The rain was not too bad. It only blew a little sideways. This is Ireland. In Athlone, on average, it rains 13 days in November. If you want dry weather, then come in June when it only rains 10 days on average.

The smell of burning peat was a familiar scent I had not smelled in 16 years since I was last in rural Ireland. Peatlands have provided an energy resource for centuries. The wet soil over several millennia since the Ice Age has created bogs that cover much of Ireland. An Irish cultural tradition is cutting the turf from bog peatlands and drying the turf.

For Peat’s Sake

Athlone is in bog land where peat is cut from the soil for turf. When I traveled around County Donegal in 1997, most rural houses had a pile of dried peat turf outside the house for use as a heating source, in the way you see a wood pile in forested regions of the U.S. In the 1990s only Finland and Russia consumed more peat than Ireland. Since 1990 the use of peat fuel for home heating has decreased 67%.

Bog conservation in Ireland is a major issue these days with environmental protections designating large portions of bog land as Special Areas of Conservation and Natural Heritage Areas. Turf cutting has been restricted in many of these areas. Bogs act like rain forests in trapping carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and pressure from the EU forced Ireland to work toward conserving and preserving the remaining bogs in environmentally sensitive areas of importance.

Athlone Attractions

There are two main attractions in Athlone. There is Athlone Castle, a 12th century castle built and destroyed and refurbished many times over the centuries, and Sean’s Bar, the oldest pub in Ireland according to the Guinness Book of World Records. I visited both attractions.

Athlone Castle

The significance of Athlone is its location on the Shannon River at a place where the river could most easily be forded. The castle is on the west bank of the river. Athlone Castle was originally built of timber around 1129, followed by stone construction in 1210. Edward I , the great castle builder, added a curtain wall and towers to the fortifications in 1276-85 to strengthen Athlone Castle against resurgent Irish. This is the same Edward Longshanks depicted in the movie Braveheart.

In 1315, Athlone Castle was burned by forces of Ruaidri O’ Conchobair, an ally of Edward the Bruce in support of the Scottish struggle against the English. The castle changed hands several times between Irish insurgents and English allies.


Admission is 8 EUR, although I only paid 6 EUR since I saw a brochure in the Radisson Blu Athlone stating guests can show their hotel key card for a 25% discount.

The stone bridge over the Shannon at Athlone was constructed in 1567 and lasted 300 years.

The interactive displays were opened to tourists only two years ago and provide a history of Athlone Castle. The castle is central to the history of the town. The siege of Athlone in 1690-91 was a major event in European history when Colonel Richard Grace, governor of Athlone, appointed by King James II (Catholic), defended the castle from a detachment of King William III’s (Protestant) army. An army of 20,000 bombarded Athlone Castle from the east bank during the great siege of Athlone and the castle eventually fail to King William’s army. The battle was truly an international affair with the Williamites led by a Dutch General leading a Danish army.

The castle seen today is mostly a design from the Napoleonic Wars of the early 1800s. In 1922 the castle was occupied by forces of the Irish Free State after independence from Britain and the castle served as a garrison until 1969 when the castle became a National Monument of Ireland.

Athlone Castle media

There is not much else to see in Athlone in the off-season, except the Castle. The nature trails were flooded and the center of activity seems to be any of the forty or so pubs in town.

Sean’s Bar, Ireland’s Oldest Pub

Seans Bar

I visited more than 50 pubs around Ireland over the eight weeks my wife and I toured the country in the summers of 1997 and 1998. I don’t recall being in any pub that had a selection of more than five beers: Guinness, Smithwick’s, Carlsberg, Kilkenny, Budweiser or Coors, and Murphy’s or Beamish. The first three beers were available at all pubs and often those were the only three beers served.

In a tiny pub on Arranmore Island, County Donegal in 1997, when I commented about the small selection of beers, an old Irish man said to me, “Too much choice is not necessarily a good thing.”

The two pubs I visited today in Athlone revealed more beer choices. Heineken, Peroni, and Molson’s on tap is a change in Irish culture. When I commented on the variety of beers, a young man told me that the economic boom in Ireland, referred to as the ‘Celtic Tiger’ for the decade when Ireland had the highest economic growth in Europe from 1995 to 2000 and continued strong growth until a dramatic reversal in 2008 with the global recession. The rise of disposable income created demand for new products. Another young woman told me many pubs even serve cocktails to attract a younger crowd who do not drink beer. Statistics show beer drinking is in decline in Ireland. The rise of off-licence and supermarket beer sells is also impacting pubs in Ireland.

Seans Bar inside

Sean’s Pub is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the oldest pub in Ireland with ownership records dating back to 900 AD. I dropped in for a 4.10 EUR pint of Smithwick’s. Wow.

Sean's Bar Athlone

I stayed at the Radisson Blu Athlone. There is also the Sheraton Athlone in town that I can see from my hotel room about a kilometer away. The 12-story Sheraton Athlone appears to be the tallest building in the city.


I was at an off-licence store and chatting with the clerk. He asked why I came to Athlone? When I told him the Radisson Blu hotel rate was really low, he quipped, “There is a reason for that. This town sucks.”

My wife understands why I came here. We spent one month traveling around rural County Donegal in June and July 1997 with a week in Northern Ireland. In 1998 we returned to Ireland for three weeks in County Cork and County Kerry. In two months of traveling around Ireland, we only spent two days in Dublin. The city was too fast-paced for us. It will be interesting to see how we feel about London this week and what I think about Dublin next week.

The first thing I noticed after getting off the bus in Athlone was the smell of peat burning. A local asked me how I could smell peat. Easy. Ireland is the only place I have ever been with that smell. The  smell of peat burning brought back warm memories of sitting by pub fires trying to dry our wet clothes after a day out hiking in the rain.

And the rain fell hard in Athlone. I can still feel the dampness on my shoulders from walking around a few hours  in the rain. I planned to hike the ‘Big Meadow’ only to find the big meadow is under a foot of water. As it turns out, the Big Meadow forms part of The River Shannon Callows Special Area of Conservation, a European Union designated conservation site for protection of wildlife. Callows are seasonally flooded wetlands. And this is the flooded season.


As I walked through the streets of Athlone, one of my thoughts was, I find most any place enjoyable as long as I have the proper clothing and I am not in fear of my safety. I enjoy walking neighborhoods and looking at where people live.


I’ll spare readers my selfie I took standing in front of the doorway. What is not obvious in the photo was apparent to my eye as I walked this street. These doors are under 5’6” tall. I tried to snap a couple walking past the door, then the woman turned and looked at me and I missed the surreptitious shot.

The first night was thick-o-fog all the way from Dublin Airport to Athlone. Walking around town in the fog was tough for photography.


Irish sign posts bring back memories. When we traveled remote County Donegal in 1997, one thing I noticed were pranksters had moved some of the road signs to point to wrong directions.

That was a day in Athlone, Ireland.

A little more on Ireland to come. Time to catch my RyanAir flight to London.

The new list of hotels participating in IHG Rewards Club PointBreaks November 24 to February 28 is posted on the IHGRewardingExperiences website. There are more than 150 properties including two InterContinental Hotels with Merida, Mexico and InterContinental Palace Port Ghalib Resort, Egypt.

In typical IHG fashion, there is limited geographic information. I have ordered the list by state and country to help readers plan for Monday bookings.

IHG PointBreaks hotels are 5,000 points per night and will be available for booking by Monday, November 24.

IHG PointBreaks Nov 24 to Feb 28, 2015 by State and Country

























North Carolina

New Jersey

New Mexico


New York




South Carolina






West Virginia






















United Kingdom







Middle East




United Arab Emirates

Crowne Plaza Dundalk would be a good deal for my stay in Ireland next week if I were not booking paid stays for Into the Nights.

Starwood Hotels CyberMonday sale November 24 will offer participating hotels in the Americas at rates up to 30% off regular rates. Book reservations between November 24 and December 7 for hotel stays from November 24 to February 1, 2015. Resorts can be booked for stays through April 15, 2015.

CyberMonday rates are prepaid, nonrefundable rates.

The Starwood CyberMonday website allows you to view participating hotels now, but you can’t book until Monday, November 24. Sheraton Anchorage is one exception and there may be more. Sheraton Anchorage already shows CyberMonday rates as part of the SPG Hot Escapes hotels this week.

Starwood December 1 Facebook CyberMonday Free Nights and 225,000 points Sweepstakes

Starwood’s CyberMonday starts one week early on November 24 to the traditional post-Thansgiving holiday Monday, December 1 madness. There is an additional Starwood Hotels CyberMonday sweepstakes on Facebook for a chance on December 1 to win free hotel nights or a grand prize of 225,000 Starpoints.

Starwood’s CyberMonday website has a Facebook Like link which appears to be broken as I write this. I get a 404 error message. The link “See what you could win” is working and shows participating properties for the December 1 Starwood CyberMonday sweepstakes.

On Dec. 1 play to win free nights at one of these hotels:

  • La Posada de Santa Fe
  • Le Méridien Bora Bora & Le Méridien Tahiti
  • Le Méridien Charlotte
  • Le Méridien Chicago – Oakbrook Center
  • Le Méridien Mexico City
  • Le Méridien New Orleans
  • Le Méridien Tampa
  • Sheraton Anchorage
  • Sheraton Centre Toronto Hotel
  • Sheraton Dallas
  • Sheraton Kauai Resort
  • Sheraton Kona Resort & Spa at Keauhou Bay
  • Sheraton Maria Isabel Hotel and Towers
  • Sheraton Memphis Downtown
  • Sheraton Myrtle Beach
  • Sheraton Nashville Downtown
  • Sheraton Philadelphia Society Hill
  • Sheraton Princess Kaiulani
  • Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina
  • Sheraton Steamboat Resort
  • Sheraton Tribeca NY
  • Sheraton Waikiki
  • St Regis Bahia Beach
  • St Regis Houston
  • St. Regis Aspen Resort
  • St. Regis Bora Bora
  • St. Regis Deer Valley
  • St. Regis Monarch Beach
  • St. Regis Princeville Resort
  • Aloft Cleveland Downtown
  • Element Las Vegas
  • Four Points by Sheraton Nashville Brentwood
  • Four Points French Quarter
  • The Liberty Hotel
  • The Palace
  • The Phoenician Resort
  • The Westin Beach Resort & Spa, Fort Lauderdale
  • The Westin Cape Coral Resort at Marina Village
  • The Westin Portland Harborview
  • US Grant
  • W Boston
  • W Dallas
  • W Hollywood
  • W Hotel Austin
  • W Los Angeles – Westwood
  • W Montreal
  • W New Orleans – French Quarter
  • W New York
  • W Retreat & Spa, Vieques Island
  • W Scottsdale
  • W Seattle
  • W South Beach
  • The Westin Boston Waterfront
  • The Westin Denver Downtown
  • The Westin Harbour Castle Toronto
  • The Westin Jekyll Island
  • The Westin Las Vegas Hotel, Casino & Spa
  • The Westin Mission Hills Golf Resort & Spa
  • The Westin New Orleans at Canal Place
  • The Westin Playa Bonita, Panama
  • The Westin Puntacana
  • The Westin Riverfront Resort at Beaver Creek Mountain
  • The Westin Riverwalk
  • The Westin San Diego
  • The Westin Snowmass

There are going to be some happy SPG members on December 1.

Starwood CyberMonday


Ric Garrido of Monterey, California is writer and owner of Loyalty Traveler.

Loyalty Traveler shares news and views on hotels, hotel loyalty programs and vacation destinations for frequent guests. Check out current hotel loyalty program offers across all the major chains in Loyalty Traveler’s monthly hotel promotions guide.

Follow Loyalty Traveler on Twitter and Facebook and RSS feed.

This is a good week to check out SPG Hot Escapes for USA hotels with some deep discounts next week and the last week of December during the holidays. Some Starwood Hotels have their lowest rates of the year during these slow business periods. There are some good discounts in Europe too. SPG Hot Escapes rates this week are available for hotels through December 31, 2014.

SPG Hot Escapes Nov 19 edition

Here are sample rates at some hotels I think offer good deals.

Westin Buckhead Atlanta $103 this weekend and $114 all next week. Rates are $103 to $110 for December 19-27.

Westin Mission Hills (near Palm Springs, California) $98 to $113 December 7-21.

W Chicago Lakeshore $106 Nov 23-27; drops to $90 Dec 19-25.

Palace Hotel San Francisco $125 to $148 next week Nov 23-30 and sporadic dates in late December with rates in this range.

Aloft San Francisco Airport $98 from tonight through November 30.

Sheraton Anchorage gives us a sneak peak at the SPG CyberMonday sale. This was strange to see on SPG Hot Escapes.

Sheraton Anchorage

Curious, I clicked through to find CyberMonday rates which are supposed to premier November 24.

Sheraton Anchorage CyberMonday

These $75 rates appear to be bookable now for Sheraton Anchorage.

SPG Hot Escapes Europe

Then there are the typical bait rates like Hotel des Indes, The Hague, Netherlands showing $113. That is incredible for this Luxury Collection Hotel. But only if you stay Sunday, December 14. The next lowest rate is $142 for Nov 28, Dec 19-20. The rate is $162 Dec 21-23 and Dec 28-30.

$113 rate led me to click. $162 rate would not have.

Le Meridien Nice $114 is another bait click. That rate is available only for Thursday, December 14. Although, rates for the rest of November are $123 and $132 nearly all of December. That is a much narrower range of rates than Hotel des Indes.

This is a good week to check SPG Hot Escapes if you have travel plans without hotel reservations for the remainder of 2014.

World Traveller Class is British Airways branding for economy class. After flying American Airlines and United Airlines for my last two trips to Europe, flying British Airways was, without a doubt, the better experience. Perhaps the best measure for the quality of an aircraft is not the amenities and service of First Class and Business Class, but rather, how the vast majority of the passengers flying in economy class are serviced.

It never rains in California

This was my first flight on an A380, the world’s largest passenger aircraft. And I almost missed the flight.

It never rains in California, until I travel. I arrived to SFO Wednesday morning just as the skies opened up and the rain fell hard. My flight from SFO to LAX was delayed by almost two hours. I had 2 hours, 45 minutes transit time scheduled at LAX.

45 minutes might be sufficient at most international airports. Not LAX. Arriving at LAX on American Airlines required me to exit the terminal, take a shuttle bus around LAX to the Tom Bradley International Terminal and go through TSA screening again with my luggage. I begged passengers in line to allow me to cut in front and remarkably everyone agreed. Then I was bitched out by TSA for not taking the computer out of my bag. Oops.

Read More…

IHG Rewards Club launched ‘India Free Nights’ for residents of India and Nepal. Stay 3 nights at any of 21 IHG hotels in India and Nepal from November 17 to April 30, 2015 and earn one free night for any IHG hotel worldwide. There is a limit of three free nights per member that may be earned with this offer. Free nights expire December 31, 2015.

IHG Rewards Club India Free Nights promotion link.

Offer details:

  • You must be a member of IHG® Rewards Club and must register to qualify for this promotion
  • The three qualifying nights need not be consecutive, and can be spent at any IHG® hotel across India and Nepal
  • The offer is valid between 17 November 2014 and 30 April 2015
  • You can earn a maximum of three reward nights during this offer period to be redeemed before 31 December 2015.

This is a good value promotion for India and Nepal.

IHG India Free Nights

“India and Nepal Free Nights” Promotion Terms and Conditions

  • You must be an IHG® Rewards Club member residing in India and Nepal (“Member”) and must register your member number in advance to participate in “India Free Nights” (“Promotion”).
  • To join IHG® Rewards Club, visit Membership is free.
  • A Member who successfully registered and completes three (3) nights at any IHG® properties in India and Nepal will be awarded one (1) free night at any IHG® hotel globally subject to availability. Members can earn a maximum of up to 3 free nights for the promotion during the stay period between 17 November 2014 to 30 April 2015.
  • A registered Member who completes their 3 nights will be rewarded an IHG® Rewards Club free night into their member account within 7 working days of every qualified 3rd night stay completion. Free night counts towards Elite Status as per IHG® Rewards Club policies and is subjected to IHG® Rewards Club terms and conditions.
  • The qualified IHG® brands that count towards the promotion earning are InterContinental®, Crowne Plaza®, Holiday Inn® and Holiday Inn Express®. The first stay can be counted towards earning free night as long as guests enroll and register for promotion before they check out from property.
  • A Stay is defined per IHG® Rewards Club Membership Terms and Conditions as one night or consecutive nights at the same hotel, regardless of frequency of check-in/out (“Stay”). A Stay constitutes a “Qualifying Stay” when paying qualifying rates, which include most business and leisure rates.
  • Free Nights are not issued for Stays at the following reduced room rates (Non-Qualifying Room Rates or Non-Qualifying Stay): net wholesale individual and group rate, certain package rates, employee discount rate, friends and family rate, crew rate, special discounted contract rates, seasonal worker/crew rate, 50% travel club discount rate, travel industry discount rate, distressed passenger rate, IHG® Rewards Club Reward Nights/Airline Hotel Reward rate, most rates booked through most third party web sites, complimentary hotel Stays and any other rates not defined as a Qualifying Room Rate at IHG’s sole discretion.
  • Only one room per member per Stay will be awarded the applicable Free Nights. No retroactive Free Nights will be awarded for Stays prior to Registration.
  • This Promotion is subject to standard IHG® Rewards Club Membership Terms and Conditionsand earning structure, which can be obtained by visiting
  • This exclusive Promotion is valid and applies to the original recipient only. IHG® Rewards Club reserves the right to remove a member’s Free Night if fraudulent use of the Promotion is detected.
  • IHG® Rewards Club reserves the right to cancel, suspend and/or modify the Promotion/Offer at any time with or without notice. IHG® reserves the right of final interpretation of these Terms and Conditions.
    Free Night redemption
  • Free Nights earned are applicable only to the room nights and privileges specifically provided by this Promotion and supporting Offers at IHG’s discretion, and are not comparable with IHG® Rewards Club Reward Night (redeemed by points) or any other room nights.
  • Free Nights earned from Stays, as defined in the India Free Nights terms, completed during Registration must be claimed by 31 December 2015. Any Free Nights which have not been redeemed by 31 December 2015 will be forfeited.
  • Free Nights can be redeemed at any IHG® hotel property globally and may not be transferred. Rooms are subject to availability and may not be transferred.
  • A Free Night is valid only for one standard room night rate and applicable taxes not including breakfast, except at Holiday Inn Express, where breakfast is complimentary
  • Redemption is subject to availability of the rooms of hotels specially provided for this promotion.
  • Free Nights shall be redeemed on first-come and first-served basis. Redemptions must be made 24 hours in advance by logging in to the member account on
  • Cancellation or changes must be made 48 hours prior to 6 P.M. of arrival date. Any changes or cancellation after that will be deemed to be a no show, and the Free Night credit will be removed from member’s IHG® Rewards Club account.
  • Free Nights cannot be exchanged for cash or points and are not transferrable in the system to other members and guests.
  • IHG® reserves the right to remove a member’s Free Night reward if fraudulent use of the Offer is detected. IHG® Rewards Club reserves the right to cancel, suspend and/or modify the Promotion/Offer at any time with or without notice. IHG® reserves the right of final interpretation of this Offer


Ric Garrido of Monterey, California is writer and owner of Loyalty Traveler.

Loyalty Traveler shares news and views on hotels, hotel loyalty programs and vacation destinations for frequent guests. Check out current hotel loyalty program offers across all the major chains in Loyalty Traveler’s monthly hotel promotions guide.

Follow Loyalty Traveler on Twitter and Facebook and RSS feed.

Two weeks ago I wrote about the Hyatt Gift Card and Hyatt Check 10% discount through December 31, 2014. Loyalty Traveler – Hyatt Gift Cards 10% off and free shipping to come.

Hyatt eGift cards with free delivery are now available with a 10% discount on the purchase price.

Hyatt eGift card

Hyatt Gift Cards and Check Certificates FAQ

Hyatt Gift Card and Hyatt e-gift card terms and conditions

Use Promotion Code GPGIFT14 at checkout for 10% off on up to $2,000 in purchases.

Buy Hyatt Gift Cards and Certificates.

Hyatt Gift Cards-3


Ric Garrido of Monterey, California is writer and owner of Loyalty Traveler.

Loyalty Traveler shares news and views on hotels, hotel loyalty programs and vacation destinations for frequent guests. Check out current hotel loyalty program offers across all the major chains in Loyalty Traveler’s monthly hotel promotions guide.

Follow Loyalty Traveler on Twitter and Facebook and RSS feed.

The most popular story today on is Report: Uber exec plots revenge on journalists, eliciting outrage. The story is about Emil Michael, Uber senior vice president of business, who allegedly said at a dinner last week, Uber could spend a million dollars and hire researchers and journalists to go after reporters critical of Uber in the media.

Read More…

Starwood Preferred Guest has a discount rate offer through December 31, 2014 for purchase of Starpoints. This sale offers a discount from 10% for buying 500 points and up to 9,500 points. The discount progresses to 15% at 10,000 points, then 20% off at 15,000 points, and 25% off Starpoints purchase for 20,000 points. The 25% discount reduces the purchase rate from $35.00 per 1,000 points to $26.25 per 1,000 points.

Buy Starpoints® for yourself or as a gift now through December 31, 2014, and get up to 25% off the regular price ($35 per 1,000 points).

• Get 10% off 500–9,500 Starpoints ($31.50 per 1,000 points)
• Get 15% off 10,000–14,500 Starpoints ($29.75 per 1,000 points)
• Get 20% off 15,000–19,500 Starpoints ($28.00 per 1,000 points)
• Get 25% off 20,000 Starpoints ($26.25 per 1,000 points)

Starpoints buy promo

A general rule is don’t buy points and miles without a purpose. This rate used to be a great deal for points, until the SPG Cash & Points increased by 20% last year. There are still plenty of opportunities to get $30 to $40 in redemption value per 1,000 Starpoints, especially with SPG Cash & Points awards like Category 4 hotels for 5,000 points + $75 when rates are $250+ per night.

element Frankfurt

274 EUR = $373 USD. 5,000 points in exchange for $298 in room rate is a redemption value near $60 per 1,000 points.

This is as good as SPG gets for a points purchase discount for buying SPG points. An SPG member can buy up to 20,000 Starpoints in a calendar year. That means you can buy 20,000 Starpoints for $525 in 2014 and you will be able to buy up to 20,000 more beginning in January 2015, if another discount rate or bonus points purchase offer comes around from SPG.


Ric Garrido of Monterey, California is writer and owner of Loyalty Traveler.

Loyalty Traveler shares news and views on hotels, hotel loyalty programs and vacation destinations for frequent guests. Check out current hotel loyalty program offers across all the major chains in Loyalty Traveler’s monthly hotel promotions guide.

Follow Loyalty Traveler on Twitter and Facebook and RSS feed.

This week’s Marriott eBreaks offer hotels in 25 states, Canada and Panama for discount rates from Thursday Nov 20 to Sunday Nov 23, 2014. If California is an indicator, then there are many more hotels participating this next weekend than in average weeks. Lots of hotels under $100 per night.

Marriott eBreaks 11-17














New Hampshire

New Jersey

New Mexico

New York

North Carolina

North Dakota







Outside of U.S.



  • Rates are per night. Thursday requires a Friday night stay. Sunday requires a Saturday night stay.
  • Rates are valid for dates specified in email at advertised hotels only.
  • eBreaks rates are exclusive to customers who subscribe to the eBreaks program. Therefore, these rates do not qualify for Marriott’s Look No further Best Rates Guarantee.
  • A limited number of rooms are available and will be sold on a first-come, first served basis.
  • Advance bookings are required and must be guaranteed with a credit card.
  • Rates are offered Thursday through Sunday Some hotels only offer eBreaks rates Friday- Sunday. These hotels indicated with an asterisk ( * ) next to rates.
  • Rates are standard room, per night and based on single are double occupancy.
  • Rates are non-commissionable and not include taxes, fees, or other costs or gratuities.
  • Rates cannot be used in conjunction with other offers and/ or discounts.
  • Does not apply to groups of 10 or more rooms.
  • Canadian cities are quoted in Canadian dollars and US cites are quoted in US dollars. All other destinations are quoted in currency listed.
  • Rates are eligible for Marriott Rewards Points and miles credit. Join Marriott Rewards for Free »

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