Loving Lithuania

Hello Dear Readers!

I’m writing to you from the balmy climes of Nebraska, where I’m helping a friend film a documentary about Native American veterans. But I digress. I’ve got one last post for you guys about Lithuania before moving on to other trips.

We had an action packed few days during our little weekend trip, and the crowning moment (in my humble opinion) was arranging a home cooked meal with some local Lithuanian folks in Vilnius.

Now, you’ll likely recall that Harrison and I have done this before, in Georgia, over New Year’s. We had an amazing time and I swear I didn’t drink all the alcohol.

Ok I lied.

Still, we had such a good time during our first adventure that I decided we had to do it again. This time I booked via eatwith, and we were neither shoved in a trunk nor drugged and sold into slavery, a possibility I never even considered until my family brought it up.

This time around we had a luxurious Lithuanian meal, and we weren’t alone!

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From left to right: yours truly, Harrison, our lovely hosts, and the two French folks who joined us during dinner.

We had a wonderful time enjoying a three course meal inside their insanely fancy home.

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Just my living room, nbd.

Now, dinner was at the end of our day, which we had spent wandering throughout the city. One of the coolest locations we ended up going? Užupis, a commune-esque neighborhood just outside of city central with its own laws, edicts, and constitution.

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Please comment on my fantastic photography skills.

The neighborhood itself is very cool, with tons of unique features, including some awesome graffiti and picturesque sites.

 

 

 

 

 

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I’m not even sorry.

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All told, Lithuania was an unexpectedly awesome trip. We packed it full and enjoyed every minute of it- from the good food to the pleasant people to the cheap as hell cost.

10/10 recommend.

-Carissa “Not Quite a Victoria’s Secret Angel” and Harrison “He Totally Deserves It!” Diamond

The Magnificent Maldives- Reserving a Room (For Free!)

Hello Dear Readers!

I’ve made so much fuss over the last year about the Maldives, and previously when I wrote about going, I detailed how I would spend points for nights at the Park Hyatt Maldives. Well, like I told you before, I ended up trading in those nights for a 4 day stay at the Conrad, simply because it was easier (and I wanted to go to their underwater restaurant.)

So how did I do it?

Well, the Conrad Maldives is the absolute highest category hotel that they’ve got, clocking in at an astonishing 95,000 points/ night. For reference, their cheapest hotels (Category 1) go for a mere 10,000 points/ night.

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I spent all year saving up for this, using sign up bonuses from the Hilton Honors Ascend card (which offers 100k points after 3k spend in 6 months) and the now defunct Citi Hilton Reserve card, which offered two free weekend nights at any hotel after 3k spend in the first three months.

I also saved up all the points I’d ever earned from doing my Diamond status challenge and made sure most of my stays during the last year were at Hiltons. This wasn’t just to earn points (though the earning ratio is vastly improved when you have status), but also because being a Diamond member means I get better perks here than at any other chain.

If you’re looking to acquire Hilton points, you can get the card I mentioned above as well as the Hilton Honors Aspire card, which earns you 100k points after 4k in spend in the first three months. (It also gives you Diamond status simply by owning it). There’s also the no annual fee Hilton Honors card, which gives you 50k bonus points after 1k in spend in the first three months.

Obtaining these three cards will net you a minimum of 250,000 points before spend (which will easily drive it up another 10-15k)- nearly enough for three nights at the Conrad Maldives. If you can get yourself up to 380,000 points (very doable in a year, as the Hilton cards earn rewards very quickly), you’ll have enough points for 4 nights. The Hilton Honors program gives the 5th night free on all hotel stays, so you’ll be able to stay for 5 nights for the cost of 4!

So, yes, it’s expensive. But you’re also redeeming your points at a hotel that regularly goes for over $2,000 a night, so you’re making it well worth your while.

The reward room you get is the beach villa, which is nice enough on its own. But a mere month before my arrival, Hilton accidentally made overwater villas (normally a $150-$300/ night upgrade) available for redemption for only 95,000 points a night- the same rate as a beach villa!

Unfortunately, I was past my cancellation window, so thought I had lost the opportunity to snag this. However, I still gave the Diamond desk a call and to my extreme surprise, they pulled some strings, replacing my 4 night stay in a beach villa with 4 nights in an overwater villa at no extra cost! I was more than a little pleased, and have continuously gloated since.

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For us!

Anyway, if you’re looking to stay, those three cards are the easiest way to earn large quantities of points, and once you’ve accumulated enough, it’s worth your while to aim for 4 nights and get 5. If you’re averse to too many cards, American Express transfers points to Hilton at a 2:1 ratio, so you’ll need a mere 190,000 American Express points for your 5 nights at the Maldives.

Up next, more fun and less points. See you soon!

– Carissa “Smug AF” Rawson

Maldivian Money- The Monopoly Money That Wasn’t

Hello Dear Readers!

I’ve got a great many things to say about the Maldives even though it was a relatively short trip, but half of them are to do with points and the other half are about what I actually did while I was there. And if you’re not into points- well, then, today is your lucky day!

Today I’m going to tell you a story. It’s a good story- a tale of both woe and triumph, (but mostly woe), where a girl learns a costly lesson but also has an amazing time. Those things aren’t mutually exclusive, are they?

So. I told you all how the Conrad Maldives is expensive, right? And I knew this going in. In fact, I broke down for you exactly how to save alllll kinds of money during your trip.

And yet.

And yet.

It was our first night, you see. Harrison and I had just arrived, met up in the Conrad Lounge at the airport, and made our jolly way via seaplane to the resort. (Which was amazing, by the way).

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Super cool!

And we’d enjoyed the bottle of sparkling wine that they’d left in our room. We’d taken a dip in our own private pool, and had already swam off the edge of our overwater villa down into the ocean.

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We were flying high, you could say.

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So we wended our hungry, tipsy, way down to dinner. It was gorgeous, an absolutely phenomenal view. The restaurant was built on a deck over the beach, and nearly no one else was there, which meant that the lights, softly glowing, fell only on us, the sand, and water, while the gentle crash of the waves kept us company. Such a scene paved the way for excess, as the magic was kept alive through small glasses of champagne, toasted tipsily to each other, to our fortune, and to our immense luck at being there in paradise, together.

One, two, perhaps three glasses of champagne each.

And dessert. You can’t have a luxurious dinner without dessert, right? Molten lava cake and ice cream, melting messily on our plates as we laughed, drank, and toasted.

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Such indulgence, the scene was almost fantastical, like something out of a movie. I could write you volumes about it, but suffice to say that it was so great I almost don’t regret what happened next.

You know those places that don’t publish their prices? And their saying is “if you have to ask, you can’t afford it.”

Well, we should have asked. Because when that bill came- oh Lord did it come.

It was so expensive that at first glance I looked down, scoffed, and reached for my wallet, thinking that the prices were in “Maldivian Money-” some sort of Monopoly money that meant nothing to my mighty US dollar.

No, no they were not.

And that’s the story of how I spent my entire budget on my first dinner in the Maldives.

– Carissa “Worth It” Rawson

The Magnificent Maldives- Diamond Status Is Important!

Hello Dear Readers!

Are you guys as excited as I am for this series of posts on the Maldives? I had such an excellent time there, and really cannot think of a more excellent way to spend my 28th birthday.

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Mandatory paradise selfie

So aside from all the beautiful photos, there are actually quite a few things that went into coordinating my trip to the Maldives.

Our topic today is Hilton Diamond status, which I’ve written about before, but whose importance becomes significant when talking about the Conrad Maldives. You see, when you book a $2,000/night hotel, they sort of expect you to be able to afford it. Their bottom line doesn’t rest on travel hackers who use points to manipulate themselves into luxury. And why would it?

But here’s the thing. When your hotel comes in at 2k a night, it suddenly seems reasonable to start charging $50/person for breakfast. Or $500/person for dinner.

What I’m saying is, it’s not cheap.

And I’m only fake rich. I’m points rich. Which means that I absolutely cannot afford to eat my way through my annual budget.

This is where status comes in. You see, Diamond members receive all kinds of perks whenever they visit Hilton hotels. At the Conrad Maldives, there’s an entire list of benefits you get- check these out!

• Free breakfast for two at their restaurants Atoll and Vilu, daily

• Afternoon Tea at their Mandhoo Restaurant from 4-5pm, daily

• Happy hour at Vilu, from 5-6pm, daily

• Fruit basket with chocolate in your room at check-in (refilled daily)

• Free bottle of wine at check-in

• $25 spa discount card on arrival

These benefits are especially important when you consider the fact that I wasn’t kidding about those meal prices. The price to eat dinner at their underwater restaurant really is $500/person, though you can certainly eat cheaper at any of their other restaurants. Over the course of a four night stay, your meal bill can easily run into the thousands, and that doesn’t begin to cover alcohol. But, if you play your cards right, you can avoid most of the costs of staying at the hotel- eat breakfast late, snack on fruit for lunch, indulge in tea at 4, and run over to happy hour to have a few free drinks before dinner. With that, most of your day is covered. It turns an incredible indulgence of a vacation into something financially manageable.

So that’s what we did. Harrison and I enjoyed the hell out of their massive breakfast, which included a sushi station, an egg station, ice cream, crepes, pancakes, waffles, and even sparkling wine! In short, it’s amazing. You better believe I ate as much food as humanly possible.

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Round one of ten

Even better, our personal concierge, upon learning that it was my birthday, arranged to have a cake (complete with candles and matches) sent to our room. It was excellent!

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Feeling like a queen

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Anyway, long story short, the importance of Diamond status cannot be overstated, especially at these crazy expensive resorts, where you can save hundreds of dollars on your vacation simply by having status. Oh, and how did I get it? Check it out here, for a guide to matching your way to elite status.

See you all soon for more posts on the Maldives!

-Carissa

Intercontinental Moorea: Family Friendly Fun

Hello Dear Readers!

I’m pretty excited to talk about this today, simply because the Intercontinental was such an awesome stay.

I’ve told you guys previously that I have Platinum status (the second highest) with the Intercontinental Hotel Group (IHG) simply because I hold their co-branded credit card. It’s got a $49 annual fee and gives you some pretty decent benefits. The sign up bonus from this card is also how I booked these nights, as detailed here.

Anyway, the benefits of being Platinum include early check-in, late check-out, a room upgrade, and a welcome amenity. That’s pretty cool, but there’s another oddball program out there specific to the Intercontinental Hotel called the Ambassador program.

Unlike every other program, this one you can purchase for $200, and it provides a host of benefits specifically at Intercontinental hotels. I’d been wavering on whether or not to purchase this, but on the day I was due to check-in, I went ahead and did it. (I’ll detail all the other benefits of the Ambassador program in a later post)

I’m so glad I did. You see, since I was booking my stay using points, I only qualified for the cheapest room available. That room, which goes for $300/night, is a hotel room in the main building.

With my status as a Platinum member, the hotel went ahead and upgraded me to a premium hotel room. This was about a $30/night difference. Not a huge deal, but pretty cool.

However, when I arrived, I wrote down my newly purchased Ambassador number on the check-in form, telling the reception clerk that I was indeed a Platinum Ambassador.

I kid you not, he gasped, starting typing furiously on his computer, and then swiftly disappeared to the back room.

When he came back, he handed me the key to my room, informing me that as a Platinum Ambassador, he’d gone ahead and upgraded me to their best available room, which was an entire bungalow with another private pool.

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These rooms go for about $600/night. That’s a difference of $1200 over the course of my three day stay, and an excellent return on the $250 investment in my status ($49 for the card and $200 for the Ambassador program).

I was floored. I thanked him profusely, loaded myself and my luggage (my backpack) into a golf cart, and I was off.

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The Intercontinental, while on the same island as the Hilton, is a totally different world. It’s on the opposite side, for one thing, and this hotel is much more…tropical.

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Where the Hilton was polished and pruned into perfection, the Intercontinental is a part of the environment, a fact you can see as wild animals climb the many lush trees. This hotel also houses a sea turtle recovery clinic and a dolphin program, both of which are free to check out as a hotel guest.

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How cool is that?

I really enjoyed my stay here. I dug the different vibe from the Hilton, and I’d have a hard time choosing between the two in the future. However, while the Hilton gave off a very romance-y honeymoon feeling, the Intercontinental seemed much more geared to families, and I saw a lot more kids here. The hotel is also a lot bigger, and takes a while to walk from place to place.

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I signed up for the themed buffet here too, since I was interested to see how the shows differed, and what kind of foods they would serve. The food was great- a traditional Polynesian barbecue, but you guys. It was the same show as the Hilton. Like, I don’t mean the same style. I mean the same exact performers came over two days later and did the exact same show at the Intercontinental. I was a little peeved, I’m not going to lie. At nearly $100 for dinner I felt a little gypped, and sat sulkily on my phone for a fair bit of it.

That is, until the lead dancer took advantage of my inattentiveness and pulled me on stage to dance. Luckily there was no one there to film it, so my poorly performed Polynesian dance is forever lost to history.

Next up- the benefits of the Ambassador program!

-Carissa “Platinum Ambassador” Rawson

 

The Hilton Moorea: Honeymooners and Romance

Hello Dear Readers!

As you know, I’ve just spent the last few days on the island of Moorea, in some of the best hotels I’ve ever seen. My trip overall was very relaxing- I got up every day, hung out at the pool, swam in the ocean, and generally enjoyed so much needed downtime.

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It’s absolutely stunning

Today’s post is going to focus on the Hilton Moorea, my first hotel on the island. I broke down before how I booked it, but to summarize, I used Chase’s travel portal to book the hotel. This is because the price was $772 for two nights, as opposed to $1500 on Hilton’s own website. (Chase acts as a third party booking site, much like Priceline.) I also used my Chase Ultimate Rewards to pay for it, which can be redeemed at a value of 1.5 cents per point (if you have the Chase Sapphire Reserve), meaning I spent just over 50,000 points for the two nights.

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Now, since I booked on Chase I wasn’t able to receive any of my Diamond benefits, but I figured the $700 price difference was worth missing out on late check-out and a room upgrade. They even gave me an upgrade anyway, simply because they didn’t have the room I had originally paid for.

 

Let me tell you, this place was fantastic. They have hotel rooms, but I booked a bungalow with my own private pool, which is luxury at its finest.

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My first thought upon reaching the Hilton was “pristine.” This hotel, costing $700/night, can afford to care for every detail. It’s also a very small resort, with only about 100 rooms. It’s got a number of overwater villas (which I didn’t pay for) and lends out free snorkeling/kayaking/paddle boarding equipment to enjoy at the water.

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My biggest gripe with these hotels is the price they charge for everything. Like, I get it, they expect someone who’s staying here to be down with paying $17 for a cocktail, but I most certainly am not. Luckily, my breakfast was included with my room rate, and I’ve always got bunches of food squirreled away in my bag in case of situations like this.

I did treat myself once to the traditional Polynesian dance show and buffet, which the concierge informed me was available for a “nominal” fee of $87. (Gag).

The show was really cool:

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My second biggest gripe was that I was the sole lone traveler, a fact which apparently boggled the mind of everyone there. This is definitely a honeymoon destination, so be prepared to face lots of questions if you show up without someone on your arm.

Overall I really enjoyed my stay at the Hilton, and absolutely plan to come back here.

I mean seriously, who wouldn’t?

-Carissa “No, That’s a Table For One” Rawson

¡Hola Mexico! An All-Inclusive Experience: Part 2

Hello Dear Readers!

Today is the day for the rest of the photos. Are you guys ready?

Our incredible spa deserves its own little photo set:

These people were so good that we went back twice over our four day stay. You can see me in the photo above drinking hibiscus tea and trying to look inconspicuous.

These photos don’t do the food justice. Believe me when I say it was phenomenal. I mean, come on, filet mignon! 

We also took photos every night in this blue-lit pavilion, in which Chrissy looked like a regal goddess and I looked like I accidentally walked into the photo.

Overall, we had an amazing time, and let’s be real, we’re already planning to go back.

Until next time!

-Carissa “Less Guapa” Ragland