The travel gods conspired against me this Christmas break. I'll TRY and be optimistic that they were preventing me from getting lost at sea or buried in an avalanche. Silver lining...there are some good key learnings.
Lesson 1: He who hesitates is lost
A couple months ago I decided I better go somewhere interesting (and warm) during the week after Christmas to get some more stories and photos to share with you. That's the kind of guy I am. I did my standard searches, "Where to go in January" and "Traveling to X in January" and quickly honed in on Colombia. Cartagena sounded like a great place to ring in the New Year and I'm also addicted to the show Narcos...perfect! It's a few stops to get there (hate to waste limited time) so I got wishy-washy and started looking into Peru. My Peru itinerary started to get complex with a few in-country flights, a couple places didn't get back to me, etc., so I sat on it. Long story short, by the time I tried to book my flights, the points required doubled. I scrambled and looked into Cuba, Sri Lanka, Chile...nothing lined up. It's against my nature to burn points, so time for Plan B...or Plan F (depending how you look at it).
Lesson 2: Carefully review booking confirmation
Both my wife and I have two free nights, at any category Hyatt property (they no longer offer this benefit) from the Chase World of Hyatt card, that we need to use by August. This is something to obviously maximize as some properties can be $1k/nt, so a potential $4k value for us.
Very few category 7 properties
I tried to book the free nights at the Park Hyatt Tokyo for our summer trip but they won't accommodate 4 people. They make it a nightmare to find an available property online, so I called to try and get us a room at one of the two California category 7 properties (Carmel and Lake Tahoe), both within driving distance. After a rather lengthy call, I was able to book all 4 nights at the Tahoe property and surprise the family with a white Christmas. A week before our trip, a friend asked about our room so I pulled up the reservation to get the details. They had actually booked me at a category 5 property across the street from the property I had supposedly booked. I was not about to burn those nights, so called to cancel and negotiate out of the cancellation fee as they had a 14 day cancellation policy (weird for standard hotel).
Lesson 3: Don't use Booking.com (now on my banned list)
I went back to the drawing board and tried to use free hotel stays, or Chase points, at various locations. Nothing caught my eye (mainly because we needed a dog-friendly property), so decided to use Booking.com and pay cold hard cash. I used their filters to vet by dog-friendly properties, and found a great place in Yosemite. The place was dog-friendly, but the room description didn't call this out specifically, so I added a note to the booking to confirm. I then followed up with the Booking.com messaging feature and much later heard back that it wasn't dog-friendly. They ignored all future messages (besides their auto-reply) to resolve. I called the property and they couldn't do anything except validate that they had dog-friendly rooms available to which Booking.com could switch my reservation. I finally just cancelled the reservation as we now have two days to find a new place. At this point I have a $200 cancellation fee and more ignored messages.
I hope you're happy Booking.com
Not sure I can blame the Grinch or the travel gods, but I am hoping for your empathy. Actually, I thought it might provide some useful lessons to help you avoid similar mistakes and challenges. My daughter now has 103 F fever, so we may be staying home after all this. Hope you had better luck getting away during this holiday season.
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