Traveling More Cheaply AND Using

Posted by Krista on March 21, 2015

Over the Christmas holidays, I read my friend Matt Kepnes’ book, How to Travel the World on $50 a Day. I first met Matt back in 2009 in Chicago at a mini travel-blogging conference after BlogHer. He was — and is — living the life that most of us can only dream of, traveling the world and running a successful website all at the same time. Matt, if you ever need a personal assistant, you just let me know.

You should definitely check out Matt’s book if you have a chance. It made me think a bit differently about the things I spend money on when traveling, and that alone made it worth the £9.74 investment. So when I was looking for a hotel in Helsinki, rather than my usual large business-class hotel that earns me points or the luxury boutique hotel with expensive soap and iPhone chargers and bluetooth speakers, I went with the design-led-but-still-cheap Hotel Helka at £59 a night. And while that’s certainly not the $50 a day that Matt gets away with, it was a lot better than the £150 a night I probably would have spent otherwise. Matt, it only took me six years to adopt your principles, but I’m getting there!

I also experimented with a new booking site in making my reservation. It’s called and their (very good) gimmick is that you can earn additional frequent flyer miles with your booking. This was my compromise with myself…cheaper hotel, but get more miles. Plus, I booked my stay using my BA Amex so I got even more miles there. I have the BA Amex Premium Plus Card, which gets you 1.5 Avios for every £1 you spend and 3 Avios for every £1 you spend direct with British Airways or BA Holidays.

Back to Kaligo…here is how they describe themselves on their About page

A brand you can trust and enjoy, is a leading global hotel booking platform that rewards customers with incredible miles & points across a wide range of favourite loyalty programs.Launched in 2014, Kaligo offers great rates and a large selection of 300,000 properties across more than 200 countries.

While I saw lots of attractive offers on for my Helsinki stay — two nights at the Hilton Helsinki boasted 3200 British Airways Avios — per previous, I chose the much more moderate Helka Hotel, which included a bonus of 700 Avios. I was very focused on saving money this trip and The Helka cost me just 59 quid a night. Kaligo’s confirmation noted that I should receive my Avios within six weeks after my stay. I just checked my Executive Club statement and the 700 Avios arrived five business days after I checked out of the hotel.

I can’t think of a reason for not using Kaligo for all my hotel bookings now. If I can get extra miles…why not??? (Although please note that booking through Kaligo may mean you can’t otherwise earn points on your stay.) Sure, I am also a member of Expedia’s Reward Program in the U.S. but to be honest, I have totally no idea how it works. (Fodder for further investigation, of course.)

I liked the Helka overall, but I will admit…I missed my luxury bath products. Also, the bed was not the most comfortable one I’ve ever slept in. That being said, the hotel breakfast was awesome — why is it that tourist class hotels include breakfast but luxury hotels do not? The bar area was also pretty cool. I basically tried to spend as little time as possible in my hotel room.

Here’s my little video tour of The Helka…

So in summary…I would definitely use again for sure. And, thanks to Matt and his book, I will definitely be more price-sensitive when choosing hotels in the future. More money to spend on me!! And all the Marimekko and Iittala in Finland…

Check out these other articles for more details on

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Hotel Review: Le Meridian, Tampa

Posted by Krista on December 29, 2014

Things happen in your life that you don’t expect. Like your father moving to Tampa. The west coast of Florida is full of Harley Davidsons and mustaches and motorcycle cops. My dad is a khaki -and linen shirt kind-of guy who likes to dance the mambo. Hmmmm. But here he is, in Tampa. And British Airways actually flies direct from Tampa to London so here I am too.

Downtown Tampa is a city that time forgot. I try to take a walk around town and it depresses me. Maybe I’m in the wrong part of town. I hear the museums in Tampa are great. But there are a lot of homeless men on bicycles and frankly, I’m not feeling too comfortable. I go to the drugstore, CVS, to stock up on particulars, and a down-on-his-luck-kind-of-guy follows me around and spends a little too long staring at my purse. He hasn’t seen a shower in a long time.

But my hotel, Le Meridian, is lovely. Really really lovely. I’ve booked it on Starwood points, the best points ever, and all is good with the world. It’s a little like Design Within Reach threw up in the lobby of this former courthouse, but hey, I can’t get enough of Herman Miller or Knoll myself so there’s that. Jason at the front desk is the loveliest of chatterers and offers me a free drink voucher at the bar after I check in. My room service breakfast is a little late one morning, and the *gloriously* well-dressed restaurant manager delivers my poached eggs and polenta himself and then tells me it’s all on the house. Life is good.

Tampa is a puzzle. Given how full my returning flight to London is, many people must like it here.  Next time, I’ll stay a little longer and see some more things. Maybe drag my dad to a museum or two. We shall see. But one thing is for sure…I will definitely be returning to Le Meridian. It’s pretty gorgeous.

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Why It Pays to Comparison Shop: My Dominican Republic Hotel Search

Posted by Krista on December 22, 2014
 Eden RocTortuga BayZoetry Agua$880
Ex 10% service
Ex 18% tax
$775 (oceanview)
Ex 10% service
Ex 18% tax
$279 (garden view king)
Ex 10% service
Ex 18% tax$880
Ex 10% service
Ex 18% tax
$620 (oceanview)
Ex 10% service
Ex 18% tax
$465 (garden view king)
Inc 10% service
Ex 18% tax$880
Ex taxes and fees of 24.5%
$895 (oceanfront)
Ex taxes and fees of 25.8%
Not listed.$589
Ex 10% service
Ex 18% tax
$620 (oceanview)
Ex 10% service
Ex 18% tax
$635 (garden view king)
Inc 10% service
Inc 18% tax

My step-cousin is getting married in the Dominican Republic in 2015. I am pretty excited about this because I know I will be ready for a beachy holiday soon. I have always said I am not a beach person, but after falling in love with the Bahamas these last few years, I am a convert. I love love love (love) turquoise water. Instantly calming. I don’t need to lie on the beach. I just need to look at it.

We had to book the hotel for the wedding way, way, way in advance. My family is flying in from New York and Florida and my original idea was to fly to either JFK or PBI or FLL (we try to avoid MIA) and meet them there and then fly onwards to the DR with everyone. I didn’t really like this idea though because I knew I would be a jetleggad mess for the entire trip and it would probably mean a lot of waiting around in airports. BUT THEN…I discovered that British Airways flies direct to the Dominican Republic from London! Score. Done. So I’m flying in a few days before everyone to relax and become a normal, non-jetlagged person. I could stay at the hotel for the wedding…but I get bored after more than a few days in one hotel.

So I decided I needed a hotel for a solo stay where I could rest my weary, jet-lagged head before the party began. The tricky thing about a lot of hotels in these sorts of places is that they are really geared towards honeymooning couples, so you need to stay away from the Sandals of the world. I started working on a spreadsheet of all my hotel choices. I love making spreadsheets. Long-term readers know I love math and I love data. I love to make tables to compare things.

Important criteria in selecting my hotel? You will laugh but they were “Design-ness,” “nice beach,” and “nice pool.” I was slightly price agnostic because I wanted a treat. I’m also not a huge fan of all-inclusive (lots and lots of mediocre food), so that wasn’t important either.

I started searching, using the site with the broadest range of hotels: TripAdvisor. Originally, I had 11 hotels on the list. 11! I will spare you the gory details. For the purposes of this piece — to show you the pretty large price differential between booking sites — let’s say my three top choices for a two night stay from May 4th through May 6th are…

  • Eden Roc at Cap Cana
  • Tortuga Bay Hotel Punta Cana
  • Zoetry Agua Punta Cana

In looking at these three properties on different booking sites, I was pretty surprised by what I found.

Firstly, taxes and fees are tricky. You REALLY have to read the fine print to see what’s included. It’s not consistent within a site or across properties. Jetsetter was even more strange because they never clearly write out what the tax rate is and what the service charge is. They just give you a “taxes and fees” line item to look it and I just deduced the overall percentage from there.

So I found myself making two tables. The first included the list price per night along with whether taxes or fees were included. Then I created a new second table. This table included the full price (with taxes and fees) along with any other details I could glean from the site about what was included in the rate.

Also hard…making sure you are comparing the same room type. For example, if you look at the column for the Tortuga Bay hotel, Jetsetter only offered the high-priced ocean-front room, not the cheaper ocean-view room. Sometimes, like with Zoetry Agua, the price gap between booking sites was so huge, I had to assume I was missing something regarding the room type I was comparing.

Not included in my analysis…whether or not the rate was a non-refundable rate, which generally gets you a discount. I am going to the DR come hell or high water, so I didn’t care too much about whether a rate was non-refundable or not. I  just looked for the cheapest rate overall. That’s what’s included in my table above.

Extra amenities were hard to discern on each site. For example, I really had to look hard to determine whether or not breakfast and airport transfers were included . To make this sort of comparison — along with the comparison of the “all in” price I mention above —  here is the second table I created.

 Eden RocTortuga BayZoetry Agua$1126.40
Breakfast included.
$992 (oceanview)
Breakfast included.
$357.12 (garden view king)
All inclusive.$1126.40
Breakfast included.
Round-trip transfer included.
Golf-cart included.
$793.60 (oceanview)
Breakfast included.
Round-trip transfer included.
Golf-cart included.
$548.70 (garden view king)
All inclusive.$1095.60
Breakfast included.
Round-trip transfers included.
$1125.91 (oceanfront)
Breakfast included.
Not listed.$753.92
Breakfast included.
$793.60 (oceanview)
Breakfast included.
$635 (garden view king)
All inclusive.

Expedia made very little mention of any extras — if they did include round-trip transfers, for example, I couldn’t find mention of them in the fine print. And why did some hotels seem to include golf carts in their rates on some sites but not others? I was confused.

In the end though, what I enjoyed about my analysis is that for each hotel, there was definitely value to my comparison shopping and comparison analysis. If I had booked, for example, Zoetry Agua on Splendia’s site and seen the Expedia rate later, I would have been really ANGRY. Likewise, if I had booked Eden Roc on Expedia and then seen Splendia’s rate, I also would have been angry. A very interesting exercise all around. You’ll have to wait a few months to see if I ended up at any of these properties. But my point is…SHOP AROUND.

Other things that I didn’t do but I should have:

  1. Gone direct to the properties and checked their prices.
  2. Looked at each site’s price guarantee and contacted the site if it made sense. For example, says that they will match lower prices on the same room/deal on other sites.
  3. Checked all the prices for each hotel listed on TripAdvisor. TripAdvisor has that neat feature where it will show you which sites offer the hotel and what the rate is.

Any other thoughts? What are your favorite booking sites? Travel agents? Tips for getting the best rate?

Important caveat about everything I wrote above: Hotel prices change regularly. I ran my searches the morning of December 21st, US time. If you try to reproduce my results, you may be unsuccessful. Also, although I tried to be really organized in my data collection, it did get a bit confusing at times. If you think I’ve made an error, let me know and I will review. 

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Hotel Les Dames du Pantheon, Paris

Posted by Krista on December 21, 2014

This is a bit of a lost post but 2014 is drawing to a close — what a crazy year, my friends — and I have some free time on my hands for the first time since my 30 days of blissful unemployment in June and July. (Oh but to have those 30 days back!) I was in Paris back in August, my first time back in four or five years. My friends Karen and Bob were in town so I hopped on the Eurostar and met them for a lovely weekend of wandering and wine. They had rented a flat in Paris and the original plan was for me to stay with them at the flat. But the flat had a cat. And cats and Krista don’t get along. So Hotel Les Dames du Pantheon it was.

And I had made a nice choice in my hotel selection. My room had pretty views over the Pantheon and was a leisurely stroll from a few different metro stations. (Truth be told though, after a long day of walking on Day 1, I kinda wished the stroll back to the hotel from the metro wasn’t so leisurely.) The room was spotlessly clean and also gorgeously, decadently decorated. Each floor in Hotel Les Dames du Pantheon is decorated after a famous French woman. My room was a Juliette Greco room. Greco, a singer, was also a member of the Resistance. A bohemian freedom fighter. Love it.

When I arrived at the hotel, it was fairly late at night. So I was tired and disorganized when I made this video. It might make you dizzy. But it should give you a feel for the place just the same, and if you don’t mind a leisurely stroll or three, you’ll like it here very much.

The Verdict: Recommended. But bring your walking shoes.

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Staying at The Langham, London

Posted by Krista on May 11, 2014

Dude, I was on a Hotwire roll in London. Who doesn’t love a discount? Particularly if the discount gets you a centrally-located luxury hotel like The Langham. Although upon check-in, as you can tell from the video, I wasn’t too enthused about my room — the furniture was ancient but not in a good way and the bathroom was badly in need of an upgrade — by the time I checked out, I was converted. There’s something to be said about staying somewhere with a high level of service.

Here’s what I liked and what I didn’t…


  • Location. I love Soho so being just a short walk away up Regent Street was perfect for me.
  • My bed was a marshmallow cloud. Seriously, the linens, the pillows, the mattress…the Holy Trinity of beds. Absolutely lovely.
  • The staff. Lovely, everywhere, helpful, funny, sweet, everything.
  • The bar. The bar at The Langham is absolutely gorgeous. I would gladly meet anyone here for a drink or five. Maybe even a mandarin panda drink. It gets way too buzzy and popular in the evenings, but in the afternoon, it is an oasis of calm with lovely and attentive service.
  • Bath products. Many and plentiful and restocked over and over again. I am past the days of collecting hotel bath products, but if you are still in those days, you will love it here.
  • Free wifi. Plentiful and everywhere and always connected. Well done, Langham.
  • Free canapes in the bar! Apparently at 6-something every evening, The Langham celebrates the year of its founding and sends out free canapes to everyone in the bar. NICE.


  • The room was a little dated. The service and the amenities made up for this, but I would generally prefer something a bit more updated.
  • The clientele. OK, this is picky of me but there are some very wealthy people who stay here and they act it, in that new money way. (Is that terrible of me to say that? To talk about new money vs. old?) Not once but twice while waiting for the concierge, I was cut in line by men who totally knew they had cut in front of me and they didn’t give a shoot.

Now all this being said, I did not get a chance to try out the fitness center or the spa. I was out and about for most of my stay. But while I was in my room, I was rolling around in my marshmallow cloud and feeling quite smug that I hadn’t paid $600+ a night for my stay.

The Verdict…And Hotwire Logistics

If you visit London and you like fine things, you should stay here. It’s tremendously lovely. I was lucky and got it via Hotwire. I booked this five-star mystery hotel for $275. 83 a night. At the time of booking, a comparable stay booked directly with the hotel would have been $6334.33, so I saved 56.16%. And I slept in a marshmallow cloud. Fantastic.

Posted in Hotels, London, United Kingdom, W1 | 2 Comments