the city it’s in, and whether it’s busy that week.

On the earnings side, as a regular member you receive 5 points per dollar spent on your room and regular services in the hotel, such as dining or drinking. This also applies to partner hotels from Small Luxury Hotels of the World when you want something with more character. If you stay enough to move up the elite tiers, you earn more points per dollar. But as a regular member, $300 spent on your tab at checkout gets you 1,500 points. See the details here.

So if we pull up hotels in New York City, we find that you could earn points from Grand Hyatt, Andaz, Hyatt Place, Hyatt Centric, The Beekman, and more. With rates on our random dates ranging from $231 to $895, you could earn between 1,155 to 4,160 points per night on the room charge.

Now let’s say you’ve racked up 50,000 points over many,  many stays and want to spend them. What will that get you?

If we pull up a warm-weather vacation destination like Cancun, you can get… not much.  It’s 25,000 per night to stay at either Andaz Mayakoba or Grand Hyatt Playa del Carmen. If you head to Miami instead, it’s a little better: from 12,000 to 20,000 per night depending on the property level. So you could manage two or three nights there with your points.

World of Hyatt point redemptions

How Bonwi Rewards Works

With Bonwi.com, there’s no set formula by brand on the earnings side and the points you earn are variable. You will often earn far more than 5 points per dollar. You could earn enough for a free stay after just two or three nights. See how it works here.

If we pull up New York City again for the same dates, you’ll see that you’d receive 6,231 per night for booking Hyatt’s Andaz Wall Street. So the same stay that would get you 311 X 5 from Hyatt’s program—1,555—gets you more than four times as many points from Bonwi.

Bonwi rewards points for Hyatt Andaz stay

This isn’t always the case. The super-expensive Park Hyatt New York is an exception because it would earn you 5 points for every dollar. But as we’ve shown with Marriott Bonvoy and IHG Rewards in the past, you usually have the opportunity to earn more points by picking the hotel of your choice than by being loyal to a certain brand. If you stayed at The Plaza in New York instead of the Park Hyatt, you’d pay about $100 less per night and would earn a whopping 13,673 points per night you could apply to any hotel stay or airline flight.

There’s also upside on the redemption part since you will often find redemption levels that are far more generous than with traditional branded loyalty programs. So it takes fewer stays to earn points, then fewer points for a free night.

If we pull up Cancun, for instance, where your only Hyatt choices were the two at 25,000 points per night before meals and drinks, here’s a taste of what you could get, it’s a different story for those same 50,000 points at Bonwi Rewards.  You could choose from:

  • 9 all-inclusive resorts for 22,500 points or less
  • 6 beachfront all-inclusive hotels for 18,000 points or less
  • 14 Playa del Carmen boutique hotels for 9,000 points or less

In Miami, it’s even better. For the same 12,000 to 20,000 points per night, you would have hundreds of hotels to choose from.

Hyatt Clearwater Beach

Other Redemption Options for World of Hyatt

What if you don’t need free hotel nights from Hyatt or they just plain don’t have any properties in your chosen vacation spot?  Well you could exchange them for airline points, but at a huge loss. Here’s the best-case scenario from the World of Hyatt website:

Planning your next trip? You can turn your points into airline miles. Transfer as few as 5,000 points for 2,000 miles

“As few as?” Ouch. That’s quite a haircut.

You can also exchange them for dining or spa credit, but again at a terrible redemption rate.  If you exchange 10,000 points you only get $50, which means Hyatt points are only worth half a cent each. It gets better with huge transfers, but still never gets up to a penny per point.

You cannot exchange them for gift cards, even at a bad rate. That option is not available.

Other Redemption Options for Bonwi Rewards

At Bonwi, your points are yours to do what you want with and if you don’t want to use them for a hotel stay, you have lots of other options, all at a level of a penny per point.

So if you have 10,000 points, that’s worth a $500 flight. No blackout dates, no specific airlines you have to use, no transfer formulas.

Exchange Bonwi points for gift cards

If you want to get a gift card instead for Best Buy or a restaurant chain, 10,000 points gets you $100. Simple and valuable.

Book your next hotel stay here and start earning more.

Story by Tim S. Leffel, editor of Hotel Scoop and Luxury Latin America, author of Make Your Travel Dollars Worth a Fortune.

 

Tallahassee Offers a Different Side of Florida

Hampton by Hilton, Tallahassee Florida.

When you tell most people “I’m vacationing in Florida” their immediate thoughts probably turn to old people, drugs, and a blazingly humid climate.

While this might be true, the new hotels in the state’s capital, Tallahassee, more than make up for this over exaggerated reputation. You might want to plan a few years in advance for these though.

The proposed New Hyatt House hotel in Tallahassee, Florida.
The proposed New Hyatt House hotel in Tallahassee, Florida.

The New Hyatt House Hotel falls into one of these up and coming accommodations. Five stories and 120 rooms, this structure is due to begin construction this April 2019 and end in January 2021.

The building will be located at the entrance to Railroad Square Art Park. Its design will be inspired by the areas industrial, quirky style. Another standalone building will be nearby for all the retail space a shop-a-holic could ask for. The balance between staying true to the area while still incorporating the chain continuities of the Hyatt have been masterfully achieved.

The nearby Florida A and M campus provides plenty of college students, regularly updated art galleries, and expressive thespians for the all around arts lover. Definitely check out the Crum Box Gastgraden and cross off eating in an engine caboose from your bucket-list.  And don’t worry, locals will still have access to the park during construction.

Further down the road, Indigo hotels are also planning to set up an outpost in this historic Florida city. This company is dedicated to assimilation; incorporating locally inspired murals into its buildings, along with local music and menu options in their restaurant that will be changing with the seasons.

Indigo Hotel in Tallahassee, Florida.
Indigo Hotel in Tallahassee, Florida.

Always something new to look forward to, always with a fresh, blended take. But don’t hold your breath; construction isn’t slated till 2020 and there’s no end date in site. The feel they’re going for, “to give(s) guests the confidence to step out and explore the local neighborhood.” 

Hampton by Hilton Hotel in Tallahassee, Florida.
Hampton by Hilton Hotel in Tallahassee, Florida.

If you’re looking to vacation before 2021, the Hampton by Hilton built this past Spring 2018 in the epicenter of the All Saints District and Gaines Street Corridor. Worry-free spaces with familiar feels create an environment that makes guests feel they’re at their home away from home. A home with 124 rooms.

That’s a lot of vacuuming. And who can live without a guest laundry, pool and fitness center? Everything is up to par, as is evident by the structure itself, and the one $billion tourism contributed to Florida’s economy this past year. Can’t argue with those results.

Whether in the immediate future or the upcoming years, travelers will be well taken care of at the variety of shiny new hotels  Florida’s Capital has to offer. Just make sure to watch for Gators.   Find these Tallahassee hotels and many more and use the Bonwi Points you earn for a beach escape next winter, like to Miami Beach at the bottom of the state.

   

Best and Newest Charleston Hotels, Hottest activities

The French Quarter Inn, in Charleston SC.
The French Quarter Inn, in Charleston SC.
The French Quarter Inn, in Charleston SC.

Opened early this year, The Hotel Bennet has been twenty years in the making and will be known as one of the most opulent hotels in the Charleston area.

The CEO of this project, Michael Bennet, had to jump through several legal hoops during development, including an aspect of the buildings height restrictions.  Fortunately, he’s an old hat to the development game. The renovation of this historic building has taken a European approach to style and architecture, using marble, limestone, and copper infused with “Carolina Lowcountry Soul” as described by Forbes.

Located in the heart of Charleston this establishment, the hotel features a two-story restaurant headed by Executive Chef Michael Sichel, a French-style patisserie and a rooftop bar and pool. And don’t forget the champagne bar. The expansive hotel took 47 months to build, starting in March 2015.

If not baby’s bottom new, you will still find high quality, well-established lodgings in this historic city. A top hotel review site has two Charleston hotels ranked for best the in country in 2019 ranking first and third; the French Quarter Inn and The Spectator hotel.

The French Quarter Inn,  located in downtown Charleston, features personalized travel plans created by the exceptionally competent front desk staff, a daily wine and cheese reception in the opulent lobby, free bike rentals (the classic ones with a basket, of course) and rooms with breathtaking views regardless of your budget.

The new Hotel Bennet in Charleston SC.
The new Hotel Bennet in Charleston SC.

For those renting the Luxury King Balcony Full Sweet, a full king sized bed, a furnished balcony and a fireplace can be turned on at the end of an active sightseeing day. Hotdog!

The Spectator Hotel is, ‘a  little waterside beauty” and is, “regularly ranked among the city of Charleston’s most luxurious retreats.”  Opened in 2015, the hotel offers front door access to Charleston’s market, historic neighborhoods are all with a three-mile walking distance and conveniently surrounded by a variety of shopping, art galleries, and fine dining.

Though a smaller establishment, the lobby and adjacent bar are expertly designed for aesthetic pleasure and facilitated conversation with a cross between the 1920s flare and upscale modern. And don’t forget to tip the rotating butler, around for all your luxury vacation details and needs.

The Charleston City Market.
The Charleston City Market, since 1807.

The Charleston Market was once called and is sometimes still referred to as “the slave market” because of its long history of being the place slaves went to buy food for the plantations.  A special aspect of the market are the ladies who make and sell their own special Charleston baskets. It goes back all the way to Africa, and their careful construction out of sweetgrass and palmetto leaves makes these items special indeed.

The Charleston City Market is located right n the heart of the city on Meeting Street, about a 10-minute walk from Broad Street, the city’s main drag. If you choose to drive, you’ll find only limited street parking available.  Find out more about vendors and goods on the market website.

Find hotels in Charleston SC and use Bonwi points for a future trip.

Then book a trip to Savannah while you’re at it, using our guide to where to stay in Savannah.

The ‘Bleisure’ Trend: Mixing Leisure Trips with Business Travel

Times Square, New York City is a great place to combine business with leisure!
Times Square, New York City is a great place to combine business with leisure!
Times Square, New York City is a great place to combine business with leisure!

The concept of blending business travel trips with leisure vacation is growing at a rapid rate. An SAP Concur study shows a 20% uptick in bleisure travel.

For this study, a “bleisure trip” included a Saturday night stay, but it’s not uncommon for these trips to extend at least two or three days. Overall, 2.2 million bleisure trips took place in 2017. That’s about 10% of all business trips. While most business travelers still have to sightsee on their travel days, 1 in 10 travelers is able to stay an extra day.

According to Forbes, the nine most common bleisure destinations include New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, Tel Aviv, London, Paris, Tokyo, Singapore, and Shanghai.

Here are a few of the top bleisure hotels in popular destinations.

Sheraton New York City - a good bleisure trip hotel
Sheraton New York City

Sheraton New York Times Square Hotel

Right in the heart of Times Square, it’s easy to understand how the Sheraton Hotel puts business and leisure travelers in the perfect spot. The Sheraton offers easy access to countless midtown offices and businesses, while onsite you can make good use of the 60,000 square feet of meeting space, including an Executive Conference Center that’s ideal for small groups.

It’s almost too easy to find entertainment near Times Square. Spend some time in the bars, museums, or see a Broadway show! When you’re in Times Square, check out one of the newest and most amazing exhibits, Gulliver’s Gate. A world in miniature that’s astounding. You may even have a view of the skyscrapers going up at Hudson Yards.

The Peninsula Chicago

This luxurious Chicago building is perfectly designed for leisure while taking care of business. Meet with associates in one of the eleven meeting spaces, then head upstairs to the Peninsula Spa for an Asian-inspired treatment. After the long days of business, relax on the sun terrace near the indoor pool.

westdrift Manhattan Beach – Los Angeles

Right in the heart of the popular Manhattan Beach community, westdrift is only a mile to the beach, and a quick trip to The Point, the city’s shopping, entertainment and dining hub.

Guests can also enjoy on-demand movies from their in-room Smart TV or outdoor lawn games such as shuffleboard, croquet, corn hole and more.

westdrift Manhattan Beach features 393 luxury guest rooms combining iconic designs, amenities and culinary offerings that speak to both coasts. Take some time to enjoy the nine-hole golf course, indoor and outdoor restaurants, a cross-fit inspired fitness center, a pool surrounded by cabanas, 18 meeting rooms, a traditional ballroom, and three large industrial-chic venues.

Tips for taking a bleisure trip

Book your meetings on Monday or Friday that way you will have Saturday and Sunday to travel.

When you travel for a business, there’s a chance you have to stay at a particular hotel.  Asking if you can use your company’s prenegotiated rate can also save you lots of money. Many bleisure-friendly companies are open to extending this benefit to employees.

Try booking your reservation with the company travel portal to access possible discount rates

Make sure you understand your company’s travel policy and what they will and will not pay for

Next time you consider traveling for business, consider adding a few personal days to explore the area. More than likely the company will already cover transportation costs, so enjoy the long weekend! Find something exciting in every new city and save on hotels using Bonwi points!

The Hotel Zones of Mexico City

Zocolo of Mexico City has hotels nearby

When you’re trying to figure out where to stay in Mexico City, it makes a lot of sense to start with the location. What are you planning to do while you’re there? Are you going to have business meetings or do you want to stroll around the historic center? Do you want to be in a nightlife area? In a leafy park zone? Near the best restaurants?

hotel zones of Mexico City neighborhoods

For such a large metropolis, Mexico City is actually quite easy to navigate from a tourist standpoint. Most of the hotel zones of Mexico City are within a mile of two main streets that meander from downtown out through Polanco. Here are the areas to consider when you’re planning your trip to this capital of food and culture.

Historic District Hotels of Mexico City

The most atmospheric part of Mexico’s capital city is the oldest part. The historic centro is grounded by the huge Zocolo public square, with the off-kilter cathedral on one side and the municipal buildings on the other. You can take the subway straight here and it’s not very far from the airport.

There are a few chain hotels, like a Hampton Inn and Holiday Inn, but most of the properties are independent or small-chain ones with lots of personality. Hotel Downtown Mexico is part of Grupo Habita and has sections for both high-end travelers and budget backpackers, both mingling on the roof desk with pool. You may have seen Gran Hotel Ciudad de Mexico in several movies and one episode of The Romanoffs on Amazon streaming. It has an amazing view from the roof, where there’s a restaurant.

Zocolo of Mexico City has hotels nearby

There are also some hostels and budget hotels in this area that are a good value and you can take the metro from here to anywhere it goes.

Paseo de La Reforma, Zona Rosa, and Condesa

I’m lumping these three together because if you’re someone who doesn’t mind walking for a half hour, you can get from one of these areas to the other on foot.

Many of the embassies and bank headquarters are along the Paseo de la Reforma boulevard leading from Alameda Park to Chapultapec Park. So you’ve got familiar chains like Marriott, Sheraton, Four Seasons, St. Regis, and Hilton along this corridor, along with a few Mexican chains. The eventual Ritz-Carlton will be along here too.

Paseo de la Reforma hotel zone has Four Seasons

The Zona Rosa is a big nightlife area a few blocks from the main drag and some of the best mid-range bargains in the city are in this area. It’s convenient and fun for going out, though it can be noisy on the low floors.

Condesa and Roma transform from business district to leafy residential areas with lots of restaurants and nightlife. Most of the hotels in this area are independent ones and some are a great value.

Polanco and Chapultapec Park

Polanco is the richest neighborhood near the city and it will dispel any notions you may have about Mexicans not having a lot of money. You’ll find shops from Prada and Louis Vuitton, Mercedes and BMW showrooms, and restaurants that can top $100 per person without many drinks.

Las Alcobas Hotel stairwell Mexico City

One street on the edge of Chapultapec Park has a string of chain hotels like Hyatt, JW Marriott, Intercontinental, and W.  Habita’s original hotel is in this area, as is the upscale Las Alcobas with the staircase pictured above.

Neighborhood Hotels of Mexico City

There area distinct hotel zones where you can stay in Mexico City, plus a few scattered around neighborhoods like San AngelIf you want to be in an area where you won’t see many other tourists at night, a place where Mexicans live and work, there are a few nice sections of town besides Condesa and Roma where you can stay in a real neighborhood.

Coyoacan is where Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera spent most of their time, so you can visit both houses they lived in together here. Plus there are some nice restaurants on the main place you can enjoy after the day visitors have all left.

The local Stara group has hotels in neighborhoods without a whole lot else. Stara San Angel Inn is in the area where there’s a big weekend art market and they also have a property in Colonia Juarez.

There are hotels at the airport of course, including a Camino Real right outside of Terminal 1 and a Hilton inside the terminal itself.

For reviews of the top choices, see detailed reviews here of the best luxury hotels in Mexico City.

When you’re ready to book, be sure you get a good points payback wherever you stay by checking out Mexico City Hotels at Bonwi. You may get enough points from this stay to pay for a flight to a Mexican beach area like Los Cabos the next time around.

 

Travel writer Tim Leffel has written about Mexico City for more than a decade and has a home base a few hours north in Guanajuato.

Chicago’s RiverRun Connects City Parks

The Chicago River in Chicago, where the RiverRun will add a two-mile trail connecting parks.
The Chicago River in Chicago, where the RiverRun will add a two-mile trail connecting parks.
The Chicago River in Chicago, where the RiverRun will add a two-mile trail connecting parks.

Chicago’s skyline is rising every year, as the prominent US city continues to grow and expand. Nowhere is that clearer than along the banks of the Chicago river running through the cities bustling center. Skip the chrome Bean, as new activities will include Chicago’s RiverRun Project. Due to be completed this year (2019) the new concrete path will stretch two miles and connect several of the city’s best parks, creating a central recreational hub.

A bit less current having come out in the fall of 2018 but just as entertaining is the Art on the Mart honing in on Chicago’s diverse public art. This nicely complements the self-guided Frank Lloyd Art Trail featuring 13 of his best-designed buildings throughout the state.

From art to architecture to music, Chicago’s historical prevalence concerning the history of Jazz makes it the ideal location for the modern Chicago Blues Museum, also due to open this 2019. Located near Millenium Park, the structure will highlight the pioneering blues individuals of the past while simultaneously supporting the artists of today by displaying traditions carried over, as well as housing a performance lounge.

Besides Chicago’s RiverRun, the city is looking to increase its diversity of owners along the RiverWalk. Three new areas with the vendor and city-funded upgrades to boot will begin construction this fall. This change is part of the $10 million allotted to improvements along the RiverWalk announced in January 2019.

Hotel Zachary in Chicago.
Hotel Zachary in Chicago.

The Hotel Zachary opened this past year. With its stunning views of the Michigan Lake and fantastic West Town Bakery, the wonderful amenities are all wrapped up in the nuanced architecture by the well-known architect and namesake of the hotel, Zachary Taylor Davis. The artistic touches will not be lost on the average city hopper.

If you’re looking for something more traditional look no further than The Wheelhouse Hotel. Intimate and luxurious, the baseball-inspired and hyperlocal experience will have you wishing you didn’t have to leave. If you’re a drinker, the speakeasy-style bar Tinker to Evers will definitely be the highlight of your stay. The name comes from the famous triple play from baseball’s olden days, (Tinker to Evers to Chance).

Chicago is one of the USA’s biggest convention markets, so you will probably end up there at some point if you go to a lot of conferences. It’s also the home of Lollapalooza if you’re into music festivals. And remember, one business trip to Chicago could pay for a free hotel stay in warm Miami beach if you play your Bonwi cards right.

With all the new and upcoming restaurants, entertainment, and upgrades exploding on the riverfront, make Chicago a top priority for your next big-city adventure.  And of course, you and fine great hotel deals in Chicago and use the points for a trip later on!

 

The Hotel Zones of Savannah, Georgia

East Bay Inn Savannah hotel

hotels in Savannah Georgia

Where should you stay when you visit Savannah, Georgia? Well there are plenty of great hotels to choose from there, so a lot of it depends on your style and how much walking you want to do. Savannah hotels get booked out quite far in advance sometimes, however, especially on weekends, so use this guide to figure out where you want to be and plan as far ahead as possible!

The Riverfront of Savannah

Savannah was founded as a port city up a deep river from the storm-rattled coast, a place where the British could base their trading operations in the new world. Tobacco, cotton, and less noble cargo went in and out of the riverfront docks at a furious pace for more than a century. Now most of those riverfront buildings have been converted to residences, shops, restaurants, and yes, hotels.

The Savannah Marriott Riverfront is one of the largest properties, sitting on a hill overlooking the river into South Carolina. There’s also a Hyatt Regency that may win the prize for the ugliest building in the area. Independent properties include The Cotton Sail Hotel, River Street Inn, and Olde Harbour Inn. The ironically named Bohemian Hotel Savannah Riverfront is actually one of the most expensive places in town, part of the Autograph Collection.

Savannah riverfront hotel

Search rates and points paybacks in Savannah.

Hotels in the Historic Core of Savannah

Once you climb up the bluff from the river, that’s where you’ll find the greatest concentration of hotels. The ones along the first few blocks here are the most convenient, within walking distance to everything and close to all the best restaurants and bars.

I stayed at East Bay Inn while I was there and would highly recommend it. (See a full review here.) It’s in a historic brick building with spacious and elegant rooms, plus there’s a social hour each day with complimentary food and wine. The same company runs five other interesting properties under the Historic Inns of Savannah group.

East Bay Inn Savannah hotel

There are a few larger independent hotels in this strip, but most are chain hotels in converted commercial buildings. There’s an Andaz, Hampton Inn, Kimpton Brice, Staybridge Suites, Hotel Indigo, Doubletree, and Hilton Garden Inn all along Bay Street.

The Savannah Convention Center Hotel

If you are going to a convention in Savannah, you will be attending a conference hall that is on its own island in the middle of the river. That means you’ll be taking a ferry each morning and night (which is fairly quick and pleasant), or you will stay at the big high-rise hotel right next door. That would be the Westin Savannah Harbor Golf Resort.

Savannah convention hotel

Among the Plazas

There are many hotels that are on various plazas throughout historic Savannah, most of them small inns or B&Bs. In the more commercial area though, there are a few newer builds that were constructed from the ground up.

Perry Lane roof deck bar in Savannah

Perry Lane Hotel is one of the newest and hippest places to stay, with the great roof deck pictured above that’s worth a stop in for a drink at least. It’s part of the Starwood now Marriott Luxury Collection. Independent hotels among the plazas include The DeSoto, Eliza Thompson House, 17Hundred90, and The Marshall House. The Mansion on Forsyth Park is where celebs in town filming a movie often stay.

Bargain Rates Require a Car

To find an inexpensive hotel in Savannah, you need to have a car or be willing to pay for long Uber rides. This is especially true on weekends when everything near the center is in high demand. Most of the inexpensive hotels are a miles out of town, away from the historic area.

Most of these are mid-range and budget chain hotels, all in a strip between Midtown and Oglethorpe Mall. There you’ll find Baymont, Homewood Suites, Fairfield Inn, EconoLodge, Hampton Inn, Motel 6, and the like.

Find the best Savannah hotel rates here, plus earn back more loyalty points than with any other program. For things to do in the area, see the Visit Savannah site.

Best Savannah hotel rates and loyalty points payback

Article and photos by Tim Leffel, editor of Hotel Scoop and the Cheapest Destinations Blog. 

Albuquerque, New Mexico Has More than Just Sun for Travelers

The gondola to the top of Sandia Peak near Albuquerque, New Mexico.
The gondola to the top of Sandia Peak near Albuquerque, New Mexico.

While Albuquerque rarely pops up on must-visit travel lists, it truly is a dream destination for travelers. As the biggest city in New Mexico, Albuquerque indulges in a culture unlike any other.

Brenna Moore, public relations and communications manager for Visit Albuquerque said it this way: “It is a city that truly exhibits the confluence of old and new. …People are…often surprised to see how contemporary and youthful Albuquerque is. While the existence of southwestern landscape and architecture is a part of the city’s character, Albuquerque is also rife with modern, innovative, contemporary influences.”

Next time you visit southwestern America, be sure to spend a few days in Albuquerque.

Where to Stay

Enjoy your stay at The Embassy Suites by Hilton Albuquerque Hotel & Spa, located in downtown Albuquerque, New Mexico. This all-suite hotel is only three miles from Albuquerque International Sunport and even closer to the University of New Mexico, and the Albuquerque Convention Center.

Need some fun family activities nearby? The Embassy Suites are in close proximity to attractions including the Albuquerque Natural History Museum, Balloon Fiesta Park, Historic Old Town, Sandia Peak Tramway and Sandia Ski Basin.

Each two-room suite features a separate living room with a sofa bed, WiFi, a large desk, a mini-refrigerator, and microwave. Start your day with a free made-to-order breakfast or stop by Caffeina’s for a bagel and coffee.

With a four-star rating on TripAdvisor, one traveler wrote, “It was closed to downtown, it was spacious, the suites clean, modern and comfortable. The hotel was cleaned, they offered us coupons for drinks at night, they offered also fruits and other bites at night for free in the main atrium which was huge. Breakfast was incredible, anything you want to eat, and it was free.”

Hotel Andaluz

What was once the tallest building in Albuquerque, New Mexico now stands Hotel Andaluz Albuquerque, Curio Collection by Hilton. Set in the heart of downtown, this marvelous hotel features stylish guest rooms, featuring unique artwork from around the world and Spanish-inspired design.

Each room includes bath amenities, luxury linens, a signature Andaluz robe, and complimentary WiFi. Hotel Andaluz has many different suite styles to choose from including the Penthouse suite with a separate living and dining area, sofa bed, powder room, copper soaking tub, and Bose sound system.

Don’t forget to try out the unique dining experience at the MAS Tapas y Vino where you can sip and eat, all while enjoying live entertainment at Ibiza Urban Rooftop Lounge, featuring views of downtown Albuquerque and the Sania Mountains. Other amenities include complimentary fitness club access, a business center and Mercado, featuring local bites and treasures.

Anchored by a central plaza, Old Town’s cobblestone streets house galleries, restaurants, and souvenir shops.
Anchored by a central plaza, Old Town’s cobblestone streets house galleries, restaurants, and souvenir shops.

Highlights: Hotel Andaluz features beautiful guest rooms and suites. Experience the food, drink, and entertainment on the rooftop lounge.

Anchored by a central plaza, Old Town’s cobblestone streets house galleries, restaurants, and souvenir shops. Both Native American and Spanish cultures have been shaping this neighborhood for centuries. Old Town holds Albuquerque’s oldest building, San Felipe de Neri Church. Many visitors spend a few hours wandering around Old Town.

Rio Grand Botanical Garden, Albuquerque NM.
Rio Grand Botanical Garden, Albuquerque NM.

Sit Along the Rio Grande River at ABQ BioPark

The ABQ BioPark, just southeast of Old Town, gives any visitor a relaxing day spent outdoors. This massive park is home to four distinct attractions: an aquarium, a botanic garden, a zoo, and Tingley Beach. With a whole day worth of activities, ABQ BioPark is sure to provide you with an amazing day.

The aquarium features a 285,000-gallon shark tank and 200-plus species including snow leopards, kangaroos, and polar bears. If you’re not interested in attending the zoo, spend the afternoon exploring the 36-acre botanic gardens featuring exotic plant species along the walking paths. You can also find yourself with options to hike, bike and fish at Tingley Beach during a summertime visit.

For the most spectacular views of Albuquerque and the Sandia Mountains, take a ride on the Sandia Peak Tramway. These cable cars carry passengers about three miles along a suspended cable between eastern Albuquerque and the 10,378-foot-high summit of Sandia Peak. Visitors can be amazed by the views of the Rio Grande Valley and the Land of Enchantment.

Find hotels in Albuquerque New Mexico and use your Bonwi points for a future trip!

Visit New York City in January for the Cheapest Hotel Rooms

Winter Village at Bryant Park, Manhattan.

New York City is a timeless destination and one that is much cheaper to visit this time of year than in the spring and summer.  Since it’s a big city, you will be inside most of the time, so why not splurge on those airline tickets at a time when it’s never going to be cheaper?

What are the most popular places and attractions to visit?  Thrillist provides some good answers, and ways to see the Statue of Liberty, such as taking the Staten Island Ferry to get your obligatory selfie shot.  Another water-borne method of observing the Big Lady is to take the free IKEA store shuttle that goes to their Red Hook, Brooklyn location from Pier 11, Wall Street in Manhattan.

Winter Village at Bryant Park, Manhattan.
Winter Village at Bryant Park, Manhattan.

There are some fun reasons to bring your family to New York City in January, besides the great hotel deals.  You can check out the Winter Village at Bryant Park, for example, and get some good deals on handicrafts, artwork and other locally made things. Plus they have a free ice skating rink, igloos to play in and even ice bumper cars!

But what about hotels?   I was told by more than one hotel manager that there is no better time than mid to late January to score rooms at hotels that normally would be much, much higher.   A quick glance at Google reveals that discounts are far higher this month than you’d expect.

There are a total of about 270 hotels in the city, and the second largest property is the old classic, Marriott Marquis Times Square.  This hotel is unique for New York City because of its size, 1966 rooms, and the way they are set up, a square all around a very, very long drop down to the lobby. It’s the tallest hotel atrium in the world.

The largest hotel in the city is the New York Hilton Midtown, with 1980 rooms. This Hilton is the 101st largest hotel property in the world and was built in 1963.   Every US president since John F. Kennedy has stayed at this hotel, so it must have something special, besides being the biggest in the city.

Book a stay at the Hilton,  or any of the 269 other New York Hotels and use Bonwi points to get another stay later on.

 

Wilmington Delaware: Fabulous Mansions to Wander Through

A luxurious room at the Hotel Dupont in Wilmington Delaware.
A luxurious room at the Hotel Dupont in Wilmington Delaware.

Wilmington, Delaware is famous for the Dupont family, the founders of the chemical company of the same name–and when in Wilmington, the standard bearer for old-line, classic hotels is the Hotel Dupont, right downtown.

The Dupont costs more than any other hotel in the city, but then, it’s historic, luxurious, and people rave about it, like these guests who stayed there in January 2019 for a wedding.

One gushed, “Your hotel and wedding venue was amazing!! Food and service were outstanding. We were there for a wedding, and it was nothing short from breathtaking!!! Everything was what a gorgeous wedding should be. The hotel rooms were so comfortable and relaxing. We can’t wait to return!!!

If you not up for a hotel that goes for upwards of $400 a night, there are plenty of other options in Wilmington, such as reliable chains like the Sheraton Suites, or Fairfield Inn.

The interior of Winterthur, which is much different from Nemours mansion.
The interior of Winterthur, which is much different from Nemours mansion. Tab Hauser photo.

Winterthur is an attraction that lights up many guides to the city.  This is the former estate of Henry Francis du Pont. Winterthur is set on 979 acres with a 175 room, eight-story mansion that was converted into the largest collection of “decorative arts” in America.  One writer described the mansion, which is packed to the rafters with furniture, arts, and antiques, as looking “like hoarders took over.”

A perfect spot for tea at the Nemours mansion in Brandywine. Tab Houser photo.
A perfect spot for tea at the Nemours mansion in Brandywine. Tab Houser photo.

The other Dupont mansion worth a visit to in Greater Wilmington is the Nemours Estate.  This 300-acre property is open for guided tours.  While a visit to Longwood Gardens centered on their gardens and not the mansion, Nemours is the opposite.

Here, the mansion, modeled on a French chateau with its 105 rooms at 47,500 square feet is the center of attention. It is surrounded by a formal French garden and a pretty walk down a long grass lawn to a one-acre reflecting pool complete with marble statues.  It’s quite a site to see!

Find hotels in Wilmington Delaware and use Bonwi points for free nights the next time.