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Ventana - An Enchanting Resort in BIg Sur

Summary: I love Ventana. I highly recommend visiting  and exploring the landscape at Lime Kiln and Andrew Molera State Park which I've blogged about here. Please note this is #notsponsored . Yes, that means we paid our own bill! Lots of details in the following review. including a Post Ranch vs Ventana comparison.  Can you tell there's something exciting beyond this beautiful gate? There's something special about Big Sur, a magic in the light, the presence of the Pacific, the cliffs, beaches, redwood forests and the murmur of the surf. It's one of my favorite places in California. I couldn't think of anywhere else I wanted to be to celebrate turning fifty, because it's a place where there's a sense of nature, space and light and a wide horizon. We've been to Big Sur many times and for a celebration there are two fantastic hotels vying for your attention. The exclusive, modern and very private, cliff top Post Ranch Inn and on the other side of the road the …

Three Hotel Booking Suggestions from My Travel Toolbox

This summer I've been reviewing my travel toolbox  to ensure I'm using the right resources to get the best hotel rates. I'm pleased to say I've  found a few new favorites. 

If you read the blog, you'll know I'm a big fan of Orbitz.  Over the years I've found outstanding rates by combining their promotional  coupons with credits from their Orbucks program, here's a post on what to do.  Orbitz still a good option, in  July  they had a very competitive price at the Klaus K where we stayed in Helsinki. But it isn't always the best pick,  and this summer I had to use a variety of sites to secure great rates in  Berlin, New York  and Scottsdale. So here are the three additional booking resources I've used recently, it's important to remember that you have to be flexible and persistent to get the best rate. It's good to have a toolbox of tips and ideas to go to, but you also have to be open to reviewing your "bag of tricks" once in a while.
1) Getaroom.com
In Berlin I ended up using an outfit called Getaroom.com  whose best rates were only available by phone. It was like a flash back to calling airline consolidators in the 1990s. Getaroom has limited offer promotional rates that cannot be advertised and they are a great option at the last minute. We were heading to Berlin for eight nights and  unfortunately for us, the first four nights coincided with Fashion Week. No surprise, but it turned out the Fashion Week types like the same trendy, smaller boutique hotel I prefer and so everything  interesting was either very expensive or fully booked :(.

I was trying all sorts of sites I'd never explored before and so I decided to call Getaroom. I immediately asked if they had any promotional rates in Berlin and she was able to offer me an excellent rate  ($222) for a Junior Suite at the Sofitel Gendarmenmarkt.  This was a room overlooking the Gendarmenmarkt so I was sold. It was $100  cheaper than the same room elsewhere AND breakfast was included. It was a great deal and well worth phoning in to check.
2) Kiwi Collection.com - It's all about the perks 
We were   in New York this August and I was looking for a hotel close to the Essex House on Central Park South where  our family were staying. Rates are highly competitive in August because of the ghastly weather and Getaroom offered me a great deal at the Upper Eastside boutique hotel The Surrey ($268) which I've wanted to visited for ages. The only problem was, it isn't near the Essex House where everyone else was staying. 

I looked around and The Quin looked like a good option. Getaroom couldn't offer me a deal and Orbitz wasn't giving me any love, so I needed to widen my search. A quick look at TripAdvisor gave me a good idea of rates but I decided to check out KiwiCollection.com where I got an incredible "private sale" rate at the Banyan Tree in Bangkok a few years ago. Kiwi Advantage supports the  Visa Signature hotel program which offers a range of added amenities at the Quin for those paying with a Visa Signature card. A quick rustle through my wallet and the reservation was made. I'm happy to say we got  a double upgrade, late checkout, a daily $25 room credit and breakfast along with a  favorable rate.  Booking the rate through Kiwiadvantage.com also secured me a $50 Bergdorf gift card. Again, I'm wa shappy camper!
3) Whatahotel.com
As the Kiwi Advantage post shows, booking through the right portal can provide lots of added amenities and I've written about why you should book through a Virtuoso agent or a Four Seasons Preferred Partner before. Booking  even a standard rates through the right channels ensures all sorts of free perks, particularly at high-end properties; breakfast,  upgrades, late checkout, a welcome amenity and often a $100 food and beverage or spa credit. Essentially it's free stuff and you'd be crazy not to take it. Unusually, Whatahotel.com makes these private rates transparent as you can book them right on their website.

We were heading back to the Four Seasons Troon North for our wedding anniversary and there's no way Orbitz, Getaroom, Kiwi Collection, or TripAdvisor can complete with a Four Seasons Preffered Partner like Whatahotel.com. When you're looking at upmarket hotels or resorts you always have to weigh in the value of the free perks. For our August dates you can book a room for $139 on Whatahotel.com and still get all the free stuff detailed above, hard to believe really?
The point is there isn't one place you are always guaranteed the best deal anymore. You need to be flexible and to use a variety of different approaches to ensure you get a favorable rate wherever you are traveling. Once you've picked the hotel I highly recommend going to TripAdvisor to get a general idea of costs, then check the coupons at Orbitz, call Getaroom to see if they have any unadvertised rates and if you're looking at a higher end property try Whatahotel.com, Kiwi Collection  and Chase Fine Hotels and Resorts to see if you can combine a great rate with the added values they offer. It's a lot of trouble, but it's the way we end up in the best places at the cheapest prices, plus those fee upgrades, breakfasts and credits reduce the size of your bill at check out.

Tip: Email the hotel before you arrive and request the kind of room you prefer directly, high floor away from the elevator, King bed, that kind of thing. Getting the right room can make a great deal of difference and it's easier for them to block it out ahead of time. Always let them know if you are celebrating a special occasion, birthday, anniversary etc. 

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