Trip Tales: Europe’s Baltic Region Part I

As mentioned last week, July was spent exploring Northern Europe’s Baltic region.  With smaller capitals, this area lends itself pretty well to touring by cruise ship.  Oceania Cruises has a great (albeit, very busy) itinerary that offers three full days in St. Petersburg, Russia; full day stops in other Baltic capitals and an open-jaw format that began in Stockholm, Sweden and finished in Copenhagen, Denmark.  By adding on hotel days in the start/end cities, this trip gave a very good overview of the region.
Grand Staircase, Oceania Marina
Red Ginger Restaurant, Oceania Marina

As repeat cruisers with Oceania Cruises there are several things that appeal to us about the line:

  • great itineraries with longer time in port than comparable cruise lines
  • caters primarily to well-traveled adults
  • elevated food/wine quality
  • tasteful and sophisticated ship décor
  • moderate to small ship size

While I did use points for hotel stays on this trip, as you’ll see below my “bang per point” was not especially impressive.  Mid-to-higher end, well-located city center properties were running about $350-450/night this July and using points was an easy/lazy way to avoid tacking on several thousand dollars above and beyond airfare, cruise fare and sightseeing/dining costs.

View from Window, Sheraton Stockholm

Sheraton Stockholm: Category 5 – Standard Award Night 12-16,000 points/night
Natty Gal Point Usage: 17,750 for Superior Room (standard room award not available)
TPG valuation $0.025/point
$443.75 per night valuation…OUCH!

Property Pros: Great location 5 minutes walk from the train station/Arlanda Express train, 5-10 minute walk to Gamla Stan, the new town and City Hall (site of the Nobel dinner), upgraded room had a great view of City Hall and Gamla Stan, on-site coffee shop made for cheap, easy breakfasts

Property Cons: Lobby a bit chaotic on changeover days when people are transferring to/from cruise ships

Executive Lounge, Marriott Copenhagen

Marriott Copenhagen
: Category 8 – Standard Award Night 40,000 points/night

Natty Gal Point Usage: 50,000/night 40,000 standard + 10,000 upgrade (the only rooms available)
TPG valuation $0.007/point
$350.00 per night valuation ($280 base, $70 upgrade)

Knowing we just didn’t want to lay out any more cold, hard cash on this trip, I opened cards specifically to get the points for these stays.  The Marriott card was opened in February and the SPG card in March, 2016.  With the bonus point offers at the time, minimum spend requirements, etc. it was easy to get enough points for the stays within a month or two.

Property Pros: Good location short walk from train station (which goes to airport), Tivoli and the top of the Stroget pedestrian street; lovely waterfront setting, the rooms have enormous windows

Property Cons: A bit far out from some other sites such as Little Mermaid, Amalienborg Palace, etc., big business hotel, bit lacking in charm (as you’d expect)

Trip Tales: Hyatt Beaver Creek

Earlier this month I spent a long weekend at the Park Hyatt Beaver Creek resort in Colorado.  This free stay was earned as a part of a promotion on the Chase Hyatt Card.  After a low $1,000 spend in 3 months, you receive 2 free nights at any Hyatt property, valid for use within one year.  The card has a $75 annual fee which is waived the first year and also offers Hyatt Gold Passport Platinum status and an annual free night on your card member anniversary good at Category 1-4 properties. 

Wanting to get the biggest bang for my buck on the two unrestricted free nights, I looked up Category 7 Hyatt properties in the US and narrowed the trip down to Beaver Creek or NYC.  With friends in Breckenridge and never having done the Rocky Mountain ski thing, Beaver Creek is the property that won out!  A stay here definitely feels “1%-er” with prices to match at most shops and dining venues.  Below is a brief review of the property’s high and low-lights.


  • Location:  The Hyatt is situated slope-side right at the base of the Buckaroo lift and a short distance from the Centennial lift.  Views from the rooms, the main lobby and outdoor bars are spectacular!
  • Rooms:  The room had a great slope-side view and subtle, lodge-style décor.  A fireplace was a nice touch despite it’s very weak flame.  As a nice bonus, reception waived the $50/day resort fee for Platinum status – the $50/day parking fee, not so much. Plenty of outlets and hanging space/coat hooks for a wide variety of ski and winter gear.  Keurig coffee maker with a very full allotment of coffees, teas, cocoas, etc. was much appreciated.  Yummy toffee at turn-down.
  • Ski Valet:  Whether you bring your own or arrange equipment rentals through Gorsuch, the ski valet is a wonderful service that allows you to retrieve your pre-warmed boots and gear right at the base of the lift.  Bins provide storage for your shoes, odds and ends and any layers you may want to keep nearby.  Best of all – no schlepping equipment at the start or end of your day!
  • Slopes:  Miles and miles of stunning and relatively uncongested skiing.  Nice mix of terrain, good signage.  Can ski to Bachelor Gulch resort or take shuttles to other nearby resorts.
Beaver Creek Village
  • Activities:  So much to do!  Village shopping and dining right outside the door, spa services, pool and hot-tubs, ski school for kids and adults, S’mores happy hour, nightly live entertainment, Thursday Night Lights ski down and fireworks show, other outdoor winter activities (skating, tubing, snow-shoeing, snowmobiling, etc.), wine and craft beer dinners. 
  • Staff:  Very friendly and greet you by name, particularly those in the public areas (reception, lobby, bars, valet).  Concerned with your stay.


  • The “Blow Me Away” Factor: While hard-pressed to find much to complain about, especially given the free stay, the devil IS in the details.  One morning there were no cups by the water decanter in the lobby.  Bar snacks/bowls of nuts in the lobby bar would have been a nice touch. 
  • Rooms:  The tissue holder was empty when we checked in.  Not a huge deal but should be automatic at this level of property.  Also requested more creamer and while some was brought, it wasn’t a lot.  Don’t see how it could have hurt to “overdo” on that note.

Good to Know:

  • The Hyatt BC and Beaver Creek in general is a family-oriented resort.  There will be kids around in all public areas.  If you do not want to be around children, this is NOT the place for you.  If you do have kids, the staff does an AMAZING job and they are all but guaranteed a good time.
S’mores Happy Hour
  • Hand-in-hand with the above, this is NOT a wild night-life destination.  Days were spent on the slopes followed by a nice dinner, nightcap at one of the bars in town or at the hotel and time in the hot-tub.  If you need a 3 AM last call, go elsewhere.
  • If you plan to ski for 3 or more days OR if you live near other Epic resorts and plan to ski there, it is far more cost-effective to get a season pass than to pay the daily lift fees ($150-180).
  • Check out local events/competitions that may be going on while you are there.  The Burton US Open was in Vail while I was there and being right on the half-pipe was an experience to remember!
  • A stand-out dining destination was Splendido at the Chateau, reachable by the complimentary Hyatt shuttle bus, both food and service were worth the mention!
Splendido at the Chateau
Check out What I Wore and check out The Points Guy for more great tips on earning free travel!

Room with a View: Conrad Koh Samui

My flirtation with amateur travel hacking started with a weekend trip to Niagara Falls. We stayed at a Hilton property and decided to join the Hilton HHonors travel reward program. With my husband traveling a great deal for work at the time, we quickly saw points start to accumulate.  

In typical rookie fashion, we used our new reward point wealth for local weekend trips, spending them on free stays at Hampton Inns. When, a year later, we booked a bigger trip to France and needed a hotel in Paris we realized the error of this approach.

In our mid-West locale, Hampton Inns pretty much all run below $150 per night, sometimes significantly so. However in Paris (and most other major cities in Europe and the US) a well-located downtown property can run anywhere from $300 to well over $800 per night.  

Luckily we were able to secure a 5-night reward stay at the now-defunct Paris Hilton complete with a balcony view of the Eiffel Tower and Executive Lounge access with daily breakfast and unlimited champagne pours!  

Lesson Learned: Only redeem points on high-end properties!

Which brings us to the Conrad Koh Samui – our most recent and best “bang for the buck” hotel reward stay. Located on Samui Island Thailand, the Conrad is at the top of the Hilton chain. This stunning property consists of spacious, private villas nestled on a cliff over-looking the Gulf of Thailand. Each villa features a 10-meter infinity edge pool, an over-sized soaking tub, rain and multi-head shower and the latest and greatest in in-room technology. And the best part – these villas normally go for $1200 per night! 

While it’s unlikely we ever would have ponied up $4800 of our own money for this stay, by budgeting our award points wisely, we were able to enjoy a luxurious and relaxing experience that was the perfect ending to a couple of weeks in Thailand.