New PointBreaks Hotel List from IHG

If you remember from my posts about IHG’s PointBreaks deals, you’ll know there are a select few hotels which are offered at a discounted 5,000 IHG points/night. This list usually has inexpensive hotels, but even saving $75-100/night by booking at a nightly rate of 5,000 points can save you enough to buy your tickets to visit.

Well, my recent visit to France to watch the Tour de France didn’t quite satisfy my desire to explore France. Finding new places to visit lead me to the city of Clermont-Ferrand, and the Holiday Inn Clermont-Ferrand Centre.

The new list of PointBreaks hotels is up and the Holiday Inn Clermont-Ferrand Centre is right at the top of the list for Europe. Now, this hotel goes for anywhere between 60-80 Euros, which is $70-94, so it’s not terribly expensive, however booking this for only 5,000 points can mean the difference between 1 night in a hotel in Paris or 7 nights in a less well known city.

Am I going back to France this early? Maybe not, but this city looks exciting and the hotel is rather enticing. Plus, the average elevation of this city is above 1000ft so I could do some triathlon training at a slightly higher elevation than I’m accustomed to in San Jose.

Advantages of the Barclaycard Arrival Plus Credit Card

The Arrival Plus from Barclaycard is a travel rewards card with an $89 annual fee (waived the first year), 2 points/$ on all purchases, but most important has Chip + PIN functionality (for use outside the USA).

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Barclaycard Arrival Plus

I signed up for this card with a waived first year annual fee and 40,000 points after spending $3,000. While I have not used the Chip + PIN functionality of this card yet, I have utilized the travel rewards and intended to let my parents use the card during their trip to Europe last month.

Free Dinner in Hawaii

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Polynesian Culture Center, where I enjoyed the luau and dinner show

Leading up to my trip to Hawaii in June I knew a few things I wanted to do: I wanted to snorkel in Hanauma Bay, to rent a bike so I could train for the Santa Cruz Tri and get around, and to attend a luau. Through my searches I found the Go City Card.

The Go Oahu Card allows for travelers to either select their own attractions and rentals (like individual ships at the Pearl Harbor museum or the Pearl Harbor-City Tour) or buy an all-in-one pass. The 3-, 5-, and 7-day all inclusive passes offer 1 premium attraction, so I picked the Alii Luau & Dinner show to go along with the Polynesian Culture Center entry because I purchased a 3-day all-inclusive pass.

Using the points earned from the 40,000 point sign-up bonus for the Arrival Plus card I paid off the $185 3-day pass. The Alii Luau & Dinner show alone was $113 making it easy to recoup the full price of the all-inclusive pass with visiting only a few more attractions. I stayed on Oahu for 5 days and the 3-day all-inclusive pass was perfect for my needs as a solo traveler.

Saving for a Triathlon

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Ocean Pacific Lodge

I raced in the Santa Cruz Tri and book a stay at the Ocean Pacific Lodge (review soon to come) for ~$300. This was a perfect price because after my sign-up bonus and spending then redeeming points on my Hawaii trip I had just enough points for a 1 night stay. It was not until I visited Santa Cruz a few weeks before the race that I was able to see that the hotel was not only a block away from the beach start but it was also directly across the street from the transition area. The proximity of the hotel to the start and transition area were easily enough to make this hotel and points redemption a great value.

Putting the Chip and PIN to Use in Europe

My intentions were to give my parents Authorized User cards for my Arrival Plus for when they needed Chip + PIN (not Chip + Signature) functionality on their Europe trip, but the cards did not arrive in time. I guess I will have to try this card at Target to see if the Chip + PIN is triggered.fd

TomTom Spark

The TomTom Spark is a direct competitor to the Fitbit products. This variant of the TomTom fitness watches has the ability to count your steps and hours slept if you enable either tracking features. Where the TomTom Spark exceeds the Fitbit watches is the 24/7 activity tracking comes with GPS tracking for all of your workouts at a lower price than the equivalent Fitbit watch.

The Box

Sports Authority was going out of business this summer and had a store wide sale. TomTom was also having a sale on their website, so this was the perfect time for me to nab a Spark. I went with the plain TomTom Spark because I prefer running without headphones and I own a heart rate monitor (Wahoo TICKR).

As you can see from the pictures above the watch face is prominently displayed through a window. The back of the box shows various features of the watch with the key fitness features shown on the left side of the box. There is a strap guide on the right side of the box: bigger wrists should use the larger strap, smaller wrists should go for the small strap, medium wrists can go with either but should probably go with the larger strap.

Activity Tracking

The main difference between the TomTom Spark and Multi-Sport watches is the ability for the Spark to track your activity (steps and sleep) throughout the day, not just when you’re working out. Another feature the Spark has (not mine but one of the options) is the ability to play music over Bluetooth headphones, which the Multi-Sport cannot do at this point.

What can the Spark track? Here’s a list

  • Steps
  • Calories
  • Distance
  • Time
  • Sleep

I don’t mind wearing my watch to bed so I have kept the sleep tracking enabled. However, my Asus Zenwatch 2 tracks my steps and is my daily watch so for now I have disabled step counting for my Spark. Before disabling the step counter I had daily and weekly goals set for 9,000 and 63,000 steps. I could have set a goal for any of the active (not sleeping) metrics the Spark tracks, but only 1 goal can be active at a time.

Workout Tracking

TomTom offers a variety of watches specific to running and the only type of workout you can track is a run (if you export your workouts to external sites like MapMyFitness you can edit the type of workout if you didn’t run). The Multi-Sport and Spark allow someone to track numerous sports:

  • Run
  • Cycle
  • Swim (pool)
  • Treadmill
  • Gym
  • Indoor cycle
  • Freestyle
  • Stopwatch

Run, Cycle, and Freestyle track your location so you can have accurate data on your distance, speed and pace (in real time for each). The other options do no track your location, but the treadmill does estimate your distance while you run and allows you to adjust the distance when you finish your run (same goes for an indoor cycle workout). Swim and Stopwatch do not allow for you to track your heart rate but the other options do via heart rate monitor (or built-in wrist heart rate monitor for the Spark Cardio versions).

The sport types are displayed as an icon with the name of the workout type at the top:

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Spark sport options

Now, some people go out and just run or ride or swim, while others do those things but also throw in a mix of interval workouts or they want to dial in their pace or stay within a heart rate zone. Fortunately, the TomTom Spark has many different types of training options including:

  • Run, Cycle, Treadmill, Gym,
    • Goals
      • Distance
      • Time
      • Calories
    • Intervals
    • Laps
      • Time
      • Distance
      • Manual
    • Zones
      • Pace
      • Speed
      • Heart
    • Race
  • Swim
    • Goals
      • Distance
      • Time
      • Calories
    • Intervals
    • Laps
      • Time
      • Distance

Each training option notifies you to either switch to the next interval or update you on your progress, or tells you to slow down. This is done by an on-screen notification and a vibrate if the vibration is enabled.

The “Intervals” option for all of the sports is set up by you setting either a time or distance for the following:

  • Warm up
  • [1. Work
  • 2. Rest]
  • # Sets (how many times [1 and 2] repeat)
  • Cool down

I enjoy the “Intervals” for my run workouts because I can have a little fun optimizing my workout for a specific distance like 3 miles. I always do 0.5 mi walking for my warm up and I aim for 0.5 mi for my cool down but I’ll sometimes go down to 0.4 mi. This means my 3 mi workout could be

  • 0.5 mi walk
  • [1 mi run
  • .1 mi walk]x2
  • 0.3 mi walk cool down.

Or it can be as simple as:

  • 0.5 mi walk
  • 2 mi run
  • 0.1 mi walk
  • 0.4 mi walk cool down.

If I set my training to “Goal” and set a specific distance, time or calories burned I can navigate to the right of all (but the current heart rate) screen while working out to see my current progress towards my goal. I tried this with a couple runs, one a 4 mi and another for 25 minute, and the follow pictures illustrate what the menu looks like. There is also an alert when you reach milestones like 50%, 90% and 100%.

I also want to show what the three Heart Rate menus look like: the first shows the zone, the next is percentage of time spent in each zone, and the last is a real-time graph:

Along with having the option to connect a heart rate monitor (or use the built-in heart rate monitor for the Cardio versions), the Spark allows you to connect the bike sensors TomTom sells. These bike sensors are for cadence and speed. I did not get any of these sensors because I did not buy the Spark version with the sensor bundle nor did I buy the sensors separately.

Comfort

The strap for the Spark comes in two sizes and there is a guide on one side of the box for determining which strap size to get, as I mentioned earlier. Unlike a normal wrist watch, the TomTom Spark has a rather unconventional method for locking in place. There are the standard holes in the strap, but at the end where one pieces goes through the hole on the other side there are prongs on both sides.

As you can see, these prongs are like nodes that you push through the holes in the strap to secure the watch onto your wrist, first you secure the prongs in the first picture, then the second picture. Finally, the extra piece of strap has another set of prongs like the second picture that pushes through the strap to keep the extra from flapping around while working out.

Final Thoughts

Overall, I think this watch is great. I have a smart watch that satisfies my 24/7 daily activity tracking so I can turn off the step and sleep tracker on my Spark, or turn it on if I don’t want my phone for a day. Being able to track all my workouts and get accurate distance, pace, speed, heart rate, and have training options all at a cheaper price than other options (e.g. Fitbit) is wonderful. The only thing I would want different would be having the Spark Cardio so I could have the option of recording my heart rate without needing a heart rate monitor around my chest.