Yesterday I was on a mission to find sea otter pups. This is the peak of the annual birthing season, although sea otters give birth any month of the year. Finding a Southern sea otter is not necessarily an easy task around the Monterey Peninsula. There are fewer than 3,000 otters along 200 miles of California’s central coast. Many of these are found around the shoreline of Monterey Bay and the Big Sur coast. Point Lobos State Reserve generally has around 50 sea otters off its shores.

I arrived at Point Lobos State Reserve, south of Carmel-by-the-sea and decided to hike to Coal Chute Point, a direction I infrequently travel when visiting the park. Within ten minutes of arrival at Point Lobos, I heard the sound of a sea otter pup crying.

As I approached the shoreline with binoculars in hand, I spotted a tiny sea otter pup alone in the cove with mama sea otter swimming quickly towards it. She scooped the pup up from the cold water and onto her belly.

Sea otters Coal Chute

What happened next had me questioning mama sea otter’s wisdom. She swam directly into the surf between rocks with the otter pup. There were periodic large waves channeling between the rocks. Truly amazing was watching mama otter climb onto the rocks dragging her pup. Sea otters typically do not leave the water, but they can. This is the first time I recall seeing a sea otter get out of the water.

Sea otter on rocks

Now, I questioned mama sea otter’s judgment again? The waves were building and the young otter I spotted with my binoculars would be in a serious world of hurt if a wave crashed over the rocks and rolled the little fur ball across the hard, sharp granite into the sea.

Apparently mama recognized the danger too as she picked up the pup and went back into the sea. What I could not tell at the time viewing the sea otter mama and pup on the rocks was her handling of two pups. That realization was still several minutes away.

Mama otter off rocks

Mama sea otter swam across the small cove to Coal Point Chute, so named for its location as a ship loading chute in the 19th century on Whalers Cove.

Coal Chute Point

Whalers Cove is named for the whaling station that existed from the 1860s to 1880s in the cove during the whale hunting era on the California coast. Whale oil was a primary source of lantern fuel prior to the development of kerosene from petroleum.

Loyalty Traveler – Shore Whalers History at Point Lobos State Park, California

California State Parks – Point Lobos State Natural Reserve Whalers Cove

Mama sea otter deftly swam across the cove in less than one minute. I scrambled back along the coastal trail to reach Coal Chute Point. It took me five minutes to reach the point. By the time I arrived at Coal Chute Point, mama sea otter was on her way across Whalers Cove to calmer water.

Otter xing Whalers Cove

There were two other otters I had seen earlier in Whalers Cove wrapped up in sea kelp. I could not see any sea otter pups with them. Mama sea otter crossed Whalers Cove in about five minutes swimming on her back with the pups. It took me about ten minutes to hustle along the coast trail around the cove. Mama sea otter settled down by the offshore rock near Whalers Cabin, a Chinese built cabin from the 1850s that now serves as a park history center.

The Joy and the Pity of Sea Otter Twins

Not until I was at Whalers Cabin and mama sea otter was only about 50 yards away did I realize she was carrying two pups on her chest and abdomen. Sea otter twins are a rarity with about a 2% occurrence in births. Several park visitors had already gathered alongside the road to observe mama sea otter with her pups.

Sea otter twins-1

The sad fact is a mama sea otter cannot support two pups. The energy needed to support one pup challenges a mama sea otter who must nurture the young pup for around six months before it is independent. One of these pups will likely be abandoned within the next couple of days.

Sea Otter twins-2

In 2013 there was media coverage about a mama sea otter with twins spotted at Morro Bay, some 100 miles south of Point Lobos State Reserve. Marine mammal rescuers watched and hoped to save the abandoned pup, however, fog came into the bay and there were no more sightings of a mama sea otter with two pups.

Tiny Sea Otter Siblings Fight the Odds – Wired.com (June 28, 2013) – this article has adorable photos of the otter pups.

Sea Otter Gives Birth To Twins In Morro Bay, California – seaotters.com (June 29, 2013)

Sea Otter Twinning: A Bittersweet Blessing – seaotters.org (August 6, 2013)

Sea otter twins-3

I feel blessed to have seen sea otter twins. Tearing myself away from the shore of Point Lobos with mama otter and her twins floating about 50 feet from shore was difficult. Sea otter twins was a sight I may never see again.

I contacted the Monterey Bay Aquarium to report the twins. Hopefully this story will have a happy ending with news of an abandoned pup rescue. I was saddened yesterday afternoon to look at my photos and realize this is a natural Sophie’s Choice decision that will play out this week.

Sea otter twins-4

I won’t leave you on a down note. Last September there was an abandoned sea otter pup found north of Monterey Bay who was rescued and raised by the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Pup 681 is now named Luna and living at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago.

Shedd Aquarium Chicago – http://www.sheddaquarium.org/sheddpup/

NPR.org – WATCH: Orphaned Sea Otter Pup Has Snack, Playtime

Hopefully there will a happy ending to this story of the twin sea otter pups in Whalers Cove, Point Lobos State Natural Reserve.

Friday, Feb. 27 update: This morning I returned to Whalers Cove, Point Lobost State Reserve and I saw mama sea otter with one pup hanging out in Whalers Cove. One of the twin pups was rescued yesterday afternoon by Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Sea Otter Research and Conservation (SORAC).

Club Carlson MegaPoints rate for 10,000 bonus points per night started as a promotional rate for about ten Radisson hotels in the Americas. For 2015 there is now a posted list of dozens of hotels offering this rate.

Club Carlson MegaPoints

This is a great deal for some hotels. I checked the Radisson Salt Lake City Airport to see the rate tomorrow night for 10,000 bonus points is $110 compared to a low rate of $90. That is a great deal for 10,000 bonus points at the cost of about $23. Buying 10,000 Club Carlson points through Points.com will cost $70.

Radisson SLC Airport Megapoints rate

Here are other Radisson Hotels in the Americas offering MegaPoints rates for 10,000 Club Carlson bonus points per night.

VFMLID=63060976

WESTERN U.S.

Read More…

Marriott Concierge is busy on social media this week. First there was the announcement that 1 in 3 Marriott Hotels worldwide is changing category on March 19, 2015 with 75% of those hotels going up in reward category.

Yesterday a new policy was announced that Marriott Rewards points expire after two years of inactivity effective February 1, 2016.

Starting February 1, 2016, members who do not have a qualifying activity in the prior 24 months will forfeit all accumulated points. If you have not engaged in a qualifying activity since January 31, 2014 you have until January 31, 2016 to do so before the policy is enforced.

We make it pretty easy to maintain active status in the Marriott Rewards program. Qualifying activities include:

• Make a paid (or redemption) stay at any of our 3,800+ participating hotels worldwide
• Redeem points
• Make a purchase through a Marriott Rewards credit card
• Earn points with one of our program partners
• Purchase points
• Hold a qualifying meeting or event through the Rewarding Events℠ program

The following activities do not count toward maintaining an active status in the Marriott Rewards program:

• Gifting or transferring points; however, converting Points to Miles or Miles to Points does count toward maintaining an active status
• Receiving points as a gift or transfer
• Earning points through social media programs, such as #MRPoints

For full details and updated terms, please visit: http://www.MarriottRewards.com/PointsPolicy

Over the years I have shared a story about how Marriott Rewards points I earned in 2000 from transfers of LatinPass miles to Marriott Rewards for a hotel reward stay left me with about 15,000 points in my account for years. I redeemed those points around ten years later when I traveled to Albany, New York. Marriott Rewards had a competitive advantage over other hotel programs with non-expiring points.

IHG Rewards Club is another hotel loyalty program with a policy of points never expire.

There are reasons for loyalty members who have been active in a hotel loyalty program to stop activity for a period of time. One of the easiest and least expensive ways to maintain Marriott Rewards account activity is to buy 1,000 Marriott Rewards points for $12.50. That is a small price to pay to prevent thousands of points from expiring.

The new policy begins February 1, 2016. Any activity between now and January 31, 2016 will extend your points life for another two years from that date.

Source: FlyerTalk.com – Marriott Rewards® points will now expire

Related Post: Loyalty Traveler – Marriott Rewards March 19, 2015 hotel category changes are bad news (Feb 26, 2015)

IHG PointBreaks Hotels for stays to May 31, 2015 at 5,000 points per night offer some great deals if you are in the right places. I have reprinted the list in this post with direct links to the PointBreaks hotels still shown today.

InterContinental Lhasa Paradise would be a a taste of the high mountains with enough time to acclimate to the elevation at 5,000 points per night.

Crowne Plaza Bucharest Romania or Holiday Inn Budapest are other interesting hotels to me.  Crowne Plaza Vilnius Lithuania is a place that could be a good destination in conjunction with a Norwegian Air or WOW Air low cost flight to Oslo, Stockholm or Copenhagen.

USA has far less interesting hotels, but I’d jump on any hotel for 5,000 points per night if I needed a place to stay where there is a PointBreaks option.

United States

ALABAMA
CANDLEWOOD SUITES HUNTSVILLE – RESEARCH PARK
HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS & SUITES DOTHAN NORTH

ARIZONA
HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS NOGALES
HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS & SUITES PAGE – LAKE
POWELL AREA

ARKANSAS
HOLIDAY INN LITTLE ROCK-AIRPORT-CONF CTR

CALIFORNIA
HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS CALEXICO
HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS MORENO VALLEY (LAKE PERRIS)
HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS & SUITES BEAUMONT – OAK VALLEY
STAYBRIDGE SUITES SACRAMENTO AIRPORT NATOMAS

COLORADO
HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS LA JUNTA
HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS & SUITES FRASER – WINTER
PARK AREA

CONNECTICUT
HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS SOUTHINGTON

FLORIDA
HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS & SUITES TAMPA-ANDERSON RD/
VETERANS EXP

GEORGIA
HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS & SUITES COMMERCE-
TANGER OUTLETS

HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS & SUITES MACON-WEST
HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS & SUITES WARNER ROBINS
NORTH WEST

HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS & SUITES WAYCROSS

IDAHO
HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS BOISE-UNIVERSITY AREA

ILLINOIS
CANDLEWOOD SUITES ELGIN NW-CHICAGO
HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS BLOOMINGTON WEST
HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS ROCHELLE
STAYBRIDGE SUITES ROCKFORD

INDIANA
CANDLEWOOD SUITES BLOOMINGTON
CANDLEWOOD SUITES INDIANAPOLIS AIRPORT
HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS AUBURN-TOURING DR
HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS & SUITES SCOTTSBURG

IOWA
HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS & SUITES CLINTON
HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS & SUITES LE MARS

KENTUCKY
HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS & SUITES MURRAY
HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS & SUITES PIKEVILLE

LOUISIANA
HOLIDAY INN COVINGTON
HOLIDAY INN MORGAN CITY
HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS & SUITES SCOTT-LAFAYETTE WEST

MARYLAND
EVEN HOTELS ROCKVILLE – WASHINGTON DC AREA
HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS WALDORF
HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS & SUITES NORTH EAST

MASSACHUSETTS
CANDLEWOOD SUITES WEST SPRINGFIELD

MICHIGAN
HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS & SUITES GRAND BLANC

MINNESOTA
HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS & SUITES MANKATO EAST

MISSISSIPPI
CANDLEWOOD SUITES TUPELO NORTH
HOLIDAY INN VICKSBURG
HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS & SUITES GREENVILLE
HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS & SUITES MERIDIAN

MISSOURI
HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS KIRKSVILLE
HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS ST LOUIS – CENTRAL WEST END
HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS & SUITES LEBANON

NEBRASKA
HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS & SUITES LINCOLN SOUTH

NEW HAMPSHIRE
CROWNE PLAZA NASHUA

NEW JERSEY
HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS & SUITES VINELAND MILLVILLE

NEW MEXICO
HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS SILVER CITY

NEW YORK
HOLIDAY INN MIDDLETOWN-GOSHEN
HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS & SUITES EAST GREENBUSH
(ALBANY-SKYLINE)

NEVADA
HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS FALLON

NORTH CAROLINA
HOLIDAY INN LUMBERTON NORTH – I-95
HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS & SUITES CONOVER
(HICKORY AREA)

HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS & SUITES LAURINBURG

OHIO
HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS TOLEDO NORTH
HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS & SUITES BRYAN-MONTPELIER

OKLAHOMA
CANDLEWOOD SUITES WOODWARD
HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS & SUITES BARTLESVILLE
HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS & SUITES MCALESTER

PENNSYLVANIA
CANDLEWOOD SUITES HARRISBURG
HOLIDAY INN LANSDALE
HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS FRAZER-MALVERN
HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS IRWIN (PA TPK EXIT 67)
HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS & SUITES DRUMS-HAZLETON (I-80)

SOUTH CAROLINA
CANDLEWOOD SUITES COLUMBIA-FT. JACKSON
HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS & SUITES GREENWOOD
HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS & SUITES LEXINGTON-HWY 378

SOUTH DAKOTA
HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS & SUITES VERMILLION
HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS & SUITES WATERTOWN

TENNESSEE
HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS ATHENS

TEXAS
CANDLEWOOD SUITES ABILENE
CANDLEWOOD SUITES DECATUR MEDICAL CENTER
CANDLEWOOD SUITES MOUNT PLEASANT
HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS & SUITES CARTHAGE
HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS & SUITES CENTER
HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS & SUITES CLEVELAND
HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS & SUITES ENNIS
HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS & SUITES FALFURRIAS
HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS & SUITES FORT WORTH NORTH – NORTHLAKE
HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS & SUITES LEVELLAND
HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS & SUITES LUFKIN SOUTH
HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS & SUITES SAN ANTONIO SE
BY AT&T CENTER

HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS & SUITES WHARTON
STAYBRIDGE SUITES LAREDO INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT
STAYBRIDGE SUITES SAN ANTONIO – STONE OAK

UTAH
HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS & SUITES SALT LAKE CITY
SOUTH – MURRAY

VIRGINIA
CANDLEWOOD SUITES RICHMOND NORTH-GLEN ALLEN
HOLIDAY INN NORTON
HOLIDAY INN PETERSBURG NORTH- FORT LEE
HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS & SUITES CHRISTIANSBURG
HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS & SUITES ROCKY MOUNT/SMITH
MTN LAKE

STAYBRIDGE SUITES QUANTICO-STAFFORD

WASHINGTON
HOLIDAY INN DOWNTOWN-EVERETT
HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS & SUITES TACOMA
SOUTH – LAKEWOOD

WEST VIRGINIA
HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS NEWELL-CHESTER WV

WISCONSIN
HOLIDAY INN CONFERENCE CTR MARSHFIELD
HOLIDAY INN HOTEL & SUITES WAUSAU-ROTHSCHILD

WYOMING
CANDLEWOOD SUITES SHERIDAN

 
Canada

ALBERTA
STAYBRIDGE SUITES WEST EDMONTON

ONTARIO
HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS & SUITES MILTON

 

MEXICO
CROWNE PLAZA TUXTLA GUTIERREZ
HOLIDAY INN MEXICO COYOACAN
HOLIDAY INN MONTERREY NORTE
HOLIDAY INN REYNOSA ZONA DORADA
HOLIDAY INN ORIZABA
HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS GUAYMAS
HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS TOLUCA GALERIAS METEPEC
HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS & SUITES QUERETARO
HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS & SUITES TOLUCA ZONA AEROPUERTO
STAYBRIDGE SUITES GUADALAJARA EXPO

 
Central & South America

ARGENTINA
HOLIDAY INN BUENOS AIRES EZEIZA AIRPORT

BRAZIL
HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS BELÉM ANANINDEUA
HOLIDAY INN FORTALEZA

COLOMBIA
CROWNE PLAZA SUITES SUITES TEQUENDAMA BOGOTA
HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS & SUITES MEDELLIN

COSTA RICA
CROWNE PLAZA SAN JOSE COROBICI
HOTEL INDIGO SAN JOSE FORUM COSTA RICA

GUATEMALA
HOLIDAY INN GUATEMALA

HONDURAS
HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS TEGUCIGALPA

 
Europe

FINLAND
HOLIDAY INN TAMPERE

FRANCE
HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS SAINT – NAZAIRE
HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS MARSEILLE – PROVENCE AIRPORT

GERMANY
HOLIDAY INN FULDA
HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS GUETERSLOH

HUNGARY
HOLIDAY INN BUDAPEST – BUDAÖRS

ITALY
HOLIDAY INN GENOA CITY

LITHUANIA
CROWNE PLAZA VILNIUS

NETHERLANDS (HOLLAND)
HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS ARNHEM

ROMANIA
CROWNE PLAZA BUCHAREST

SPAIN
HOLIDAY INN ELCHE
HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS CAMPO DE GIBRALTAR – BARRIOS

UNITED KINGDOM
HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS BRAINTREE
HOLIDAY INN CARDIFF – NORTH M4, JCT.32
HOLIDAY INN DARLINGTON – A1 SCOTCH CORNER
HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS HAMILTON

 

Asia

CAMBODIA
INTERCONTINENTAL PHNOM PENH

INDIA
HOLIDAY INN NEW DELHI INT’L AIRPORT

JAPAN
CROWNE PLAZA ANA UBE

CHINA (PEOPLE’S REPUBLIC)
CROWNE PLAZA CHONGQING NEW NORTH ZONE
CROWNE PLAZA JINAN CITY CENTER
CROWNE PLAZA TIANJIN JINNAN
CROWNE PLAZA XIANGYANG
CROWNE PLAZA ZHONGSHAN WING ON CITY
HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS NANTONG XINGHU
HOLIDAY INN HANGZHOU XIAOSHAN
INTERCONTINENTAL LHASA PARADISE

Middle East & Africa

ZIMBABWE
HOLIDAY INN BULAWAYO

Marriott Rewards March 19, 2015 hotel category changes affect a large number of properties, something like 1,400 hotels or 1 in 3 hotels worldwide.

There are 8.5 pages of hotels going down shown in the Marriott Rewards pdf. 43 hotels on each page. About 370 hotels dropping in category.

There are 25 pages of hotels going up in reward category. That is about 1,075 hotels. If Marriott follows the pattern of changes by Starwood, then most of the hotels rising should be in the USA with most hotels dropping in places like Europe, Canada and Asia where the US Dollar has gained significant value of about 20% on foreign currencies in 2014.

My look over the list does not reveal many hotels going down in Europe. I see hotel category drops for some hotels in Russia, Japan, China, India and Canada. Most of the hotels going down are located in the USA.

The problem is the tables of hotels are not organized geographically. I am not sure how Marriott came up with the list. Some hotels are ordered by state and some are ordered by city and some appear to have no ordering guideline at all.

Marriott 2015 category changes

This section from page 26 of 35 pages shows Virginia Beach hotels and then goes to California with Camarillo and Oxnard and Ventura. Ventura is the biggest place name for the area. Ventura should be listed before Virginia Beach if list is alphabetical by city. And then the list goes to Paris CDG and Boca Raton, Florida.

What is the guiding rule for the list order?

Bottom line is more than 25% of hotels worldwide are increasing in Marriott Rewards category in three weeks on March 19, 2015. Many of these changes will make category 4 and category 5 hotel certificates earned through MegaBonus and Marriott credit card anniversaries a far less useful reward night.

In fairness, Marriott Rewards offered a far higher proportion of hotels in low categories than competitor chains when comparing comparable market segment hotels in the same cities. Marriott has made a significant dent to eliminate that competitive advantage over the past three years as each year has seen a large shift upward from category 1-4 hotels into higher category reward nights.

Here are some old Loyalty Traveler articles to show the upward shift of Marriott Rewards hotels over the past five years.

Marriott vs. Hilton: Which chain has more favorable hotel category distribution for reward nights? (Nov 2, 2009)

Here is a table I created last year showing the distribution of Marriott brand hotels in each reward category from 2010 to 2014.

Loyalty Traveler – Need to burn Marriott MegaBonus category 5 free night in high category world (Oct 14, 2014)

Marriott Rewards 2010-2014 category changes

In 2010 there were about 3,365 hotels in Marriott Rewards with only 184 properties in categories 6-8.

In 2014 there were about 4,047 hotels in Marriott Rewards and more than 750 hotels in categories 6 to 9.

In a quick survey of the March 19 changes I counted over 200 hotels rising to category 7. There are currently 274 hotels worldwide in Marriott Rewards category 7. That changes to nearly 500 hotels in category 7 in three weeks. That is a 75% increase in the number of hotels in Marriott Rewards category 7.

Marriott category 7 274 hotels 2-26-15

Bottom line is these changes are very bad news for Marriott Rewards members. Marriott Rewards points have devalued significantly.

I’ll develop more comprehensive analyses of changes in the next couple of weeks. Marriott Rewards members should look to burn points before the changes on March 19, 2015.

Links:

Marriott Rewards Insiders: First look at 2015 hotel category changes – Book before March 19, 2015 using the current hotel categories

FlyerTalk: Marriott new category changes 2015

There are 137 hotels on this week’s list of SPG Hot Escapes with 41 hotels in the USA. I look at a hotel like Le Meridien Lav in Split, Croatia at $73 per night for the entire month of March and wish I could move there for a month to secure SPG lifetime Gold elite. I’m only 20-something nights away.

SPG Hot Escapes Croatia

For many of us, family gets in the way of travel when you consider the impact of your absence on the lives of those around you. Being a home office worker, my additional chores include all the grocery shopping and cooking. Kelley misses here live-in chef when I hit the road without her.

I’ll settle for a week of travel somewhere in March, and probably not in a Starwood Hotel. Perhaps you can find a good hotel for your travels in this week’s SPG Hot Escapes.

Here are some notable hotel deals for me:

The Equinox, a Luxury Collection Golf Resort & Spa, Vermont is $179 for all dates Sunday to Thursday nights. All the snow in the northeast gives this property a better value than a typical mud season March.

La Posada de Sante Fe, a Luxury Collection Resort & Spa in Santa Fe, New Mexico is $81 this weekend and $95 per night during the last week of March.

Westin Resort Nusa Dua Bali is $119 for several dates in March. The location adjacent to the Luxury Collection property with shared facilities makes this a good hotel for sleeping with two hotels for entertainment and facilities.

Le Meridien Bali Jimbaran at $113 for several dates in March provides an opportunity to Starwood Hotel hop on the cheap and see different areas of the island. St. Regis Bali is $380 per night for nearly every date in March if you feel compelled for luxury.

Canada is the real deal of the season. The Canadian Dollar had its greatest devaluation in 2014 in years and Canada hotel prices are a bargain for Americans.

Westin Bristol Place Toronto Airport $64 to $70 most weekends.

Le Meridien Versailles, Montreal at $73 to $85 per night Thursday through Sunday.

Westin Bayshore Vancouver at $129 March 8-12 is a great hotel deal for the best city in the west.

Recap of SPG Hot Escapes rules:

Prepaid and nonrefundable rates.

Must book before 12 midnight local hotel time Saturday Feb 28, 2015 for stays over next six weeks.

This post has my list of USA 94 Starwood Hotels with SPG category increase March 10, 2015 ordered by State and City. Starwood released a table ordered by hotel brand.

Our best bet this year is pay in the USA when low rates are offered and redeem points internationally where rates are high and reward nights have gone down in price for 2015. The value of points for hotel stays improves in Canada, Europe and much of Asia, while the USA nightly reward rates using points go up for 94 hotels and only drop for 22 hotels.

SPG reward night cost

Loyalty Traveler – SPG Europe 2015 hotel category changes are all down (Feb 24). 46 hotels in Europe drop in SPG category on March 10. No hotels in Europe increase category on March 10.

94 Starwood Hotels in USA with March 10 SPG category increase

SPG 2015 USA Cat up

Two hotels make a double category leap with Four Points San Jose Silicon Valley jumping from category 2 to category 4. Friday night went from 3,000 points to 10,000 points per night. Aloft Detroit at the David Whitney also jumps from SPG category 2 to category 4.

California is hit with 21 hotels making a category increase. The Palace Hotel San Francisco is likely going to create some angry SPG members who redeem 20,000 points and find their room on the interior courtyard with a view of brick walls.

Category 2 hotels tend to be a pretty good deal with points. Nearly 1 in 3 of 90 category 2 hotels in the USA increases to SPG category 3 on March 10. This means SPG members need about twice as many points when the 3,000/4,000 points category 2 reward nights increase to 7,000 points.

Boston and California take a hit with several new category 6 hotels and quite a few category 5 properties.

Take stock of the SPG changes and redeem your points before March 10 if one of these hotels is in your sights.

The news is not all bad. In the next post I will cover 22 hotels in the USA going down in category, along with some Canada hotels going down as a result of currency devaluation against the US Dollar in 2014.

Related Posts:

Starwood : List of Starwood Hotels withSPG Category Change on March 10, 2015. This list from Starwood orders hotels by brand. I have reorganized their list to look at hotels geographically by state and city.

Loyalty Traveler – Overview of SPG category changes March 10, 2015

Loyalty Traveler – SPG 2015 category changes Asia Pacific Region Starwood Hotels (23 hotels go up and 34 hotels go down).

Loyalty Traveler – SPG Europe 2015 hotel category changes are all down (46 hotels drop SPG category on March 10, 2015.

Hilton HHonors Double Points or Miles March 1 to May 31, 2015 is the upcoming global promotion. Hilton announced last month they will only run two global promotions per year and focus on targeted offers for HHonors members in the other months. Welcome to new Hilton HHonors.

Double points is the standby promotion for Hilton HHonors.

Hilton Double Points or Miles registration is required before your hotel stay during the promotion period to qualify as an eligible stay.

Choose carefully because your selection cannot be changed
once you select Double Points or Double Miles and register for the promotion.

HHonors 2x-2015 spring promo

HHonors normal earning rate

A member with earning preference of Points & Points normally earns 15 points per dollar. Double points applies only to base points for 10 extra points per dollar.

Earn 10 HHonors Base Points for every eligible US dollar spent on your room
When you stay at a hotel or resort within the Hilton Worldwide portfolio, you earn 10 Base Points for every US dollar spent on your room rate and other eligible room charges, including telephone calls and room service.

Some exceptions apply: At Hampton Inn™ or Homewood Suites by Hilton™ hotels, earn 10 Base Points for every US dollar spent on your room rate only. At Home2 Suites by Hilton™ hotels, earn 5 Base Points for every US dollar spent on your room rate only.

Hilton HHonors Earn Points

Points & Miles earners receive 10 base points and 1 mile per dollar.

POINTS & MILES (HHonors Base Points + airline/rail miles)
Turn stays into free nights and reward flights with this earning style. Earn 10 HHonors Base Points plus 1 mile per eligible US dollar spent on most stays. (For stays at Home2 Suites by Hilton™ hotels, earn 5 HHonors Base Points plus 1 mile per eligible US dollar spent on your room, up to 100 miles per stay.)

Hilton HHonors Earn Miles

Hilton HHonors has 60 airline partners, more than any other hotel chain. The double miles promotion earns 2 miles per dollar in hotel spend. In general, earning miles from hotel stays is the better value than redeeming HHonors points for airline miles at HHonors poor exchange rates.

Double Points or Double Miles?

This question is more relevant to Hilton HHonors members who are not elite members. I assume you know what workd for you if you hold HHonors Diamond elite and accumulate points on Hilton HHonors credit cards.

  1. Double points = 25 HHonors points/$1 for Points & Points earners.
  2. Double points earns 20 HHonors points/$1 + 1 mile/$1 for Points & Miles earners.
  3. Double miles earns 10 HHonors points/$1 + 2 miles/$1 for Points & Miles earners.

$1,000 Analysis

I look at $1,000 in spend during a hotel promotion as a reasonable amount for a person or family traveling for a week on vacation or for several short one and two night stays during three months.

Double points at 25 points per dollar means you can earn 25,000 points on $1,000 in hotel spend, plus elite member bonus points and credit card bonus points, if applicable.

Double points for a Points & Miles earner means 20,000 HHonors points + 1,000 miles.

Double miles for a Points & Miles earner means 10,000 HHonors points + 2,000 miles.

HHonors points to miles exchange at the rate of 10,000 points = 1,000 miles for most airlines. You can earn points and exchange at a later date. You need a minimum of 10,000 HHonors points to make transfers into most airline programs. Air France/KLM require 20,000 points and a couple other airlines require 25,000 points.

I think Points & Points is the best earning option, unless you have a good reason for choosing miles.

All in all, your choice of earning option might be irrelevant if you are planning hotel stays in the USA. More than 750 hotels in the USA opted out of this promotion compared to only 21 hotels for the rest of the world.

Welcome to the current Hilton HHonors!

Is Hilton HHonors your best option?

I’d like to leave you with a hotel loyalty promotion comparison for what I think is the best value currently for hotel stays. Club Carlson Extend Your Stay offer of 30,000 bonus points for 3-nights and longer stays or 15,000 bonus points for two night stays through March 29, 2015 is the best offer currently available for earning sufficient points for free nights.

Club Carlson Vondelpark points

Park Plaza Vondelpark Amsterdam – 3 night stay for 225 EUR earned 20 points per dollar for $259 + 30,000 bonus points with Extend Your Stay bonus points.

Last month I stayed 3 nights at Country Inn & Suites West Valley City, Utah.

Club Carlson Utah points

$220 in hotel spend + tax earned nearly 46,000 points with one stay in Utah and $280 in hotel spend earned 37,000 points with one stay in Amsterdam.

My total spend was a little over $500 for six hotel nights that earned 83,000 points. Those points will buy several hotel nights in Europe this summer as a Club Carlson Visa card member with the benefit of one night on reward stays of two or more nights. I’ll primarily plan for 2-night hotel stays on our July trip to Europe.

Hilton HHonors double points would have earned 12,500 points with $500 in spend. Possibly sufficient points for one hotel night at a low category Hampton Inn hotel.

I read in the KLM flight magazine that Rembrandt van Rijn made long walks around Amsterdam after his wife Saskia died in 1642. Rembrandt was in his mid-30s, financially successful as a distinguished artist for more than a decade with a recently purchased house in a fashionable neighborhood of Amsterdam during the city’s Golden Age. Then Saskia, his young wife of eight years died, probably from tuberculosis.

The 17th century canal ring area of Amsterdam is a UNESCO World Heritage List site. The major concentric canals of Herengracht, Keizersgracht and Prinsengracht were built during Rembrandt’s lifetime when religious tolerance and extensive maritime trade resulted in the Dutch Golden Age and the need to create a city better designed to handle growing maritime commerce outside the historic city bounded by the Singel Canal.

The Netherlands passed under Spanish rule in 1515 with the accession of Charles V. The country rose in revolt in the 16th century in defence of public freedom and religious tolerance, since much of the population had espoused the Reformation. After a period of wars and compromises, the seven provinces of the northern Netherlands formed the independent United Provinces in 1581. This situation attracted rich Jewish families, Antwerp traders, and French Huguenots in particular to Amsterdam, the largest city in this relatively dispersed federation without any prince regent. It became a land of refuge and of free-thinking. For two decades the military situation, the naval in particular, with Spain remained tense; there were many conflicts, but maritime trade and warehousing activities developed quickly. The Dutch East India Company (VOC, 1602) and the Dutch West India Company (WIC, 1621) were created to trade with the Indian Ocean and the Americas respectively. The 17th century was a particularly flourishing period for the United Provinces, whose sovereignty, economic importance, and cultural uniqueness were fully recognised by the Treaty of Westphalia (1648).

At the end of the 16th century, Amsterdam developed very rapidly and the port-city soon ran out of space within the medieval confines of the Singel. A vast project, for defence and urban growth, was carried out in the 16th and 17th centuries. The new line of defence based on a new boundary canal, the Singelgracht, designed by Daniel Stalpaert, extended the city outwards by around 800m. The Singel was then transformed into an inland port (1601-1603). The positioning between the latter and the Singelgracht opened up space for a new urban area that still had to be drained and backfilled. The project, conceived by Hendrick Jacobszoon Staets, led to the construction of a new port and trading city, built along a network of three new main canals which made it possible for trading vessels to dock. They were in the form of a series of concentric arcs, parallel to the Singel and adopting the same hydraulic morphology. They were dug simultaneously starting from the IJ, towards the south. The two first sections took the work as far as the Leidsegracht radial canal, allowing backfilling and building to begin; the third section extended the work to the Amstel around 1620. Following exactly the same principles, a fourth section was undertaken beyond the river towards the ‘eastern islands’ in the mid-17th century.

However, regular planning following the annular canals stopped at the outermost edge of the three, the Prinsengracht. In its western section, between it and the new Singelgracht defence line, the Jordaan district followed the old plot boundaries of the gardens after which it is named, breaking with the rectilinear pattern of the initial plans. This district, which was originally more working class and inhabited by immigrants, is the only part of the nominated property at its urban boundary with the Prinsengracht Canal.

This planned extension of Amsterdam is the work of the mercantile middle class that ran the city. It managed the projects financially, supervised the drafting of the plans, coordinated the work, issued building regulations, and supervised their application. In meeting the needs of trade, practical functionality and hydraulic and military safety were the driving forces for the project. The general rise in wealth of the city and its inhabitants in the 17th century made it possible for this ambitious urban and port extension to be completed in accordance with the initial project.

Amsterdam’s growth made it one of the great European capitals, and its port became the most important for international maritime trade. In 1685 the city’s per capita income was four times that of Paris, allowing the quantity and quality of the real-estate development along the canals throughout the century. Amsterdam continued to develop its tradition as a mercantile, middle-class, humanist, and tolerant city. It continued to welcome immigrants, notably the French Huguenots after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes and more generally the free-thinkers of Europe. In this way, it enriched its economic and artistic elite, but also its expertise with the arrival of highly skilled craftsmen. At that time Amsterdam was one of the cultural capitals of Europe and among the most brilliant and most dynamic, notable for its printers, whose products were sold throughout the world.

The orderly growth of the city’s new districts along its canals became a reference urban model, an image of the ideal city that would be adopted and repeated right across 18th century Europe.

http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1349

Singel Canal

Old Amsterdam is the city within the Singel Canal, the line of defense for Amsterdam in the 1500s. Economic prosperity created the need to expand the city beyond the Singel in the 1600s with the plan to create concentric canals around the Singel with the Herengracht, Keizersgracht and Prinsengracht.

Singel

Multatuli Square on Singel Canal. Multatuli is the pen name of Eduard Douwes Dekker 1820-1887, somewhat of an Edward Snowden for 19th century Holland when he returned to Amsterdam after a career in the Dutch East Indies and penned scathing critiques of Dutch colonialism in Indonesia.

Multatuli Square

Today the shipping ports are north of the city. Tour boats occupy the canal rings with the occasional barge temporarily located in a canal when used as a base for renovation construction of old canal buildings.

canal barge

Herengracht Canal

Herengracht

Herengracht is the interior canal closest of the three 17th century urban canals to the medieval town of Amsterdam bounded by the Singel, Amsterdam’s historic defense canal.

Many of the buildings standing on the canals are more than 300 years old. There are few buildings more than five or six stories high in central Amsterdam. The churches tend to be the tallest buildings in the city center. Skyscrapers are several miles out of the city center.

Renaissance round kerk

The round kerk on Singel is used as a conference center as part of the Amsterdam Renaissance hotel.

Keizersgracht

The middle canal of the three 17th century canal rings is Keizersgracht. I have stayed at Starwood Luxury Collection’s Hotel Pulitzer with a room facing Keizersgracht. Rooms of the Hotel Pulitzer are located in the buildings to the right of the horse in the photo below. One of the drags of being in a hotel on the canal district is I am generally woken up in the morning by the sound of the garbage trucks stopping on the canal road outside the hotel. That is one reason I like staying in hotels outside the canal ring. They tend to be far quieter with few revelers at 3am walking the canal streets or work trucks conducting business before 8am when the canal streets are mostly vacant of bicycle and pedestrian obstructions.

Keizersgracht

Prinsengracht

The main entrance to Hotel Pulitzer, Starwood Hotels Luxury Collection is on Prinsengracht near Westerkerk. The hotel is constructed from 17th century homes and the result are lots of funky stairs to reach different levels of the hotel and walk from one building to another. Hotel Pulitzer is comprised of buildings on both Prinsengracht and Keizersgracht with a courtyard between room corridors.

Hotel Pulitzer

Get lost walking Amsterdam canals is easy due to a similarity in housing style along four kilometers of road between Haarlemmer Straat and the Amstel River. Simply walking both sides of the canal on four canals of Prinsengracht, Keizersgracht, Herengracht and Singel is about 20 miles of canal roads and there are many miles more of canals elsewhere in Amsterdam, plus the Amstel River.

canal walkers

Many visitors to Amsterdam find themselves wandering aimlessly along the side of a canal walking for 30 to 40 minutes. You can walk one way across the canal, cross a bridge and make your way to the other side of the canal or follow a perpendicular alley to the next canal. This is something that can waste hours in a day looking at buildings, boats, birds and people watching.

Westerkerk

Art is a major part of the Amsterdam experience for us. Art is not confined to museums. Amsterdam is a city of creativity. Art surrounds you.

After a day in Amsterdam when I took 400 photos including the ones seen so far in this piece, I looked at my photos and thought to myself that I had not captured the Amsterdam imagery that captivates me every time I visit the city. The problem seemed to be that canal photos give a broad view of the city setting for Amsterdam, but the photos lack the essence of what makes Amsterdam a visually intriguing place to walk. Kelley kept pointing out patterns in bricks in the architecture. The following day I went high detail with my camera.

Bricks-1

There are designs in signs.

Haarstijl

Haarstijl means hairstyle and I like this sign design style.

Street Plants

Two representative elements of Amsterdam seen are the street poles with a vertical XXX symbol used as pedestrian protection barriers from cars. The urban brick covering Amsterdam is augmented by residents who maintain potted flowers, plants and trees in the small spaces between the road and buildings.

bricks-2

Getting lost in Amsterdam is so easy due to the similarity of 17th century canal houses along the canal rings. Prinsengracht has Westerkerk as a landmark and Singel has the round church.

Canal houses

Amsterdam is our place where we lift the weight of existence off our shoulders and relax. For some people that sensation is achieved by a trip to a beach resort or ski trip and outdoor adventures.

Atlas

Since we live in a beach town and outdoor adventure opportunities are easy to access in California, one of our favorite places to getaway is the beautiful city of Amsterdam with low-key people, laid back commerce and many fine hotels.

Dam Square

Atlas carries the celestial heavens on his shoulders atop the 1655 City Hall/Royal Palace of Amsterdam. The brick building on the right will open as the W Amsterdam hotel in 2015.

Long walks alongside the canals of Amsterdam is kind of like our personal version of a Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, Before Midnight conversational adventure to remind us we are still making our way through this life together…

Walking couple

one step at a time.

There is not a single Starwood hotel in Europe going up in the 2015 SPG reward category changes. Europe sees 46 hotels drop in category. 33 of 46 hotels are located in countries on the euro currency.

One year ago on February 24, 2014 the Euro was worth $1.37 USD. Today, 1 EUR = $1.14 USD. That 20% decline in the value of the Euro compared to the dollar reduced the revenue value for Starwood Hotels in Europe.

200 EUR per night room rate one year ago meant $275 USD.

200 EUR per night room rate tonight = $228 USD.

Europe offers a great exchange rate in early 2015 for American travelers and SPG rates have dropped at many hotels, meaning your Starpoints have a better exchange rate too for hotel stays on points.

SPG hotel cat changes 2015 Europe.png

Notable changes:

Category 1 hotels return to Europe.

Two hotels drop to Category 1 in Europe. It has been years since there was a category 1 hotel in Europe.

Sheraton Athlone, Ireland is the tallest building in the geographic center of Ireland. I spent two nights at the Radisson Blu Athlone in November with a view of the Sheraton.

Sheraton Catania Hotel & Conference Center Italy is another addition to category 1.

Four SPG Category 7 hotels drop to category 6

  • Schloss Fuschl, a Luxury Collection Resort & Spa, Fuschlsee-Salzburg, Austria
  • W Paris – Opéra, France
  • Vedema, a Luxury Collection Resort, Santorini, Greece
  • The St. Regis Rome, Italy

Portugal

Convento do Espinheiro, a Luxury Collection Hotel & Spa, Evora, Portugal and Sheraton Lisboa both drop to category 3. Portugal is much more affordable at 28,000 points for a 5-night stay.

Spain

Four Points Barcelona back to category 2 is a good deal for this city hotel. I stayed there in 2012.

Loyalty Traveler – Four Points Diagonal Barcelona on the Poblenou (Oct 3, 2012).

London Heathrow

Sheraton Heathrow Hotel LHR hotels dropping to category 2 means potentially big savings on a first or last night trip to London compared to the cost of city center hotels.

Sheraton Skyline Hotel London Heathrow drops from category 4 to 3.

Related posts:

Starwood list of 2015 category changes effective March 10, 2015.

Loyalty Traveler – Overview of SPG category changes March 10, 2015

Loyalty Traveler – SPG 2015 category changes Asia Pacific Region Starwood Hotels

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