Planning A California Points Hotel Adventure

Filed Under: Hotels

For the rest of the year my goal is to review as many useful points hotels and airlines as possible, and that will include taking several review trips. I’ll be writing a separate post soon with my plans for trying some new airline products, but in this post I wanted to share the details of a trip I just booked to California to check out some points hotels that really interest me.

Over the summer I wrote a post about 13 points hotels I hope to stay at, and I plan on knocking three of these out in a few weeks. For all too long I’ve taken the approach that if I’m taking a “true” vacation I need to travel far away, though nowadays I like looking much closer to home. Sometimes it’s nice not to be jetlagged… novel concept, eh?

So, what are the three California points hotels that I’m really excited to check out?

Alila Ventana Big Sur

Alila recently joined World of Hyatt, and it’s probably the points hotel development I’m most excited about in the past year. It’s not just that Hyatt has a marketing partnership with Alila, or anything, but rather the hotels now fully participate in World of Hyatt. So you can earn and redeem points, use suite upgrades, etc.

I’ve heard amazing things about Ventana Big Sur, and rates for a standard room are pretty consistently $1,000+ per night on weekends. So being able to redeem World of Hyatt points is exciting.

Even better is that when you’re a Globalist and redeeming points, both the parking cost and resort fee are waived, making this an even better deal. I’m hoping that the hotel is half as awesome as I’m expecting.

Las Alcobas Napa Valley

I’ve never been to Napa Valley before. I like nature and I like wine (though I’m not sure I love wine tasting — no, I’m not a spitter, and no, I don’t taste the light notes of crayon and charcoal), so this sounds right up my alley.

You may remember that a few days ago I wrote about the games this hotel was playing with award availability. I reached out to Marriott corporate, and am told this should be fixed within a few days.

However, we’re actually going to stay mid-week, and it turned out that paying was a much better value. We managed to get a rate of $500 per night, but:

  • There’s a third night free offer
  • We could book through Marriott STARS, so we also receive a $100 hotel credit, free breakfast, and more
  • Ford and I each have offers on our Amex cards for a $100 statement credit when you spend $500 at a Marriott luxury brand

In other words, we’re paying $333 per night, plus we’re getting a $100 credit, plus we’re getting a $200 statement credit between the two of us. That’s a pretty awesome deal when you consider base rooms here go for $800+ per night on weekends.

Waldorf Astoria Beverly Hills

This is an LA points hotel that’s incredibly well regarded. We lucked out in finding points availability, and Ford and I both have expiring Hilton weekend free night certificates, meaning we can redeem those here even though the paid rate would be $700+ per night after taxes and fees.

Bottom Line

My goal for the rest of the year is to review a lot of great points hotels and airlines. I haven’t been able to take as many review trips as I would have liked to this summer due to family obligations, but I’m hoping that in fall I can take a few more trips. This will be the only “real” trip I take, and the others will specifically be review trips.

I can’t wait to check out these three points hotels. I’ve never been to Big Sur or Napa Valley before, so if anyone has any tips, please let me know. I would also love any restaurant recommendations, though we are traveling in a few weeks, so I’m guessing any of the “hard to get” reservations may be out of question.

Also, if anyone has stayed at any of these hotels, please let me know your experience!

  1. Walldorf Beverly Hills is playing tricks with award stays. Also will charge your card with room rate on award stay. $$$$ on card. Crazy policy.

  2. Waldorf Astoria BH hides their availability under accessible rooms. Check that box and you will see availability.

  3. I went to high school in Pebble Beach, not far from Big Sur and Ventana. It remains one of my favorite places on earth. If you have time, walk around and explore Carmel. Winston would love it there!

  4. Amazing! I’ve stayed at The Waldorf Astoria LA and cannot day enough good things about it. Service and Quality are fantastic! I have the Ventana booked for Feb so can’t wait for your review!

  5. A $1,000+ hotel “in the middle of nowhere” charging for parking is plain disgusting. I say “in the middle of nowhere” meaning you have no options to park yourself on another place like when you are in a hotel in downtown. These are the type of hotels that will never see my money.

  6. Glad to hear you will be visiting Ventana! I ended up booking a night with points when you first posted about it. With my Globalist status, I got an upgrade to their Cottage room ($2500/night!). Not sure I’d pay $1000/night but had a really relaxing stay.

  7. Try and eat at The Restoration Hardware restaurant in Napa. Gorgeous place and full of all RH goodies in full view.

  8. I’m very excited about Waldorf Astoria Beverly Hills. Hopefully that’s late next month or in December? Then we can do an LA meetup at Catch or something??

  9. Speaking about efficient use of POINTS for Big Sur, I will be staying at the historic Hyatt Residence Club Carmel, Highlands Inn, which is over 100 years old.

    We are a family of 5, so booked a two bedroom suite using Hyatt timeshare points (not Hyatt hotel points). For our two holiday nights, December 24-26, the rate for the smaller one bedroom suite is about $770 per night, while I used 270 Hyatt timeshare points per night that cost me about $250 per night.

    Ben does not cover timeshare points, but those points (Marriott, Vistana, Hyatt, Hilton, etc) can be an exceptional value, especially for families which need larger accommodations like two bedroom suites.

  10. Ventana is lovely (although admittedly hard to argue that value quite meets the high prices for it or the Post Ranch Inn). At Ventana the Big Sur Suites are my favorite room type – has a hammock on the deck looking out over the trees and hills. Weather permitting make sure you have breakfast on the restaurant patio looking out over the ocean rather than inside. The short on-site loop trail through some small redwood groves is worth doing, as is the walking trail to the restaurant rather than getting a ride.

    Eat a meal at Big Sur Bakery (it’s not just a bakery but a restaurant as well). The restaurant at Ventana has been variable over a few visits but is nice to avoid having to drive somewhere; Sierra Mar at the Post Ranch Inn is better.

  11. I would love a review of Post Ranch Inn – one of the ocean view villas. This is a hotel I have been wanting to spend a weekend in Big Sur. One day.

  12. If you are going to Napa then you MUST do a private tasting at one of the high end wineries……..Realm, Colgin, Harlan…..etc……and if you can’t get in there try Phelps……….otherwise you might as well get on the wine train and be a pedestrian………….

  13. Waived parking fees? Wow, you are not going to California via a connection in Sydney? What a disappointment:))

  14. Waldorf Astoria Beverly Hills is out of this world! We stayed two nights using Hilton points earlier this year and it was by far our best Hilton redemption. We made reservations at a restaurant through the concierge and they provided transportation in the house car (a Rolls Royce) at no cost even though we were on points. Just fantastic

  15. enjoy the pretentiousness of the places you’ve mentioned … they’re beautiful no doubt, but for me the hype and pretentiousness of napa and big sur (and carmel/pebble beach, where i attended high school) are annoying and sometimes a bit amusing

  16. First world problems, LOL.

    Staying 3 nights at $2500+ per night or stay half a year at Knights Inn.
    Both will get you coffee pillows beds blankets and a pool. LOL
    Rodeway Inn even gets you FREE breakfast and enough points to stay few more weeks.

    This is just first world problems, LOL.

  17. Lucky, you should stay in the Wilshire Grand in DTLA as well. Probably one of the best non Kimpton IHG hotels in the US and a unique property with the sky lobby and rooftop.

  18. If you want to go the French Laundry in Napa (or another hard to get place) the try the Amex Platinum Concierge, they have come through for me.

  19. Just returning from a two night points stay at the Waldorf Astoria Beverly Hills as a diamond member. Property is absolutely beautiful, but the hotel service was… not stellar (as distinct from the restaurant & rooftop bar service, which was consistently great). Among other things, they:

    -refused to upgrade the room, after trying to upsell a suite that was ambiguously described during check-in as if we were about to be upgraded to it before they sprung the fine print about the several hundred/night fee. (No, I’m not going to spend well nigh 1K USD for a starter suite on a points stay. Good lord.)

    -failed to bring requested toiletry items for nearly an hour, had to make a second request.

    -limited their house car service to 3 miles (fair enough), but refused to drop us off 3.25 miles away. I get it, it’s outside of the limit, but at a luxury hotel it would have been nice to have received an accommodation for the extra *quarter* mile above the stated policy.

    -refused to accommodate a one-hour late checkout. Upon pleading, they deigned to grant us 30 minutes. There was availability for our room type on the app for the evening.

    -woke us up around 7:30 one morning with a delivery that was addressed to a different room. This is especially confusing and frustrating when one is groggy from having been jolted awake by repeated doorbell ringing. I’d normally overlook this one as it was an honest mistake, but it is a bit of insult to injury in conjunction with the rest of these incidents.

    -as others have stated, they play games with points availability and obnoxiously limit awards to undesirable room types (accessible rooms, no single bed rooms).

    As I mentioned above, the restaurant and bar staff were terrific and absolutely lived up to the service standards that one would expect from a luxury brand.

    The bottom line for me, however, was that the hotel management and staff do view points travelers as less-than. I get that money talks, but it’s certainly outside the spirit (and perhaps the letter) of the Honors terms to make points guests feel as if they do not belong.

    Lucky, I hope you have a different service experience; and in any case, enjoy the beautiful property and rooftop. The views are stunning.

  20. @Judy

    Aside of weekends, I have little issue getting reservations for French Laundry. It isn’t as hyped as it used to. Only party of 2 is normally soldout, so bring some friends. I did hear about just showing up and wait, but I think that was just a lucky day. Don’t do it.
    Same with Per Se.

  21. Stayed at Ventana for a night and Post Ranch Inn for two nights at the end of August. While Post Ranch is definitely more stunning and overall was a more unforgettable experience, it’s even more expensive than Ventana (and obviously no points redemption). Ventana was still great, and more of a complete resort with more amenities than the Post Ranch. Didn’t eat at the main restaurant, but ate at the new smokehouse they just opened – we found the BBQ underwhelming, but it was late in the day so presumably might be better at lunch.

    As for other places to eat, as people mentioned the Big Sur Bakery and Sierra Mar (the Post Ranch’s restaurant) are great, and Nepenthe is also worth checking out on a nice day as the views are fantastic.

  22. @lucky you should check out the Santa Monica Proper Hotel. Stayed there last week on points, hands down best Marriott property we’ve stayed at LA. The interior design had some resemblance to the Sereno.

  23. @Lucky. We’ve stayed at 4 WAs in the last year: Grand Wailea, Park City, Arizona Biltmore and Beverly Hills. Enjoyed them all for different reasons but the Waldorf Astoria Beverly Hills is a proper full service urban luxury hotel. I think you will be quite happy. Especially on a free weekend stay.

  24. @ Brodie

    Thank you!

    Just then made a booking at the 95k point rate for next July using the trick you mentioned. Changed from accessible room to king room by chatting with their hotel reservations person…yay!

  25. @Tony

    Thank you for this. I had an award reservation in august. It was difficult indeed need to check and recheck. Finally got a reservation for 2 bed accessible room thinking well it will be upgraded to a king standard room at the minimum right.
    After 24 hours I got a email from the hotel stating my credit card was not ok? I thought mhh this an award stay why do you want to charge my card already? I didn’t think much of it and send them another card number. To my very big surprise they charged the card with the standard room rate for that night (1000+usd) After asking for an explanation they told me that it was standard practice (it’s NOT btw) and there was nothing they could do about it. On top of that they were very rude in the communication, definitely not what you would expect at a 5-star hotel.
    It did not feel right and I canceled the whole thing. Just a heads up, It took them a long time to reverse the card charge. Reading your comments, I made the right call.

  26. Stayed at Las Alcobas last year for our anniversary—loved our balcony with fire pit looking out over the vineyard.

  27. My husband and I had a near perfect experience at Waldorf Bev Hills. We were there using our Aspire free night. We were treated extremely well. You must hit up the rooftop restaurant- incredible view and very good service. We were given a $50.00 dining credit, which basically just covered 2 drinks.

  28. Ventana is great but the view at Post Ranch Inn is better.So go to Post Ranch Inn for a drink or lunch or dinner at their Sierra Mar and enjoy the view.It’s not far.

  29. Hi Lucky,

    I recommend eating in St. Helena, which is a little bit North of Napa. I would say overall, and the restaurants are better. I’m a fan of Farmstead at Long Meadow Ranch and Cook St in St. Helena. If you can visit some wineries in Sonoma (I prefer them overall) less of a scene and better wine generally speaking. I prefer the restaurants in Sonoma (Healdsburg) Willi’s Seafood &Winebar, Valette, and on my wish list is Single Thread.

  30. More Ventana worship from people who have never been there? Are you worshipping the price tag?

    The place is $1000/nt, quadruple what it used to be. Is it 4 times better? No, the recent remodel (and the rebranding as an Alila) did not make it better. It added more parking at the expense of what were some of the best views at the hotel.

    The stratospheric price is because Big Sur is an easy weekend drive from booming Silicon Valley and Hollywood, and supply and demand is real, in spite of attempts by politicians to convince us otherwise.

    Plus, plan for the weather. I was there last month. One day was sunny and great. The other day was totally overcast and cold, even though it was Labor Day weekend. Cars using headlights at 4 PM.

    I do not want to torpedo the place, I simply suggest anyone planning to stay at Ventana read the ongoing thread on FT for honest reviews.

  31. Lucky, are you planning to drive from Napa to Big Sur in one day, and then Big Sur to Beverly Hills the next day? That is a LOT of driving, especially on Hwy 1, which is beautiful but has lots of slowdowns. I’d suggest you break that down, so you can enjoy things instead of driving like crazy.

    Maybe add a night in Monterey, maybe The Clement, or Carmel Valley Ranch if you do not care about an ocean view, and/or add a night in Santa Barbara, maybe at the Kimpton Canary. (There is a second Kimpton in Santa Barbara, but it is just a converted Holiday Inn.)

  32. I have had two separate three-night stays at the WA Beverly Hills and both were incredible experiences. I used points/free night certificates during both stays and had no problems at all. Both times I was upgraded to a gorgeous, huge suite with amazing views of the Hollywood Hills. Be sure to arrange for Bert to drive you to lunch (maybe The Ivy) in either the Rolls Royce or the Maybach. I’ll be back again- great property!

  33. Lucky, if you’re going to be driving across the Golden Gate bridge from SFO into Napa, you might find Larkspur an interesting little town and a good place to stop for a meal. There used to be a Famous/Difficult to Book restaurant in Larkspur called the Lark Creek Inn. It has been closed for many years now. The successor owner of the historic property (234 Magnolia) is “Perry’s On Magnolia.” There are other restaurants in Larkspur as well. Just beware that the Lark Creek Inn/Tavern at Lark Creek no longer actually exists. There are still various web references for it. Bradley Ogden (chef) and his wife were very good at running it, but they’re GONE. Perry’s on Magnolia is pretty good, but not in the same league. Larkspur IS a nice town though.

  34. If you are really interested in a good wine tasting experience, skip Napa and head to Sonoma or Healdsburg. Napa is all overpriced bus tours and bachelorette parties. There are plenty of good hotels to try in Sonoma: Santa Rosa has a Hyatt and Marriott that I have stayed at; Healdsburg has a Marriott that I’ve had mixed experience at… Anyway, for a better experience go West…

  35. Joseph, you say “I do not want to torpedo the place, I simply suggest anyone planning to stay at Ventana read the ongoing thread on FT for honest reviews.” I read that before my visit and it almost discouraged me from going but I’m glad I ended up going. Most of those complaints seem to be hinged on the fact that it’s far more expensive than it used to be, which is a valid complaint but unfortunately there’s not really much we can do about this now. And Big Sur is way overcrowded (as you mentioned, close proximity to the Bay Area and LA a little farther afield), and there are very few hotels as it is, so unfortunately the rates are justified for the location.

    And the location sure is beautiful. Of course, it has additional meaning for my wife and I, but being very well traveled I still think it’s one of the prettiest places in the world. The pricing makes sense relative to Post Ranch (it’s still half the price), but really for me what makes it a killer deal is the ability to use Hyatt points. Not sure I’d be shelling out $1,000 a night for that hotel on a regular basis, but I’m much more likely to go with Hyatt points. Otherwise, I’m camping in the Big Sur region (which is also nice).

    Funny that you were there over Labor Day weekend, that’s when I was there. Weather is definitely variable and can change quickly, but I remember it being the hottest I’ve ever experienced in Big Sur (90 degrees on Saturday and Sunday). In any case, always have a jacket/sweater Ben in case of weather changes.

    Oh and Ben, I’ll echo what others said. Take your time with the drive down the coast after Big Sur, if you’re driving (and you should – it’s one of the most jaw-dropping drives in the world). You should spend a day somewhere between Big Sur and LA to break up the drive and ensure you don’t rush through it.

  36. Thus sounds like a fun trip. Enjoy! WA in Beverley Hill is fabulous.

    When you are at Ventana it would be great if you could check out the glamping site. I have it on my list as a place to stay with the kids during a Californian road trip in planning.

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