The Hotel Zones of Miami Beach, Florida

Miami Beach and Sunny Isles

Miami Beach hotel zones Florida

These days, South Beach in Miami is a glamor hub, a playground for the fit and sexy. It’s one of the USA’s most popular destinations for gay couples, Latin Americans, and celebrities, giving it an energy that’s hard to find elsewhere.

That’s just one side of Miami, however. The city is also a major art center, a banking and investment hub, and home to the U.S. operations of many international companies. The traditional crowd that came here in droves–retirees from up north–are still a big part of the real estate market as well.

If you’re planning a Miami vacation or a business trip, you’re going to need to pick the right Miami hotel neighborhood. Otherwise you could be spending needless time in traffic.

South Beach Waterfront

When people here “Miami Beach Resorts,” they’re picturing the swanky places you find on South Beach. This sand and fun area is party central for the city and has the largest concentration of hot clubs and restaurants. Sometimes it feels like you have to be extra young and sexy to fit into the South Beach scene, but there are plenty of older people and families enjoying their time here as well.

The names here practically ooze “cool factor” when you see the rundown: SLS South Beach, Eden Roc, Mondrian, Metropolitan by Como, Setai, Delano, Sagamore,  Dorchester… If you’ve got the funds, you can get right onto the beach from the pool at these spots and have a stylish cocktail club to hit at night.

South Beach Inland

South Beach Miami hotel zonesThe beach is public in Miami, so nothing is roped off for the waterfront resorts. If you don’t mind walking a few blocks to the water, you can stay elsewhere in South Beach and be closer to the restaurant and nightlife action.

This city is chock full of Art Deco buildings, so many of the smaller inland hotels are real works of art on the outside, decorated with mid-century modern whimsy on the inside. Most of them are independently owned and operated, though there are a few chains like Wyndham and Hyatt dotted around.

Miami Beach

Miami Beach proper starts where South Beach ends, but really it’s just a line on a map. The glamor address these days is the Faena Hotel Miami Beach, the sister property of a hip hotel in Buenos Aires. It’s near The Edition and The Palms, plus a lot of lower-priced properties on the water stretching north along the ocean.

Miami beach earn the most points with Bonwi

Brickell and Downtown

The prestige factor doesn’t stop if you stay away from the beach for business. Lots of company offices are in the Brickell area and you can find hotels from chains like Kimpton, Four Seasons, JW Marriott, W Hotels, and Mandarin Oriental. There are also some hotels moving into the downtown area, bringing some life into a zone a commuter foot traffic heaven that used to be a dead zone.

downtown Miami hotel Langford

Wynwood Arts District

Until the Art Basel Festival came along, this was kind of a no-man’s-land from a hotel standpoint, mostly filled with cheap motels. Times have changed as this has become the epicenter of the art scene in Miami.

Bal Harbour and Sunny Isles

In between Miami and Hollywood Beach/Fort Lauderdale is a strip of high-end condos and a few pricey resorts. These self-contained villages include Acqualina, St. Regis Bal Harbour, and Ritz-Carlton Bal Harbour. There are a few mid-range options like the Newport and Solé on the Ocean. The beach here is quite nice and seldom crowded. (These properties tend to offer a high payoff on Bonwi points too. Check your dates here.)

Miami Beach and Sunny Isles

Other Miami Options

Of course there are plenty of hotels out by the airport, if you’re just looking for a place to crash during a long layover or before an early flight. The airport is not all that far out of the center here and you can even take a train from there to the business district. Or connect with Tri-Rail and head all the way up to Fort Lauderdale, Boca Raton, and Palm Beach.

Search Miami Hotels and Miami Beach Hotels on Bonwi to earn a big points payback for every stay, no matter which neighborhood you choose.

Heading further north? See the hotel zones of Fort Lauderdale here.

Article and photos by Tim Leffel, editor of Hotel Scoop.

 

The Best Time To Visit The Desert

Best Desert Trips

Best Desert Trips

The Best Time To Visit The Desert

We visit deserts not just because of their unique landscapes, but because they also hold a special place in our imaginations. The combination of solitude, silence, and shifting sands give them a mysterious charm that attracts travelers from all around the world. Summers are long and very hot with temperatures that regularly climb above 100 degrees Fahrenheit (37 degrees Celsius) during the day. You will quickly see why fall and winter seasons are one of the best-kept secrets of travelers. These are the best seasons to visit because the temperatures are comfortable, the light is perfect for photography, and there are no crowds. Below we have compiled a short list of our favorite places to explore during the beautiful and tranquil desert season that’s fast approaching.

Moab, Utah

Moab, Utah is a colossal outdoor playground for hikers, bikers, climbers, and paddlers. The landscape has been called “hard-core” and “gnarly,” but the local attitude is mellow. The town has wineries tucked along sandstone canyons, locally-sourced eateries, and craft breweries.

Death Valley, California

Death Valley sits 282 feet (86 meters) below sea level; is surrounded by steep, colorful mountain ranges; and offers visitors a variety of surreal landscapes that artists and adventurers enjoy equally. The valley averages a comfortable 63 degrees Fahrenheit (17 degrees Celsius) through the fall. Towering peaks are frosted with winter snow. Rare rainstorms bring vast fields of wildflowers. Lush oases harbor tiny fish and refuge for wildlife and humans. Despite its morbid name, a great diversity of life survives in Death Valley.

Grand Junction, Colorado

In the Western United States, town names often speak volumes of what to expect from that place. Grand Junction sits at the crossroads of some of the most grandiose natural sites found in the west. Travelers venture to this area for the whitewater rapids of the Colorado River, the wild horses of Little Book Cliffs, as well as the vineyards and peach orchards of neighboring Fruita and Palisade. Here you will find bighorn sheep nestled within the beautiful red-rock canyons of the Colorado National Monument, along with the world’s largest flat-top mountain which attracts hikers and campers in the summer and skiers in the winter.

Palm Springs, California

This sun-drenched desert oasis is returning to its glory days as a Hollywood playground, a central gathering spot for modern architectural design aficionados, musicians and artists drawn by nature’s inspiration, and an increasing crowd of cool-seekers. Warm cocktail parties by the pool in winter draw snowbirds from the north and locals from cooler parts of southern California. Here visitors enjoy Mai Tais at tiki bars and s’mores by fire pits in the evening under the stars. This is the place where people get away when it’s colder elsewhere.

Grand Canyon, Arizona

The awe-inspiring Grand Canyon is 277 miles (445 kilometers) long and more than a mile deep in some areas. Millions of travelers visit the canyon annually to bask in its natural beauty and overwhelming size. Depending on where you want to explore, visitors can experience helicopter, airplane, jeep, rafting, biking, and donkey tours.

When all is said and done, a desert getaway this upcoming fall or winter can add dimension to your travels, setting a relaxing pace for whatever you do while simultaneously offering up some lasting and cherished memories. To book that desert trip, head to Bonwi.com!

The Small Carrot and Big Stick of Branded Hotel Loyalty Programs

Hyatt Place no breakfast for you

Hyatt Place no breakfast for you

What if when you checked into the Doubletree Hotel they said you could only take a cookie if you filled out a detailed loyalty program survey with personal information?

What if the bartender at Embassy Suites said there would be no cocktail hour for you unless you tell him the last 10 times you stayed at a Hilton branded hotel and how much you paid?

What if you were told you could only fill up your plate at the breakfast buffet at a roadside Hyatt Place hotel if you joined the World of Hyatt loyalty program so they could get at all your data?

The High Stakes of Big Data

Two of those scenarios above are fictional, but the third one is not. Hyatt recently announced there’s no breakfast for you if you don’t bend to their demands and join their loyalty program. They want your personal information so badly they’re willing to extort you via coffee and muffins to make you submit.

We’ve seen them head down this slippery slope before. After a continual torrent of outcry about having to pay for Wi-Fi, the big international chains figured out a loophole: you could get that Wi-Fi for “free” if you simply signed up for their frequent guest program. The aim wasn’t really to gain more loyal customers—an estimated 80% of those customers don’t stay at the same chain more than once per year. Only the sales rep road warriors are loyal enough to get big benefits. The real goal is to get what Facebook and Google have: more information about you and your habits.

You’re no longer just a customer with these companies: you’re the product too. When you sign up for these programs—and I do—you’re part of an ongoing research experiment. Apparently that’s worth the wrath of customers who come down to breakfast and are told they can’t eat unless they turn over their data. You need to pay to play, but with your personal information, not your money.

Hyatt loyalty or else no breakfast
Now with free breakfast! (That used to be free anyway.)

The only way to opt out is to stay somewhere else or complain loudly on the review sites.

The latter can work: when Marriott revamped its award program after acquiring Starwood, one change made everyone happy. Regular non-loyal customers get free Wi-Fi at most properties, but loyalty members get the faster “enhanced” service. Loyalty earns something extra, but the regular paying customers aren’t extorted into it for a service now as expected as hot water.

You Do Have a Choice

You can always choose to stay somewhere else, of course, and that’s what we strongly advise. Just as customers are starting to shun resorts that charge a gotcha “resort fee” just for using the gym and pool you can also avoid this latest ploy.  Just as you can fly Southwest to avoid baggage fees and having to pay for a decent seat.

There’s no sign yet that other chains are following Hyatt’s lead and you can bet that the actual hotel owners are going to rebel after feeling the heat on this one. They want all customers, not just the ones giving the managing corporation customer data. They’re not going to be happy when the angry TripAdvisor reviews start pouring in.  As the blog One Mile at a Time pointed out, what’s the point of staying at a hotel brand like this without the breakfast?

Hyatt Place is one of Hyatt’s limited service brands. When I think of limited service hotels, the first thing that typically comes to mind is free breakfast.

So for now, we advise avoiding participating Hyatt Place hotels if you’re not a member of their loyalty program and don’t like the idea of being forced into it against your will. Every city in the USA is saturated with chain hotels, so there are always plenty of others to choose from. As we mentioned in this article about overwhelming brand choices, the combined Starwood and Marriott have more than 30 just in that company.

30+ hotel brands to keep track of with Marriott

How to Win the Hotel Game No Matter What

There’s one sure way to come out ahead no matter which hotel chain you choose: book through Bonwi. You’ll earn points that can be redeemed two or three times as quickly as ones from Hilton, IHG, or even Hotels.com. If you don’t need a hotel stay, you can book a flight with those points instead. Or get a gift card from Amazon or Best Buy for gadgets or gifts.

You don’t have to let the corporations push you around and treat you like a collection of marketing stats to be bartered and sold. Book with Bonwi and keep your travel habits to yourself.

Best U.S. Casinos Outside Vegas

Best Casinos in U.S.

Best Casinos in the U.S.

Best U.S. Casinos Outside Vegas

While America holds the record for most casinos in the world (1,500+), did you know that only a mere 7% are in Las Vegas? If you love to gamble, you’ve got great options to visit a casino just about anywhere in the US. This also means that the “larger than life” experience casinos offer is more accessible. With so many options, we’ve put together this short list of best casinos that span the US. It’s an easy bet that you’ll enjoy your time at any one of these destinations.

Borgata Hotel Casino And Spa
Atlantic City, New JerseyBorgata Hotel Casino And Spa

Luxury and style punctuate this eastern-seaboard hotel and casino located just ten minutes from the beach. Borgata is a slot player’s paradise, with more than 3,000 machines offering 600 different style games. This casino has a 100-seat Racebook, and 130 tables that include Pai Gow Tiles and Pai Gow Poker among a host of table game favorites. Rooms at the hotel are modern and well appointed. Among them is the Opus Suite, a 1,000 square foot luxury accommodation. An indoor pool, gardens, and luxury spa make the transition from excitement to relaxation at Borgata seamless.

L’Auberge Casino Resort
Lake Charles, LouisianaL’Auberge Casino Resort

L’Auberge aims to create a little patch of paradise in the southeast US with an altogether traditional and luxurious style. Up for play are 15 different table games including baccarat, craps, roulette, and a strong showing of card games both new and old. A tropical-inspired pool area with swim-up bar and lazy river, golfing, full-service spa and luxury shopping make a visit here very worthwhile.

Colorado Belle
Laughlin, NevadaColorado Belle

The Colorado Belle is a one-of-a-kind casino. The “Belle” is a 600-foot long, 65,000-square foot casino situated on a replica of a 19th-century Mississippi paddlewheel riverboat. Including the casino, there is an award-winning brewery, three outstanding restaurants, free live entertainment, two pools, an outdoor spa, and hotel suites with views of the Colorado River.

Mount Airy Casino And Resort
Mount Pocono, PennsylvaniaMount Airy Casino And Resort

With more than 1,800 slot machines and 70 tables featuring poker, blackjack, craps, roulette and baccarat, Mount Airy Casino And Resort holds its own as a player’s destination in the northeast. A full lineup of activities and entertainment make this one lively place, from regularly-hosted poker tournaments to comedy shows and live music acts. Four on-site restaurants (one founded by Guy Fieri), golf courses, and luxury spas round out your experience here. Just a two-hour drive from Manhattan, Mount Airy Casino And Resort makes for a perfect weekend getaway.

Harrah’s Resort
Lake Tahoe, CaliforniaHarrah's Resort

Lake Tahoe is known for its crystal-clear lake and snow-peaked mountains, but nestled next to the water stands a taste of the Las Vegas strip. Built in 1955, the renovated original hotel is connected to the modern casino through underground tunnels. Harrah’s Resort offers the best of two worlds: an exceptional gambling venue situated right in the heart of one of the most beautiful places in the country.

Use the suggestions from this week’s Travel Tip Tuesday to inspire you to visit new places, live new experiences, and create new life-long memories that truly stand out in your mind. And you can start doing those with Bonwi.com!

What You Can Get for 10,000 Points on Bonwi

cash in Bonwi points for flights

cash in Bonwi points for flights

When you sign up for Bonwi for the first time, you get 1,500 points automatically. Right there that’s worth $15 because for 10,000 you can get a $100 gift card to one of your favorite merchants, like Amazon, Best Buy, or Target. What’s on your list right now?

If you start with 1,500 and just make one or two hotel bookings, you’ll probably get to 10,000 points by maximizing the options on Bonwi.

After that, we mentioned that one thing you can do with 10,000 points: cash it in for a gift card. Besides retailers, there are also some food outlets. Need to fund a kid’s birthday party? You can cash in for a hundred bucks from Papa John’s or Dunkin Donuts. Need to take your mom out to dinner? Cash in points for Olive Garden or Cheesecake factory.

You can also use your 10,000 points to rent a car. When I pulled up summer days in Orlando, I found rental cars for as little as 2,150  a day. If you need some room for a family though, you could splurge and get two days of a sport utility vehicle or a minivan for less that 10,000 points over two days.

rent a car with points

Or you can use those points to get a hotel instead. Maybe you want to take your honey on a weekend getaway to the big city, to the beach, or to a town a couple hours away. Or maybe you need a night at an airport hotel in the hub city so you can catch an early flight in the morning. Maybe you need one night at a hotel before a cruise.

What can you get with 10,000 points? I searched weekend nights in the high season for vacations in late June and found plenty: the Atlanta Hilton, a downtown hotel in Nashville, a few motels near the cruise port in Ft. Lauderdale, a few chain hotels in Denver, Hawthorne Suites and Home2Suites in Salt Lake City.

You can also cash Bonwi Rewards in for an airline ticket, with 10,000 points being equal to $100. Maybe $100 won’t go very far in the airline world, but it’s enough for a one-way ticket on some routes. You could fly on Southwest or Delta, for example, one way from Atlanta to New Orleans, and still have some  left over.

Bonwi Rewards points cash in for flights

It’s true that 10,000 points won’t get you very far with the loyalty programs of Hilton or IHG and with Hotels.com you would need to book hotels 10 times to get one free night in return. With Bonwi it’s a different story though and you can do a lot with 10K.

Book your next hotel here and really get something back.

Reward Points Battle: Hilton Honors vs. Bonwi

Hilton Honors versus Bonwi Rewards points

Hilton Honors versus Bonwi Rewards points

If you could spend the same amount for hotel bookings with Hilton compared to the same hotels booked with Bonwi, which would pay off faster in a free night’s stay? We’ll run through the numbers and see.

The Hilton Honors program has been one of the best hotel reward programs in the world for many years running. Now that it’s gone from Hhonors to just Honors, however, recent changes have sliced the earnings potential for most customers.

Until a change that goes into effect this month, you could earn hotel miles plus airline miles, leading to a nice double-dip bonus. Every time you stayed at a Hilton property, you could work toward a free hotel room and also a free flight. Alas, the double-dipping is coming to an end and their program will be just like the others, keeping it all in the family.

If you didn’t choose the airline points before, you could go “points and points” and earn 15 per dollar as a regular customer, 16.5 as a silver elite member. Now the points have dropped by a third.

Earning Points With Hilton Honors

For higher elite members they are better off now, so we see where Hilton’s priorities are. You have to stay 10 times just to reach the lowest elite level, so for most people that’s no applicable. If you get their branded credit card, however, you’re Silver automatically. That means instead of getting 10 points per dollar, you get 12 per dollar. So if you spend $1,000 at Hilton properties, you’ll get 10,000 to 12,000 points. The big payoff is if you practically live at Hilton: if you’re a Diamond Elite road warrior, you’ll get 20,000 points for a $1,000 spend.

You can buy your way there though with premium American Express cards. A Platinum card gets you automatic Gold status, while a Centurion card gets you automatic Diamond status. Pay more for your card, earn more bonus points.
Of course if you were using that regular Hilton Amex credit card for the charges, you would get another bonus on top of 7 points per dollar. Now that $1,000 spend turns into 19,000 points. That should be getting us in free night territory, right?

Earning Points With Bonwi Bookings

With Bonwi.com, it’s less simple on the earnings side, but that’s because the points you earn are variable. You will often earn far more than 1,200 points for a $100 room charge. You could earn enough for a free stay after just two or three nights.

There’s also upside on the redemption part since the payout is not an average of the price paid. Your points may be worth more in some markets than others, so you can cash in faster just by choosing a hotel requiring fewer points. You can sometimes see a payback of 30% on your spend if you pick the right hotels.

Earning Bonwi points faster free stay

Who Gets You to a Free Night Faster?

In our hypothetical example of spending $1,000 with Hilton, you would earn 12,000 points without a Hilton-branded credit card, 19,000 with. So let’s look at what it would take to get there with Hilton and with Bonwi, then see what you can get for your points.

I picked the busy business hub of Atlanta for this example because the city has a lot of Hilton properties across a variety of brands. (Note that you only earn half the points with two of their brands: Tru and Home2. So we have to skip over those. Why, since points are based on dollars spent? We’re not sure.)

If I pick a weekday in May, we could get to around $1,000 by staying at Hilton Garden Inn Millennium Center. By booking with Bonwi, we would earn 23,968 points.

If we book that hotel at Hilton.com, the cost looks to be about the same, though it’s hard to tell since they don’t show taxes and fees until you start actually booking it. If we assume the same amount, you would earn a shade more than 12,000 points.

If we book the Atlanta Hilton without being an elite Honors member, we would earn 12,000 with Hilton or 16,436 with Bonwi. So you’d have a slight advantage with Honors elite level bonus points, but otherwise you’re still earning more with Bonwi.

Using Your Points

So let’s say we want to make it up to our honey for being away for a week and we’re going to take a weekend trip with it. How about nearby Savannah?

If we check what you can get there for the points we earned, here’s what we get:

Hilton Honors – 12,000 points gets us…nothing. The downtown historic district properties would cost us 60,000 points on a Saturday night in June and all we can get for the lowest level of 30,000 is airport hotels. So even if we booked this 5-day business trip three weeks with Hilton, we’d still only earn enough to stay out by the airport.

Using Hilton Honors points

Bonwi Rewards – 23,968 points gets us…more than 50 hotels to choose from on that same Saturday night in Savannah! Granted, the cheapest ones are roadside motels by the interstate, but it doesn’t stop there. That same airport hotel offered by Hilton for 30,000 points is just 15,640 with Bonwi. Or you can get closer to town with SpringHill Suites. For 18,400, you can get a Fairfield Inn right in the historic district. “Honey, we’re all set!”

Using Bonwi Rewards points instead of Hilton

Did you notice that last advantage—that you can pick any hotel you want? This is not a loyalty program where you are locked into one corporation’s brand offerings. Earn points with any hotel brand, spend them with any hotel brand—including independent ones.

The Hilton Honors system isn’t bad on the earnings side, but when you go to actually spend those points they don’t go very far. It often takes 60,000 points – which is a spend of $6,000 for a normal person – just to get a night at a regular Hilton business hotel or Embassy Suites.

Book with Bonwi and you’ll get free stays much faster. That’s true compared to IHG Rewards and it’s true compared to Hilton Honors.

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.

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. 

Five Fantastic Destination Spas In The Western United States

Finding complete relaxation sometimes requires escaping for a while to somewhere dedicated to making you feel new again. While hotels everywhere have spa programs, the western US is host to some of the nation’s top destination spas – resorts offering a full restorative experience including therapy, healthy cuisine, and wellness programs; often amid scenic views and perfect weather. We’ve selected this short list of destination spas in the western states based on their charm, amenities, quality, and the immersiveness of their programs.

Mii amo Spa At Enchantment Resort

Tucked away in the Coconino National Forest north of Phoenix, Arizona, Mii amo is a secluded destination spa perfect for finding your center. While Sedona’s red rock formations instill a sense of zen, Mii amo sits among them harmoniously, with an open and inviting architecture designed around its natural surroundings. The spa features massage techniques from around the globe and transformational activities including Native American inspired rituals and meditation. Hiking trails and a full calendar of fitness and wellness workshops keep your options rounded. Sessions are offered both outdoors and within Mii amo’s many scenic treatment rooms.

The Well Spa At Miramonte

Located in Southern California’s Palm Springs Desert community at the Miramonte Resort, The Well Spa is considered a favorite by locals and visitors alike. This charming Tuscan-inspired villa sits peacefully afoot the Santa Rosa Mountains, adorned with bougainvillea and cyprus , setting the perfect mood to unwind. The spa, covering 12,000 square feet (1.114 square meters), boasts three outdoor treatment spaces, saline pools, bench-water therapy, and a eucalyptus-infused steam room. Begin your spa experience by choosing a stone on which a word of intention is inscribed. This becomes a mantra for your journey to restoration. A few unique treatments offered by The Well Spa include their signature Sticks and Stones massage, a honey massage, a couples painting party using restorative muds.

Claremont Hotel Club & Spa

If you’d like to relax and visit the San Francisco Bay Area, think of the Claremont Hotel Club & Spa as your island in the city. This spa offers a robust menu of treatments and sweeping bay views within a lovingly restored resort dating back to 1915. Watch a sunset over San Francisco in the distance from open-bay windows during a eucalyptus bath therapy session. Customized hydrafacials, aromatherapy, and up to six styles of massage are among the spa therapy offerings. Unwind at your own pace while within minutes of an amazing food scene and northern California’s natural beauty. Feeling adventurous after relaxing? Work on your swing at the on-site tennis club, or take a day trip to San Francisco, coastal villages, or the nearby wine country.

Estancia La Jolla Hotel & Spa

The coastal village of La Jolla, just minutes north of San Diego, California, is home to this luxury hotel and spa modeled as a charming spanish-colonial villa. Estancia sits on 10 acres of immaculately-curated gardens high on the cliffs above Torrey Pines state beach. It’s award-winning spa features a Sea Stone Massage, eucalyptus steam room, and a meditation garden with overstuffed pillows. Bringing someone special with you? An intimate couple’s bungalow featuring a private deck and outdoor soaking tub for two catches ocean breezes all day.

Spa By The Sea

On the island of Kauai, imagine a massage right on the beach, the sound of waves, and a scent of cocoa butter. Literally a spa by the sea, Hawaii’s Waipouli Beach Resort features beach massages, body treatments making use of volcanic ash (an antioxidant), and body wraps with noni fruit, used for centuries by traditional healers throughout the Pacific Islands. When you’re not enjoying the sun, sand, and natural beauty of Kauai, a Japanese Soaking Tub, Vichy Shower room, and Chiropractic suite offer additional ways to relax at this tropical-destination spa.

Feeling like it’s time to hit your reset button? We all deserve some time for ourselves now and then. Putting time on the calendar to decompress might be the best thing you do for yourself this year, and a destination spa out west waits to welcome you.

 

With Valentine’s Day tomorrow, a little last-minute booking for some rest and relaxation on Bonwi.com could be the perfect gift. And make sure you check back every Tuesday for our latest edition of Travel Tip Tuesday!