Introduction: A California Points Hotel Adventure

Filed Under: Hilton, Hotels

I’m doing what I can to review as many points experiences as possible at the moment, including both airlines and hotels. Over the summer I wrote about 13 points hotels I hope to stay at, and I also recently wrote about the airline products I plan to review before the end of the year.

I spent the week before last crisscrossing the Atlantic reviewing new airline products, and for the past week Ford and I have been in California enjoying three top notch points hotels. In this series I wanted to take a detailed look at these three hotels.

I previewed our trip in a post a bit over a month ago, so this is a reworked version of that post that will act as an introduction to the series. I’ll talk about why and how we booked these hotels, and from there we’ll get straight into the reviews.

Before I even get into the reviews, I can’t emphasize enough how unforgettable of a time we had, and how much all three of these hotels impressed us. We’ve been to a lot of “exotic” places, but this might have just been my favorite trip we’ve taken in a very long time.

Driving to Big Sur, California

Usually when I want to “disconnect” I travel to the other side of the world, though in this case we didn’t even leave the country but felt like we were a world away.

This is a trip where I wasn’t just impressed by the hotels, but also by the destinations, as I had never been to Napa Valley or Big Sur before.

Here are the basics of our trip, and then I’ll have much more detailed reviews coming up:

Waldorf Astoria Beverly Hills

Based on our schedule flying through Los Angeles made the most sense, and since that was the case, we figured we might as well spend a couple of nights there. So we spent Saturday and Sunday night at the Waldorf Astoria Beverly Hills.

Waldorf Astoria Beverly Hills lobby

This is a well regarded Los Angeles-area hotel that also happens to be bookable with points.

Not only was there points availability for our nights (at the rate of 95,000 points per night), but it got even better than that. Ford and I both have the Hilton Aspire Card, and had expiring Hilton weekend free night certificates. I redeemed one for the first night and Ford redeemed one for the second night.


Waldorf Astoria Beverly Hills room view

What a phenomenal benefit for a hotel that would cost $700+ per night after taxes and fees if paying cash.


Waldorf Astoria Beverly Hills rooftop pool

See this post for more on the best credit cards for earning Hilton points.

Las Alcobas Napa Valley

Neither of us had ever been to Napa Valley before, so we decided to visit. We both like nature and wine, so Napa Valley seemed like a place that should be fun.

One of the best hotels in the area is Las Alcobas, which is a Marriott Luxury Collection property in Saint Helena (Las Alcobas has one other hotel, in Mexico City).

Las Alcobas Napa Valley room

This hotel is known for playing games with award availability, though for our dates it actually made more sense to pay cash anyway.

We were staying Monday through Thursday, and not surprisingly rates at this hotel are much higher on weekends, since many people just go as a weekend getaway.

While the hotel often goes for $800+ per night, we managed to get a rate of $500 per night, but:

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


Las Alcobas Napa Valley room view

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

A free night here would have cost 70,000 points, so in this case paying cash was the better value.

I even used some of my Marriott suite upgrade awards, and confirmed an upgrade to an upper vineyard view room, which would ordinarily retail for an extra $250 per night.

See this post for more on the best credit cards for earning Marriott points.

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. This means you can earn and redeem points, use suite upgrades, etc.

Alila Ventana Big Sur pool

I had heard amazing things about Ventana Big Sur, so we decided to spend three days there (Thursday through Sunday). While the cash rate for our stay was $1,000+ per night, I managed to redeem 30,000 World of Hyatt points per night here.

Alila Ventana Big Sur hot tub

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. We ended up getting a generous upgrade here as well.

Alila Ventana Big Sur villa

See this post for more on the best credit cards for earning Hyatt points.

Bottom Line

Our eight nights in California were incredible, and I don’t have enough good things to say about all three of these properties. It’s rare to have so many back-to-back hotel stays that are great, but they all exceeded my expectations:

  • The Waldorf Astoria Beverly Hills is gorgeous and has world class service
  • I enjoyed Napa Valley so much more than I was expecting, thanks to the friendly people, great restaurants, and generally beautiful scenery
  • Big Sur is possibly the most gorgeous place I’ve been in my life (I feel like a complete moron for not having ever driven the PCH through Northern California), and Ventana puts you right in the middle of all that

Stay tuned for the reviews, because this really was such a memorable trip.

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Comments
  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.

  37. @Lucky, you used a Suite upgrade to confirm an upgrade to… a vineyard view room? And they usually charge $250 extra for that? WTF?

    Also, why do you reward properties that play games with award availability and charge ridiculous fees? 🙁

    Finally, do you have plans to provide a disclaimer on posts that are updated/recycled? It’s always perplexing to see older comments on a “new” post.

  38. @ Tennen — Agreed, sometimes the rooms your “suite” upgrades confirm into aren’t actually suites and that’s not ideal. However, I have 15 of these expiring at the end of the year (as I hadn’t used any) so I figured I might as well apply them. I requested either an upper vineyard view room or a suite, and this is what cleared. Ultimately I was happy with that, because the view was incredible.

    As far as games go, it’s my understanding this was a tech glitch and that the hotel has now fixed their inventory.

    As far as “recycling” posts go, the truth is that this post is way more detailed than the previous one, and I spent about an hour on it. I’m not simply reposting the same thing again. I acknowledged in the post that I’m “reusing” the post as such (meaning the URL). I could have just as easily pretended it’s a new post, but it seems better for everyone for information to be consolidated, and to not lose the useful and awesome comments that some people left.

  39. Welcome to the best. We are undoubtedly so spoilt here in Calif especially on the Central and North coast hence our insane real estate values. So next time stop midpoint between Sf and La, San Luis Obispo, and stay at Madonna Inn. No points required but fun and an offering of everything SLO; slow paced, casual and absolutely stunning ocean and hillside views and hikes everywhere.

  40. @Ben

    I think it’s usually the right choice when you “recycle” these types of posts to keep the comments consolidated. And as far as I have noticed, you always mention when you are writing an updated post. However, when a post is an update of a breaking news situation where facts have changed, you usually put some sort of bold type notice at the top. Perhaps consider a consistent notice for all updated posts? It would also be nice to be able to go back and view the original version, but I recognize there may be technical challenges that prevent you from doing this.

  41. @Lucky, thanks for the explanation! I must’ve missed the update message because it was a few paragraphs down. I do agree with @BrewerSEA that a bold type notice at the top for *all* updated posts would be extremely helpful.

    I still think that staying at properties that play games with inventory or charge resort or “destination” fees rewards their behavior. IMHO, it’s better to avoid them and deprive them of business than to capitulate.

  42. @Lucky

    I cannot believe that you have not been to Big Sur before!

    My wife and I were told about Carmel in 1982 and we have spent over 1 year there, 1 week at a time – of course going to Big Sur every trip.

    Lunch at Nepenthe Restaurant just north of Ventana is fabulous

  43. @Lucky, so glad you discovered the magic of Big Sur. When I lived in LA, I’d sometimes head up for a night, enjoying the drive on Hwy 1, the smell of the ocean, the amazing food, and the great people. It truly is a special (if extremely privileged) place.

  44. Agree with comments about Sonoma over Napa. Also, I stayed at Carmel Highlands Inn on points for 3 nights in September. Views are spectacular, restaurant is quiet good and we basically had our own jacuzzi just outside our room. Rooms are ok but the huge plus are nice balcony and actual wood burning fireplace in every unit (with wood just outside your door).

    And finally, the BH Waldorf is a beautiful property. It was very quiet in July when we stayed using points and free weekend night certificate. Restaurant for breakfast is perfect and the rooftop restaurant is a delight. Both serve excellent food and top notch service. Pool staff was very good ,too. We sat next to a stereotypical sleazy fat middle-aged producer and his actress at the pool. It was like watching a movie. I was just next to her and he was promising the world with lots of future roles. She drank the expensive champagne and giggled and smiled throughout. She played the part well, ha!

  45. The Pacific Coast Highway was amazing. I biked it a few years back from Monterrey to inland San Louis Obispo and the view was absolutely incredible.

  46. So much for our LA meetup lol. Sometimes it feels like you dont care much about ur readers….no amenity kit giveaways, no meetups….

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