Sunday, November 24, 2013

Small Business Saturday- Registration Open!

Registration opened at midnight last night and, though the offer is smaller this year, free money is free money.  Get $10 back on a $10 or greater purchase w/ each of your Amex cards:

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Peru Rail - What to do When You Forget to Take the Card You Bought the Tickets With

Okay, so I said I'd be covering a couple of my mistakes and what you can do to avoid them, or in the worst-case-scenario, fix them.  This was my second mistake, and it was a doozy.

The only way to get to Aguas Calientes, the town at the base of Machu Picchu, is by rail.  To carriers run trains along the same line: Peru Rail and Inca Rail.  I chose Peru Rail and purchased tickets with no trouble at all... the trouble didn't come until later.  You see, for reasons that aren't entirely clear to me, Peru Rail will not allow you to purchase tickets and print them at home.  When you purchase tickets, you are given a reservation code that you have to take (along with your passport and the card you bought the tickets with) to a Peru Rail agent.  Peru Rail has kiosks at LIM, CUZ, and at the various train stations in the Sacred Valley.

When I left home I was sure that I had taken along the cards I needed for the trip: Amex Plat for lounge access, Priority Pass Card for lounge access, Barclay Arrival Card for travel expenses, Hilton Amex for Hilton charges, Venture Card (for the train), and Sapphire Preferred for restaurants.  Well, after the initial debacle getting on to the LIM-CUZ flight we were left with some time to kick around LIM.  What luck!  There's a Peru Rail kiosk in LIM!  I'll just go print my tickets out!  Oh, but it was not to be, dear reader...

I got my reservation code and my passport wallet and went to get the tickets.  But when I arrived there I opened my wallet to find no Venture card.  I tried the cards I'd actually brought with no joy.  The agent told me that all he really needed was the last 4 digits from the card and the expiration date.  I knew the last 4, but not the expiry.  After going through my bag a few dozen times and failing to find the card, I made a guess at the expiry.  Again, no joy.  (It occurred to me just now to look at my card to see if my guess was right.  It was.  So obviously just having the last 4 and expiry is no sufficient.)  The agent told me that we might be able to resolve the problem by visiting a Peru Rail station in Cuzco ("In Cuzco there is possible solution.")  Things were looking bad and Mrs. Pointsninja was not happy with her travel agent (the Points Ninja is not supposed to make travel mistakes).  We were supposed to take the train to Machu Picchu the next day, and here we sat sans tickets.

When we arrived in CUZ, I rummaged through my checked bag to see if I'd left the card there.  I hadn't.  Our driver (Sabino of DUPTours) was at the station to pick us up and I informed him of the slight change of plans:  we weren't going to the hotel in Urubamba right away.  We need to go to the Peru Rail Station.  We ended up at the Estacion Wanchaq, which is closest to the airport and is open until 5PM.  There our driver waited while we went into the ticket office at about 4:15.  As you enter the ticket office there is a line of desks on the right.  They can't help you.  You'll actually need to talk to the Customer Service Supervisor who sits in a glass walled cubicle on the left side of the office.  We spoke with her, gave her our passports and the reservation number, and explained that I didn't have the card I'd used to purchase the tickets.  She asked "why not?"  Thinking that "because I'm an idiot" probably wasn't the answer she was looking for, I just explained that I'd accidentally left it back in the States.  After a stern look, she said the sweetest words I'd heard in a while:  "Okay.  I will print the tickets for you."

At last!  The clouds parted, bluebirds sang, and, tickets in hand, we finally resumed our trip to Urubamba.

Machu Picchu Mistake Number One- Get to the Airport on Time-Caral Lounge Review

As I mentioned earlier, I made a couple of mistakes on our trip to Machu Picchu.  The first was pretty simple.  I didn't make allowances for the nightmare that is Lima traffic when trying to make it to LIM airport for a flight.  We had tickets for the 10:40 flight from LIM-CUZ and left the hotel at about 9:00.  I should have checked in online, as I usually do, but, knowing that we had to check a bag, I didn't.  In the end, we didn't arrive at the line for checking baggage until about 9:55, only to be greeted with "The flight closed for check-in ten minutes ago."  Ugh!

We went down to another line where we were booked into the next available flight to CUZ: 2:30 PM.  Hurrah!  Four lovely hours in LIM.  At least we were able to use my Lounge Club card to get into the Caral Lounge which was pretty sad, but better than nothing.  Bar/drinks/snacks, but very limited seating.

Oddly enough, had I not made the mistake of getting us to the airport late, I might not have discovered my second more important mistake until it was too late.  But that's a story for the next post.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Amex Small Business Saturday Sign-Up and Terms

  1. How does the American Express Card Member Offer for Small Business Saturday work?

    1. Card Member registers any eligible American Express Card online at Registration is limited. Registration opens at 12:00 A.M. MST (Mountain Standard Time) on 11/24/13 and continues until 11:59 P.M. MST on 11/30/13, unless the registration limit is reached sooner.
    2. Card Member uses the registered Card on 11/30/13 to spend $10 or more in a single in-store transaction at a qualifying small business location that appears on the Small Business Saturday Map. Online transactions do not qualify. The Small Business Saturday Map will be available starting on 11/21/13.
    3. Card Member will receive a one-time $10 statement credit for that transaction from American Express within 90 days after 11/30/13.
    Here are some additional important details about the offer:
    • Registration is limited so encourage your customers to register early before supply runs out.
    • Registration opens at 12:00 A.M. MST on 11/24/13 and continues until 11:59 P.M. MST on 11/30/13, unless the registration limit is reached sooner.
    • Corporate Cards and all prepaid Card products (other than American Express Serve®) are not eligible for this offer.
    • Online purchases do NOT qualify for this offer.
    • Single transaction requirement means that, to receive the credit, the transaction must equal $10 or more. For example, if the transaction is only for $5, the Card Member will not receive a credit. Multiple transactions of less than $10 will not qualify even if the combined total of those transactions is more than $10.
    • If the qualifying purchase is returned or cancelled, the statement credit may be reversed.
    • If American Express does not receive information that identifies a transaction as having occurred at a qualifying small business location, the transaction will not qualify for the statement credit. For example, the following transactions will not qualify for the credit:
      • Transactions made using an electronic wallet or any other transaction made through a third party; and
      • Transactions not made directly with the merchant.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Restaurant Huaca Pucllana- Review

We had some great food in Lima (and pretty much everywhere else in Peru), but one restaurant merits a special mention.  Restaurant Huaca Pucllana is in the Miraflores district of Lima and sits on the grounds of the eponymous Huaca Pucllana ruins.  This was one of the restaurants recommended by the Hilton Miraflores concierge. At first I was leery of the recommendation given that the restaurant was literally inside a tourist attraction, but, after some research, we decided to give it a try.  I'm sure glad we did.  Restaurant Huaca Pucllana could very easily have been an overpriced tourist trap, but it was the farthest thing from that.

 The restaurant has inside or outside seating.  We sat outside and our table had a great view of the surrounding ruins.

 It wasn't chilly, but the air was just cool enough that I appreciated the braziers burning wood charcoal that were scattered around the outside dining area.  I would most definitely recommend sitting outside unless the weather is really terrible.  Service was impeccable and the prices were quite reasonable when compared with US restaurant prices.  After pisco sours and ceviche, I had a pepper crusted tuna that was cooked a perfect medium and Mrs. Pointsninja had a quinoa-crusted sea bass that was stellar.
We had cocktails, ceviche, entrees, deserts and a bottle of quite-decent Peruvian wine for just over $120 US.  Given the quality of the food and the level of service, this was really a steal.  After dinner we took a brief tour of the ruins.  Tickets for the tour are available at a counter near the kitchen of the restaurant and run about 12 soles ($4) per person.  The tour is brief and you don't get to climb the pyramid as you would during the day, but it's really worth doing if you won't get to see the ruins otherwise.

On a final note, we took a hotel car from the Hilton to the restaurant.  The charge for the brief taxi ride was around 60 soles.  For our return, we got a local taxi from the restaurant's taxi stand.  The charge to return to the hotel?  15 soles.  Lesson learned.

Hilton Lima - Miraflores Review

On our first night (well, technically morning, since we arrived at around 1AM) we traveled by Taxi Green from the Lima Airport (LIM) to the Hilton Miraflores.  You'll find the general consensus is that Taxi Green (more on them later) is the preferred service for getting from the Airport to anywhere in Lima.  The set price was 45 Soles (approx. $18) for the 45 minute cab ride.  Miraflores is a fairly well-to-do shopping district and the Hilton (which opened in Dec. 2012) is quite nice.  Your first sight on entering the lobby is the massive slate water features flanking the entrance to the bar:
The check-in area is just beyond some comfortable couches where we were seated while our passports were checked.  As a Hilton diamond, we were "upgraded" to room 1030, an executive floor room.  I was hoping for a better upgrade as many have reported receiving suites at this hotel, but given the short length of our stay and the lateness of the hour, I elected not to make a fuss.  Here's a floor plan showing our room outlined in blue:

The room itself was perfectly adequate with modern furnishings in good condition.  Just inside the door to the right was a closet with extra pillows and a safe:
To the left was the attractively furnished bathroom with the Hilton's standard Peter Thomas Roth toiletries:

The room featured a king-size bed, desk, and largish flat-screen television.
In the room was a letter explaining the lounge hours and services:
Breakfast runs a very generous 6:30 to 11am.  Snacks are served from 1pm to 6pm, and complimentary drinks and a "light dinner buffet" are served from 6pm until 10pm.  The 10pm closure time doesn't appear to be strenuously enforced, though the staff began removing the food and alcoholic beverages at that time.  After crashing for the night, we got up the next morning and went down to breakfast:
The spread was smallish, but the food quality was good.  The hot options consisted of a potato dish, an egg dish, bacon, and sausages.  The beverages pictured in the fridge below were available all day.  Not pictured is an excellent espresso machine that produced quite good coffee drinks.  Service was attentive and friendly without being overbearing.
The room is small, but wasn't at all crowded and we had no trouble finding a table by the window.  Additional tables are outside, but it was cool and overcast so they were not in use.  One item from the buffet that I'd like to mention was some truly excellent local yogurt.
I dearly wish that any variety of US yogurt could approach the quality of this stuff.  I've had yogurt in Europe that was almost as good.  The days of the Dannon being the only choice are happily behind us, but there is no question that the Obama Administration needs to get to work on the "Yogurt Gap" lest we be left behind in the world.

Outside the lounge was a rooftop deck, a lovely pool, and two hot tubs, all with nice views toward the ocean.

We returned to the lounge that evening for cocktails, but unfortunately I didn't take my camera.  The food spread was finger sandwiches, cheeses, fruit, and a couple of hot dishes.  The quality was good, but as we were going out to dinner, we didn't have much.  The bar consisted of red and white wine and a decent mix of liquor.

On the final morning of our stay we needed to return to LIM.  The hotel price for a transfer was around $40, but the desk clerk was happy to call a radio taxi for us.  The charge ended up being less than 40 Soles, or about a third of the price of the hotel car.

All in all, I was satisfied with my stay and wouldn't hesitate to stay here again.

EDIT:  We didn't eat in the hotel bar or restaurant, but I thought I'd mention a great meal we had at Papacho's a "hamburguesa" restaurant that's in the same building.  They have a wide variety of Peruvian influenced hamburgers (all around 30 Soles) that go great with a Sierra Andina beer.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Machu Picchu Trip Report Coming Soon- Including Mistakes to Avoid!

Mrs. Pointsninja and I just returned from a trip to Peru and I'll updating soon with reviews of the following hotels: The Hilton Lima- Miraflores, The Tambo Del Inka, and SUMAQ Machu Picchu.

I'll also be sharing other trip experiences, including a couple of mistakes that I made.  I'll explain how you can easily avoid them and how I managed to resolve them!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

New Hilton-American Express Membership Rewards Promo!

     One of the least useful Amex Platinum benefits is a subscription to Departures, a glossy travel magazine that offers lots of Swiss watch ads, fashion ads, and articles on expensive vacation destinations, but little else of value.  Imagine my surprise when I came across some useful information while flipping through the latest issue!

     Amex is partnering with Hilton Honors for a membership rewards promotion and offering bonus MR points for Hilton stays.

  1. STEP ONE:  "Register any eligible Membership Rewards Program enrolled American Express card at by 1/31/2014."
  2. STEP TWO:  "Use the same Card that you registered to make a purchase of $175 or more in a single transaction at participating hotels and resorts within the U.S. Hilton Honors portfolio between 11/1/2013 and 1/31/2014."
  3. STEP THREE: "Get 4 extra points per dollar for all charges, including your room rate, up to a maximum of 10,000 points per Membership Rewards program account."
Offer Terms and Conditions

     I value Membership Rewards points at around 1.4cpp, so while this offer isn't incredible, it's certainly worthwhile to register if you have any upcoming holiday travel that includes a Hilton stay.  Of course, because this program is running through Amex, the bonus wouldn't affect your normal points earning with Hilton.  Too bad Hilton devalued their award chart so badly last Spring!

     The T&Cs aren't entirely clear as to whether this is a one-shot-per-card-deal or if you'll earn the bonus points for more than one stay.  The terms provide that "you may register more than one Card for this offer, but only those cards you register will be eligible for the offer."  The terms also indicate that "you must make a single purchase of $175 or more at any participating U.S. location...."  In the second paragraph the terms state that "Maximum 10,000 extra points per Program account, regardless of the total amount of purchases made in connection with the offer across all Cards that are linked to the same Program account and regardless of the number of stays."  So, at the very least, one stay per MR-linked card is eligible for the bonus.  I'd assume that includes authorized user cards.

EDIT:  Just had a thought.  This offer might combine nicely with the Tripadvisor $50 off $250 Amex Travel Sync offer.  Maybe I need to stay a US Hilton soon!

EDIT:  The list of participating properties is limited to properties in  Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Ft. Lauderdale, Hawaii, Houston, Miami, New Orleans, New York, Orlando, Phoenix, San Diego, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C.