Radisson San Jose Airport (SJC)

This was a pure mattress run for the big promotion ($68 all in + 5000 points), although I stayed in the room for 3 hours to get some work done in peace.

The area is shabby, I don’ think there is much around, and I wouldn’t go for a stroll.  Their in-house restaurant has a nice outside patio, except it looks out to their own very boring driveway.

The lobby was empty and check-in was super fast. The clerk thanked me for being a member, even though I didn’t have any status.  When I didn’t visibly reply to this, he thanked me again, very pointedly, after which I thanked him in return🙂  Actually this was the first time a Club Carlson front desk proactively acknowledged me as a member, with or without status.  It warmed me to the hotel immediately.

I was probably given a better room, it was on the top (5th) floor with likely the best view from this hotel, which isn’t anything special but much better than looking into a window of another building.

As you come out of the elevator on the fifth floor, there is a sitting lounge, which looks nice enough, which chairs, tables and couches.  Its color theme is way off from the rest of the hotel, it actually startled me when I walked out of the elevator.

The lounge has a sink and two small locked fridges but it is unclear what those are used for.  Do they hold receptions here?  The lounge has windows that looks out to the pool.  The windows are very dirty.

The room furniture was extremely dated and worn.  The TV is an old CRT which was a bit shocking.

There is no smell though, and the bed seemed comfy enough (I lay down for a minute).

What I loved about this room is that the window opens a bit, not enough to squeeze through but enough to let the breeze in.  Not having to sleep with the AC is a huge plus in my book.  There was very little street noise from the open window, I wouldn’t have a problem sleeping with it.

The bathroom was in line with the rest of the room.  There was an unfolded hand towel hanging by itself in the bathroom, it looked as if the housekeeper forgot to remove it.

Their standard weekend deal is early check-in and late check-out, plus $10 credit to their restaurant, no status required.  However, the cash & points rate that I booked did not specify these extras, and I didn’t test whether they would give them to me.

Overall impression: a cheap, nondescript hotel, perfectly reasonable to spend a short night at.  Excellent value for a Radisson mattress run.

London Olympics Trip Update

When the British Airways business class deal came out a couple of weeks ago, I managed to convince my wife (and myself) to drop almost 2 grand per ticket to take a week off and fly to London.  We flew the same route SFO-LHR-SFO in Club World last year with kids, using award tickets and a companion certificate that came from BA Chase Visa.  This was our first trip in a long-haul premium cabin, and we loved every minute of it. If it was so enjoyable with two small children, how awesome would it be for just the two of us?!  We jumped on the deal without any definite plans, other than “to catch the Olympic vibe” for a couple of days, and then perhaps go elsewhere in the UK or Europe for a few days.

The most exciting news since then is that we actually bought tickets to one Olympic game!  We are going to the Womens Basketball Gold Medal game.  Given how late we decided to buy the tickets, this was the only event that struck a reasonable balance between being interesting and not wildly expensive.  We also were lucky to buy the tickets through our UK friends, since the US distributor had even fewer tickets left, and at very high prices.

The game is on the same day as our arrival.  We arrive in LHR at 1pm, and the game is at 9pm.  In this time we need to go through customs, then travel on the Tube to our friends’ house in north London where we are staying (good thing it is on the same tube line as LHR), drop the bags, go to Kensington to pick the Olympics tickets from our other friends, and then go to the game.  Eight hours should be enough time… but I am considering getting a hotel for that night (using Club Carlson points), to make it a little easier.

Now a minor upset: I realized that I completely forgot to go via TopCashBack portal when buying the BA tickets.  They pay 5% cashback on British Airways bookings, and I basically left $90/ticket on the table!  I don’t know if I will be able to forgive myself.  Good thing my wife has no idea about TopCashBack.  I was giving her a hard time for booking too late when LHR-SFO was no longer available, but now it turns out that I screwed up too.

Effect of credit card applications on credit scores

We recently started another mortgage refinance with Bank of America.  As soon as they pulled our credit reports I asked them what the scores were.  By the way, my understanding is that when a financial institution (or perhaps anyone else, such as an employer?) pulls your credit report, they must reveal the scores to you if you ask. Must they also give you a copy of the credit report?  Don’t know.  I always ask mortgage lenders to give me my (and my wife’s) scores, although I’ve never asked credit card companies for this.

This time the scores were right around 800 from all three agencies.  The last time we refinanced about 18 months ago, our scores were (slightly) lower.  Since then we applied for a handful of credit cards.  Needless to say, all the bills are paid on time and we’ve never had any defaults, bankruptcies or any similar unpleasant events.

I was happy to experience first-hand the theory that if you already have high credit scores, getting new credit and not using it actually increases your credit-worthiness.  The reason is that the lower fraction of your total credit you actually use, the less likely you are to go into default on any new credit line.  In other words, banks like to give credit to people who don’t really need any more credit.

Your high credit scores are an asset that is worth a lot of money.  Use it wisely, but don’t let it sit idly, make it work for you.  Most people understand that they extract value from high credit scores via lower loan rates.  But credit card signup bonuses are another perfectly good way to extract value from your hard-earned high credit scores.

My Worst Vacation Story

This true story won second place in a little contest for the Worst Vacation Story

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I nearly died from sudden paralysis, on my worst trip ever.

We were on Roatan island, Honduras. It is a great place for diving and snorkeling, even close to the shore. We went to a dive shop next to the hotel, and in 30 minutes were in the water looking at the amazing underwater colors.

After some time in the water, I suddenly started feeling very mild burning sensation around my body. I thought that perhaps I simply overheated, and so climbed back into the boat and lied down. This most likely saved my life.

When we got back to shore, as I walked off the boat, I suddenly felt that I could not move my hands! I sat down, and realized that getting up is no longer an option, I could not move my feet. Scared, I told my wife what was happening, and realized that I had great difficulty speaking, my tongue was like a piece of steel and I could not move it!

The shop owner came over, and declared this to be an allergic shock. At this point I am completely paralyzed, cannot move or speak, yet I am fully aware of everything. Two guys picked me up, carried me to a van, and drove us to a small private medical office (“clinic”!). There I was given a shot of Benadryl, and in 15 minutes I more or less returned to normal, except for the emotional scar.

But this wasn’t the end of it. The doctor looked at my wife (who couldn’t feel much because her adrenaline was pumping, as she was trying to figure out how to deliver the news of my untimely demise to my parents), then gave her a tube of cortisone saying simply “you will need this”. As she calmed down, she realized that she had a terrible rash all over, the worst of which was under the swimsuit.

Turned out that we came into contact with jellyfish larvae. Apparently, they swim under the swimsuit, get scared and release their poison. It is interesting how different our reactions were. I had no long-term effects, but my wife suffered for weeks. She bought all the cortisone in the local pharmacy. Back in the US several days later, she went to a dermatologist, who was very excited to see such a “nice reaction”.

Be aware of jellyfish season, and wear a tight wetsuit!

Hotel Review: Country Inn, Sunnyvale, CA

I’m at this hotel right now, sitting by the pool while the kids are taking a nap. This is our second stay at this property, this time without any status. This hotel is 20 miles from my house. I’ve grown to like local stays thanks to the Club Carlson promos. The kids love it as it has all the attributes of a vacation without boring/exhausting travel.

I think this hotel is a good value overall, with the free breakfast and a heated pool. It is probably priced at the low end around here (judging from cost of living, I am not really familiar with local hotel prices per se). It is in an office park, nothing is walkable from the property… except a small park with a good playground. Great America amusement park is a short drive away.

I called at 10:30am and asked if we could check in early, around 11:30. They said no problem, they will work it out with housekeeping. The room was ready when we came, check-in was very quick. Last time they also let us check out as late as 3pm (we had Silver status then).

They have a large sign out front that WiFi now works throughout the hotel. The sign wasn’t there a few weeks ago, and we didn’t try the wifi then, but I can report now that it works really well in the room and by the pool. We were watching high quality video on YouTube with no problems.

We have a junior suite, like the last time. It is not large, but functional, with plenty of large drawers for storage, a small fridge and a microwave, two TVs. It has a separate living room with french doors between it and the bedroom. The doors aren’t tight and don’t close shut, but it’s better than nothing. Walls are thin, you can hear people laughing in the hallway.

The pool is heated, but fairly small and does not have a large staircase where kids could sit and play on. So if you have very small children you pretty much have to be in the water with them. There are three separate men at the pool right now (Sat afternoon), I wonder if any of them are locals staying for points, just like me. There is also a European couple, their 4-yo son is sitting/walking around naked. I think that’s totally fine, but you don’t see this a lot on the US.  Wonder if they picked this place because CC properties are more common in Europe.

Last time, the free breakfast buffet had a good spread for a such a basic property, the hot water for tea was actually hot.

We are definitely coming back for the next promotion!

Taking Advantage of BA ClubWorld $2012 Sale: Pre-Trip Report

When the British Airways business class (Club World) sale offer came out, I drooled. When I learned that the girls are going to grandma’s for a couple of weeks in August, we started looking at schedules and remaining vacation days.  When we got each other into a frenzy over how awesome it would be to to catch the Olympic vibe in London, and maybe (just MAYBE) see an actual Olympic event live – that’s when I booked!

Until last week I couldn’t imagine ever paying for long-haul business.  But at $2K for non-stop round-trip from West Coast to London, I used every excuse in the book to justify this splurge.

The Booking

It is entirely my fault that we waited to book until the last day of the sale.  Instead of pitching the whole idea to my wife, patiently explaining why this trip isn’t as expensive as it looks at first glance, and letting her mull it over for days while seeing the rate availability disappear, I should have acted like any reasonable man would: plunk down the 4 grand first, deal with the threat of divorce later.  Alas I am too much into the whole “mutual decision” thing, and it comes back to bite me every time.

The result of this procrastination was that the non-stop back to SFO was no longer available on the day we wanted.  This is expected to cost us extra 4 hours, and $100/ticket.

SFO-LHR-LAX in BA business priced at ~$2,000 on BA.com.  It was the same price to include LAX-SFO on AA, but I wanted to use the 10% BA Visa discount, which is not valid on journeys that include other airlines.  So I decided to buy a separate coach ticket for the short segment.

However, BA.com wasn’t accepting the discount code for the open jaw, with an error message that the discount was invalid for this number of flights, or some such nonsense. I decided to book without the discount as it was 1am on the last day of the sale, the US call center was closed and I didn’t want to lose these flights.

I called the next morning and spent over an hour on the phone explaining that I should have received the discount but BA.com was misbehaving. They finally agreed to issue a refund for $200/person, so at the end each BA ticket should cost $1800, provided the refund materializes.  This would have been my final price had I bought the simple round-trip SFO-LHR-SFO, but now I have to buy a separate coach ticket LAX-SFO, adding another $100, but still $100 cheaper than the full $2000 without the discount.  A good deal in my book since I don’t mind being in coach on such a short flight.

Reading other reports it appears that BA.com doesn’t deal well with open jaws in general. Buyer beware.

United is selling this segment for $78, but I like AA’s policy that treats 2 separate tickets on AA or OneWorld partners as a single through ticket.  I feel it is worth $22 to avoid problems in case our flight from LHR is delayed.

Where To Go?

We will have 7.5 days in Europe.  We’ll start with a couple of days in London, but since we’ve been to this great city twice before, it might be time to branch out.

Here is the short list we are considering at the moment.  Please help us decide:

  • Travel around England (we’ve already been to Windsor and Bath)
  • Glasgow: we passed it over the last time we toured Scotland.  Is it worth a visit?
  • Berlin
  • Budapest
  • Stockholm

How to Justify Paying for Business Class On Your Own Dime

The first thing to realize is that you MUST go.  If you allow yourself to consider that the whole trip is entirely optional, and that you’d be better off contributing to a 529 account or taking an extra trip to Disneyland, then you are doomed, no jetting off to Europe for you, even in coach with 3 connections in Kiev.  Instead, come up with a good reason that no one, including your family, can say no to.  For example, 13 years of marriage is a nice round number to celebrate even if a few weeks too early.

So assuming that I must be in London to catch the Olympic vibe, here’s the calculation.

Non-stop coach SFO-LHR-SFO is around $1500 (ok, with connections, and at the time the sale was on, it was probably around $1000 on US carriers, but let’s not dwell on that). Therefore, with BA Visa 10% discount:

Coach:

  • $1350
  • 14,175 Avios expected for flying and extra BA Visa spend

Club World:

  • $1900 (as explained in The Booking)
  • 20,700 Avios expected

Let’s value the extra 6500 Avios at $150 (ticket to Hawaii = $600 = 25,000 Avios, therefore 6500 Avios = $156)

Effectively, this is like a confirmed upgrade to CW for 1900 – 1350 – 150 = $400.  WORTH IT!

Nagging the wife for wasting the extra $100 because we didn’t book quickly enough – PRICELESS!

Lodgings and Other Cost-Mitigating Factors

  • Plenty of Club Carlson points for the nights we spend outside London.
  • We’ll get roughly half of those points back for staying at Park Plaza under the current big promo!
  • Plenty of Brownie Points(tm) to stay with friends in London!
  • We’ll visit the Chase Visa lounge to load up on free food and booze!

Stay tuned for the actual Trip Report in a few weeks!