Saturday, September 24, 2011

Dino's Gourmet Pizzaria in Mankato

Recently, I had the opportunity to experience a great restaurant in North Mankato, Minnesota.  Located on Belgrade Avenue, Dino's Gourmet Pizzeria has a great atmosphere with an old school brick wall and tin roof.  The restaurant had a number of different specialty pizzas on the menu, but alas, as I was with children, we did not get too ambitious with the order.

The service was timely, and they actually had some neat stuff for the kids to do while waiting.  Each table has a large paper on top of it with a bucket of crayons for the kids to practice their artistic abililty.  The waitress also brought out a small ball of pizza dough for the kids to play with.

When the food came, the both the cheese breadsticks and the pizza were quite good.  The atmosphere and food contributed to a great dining experience.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Marriott Rewards MegaBonus

Marriott Rewards is again offering a MegaBonus that rewards guests with a free night for every two nights spent in a Marriott property between September 15, 2011, and January 15, 2012.  There are, of course, a few stipulations to keep in mind.

First, you need to be a Marriott Rewards member.  Members earn points for every paid stay at any of Marriott's properties.

Second, you need to register on the Marriott Rewards website by October 15, 2011.

Third, you need to stay two nights between the dates listed above and pay with a Visa.  Marriott Rewards has a Visa card that earns points for every purchase, plus a pretty big bonus for the first purchase.

If all of the requirements are met, you get a free night in a category 1-4 hotel to spend by May 31, 2012.  There is a FAQ's section on the registration page.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Winnipeg Day Trip--Pictures Included

Last week, I took the family on a day trip to Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.  While this may seem like a long trip, from Grand Forks, it's only about 2.5 hours drive (counting the 15-20 minute stop at the border station).  Winnipeg is the capital of Manitoba Province, and is home to somewhere in the neighborhood of 700,000 people, so it's definitely larger than any town that I've lived in, not to mention it's the closest big city to Grand Forks.  



While in Winnipeg, we stopped at the Manitoba Children's Museum for a while to let burn some energy from the kids after a stop for lunch at McDonald's.  The museum is in a section of town known as The Forks, which is just at the edge of the downtown district.  This neighborhood got its name from its position at the forks of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers.  One of the incentives that encourages visitors to the Forks is the free parking that is abundant.  The Forks district is built up around the Winnipeg Union Station, and several of the old buildings are still in use, although generally for reasons different than their original intent.  The Children's Museum itself is housed in an old locomotive repair facility.  A few of the buildings house shops and restaurants.  We visited the Forks Market, which houses several of these shops and ethnic restaurants.  The various cuisines that one can sample, for a price of course, include Sri Lankan, Carribean, Asian, Greek, Italian, and Ukranian.  Winnipeg is actually home to a fairly sizable Ukranian population.  We ate our evening meal at the Forks Market.  Pizza from a Greek joint shown below.



Just across the Red River from the Forks is the French Quarter of Winnipeg, which is known as St. Boniface.  Although French is one of the official languages in Winnipeg, most of the buildings have English names.  However, several of the buildings in St. Boniface have only French signs.  One of the more famous sights in this section of town is the St. Boniface Cathedral.  The original building burnt in 1968.  Today, the facade of the original building remains, while the new church sits behind it.  Here are some pics that I took on the grounds:



Note the big hole.  This held a large stained-glass window before the fire.  Although it looks like there are doors, the new building appears where the doors should be.



I assume that this is supposed to be St. Boniface himself?  There were few markings that I could find outside the church, and the ones that I did find were in French--a language of which I have very limited proficiency.  We arrived after business hours, so there would have been no one to answer any questions I had anyway.



The cornerstone of the original building.


There is a sizable graveyard on the church grounds, presumably the final resting place for members of the parish.  Louis Riel, the father of Manitoba, is one of the more famous figures buried in the graveyard. 


Finally, here is a side view of the church.  This view probably gives a better idea that this is just the facade of a building that once stood on this site.  When looking at St. Boniface Cathedral, I can't help but think that this landmark could make a good sermon illustration on a few levels.  While we had a great time in Winnipeg, there is still much to see.  However, that will have to wait for another day and another trip.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Tip for Earning the Most Frequent Flier Miles

At times, it is possible to earn more frequent flier miles, while keeping the same point of origin and destination.  You may be wondering how this is the case.  When doing an online search for flights with a travel website like Expedia, Hotwire, etc., or a specific airline's website, numerous flights will generally pop up. 

What I tend to do if I don't have a tight schedule is look at the price of each flight, then the time, then the specific itinerary.  It is often possible to go a bit out of the way to earn more miles.  For example, I generally fly out of Grand Forks, ND.  I will always fly on Delta, because Delta is the only major airline that offers connecting flights out of Grand Forks.  Cleveland and Pittsburgh are nearly equidistant from my in-laws, so either place will work if I am flying to the in-laws.

These two destinations often have a similar price from Grand Forks.  However, flying to/from Pittsburgh earns me 200 more miles with one stop than a flight to/from Cleveland will.  The itineraries are not much different because I have to fly through Minneapolis, but one gets more frequent flier miles.  On my last flight, I actually did even better.  For about $2 more than having one stop, I was able to go from Pittsburgh-Memphis-Minneapolis-Grand Forks.  Since I wasn't in a big hurry, the three extra hours wasn't a huge deal, and I banked about 1,800 miles on this flight, as opposed to the 1,100 I would have earned if I had taken the standard Cleveland-Minneapolis-Grand Forks route. 

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Double Points and Double Miles

The Hilton Honors loyalty program is currently running a promotion that allows patrons to double their earnings through September 30, 2011.  Registration for the promotion is required, and can be completed on at the promotion web page.  The promotion page also includes the fine print restrictions for this earnings opportunity, such as the inability for guests to change their preference.  Therefore, those who choose to earn double miles will earn double miles for all stays during the promotion period.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Points vs. Miles--Marriott Rewards Comparison

The Marriott Rewards loyalty program offers members the option to earn points or miles for their stays.  For those who want to earn airline miles, the question can be raised of which option is best.

For those choosing to earn points, they will earn 10 points for each dollar spent at Marriott properties that do not include Residence Inn or TownePlace Suites.  Stays at Residence Inn or TownePlace Suites earn 5 points per dollar.  For those who earn Silver Elite status, a 20% bonus is added onto these point totals. 

Those choosing to earn miles earn 2 miles per dollar spent at the full service hotels like J. W. Marriott and Marriott.  For the lower level hotels, patrons earn a single airline mile per dollar.  These mileage earnings are not uniform by airline, but are a general rule.  Points can also be used to buy miles, but the cost is between 2.5 and 5 points per mile--less than would be earned if choosing the mileage option.

For those who want to earn miles at Marriott properties, the best option would be to use a credit card that earns miles on purchases while using the points option with Marriott.  The Delta Skymiles card, for instance, earns users 1 mile per dollar for non-Delta purchases.  In this way, guests can earn the same (or at least close to the same) level of frequent flier miles that they would have earned by choosing the mileage option, while still earning points for future stays. 

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Hotel in Gillette, Wyoming

Recently, while returning from Colorado with the family, I had the opportunity to spend a night in Gillette, Wyoming.  Gillette is a town that seems to be growing as a result of the boom in mining and energy production in Wyoming.  It's also close to I-90, which is a plus because of the long distances between stops through much of Wyoming.

We did not take I-90 to get to this destination, however.  Our route took us over Wyoming 59, AKA the South Douglas Highway.  This is one of the more remote roads that I have ever traveled, with only a couple of "towns" in a drive that exceeded an hour.  Gillette breaks the remoteness for the northbound traveler. 

The hotel that we chose for the night was the Fairfield Inn and Suites.  I chose this hotel because I could get Marriott Rewards points at a price that was comparable to other hotels in the area.  There are several hotels in the area, but most came in with a price around $100.  After staying at the hotel, I can recommend it, especially for those with children.  Included in the price for lodging for Marriott Rewards members is a fairly nice indoor water park.  There were a couple of water slides, a lazy river, and an area for smaller children (which was perfect for my family). 

In addition to a clean room and the water park, there was also a standard Fairfield Inn breakfast that did a good job of starting off the next morning.  The weather was quite cool and drizzly (as it seemed to be throughout our time in Wyoming), but it was nonetheless a good stay that pleased my children immensely.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Prague Pics--Jan Hus Monument

Yesterday, I posted on my other blog some pics and commentary regarding the Bethlehem Chapel in Prague, Czech Republic.  The Bethlehem Chapel is famous as the home base of the religious reformer Jan Hus, who was sentenced to death as a heretic by the Council of Constance in 1415.  Today, Hus is widely considered a national hero in the Czech Republic, and there are monuments erected to his memory.  The Bethlehem Chapel itself is a monument to Hus, and is open to the public for a cost of 50 Czech Crowns (about $3 US).

Another major monument to Hus is located in the Prague town square.  Each town that I visited in the Czech Republic had a town square that included a town hall (some pics of these will be forthcoming) and various shops, churches, and restaurants. Here are a couple of pics of the Jan Hus memorial in the Prague town square:













 The monument was officially unveiled on the 500th anniversary of Hus's execution in 1415.  As a nation that has often been under foreign domination, the Czech Republic views Hus as a national hero for standing up to one source of foreign domination. Here is a link with information regarding the monument itself.  One of the coolest things about the sites in the square is the cost.  They are generally free to observe for anyone who happens to be within viewing distance.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Choice Rewards and Air Miles

The Choice Hotels chain of hotels gives members the option of earning points toward hotel stays or frequent flier miles with several airlines of choice.  For most of the upper-level hotels in the chain, guests can earn either 10 points per dollar spent on the room or 250 airline miles per stay for most airlines (although this can vary by airline).  The question can arise on which choice to make.

Frequent visitors may find the opportunity to earn free nights appealing.  However, some guests may prefer to rack up some miles.  Members of the Choice Privilege program can choose to spend their points on options other than free hotel stays.  1,000 frequent flier miles can be had for 5,000 points.  However, this is not the most cost-effective use of points.  When using the points to buy miles, the member must cash in 4 nights @ $125/night.  The chain has many hotels that cost quite a bit less than $125/night.  Some rooms can be had for about 1/2 that cost.  If a member can book a single night stay at four hotels for $65/night, he or she can get the same 1,000 miles for about 1/2 the cost.

To recap:
Scenario 1--Cashing in 5,000 Choice Rewards points (costing $500) for 1,000 miles = $.50 per mile cost
Scenario 2--Spending $260 for 4 nights to earn 1,000 miles (250 per night) = $.26 per mile cost

Please keep in mind that multi-night stays at a single property earn only 250 miles.  The 250 miles are per stay.  If you are going to stay more than one night, it would probably be better to choose the points for that stay.  You can change your preference for each stay to maximize your earning potential.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

A (Nearly) Free Hotel for a Week

Many hotel chains offer frequent travelers the opportunity to join their loyalty programs.  These programs often offer points toward hotel stays, airline miles, and other leisure or consumer goods.  Marriott offers its guest the opportunity to join its Marriott Rewards program.  I have actually been a member of this program for about eight years.

The Marriott Rewards program provides member the opportunity to obtain a credit card from Chase Bank that earns points toward hotel stays.  Marriott just sweetened the pot.  For new accounts on the Marriott Rewards Premier credit card, users will earn 50,000 points and a free night in a category 4 hotel, plus Chase will waive the $85 annual fee for the first year.  These are just some of the benefits of this card, which you can view at the link above.

If a couple were to both get one of the cards, they would be able to get 100,000 points, which would pay for 5 nights at a category 5 (of 8) hotel.  Each night at this level is 25,000 points, but the fifth night is free.  Hotels at other levels require differing amounts, so you could actually get more nights if you chose a less-ritzy stay.  If you stay at a category 1-4 hotel, you get two free nights as a bonus.  Therefore, you could get an entire week at a Marriott hotel in many areas of the world.  Not a bad deal.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Hotel in Wall, South Dakota

Where on earth is Wall?  Why would anyone stay there?  I'm sure these are questions that some of you may be asking.

Actually, Wall is a bit of a tourist trap off of I-90 about 50 miles from Rapid City.  Wall is the home of the famous Wall Drug, one of those stops that gets advertised for about 100 miles before a driver reaches it.  It's also really close to the Badlands National Park.  The population of Wall is less than 1,000, but it has several hotels for road-weary travelers.

One of these hotels is the Best Western Plains Motel.  I chose this hotel basically at random on a recent Western road/work trip.  In many of these small towns along western interstates, you can expect to pay a bit more for a hotel room than you would in a town with more competition.  The room was about $100.  There were both positives and negatives about this hotel.

Positives:
1. There is a pool.
2. The hotel has free high-speed internet.
3. The room was surprisingly large.  I expected a very small two double bed room consistent with an older hotel.  However, there was way more than enough room to feel comfortable with two adults and two children.
4. The room was clean.

Negatives:
1. There are no interior corridors.  Guests have to park outside of their room and use outside access.
2. There is no elevator for those who are staying on the second floor.
3. The pool and breakfast require guests to walk across the parking lot to a separate building.  While this was a bit chilly in June at about 60 degrees, I would hate to have to make the walk in January or February.
4. The water has a bit of a strange taste.  The hotel said that Wall grew up because of its great water.  It wasn't really cold, and it had a bit of a strange taste (for a guy used to drinking city water).

Overall, we had a good stay, and the hotel more than met our needs.  I can definitely recommend this hotel for those needing a stop in the Wall, South Dakota area.