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Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Importance of Planning a Credit Card Churn -Part One



Today the Internet is filled with outrage over Hilton's tremendous devaluation of their Hilton HHonors program.  Hilton points were already widely considered by many to be among the least valuable of all the hotel points.  I have always taken the stance that on a point per point basis they were worth less, but it has been so easy to earn Hilton points that it was still a valuable program. 

Today that changed .  No longer is the Hilton HHonors program going to be anything worthwhile to me.  As a Hilton Diamond, that is a sad thing to say. They have changed the number of hotel categories from 7 to 10 and they have increased the redemption at the highest category hotels from 50,000 points to as many as 95,000 points.  This essentially cuts in half the value of your points.

There is a grace period until this takes effect at the end of March.  You can still book stays under the old guidelines past that date, but they need to be booked before the deadline.  If you have a stash of Hilton points like I do, I would suggest booking something now.  I was planning on using my points for either the Hilton Bora Bora with its over the water bungalows or Thailand's Koh Samui Resort.  As I have vacations planned for every month this year except August and September, it might be difficult for me to take another 10 days off from patient care.  Those aren't the type of trips I like to do in a long weekend or even a week!

This is the reason it is so important to plan your credit card churns with a destination in mind when you sign up.  I talked about this very topic in one of my first blog posts back in November.  I may get burned on this as my stash of 500,000 Hilton points is going to be worth a lot less if I can't book something prior to the end of March.

Click here to read part two of the series.

About The Points Doctor

The Points Doctor is Bruce J. Wilderman DDS of Artistic Expressions Dentistry.Dr. Wilderman has a practice limited to Cosmetic Dentistry, serving patients of the Philadelphia Area since 1986.He and wife of 30 years enjoy traveling the world for little or no money with the points and miles they have earned from the credit card companies. Dr. Wilderman would love to teach you how to do the same. You may reach him at ThePointsDoctor@comcast.net

Sunday, February 10, 2013

St. Regis Punta Mita Review - Part Two




We've been home less than a week from our vacation in paradise at the St. Regis Punta Mita and I am already planning the return visit for next year.  I guess that tells you everything you need to know about our stay.  Nonetheless, I will tell you why it was the best couples vacation EVER! That's a pretty significant thing for me to say as my wife and I have been to dozens of luxury resorts throughout Mexico and the Caribbean over the years. There have only been a couple of resorts that we have even discussed a return trip.

We arrived at the St. Regis around 3 pm.  We were greeted by a very friendly staff.  Of course they took our bags, handed us a cool cloth and offered us a cold drink.  We were then escorted to the private reception room/bar where we met 1 on 1 with our personal guide who updated us on the details of our stay.   We were offered complimentary Margaritas as we chatted.  (I had a second one).  We were introduced to our personal St. Regis butler, Luis.  He was very knowledgeable about not only the resort, but things to do in the area.  Luis gave us a few suggestions of restaurants to eat in town.  Your butler is there to handle any requests that you have during your stay.  It could be simple requests like bringing morning coffee and making restaurant reservations or more complicated ones like arranging for tours.

Luis then escorted us to our private villa.  While you are at the St. Regis, there is always a personal butler on staff for you.  They are merely a push of a button away.  They also now have an e-butler service where you can email your request.  As the Wi-Fi signal was pretty good in most areas of the resort, this was very nice.  I could sit on the beach in front of our villa with my iPad and request drinks without ever having to get my lazy butt off the chair!

If you read part one of my review, you know about the upgrade I received as a Starwood Gold member.  I received Starwood Gold status strictly through credit card spending on my Starwood Preferred Guest card or Starwood Business card.  While it is a $30,000 spend requirement to reach Gold Status, our villa would have been almost $25,000 for the six nights we stayed there. I call that an upgrade!








Our Villa patio and private plunge pool and hot tub.  Views of the Sunset we enjoyed every night.








I have to admit we were very lazy on this trip.  We were just so relaxed we didn't want to go anywhere or do anything.  The resort has a beautiful spa and fitness center, a golf course next door and amazing infinity edge pools.



Our days mainly consisted of have coffee and breakfast on the patio, followed by beach and pool time during the afternoons.



In the evenings we watched the sunset from our patio while having drinks.  All but one night we ate dinner at the hotel where there are three great restaurants. There really is no need to go off the resort as the food at the St. Regis is quite good.  All the fish was extremely fresh and well prepared. Si Senor was the only restaurant outside the resort that we visited. We had wonderful dinners of Blue Shrimp and Fresh Red Snapper. I would highly recommend this place.  Casa Teresa is closed on Mondays which was our last night in Punta Mita.  It was highly recommended by everyone as well.

The St. Regis Punta Mita has several traditions they perform each week.  On Friday mornings there is the fish ritual, where the local fisherman bring their catch to the beach in front of the resort.  The Hotel chef talks about the different fish.  You can select which fish you would like for dinner that night.



We chose to have Red Snapper Cerviche and fish tacos.  We had a private candlelit dinner on the beach in front of our villa with our own private waiter while watching the sunset.


Friday evenings they have the Champagne Ritual.  My understanding is that this is a St. Regis tradition.  One of the staff takes a large sword and literally cuts the top of the bottle with it.  They then serve the champagne to the guests along with some light appetizers.




We only left the comfort of our villa one day.  We took a trip to the nearby hippie/surfer town of Salyulita.  We had breakfast at a cute little hotel.  We walked around for about three hours and bought a few souvenirs for our trip. Note all the surfers in the water.





Sometimes it's the little touches like fresh fruit on your table, fresh towels by the pool every day,  or chocolates in the evening that makes a place unique.  The Resort property manager, Mr. Emberson has made this a truly special place.




I have said for many years, I would like to find a place in paradise where I can sit on the beach while watching the ocean and trade stocks on my iPad during the week.  I think I found my paradise at the St. Regis Punta Mita. 

About The Points Doctor

The Points Doctor is Bruce J. Wilderman DDS of Artistic Expressions Dentistry.Dr. Wilderman has a practice limited to Cosmetic Dentistry, serving patients of the Philadelphia Area since 1986.He and wife of 30 years enjoy traveling the world for little or no money with the points and miles they have earned from the credit card companies. Dr. Wilderman would love to teach you how to do the same. You may reach him at ThePointsDoctor@comcast.net

Monday, February 4, 2013

St. Regis Punta Mita Review - Part One



There is nothing like a warm sunny destination in the middle of winter to take away the winter blahs.  I thought that I would begin writing my review before we headed home to the cold of Philadelphia.  I hear it has been snowy and 20 degrees there during the past week.  Too bad. Lol.

Meanwhile, my wife and I have been enjoying the warm tropical breezes and sunshine from the patio and the beach in front of our little casita at the St. Regis Punta Mita. (The ocean is no more than 15-20 yards from our patio). For those of you not familiar with the St. Regis brand, it is the Luxury brand of the Starwood hotel group that also includes, Sheraton, W Hotels, Westin and at least 4-5 others.  I am writing this from our patio while looking at, and listening to the ocean.  It's whale watching season here. Yesterday about this same time, two whales jumped out of the water right in front of us!  Priceless. 

Speaking of priceless, the best part of all is that our time here has been FREE!   Here is how: 

1) I used 60,000 AA miles to book my first class ticket from Philadelphia to Puerta Vallarta, and 30,000 AA miles to upgrade my wife's coach ticket that was purchased through the Capital One travel portal.  I received 50,000 Aadvantage miles each as a sign up bonus for the AA Citibank Amex  and AA Citibank Visa personal cards.  At the time of issue, I think both had a $2500 minimum spending requirement to be met within 3 months.  The 100,000 Capital One points were for a $1000 minimum spend.  All I had to do was show Capital One proof of spending $50,000 or more on another card the previous year.  I have not seen this offer since early 2012. 

2) I used 100,000 Starpoints to book 6 nights at the St. Regis Punta Mita.  The St. Regis is a category 6 starwood property that requires 20,000 points per night, but Starwood has a 5th night free option that required me to "pay" for 5 nights with my points. The Starpoints were earned through sign up bonuses of 25,000 and 30,000 for a Starwood business and Starwood personal card.  When you spend $30,000 on the Starwood card, you receive Gold status with Starwood.  I used my status to get an upgraded room.  The room I booked was a garden view room that costs $600+/night with taxes and fees.  Not bad for my points! The room that I actually got was a $4000/night villa on the beach with a private plunge pool and private hot tub.  There is only one better Villa at the resort.  It is called the Presidential Suite and it was occupied by umm....well...El Presidente de Mexico and his family.  They are vacationing here as well.  (no joke)

Let's look at the trip by the numbers.

8. The number a FREE segments of First Class flights we took from Philadelphia to PV and back.
7. The number of times I probably said, "It just doesn't get any better than this."
6. The number of FREE  nights spent in a beachfront villa.
5. The number of amazingly attentive staff who personally took care of us during our stay.
4. The number of showers in our 1 bdrm villa. (seriously!) Three indoor and one outdoor.
3. The number of  fabulous restaurants at the St. Regis Punta Mita. (Also the number of plasma TV's)
2. The number of people who had a truly remarkable and memorable vacation.
1. The number of times the whales put on a show for us.
0. The number of times my wife and I are likely to top this vacation in our lifetime!

Details of the Resort will follow once we arrive home and I have a chance to download and edit the pictures. 

About The Points Doctor

The Points Doctor is Bruce J. Wilderman DDS of Artistic Expressions Dentistry.Dr. Wilderman has a practice limited to Cosmetic Dentistry, serving patients of the Philadelphia Area since 1986.He and wife of 30 years enjoy traveling the world for little or no money with the points and miles they have earned from the credit card companies. Dr. Wilderman would love to teach you how to do the same. You may reach him at ThePointsDoctor@comcast.net