Given our pretty easy driving proximity to the Hyatt Lost Pines Resort and Spa we get a chance to visit the property at least 1-2 times per year.   Thanks to my stash of points we get to do it, even during peak season, without breaking the bank.  Hyatt Resorts in general are fantastic, and this one specifically has a very special spot in my points loving heart.  I’ve written about this resort several times (see below), and even did a video on the property last summer, so I won’t do a full-on review this time as not much has changed (and that’s a good thing).

Hyatt Regency Lost Pines Resort and Spa (2012)

Hyatt Regency Lost Pines Resort and Spa (2013)

However I don’t want to skip writing about it completely since my love for the resort grows and changes as my own daughter grows from an infant to a toddler to a full fledged kid.  To mark this visit I want to share the top five reasons I love Hyatt Lost Pines from the point of view of a mom of a 4 1/2 year old.

1.  Kids put down the electronics and play outside

My most recent visit to the resort was with my 4 1/2 year old daughter and her 6 1/2 year old (second) cousin.  For better or worse they know how to work iPads and iPhones better than most adults.  Of course this reality isn’t unique to them as kids growing up these days really are the digital generation and have had iPads literally attached to their strollers since birth.  Seriously.  What I love about this resort is that kids put down the electronics and just play.  They play chase.  They play catch.  They swim.  They lay on the grass and daydream.  They just act like kids and it is beautiful.  I don’t know what it is about this place that brings out the ‘kid’ in the kids, but it just works and it is priceless.

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Just tonight I saw what looked to be a teenage football player start up a game of touch football with anyone within ear shot.  The participants ranged from other teenagers down to 5 year old boys who asked if they could play too.  In regular life these kids probably would have never interacted, but here on the large open green grass they talk and play with each other without any organized activity requiring them to do so.

I’ve been here probably a dozen times and I have seen this sort of stuff happen on every single visit.  This shouldn’t be a special thing to watch as this should be the norm for kids, but the reality is that it is unique in the days of organized play dates, helicopter parents, and screen time outweighing play time.  And trust me, I’m just as guilty as the next from time to time with all of those things so no judgement here.

2.  They have reasonable water slide rules

If you don’t have young kids this one won’t make any sense, but as the mom of a kid who visits lots of resorts I have had the chance to experience reasonable and unreasonable water slide rules.  I know resorts have to balance liability with keeping kids safely entertained, but many seem to err on the slide of uber strict water slide rules.  What is unique here is that they let kids 42 inches and up go down the slide by themselves, but they let the younger kids still go down with their parents.  I wish all resorts did this as it is the perfect solution for kids who want to go down the water slide but want (or need) a little more support than just being sent down by themselves.

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C going down the slide with dad last year

My daughter went down the slide with an adult once or twice on this trip and then was ready to do it by herself.  At some resorts she has gone down by herself before she was really ready due to the “no adults with kids” rules and gotten scared.  This rule also allows kids who are on the shorter end of the spectrum still participate in the water slide fun instead of getting left on the sidelines thanks to being an inch or two too short.

3.  The beach and lazy river are made for the short crew

As the mom of a four year old who can “kind of swim”, but isn’t yet a true swimmer, I very much appreciate that the pool has a zero entry beach area that she can safely walk around in without me having to have a hand on her at all times.  The lazy river is also shallow enough in most parts that she can hop along and keep her head above water just fine.  She was able to do that even when she was three years old last summer, so I appreciate that the water features are actually designed with families in mind.  Don’t worry if you don’t have kids, there is an adult pool you can retreat to as well.

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Easily standing in the pool

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Perfect depth for chilling

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4.  You don’t get nickle and dimed

Prices for the resort can be expensive during peak seasons (north of $350 a night for standard rooms on some nights), though if you pick an off-peak day, or simply use points, the prices are not that bad.  I have seen weekdays in the popular summer season for $150 a night (even less on some nights) and if you use points it is just a Category 5 Hyatt that goes for 20,000 points per night or 10,000 points + $125 on cash and points stays.   There is also a $26 resort fee that covers internet, self parking, golf bag storage, and more.

The resort fee stinks, but here’s why I don’t hate it that much…you aren’t nickle and dimed in addition to the resort fee.  There is no extra fee for self parking, most of the many daily activities, the s’mores in the evening, the water slide, the popcorn with the outdoor movie, etc.  Of course some things like massages at the spa or Camp Hyatt cost extra, but the majority of kid friendly offerings at the resort can be enjoyed without having to pull out your wallet at every turn.  It makes the whole experience so much more relaxed when you are able to say yes to the s’mores or the craft activity of the day without having to factor in the extra cost.

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Enjoy evening s’mores without paying extra

 5.  It’s not that hot thanks to all the shade

In case you aren’t familiar, summers in Texas are generally very hot.  Here in Central Texas in late July it is close to 100 degrees, which is obviously sweltering.  This type of heat can put a damper on outdoor fun in many situations, but here at Hyatt Lost Pines it actually isn’t that bad.  Part of that is due to the emphasis on water activities such as the lazy river, but a huge factor that the resort feel much cooler is that there is shade everywhere.

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This shouldn’t be a huge surprise thanks to the name “Lost Pines”, but it is so important that it easily makes my short list of favorite things about the resort.  If it were not for the shade this resort simply wouldn’t be very enjoyable during the very months of the year that families want to visit the most.

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Shade while floating the lazy river

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Man-made shade picks up where trees leave off

Of course there are lots of other reasons I love Lost Pines including very nice staff, the updated rooms, visiting Regency Club for snacks, lots of suites for upgrading, free rollaway beds, being able to use points to stay here, and more.  However, I said top five reasons, so I won’t get into all those details this time.

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Evening snacks in Regency Club

Evening snacks in Regency Club

I’d love to hear about which family friendly resort you love and why!

Posted by Mommy Points | 12 Comments

For the last several months I have successfully been paying some of our recurring monthly bills via Evolve Money with gift cards that I purchased using rewards earning credit cards.  I usually buy these gift cards at office supply stores, grocery stores, or even gas stations.  I do this mainly to hit minimum spending requirements on cards that would otherwise be tough for me to hit, though also to occasionally take advantage of category bonuses or rebates/discounts that some stores occasionally offer on gift cards.  I have written about Evolve Money a few times, such as in this post, so head there for a more generic overview.

Earn More Points By Paying More Everyday Bills:

I’m not big into the game some like to call “manufacture spending” where you essentially “manufacture” expenses (usually involving buying gift cards and then finding a way to “cash them out” to rack up more points on your credit cards), but I am a big fan of making sure that I use my rewards earning credit card for as many of my real everyday expenses as possible and Evolve Money helps with that goal.

You can’t pay every bill in the world via Evolve Money, but you can pay lots of different bills to tons of different companies big and small.  This can range from local storage facilities, to utility payments, to car payments and more.  There are some limits on payments such as up to $1,000.00 in bill payments in a calendar day and a max of four (4) payments to the same biller account number per calendar month.

Payments Failing with Gift Cards:

Over the weekend I scheduled payments to pay my J Crew Card, Pottery Barn Card, and our local electricity provider.  I have paid all of these bills via gift cards on Evolve Money many times, but this time the payments to the J Crew card and Pottery Barn cards failed while the electricity payment went through just fine.  Yes, I really use a J Crew and Pottery Barn card – don’t judge!

The error message I got emailed for the two failed payments said that “there was a problem with your card.”  I was trying to pay with $200 Vanilla Visa gift cards, so at first I was worried something was actually wrong with using those cards now.  A little more digging on this Flyertalk thread and looking closer at the Evolve Money site showed that this problem is not localized to my cards or accounts.  Since the last time I used the site, they had introduced the ability to schedule payments a month and a half in advance, but the downside to that is that when you are paying with a gift card and one time use pre-paid debit cards you cannot make payments more than 1-2 business days in advance.

I didn’t want to schedule my card payments for future dates, but the system was forcing me to pick a date that was a few days out.  Ultimately I think this is what led to the payments failing since I was paying with a gift card.  The Flyertalk thread I referenced pointed to more problems with these sort of payments on the weekends than weekdays, so I have rescheduled the payments on a weekday and we will see what happens.  They look good to go at this point, but I will dig deeper and update if they fail again.

Recommendations when using Evolve Money:

  • Make payments on weekdays instead of weekends as they seem to process faster, which is key for gift card success
  • Try to not schedule payments into the future when paying with gift cards or similar as they are more likely to fail outside 1-2 days
  • Do not throw away the gift cards until you know for sure the payment has gone through
  • Pay attention to the texts/emails they send you that alert you as to whether the payment has succeeded or failed

I’m pretty confident the payments will go through as they are already showing as processing when I look at my gift card balance online.  I just think that over the weekend the system didn’t process the payment in time and the payment ultimately failed.

Evolve Money

Payment from this morning pending on gift card

Have you noticed any changes when paying bills via Evolve Money recently?  Is this a part of your family’s points earning strategy?

Posted by Mommy Points | 15 Comments

The Marriott Rewards program is very popular, especially to those outside of the core miles and points community I interact with online, day in and day out.  I am always blown away by how many awards their loyalty program receives each year at the Freddie Awards and this loyalty/popularity is backed up by how many business and leisure travelers I talk to in everyday life who almost always bring up Marriott Rewards once we start talking miles and points.  I know that Marriott has a tremendous footprint with more than 4,000 hotels around the world, compared to the 500 – 600 that are currently under the Hyatt flag, so I have to assume this massive presence around the world has something to do with it.  They also have lots of family-friendly properties that may or may not be luxurious, but they offer a clean bed close to the attractions that families want to visit.

Given the widespread popularity and the current 70,000 points Marriott Rewards Card sign-up bonus, I think it is time to devote a post to discussing how to stretch your Marriott Reward points to get as many “free” nights as possible.

Marriott Rewards® Premier Credit Card: Limited time 70,000 points after spending $2,000 in the first three moths + free night in Cat 1-4 hotel

 

Save Up To 33% With PointSavers:
You can stretch your Marriott Reward points up to 33% further by taking advantage of PointSavers.  PointSavers are hotels that are available for a lower number of points on select dates.  If a hotel is available via a PointSavers rate the price in points essentially goes down one category.

Marriott Award chart

A quick look at the current list shows PointSavers hotels such as Castle Hotel, Autograph Collection, in Orlando and the Courtyard Rome Central Park.  Given that there are 4,000+ hotels in the Marriott family the list was pretty short, but of course it is still worth checking to see if the two dozen hotels on the list may save you some points.

Castle Hotel

Castle Hotel Orlando

Some of the hotels on the list had PointSaver rates only on select dates, while others had the lower points price available for months at a time.  The easiest way to search and find the PointSaver rates are to select “My dates are flexible” and “Use Rewards points” when searching an eligible hotel. The Castle Hotel Orlando had availability for 25,000 points per night throughout August thanks to PointSavers while the Courtyard Rome Central Park had hit and miss 25,000 point availability toward the end of the year.

Both hotels are normally Category 6 hotels at 30,000 points but were just 25,000 points per night via PointSavers.  Ritz Carlton also has PointSavers, too, but I don’t see any hotels currently on the list.

5th Night Free on Points:

Just like with the Starwood Preferred Guest program you can get the 5th award night free if you redeem points for a Marriott hotel for 5 nights or longer.  This even stacks with the PointSaver rates, so you could get the Castle Hotel Orlando for on PointSavers for five nights for 100,000 points (20k per night) compared to the normal rate of 30,000 points per night.

The 5th night free is available on point redemptions whether you are on a PointSavers rate or not.

Get Hotel Nights and Airline Miles with Marriott Hotel + Air Packages:

Similar to the SPG Nights + Flights concept, the Marriott Hotel + Air packages offer you seven nights of hotel plus an amount of airline miles ranging from 25,000 – 132,000 miles depending on the airline selected and the number of miles desired.  You pay one points price for the entire package and of course the more airline miles you want, the higher the cost of the package.

They have a few different pricing models for this that you can see here, but I’ll share a couple examples using United miles since they are one of the best deals.  Let’s say you wanted to stay for a week on Marriott points at the Category 8 Wailea Beach Marriott Resort & Spa in Hawaii.  Category 8 hotels typically cost 40,000 Marriott points per night.  You would get the 5th night free bringing the seven day reservation to a total of 240,000 points.  However, for just 290,000 points you could get the seven nights of hotel + 55,000 United miles to use however you wish.  55,000 United miles are worth more than 50,000 Marriott points every day of the week and twice on Sunday.  The largest package in that category would be for 360,000 Marriott points and would get you the seven nights + 132,000 United miles.  That is an additional 120,000 Marriott points for 132,000 United miles.  Again, great trade if you have the Marriott points to do it.

Wailea Marriott

Wailea Marriott

If a Category 8 is too rich for your points blood, then if you are looking at a Category 1-5 property for seven days those packages start at 200,000 points for the seven nights + you receive 55,000 United miles.  That means you could have a week at Fairfield Inn & Suites Steamboat Springs and 55,000 United miles to help you get there (or anywhere else) for 200,000 Marriott points.  The seven nights without receiving airline miles would normally cost 150,000 Marriott points.  Your family of four could also hit the free hot continental breakfasts, enjoy two queen beds, and free internet at that property.  It may not be overly luxurious, but it is a way to bring a ski trip back into the realm of affordable!

Another popular use of the hotel + air packages would be to credit the miles to Southwest in order to get closer to the Companion Pass that requires 110,000 eligible points in a calendar year.  You can get more than that via just one package!  The Points Guy has a recent story of how that worked out well for his travel plans.

PointSavers, 5th Night Free, and Hotel + Air packages are three ways to stretch the Marriott points you earn from the limited time Marriott Rewards® Premier Credit Card, or any other source, that much more valuable.  In fact, earning points is generally regarded as the “easy part” learning the nuisances from each program to stretch your points is the part that takes a bit more effort.

If you are a Marriott pro, I’d love to hear how you stretch your points to cover as many ‘free’ nights as possible for your family!

 

 

Posted by Mommy Points | 11 Comments

The new round of IHG Rewards Point Breaks hotels is now bookable!  As usual, the Point Breaks rooms are available for 5,000 IHG Reward points per night and rooms are now available bookings (and stays) from July 28- September 30th.  Even though IHG has introduced some limits on how many Point Breaks reservations folks can book to help with limited inventory, you should still grab the nights you want ASAP before… Read the Rest.

Posted by Mommy Points | 6 Comments

During a recent stay in Washington DC for the 4th of July we split up our stay between two different hotels – the W Washington DC that is located virtually across the street from the White House, and the Grand Hyatt Washington that was located just a couple blocks away.  We split our stay in part to stretch points/dollars and in part because while we wanted the W for its… Read the Rest.

Posted by Mommy Points | 11 Comments

Chase Ultimate Reward points are one of my favorite types of points because they are transferable to hotel and airline partners including United, British Airways, Singapore Airlines, Southwest, Hyatt, Marriott, IHG Rewards, and more.  You earn points by obtaining and using Ultimate Rewards earning cards and then the points sit safely in your Ultimate Reward account until you want to use them.  You can then transfer them 1:1 to any… Read the Rest.

Posted by Mommy Points | 5 Comments

With IHG Rewards you can unofficially buy points for .7 cents each any time you want via a little bit of ‘work’ (as described here), however if you are starting from zero that method doesn’t work.  It also is a method that not all people are 100% comfortable with, so I think it is worth mentioning that right now you can purchase IHG points via a legit sale for almost… Read the Rest.

Posted by Mommy Points | 2 Comments

The preview list of IHG Point Breaks hotels is now available on the IHG Community Forum. The Point Breaks rooms will be available for 5,000 IHG Reward points per night for bookings (and stays) from July 28- September 30th.  This is just a preview list and the bookings do not go live until Monday of next week.  That is actually a good thing since popular hotels get snapped up relatively quickly… Read the Rest.

Posted by Mommy Points | 8 Comments

Hyatt has four all inclusive properties that you can currently make reservations at using cash or Hyatt Gold Passport points – the Hyatt Zilara Cancun (adults), the Hyatt Ziva Los Cabos (families), the Hyatt Zilara Rose Hall Jamaica (adults), and the Hyatt Ziva Rose Hall Jamaica (families).  The two Jamaica properties don’t open until November 2014, but the Los Cabos and Cancun properties have been open for a little while… Read the Rest.

Posted by Mommy Points | 17 Comments

Just as some of the fast and furious increased credit card sign-up offers of early summer had faded away, two new ones seem to be taking the spotlight.  The first isn’t totally new as there were some ‘creative’ folks who found ways to unearth similar offers on Flyertalk, but having it this publicly available for a limited time is news to me.  The second is just new and awesome all… Read the Rest.

Posted by Mommy Points | 9 Comments

One of my dad’s many dream ‘bucket list’ trips was to go to Washington DC for all the Fourth of July fireworks and festivities.  Politics aside, his blood bleeds red, white, and blue, and his love for the underlying foundation of this country is rivaled only by his love for fireworks, music, and holiday celebrations.  As I think I’ve said before, he’s kind of like Clark Griswold, only without some… Read the Rest.

Posted by Mommy Points | 20 Comments

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