Friday, January 24, 2014

Free Points: 100 Hyatt Points

Free points are one of the Points Ninja's favorite things, so I was very pleased this morning to see Mooper's post on Flyertalk noting that Hyatt is offering 100 free points to celebrate the Chinese New Year. 

Go HERE and enter your Hyatt account number for 100 free Hyatt points!

Monday, January 6, 2014

Machu Picchu - Wow, just wow.

Since this is a "points and miles" blog and not a "travelogue" blog, I won't subject you, dear reader, to too much detail about Mr. and Mrs. Poinsninja's visit to Machu Picchu.  However, I want to encourage you, as earnestly as I know how, to go yourself.  Machu Picchu is one of those places that truly lives up to the hype, and it has earned its place a one of the new Seven Wonders of the World.  I mean, just look at it:
Now, that is a magnificent sight.  And there's only one thing that could make it more visually appealing.  What's that you ask?  Why, what other than the Pointsninja?
Yes, that's better.

Seriously, Machu Picchu, difficult to get to as it is, is well worth the visit.  Mrs. Pointsninja really wanted to go after seeing it featured on "Ancient Aliens."  We weren't disappointed on that score:
And, of course, there is was also actual science going on.  As you may recall, I mentioned that The Science Channel was filming a show while we were on the mountain.  Here's their expert talking about something that I can only assume doesn't involve aliens:

As you would expect, we took many pictures, but I'll spare you them... for the most part:

I'd also like to encourage you to include Huayna Picchu in your visit.  Huayna Picchu is the mountain that you saw poised behind the Machu Picchu site in my earlier photos.  Huayna is a separate ticket from the regular Machu Picchu ticket and is reached through a gated path on the far side of the site.  Visitors are limited to 400 per day.

Huayna Picchu rises 1,180 feet above Machu Picchu and offers what are unquestionably the best views of the site.

Of course, it's a bit difficult to get to:

Once you reach the summit and take some truly remarkable pictures, you'll be faced with a choice.  Head back down the mountain by the path you just took, or descend the back side of the mountain to the Temple of the Moon.  The path down takes you 1,280 feet down towards the river and even going down can be challenging:

But, hey, how many times are you going to visit Machu Picchu?  The trek down to the Temple is grueling (and the walk back up is worse) but it really gives you an appreciation for the scope of the entire site.  Does it look like I thought it was worth it?  Well, no, but I do now!

Friday, January 3, 2014

Lufthansa Miles & More - "Free" Miles

Robert Heinlein's TANSTAAFL principle applies with equal force in the points and miles realm as in all others, but I'm always on the lookout for opportunities to earn miles with no cash cost.  Here's an interesting one.

As with investing, diversification is good for points and miles collecting.  There are few currencies that I'm not interested in (Spirit and Southwest, I'm looking at you) and I maintain frequent flyer accounts with a number of "random" carriers.  One of these is Lufthansa/Austrian/Swiss's "Miles and More" program.  LH First to Frankfurt is one of my FF bucket list items, and I'm pursuing a number of different strategies to get there.  As others have observed, LH F awards are difficult to get and one of the easiest ways to get them is directly through Miles and More (which is a Starwood transfer partner).

One problem is that M&M won't let you do an award search if you have "0" miles in your account, so I needed a way to earn at least 1 mile.  Looking over the site, I found this offer of 100 M&M miles for each hotel review (up to 1,000 miles per month) from, a Germany-based hotel review site.  I signed up and posted a review from a recent trip and earned 120 miles (extra 20 was from a now-expired promotion) within a month of posting my review.  I doubt that I'll spend a lot of time posting reviews at 100 miles a pop, but at least I can now search for LH F availability!

Thursday, January 2, 2014

SUMAQ Machu Picchu - Hotel Review

Mrs. Pointsninja and I decided to overnight in Aguas Calientes (or "AC") in order to get up to Machu Picchu at a reasonable hour the next morning.  We had tickets for the Huayna Picchu climb as well, so I wanted to make sure we had plenty of time at the site.  The problem is that the hotel market in Aguas Calientes is rather limited.  There are absolutely no chain hotels, unless you count the Orient Express managed Sanctuary Lodge up on the mountain itself.  Since rates at the Sanctuary Lodge were over $600 for the night we needed, I decided to look elsewhere.  Your choices seem to consist mostly of hostel or B&B type places with a few (usually pricy) hotels thrown in.

After much agonizing, I settled on the SUMAQ Hotel Machu Picchu.  It had decent reviews on Tripadvisor, and the rate for a queen bed room, which included half board, was not shockingly indecent (for Aguas Calientes) at around $300.  Since the hotel was half-board, I figured that we would get a decent dinner and not have to hunt around for somewhere to eat when we arrived. 

One of the nice features of the SUMAQ is that a staff member will meet you at the train station and take you back to the hotel.  This service was welcome, since we had never been to Aguas Calientes before.  Our guide brought along a cart for luggage, but we were traveling light with just backpacks, so the cart ended up holding only the hotel's greeting sign.  On the way back to the hotel, I asked about where to purchase bus tickets for the next morning, and our guide offered to assist us.  Knowing the cost of the tickets, I gave him $40 and we waited by the cart while he picked up the tickets from a nearby booth.  We were charged the face cost of $18.50 per ticket..  The hotel itself is just on the edge of AC, down the road that leads to Machu Picchu itself. 
The SUMAQ is visible at the end of the left-hand road.
Overall, I was pleased with the hotel and the level of service we received.  However, our experience was definitely mixed with two major issues. For one thing, AC is in the jungle and it was warm during the day in early November.  The SUMAQ, for all that it is fairly new and expensive, is not air conditioned.  That didn't end up being fatal on our visit since things cooled down at night, but it might be a problem during the high summer. 

The second problem was with the room itself.  The room itself was fine on the surface, clean and in good shape, if nothing special:
Visible to the right of the picture is a balcony overlooking the Urubamba River.  The views from here were quite nice.
View towards AC

View towards Machu Picchu
 The main problem with the room was the flowery "air freshener" scent that hit us like a brick wall when we walked in.  It smelled so strongly, that I quickly realized that I wasn't going to be able to stay in the room.  From talking to the staff, the air freshener is used every time they clean the rooms.  If you are at all sensitive to fragrances, I would avoid this hotel.

That said, the hotel redeemed itself with the way they handled the problem.  I alerted the front desk staff to the problem and they said they would check it out.  A housekeeping crew was sent up to "work on it" while we went to dinner.  I have no idea what they did, but unfortunately, it didn't help.  It was during this time that I learned that the "air freshening" was a regular "feature" of the housekeeping process and that all the rooms would likely have the same issue.  After some discussions, the hotel offered to let me try another room.  The only one available was a small suite, also on the river side of the hotel.  Happily, the wretched floral scent was not as strong there (presumably because it had been vacant and, thus, not cleaned immediately before our arrival).  Unfortunately, I neglected to take any pictures of the room because we were rather tired by this point.

On a more positive note, I could not have been more pleased with the hotel's restaurant.  Our rate (and I believe all of the hotel's rates) included dinner for two in the hotel restaurant.  I expected either a limited menu or some sort of prix fixe menu for guests, but I was wrong.  Dinner included a choice of appetizer, main, and dessert from an impressive menu.  I ended up having an alpaca "steak frites" for dinner and was very pleased with it.  Dessert, however, was superb.  I had the Andean rice pudding with a chicha morada (purple corn) granita that was simply delicious.

Another high point of the stay was the fact that the hotel has an arrangement with Consettur, the agency that runs the shuttle bus service to Machu Picchu.  Hotel guests can reserve a bus pickup from the front door of the hotel at no cost beyond the price of the bus ticket.  We went with this option and were picked up promptly at the time we selected.  There was one minor drawback though.  The bus had exactly two seats left and since they weren't together, I didn't get to sit with Mrs. Andyandy for the ride up.