Learning the Hard Way - The W Santiago
As we get closer to June, we are starting to firm up some of our plans for our family trip to South America. I wrote a post last week about how I was able to change one of our flights so that we have an extra two days in Rio de Janeiro. Due to this change, we had to rethink our lodging. I told you all in a previous post about the hotel situation when we are going to be in Rio. Basically, due to the UN Conference that is taking place at the same time, there is a serious lack of hotel rooms available. In fact, there are not any rooms available at all at many of the major brands. Because of this, we had decided to look for an apartment to rent during our time there. I always use HomeAway to look for vacation rentals and extending our stay actually helped increase our choices because we can now look at places that rent by the week instead of only those that have daily rates.
Out of all the choices for rentals in Rio (there are currently 1630 on HomeAway), we have narrowed it down to 4. I will be sending inquiries to the owners today and should hopefully have something reserved by the weekend at the latest. That means that for now, it looks like we are pretty well set for lodging in Rio. Santiago, however, has become a different story.
You may remember that after flights, one of the first things I looked at for this trip was hotel rooms in Santiago. As I wrote about before, friends of ours had alerted us to a great Cash and Points deal at the W Santiago and I found it to be available when we would be there. The rate was $60 + 4000 points a night and was a significant savings from the best available rate of $389 a night. At that time, Chrissy and I had just started collecting Starwood Preferred Guest points, and neither of us had enough in our accounts to make a reservation for the full 5 nights. Instead, we split the reservation into two, with 3 nights under her account and 2 nights under mine. Cash and Points stays are fully refundable, so I wasn’t too concerned about what would happen if we needed to make a change, and I went ahead a reserved a king room for us. Technically, the King room is for two people, but the SPG representative that I made the reservation with said we should be fine with two adults and two kids. We put in a request for a rollaway bed and planned to have one of the boys sleep in the king bed with us. I know this is not the ideal situation, but it was something we were willing to put up with to stay at that hotel for that price.
Fast forward to this week. Since we were now going to be in Santiago for two less days, I needed to cancel two of the nights from our reservation. I had assumed that I could just call and they would take off those two nights. Unfortunately, it is not that simple. It turns out that Cash and Points stays are fully refundable, but you can not adjust the days of the stay. In fact, to decrease the number of days on a reservation, you need to cancel the reservation and then rebook the correct days. This created a couple of problems. If luck had been with us, when we split the reservation between our two accounts, we would have put the first 2 nights on one account and the next 3 on the other. We needed to cancel the first two nights, so that would have been easy.
Of course, nothing in life is easy. When I made the original reservation, I put the first 3 nights on one account and the next 2 on the other. So, to reduce the first reservation to one night, we had to cancel the reservation and rebook the night we need. The first issue with this is that there are not currently any Cash and Points rewards available for the W Santiago for the time we will be there. In order to rebook, there needs to be an available room. Luckily, the SPG representative I was speaking with was very helpful and put me on hold while she contacted the hotel to explain the situation and see if they would release a Cash and Points night for me. After a few minutes, she came back and told me that they agreed to release the night we needed.
This brought us to problem two. I made the call to change this reservation on March 3rd. This might not seem that significant to many of you, but those that pay close attention will know that March 1st was the date that the Starwood Category changes went into effect. Of course, the W Santiago went up a category and now costs more to book rewards nights. I was well aware that this was happening and actually was happy that I had made my reservation long ago before the increase. Little did I know that the category change would in fact be something that I should have been worried about. Since we had to rebook the one night from our first reservation, we now had to redeem at the current rates. Instead of $60 + 4000 points, a room now costs $90 + 4800 points.
There was not much I could do, other than kick myself for not making this call the week before, so I agreed to the higher charge for the one night. Before getting off the phone, I asked the agent to confirm that we would be allowed to have 2 adults and 2 kids in one room, and she said that should be fine. She also told me that she couldn’t find any information about fees for extra people in the room, so I should send an email to the hotel directly to inquire. When our call ended, I did just that.
I got a response back from the W Santiago the next day saying that they would have no problem with our planned sleeping arrangements and there would be no extra charge for the kids. They also wanted to let me know that the extra rollaway bed has a $75 a night fee and asked if I wanted to reserve one. I actually had to read the email a couple of times before I believed what it said. Basically, they will let you have an extra person in the room for no charge, but it will cost $75 a night if you want a place for that person to sleep. That sounds suspiciously like a $75 fee for an extra person to me.
Now, when I look at the total prices, our great deal at the W Santiago isn’t looking so great. For the first night, it will cost us $165 + 4800 points and for the next two it will cost $135 + 4000 points a night. I decided that maybe I should start looking at other options. Although it would be nice, I don’t need to stay somewhere as fancy as the W Santiago with the kids, and maybe I could find a better option for the same amount of money and save my points.
A few searches later, it became clear that like most other places in the world outside of the USA, it is quite difficult to find a hotel room for 4 people in Santiago unless you are willing to upgrade to a suite. My next idea was to look on HomeAway and see if I could find a place to rent like we are doing in Rio. Santiago has far fewer options for apartment rentals, but a quick search led me to a few that I think could work for us. I am going to send out some inquiries to Santiago property owners this afternoon too and see if I can find a place with enough beds for all of us.
At this point, it looks like this is turning into a vacation that will only be half miles and points related. Our flights are award flights paid for with BA miles before the switch to Avios, but it looks like we will be neither redeeming or earning points with our lodging. It hurts my soul a little bit to think about being away from home for 12 nights and not earning any hotel points or redeeming for any free rooms, but it is something I will have to deal with. This is an excellent example of a time when miles and points may not be the best option. Sometimes you have to make a choice and do what is best for the family rather than what is best for your loyalty account balances.
I will let you know how the apartment search turns out in both Rio and Santiago. Hopefully I will at least be able to pay for the places with a credit card and earn a few points that way.B If you have any great suggestions for accommodations in either Rio or Santiago, please let me know. I don’t have anything set in stone yet, and I would love to hear your experiences B with travel to those areas, especially if you had kids in tow.