I was out in Salt Lake City recently for Pluralsight’s Author Summit 2015. I just started working with the online training company last year to develop a series of courses preparing students for the PMP (Project Management Professional) Exam. Working with them has been an extraordinary pleasure thus far, because the company has been first rate in every instance thus far. This Author Summit was no exception. They covered my stay at The Grand America Hotel, where the summit took place.
The Grand America is clearly one of, in not the, nicest hotels in Salt Lake City. Located on the edges of downtown, the property was built prior to the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake several years back. There are 775 rooms in this gigantic hotel, along with a main restaurant, separate bars and cafes, spa and indoor pool facilities, a full salon and a number of emporiums selling everything from children’s toys to apparel and sundries.
I was booked into a corner room, featuring a cavernous entry foyer housing a marble-topped cabinet.
Inside was a fully-stocked minibar, with both drinks and snacks.
The room itself was gorgeous; an extraordinarily comfortable king sized bed could be found first, with an iPhone-compatible radio and actual HDTV service with a healthy array of channels. It may be petty, but I hate when hotels have nice, new 1080P displays hooked up to fuzzy, standard-definition feeds, something I still see far too often in my travels.
Farther into the room were a nice couch and a desk area, as well as large windows to enjoy a view of downtown.
Turning left, there was a separate sink area located outside the bathroom, along with another large window.
The bathroom itself was the room’s highlight, with a large tub, walk-in glass shower and an exceptional amount of fine marble covering every possible surface. The toilet was in its own room, to the left of the second sink area.
The view from the room was nice, as well, offering not just a view of downtown but also of snow-capped mountains during the daytime:
At the end of the summit, I had the chance to go snowmobiling for the first time. I departed for that adventure after falling prey to a sinus infection and somewhere along the way accidentally left my group and joined another, scaring a few people nearly to death in the process. I was beyond worn out by the time I got back to the hotel, but had a great time exploring the mountain:
The next morning, I enjoyed the hotel’s beautiful interior courtyard before heading to the main restaurant for breakfast.
They had a very affordable buffet available with a wide variety of items and an omelette chef on hand.
Using Points at Independent Hotels
I loved the Grand America. While there was nothing that stood out as crazy compared to what you might expect at other luxury properties, everything about my stay was truly 5-star quality, all the way down to how cozy the bathrobes stocked in the closet were after a dip in the tub.
That said, this isn’t a hotel I’d normally stay at, because it isn’t associated with a major loyalty program. Hyatt, Marriott, IHG, Hilton and SPG points are powerless when it comes to outstanding, independently-operated properties like the Grand America, as well as thousands of incredible boutique hotels around the world.
In many cases, branded hotels offer some of the world’s best experiences, but in some cases, such as in Salt Lake, you may find yourself wanting to stay somewhere traditional points programs won’t take you. The good news is, there are several ways you can make this happen.
First, you can use miles earned from a card like Barclaycard Arrival or CapitalOne Venture. Cards like these earn miles that can be redeemed at a fixed rate toward any travel expenses. If you find an affordable rate at a hotel you like, these programs can offer a great way to pay for your stay with points. The same is true when staying at branded properties that might have relatively affordable cash rates but belong to high categories in hotel loyalty programs. If a Hilton room would cost 55,000 HHonors points for the night or $179, for example, why not use 17,900 Arrival or Venture miles instead?
Second, you could use points earned via Chase’s Ultimate Rewards or American Express’s Membership Rewards programs to cover your stay, at rates hovering around 1¢ per point. Chase offers a 20% discount when paying for a stay using points, though you’ll normally be better off transferring these points to one of their many partner programs.
The same is largely true of Amex’s Membership Rewards, though Amex Platinum holders should also look into the Fine Hotels and Resorts program. While this program only benefits those willing to pay for their stay, benefits often include late checkout, early checkin, free breakfast, $100 spa or restaurant credit and even a third or fourth night free on your stay, all while offering rates largely in line with those you’d fine elsewhere.
Finally, you could simply decide to splurge and pay for your stay. If there’s a boutique property you’ve had your eye on and you can book it at a price you’re comfortable with, there’s no reason to feel bad about doing so! After all, this is merely an opportunity to earn points and miles you can put to use on a future trip.
Even many independently operating hotels and resorts offer airline miles as a perk of your stay, and you can always pay with a travel credit card that earns 2x or 3x points on hotel purchases. Assuming you put these points and miles to good use in the future, this could easily be equivalent to saving 10% on the cost of your room.
The Grand America offered an important reminder: as amazing as points and miles travel can be, there are still large swathes of the travel world where traditional points programs can’t take you. By either taking advantage of more universal point currencies or looking at your stay as an opportunity to earn more free travel in the future, you can still enjoy your stay while saving big on travel, now or later.