The Upgrade

I Went Around the World in Total Luxury on Miles and Points — And I'm Back in Time for Happy Hour!

PART 31: One Mile at a Time blogger Ben Schlappig returns stateside for some serious sipping in NYC.

Hello again from Ben Schlappig, the full-time traveler behind One Mile at a Timeand the guy who introduced you to my uber-luxury travel lifestyle all made possible by using miles and points. In our series with Jet Set, we're going around the world in 21 days... all in five-star luxury, and booked at the very last minute.

In my last post, I was wrapping up my journey back to the U.S. after a whirlwind trip around the globe.

To finish off our trip we spent a couple of days in New York. New York has an overwhelming selection of hotels, and it’s a city where I struggle to decide what hotel to stay at. Typically I care a lot more about the quality of resorts than city hotels, given that when I’m in cities I typically spend very little time in hotel rooms, as I’m either in meetings or out and about exploring. Meanwhile at resorts I’m more likely to be spending time in my room.

So there are lots of great luxury hotels in New York City where you can redeem points, but I also find that I don’t get as much value out of them as I would at a resort.

Fortunately points can be redeemed for stays at all kinds of brand, ranging from the limited service brands that are fairly cheap when paying in points, all the way up to the top hotels offered by each major hotel chain.

New York City is also a market where you can get a lot of value out of “cash and points” redemptions. Most major hotel chains let you redeem part points and part cash for a hotel stay, rather than either paying completely in cash or completely in points. This is a great way to stretch the value you can get out of points, especially if you don’t have enough points for an outright free-night redemption.

Since we were mostly staying at Starwood hotels this trip, there’s an especially overwhelming selection of hotels. New York City has more Starwood properties than any other city in the world. On top of that, the selection is even greater since Marriott took over Starwood, given that they also have a huge presence in New York. Nowadays you can transfer points between Marriott and Starwood (at a rate of one Starpoint per three Marriott Rewards points), so you have a lot of options from which to choose.

Based on the cost and number of points required, we decided to stay at the W Union Square for this stay. I generally like the W brand, and also like the Union Square area. The W Union Square is a category six Starwood property, meaning that a free-night redemption typically costs 20,000 points per night.

W Union Square

For example, using cash and points, this hotel could be booked for $180 plus 10,000 Starpoints per night. I consider that to be a good deal, given that I value Starpoints at over two cents each.

I got a great suite upgrade at the W Union Square as an SPG Platinum member. As usual, it’s tough to beat getting a big suite in a city where space usually comes at a big premium.

Scenes from the suite

As a point of comparison in terms of cost, the St. Regis New York is a category seven property, so a free night would cost 30,000 Starpoints per night. Given how much time we’d be spending out of the room, the incremental 10,000 Starpoints didn’t seem worthwhile, in this case.

Speaking of the St. Regis, while we were in New York we couldn’t help but stop at the King Cole Bar for a bloody mary. During this trip we stayed at several St. Regis properties, and as I pointed out, each of them has their own signature bloody mary. That’s because the bloody mary was started at the King Cole Bar at the St. Regis New York — they call it the “red snapper.” The bar has a fascinating history, so while the bloody marys aren’t cheap, I think the place is worth a visit for at least one drink.

King Cole bar

It goes without saying that the bloody mary at the St. Regis was exceptional, as you’d expect. However, I still love trying the local bloody marys at every St. Regis, given the huge variability in taste.

Stick around for the very last installment from this exciting (and I hope educational, too) journey!

FOLLOW MY JOURNEY:

This flying first-class suite experience was so phenomenal, I didn't want to deplane.

The journey back to the states begins.

Confession: I don't love Paris.

Check out my Paris suite upgrade (on points, of course).

Here's what it's like to hang out in an in-flight bar.

That feeling when your far-flung luxury trip looked great on paper... but now you're just tired and cranky abroad!

Confession: Even first-class travel can be utterly exhausting.

A day in the life in the Maldives... breathtaking!

Gasp at the beauty and luxury of my Maldives hotel.

Getting to the Maldives is one of the best parts of the whole experience!

Why the Middle East is an ideal place for a sensational stopover.

Dubai is over-the-top glitzy — but here's why it makes travelers like me feel right at home, too.

Here's why hotels club-level lounges are no-brainers for travelers (especially if you work on the road).

This is one of the best hotel suite upgrades I ever got... and that's saying a lot!

Here's what makes a Middle East vacation so unique.

Is this the most incredible all-inclusive hotel in the Middle East?

Tour one of the world's best first-class airport lounges.

This is what it's like to fly inside one of the fanciest cabins in commercial air travel: an apartment in the sky.

Come with me on my flight filled with caviar, designer pajamas, and luxury gifts.

I support my boyfriend's first-class travel life (and in return he lets me pull stunts like this).

See how I booked a $12,000 flight for nearly free.

See Bali's littler-known party side — including a hangover brunch (with a DJ) to end them all!

Glimpse the five-star life I love (and buy with miles!) in Bali.

Here's why I call Bali the ultimate place to recharge.

Check out my epic layover in the world's best airport on the way to Bali.

Read up on my Hello Kitty-themed flight to get this far...

And the Hello Kitty airport experience to match!

And here's where it all began at LAX.

Can I combine cash and points for an epic hotel stay?

Ben Schlappig, the blogger behind One Mile at a Time, experiences about $1 million worth of travel every year using miles and points — and covers about 400,000 miles annually this way. Ben has teamed up with Bravo’s Jet Set for a series called The Upgrade, in which he shows you how you — yes, you! — can score real-world-ready strategies for upping your travel game. Come along for the adventure!

Jet Set is Bravo's launch pad for the most extravagant, luxurious, and unforgettable travel experiences. Ready for takeoff? Then Like us on Facebook to stay connected to our daily updates.

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