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Hyatt Hotel Category Changes List

Posted on 11 December 2014 by David

The point bloggers are all over this so I won’t say much that hasn’t already been said.

Hyatt has updated hotel categories for many hotels. Some up some down. I color coded their list to make it easier to spot which ones now need less points and which need more. See below!

Hotel Current Category New Category
Hyatt House Raleigh North Hills 1 2
Hyatt Place Denver Tech Center 1 2
Hyatt Place Denver-South/Park Meadows  1 2
Hyatt Place Nashville Airport 1 2
Hyatt Place Pensacola Airport 1 2
Hyatt Regency Dongguan 1 2
Hyatt Regency Greenville 1 2
Hyatt House Colorado Springs 2 1
Hyatt on Main, Green Bay 2 1
Hyatt Place Albuquerque Airport 2 1
Hyatt Place Baton Rouge/I-10 2 1
Hyatt Place Ft. Myers 2 1
Hyatt Place Germantown 2 1
Hyatt Place Greensboro 2 1
Hyatt Place Greenville/Haywood 2 1
Hyatt Place Memphis/Primacy Parkway 2 1
Hyatt Place North Charleston 2 1
Hyatt Place Orlando Airport  2 1
Hyatt Place Orlando/Lake Mary 2 1
Hyatt Place Roanoke Airport/Valley View Mall 2 1
Hyatt Place Salt Lake City Airport 2 1
Excalibur 2 3
Hyatt House Miami Airport 2 3
Hyatt Place Dewey Beach 2 3
Hyatt Place Long Island/East End 2 3
Hyatt Place Portland – Old Port 2 3
Hyatt Regency Santa Clara 2 3
Hyatt Regency Toronto 2 3
Hyatt Bangalore 3 2
Hyatt House Charlotte/Center City 3 2
Hyatt House Cypress/Anaheim 3 2
Hyatt Place Charlotte Downtown 3 2
Hyatt Place Orlando/Convention Center 3 2
Hyatt Place Orlando/Universal 3 2
Hyatt Place Saratoga/Malta 3 2
Hyatt Regency Chennai 3 2
Hyatt Regency Chongqing 3 2
Hyatt Regency Gurgaon 3 2
Hyatt Regency Jinan 3 2
Hyatt Regency Montreal 3 2
Hyatt Regency Osaka 3 2
Park Hyatt Chennai 3 2
Grand Hyatt Sao Paulo 3 4
Grand Hyatt Taipei 3 4
Grand Hyatt Shenyang 4 2
Grand Hyatt San Antonio 4 3
Hyatt Capital Gate, Abu Dhabi 4 3
Hyatt Regency Bethesda 4 3
Hyatt Regency Dar es Salaam 4 3
Hyatt Regency Delhi 4 3
Hyatt Regency Louisville 4 3
Hyatt Regency Mexico City 4 3
Hyatt Regency Orlando Intl Airport 4 3
Hyatt Regency Pier Sixty-Six 4 3
Hyatt Regency San Antonio 4 3
Hyatt Regency Savannah 4 3
Grand Hyatt at Baha Mar 4 5
Grand Hyatt Macau 4 5
Park Hyatt Seoul 4 5
Grand Hyatt Washington 5 4
Hyatt French Quarter 5 4
Hyatt Regency Coconut Point Resort and Spa 5 4
Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress 5 4
Hyatt Regency La Jolla 5 4
MGM Grand 5 4
Andaz Amsterdam, Prinsengracht 5 6
Hyatt Regency Nice Palais de la Mediterranee 5 6
Mandalay Bay 6 5
Park Hyatt Washington 6 5
Park Hyatt Maldives, Hadahaa 6 7

 
 

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Getting through airport security with CLEAR – My experience

Posted on 11 December 2012 by David

Airport security with CLEAR, what is it?

I received an email the other day that had a headline “CLEAR is now at Westchester airport!”. Having seen a CLEAR entry point at security while flying out of SFO (San Francisco) earlier this year, the email peaked my interest as I was going be flying out of HPN very frequently in the near future.

If you’ve never heard of CLEAR before, the idea is simple.  It is a commercial endeavor aimed at allowing you to bypass the long ID and boarding pass lines at the security checkpoints in airport terminals.   They give you the means to shoot past the long lines and go straight into the screening area.

Great in theory but good in practice?

CLEAR doesn’t operate at a lot of airports so the benefit is, I think, better for business travelers who fly out of the same airport frequently. Since I happen to be flying out of HPN (Westchester airport) often, I decided to give them a try.

Note that there is a process you have to go through before you can use CLEAR at the airport.  You need to physically go to one of their offices and have your documentation verified and you need to have your fingerprints and retinas scanned. It doesn’t take long to do and you’re in and out of the office in less than 15 minutes. Once that’s done, you get your CLEAR smart card in the mail within a week or two.

On my first day using CLEAR at HPN I happened to get there super early (5:30am in fact!).  HPN is a small airport so there’s not that many people there at that time.  There was no line at the TSA ID check so I could have just sped right through that without using CLEAR but since I was eager to try out my CLEAR pass, I went to the CLEAR area instead.

At HPN there are two large kiosks and two friendly CLEAR agents  there who help you get through.  I handed over my CLEAR photo ID smart badge over to one of the agents.  She inserted it into the kiosk and I did a fingerprint scan. It instantly recognized me and the agent signaled the ok to her partner to unlock a special shortcut door into the screening area.

All in all it took about 30 seconds to get through.  It was a breeze.

OK, but did it save time?

Honestly speaking, since there was no line that morning at the TSA ID check, I would have been in the screening area a few moments before I would have walked through the CLEAR shortcut so no real-time savings for me that morning.  However, I’ve been at HPN when the ID badge check wraps around itself a few times so I can see it saving a good 10-15 minutes of waiting when the line is long.

How much is it?

It’s $179 a year for an individual and less for family and corporate accounts.  At that price you need to consider whether it’s something you’ll use frequently.

How does this compare to TSA Pre Check?

I don’t have any experience with TSA Pre Check but from what I have read, the premise is similar.   TSA Pre Check aims at saving you time in the screening area.   One nice thing about TSA Pre Check is that if you already have Global Entry, you can participate in TSA pre-check right off the bat.  You can find more info on TSA pre-check at TSA’s pre-check website.

Where can you use CLEAR?

Unfortunately not at that many places.  Here’s the list as of December 2012.  The latest list can be found on the CLEAR website.

  • Orlando International Airport (MCO)
  • Denver International Airport (DEN)
  • San Francisco International Airport (SFO)
  • Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW)
  • Westchester NY Airport (HPN)

Is CLEAR worth having?

For me, it’s too early to say.  $179 is a sizable investment.  It’s along the same lines as asking if paying $400 a year for  lounge access is worth it. If you fly out once a week out of any of the airports with CLEAR and you are constantly short on time, you probably should consider it.

I’ve seen CLEAR at SFO (San Francisco airport) as well and I recall there being a zero line at CLEAR.  At the time I had no clue what it was about, I thought it was for airport personnel.  Now I know better and it would have saved me the 15 minutes it took to get through the TSA ID check line if I had a CLEAR membership then!

Now that I have it, I have to try it out a few more times to find out if it’s worth it for me.  I tend to fly really early in the morning when the lines are short so it may not benefit me as much but like I said, lines do get long at HPN later in the day so if I were to fly more often in the later morning or afternoons, then it might be worth it to save the annoyance of waiting in line.

So it depends on your situation.  If you tend to fly often when the airport is busy it might be worth it.

Discounts on CLEAR

These are the ones I’m aware of.  I’ll update the list occasionally as I find them.

  • SAVE $25 with promo code CMNAF1X at Checkout.
  • Get referred and get one month free!  Perfect if you want to try before you buy. Request it in the comments below and I’ll send you a referral link! (Available until I run out of referrals!)

Have you tried out CLEAR?  Is it the best thing since sliced bread for you?  I’m curious to see what you think.

 

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My First Day of Scuba Diving Course at Hanauma Bay Hawaii

Posted on 25 November 2012 by onthegroundtravel

 

Diving in Hanauma Bay Hawaii

This is a guest post from Vic Dinovici who writes about his first experience scuba diving in Hanauma Bay Hawaii (on the island of Oahu).  He liked it so much he’s now a scuba instructor for HopTours.com.   Enjoy!

About Vic:

Vic is all about snorkeling at Hanauma Bay, scuba diving and all outdoor activities especially if is about water. In the hot sunny days you will find him going deep into the Pacific Ocean waters, taking pictures with the reef marine life and enjoying a good time with friends on Hawaii beaches.

His Story:

So, scuba diving is kind of a new-found passion of mine. I tried it on the last day of a vacation a few years ago and got completely hooked—unfortunately, I didn’t have much time to explore and dive since we were heading back home the next day. That’s why I recently decided that I was going to take a good portion of my upcoming vacation and spend it all scuba diving and exploring.

When I was figuring out where I wanted to go, I knew that I was going to need a place that was good for beginners (since I had only been once before), but that was also going to be worth all the time and money I was going to spend. That’s why I decided on Hanauma Bay—everyone told me just how gorgeous it was, and it was also perfect for beginners because of it’s shape and calm waters. It’s this protected little piece of paradise that doesn’t have any turbulent water or crashing waves like the open ocean, and it’s also home to this incredible coral reef that has so many different types of fish that you’ll lose count. I decided that I was going to go for my scuba diving certification, and registered with a group that offered a three-day diving course with certification at the end of it.

The first day of my diving course Hanauma Bay, I made sure to arrive at the park bright and early because once the parking lot is full, they don’t allow anyone else in (it’s to cut down on too many visitors causing damage to the reef). After I paid my admission fee, I had to hike a ways down to the beach—although it wasn’t too long, I was so anxious to get into the water that it felt like eternity! Finally I saw the bay, and I was so glad that I had chosen to come diving here: the water was crystal clear, the beach was beautiful with palm trees swaying in the breeze—it was everything I could have wanted. I found my instructor, who had me watch a video that talked about how to take care of the reef and wildlife, as well as gave the basics of scuba diving. Once that was finished, I got to sit in the shade of the coconut trees while my instructor went over the basics of everything—after that it was time to get suited up and into the water! Everything was so beautiful, and I felt so confident in that little area knowing that I was safe from any danger the open water held.

The next two days were pretty similar, except that I spent time learning how to map out my own dives, staying safe while scuba diving, and other necessary skills for my certification. Finally, I passed my test on the last day and was officially certified to go diving in the open water on my own! I spent the rest of my vacation diving in and around Hanauma Bay—exploring the few shipwrecks that were in the area and just generally enjoying my time in the water. It was such an amazing vacation, and I can’t wait to go back!

Are you interested in sharing a travel experience with the world? Email us to discuss your topic and we might select you!

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Trip to Tibet – Our Six Day Itinerary

Posted on 10 July 2012 by David

We took a trip to Tibet late last year.

Tibet Travel - Tibetan Dog and Tibetan Man - Trip to Tibet

Our Trip to Tibet

Tibet is stunningly beautiful with natural mountains and lakes that you can not find elsewhere.  However, it is not an easy place to get into and you must be flexible with your plans and willing to absorb the risk that you may not be let in at the last minute.  However, when you make it there you will surely have an eye-opening experience.

To help you plan, today we’ll share our itinerary for Tibet.   In the upcoming posts on the remaining Mondays in July, we’ll give you some tips on how to get into Tibet, and provide highlights of our trip so keep watch for that if you’re interested in Tibet at all!

Trip to Tibet Travel - Nechung Monastary

Six Days in Lhasa

We spent six days in Tibet last year and we spent all of it in Lhasa for several reasons.  There is so much to see in and around Lhasa that you need a full six days in Lhasa to see it all.  Furthermore, unless you’re going on a trek to climb Mount Everest, everything you would want to experience about Tibet, you can find in Lhasa.  And lastly, there may be different permit requirements if you wish to travel far outside of Lhasa.  So make sure you coordinate with your travel agency in advance.

If you would like a more authentic tour experience, consider requesting the service of a tour guide who is a Tibetan.  This way, your tour money contribute to the well-being of the Tibetans directly.

Our trip to Tibet consisted of visiting the major monasteries that taught us a great deal about Buddhism and the Tibetan culture. We walked around town to get a sense of modern Lhasa and we traveled just outside of town to view the natural beauty of Yamdrok lake.

Detailed Tibetan Itinerary

Before Arrival in Lhasa:

Get a prescription for Diamox before leaving your home country and start your treatment two days before arrival in Lhasa. It worked for us as we had no problem acclimatizing to the altitude. Diamox does make your finger and toes tingle though!

Day 1: Fly into Lhasa and Acclimatize!

Fly into Lhasa airport (LXA) and take it easy today. Lhasa is at a high elevation of 11,450 ft., so you will need at least a day to get used to the thin air. Do not plan any strenuous walking or physical activity even if you’re feeling well.

Get to Potala Palace by 5pm and register for your admission ticket for use on the following day. Present your passport and make sure to get a receipt. Tickets are limited, this is why you must get your tickets the day before.

Trip to Tibet - Potala Palace

Walk around town, be polite, stay low key, and observe life. Take pictures of the exterior of the Potala Palace.

For dinner, catch an authentic Tibetian dinner in the Barkhor Circuit. Try some momos and yak butter tea if you are adventurous!

Trip to Tibet - Momos - Tibetan Food

Day 2 Potala Palace, Drepung Monastery, Nechung Monastery

Get to Potala Palace (布達拉宮) by 9am.  Potala Palace was the chief residence of Dalai Lama until the 14th Dalai Lama fled to Dharamsala, India in 1959.  The most stunning chapels of the Red Palace house the jewel-bedecked chorten tombs of previous Dalai Lamas. The quarters of the 13th and 14th Dalai Lamas in the White Palace offer a more personal insight into life in palace.  Leave at ~12pm.

Next take minibus 301 or 302 to Drepung Monastery (哲蚌寺). This is the largest monastery in the world, with more than 7,000 monks living there. Leave by 3pm.

Take a 10min walk downhill to Nechung Monastery (乃穹寺). The Monastery closes at 4pm so hurry. You might have the chance see the monks debating in Tibetan! If not you may be able to see a debate at Sera Monastery the following day.

Trip to Tibet - Nechung Monastery

To return to Lhasa, take bus no. 302 from Nechung Monastery, or bus no. 301 from the bottom of the hill. Arrive back to Lhasa by 5pm.

In the evening, try shopping for souvenirs & have dinner at Barkhor (八廓) – a Kora pilgrim circuit that proceeds clockwise around the periphery of the Jokhang Temple.  The Barkhor is one of the best places to pick up Tibetan souvenirs such as knives, prayer wheels, Buddhist statues, jade jewelry and the latest music from India.

Trip to Tibet - Jokhang Monastary

Day 3: Ganden Monastery and walk the High Kora; Monk Debate at Sera Monestary

Be transported to Ganden Monastery via 4×4 SUV. Arrive at Ganden ~9am. Tour for ~2hrs. Ganden is a photography heaven – lots of colors, lines, textures and all in service for the monks in their red robes.

The three main sights of Ganden Monastery are:

  • The Serdung, which contains the golden tomb of Tsongkhapa
  • The Tsokchen Assembly Hall
  • The Ngam Cho Khang Chapel where Tsongkhapa traditionally taught his students. You must walk the High Kora (~1hr). The path is signposted by a rich array of colorful prayer flags fluttering in the breeze.  Ask your tour guide to teach you about sky burials.
Trip to Tibet - Ganden Monastery Landscape

 

Take SUV back to Lhasa, arrive ~2pm. Be dropped off at Sera Monestary to see the monks debating.

* Note: Be prepared to visit Sera Monestary again just in case the monks are not debating. On our first day there, a wealthy Tibetan had made a significant donation to the Monastery in order for the monks to read and pray for the donor at the donor’s request!  Although watching a full courtyard of monks reading and reciting scripture was interesting, it is not nearly as exciting as a debate. =)

Free time in the afternoon/evening. You may want to drop by Spinn Cafe to have a delicious hot lemonade, get some free wi-fi, and socialize with other visitors!

Day 4: Jokhang Temple and Monk Debate at Sera Monestary (take two!)

Walk to Jokhang Temple (大昭寺) in the morning. Arrive by 7:30am for 8am entry. See the pilgrims prostrate on the ground outside the temple (best in morning).

One of the main attractions is the main cloister with a ring of large prayer wheels, kept spinning throughout the day by pilgrims.  However the cloister that leads to the central hall, contains Jokhang Temple’s star attraction, the Jowo Rinpoche (or Jowo Shakyamuni). This life-sized (5 foot/1.5m) statue of the Buddha at age 12 is the holiest object in Tibet. Probably originating in India, it was brought to Lhasa as part of the Chinese Princess Wencheng’s dowry in 641.

Go up to the roof for a fantastic view of Lhasa and the snow capped mountains.

Leave by 10am. Take a cab ride to Norbulingka, former sumer residence of Dalai Lama. The highlight here is the New Summer Palace (Takten Migyu Potrang) within. Stay till 1pm (when it closes).  Plan for a quick lunch.

Then take a 15 min taxi ride to Sera Monastery (色拉寺).  Arrive by 1:45pm. Your objective is to see the monks debate in Tibetan, usually in a garden next to the assembly hall in the center of the monastery.  The debate usually takes place between 3:30-5pm (or 2-4pm) daily except Sunday.

Take a bus or taxi back to Lhasa.

trip to tibet travel - Sera Monastery - Monk Debate

Day 5: Venture out of Lhasa to Nam-Tso or Yamdrok Lake

Hotel pick up at 8am. Drive 4 hrs via Land Cruiser to Nam-Tso (纳木错) Lake. Arrive by 12noon. Leave at 2pm.  Then head to Yangpachen Hotspring.  Back to Lhasa by 6pm or stay at Nam-Tso Lake overnight.

If Nam-Tso Lake is closed due to bad weather, arrange a day trip to Yamdrok Lake instead.

Both lakes are considered sacred in Tibet, and the water there is so pure and blue that we dare not to touch them.  We don’t want to pollute such a sacred and beautiful lake just by touching it with our bare hands.

Trip to Tibet Travel - Yamdrok Lake

Day 6: Day of departure.  Early morning flight out of LXA.

Wear a coat and keep some gloves with you. The airport doesn’t always turn on the heat!

 

Now that you know our itinerary, next week we will share with you a few things that surprise us about Tibet.

Interested in Tibet?  Then check out our other stories:

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Smart chip credit card bandwagon – American Express finally jumping on

Posted on 10 July 2012 by David

Smart Chip Credit Card - Gold

In the market for a smart chip credit card?  Here’s a bit of news for you.

American Express has indicated that it will offer smart chip credit cards towards the latter half of this year (2012).   This may actually happen as planned, since AMEX has indicated that by April 2013, all credit card processors must be able to handle EMV cards.

American Express’s press release follows Visa, Mastercard, and Discover who have already announced planned support for EMV cards in the USA.   We can thus expect to see that smart chip credit cards will be increasingly accepted at merchants all across the USA in the coming years.

For now, as the AMEX smart chip credit cards are still a few months away, we all will have to get our smart chip credit cards from the few banks and credit unions that offer them.  Check out our post on available chip-and-signature as well as chip-and-pin cards.

For more information view the American Express press release on EMV cards.

 

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