The Problem With Hotel Thermostats (And What To Do About Them)

I know I’m not the only one to ask if it feels warm in a hotel room after checking in.

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Here is a picture of me thinking I could change the temperature in the room.

You arrive after a day of traveling and get to your room. After you put your bags down, you notice there’s a lack of air circulating in the room. First thought, find the thermostat. Turns out that pressing that temperature down arrow might not help your situation any.  Hotels are coming up with smarter and smarter ways to save on energy bills by putting you in less, or sometimes without any, control of the temperature of your room.

I remember our first encounter with an energy efficient room was on a trip to London. There was a slot near the door into which you had to insert your room key card so that the lights, television and air conditioner would turn on. This was fine if you were staying in the room but as soon as you left, everything went off. Our first solution, since we were a couple and had 2 room keys, was to leave one of our keys in the slot. Not the best solution but at least our room was cool when we returned. Then we sought other solutions. Were there other cards in our wallet that would work? Credit Card?  Those worked but we were not leaving one of those  in there while not in the room. An AAA card worked but we might need that for the places that gave discounts. How about our library card? Bingo!  It worked to keep on the lights and we didn’t need it during the day.We left a nice tip each day, kindly asking housekeeping not to remove the key from the slot after cleaning the room. Eventually we just kept a random hotel card key in our wallet at all times for rooms with such a system.

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Insert room key in order to get electricity and A/C

This experience was almost a decade ago and technology has improved a great deal since then. Hotels are now using motion detectors, infrared sensors, sound detectors and door monitors to tell if you are in the room and then change the temperature settings accordingly. The issues with the lack of control given to guests because of the new “smart” room technology seem to be increasing because I’ve read 4 articles on the subject recently.

I first remember reading an article on the subject back in 2010 showing you  how to “hack” your thermostat. I tried using tips from this post but was never in a room with the same type of thermostat.  More recently I’ve seen that mainstream publications like The Wall Street Journal  and the Los Angeles Times have written articles on the subject. The latter even gave some ways to trick the most complicated of sensor arrays.

Alas, those systems that rely only on motion sensors are not always guest-friendly. Unless they’re sleepwalking, guests who are abed aren’t moving in a way that a motion sensor can detect.

The solution for immediate relief is to buy a Mylar balloon (sturdier than a regular balloon) that trails strings or ribbons and let it move around your room, triggering the motion sensor.

Now I do admit, the idea of walking into every stay at a hotel carrying a Mylar balloon and then having it fly around my room all night are two of the most absurd images I can think of.  However, I do know one or two friends (and they know who they are) who, I have no doubt, might try this idea after reading this post.

The final thought on this issue is if hotels think we don’t care that the temperature in the room is out of our control, they will keep setting it to whatever they want. The solution is to complain to the hotel. Do so while you are there and the hotel may adjust the room temperature, thereby making  your stay more comfortable. If no relief is given, then a mention of this fact in an online review or survey will show them this is an issue that guests care about and can no longer be ignored.

Like this post? Please share it! We have plenty more just like it and would love if you decided to hang around and clicked the button on the top (if you’re on your computer) or the bottom (if you’re on your phone/tablet) of this page to follow our blog and get emailed notifications of when we post (it’s usually just once or twice a day). Or maybe you’d like to join our Facebook group, where we talk and ask questions about travel (including Disney parks), creative ways to earn frequent flyer miles and hotel points, how to save money on or for your trips, get access to travel  articles you may not see otherwise, etc. Whether you’ve read our posts before or this is the first time you’re stopping by, we’re really glad you’re here and hope you come back to visit again!

 

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My Rookie Mistake: The Tale of Two Hotel Stays in Fort Lauderdale

I made one of the most rookie mistakes on a recent hotel stay and I ended up paying for it, with cash. We needed a one night stay in Fort Lauderdale for when we were going to see a production of The Hunchback of Notre Dame by the Slow Burn Theater Co.  I wasn’t familiar with the area so I looked at Hotel Hustle to see if any good values were available to book a room with my hotel points. As it turned out, one of the best values for hotel point redemptions listed was at the Hilton Fort Lauderdale Beach Resort. This hotel is a category 8 resort (on a scale of 1-10) and rooms go for between 40,000 and 70,000 points a night. The day we wanted to stay, the rooms were listing for 50,000 points a night. That seemed steep but you also have to consider that a paid stay at this hotel was going for over $400 on that Friday night. Since most of the websites peg Hilton points to be worth 0.4 to 0.6 cents, getting 0.8 cents a point appeared to be a great deal.

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Photo from the Hilton Fort Lauderdale Beach Resort website

I do admit the location looked wonderful. It was right on the beach and wasn’t too far from where we needed to be. I had some Hilton points on Sharon’s account from a previous stay so I went and booked the room.

I started to have some concerns when I looked a bit further at the reservation details. We would be driving there for the night and the only parking available is by valet and would cost $39. So my free room would now be $39 + 50,000 points. Still not bad. This “resort” also adds a fee of $25 to the room for each night of your stay. For this fee you received:

  • WiFi access *unlimited devices
  • 2 welcome drinks
  • 2 Venti Starbucks Coffee daily
  • 2 daily Zephyrhills 16.9oz water
  • 2 beach chairs daily
  • kids activities
  • 20% spa discount
  • 10% gift shop discount
  • local and toll-free calls

I wrote to the hotel asking them to allow us to use my Hilton Diamond status for the reservation. I hoped they might waive the resort fee or at least this would have earned us more points back on the costs we were incurring and possibly a better room. We originally had to book it under Sharon’s account because she was the one with the points (and Hilton does not allow family pooling like SPG does). This was the response I got from the hotel:

Unfortunately we are not able to switch the status on a points reservation. The system does not allow us to do so as the reservation with points is the only one attachable. I apologize but on the hotel’s end it just not possible.

We look forward to your stay,

Now my “free” room ended up costing me $64.80 (don’t forget tax) plus 50,000 points. Most of the benefits of the resort fee were of no use since we were only staying overnight and were leaving early the next morning. We did stop at the hotel bar for our 2 welcome drinks, which were mediocre at best. The Starbucks coffee was from the coffee bar in the gift shop which “proudly” served Starbucks. That’s not a Venti Starbucks in my book so we stopped at a real Starbucks for our lattes. We also don’t drink Zephyrhills water because we think it tastes nasty. Finally, why the value of free local and toll-free calls is considered a perk anymore is beyond me. Like who does not have a cell phone?

We thoroughly enjoyed the show that night and saw that the company was going to be doing a production of another of our favorite shows, Titanic: The Musical. When we got home we immediately purchased tickets and started planning our next weekend trip.

So what did I learn from our first stay and what did I change the next time?  While the booking with Hilton points seemed to be a great value, I never would have paid $400 to stay at that hotel. Using that price was inflating the value I was getting for those points. I also did not take into consideration the additional fees associated at staying at this hotel. During our stay we did learn the locations of the places we needed to go in Ft. Lauderdale. This made it much easier to research hotels for our next trip.

I used my go-to hotel site, Tripadvisor, to look for hotels in the area. There was a good rate at the Sheraton Suites Cypress Creek of $158 after tax. That was much more in line with what we’d be willing to pay for this type of trip.

The hotel appeared to be an 1980’s era Embassy Suites that was rebranded to a Sheraton. The decor was a bit dated but still fitting in the Floridian style. The location, while being convenient to Interstate 95, was in the middle of a business park and next to the Tri-Rail railroad track. Not nearly as nice as the beachfront we were staying the last time, but fine for our needs.

We were still about the same distance away from the theater, the reason we went to Fort Lauderdale. We had a 2-room suite with a full living room and bedroom which was quiet and comfortable. A perfectly acceptable stay for us. Did I mention they also left a free bottle of Dasani water in the room for us without charging a resort fee, and parking was free?

For the miles and points geek, here’s where it gets interesting. Here’s a list of the Starpoints I earned for the stay:

  • 286 Base points (2 points per dollar)
  • 143 points (50% Gold SPG bonus)
  • 250 points (Gold SPG amenity welcome gift)
  • 286 points (Current SPG promotion)
  • 286 points (by using SPG Amex to pay for stay)
  • 3000 points (Suite promotion)

I love that last one. Starwood was offering 3000 bonus points for booking a suite. Since all rooms at this hotel are suites, all of the rooms were all eligible for the promotion. In all I earned 4251 Starpoints for my stay. Since Starpoints are regularly valued at 2.2 cents a piece, I received almost $93 worth of points back on my $158 bill (which could bring my cost down to $65 if you take those things into account)

So we have 2 hotel stays. One where I had to pay $65 in fees plus 50,000 Hilton points and another where I paid $158 but got back 4,251 Starpoints. For what we were going to Fort Lauderdale for, I’d much rather spend money and get back points than spend points and still have to spend money.

Like this post? Please share it! We have plenty more just like it and would love if you decided to hang around and clicked the button on the top (if you’re on your computer) or the bottom (if you’re on your phone/tablet) of this page to follow our blog and get emailed notifications of when we post (it’s usually just two or three times a day). Or maybe you’d like to join our Facebook group, where we talk and ask questions about travel (including Disney parks), creative ways to earn frequent flyer miles and hotel points, how to save money on or for your trips, get access to travel  articles you may not see otherwise, etc. Whether you’ve read our posts before or this is the first time you’re stopping by, we’re really glad you’re here and hope you come back to visit again!

This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary

 

Why I have a Disney Rewards Visa Card But Hardly Ever Use It

Sharon and I have been Disney fans for most of our lives. That being said, it should be no surprise that we each have the Disney Rewards Visa credit card offered by Chase.

Back when it was introduced, you can bet I had my application in even before the card was released. In fact, my card still says Cardmember since DAY 1.  It’s not the first Disney card that I’ve had in my life. As you see, I’ve had several.

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I’m quite proud of my Disney Credit Card selection – even the first one that was only good to use at The Disney Store.

I still have my account open and use it sporadically, just to make sure that Chase doesn’t close my account for inactivity. Why keep a card that you don’t use? There are several reasons:

  1. The card has valuable benefits for someone who visits Disney Theme Parks
  2. The card has no annual fee
  3. I’ve had the card for a long time so it helps my credit score
  4. I still like having a Disney card

Chase lists these benefits on their website:

  • $50 Disney Gift Card after first purchase if you have not received the bonus in the last 24 months
  • 1% in reward dollars on everyday purchases
  • 10% savings on shopping of purchases of $50 or more at Disney Store or DisneyStore.com
  • 10% off select merchandise purchases of $50 or more at select locations at Walt Disney World and Disneyland
  • Disney Character Experiences and Star Wars Character Experiences at our private Cardmember locations at the Disneyland and Walt Disney World Resorts. You’ll receive downloads of your photos to mark your visit
  • 10% off select dining locations most days at Disneyland and Walt Disney World
  • 15% off the non-discounted price of select guided tours at Disneyland and Walt Disney World Resorts
  • 0% interest for the first 6 months following the purchase of select Disney vacation packages or Disney Vacation Club real estate interest

Let’s look at these benefits, one by one, to figure out if they’re good or not.

The $50 gift card for a no annual fee card with no spending requirement isn’t bad.

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Image from Doctor of Credit

Signing up for a card for $50 is better than some offers I’ve seen like this one for a 2 liter soda for applying for a Walmart card (Sharon saw this picture and said she got a 2 liter bottle of Coke for filling out an application for a Discover card in the mid-1980s).  Chase does offer me a chance to refer my friends for this card since I have it myself. You can apply by clicking this link. The referral offer is slightly different and better in my opinion, if you can make the spending requirement. You will get a $200 statement credit when you spend $500 on the card within 3 months of opening the account. This is the same sign up bonus that Chase offers for the Disney Premier Credit Card but that card has a $49 a year fee. (Full Disclosure – if you use my referral and are approved, I do get a $100 credit.)

The 1% in reward dollars on purchases is really poor. If you had a different card from Chase, like the Chase Freedom Unlimited card, you would earn 1.5% cash back on all purchases, so earning only 1% back is disappointing in comparison. I look back at the time when I used a $200 credit I earned by using this card for a Disney Cruise. That means I put $20,000 of charges on this card over the period of several years. That spending could have been placed on a card which would have earned me so much more if I knew better back then. Don’t make the same mistake I did.

10% savings on Disney purchases might be of a great value to you but we don’t buy many things at Disney anymore. If we do, it’s rarely over $50. YMMV.

Disney and Star Wars Character Experiences. This is a perk that can save you a  bunch of time. When we went, the line for the Star Wars Experience was around 45 minutes. By showing my Disney Visa, we were escorted to a special line and waited 5 minutes before our audience with Darth Vader. I’m keeping the card for this benefit alone.

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Darth Vader was not happy with Sharon’s photobomb

The 10% off dining overlaps with a discount that I get from my Disney Vacation Club membership and from being an Annual Passholder so I don’t get any additional value from it.

We’ve done all the Disney tours we’ve wanted to see so the 15% off the non-discounted price of tours isn’t helpful to us.

I have used the 0% interest when paying for a cruise one time since I’ve had the card.

I do value some of the perks the card offers and I end up keeping it because it has no annual fee. You see, keeping cards that cost you nothing can be a good thing. This is because one of the things that goes into determining your credit score is your average account age. Holding a card for a long time increases the average age of your accounts (and when getting started in this hobby, you can open several cards quickly. If you have a thin credit history, that average account age can drop fast). I’ve had this card since 2003 and have no intention of getting rid of it.

Finally, I really do like having a Disney Credit Card. It’s something I think I’ve had as long as I’ve had credit. Now, I’m not totally thrilled of the card design I currently have (Sharon and I both have cards on the account and I picked the design with her in mind – she was a huge Tinker Bell fan at the time). I don’t use it much so it’s fine. I have a Tinker Bell card. I’m totally OK with that.

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When you open a bar tab with a Tinker Bell card, they tend to remember you.

I mentioned the Disney Premier Card earlier and the $200 bonus offered for signing up. It’s worth mentioning since they also keep pushing for me to upgrade. It has the same benefits as the regular card but it also carries a $49 a year fee. The main advantage they tout for it is you can earn 2% back on purchases at gas stations, grocery stores, restaurants and most Disney locations. You still earn 1% back at all other locations. Sounds appealing right? Well, it’s not really all that great when you think about it. I get 3x points for all our dining purchases with our Chase Sapphire Reserve card, including those at Disney locations (like the 195 points we got for our Nautilus drink and snacks at Trader Sam’s at the Polynesian Resort).

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I place a higher value on Chase Ultimate Rewards points than I do for Disney Rewards because I can change Ultimate Rewards points into hotel points or airline miles. With Disney Rewards I am only able to use them to get a Disney gift card. For our grocery store purchases we earn 4.5x back and for gas stations I get 3x from American Express. As far as getting discounts at Disney locations, I have most of that spending covered, too. I just got back 2x Citi Thank You points for the purchase of our annual passes. For us, nothing about the Disney Premier card beats other cards we already have. Even if you didn’t have a card which is better for everything, you could still get a Citi Double Cash card with no annual fee and earn 2% cash back on every purchase and use that money to pay for your Disney vacation. Now I’m not recommending you go out and sign up for a bunch of cards right away. Remember, you need to have goals and signing up for the right cards is part of that strategy.

So for me, I’m going to keep my no annual fee Disney card with Tinker Bell on it. If you’re a big Disney fan, it’s a worthwhile thing to think about…it’s just not a great card to put your spending on. I’ve introduced you to some of them in this article and we’ll get more into that in a future post.

Like this post? Please share it! We have plenty more just like it and would love if you decided to hang around and clicked the button on the top (if you’re on your computer) or the bottom (if you’re on your phone/tablet) of this page to follow our blog and get emailed notifications of when we post (it’s usually just once or twice a day). Or maybe you’d like to join our Facebook group, where we talk and ask questions about travel (including Disney parks), creative ways to earn frequent flyer miles and hotel points, how to save money on or for your trips, get access to travel  articles you may not see otherwise, etc. Whether you’ve read our posts before or this is the first time you’re stopping by, we’re really glad you’re here and hope you come back to visit again!

 

#TBT: Alaska ’09 Trip Report (Pre-Day 1)

PART 1 of 9: In August of 2009, I (Sharon) deserted my husband Joe and our puppy Dobby (at the time we had had her for about a month and a half) to go on a cruise to Alaska with the choir of which I was a member at the time (we were booked to sing on the ship). Some of my writing style has changed since 2009, some of my snark is exactly the same and heaven knows that cameras and photos have improved in the past 8 years, but here is the trip report I wrote about those adventures…the good, the bad and the ugly! 

Friday, August 14, 2009 (Pre-Day 1)

After waking up at 6:30am on Thursday morning and going to bed at midnight. I woke up at an ungodly 4:30am. It was so early that even Dobby, my daily 7:00am alarm clock in the form of a 4.5-month-old toy poodle, looked at me as if to say,  “what are you doing up so EARLY?” (I did admittedly take some small bit of satisfaction at ME waking HER up for her morning potty, for a change – and to say goodbye, of course).

Joe drove me to the airport and I met up with my singing friends “Carlene” and “Stewart” while I was waiting on line at Starbucks – but not before I saw the brand-spanking-new (well, to me – I don’t know how long it’s actually been there) Famiglia Pizza in Terminal A. Yay, we finally got a straight-from-NYC Famous Famiglia Pizza in Orlando again, after the one near Walt Disney World closed! Unfortunately, it’s in the terminal Joe and I hardly ever visit. Sigh.

Our plane took off on time and, joy of joys, whoever was supposed to sit between Carlene & I either didn’t show up or sat somewhere else. So we had plenty of extra room for our “stuff.”

img_0895They served breakfast around 10am. Well, they sold breakfast, anyway. It doesn’t matter if you’re on a nearly 6-hour flight; if you want something more substantial than one 1.4 oz oatmeal raisin cookie and a 1 oz bag of pretzels and soy beans, you’re going to have to pay for it. And, sucker that I am, I did. For $6 I got hash browns, sweet sausage and reconstituted egg product. Let’s just say the hot tea was good.

The rest of the (long, LONG) flight was thankfully uneventful and we arrived in Seattle around the time we were supposed to, if not a little earlier. We had reservations for the QuickShuttle shuttle bus but with a little more than an hour to wait for it, I took the opportunity to buy a salad, apple and Dasani water to go (lest anyone think I made 100% healthy choices, I also got a package of chocolate & peanut butter M&Ms, too).

img_0900img_0896img_0898I have no idea what our route was to Vancouver – I’ve never been to Washington State, let alone Seattle (nor Vancouver, for that matter) so short of the one famous needle-topped building and chain stores, I have no idea of anything about where we were or to what places we went. I saw signs that said we were on I-5 for quite a while, if that means anything to anyone. But otherwise, the trip to Vancouver was alternating cities, towns, mountains and naps. Oh, and the little old Spanish-speaking lady in the front row who never shut up. Ever. For the whole trip. She yak yak yak’d with her daughter(?) for the entire trip. ¡Ay, Dios mio!

We eventually made it over the border (Border Patrol Dude: “Why are you coming to Canada?” Me: “Because that’s where the cruise ship leaves from”) and they did indeed let us in. I even got the Border Patrol Dude to stamp my passport – something he says he never does. But hey, I asked, LOL!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter stops at a few other hotels AND Vancouver’s airport, we finally arrived at the Sheraton Vancouver Wall Centre Hotel, where we were scheduled for a 1-night stay and where, at some point, we would hopefully meet the rest of the choir.  It was a REALLY nice place, with two towers that were each 30-something stories high. We were in the South Tower, on the 14th floor. My room, which was originally supposed to be a double (long story), was an interesting L-shaped corner room with 2 double beds that overlooked a busy section of Vancouver.

After dropping off our stuff, Carleen, Stewart & I went in search of food, since all of our meals all day had been small and far between…so we were starving! The only problem was that we didn’t know the city at all so we pretty much just picked a direction and started going straight. We bypassed some icky-looking places that sold pizza, paninis, Viet-Tai, etc., checked out the place that a homeless woman recommended (no, really!) and eventually came upon a nice restaurant called the Bacchus Restaurant & Lounge, OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAlocated at the Wedgewood Hotel & Spa. There were LOTS of people in the main dining area – so much so that we were seated in the back. Or so we thought. But it eventually dawned on us that our sitting so far away from everyone else may have been less so because of lack of space and moreso because we were very underdressed for the establishment. Think a tiny step above a “nice” restaurant that’s “dressy casual” and then there was us, in varying degrees of jeans, sneakers, stretchy pants, polo shirts and Hawaiian shirts. Fortunately, they were still willing to take our money, LOL! Anyway, the food was delicious…I had a steak, Stewart had the NY Strip and Carlene got the duck – we didn’t have a complaint about any of it.

We wandered back to our hotel and, after spending some time on the free internet (YAY!) on the 3rd floor, I walked around and looked for fellow choir people – ANY choir people because, if nothing else, we had no idea of what time or where we were meeting the next morning, to travel to the ship. I finally met up with “Caroline” and “Sue” at the bar (most of the choir people were from the U.K. Two British people at the bar? Coulda knocked me over with a feather…). and they gave me the lo-down…have the bags ready inside our rooms at 11am, tags attached, and meet outside at noon. Got it! Went back to the room, called Carlene and Stewart to let them know the plan and then, with most of this blog mostly written, I could FINALLY go to bed!

Next Throw Back Thursday: Driving to the ship and our first day at sea!

Earn miles when buying those last minute roses for your valentine

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The shopping portals for the airlines seem to have figured out that most people procrastinate about ordering flowers for Valentine’s Day. You know it’s next Tuesday, right? If you are going to order your flowers online, there are no shortages of offers out there.

This list is of the bonuses being offered by different programs for purchases from FTD. You can get 25 miles per dollar spent at United, American or Delta. You can also just get cash back with Ebates, who is currently offering 20% back on purchases. If you join Ebates with this link you’ll get $10 when you spend $25. (Full Disclosure, they will also pay us a referral bonus)

I always check to see which portal to use before buying anything online, because even the major retailers will often offer you bonus miles. I’ve found a site called Cashbackmonitor, which gives a robust list of different shopping portals and I’m using it more and more.

For example, say I want to get roses for Sharon from FTD and earn American Airline miles for my purchase. Clicking on the link from Cashbackmonitor will take me here:

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As this is the offer I want, I would click on the “Shop Now” button and get this:

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You then sign in with your account info (you have signed up for the programs already, right?).  You will be directed to the website of whatever store from which you plan to buy the items.

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The browser will then identify you to FTD (via your browser cookies), and that’s how FTD and the shopping portals both know to issue the miles to you. It’s important not to go browsing around between clicking from the shopping portal and buying the item (if you do, the program could lose track of you and not give you your miles).

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I think 50 roses should be good this year and I’ll get 4,125 miles as well.

If you need to browse the ‘net or do something else and just come back later, put the items in your cart, close the website and repeat the above steps to get back to the final website.

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Remember that if you’ve been surfing around the internet between any of these steps, leave the item in your cart and close the browser window. Go back to the shopping portal website and click back to the store’s website. Click on your cart and then checkout.

Hope this gives you an introduction on shopping portals and how to use them. If you have any questions, please comment below or ask us on Facebook or Twitter.