A Junior Suite with Club Lounge Access at The Ritz-Carlton, Los Angeles
If you're looking to redeem Chase Ritz-Carlton signup bonus certificates, the Los Angeles property is a good option. Since it's a Tier 4 property, you'll need 60,000 Ritz-Carlton Reward points to redeem a free one-night stay.
Location and Check-In
The Ritz-Carlton LA is located in the heart of Downtown LA, right next to the Staples center. The Ritz-Carlton is unique because it has 3 private floors within the Marriott Grand Marquis. Although they're in the same building as Marriott, they have completely separate entrances and amenities.
The lobby is small, and you need an active key card to use the Ritz-Carlton elevators. The front desk staff was generous enough to give us a free upgrade to a junior suite.
The junior suite was a nice surprise. There was a corridor for the closet, and the bathroom was huge.
The bathroom had a double vanity with TV, shower, bathtub, and a good view.
Artwork was on one side of the corridor, and a closet was on the opposite side.
The room had a king-sized bed, desk, TV, couch, and a coffee maker.
Wolfgang Puck has a Asian fusion restaurant, WP24, located on the 24th floor. There's also a lounge called Nest.
The rooftop pool features plenty of seating, cabanas, a full-sized pool, and a hot tub. A 24-hour workout room is also available for use.
Certain rooms on the suite level have access to the Club Lounge. Enjoy complimentary light snacks and drinks while taking in the view of Downtown LA.
Overall, it was a pleasant stay and we'll be back again! The staff was friendly and even though the Ritz-Carlton is only 3 floors, we enjoyed the location and everything the hotel had to offer.
Review: Residence Inn at L.A. Live (Near Staples Center)
Note: Some of the offers/products mentioned below are no longer available.
The Residence Inn and the Courtyard by Marriott at L.A. Live are a great free night redemption if you’re planning on staying in Downtown L.A.
We booked a stay at the Residence Inn at L.A. Live using the free anniversary certificate from the Amex SPG card.
A few reasons why we chose the Residence Inn:
You can use your free night certificates here
SUPER convenient (4 min walk to STAPLES Center)
Tons of value!
The following cards give you a ”Free night certificate” for properties up to 35,000 points:
Amex SPG Business
Chase Marriott Business
For example, if you signed up for one of the cards in Oct 2018, then you’ll receive a free certificate in Oct 2019, Oct 2020, etc.
The free night certificate is valid for 12 months from issuance (i.e., Oct 2019 to Sep 2020).
Redeeming the free night certificate provides a ton of value because the rack rate can range from $206-636 + taxes/fees.
Cost = $95 (annual fee for SPG/Marriott basic cards)
Worst case = $206 value - $95 annual fee = $111 “value gain”
Best case = $509 value - $95 annual fee = $414 “value gain”
Residence Inn at L.A. Live Location
The Residence Inn and Courtyard Marriott at L.A. Live are located in the same building. The two properties share the same lobby, check-in desk, and elevators.
The properties are split down the middle of the building, and the only way to tell them apart is by color. Residence Inn rooms and amenities are purple, and the Courtyard is red/orange themed.
I’m a fan of the location since it’s less than a 4-minute walk to the Staples Center (right across the street), and 15 minutes walk to Downtown L.A.
The Room: 1 Bedroom Larger Suite
Since we have Platinum Elite status at Marriott, we booked the lowest tier room. We were given a complimentary upgrade to the 1 bedroom larger suite.
The 1 bedroom larger suite comes with a kitchen area and a spacious living room.
Sliding doors separate the bedroom and the living room area.
The bathroom toiletries are from Paul Mitchell. Another sliding door also separates the bathroom from the living room.
The Residence Inn has an outdoor pool with a few cabanas which are available on a first come, first serve basis.
If you’re staying at the Courtyard Marriott, you don’t have pool access. There’s literally a courtyard area to enjoy instead.
Laundry machines are available to use. Each machine costs $2.50.
The fitness center is also on the same level as the pool and laundry.
Ocean View Guestroom at the Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Nigel
A few weeks ago, we took a private jet to Los Angeles and decided to spend a few nights at the Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Nigel. The luxurious resort overlooks the Pacific Ocean and is a 90-minute drive south of L.A. in Dana Point.
Redeeming Reward Certificates
The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel is a Tier 4 property. The resort embraces Southern California roots, from locally sourced restaurant menus to ocean-view accommodations and excursions.
We redeemed our certificate nights from the Ritz-Carlton Rewards credit card signup bonus. Since it's a Tier 4 property, you'll need 60,000 Ritz-Carlton Reward points for a free stay. The retail price for rooms starts at $749/night, before taxes and fees.
We spent the whole day in L.A. before driving down to Dana Point, so we checked-in around 10 pm. When you drive up to the Ritz-Carlton, valets will quickly approach your car to greet you. Parking is valet only, which costs $40/night; you do have in/out privileges.
The front desk staff was friendly, and as luck would have it, we were offered a free upgrade to an Ocean View room! I think timing played a huge factor because free upgrades for Gold status members are often unheard of. We checked-in late (10 pm) and it was a weekday. The upgrade alone was worth $500!
The lobby is well decorated and leads to a long hallway filled with dining options.
The Ocean View Room
The room was on the main floor and 400 square feet in size, equipped with 2 queen beds and an amazing view.
The view from the balcony. Again, it was 10 pm and foggy when we checked-in, so you can't really see the ocean in this picture. The night time view doesn't do the room any justice.
The room has a television, desk, safe, mini-refrigerator, and coffee maker.
Each room has a spacious and luxurious marble bathroom with double vanities, robes, shower/tub combination, and bathroom amenities.
The safe, coffee maker, and mini fridge are tucked away behind a cabinet door.
The resort offers snack and drink packages for purchase.
We walked around the hotel to explore some more. Overall, the resort is peaceful at night and has a completely different vibe during the day. We'll post a full review soon.
When you enter the driveway of the resort, you'll be greeted by friendly valet service ready to help. Leave your car with them -- there's no other option for parking.
The lobby has beautiful flower arrangements that are refreshed daily.
The resort has 2 swimming pools, one in each courtyard. There's also a hot tub and dining service.
View of the exterior guest rooms that face the coastline and/or ocean. The lower-level rooms are equipped with fireplaces.
Fireplace in the balcony.
There's plenty of free water around the resort so you don't have to worry about getting dehydrated.
The resort has a private entrance to the beach. You can request a beach butler and amenities to be brought to you. Paddle boards, umbrellas, and chairs are available upon request.
Don't want to walk to the beach? No problem. Catch a ride on the complimentary trolley.
There are a few paths that lead to/from the beach. You can take the stairs (left) or walk uphill (right).
If you're hungry, splurge on the burger with truffle fries. It's one of the best burger's we've had, plus it comes with an ocean view.
Review: Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel
The Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel is located in the heart of Banff National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The hotel is known as Canada's "Castle in the Rockies."
The resort comes with a handful of complimentary experiences. A concierge will reach out after you reserve your room to see if you would like to book any activities.
The Room: Junior Suite (Turret)
We used the free night and upgrade certificates from the Fairmont credit card to reserve the Junior Suite (Turret).
The turret suite has a winding staircase and breathtaking views of the Canadian Rockies.
The staircase leads up to the bedroom.
The bathroom has a beautiful view and toiletries from Le Labo.
The hotel includes access to a bowling alley, ping pong table, and billiards room.
The outdoors pool was closed for renovations, but the indoor pools were impressive.
If you want to play with a furry friend while on vacation, you can reserve time with the Fairmont Concierge to walk the hotel dog, Bear.
Bow Falls is located in the hotel's backyard. Enjoy a short hike and take in the views.
Aria Sky Suites Review: Worth $700?! | Las Vegas
Aria Sky Suites Review: Worth $700?!
Las Vegas is known for its decadent over-the-top ethos with world-class entertainment and exceptional food offerings, and the luxury hotels certainly don’t disappoint.
Surprisingly, it's one of the few cities in the US where a luxury hotel regularly starts at $250 a night, sometimes as low as $100, depending on when and how you book the hotel.
On our recent trip to Vegas, we had the opportunity to experience the luxurious five-star Aria Sky Suites. Is the splurge on a one-bedroom suite worth it at an average rate of $X per night? Read on to find out.
How to Book Aria Sky Suites
With American Express’ Fine Hotels and Resorts program (FHR) through the Platinum card, we were able to enjoy some added benefits, including:
Room upgrade subject to availability
Complimentary breakfast credit of $30 per person for the first two guests
$100 food and beverage credit
Noon check-in when available
Guaranteed 4 pm late checkout
We paid the $700 cash rate via FHR to book the Aria Sky Suite. If you were to book a normal hotel room at the Aria Resort & Casino, a "complimentary" upgrade could potentially be a room with a better view or a regular suite, but doubt it would be a Sky Suite.
Since we were coming from another hotel, we couldn’t take advantage of one of the perks that come with being a Sky Suite guest - the complimentary, round-trip luxury airport transfers. Nothing says VIP treatment like a private gated driveway exclusively for Sky Suite guests.
Even though the drive from the airport to the Strip is short, it sure beats waiting for a taxi or ride-share with everyone else. Note that you will need to arrange for the transfers before arriving in Vegas.
Sky Suite guests have a separate entrance and separate elevators, and there is also a lobby lounge with an assortment of bite-sized hors d’oeuvres that changes three times a day. You’ll find pastries throughout the day, cookies at teatime, and light snacks at dinnertime. The beverage offering includes bottled soft drinks, flat and carbonated water, coffee, and tea. The butler will also bring you wine or beer upon request.
The lobby restrooms had complimentary body lotion and mouthwash.
Go big or go home, right? In this case, if the home is the Sky Suite, I’ll gladly stay in the hotel room for the whole time I’m in Vegas.
There are three rooms in the Suite:
A living room
A dining room with a kitchenette
A bedroom with a large ensuite bathroom
The rooms are modern and elegant, with panoramic views of the Strip.
There was a powder room near the entrance, which was very convenient, especially if hosting guests. The couches in the living room were comfortable enough to sleep on.
I had to do a bit of work and had a few virtual meetings during our stay, so the desk came in very handy.
The bathroom was surprisingly my favorite room in the Suite. There was more than enough space for getting ready in the morning with two sinks, a vanity, a large Jacuzzi bathtub, a steam shower, and a walk-in closet.
The door to the toilet is see-through, so be careful to close the double restroom doors if guests are over!
The walk-in closet was very spacious and came with more than enough hangers.
With the two tablets in the room, I appreciated the in-room technology as it made it easier to order food, make reservations, or even open/close the blinds.
The exclusive Sky pool, for Sky Suite guests only, was closed for the season, but there was a separate sectioned-off area for Sky Suite guests at the main pool.
There was much more cushioning on the Sky Suite chaise loungers. The Sky Pool advertises personalized service, including complimentary refreshments and upgraded robes; however, I was not offered either.
It was quite cold since it was off-season, and the pool was relatively empty, with most people just relaxing on the loungers.
I went to the gym around noon, and it was pretty busy. There were cardio machines, weight machines, weights, and a Smith machine. One unique feature that stood out was the rotating climbing wall! We took a few turns climbing the wall; pretty cool!
This Suite was unsurprisingly the highlight of our trip. With a price range of X, it might be hard to justify. However, the Suite was worth the hype, and I would recommend it if anyone is looking for an elevated Vegas experience.
Ventana Big Sur: Everything You Need to Know
Ventana Big Sur is one of those destinations that is on everyone’s list. It is talked about all the time, especially about how difficult it is to book with points and how great of a value it is given that cash rates can go over $3,000 per night. I visited this much hyped property at the end of February 2022 for 3 nights and here’s my thoughts.
The drive can last between 2 to 3 hours
If you are traveling from outside California, Ventana is located in the Big Sur area which is a stretch of land famous for the junction of mountains and coastline and is about a 2.5 hour drive from San Francisco. It is a beautiful drive during the day when you get to the Big Sur coastline but there is practically no cellular reception.
Once you arrive, self or valet parking is available at Ventana. There are two main areas for guests: the Big Sur House is for dining and is separate from the rest of the resort. To get to Big Sur House from your room, you can request a golf cart or walk the 0.3mile trail on foot. At anywhere on the resort, you can ask for a golf cart to come and transport you around.
There are 2 pool areas (meadow and mountain) and a Japanese bath house (separate men/women/mixed). The meadow pool has an infinity hot tub and you can also have lunch served to you here.
Check In Area
Check in is at the Social House. There is a pool table and this is where smores are located every night from 8-10PM.
How to Book with Points
It is a steal on points.
I booked at the 30,000 points/night rate for 3 nights a few months ago. Availability is very scarce at this rate especially with the property moving up from a Category 7 to a Category 8 on March 22, 2022. This is significant for two reasons. The first is that base rates increase from 30,000 Hyatt points to 40,000 points and the second is that if you have a World of Hyatt Category 1-7 free night certificate, you no longer can use it at this resort.
My recommendation is that if you find a few nights at the base rate, don’t wait! It will soon be gone and your alternatives are to look for other dates or pay more points for a standard or even premium suite rate (if even they are available at all).
I booked a base room but was upgraded to the Pacific Suite as a World of Hyatt Globalist. This room retailed for $3,500/night so I was essentially receiving a $10,000 trip for free!
The rooms at Ventana are divided into “houses” (kind of like an apartment complex with a few rooms in each house). The pros about my suite were that it faced the ocean with complete visual privacy, it had a 102°F jacuzzi always on in the back patio and there was another hot tub in the room.
The cons were that it was not a traditional “suite” with a living room (it was simply a standard sized room with a soaking tub), you could not see the ocean very clearly because of the slope and vegetation outside your back door, and with rooms right next to each other, if your neighbor was using their back patio, you could hear everything.
There were some other cool features within the room. An old-school phone was present that could be used to call reception for anything from in-room dining to asking for transportation. All the snacks and items in the fridge were included without extra charge. There was a welcome assortment of tasty snacks upon arrival and two water bottles that you could bring home. The door key was a circular Ventana pattern with built in RF to unlock your room. There was a pair of binoculars. And every night after the staff turned the room over, they left a gift (feather, jade stone, sweet smelling incense sage).
Dining is all-inclusive and some of the best I ever had.
The food at Ventana could by itself be a big reason to book a visit. Some previous experiences at all-inclusive for me have resulted in mediocre to outright terrible food quality but the meals here have been carefully and thoughtfully prepared and do not disappoint. The entire menu is available online to view if you are interested if you search “Ventana Big Sur dining menu”.
n room dining was available for all 3 meals plus there is a late night menu. Breakfast and dinner were at the Sur House while lunch could also be ordered poolside or at a BBQ shop right at the entrance to Ventana.
Breakfast and lunch were unlimited while dinner was limited to one app, one entree, and one dessert during my stay. As mentioned earlier, in the room, there was a welcome platter when you checked in and every item in the mini fridge was included. The only item not included was alcohol.
One of my biggest recommendations was the French toast. It was the best I ever had and my only regret was ordering it for the first time during the final breakfast.
There are a variety of unique and interesting activities that take advantage of the local environment and ecosystem.
The great part of this all-inclusive resort were that a lot of activities were included with a few others for an additional cost. It was also a short drive from scenic Big Sur locations such as Pfeiffer Beach and some state parks.
The only paid activity I did was whale watching. I really enjoyed it because the guide was passionate and extremely knowledgeable. I learned a lot of the history of Big Sur and its wildlife while we drove down the coast and we stopped by some great spots to look at some properties, beaches and even some seals. The only downside was we did not spot any whales.
The Redwood Hike was probably my favorite hike and my most recommended to start since you get a feel of the location. My guide showed us around the resort including the organic garden where they grew veggies and plants and even kept a chicken coup. We explored the breathtaking redwood trees, observed different plants and saw a bit of the coastline.
Beekeeping was a very new activity introduced to Ventana and it was not as terrifying as I originally imagined. The same guide who led me on the Redwood Hike was present and after a brief intro on bees, our group suited up in beekeeping attire and we proceeded to venture to the three beehive boxes. She attempted to open one hive but the bees were not docile and started to swarm her so she closed it quickly. Thankfully the 2nd hive was more peaceful and we were able to see the honeycombs that the bees were building up. After that exhilarating experience, we finished up by tasting 5 different types of honey (I won’t spoil what the flavors were).
Falconry was another unique activity as we got to learn about and engage with different birds of prey. The experience was made all the better by the instructor who was extremely passionate about these birds and captively educated us. I gained a huge appreciation and awareness by the end of the session. He then brought out 5 different birds of prey and we were allowed to pet one of them. The last bird was trained to land on our gloved hand and we took turns practicing this drill and even got to experience the bird flying right past our heads.
The coastal hike was a scenic walk along the coast up the mountain but the guide was energetic and made it a terrific experience.
I missed the astronomy session at night but the guide (who was the same one as the coastal hike) summed up the different star patterns for me afterwards and there was even a telescope to look at the moon and stars up close.
All the staff members took pride in their jobs.
You can expect great service at Ventana Big Sur. All the guides during the activities were engaging, knowledgeable and passionate about what they did. Waiters took great care of me during meals and I even found out that one of the golf cart drivers grew up on the resort while his parents worked here and now is continuing their legacy.
I have been hearing so much about what an aspirational resort that Ventana Big Sur was and I am glad to have visited before it moved up to a Category 8. My favorite parts were my outdoor jacuzzi (which I soaked in every time I returned to my room) and the activities. I love learning about the culture and environment in places I travel to and all the guides were exceptional. Even just being in Big Sur with its unique location by the mountain and ocean made you feel like you’re part of a different world.
Hyatt properties continue to be the best value on points and even with the introduction of peak pricing on points and category changes, it is easy to find great value across their portfolio.
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