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My friend and I stayed two nights at the Westin Maui Resort & Spa Ka’anapali last weekend that cost me 12,000 SPG Starpoints and $31.25 per night. I really enjoyed my stay and recommend the Westin Maui and Ka’anapali area generally.

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The hotel is on the beautiful, wide, miles-long Ka’anapali white sand beach just a few miles north of Lahaina on the west coast of Maui with perfect views of sunset over the ocean.

My friend and I spent three nights on Maui (and three on Oahu), and our plan was to camp the first night and stay at a nice hotel the next two nights. I wanted to use Starpoints, and both the Westin and Sheraton on the same beach should cost 12,000 points per night during most of the year. (During peak dates, they go for 16,000 points a night.)

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Unfortunately on our dates, the base room at the Sheraton was unavailable, so I was offered a better view for 13,500 points per night. I figured I’d get an ocean view for my 12,000 points at the Westin, so I picked the hotel that cost me fewer points.

I would summarize this FlyerTalk thread comparing the Sheraton and Westin as saying that some people prefer each one. On our travel dates, the Westin was more expensive with cash, but that isn’t always the case, and you can get it for a $269 base rate next month.
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Check In & Parking

We arrived at the hotel at 2:45 PM in our rental car and pulled to the valet stand to ask about self-parking. The valet had to check that we were actually hotel guests, which took about 2-3 minutes before opening the self-parking gate for us. This system is in place because once you are in the self-parking area, exit is free. Waiting around to park was not a great first impression.

Self-parking is included in the $31.25 (including tax) resort fee. We were given a second card for free at check in for our friends to use when visiting us. That’s not actually necessary, as we could have swiped the one card we got at check in to let our friends in, and they could have exited freely. The self-parking lot is right near the entrance, so it is convenient enough.

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When we checked in, we had to wait a few minutes in the Gold/Platinum line. While we waited, someone came out to give us cowrie shell leis. The hotel often had someone right at the main entrance doing this. We were given a fourth floor “Ocean View” room in the Ocean Tower, two towel cards, and two parking cards at check in. I accepted the “make a green choice offer,” which turned down some cleaning service for 500 points per night. That was a nice 1,000 points back.

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Room

Our room was nice enough, although Ocean View was a bit of a stretch for the 4th Floor. It was mainly tree view with a little ocean peaking out.

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We got two queen beds, which were very spacious and comfortable.

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The room had a flat screen TV and a mini-fridge to store the Kona Brewing Company beer we had picked up at Walmart in Kahului. Unfortunately the room had a corkscrew, but no beer bottle opener. Luckily YouTube has a great video on opening one bottle with another. ;)

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The sink and mirror were outside the bathroom, which made it easy to chat while one of us got ready.

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The bathroom was standard. The hot water and water pressure in the shower were on point.

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The little balcony was perfect for two people to hang out with a drink.

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Resort Fee

Resort fees are a scam in my opinion. This $31.25 per night scam included:

  • High Speed Internet Access in your guestroom and public areas (basically a lie since everyone already gets free internet at SPG properties just for booking through an SPG platform)
  • Local and toll free calls up to 60 minutes
  • Two (2) bottles of water replenished daily as needed
  • Self-Parking
  • Shuttle service to Kapalua West Maui Airport, upon availability (this is not the airport that serves the mainland)
  • Shuttle service to Lahaina and to our three Starwood resorts
  • Logo souvenir eco bag
  • Outdoor portrait sitting and free 4 by 6 color photograph through Reflections Photography

We thought the 4″ by 6″ portrait sounded like a funny perk, so we took advantage. This service is only available Monday through Saturday with 3:40 PM Saturday the last slot. You sign up in the lobby, and the pictures took us just a few minutes. They’re hoping to sell you a more expensive package, and they hold the images hostage to entice you to buy.

They won’t email you the pictures. They will just print one out and put it on their table for you the next business day. Unfortunately we took our picture on a Saturday, so that meant we’d be checking out on Sunday before the picture was ready on Monday. The photographer said she could mail us the one photo for $16.

Service

All the employees I encountered were friendly, and two went above and beyond.

The front desk check in agent offered me a second self-parking access key when I asked where our friends could park when they came to visit.

A manager picked up our 4″ x 6″ portrait and mailed it to us for free. We were walking through the lobby, and she asked how our stay was going. We had just taken our portrait, and we mentioned we were bummed we would not actually receive the final product. She took my friend’s address, and the photo was there when he got home.

I’ll also give good marks for how quickly extra cups were brought to our room and how quickly my to-go burgers from Relish were ready.

Facilities

The only area I checked out were the swimming pool and ponds between the hotel and beach, which are the star of the resort.

The ponds have waterfalls, koi fish, and flamingos.

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Waterfall into koi pond
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Pink flamingos

The all-ages pool has a volleyball net, waterfall, basketball net, balls floating around, a water slide, and turns blue at night.

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Volleyball net, free balls are floating around
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Shot of the Ocean Tower from the Pool
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View of the Waterslide
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Basketball hoop

 

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Poolside
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Blue pool at night

 

Above the main pool is an adults-only pool and hot tub open until 10 PM. I never spent more than half an hour at a time in the pool area, but I really enjoyed it because I like pool games like basketball and volleyball.

The free poolside chairs, some of which had some shade, filled up very quickly. Renting a gazebo or caban is ludicrously expensive.

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Beach

Ka’anapali Beach is stunning and has views of Molokai and Lanai.

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Molokai in the distance

 

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Lanai in the distance

Two chairs and an umbrella is $45 per day. I’d recommend a towel instead.

My favorite part of the beach is at the very end in front of the Sheraton, a rocky outcropping called Blackrock. Every day dozens of people ignore the “Don’t Walk Past This Sign” signs and jump from the 20 foot rock. Every day at a sunset, a local guy paid by the Sheraton comes out and does a swan dive. Some days he even does other tricks like flips and handstand jumps.

The snorkeling especially near Blackrock must be pretty good as there is a steady stream of people out there. I saw several turtles from the rock and one dolphin.

Food

I got burgers to go both nights from Relish. At about $20 after tip, they were fine. Next door is Whaler’s Village, which has a food court including pizza, Mexican, plate lunch, and Subway. There are several beach front dining options, but they were out of my price range.

Location

Here’s a map I made for my review of the Andaz Maui at Wailea. Ka’anapali is just north of the underlined Lahaina on the northwest coast.

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The Westin Maui is 39 minutes from Kahului Airport and 8 minutes from West Maui Airport. I consider Ka’anapali’s location a little better than Wailea’s. Both are about the same distance from the airport, Haleakala, and start of the Road to Hana.

Ka’anapali is right next to Lahaina, which is a nice little town on Maui, so I give it a slight edge.

Overall

I definitely am happy with my 12,000 points per night redemption to stay at the Westin Maui.

Ka’anapali Beach, the pools, and the service were highlights.

I would have liked to have stayed on a higher floor and gotten out of that resort charge, but I wouldn’t hesitate to go back.

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Earn 50,000 bonus points (worth $800 in American Airlines flights) after spending $3,000 in the first three months on the Citi Prestige® Card. Plus get an additional $500 in free airfare on any airline in the first 12 months plus free airport lounge access worldwide for only a $450 annual fee. Why I got the card.

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I naturally categorize miles and points into two groups:

  1. Broadly useful
  2. Niche programs

The first type of miles are the miles you want to stockpile if you’re hoping to follow a simple mile-accumulation strategy to meet all your future travel goals. Ideally these miles benefit from cheap award charts across all classes of service and to all regions without incurring fuel surcharges on awards.

By contrast, niche programs have some great values on their award charts, but lots of flaws. Maybe the program collects fuel surcharges on most awards, or charges too much for redemptions in premium cabins, or simply doesn’t release much Saver award space on flights.

Niche programs can be ignored by those who merely dabble in miles collection, but serious miles collectors should know the strengths of and collect miles in niche programs too.

  • Which miles do I consider broadly useful?
  • Which programs do I consider niche programs?
  • What are the niche programs’ strengths?

Broadly Useful

None of these programs is perfect, but I consider all the following programs to be broadly useful programs in which a person could exclusively collect miles and still get a fair deal on the vast majority of potential redemptions:

  • American Airlines
  • United
  • Starwood Preferred Guest
  • Ultimate Rewards

American Airlines

American Airlines miles offer good value on most routes in all cabins. The oneworld alliance great members like Cathay Pacific, Qantas, and LAN, and American miles can be redeemed on 24 airlines.

There are some weaknesses with American Airlines miles:

  • American Airlines collects fuel surcharges on British Airways flights. British Airways award space is the most available award space to Europe and Africa. If you avoid booking British Airways flights with American Airlines miles, you are hamstrung to Africa especially.
  • I–and the experts–anticipate a devaluation announced in late 2015 for awards booked in early 2016 or later.
  • Awards to the Middle East and India are overpriced.

United

Even after 2014’s devaluation, I still think United miles are among the most broadly useful airline miles to stockpile for a few reasons:

  • Award space is good on United and partners.
  • United is a member of the Star Alliance, the largest alliance in the world, with good coverage of every continent.
  • United never imposes fuel surcharges on awards.
  • United’s economy awards are fairly priced.
  • United’s Business Class awards on its own planes are not outrageously priced.

Of course, the big problem is that partner First Class awards are basically out of reach. Who has 240,000 United miles for one roundtrip to Asia in First Class?

Still, I’ll almost always be happy when folks come to my Award Booking Service with a stash of United miles.

Ultimate Rewards

Since Ultimate Rewards transfer 1:1 instantly to United miles, Ultimate Rewards are at least as useful as United miles. With the added flexibility of transferring to niche programs like British Airways, Singapore, Virgin Atlantic, Southwest, and Korean plus hotel programs, Ultimate Rewards are the second most flexible currency overall.

Starwood Preferred Guest Starpoints

The most flexible and broadly useful points are Starpoints, which transfer to American, Alaska, and 27 other airline programs mostly at favorable rates. Every day, 20,000 Starpoints transfers to 25,000 American Airlines or Alaska Airlines miles.

The big drawbacks with Starpoints:

  • Most transfers take days.
  • 2 Starpoints transfer to 1 United mile. Since United devalued, I’d love that transfer to get revalued to 1:1 like with American, Delta, Alaska, and dozens of other airlines.

Intermediate Usefulness

These three programs have bigger warts than the programs above, but are too broadly useful for me to call “niche” programs.

  • Delta
  • Alaska Airlines
  • American Express Membership Rewards
  • Citi ThankYou Points

Delta

Delta has some definite strengths:

  • There are good value awards and decent space to Australia (Virgin Australia), Africa (Air France), Europe (various partners), Asia (various partners), and South America (AeroMexico). Very few of these awards have fuel surcharges.
  • The often-times higher prices are offset by the ease with which you can earn Delta miles from Delta cards, Membership Rewards-earning cards, and Starpoints-earning cards.
  • Since January 1, 2015, Delta allows one way award redemptions for half the price of roundtrips.

But the weaknesses are far greater than with competing US-based airlines:

  • Delta doesn’t offer much Saver award space on domestic flights, making it hard to get to a gateway to connect to partner award space abroad. This is a huge drawback.
  • Delta collects fuel surcharges on a bunch of its partners.
  • Delta collects fuel surcharges on all awards originating in Europe. This essentially means that its miles can be used for one ways to Europe, but are a terrible value for one ways home.
  • Delta miles cannot be redeemed for three-cabin international First Class.

Alaska Airlines

Alaska Airlines has a hodge-podge of partners that fly all over the world.

Screen Shot 2014-01-22 at 2.54.32 AMAlaska has access to some of the world’s most coveted award space like Emirates First Class space with no fuel surcharges.

Some of the award charts are very cheap–there is a different one for each partner to each region–you can book one way awards for half the roundtrip price, and you can even get a stopover on one way awards.

The only thing that holds Alaska miles back from being more widely useful is that you cannot freely combine partners on Alaska awards. Each direction needs to be all one partner’s flights or all one partner’s flights plus Alaska flights. This rule hampers your options incredibly, especially if you don’t live in a city where Alaska flies!

Membership Rewards

Membership Rewards have a large number of partners, but none of them is in the most useful category above. All are 1:1 partners in case otherwise noted.

  • Delta Airlines
  • AeroMexico
  • Air Canada (Aeroplan)
  • Alitalia Airlines
  • All Nippon Airways (ANA)
  • British Airways Avios
  • Cathay Pacific
  • EL AL Israel Airlines 1,000 MR to 20 EL AL point
  • Air France & KLM Flying Blue
  • Emirates
  • Frontier Airlines
  • Hawaiian Airlines
  • Iberia Plus Avios
  • JetBlue 250 MR to 200 TrueBlue Points
  • Singapore Airlines
  • Virgin Atlantic
  • Virgin America 200 MR to 100 Elevate Points

Delta is in this intermediate category, and the rest of the programs are in the niche category below including Virgin Atlantic, Aeroplan, ANA, British Airways Avios,  Flying Blue (Air France), Hawaiian, and Singapore. The big problem is that all the global partners impose fuel surcharges on most of their awards.

You can creatively mostly avoid fuel surcharges, but you have to work hard enough that this program can’t be in the “Broadly Useful” category.

Citi ThankYou Points

ThankYou Points now transfer to 11 airlines at a 1:1 rate:

  • Cathay Pacific Asia Miles
  • EVA Air Infinity MileageLands
  • Etihad Guest
  • Garuda Indonesia Frequent Flyer
  • Qatar Privilege Club
  • Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer
  • Thai Airways Royal Orchard Plus
  • Air France/KLM Flying Blue
  • Malaysia Airlines Enrich
  • Virgin Atlantic Flying Club
  • Qantas miles

I don’t know of a single high value use of the eight programs that are not in bold. But between Singapore KrisFlyer, Air France Flying Blue, Virgin Atlantic Flying Club, and the ability to use ThankYou Points for 1.25 to 1.6 cents each toward any flight on any airline, this program belongs in the intermediate category.

Singapore miles allow fuel-surcharge-free awards on United flights often for fewer mile than United would charge for the same award including to Hawaii, Europe, South America, and within the continental US; they’re the only way to book Singapore Suites; and they have awesome stopover rules.

Flying Blue miles allow you to book some Delta flights for fewer miles than with Delta miles, and allow access to Promo Awards like 12,500 miles one way to Europe or Israel.

Virgin Atlantic miles aren’t just about 17,500 mile awards to London or 27,500 mile Premium Economy awards to London. They also allow 45,000 mile roundtrips to South America on Delta and a few other high value awards.

Citi partners with American Airlines. If Citi ever adds American Airlines as a 1:1 transfer partner, ThankYou Points will shoot to the most useful category.

Niche Usefulness

The absolute wrong conclusion to draw about the programs in this section is that they are not useful. Each program listed here–and many programs not listed here have some incredible, high-value awards. But most of their awards are a poor value.

You shouldn’t focus all your miles collecting in these programs, but you should know their strengths in case your travel goals overlap with their strengths, and you have transferable points. Here are some of my favorite niche programs and their strengths:

Of course, each of these programs has major flaws. Southwest points can’t be used for First Class, international travel beyond the Caribbean, or any partners. Any Avios awards with layovers get pricey very quickly. Almost all the international programs collect big fuel surcharges on most awards (but not on the awards mentioned above where there are no or small surcharges.)

Because of the weaknesses, I rarely collect miles in niche programs unless there’s an extremely attractive credit card sign up bonus, but I constantly consider the programs as transfer options for my Membership Rewards, Ultimate Rewards, ThankYou Points, and Starpoints to take advantage of their one or two sweetspots.

Action Item

If you’re currently collecting niche miles with your day-to-day credit card spending, put more of your spending on cards that earn more widely useful miles and points like the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express with 25,000 bonus Starpoints after spending $5k in the first six months, which earns the most versatile points of all.

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Your Take

Are any of the programs listed here mis-categorized for you? Is one of the niche programs perfect for all your awards? Does one of my “generally useful programs” never seem to offer you value? Am I letting United miles off too lightly for its big devaluation last year?

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Right now 40k Starpoints plus taxes will get you a roundtrip economy class trip to Europe, 65k Starpoints will get you a roundtrip Business Class ticket, and 80k will get you a roundtrip First Class ticket.

Starpoints always transfer to dozens of airlines at a rate of 20k Starpoints to 25k miles. On top of that standard bonus, until April 27, 2015, Aeroplan is giving a bonus of up to 25k miles on transfers of hotel points to Aeroplan miles.

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These transfer bonuses combine to mean you can get up to 56% more Aeroplan miles than you had Starpoints, which you can redeem on a cheap award chart on Air Canada flights or any Star Alliance carrier.

If you redeem to Western Europe on Swiss and United flights, you’ll pay only 40k/65k/80k Starpoints in economy/business/first with no fuel surcharges.

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Luckily I have Starpoints from getting the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express and business version a few years back.

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  • How can you take maximum advantage of this promotion?
  • How can you avoid the fuel surcharges?
  • Where do you search? How do you search?
  • Where do you book?
  • How good of a deal is 40k Starpoints to Europe or 80k Starpoints in First Class?

The Deal

Starpoints always transfer to dozens of airlines at a 1:1 rate. For every 20k transferred, you get 5k bonus miles. My favorite airlines transfer partners are American Airlines and Alaska Airlines.

Ordinarily I wouldn’t consider Air Canada’s program, Aeroplan, because Aeroplan collects fuel surcharges on most partners, though not on United, Copa, Avianca, Swiss, and Turkish flight.

But Aeroplan is running a compelling promotion through April 27, 2015. Transfer hotel points and get bonus Aeroplan miles. All transfers from the listed partners will be summed to determine one’s bonus threshold.

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The relevant transfers for Western Europe awards with Aeroplan miles are:

  • 40k Starpoints transfer to 50k Aeroplan miles + 10k bonus Aeroplan miles for 60,000 total Aeroplan miles (50% bonus). This is enough miles for a roundtrip economy award to Western Europe* from the continental US, Alaska, and Canada.
  • 65k Starpoints transfer to 80k Aeroplan miles + 10k bonus Aeroplan miles for 90,000 total Aeroplan miles (38% bonus). This is enough miles for a roundtrip business class award to Western Europe* from the continental US, Alaska, and Canada.
  • 80k Starpoints transfer to 100k Aeroplan miles + 25k bonus miles for 125,000 total Aeroplan miles (56% bonus). This is enough miles for a roundtrip first class award to Western Europe* from the continental US, Alaska, and Canada.

*Western Europe includes the countries defined as Europe 1 on the chart, Europe 2 is more expensive.

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Similar deals are available to Southern South America. Check the award chart to see how many Aeroplan miles you need.

Maximizing Aeroplan Awards

Aeroplan awards allow for two stopovers in addition to your destination.

Aeroplan collects fuel surcharges on most partners. For instance, fuel surcharges of over $500 per person per roundtrip are instituted on Lufthansa economy awards. Two partners on which no fuel surcharges are collected are United and Swiss flights.

Searching for United and Swiss Space

We want to book our Aeroplan award with United and Swiss space to avoid fuel surcharges. The best place to search for space on United flights is united.com. On an advanced search, tick the box to search only United flights.

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Search results–and the search calendar–will only display United flights.

To search for only Swiss flights, find routes that Swiss flies and check Nonstop Flights Only on the united.com advanced search.

Once you’ve found your United or US Airways flights, head to aeroplan.com to book them. Aeroplan will have access to all Saver United space, and all Swiss space that shows up on united.com. You can mix-and-match Swiss and United flights and still have no fuel surcharges.

Booking on Aeroplan.com

Booking the award space on aeroplan.com is easy. Search the dates and cabins you found on united.com. I found award space from Newark to Brussels to Zurich to Newark on united.com.

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Screen Shot 2015-04-01 at 12.29.10 PM Then I searched for the space on aeroplan.com.Screen Shot 2015-04-01 at 12.29.04 PM

Each flight I found was the top result for the day I searched. I pieced it together for 90,000 Aeroplan miles + $132. That would be only 65k Starpoints at current rates.Screen Shot 2015-04-01 at 12.30.25 PM

Getting the Miles

The easiest way to get Starpoints is to get the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express with 25,000 bonus Starpoints after spending $5k in the first six months.

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Your Starpoints won’t arrive before this promotion ends, but we’ve seen similar promotions before, so you’ll have Starpoints in case this promotion returns.

Caveat

It can take up to two weeks for transfers from Starwood to Aeroplan to arrive. The exact award space you want may be gone by the time your Aeroplan miles are in your account.

Bottom Line

  1. Search for award space on united.com for Aeroplan partners on which Aeroplan doesn’t collect fuel surcharges.
  2. Open an Aeroplan account.
  3. Transfer the correct number of Starpoints to your Aeroplan account to book your dream award, taking into account the standard Starpoints to Aeroplan miles bonus (20k points = 25k miles) and the special limited time bonus being offered by Aeroplan until April 27.
  4. When the points arrive, redo your search on aeroplan.com and book.

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Earn up to 20 free hotel nights after meeting spending $2,500 in the first 90 days on the Club Carlson Visa.

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Hilton has just announced free wifi worldwide starting August 1, assuming you don’t book through a third party.

Hyatt, SPG, Marriott, IHG, and Fairmont all offer free internet in their hotels worldwide if you meet certain easy conditions.

Hilton will offer free wifi starting August 1, 2015 to all Hilton HHonors members who book their stay through a Hilton-controlled channel (like hilton.com, the Hilton app, or by contacting the hotel itself.) Join Hilton HHonors free here. Diamonds will get premium internet. All other members will get basic internet. Hilton operates the following brands:

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Finally the great hotels of the world are catching up with a standard benefit of hostels for the last decade. ;)

Hyatt offers free wifi in lobbies and guest rooms worldwide since February 1, 2015. This applies no matter how you book your room–yes even if you use Priceline–and even if you are not a member of the Hyatt Gold Passport loyalty program. Hyatt operates the Hyatt, Park Hyatt, Andaz, GrandHyatt, Hyatt Regency, Hyatt Place, Hyatt House, Hyatt Zilara, Hyatt Ziva, Hyatt Residences, and Hyatt Residence Club brands.

SPG offers free internet access since February 2, 2015. The free internet is only available to SPG members who book their stay through SPG.com or other SPG owned channels (ie the SPG app or sheraton.com.) Join SPG for free here. SPG operates the following brands.

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Marriott offers free internet access since January 15, 2015. The free internet is only available to Marriott Rewards members who book their stay through marriott.com or other Marriott owned channels (ie by phone or directly with the hotel.) Join Marriott Rewards for free here. Marriott operates the following brands.

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IHG has long offered free internet to IHG Rewards club members no matter how their stay is booked. Join IHG Rewards for free here. IHG operates the following brands.

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Fairmont has long offered free internet to Fairmont President’s Club members no matter how their stay is booked. Join Fairmont President’s Club for free here. Fairmont operates the following brands.

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Finally the great hotels of the world are catching up with a standard benefit of hostels for the last decade. ;)

Seriously though, this is great news for travelers. In the United States, I never bought internet from hotels anymore, opting to tether my laptop to my phone, but abroad I was often stuck paying 10 to 15 euros per day at hotels. I look forward to free internet at hotels worldwide for the rest of my life.

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I just got an email today from Starwood Preferred Guest announcing up to a 25% discount on the purchase of Starpoints. Through December 31, 2014, you can purchase up to 20,000 Starpoints with the following discounts:

  • 500 – 9,500 Starpoints — 3.15 cents each (10% off)
  • 10,000 – 14,500 Starpoints — 2.975 cents each (15% off)
  • 15,000 – 19,500 Starpoints — 2.8 cents each (20% off)
  • 20,000 Starpoints — 2.625 cents each (25% off)

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Should you buy Starpoints at the discounted price? Maybe…

Who shouldn’t miss this sale? Who can skip it? How can you get around the 20k Starpoint purchase cap?

I value Starpoints at 2.5 cents each, so buying them without a use already in mind doesn’t made sense at 2.625 cents each, especially when you can get the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express with a 25,000 Starpoint bonus after spending $5k within six months.

But there are a ton of Starpoint redemptions where you can get 3-4+ cents of value per point. If you have one of those redemptions ready to go, but you need a few more points, this can be a great deal. What redemptions specifically might offer you a great deal?

Nights & Flights Awards

My favorite SPG awards are Nights & Flights, which allow you to redeem Starpoints for hotel nights and airline miles at once.

  • 60,000 Starpoints: you get 50,000 American Airlines, US Airways, Delta, or other 1:1 SPG airline partner miles plus five free nights in a Category 3 hotel
  • 70,000 Starpoints: you get the same 50k airline miles plus five free nights at a Category 4 hotel

Check out my full write up of Nights & Flights Awards in How to Get 10 Nights in Hawaii and First Class Flights for Free.

Cash & Points Awards

Cash & Points Awards often let you get 3 or 4 cents of value per point by getting a hotel award night for half the normal amount of points plus a cash co-pay to make up the difference. The drawback is that they are capacity controlled, unlike free night awards, which are available whenever there is a room for sale.

Check out my full write up of Cash & Points awards in A Chance to “Buy” Starpoints for 1.1 Cents: Starwood Cash & Points Awards.

Transfer to Airline Miles

Starpoints transfer to dozens of airline partners, often at a better than 1:1 ratio. For any of the airline partners–including US Airways, American Airlines, Delta, British Airways, and many more–listed here with a 1:1 ratio, you can transfer 20k Starpoints to 25k miles.

That means buying 20k Starpoints gets you 25k miles for $525, which is 2.1 cents per mile.

I don’t value any of those miles at 2.1 cents in the abstract, but there are tons of awards you can book that get more than 2.1 cents of value from any of those miles. If you have such an award in mind and see award space, this can be a great way to get the miles you’re short.

Getting Around the 20k Purchase Limit

You are limited to purchasing 20,000 Starpoints per account per calendar year. But Starwood is encouraging folks to buy Starpoints at the discounted rate for friends and family during this promotion.

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There is no limit to how many gifts of 20k Starpoints you can give.

And the only limit to free sharing of Starpoints between accounts is that the addresses on file with SPG must be the same for 30 days before sharing. So you can buy 20k Starpoints for all the people with whom you share an address and later combine them into one account.

Don’t Expect a Category Bonus for Buying Starpoints

Starpoints purchases are through points.com, not starwood.com, so you won’t get a category bonus for hotel spending.

My Plan

I am not going to buy Starpoints now because I have enough at the moment to meet my needs.

Recap

The 25% discount on Starpoints means you can buy them for 2.625 cents each. If you have a great idea for their use, and you already have the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express and business version, this can be a great deal for you. But I do not recommend buying the points speculatively.

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Asiana has the best award chart in the Star Alliance. That means that you can book any of the 27 Star Alliance airlines, including United, for fewer miles on many routes with Asiana miles than with better known programs like United, Lufthansa, LifeMiles, Singapore, and Air Canada.

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Asiana is a 1:1 transfer partner of Starwood Preferred Guest Starpoints. As usual with Starpoints transfers, you get 5,000 bonus Asiana miles for every 20,000 Starpoints transferred.

If you can get your hands on Asiana miles, you can book insanely cheap awards like:

  • Lufthansa First Class between the United States and Europe for 50,000 Asiana miles one way vs. 110,000 United miles
  • United First Class between the continental United States and Hawaii for 27,500 Asiana miles one way vs. 40,000 United miles
  • United Global First between the United States and Southern South America for 45,000 Asiana miles one way vs. 70,000 United miles

Unfortunately some Asiana awards have fuel surcharges, and it took 17 days for my transfer of Starpoints to reach Asiana miles. Continue reading for:

  • Comparison tables of United award chart versus Asiana award chart
  • Fuel surcharge info on Asiana awards

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How long does it take to transfer Starwood Preferred Guest Starpoints to Asiana Club Miles?

An astounding 17 days.

Why would you want to transfer Starpoints to Asiana Miles?

Starpoints transfer 1:1 to Asiana miles. As with all 1:1 Starpoints transfers, you get 5,000 bonus miles for every 20,000 points transferred.

Asiana has an incredible award chart. Asiana miles can be used to book any Star Alliance airline, often for cheaper award prices than United, Lufthansa, Avianca, Singapore, and Air Canada miles.

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  • What is the transfer procedure?
  • What are the Asiana sweet spots?

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Starting in 2015, you will only be able to transfer 250,000 Membership Rewards to Delta miles per year and 200,000 Starwood Preferred Guest points to 250,000 Delta miles per year. See Delta FAQ.

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Delta imposed the rule on American Express and Starwood, but it’s so easy to work around that it’s no big deal.

Here’s what membershiprewards.com says about the new rule:

“Beginning January 1, 2015, the maximum number of Membership Rewards® points you will be able to transfer out of a single Membership Rewards account to one or more SkyMiles accounts will be limited to 250,000 points per calendar year. Additionally, the maximum number of Membership Rewards points you will be able to transfer into a single SkyMiles account will also be limited to 250,000 points per calendar year.

You are able to transfer Membership Rewards points to a SkyMiles account without any annual limitations through December 31, 2014.”

  • What is the exact limit on transfers?
  • What are the workarounds to basically get unlimited Delta miles from Membership Rewards and Starpoints transfers?

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Longtime reader Scott forwarded me an offer for the Starwood Preferred Guest personal and business credit cards that I’ve never seen before. Instead of the normal $5,000 minimum spending requirement in 6 months, these cards come with a $3,000 minimum spending requirement in the first 3 months.

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Both cards come with 25,000 bonus Starpoints after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months. That is a lower total spending requirement, but actually works out to more per month ($1,000) than the standard offer of $5,000 in 6 months ($834.)

This offer seems targeted in the sense that it was emailed to Scott, but I can open it in my browser. In my experience, banks always honor the terms of the offer that you apply for.

  • How do these offers compare to the standard offer?
  • Are you eligible for these offers if you’ve had Starwood cards before?
  • Should you wait for a 30k offer on the Starwood cards?
  • What are the best uses for Starpoints?

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I’ve created comparison charts of how many mile a certain award costs with United MileagePlus miles versus the same award with Singapore KrisFlyer miles. Why?

  • Singapore Airlines miles can be used to book all the same Saver award space that United releases to its non-elite members without any fuel surcharges. That makes it a relevant comparison.
  • For many routes, the Singapore KrisFlyer program charges fewer miles to book a United flight than United charges to book the same flight. That makes it a profitable comparison.
  • Singapore miles are extremely easy to get since you can transfer all of the major transferable points to Singapore KrisFlyer miles. That makes it a useful comparison.

The major transferable points are:

I’ve compiled three charts to show whether Singapore miles or United miles are cheaper to any given destination that United serves in economy, business, and first class.

  • For which destinations are United miles cheaper?
  • For which destinations are Singapore miles cheaper?
  • What about fuel surcharges?

Fuel Surcharges

Singapore miles are useful to book Singapore Business Class, First Class, and Suites Class because Singapore doesn’t release all that award space to its partners. Singapore miles are also useful to book United Economy, Business, and First Class.

Awards booked with United miles never include fuel surcharges.

Awards booked with Singapore miles almost always include the fuel surcharges that would be present on a paid ticket. You can verify fuel surcharges by using the ITA Matrix.

The one exception is booking United flights with Singapore miles.

United flights to Asia, Europe, Africa, and Australia have fuel surcharges, but Singapore awards do not collect fuel surcharges on any United flights, not even these flights. We want to take advantage of this awesome loophole and book United flights with Singapore miles.

For this reason, all of the charts in this post compare using Singapore miles versus United miles to book United flights.

United awards and Singapore awards that only include United flights should have the exact same government taxes. You may notice a tiny variation because of currency conversions. United awards price in US dollars, and Singapore awards price in Singapore dollars.

Economy Award Charts

All award charts show the one way price in thousands of miles.

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In economy, Singapore offers cheaper prices on flights from the continental United States to Alaska, Hawaii, Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa.

United offers cheaper prices on most other international routes, and the two offer the same price to several countries.

Business Class Award Charts

The United column shows the award price for awards booked on United planes. Premium-cabin United awards booked on partner planes cost more miles.

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Singapore offers cheaper business class awards within the United States including to Alaska and Hawaii. On these routes, United markets the best cabin on its two cabin planes as “First Class,” but you are only charged the business class price to book it. This even includes the flat beds you can book to Hawaii.

Singapore also charges fewer miles to Brazil, Chile, Argentina, the Middle East, and North Africa on United flights than United does.

United awards cost fewer miles to most of the world, and both programs charge 30,000 miles each way in business class to the Caribbean, Mexico, and Central America.

United BusinessFirst as its international business class is known is an underrated fully flat bed I’ve enjoyed several times.

First Class Award Charts

The United column shows the award price for awards booked on United planes. Premium-cabin United awards booked on partner planes cost more miles. I believe these are the only regions to which United flies three-cabin planes other than the occasional domestic flight.

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Singapore charges fewer miles in first class to the Middle East. Oddly, Singapore charges fewer miles in first class to the Middle East than to Europe. I’ll have more on this tomorrow.

United charges fewer miles to the rest of Asia and Australia. To Brazil and Europe, Singapore and United charge the same number of miles to fly United Global First.

United Global First is a solid business class product in my experience, but not a world class First Class.

Getting Singapore Miles

Getting Singapore miles is extremely easy now.

Citi ThankYou Points transfer 1:1 in 22-36 hours to Singapore miles. If I had all four types of points in this section, transferring ThankYou Points would be my first choice. This is the best ThankYou Points transfer partner, and the other options like redeeming the points for 1.25 cents each toward any flight aren’t nearly as valuable.

To get 55,000 ThankYou Points after spending $5,000 over 15 months, start with the Citi ThankYou® Premier Card.

My Review of the Citi ThankYou® Premier Card

 

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  • Earn up to 50,000 bonus ThankYou® Points. Bonus points are redeemable for up to $500 in gift cards, up to $625 for airfare or other great rewards
  • Earn 20,000 points after $2,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
  • Earn an additional 30,000 points after another $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of your second year of being a cardmember
  • Annual Fee: $125 (fee waived for the first 12 months). On  4/19/2015, this fee will be reduced to $95 on all accounts
  • Points do not expire and earn unlimited Thank You Points
  • Travel with ease and enjoy chip based technology

The card also offers 3x points on dining and entertainment and 2x points on travel. (These categories flip flop on April 19.)

Application Link: Citi ThankYou® Premier Card

This card has a $125 annual fee that is waived the first year, but you will have to pay it once in year 2 to get the full 50,000 point bonus.

SPG Starpoints transfer 1:1 to Singapore miles in about a week. Like all SPG 1:1 transfer partners, for every 20,000 points transferred, you’ll get 5,000 bonus miles. Try to transfer in exact 20,000 Starpoint increments to maximize this 20,000:25,000 transfer ratio.

You can earn Starpoints from the Starwood Preferred Guest personal and business credit cards from American Express.

Chase Ultimate Rewards earned from the Ink Plus and Sapphire Preferred transfer to Singapore KrisFlyer miles in a day or two. Points from the Freedom can transfer to any of those three cards‘ accounts and from there on to Singapore.

Ultimate Rewards are the only one of the four points that also transfer 1:1 to United miles, so people with Ultimate Rewards should definitely bookmark this post.

American Express Membership Rewards transfer to Singapore KrisFlyer miles in a day or two. Any Gold, Platinum, Green, EveryDay, or corporate card will earn Membership Rewards.

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Recap

Singapore KrisFlyer miles can book all the same Saver United award space open to non-elites with United miles. Singapore doesn’t collect fuel surcharges on United flights, so the out of pocket expense on Singapore and United awards should be the same when booking United flights.

To some destinations, Singapore miles are cheaper, including 25% cheaper in flat bed United First Class (priced as business class) to Hawaii. To others, United miles are cheaper, like premium cabins to East Asia. And to many destinations, the price is the same.

If you have Ultimate Rewards, which transfer to either United or Singapore miles, pick the cheaper award chart when you want to book a United flight.

You can also transfer Starpoints, Membership Rewards, and ThankYou Points to Singapore miles.

The Citi ThankYou® Premier Rewards Card offers a 50,000 ThankYou Point bonus spread over two years and awesome category bonuses like 3x points on dining and entertainment.

See Also

See also my United Award Chart vs. LifeMiles Award Chart post and United Award Chart vs. Lufthansa Award Chart post from a few weeks ago.

See also my posts on booking Singapore Suites, booking Singapore awards to Central America with free one ways to Hawaii, and booking Singapore awards to South America with free one ways to Hawaii.

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Until July 31, 2014, you can transfer 20,000 SPG Starpoints to 30,000 US Airways Dividend miles.

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This promotion is identical to the current promotion to transfer 20,000 Starpoints to 30,000 American Airlines miles, which makes sense since US Airways and American Airlines have legally merged.

Yesterday I said about the American Airlines promotion: “it’s July 2nd, and I think we can probably declare this the best miles deal July will see!” Of course, such a statement was disproved in less than a day because I consider the US Airways promotion slightly better.

  • How many Starpoints can you transfer?
  • Do Starpoints transfer instantly to US Airways miles?
  • In what increment must you transfer Starpoints to maximize this deal?
  • Should you transfer your Starpoints to US Airways miles, American Airlines miles, or neither?

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Overnight, I wrote about the current Starwood/American Airlines promotion: for all of July, 20,000 Starpoints will transfer to 30,000 American Airlines miles.

I gave the facts in this post, but I was called out in the comments for not analyzing the promotion. Said DH:

“Is this offer an indication there’s an AA devaluation right around the corner? If so, is this transfer still a good idea? Starwood points are really valuable, and I doubt devalued AA miles would be anywhere close. It’d be nice if you could discuss a bit about the merits and drawbacks/risks of the transfer instead of just saying the offer is available. It’s usually your analysis of an offer that sets this site apart. Thanks.”

DH is totally right that I want this site to stand apart because I don’t just say there is a promotion, I analyze it.

In my defense, I was coming back from a night out in Brazil celebrating the USA’s World Cup run, so I wasn’t up to the analysis. But I am now, and there’s 1,500 words of it below!

  • Should you transfer Starpoints to AAdvantage miles speculatively this month?
  • What are the 30+ airline partners of Starpoints?
  • What are the 10+ to which I’d transfer?
  • What are the three best?
  • What are the strengths of those three airline programs?
  • What is my forecast for upcoming devaluations?
  • What are four other great uses of Starpoints besides airline transfers?
  • Will I transfer?
  • Should you?

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Until July 31, 2014, you can transfer 20,000 SPG Starpoints to 30,000 American Airlines AAdvantage miles.

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It’s July 2nd, and I think we can probably declare this the best miles deal July will see!

  • How many Starpoints can you transfer?
  • Do Starpoints transfer instantly to American Airlines miles?
  • In what increment must you transfer Starpoints to maximize this deal?

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Update at 11:45 PM ET on Saturday May 31: I have sent a referral to all who have requested. To spread the love, I won’t send out any more. If you want a referral, contact one of the commentors offering to send referrals.

Until June 30, 2014, the Starwood Preferred Guest personal and business credit cards are offering 30,000 bonus Starpoints each to new cardholders who are referred by existing cardholders. This deal is much better than the current public offer of 25,000 bonus Starpoints and matches the best deal we’ve ever seen on two amazing cards.

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The applicant will get 30,000 bonus Starpoints:

  • 10,000 bonus Starpoints after first purchase
  • 20,000 bonus Starpoints after spending $5,000 in the first six months
  • $0 annual fee the first year, $65 thereafter. See Terms and Conditions of emailed offer for full details.

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The referrer gets 5,000 Starpoints.

This sign up bonus is identical to the deal that ran last August that many of us got in on. Back then I got the personal and business Starwood cards on the same day. After spending $5,000 on each card, I had 70,000 total Starpoints (60,000 bonus Starpoints plus 10,000 for the spending.)

Great Uses of Starpoints

Seventy thousand Starpoints transfer to 85,000 American, US Airways, Delta, and dozens of other airlines’ miles, since Starwood gives you 5,000 bonus miles for every 20,000 points transferred to airline miles.

So far I’ve transferred 20,000 Starpoints to 25,000 US Airways miles to top up my account for a dream First Class award to the World Cup in Brazil. And I used 6,000 to win an auction for a once-in-a-lifetime meet and great with the band Capital Cities in Argentina.

I value Starpoints at 2.5 cents each, and I certainly got more value than that from both redemptions. That means that the 70,000 potential Starpoints you can earn by getting both cards are worth $1,750 to me.

Here is my Starwood primer, so you can understand how to use Starpoints for transfers to airline miles, hotels, and all the other great uses.

Here are some in-depth articles on top uses:

As far as I can tell, the only way for an applicant to get this 30k bonus instead of the public 25k bonus is to be emailed by a current cardholder. I currently hold the personal and business SPG cards, so I can refer people.

Comment on this post with whether you’d like a referral to the personal offer, business offer, or both. The comment form asks for your email address, which I can see, but which is not public, and that’s where the offer will be sent.

 

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This is the seventh installment of a round-the-world trip report that started here. We pick up in Cambodia.

I landed at Siem Reap International Airport and got my Cambodia visa on arrival. (Make sure to have $20 in cash and a passport-sized photo. Better yet, check current requirements.)

I had booked my first night at Le Méridien Angkor to test it out and because my preferred hostel was sold out.

Le Méridien Angkor is a Category 2 SPG property, which means it costs 4,000 Starpoints for a free night Sunday through Thursday and only 3,000 points for a weekend night.

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I was staying on a weeknight. Instead of booking a free night, I decided to book a Cash & Points night for 2,000 points + $35.

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Compared to a free night, this was like “buying” 2,000 points back for 1.75 cents each, which I was happy to do to stretch my super-valuable Starpoints balance.

Using points was the way to go with a paid night at the hotel going for around $140. (Every price you see in Cambodia is in dollars. Riel are really only used by tourists for change when a price is less than $1. Conveniently when I went, the exchange rate was basically exactly 4,000 riel to the dollar.)

Outside the airport, I was offered a taxi for $10 or a scooter for $3. I pack light, and the scooter sounded more fun, so saving $7 was an easy decision!

Le Méridien Angkor is about 8 miles from the airport, 3 miles from Angkor Wat, and 1 mile outside the heart of Siem Reap.

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Whether the location is a positive or negative depends on whether you want to be in the heart of the action or in a quieter area. Transportation options are so quick and cheap that I think it doesn’t matter much.

I arrived at the hotel in the early afternoon on a beautiful day.

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Entrance
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The Grounds
  • How was the room?
  • How was the hotel’s food?
  • How were the grounds?
  • How was the service?
  • Do I recommend Le Meridien as the place to stay when visiting Angkor Wat?

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