Review: St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort, Puerto Rico

This property lives up to the expectation of the many wonderful online reviews we read before we booked our trip. In short, the service was impeccable, the resort well-managed, and the property as luxurious as it can get on an island paradise. We simply cannot wait to come back for our next tropical vacation.

Pool pic

From the moment our cab drove into the lobby ($68 + tolls & tips), we were warmly greeted by Edwin, the bell captain. Check-in at the counter came along with a rum punch, which was a pleasant surprise for both me and my girlfriend. Although the room was not ready yet, we were told that we’d been upgraded to an oceanfront view room (one of us has SPG platinum status which probably helped), which was right next to the plantation house. We definitely recommend asking for one of the rooms (we were in building 5) near the plantation house, as the entire property is a sprawling 400+ acres and most of the amenities, including the beautiful swimming pool, are around the plantation house.

Lounge pic

The oceanfront room was absolutely gorgeous, and for New Yorkers like us, the bathroom alone was larger than most of the studios we can find in the city. The bathroom came with a luxurious bathtub that fit the two of us, with a separate spacious area that comes equipped with a rainforest shower. The room also came along with a balcony facing the beach along with a very comfortable couch. We thought the additional turndown service at night was an extremely nice touch, especially since we used the room pretty often during the day after our activities on the beach.

room pic

Speaking of activities, the resort has a golf course, tennis courts, a boathouse for water sports, and plenty of other cool features which we did not get to explore. We mostly spent our time at the beach, but the place definitely had plenty to do for hotel guests who are interested in other activities. Furthermore, wifi was available across the entire resort (even on the beach!!), so for those of us who like to snapchat on the beach, fret not, your friends on social media will know of the good time you’re having 😉

beach pic

One of our favorite features was the St. Regis butler service, which we never thought we would utilize but somehow ended up depending on quite a bit. 10 mins after we checked-in, Gabriel the friendly butler greeted us at the door, and kindly told us about the butler services, including that they could iron two pieces of clothing for free. More importantly, he also gave us a phone number for the service that we could text for requests. I think one of the biggest impediments to hotel service is that you have to usually be in your room to call the front desk, but with the additional texting feature, service is truly accessible anywhere on the property – so kudos to hotel management for instituting that. For example, when we were on the beach, we realized that our GoPro had ran out of battery and I did not bring my charger on the trip. We texted the butler service in hopes that they might have a charger, and sure enough Glenda replied and picked up our GoPro and charged our camera for us. Within hours, she brought our GoPro back to the beach and we had an absolutely splendid time recording some of our gymnastic tricks in the waters, which was really cool – so thanks Glenda for the awesome assist!

plantation pic

Food options are pretty limited, as some of the other reviews would attest to, but they’re wonderful nevertheless. Service at the restaurants was as good as it is in other parts of the hotel. Jeff Holthaus, who must be the pool/beach/restaurant manager, was an ever-friendly presence around the area. To be honest I’m not sure what his position is, but he was serving food at the Seagrapes restaurant, then serving drinks on the beach and the pool, and was also at the champagne sabering part of the evening on the front lawn. We’re not sure how he can be at so many place all the time, but every time we passed him by, he was just such a friendly face and greeted us warmly each time, if only to briefly chat with us about our time at the resort. Five star service, five star personalities everywhere at this resort. Truly amazing time.

Additional notes for those who are SPG elite members: we booked this room with SPG points (35,000 points a night) a couple of months ahead of time. As an SPG platinum member, we had 3 amenities to choose from at check in (choose 2 of 3): 1) $32 worth of breakfast at Fern restaurant each morning, 2) $10 credit a night, or 3) 500 SPG points a night. We were also upgraded to an ocean front view room, which was just one level below suites, despite booking with points rather than a paid rate, and this was during a busy 4th of July long holiday weekend. 4pm late checkout was not a feature, as I guess this is technically a resort. All in all, I thought it was decent recognition for SPG members, but even if you weren’t, the service was impeccable. Truly hoping that with the impending Marriott ownership the SPG perks will be kept alive. #StarwoodProud

Shortcut to Earning SPG Platinum through SPG Challenge

Shortcut to Earning SPG Platinum through SPG Challenge

One of my goals this year is to explore some of the airline and hotel elite statuses out there and see if there are any worth attaining and/or if there are shortcuts to receive those benefits. Personally, I do not travel very much while I’m working. Graduating from college only a couple years back and working as a junior level employee, I travel perhaps 3 to 4 times a year at most. As a result, it is often very difficult to obtain some of these elite statuses that you hear about from other more frequent travelers.

Sometimes, you aspire to these classifications because they allow you to have a smoother path through airport security, or a free upgrade once in a while to business class; or perhaps some of us would love to spice up our holiday travels by living in a hotel suite rather than the typical bland room that our budget can afford.

With all that in mind, my goal for 2016 is to receive at least Platinum Status with American Airlines (and thus with the OneWorld Alliance that includes Cathay Airlines, British Airways, and a couple of other notable names), and also Platinum Status with the Starwood Preferred Program, which includes hotel brands such as the W, St. Regis, and Westin. This article explains how I plan to achieve the SPG Platinum Status in the cheapest available way.

SPG Platinum gives the typical hotel perks such as 4pm late check out, an enhanced ability to earn bonus hotel loyalty points, and complimentary access to club lounges at many properties. But one of the perks that I enjoy the most is the ability to be upgraded “to the best available room at check in, including a Standard Suite.”

Now, since every property has its differences, it is not always easy to define what a standard suite is, but if you take a look at some of the threads on FlyerTalk forums, you will see some outrageous upgrades. The one that I appreciated the most was this guy, who bought a regular room at the St. Regis Florence (which on SPG’s website costs around 300 EUR a night on an April weekday) and was upgraded to a Royal Suite – which costs around 10,000 EUR a night. Or another guest who booked a regular room at the Westin Palace in Madrid and got upgraded to a junior suite

Here’s a photo of the ‘regular’ room at the St. Regis Florence:

Deluxe Room at St Regis Florence

And here are photos of the Royal Suite at the St. Regis Florence:

Royal Suite at St Regis Florence

Royal Suite at St Regis Florence 2Royal Suite at St Regis Florence 3

Now granted, you won’t be upgraded every time you check in at an SPG property with your Platinum status since it is based on availability on that day, and some could argue that this perk is just an SPG marketing trick to entice you to hit 50 nights with them. But if there is an affordable way to get to SPG Platinum, and there’s a decent chance I will get upgraded to a 10,000 EUR suite when I’m travelling with my girlfriend, then I say, why not?

Here is where the SPG Platinum Challenge comes in. In short, it allows new members who have never been a Platinum or Gold member to get to SPG statuses faster. For example, it allows you to get SPG Gold if you stay 9 nights in 3 months (typically you need 25 nights), and SPG Platinum if you stay 18 nights in 3 months (typically 50 nights).

Now, 18 nights in 3 months is still a ton of money to be spending, especially if you don’t travel and stay at hotels as part of your job, but some of you might already have nights that you’ve spent on a vacation that you can credit towards those 18 nights, bringing the total down a bit. For example, I’ve already racked up 6 nights in February/March for my personal travel at a Westin in Malta and a W hotel in Chicago. That leaves me 12 nights I need to complete by the end of April.

I do not have plans to travel any time from now until April, so my best bet would be to stay at the cheapest hotels around me in order to collect nights as soon as possible. Conveniently, the Aloft near Dulles Airport in Virginia is pretty cheap (around $59 a night), so I’m planning to book 3 rooms (SPG rules allow 3 rooms a night to be ascribed to you) for 4 nights in order to quickly get up to 12 nights, costing me around $720.

Some may argue that paying $720 extra to get SPG Platinum is stretching it. But the way I think about it, because I’m completing my challenge early on in April 2016, and my Platinum status will last until February 2018 due to a quirk in the terms and conditions, I’m really paying for 22 months of these perks rather than the 8 remaining months of 2016. Dividing the $720 fee by the 22 months gets me around $33 a month – which to me is a pretty decent ‘subscription fee’ for SPG Platinum perks, especially given that I plan to travel quite a bit in December and will be hitting a few SPG properties with gorgeous suites along the way. I’m looking forward to completing the challenge in the month of April, and I’ll post everyone here on how I did!




Earn Airline Miles Without Paying for Flights – Part 1 (Dining)

Earn Airline Miles Without Paying for Flights – Part 1 (Dining)

One of the best feelings in my year is the satisfaction of redeeming a free ticket from an airline after I’ve collected enough reward miles throughout the year. Typically, the way to earn these miles is through actually flying with the airline itself enough times in a year to collect the necessary miles. However, what if there are other ways to collect miles without even flying? This article shows you how Continue reading “Earn Airline Miles Without Paying for Flights – Part 1 (Dining)”

Review: Air France Lounge at New York JFK Terminal 1

Review: Air France Lounge at New York JFK Terminal 1

One of the best perks of being an American Express Platinum cardmember or a Citi Prestige card holder is the supplementary membership to Priority Pass Select which gets you plenty of access to airport lounges worldwide even when you’re flying on Economy! This week, I flew to Malta via Istanbul for a half marathon and Continue reading “Review: Air France Lounge at New York JFK Terminal 1”

Paris for Valentine’s Day for $82?

Paris for Valentine’s Day for $82?

Mentioning about Paris almost always conjure images of a city charged full of romance and emotions. It is in Paris that Woody Allen’s 2011 film Midnight in Paris reminds us of a city that persistently echoes with the ghost of love stories as its protagonists struggle not only with their mutual attraction but also their nostalgia for a seemingly better period long gone. Continue reading “Paris for Valentine’s Day for $82?”