IHG PointBreaks Official Hotel List For April-July

IHG has published their list of PointBreaks hotels after publishing a preview list on Friday.

These hotels are only 5,000 points/night but they’re also generally not the most popular hotels. One hotel I’m looking at is the Holiday Inn Express Karlsruhe City Park which is normally 20,000 points/night or about $120/night in July.

Chase offers an IHG credit card which has an offer of 60,000 points which amounts to 12 nights of PointBreak stays. If you don’t want the IHG credit card, you could transfer Ultimate Rewards points to IHG if you have either the Chase Sapphire Preferred or the Sapphire Reserve.

I’d recommend getting the IHG credit card because you get that big sign-up bonus (sometimes the bonus can be found for up 80,000 points) and every card anniversary you’ll get a free 1-night stay at any hotel.

Google Home Supports Multiple Users – Finally

Google announced they’ve updated Google Home to support up to 6 users. Users will add themselves through the Home app on their phones.

This feature should have been offered from the beginning, but now that it’s here, Google Home is suited for almost any type of home. A couple ask Google Home about their day and each person would hear their own calendar events instead of both people getting one calendar.

I don’t have additional people to add to my Google Home so I will have to get back to you on how easy the process is for adding more people.

What I do know is when setting up additional people, Google Home will ask each person to say “Ok Google” and “Hey Google” to distinguish between each person’s voice.

IHG PointBreaks Hotels: April – July 2017

InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) offers select hotels every 3 months at a discounted rate for reward stays. These are called PointBreaks and stays can be booked for just 5,000 points/night. IHG released a preview of the list for April 24 – July 31 today which can be found here.

With the current sign-up bonus of 60,000 points for the credit card from Chase, someone could stay at a single PointBreaks hotel for 12 nights OR 12 hotels for 1 night each.

PointBreaks hotels typically won’t be for the fancy luxurious hotels that typically cost $400+. They are, however, more for a road-trip or a quick overnight visit to a nearby city.

This means the list isn’t going to include the InterContinental New York Times Square during New Year’s Eve, but it does include hotels like the Holiday Inn Express Karlsruhe City Park which runs for about $120 in July.

I’m still making my reservations for my upcoming Europe trip this summer so that Holiday Inn Express in Karlsruhe could be a nice overnight stop on my way through Germany.

Again, the list found above and here are only previews. Trying to book the Holiday In Exress for July before Monday will still show reward nights as 20,000 points/night. Starting April 24, the hotels listed will have a lowest possible price of 5,000 points/night.

Android 7.1.1 Is Here For OnePlus 3 and 3T Users

OnePlus released the beta for their newest OS version, OxygenOS 4, to the public at the end of March. This beta offered the first look at Android 7.1.1 to OnePlus 3 and 3T Users.

A few minutes ago I received a notification to download a system update on my OnePlus 3T. Now it’s ready to install so let’s see what it will do.

Like I mentioned in my post about the Google Assistant arriving to Android 6 and 7 phones, this update to OxygenOS 4 is yet another step closer to making the OnePlus 3T equal to Google’s Pixel but for a fraction of the cost.

Post-Installation

The first thing I’ve noticed is the home screen is now a 5 x 5 grid versus a 4 x 5 grid before. Apps still show in a 4 x 5 grid in the app drawer. This also means neither the home screen nor the app drawer are customizable to different grid sizes.

Another change to the home screen is how the home screen settings are shown. “Customize” used to include both the icon size/design and the gestures (shelf, up and down).

Well, “customize” now only allows changing the icon size and shape. Turning on the shelf, enabling swiping down for the notifications tray, and swiping up for a shortcut to a Google search are now split into a fourth option:  “settings”.

The last change I’ve been able to observe is the change to screenshots.

Changes to the American Express Platinum Charge Card

A week ago, on March 31st, American Express made some changes to their Platinum Charge card. Some simple and small, others more dramatic.

Here is a list of all the changes, in no particular order:

  • Card is now made of metal
  • Increased annual fee to $550
  • 5x rewards category for hotels booked through amextravel.com
  • Monthly Uber credit, max of $200/year
  • No annual fee for Gold cards for Authorized User cards

The biggest change was increasing the annual fee from $450 to $550. However, the Uber credit was added to make up for this increase while also, potentially, competing with the Chase Sapphire Reserve‘s $300 annual travel credit. The airline fee credit and the new Uber credit brings the Platinum card “travel credits” up to $400.

I feel the card being metal was long overdue considering the Chase Sapphire Preferred has been made of metal since it’s release (in 2011 I believe) and only has a $95 annual fee. Another small change that I think is great, the removal of annual fees on Gold cards for Authorized Users (AU). Previously, AU Gold cards were either $45 or $50, and a separate Gold Card has an annual fee of $160.

The Platinum card still doesn’t have bonus categories for food like the Gold and Premier Rewards Gold cards I discussed in my Introduction to American Express Charge Cards post. Now you can earn – 5x points on flights and hotels with the main Platinum card, and earn 2x points on restaurants with the Gold AU card.

With that said, the 5x points on hotels are not as simple as the 5x points on flights. For flights, you can book on amextravel.com or directly with the airline. Hotels have to be booked through the amextravel website, and they have to be qualifying hotels.

Qualified hotels are prepaid bookings which includes hotels from The Hotel Collection (HC), but not the Fine Hotels & Resorts (FHR). I am disappointed with requiring pre-paid bookings being these tend to go through 3rd party sites.

The Platinum card gives complimentary Gold status with Starwood Preferred Guest. However, booking a stay at an SPG property through the amextravel site prevents you from adding your SPG number to the reservation and earn rewards or get the benefits of having Gold status.

So this new reward category forces people to choose whether they want the benefits of any potential status they might hold (like Gold at SPG or Hilton) by booking directly with the hotel or earn 5x points through amextravel.com.

If you’ve read my post about A (Hypothetical) Weekend in Seattle, you’ll know some hotel reward programs allow you to earn points very easily which can equal a free reward night pretty quickly.

Earning points with a hotel program will be better than earning 5x Membership Rewards with the Platinum card most of the time. If you tend to go to which ever hotel is cheapest, instead of sticking with a single hotel program, then 5x points would make more sense for you.

Overview of the Changes and Final Thoughts

Some of these changes I like, such as no annual fee for Gold AU cards, and some were overdue, like the card being made of metal.

I don’t buy airplane tickets, and AirBnB is usually cheaper than a hotel, so the 5x categories aren’t worth much to me if I had the Platinum card. A generic travel credit or travel bonus category like the Chase Sapphire Reserve would serve me much better since I usually buy train tickets.

Do you like these changes, or would you rather not have the higher annual fee and a generic travel category?

Rock ‘n’ Roll San Francisco

A week ago, I competed in the Rock ‘n’ Roll San Francisco half marathon. From getting to San Francisco, making my way through the pre-race expo, and trudging up and down the hills of San Francisco, this race had me face new obstacles in real time.

Pre-Race Expo

Walking up to the race Expo, I wouldn’t have know there was a race Expo going on inside if someone had not walked in the doors ahead of me. I knew the Expo was at Pier 35, and I saw Pier 35 on the building, but the signage for the Expo was rather limited and small. There were some people near the entrance because they, like me, needed to confirm their registration to learn their number and then sign the race waiver.

With my number in mind and waiver signed (that rhymed, didn’t it?), I made my way to pick-up my number. I was one of the first groups because the bibs were organized 0000-0999, 1000-1999, etc. and my number was in the 4000’s. At this first stop I only received my bib; I had to continue to the next stop to grab my shirt and bag.

Before I continue, this Expo was split into 4 “Stops”.  Stop 1 was getting your Bib, 2 was getting your Shirt and Gear Bag, 3 was Merchandise and 4 was Main Expo.

When I grabbed my bag I thought “Okay, this has all of my things including my VIP information” without realizing the bags were not unique to each other and not noticing the VIP table was not “just up ahead”. This meant I did not have my VIP packet, but I’ll move on for now.

The merchandise was nice, but I had everything I needed so I didn’t spend much time in Stop 3. I did take a look at the glasses they were selling with a Rock ‘n’ Roll and 13.1 logo.

The vendor I was most excited for was United because United had their new Polaris business class seats on display. Other vendors I noted were Brooks, Garmin, Run Disney, and SF Chronicle.

The one “vendor” I actually needed was the VIP table. Unfortunately for me, I was pre-occupied mentally. However, the VIP table was at the very end in a back corner of sorts. All of the vendors were set up with one row on the left and 2 rows on the right. VIP was the 2nd on the right so it wasn’t even easy to see when walking towards the exit.

Screen Shot 2017-03-28 at 10.05.45 PM

Race Day Morning

If I had received my VIP packet I would have known where the VIP shuttle pick-up was, but since I didn’t I needed the general shuttle pick-up area which was at the Civic Center Plaza.

Before leaving my hotel room I had to change into my running clothes, which meant I got to put on my Forrest Gump costume! With a natural beard, it’s hard not to want to dress as Forrest Gump.

Forrest Gump costume RnR SF halfI left the hotel and headed to Market St. towards Bay and noticed the streets were pleasantly barren. The sidewalks were being cleaned, but this isn’t a review of the streets of San Francisco.

After a quick shuttle ride to the start, I had to walk past the start line and through the general information and port-a-potty areas to the far back. This is where I was able to get my VIP wristband and VIP breakfast.

Once I felt ready I shed my jacket and shorts and checked my gear in my bag with the VIP bag check, grabbed a croissant breakfast-bag, and headed to the start line. Next, I began my warm-up by doing a quick jog down the nearby trail and to the corrals followed by some dynamic stretching to get my body ready for the next 3 hours of hills.

Everyone started congregating and condensing around the “Corral #” and pace runner signs as 6:15 began approaching. I saw the 2:45 pacer and wanted to get ahead of them so I could take it easy at places while still finishing close to them, so I looked for the 2:30 pacer.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t see the other pace sign well so once I got close enough to notice it said “2:00”. I thought I must have been blind since “2:00” was in Corral 7 and “2:45” was in Corral 8. But I wasn’t blind, the “2:15” and “2:30” pacers either weren’t holding their signs up or didn’t have them yet.

Anyways, Rock ‘n’ Roll races feature rock ‘n’ roll music blasting on speakers at the start, roughly every mile throughout, and at the finish of the race. But this time there was no music at the start. Maybe it had to do with the start line being in Golden Gate Park, but I wasn’t terribly disappointed about not having music at the start.

Good news was we still got a count down, of sorts. The lack of music was most likely because the race couldn’t make a lot of noise which meant they also couldn’t shout the count down through the speakers nor use an air horn.

The Race – 13.1 Miles of Hills

Course profile of the RnR SF half marathon
RnR SF half marathon course profile

The Start

Crossing the start line, we headed to the left and met our first tease of the course, a slight hill to get out of the Golden Gate Park. Once we summited this “bump” we had to go back down it then immediately turn to the right and then another left to introduce us to our first real hill.

If you haven’t realized it now, I’m going to be saying hill and talking about climbing frequently in this race review, so get ready!

On our way to the Golden Gate Bridge

This is a San Francisco half marathon so it has to include running over the Golden Gate Bridge (GGB). Of course that means we had to get to the Bridge from Golden Gate Park.

Getting to the GGB meant we had about 3.5mi of gradually steeper and steeper hills. The bottom of the first set of climbing featured a band dressed as hippies. I almost asked if any of them had seen Jenny but they were busy taking selfies with other runners.

Right around the 2.25mi point the final climb leading to the GGB began. Nearly 1mi later, we had climbed nearly 300ft with almost 200ft in the last half mile.

I am proud to say I did not walk the entire climb, nor was I alone in walking part of the climb. And as the saying goes, “what goes up must come down” and down we hiked. It was just as steep going downhill as it was uphill, but the downhill was longer.

After the torturous 1mi climb and 1mi descent, we were finally in sight of the Golden Gate Bridge.

The Golden Gate Bridge was pretty crowded because there were nearly 6700 runners who needed to pass over the bridge in two traffic lanes with one lane going North and the other South.

Reaching the Vista Point was a relief because there was much more space so the runners didn’t need to be shoulder to shoulder anymore, plus the view was nice. This also featured the second band, this one being a band of military personnel. Heading back to the Bridge and starting the return into San Francisco helped remind me just how long the Golden Gate Bridge is and how long it was going to take to get back across.

Despite all my complaining about the hills and length of the Bridge, the view made the trip worth the suffering, as well as the Forrest Gump references from people crossing paths with me. One woman complimented me on my outfit and said I had the legs to pull it off, so that eased the pain I was feeling.

Bidding the Bridge Fair-well

With the Bridge in my rearview mirror, I was tasked with running down to Marina Blvd which, surprise surprise, featured a steep downhill which I had to walk most of the way down. Once I got to Marina Blvd, it was nice and flat.

Marina Blvd allowed us a mostly flat course for about 2 miles but then we were right back to the typical San Francisco hills making our way towards our final summit.

After beginning to climb the city streets past Marina Blvd, our summit was About 2 miles with about 200ft of climbing. Now, the finish line was all downhill from here.

However, if you remember, downhill does not mean the final stretch was a walk in the park nor was it a piece of cake. I did walk, but only because it was still a steep downhill and running was difficult (but it’s a half marathon, it’s not supposed to be easy). And there wasn’t even cake at the finish line.

I finally made it to the final stretch without much of a slope and I was feeling fine so I picked up the pace. The final performer was dressed as Beyoncé and almost everyone was passing the performer on the right so I decided to go left. Coming in to the final 0.1 mi and I started passing people.

At the finishing chute the announcer was calling off names and told everyone “here comes Forrest” when I came into view. Crossing the finishing line, I was finally done and able to avoid any and all the hills I wanted.

Running down the finishing chute

Post-Race Party

The finish line had the usual volunteers passing out medals, people taking photos with their new medals, and others trying desperately to get refueled via chocolate milk and sports drinks (that was me).

Music was played by another live band, but the music made it difficult to hear people. Fortunately, I had not reconnected with my parents yet so this wasn’t much of a problem for a few minutes.

Since I had my VIP package, I made my way to the VIP area, but I accidentally went to the VIP area for people from The Westin. Strangely, my checked gear bag was at this VIP area instead of at the United VIP area next door. So it worked out despite me being in the wrong place.

Rock 'n' Roll San Francisco post-race VIP area

In the VIP area I found some light food and got a massage after changing my shorts. The masseuse’s name was Sean, I think, and he was magnificent at the massage. My neck had a kink for about a week (hey, I rhymed again) and my upper-back tends to get tight when I run so I asked for my 10 minute massage to be focused on my shoulders instead of my calves.

Check-out at my hotel, the Parc 55 San Francisco, was at 11 and my massage ended at 10:10 so I needed to hurry back to my hotel. I texted the hotel desk to ask for a late check-out and they said yes, I could check out an hour later. That left me enough time to eat breakfast in the hotel restaurant, shower and change back in my room.

Final Thoughts

Overall, I thought this race was lacking when I compare it to what I’ve seen at the Rock ‘n’ Roll San Jose the previous 2 years. The pre-race Expo was arranged too neatly. I know that seems weird but the orderly layout of the Expo prevented me from getting my VIP package at the Expo.

Beyond the Expo, I was disappointed in the lack of music at the start line, and I was not able to train for the hills well, so it was not entirely Rock ‘n’ Roll’s fault I didn’t have a blast.

If I do this race again I’ll have to be in a more hilly region while I train or I need to make some trips to San Francisco. However, I’ll have a better understanding of the organization of the events for the weekend next time.

In the end, I chose this race because it is local and one of the four races which qualify people for the special California medal, which requires 3 of 4 California half/full marathons. With that, I’m glad I did the race, and I’m happy with my performance.

Parc 55 San Francisco – a Hilton Hotel

Getting to the Parc 55

San Francisco is about 2 hours away from San Jose whether I took Caltrain directly from SJ -> SF or if I took a bus to Fremont to catch BART. The Parc 55 is immediately across the street from the Powell BART station so I elected to take BART.

Leaving the Powell BART station, most people turned right to go towards the escalators up to Market St. I turned left and saw the Parc 55 hotel calling for me to check-in to my room.

Getting to the street level was easy since I was able to take the stairs near the Parc 55, but someone who needed the escalator would have had to go to the opposite side nearer Market St than the hotel.

The Hotel

A quick crossing of the street led me to the driveway and drop off for valet parking, as well as the doorman and entrance to the hotel.

Driveway doorway of Parc 55

Walking through the ground floor lobby didn’t take long with the stairs just inside and the escalators on the opposite side of the stairs. I made my way past the stairs and onto the escalators to head up to the check-in desk.

Being a member of Hilton Honors, the Hilton rewards program, allows guests to check in and choose a room the day before their stay. I checked in and picked a room on the 12th floor before arriving, but I still headed to the check-in desk in case there were any upgrades since I have Diamond status.

As luck would have it, there were a couple rooms on floors 24, 25 and 27 and the person at the desk gave me a room on the 27th floor. I didn’t know what type of view this would have, but the view ended up being great.

View from the 27th floor of the Parc 55 San Francisco

After checking in, I headed to the elevators and found there were no up/down buttons. There was, instead, a number pad to punch in the desired floor. So I punched in “2” and “7” and the display told me which elevator and points in the direction of the elevator (A and to the left).

The Room

Reaching my room was easy, but opening the door posed another new obstacle. Every other hotel I’ve stayed in required the keycard to be slid into a slot for the magnetic strip to be read. This keycard, however, only needed to be placed against the reader to unlock the door.

Immediately inside the door to the left was the bathroom and to the right was the closet with mirrors on the sliding doors. Directly ahead were the beds, the desk, dresser, arm chairs, and the windows with the view from above.

2 Bed bedroom in Parc 55 San Francisco

My parents were staying with me so I reserved a room with two beds. They had not yet arrived, so I took some time to tour the room.

The desk was large enough to have my laptop and a textbook, if I had brought a textbook, set up for doing homework. Sitting in the chairs was a little weird because the arms were so tall. But the dresser and the TV on top were probably the most interesting things in the room.

A row of digital inputs and outputs were available on the side of the dresser for connecting a laptop or DVD player, or whatever you had. I forgot my HDMI chord in my room so I let myself down by having only my laptop screen to watch Netflix on. The end of the row near the wall had 4 wall adapters and each one was rotated 90 degrees around each other to prevent anything plugged in from getting in the way of another adapter.

TV inputs/outputs in the Parc 55 San Francisco hotel room

Moving on to the windows and the view, venting the room meant not opening the window. Instead, there were little vents at the bottom that lifted up or down.

Here is a clip of the vent opening.

Texts from the Desk?

A few hours after I checked in, and while I was away at dinner, I received a text from the hotel, probably the concierge desk, asking me how everything was in my room. That night and the next morning I received a few more texts, and I asked them a few questions. My most important question I asked them was if I could get a late check-out.

Being a member of the Hilton Honors program also gives you the option for checking out late. Normal check-out time is 11am and I was going to be cutting things close, and not have time for a shower, so I shot a quick text to the desk. Fortunately they extended my check-out time by another hour which gave me enough time to grab some breakfast, shower, and pack before heading down to the check-out desk.

Checking out was smooth, although there were numerous people so it took a few minutes. I paid for my valet, texted the valet to get the car ready, and then headed down the escalators to find my parents already at the car.

Overall experience

I enjoyed my stay. The building looked nice, the room was better than I expected, and the texts from the (concierge) desk was the final piece to convince me to pick the Parc 55 San Francisco if I ever need a hotel in San Francisco again.

Rewards Time

In my post about A (Hypothetical) Weekend in Seattle I go over the rewards earning structure of different hotel programs including Hilton. To keep recap, my American Express Hilton Honors card (with no annual fee) earns 7 points/$1 on Hilton transactions, and from being a member of Hilton Honors I get 10 points, Diamond I get an extra 5 points, and for earning Points + Points I get another 5 points on the room rate. This means the room rate of $220 earned me 20x points (4400 points), and my card earned 7x points on the final price of $256 + $71 for valet parking.

My total earnings from this one night stay with my parents earned me 4400 points for the room, 2289 points from my card, which comes to 6685 points total.

Looking at the breakdown on Hilton’s website, I’m seeing something a little different. I earned 2820 base points and 1410 for each of the Diamond and Points+Points bonuses. Plus, I earned 500 points for booking my stay with an American Express card, and I received a gift of 1000 bonus points as my Diamond benefit from the hotel (I chose points over a water bottle). This brings my actual total points earned to 9429 points.

In the A (Hypothetical) Weekend in Seattle, I mentioned the cheapest rooms available for each of the hotel programs is 5000 points, which means this one night stay was enough to earn a full night at a Tier 1 hotel, and almost 2 nights at a Tier 1 or 1 night at a Tier 2 hotel.

 

If you would like to use my referral link for the American Express Hilton Honors credit card, you will earn 80,000 Hilton Honors points after spending $2,000 in the first 3 months. This is more than enough for a typical 1 night stay at the Parc 55 San Francisco.

Using my link is voluntary and will help support me by me earning 20,000 Honors points which I can use towards another hotel review.