Few months ago I wrote a post on redeeming 90K Club Carlson points for my nephew’s trip to St. Petersburg, Russia. Everything was set and then my mom changed her mind. She is very much like me in that respect. So, she reached out via Skype and asked if I can find her something in Poland instead. She said she was planning to visit her friend there and was hoping to add a vacation detour, aka kill two birds with one stone. Yet another trait I got from her. I mean, how can you not add a stopover in Tahiti on your way to New Zealand, right?
About 13 years ago, we vacationed with my family in Krakow and everyone enjoyed it, so that seemed like a logical choice. My mom told me she really wanted to show the city to my nephew. Unfortunately, Club Carlson doesn’t currently have any bargains in Krakow. There is Park Inn by Radisson hotel that costs 28K points per night. It looks OK and the location is central, but the rate doesn’t even include breakfast.
I had about 162K Club Carlson points, factoring in refund from St. Petersburg award, so I could cover 5 nights at this hotel. And using up mediocre Club Carlson points sure beats paying $90 per night. But then I remembered my newly acquired bonus from Amex Hilton Surpass. Let’s check it out.
Bingo! Hampton by Hilton Krakow, you are exactly the bargain I’ve been hoping for. And breakfast is included, hooray. Sure, it’s not exactly in the center, but this is what the website says:
“Plaza Shopping Mall is situated just opposite the hotel, offering lots of retail and dining options and an IMAX theater. Enjoy easy access to the city center, just 10 minutes away or visit popular Krakow attractions like Wawel Royal Castle and Kazimierz – a part of city that, together with the Old Town, is the hub of culture and entertainment in Krakow.”
My mom loves shopping, one of the traits that I thankfully did NOT inherit from her. She was thrilled with this hotel option, so I redeemed the points. But it gets better. Since I have Gold Hilton status (comes complimentary with Amex Surpass), I could get the 5th night free. So, 20K points took care of it.
And then I started thinking. This hotel is dirt cheap, maybe my sister could take time off work and join my mom. That way my other nephew could get in on the action. That’s what I did last year by redeeming Club Carlson points on two rooms at Category 1 (9,000 points per night) property in Klaipeda, Lithuania. She agreed, so I went ahead and burned an additional 20K points.
They will have two separate rooms/bathrooms and free breakfast in the morning for 5 nights, all for only 40K Hilton points total. And Krakow isn’t some backwater town in the middle of nowhere, but rather one of the most popular cities in Europe.
Few notes on Krakow and surrounding area
Here is the scoop. While I enjoyed Krakow, I do think it’s a bit overrated. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a beautiful historic city, it’s just that there are many others like it in Europe. I think one of the reasons I wasn’t wowed by it was due to the fact that we came here right after visiting Prague. If it was the other way around, maybe I would have been more impressed. But very few cities in Europe can compare to Prague, so maybe that’s the problem.
That being said, there is a lot to do in the area and prices are somewhat reasonable compared to Western Europe. I usually recommend staying in the center, but if you are looking to burn Hilton points, the hotel I’ve highlighted isn’t a bad option. Do keep in mind that rooms have double occupancy, but for 5K Hilton points per night, who cares?
Taxis are fairly cheap, so you can get where you need to go with relative ease. And of course, there is public transportation if you are brave enough to figure it out. Hint: it’s not that hard and most young people speak some English.
Few places worth visiting:
Wieliczka salt mines, 900 years old. Don’t be fooled by the name. It’s a UNESCO heritage site, and worth the visit. Everything is made of salt, with sculptures and wall reliefs carved by bored miners of long ago. See an article on it here
For truly adventurous (crazy?), there is an option to take a day trip to Zakopane via cheap local bus. It’s located about 2 hours away, so probably out of the question for most folks. But it was the highlight of out trip to Poland. In fact, my husband is still talking about going there and spending a week or longer.
A place we decided to skip: the site of Auschwitz concentration camp
Whether you should go or not is a personal decision, but this sort of thing isn’t for me. I realize it probably sounds controversial to say that, but hear me out. I grew up in a country that lost a quarter of its population and obviously, those of Jewish descent suffered a much greater loss.
Growing up, I’ve heard all kinds of war stories, including one on how my grandmother almost got captured in the woods by the Nazis. Daily I walked through a neighborhood that used to primarily consist of Jewish residents. I got a sinking feeling realizing that almost all of them were killed after being taken to Auschwitz. Half of my city wiped out, just like that. Many of my own faith lost their lives in concentration camps as well.
In other words, I don’t really need a reminder of how awful Holocaust and World War II were. And I definitely don’t want to experience such a horrible place while on vacation. I would never, ever take my kids there either. I realize it makes me sound like a sheltered tourist, but those are my two cents. However, I would never discourage someone from going, and for a different perspective, read Reflections on Auschwitz, 2 years late.
What about using Hilton points in good ole’ USA?
On a lighter note… Obviously, most of you are interested in using Hilton points in US. Well, the good news is, there are bargains to be had, but they are few and far in between. Since Hilton no longer publishes an award chart, it will be a bit difficult to find them. I recommend sites like HotelHustle and Pointimize.
Hilton points can be very useful for road trips and overnight stays in small towns where AirBnB is not an option. The chain’s footprint in US is terrific, so it’s likely that you’ll find a Hampton Inn where you need to be at. LoyaltyLobby blog has complied a list of all Category 1 (only one hotel in USA) and Category 2 Hilton properties in the world. Those cost 5,000 and 10,000 points respectively. Award rates change, and occasionally hotel programs raise them without warning, so the lists may not be 100% accurate as of now.
I consider any Hilton hotel that costs 10K points per night or less to be a bargain. Stay five nights, and you’ll squeeze even more value out of your points. Occasionally, I see folks on Facebook say that they often stay in Hilton hotels and how they wish they could get free breakfast. I want to yell: Just get Hilton Honors Surpass Credit Card from American Express! Done. Well, when it comes to majority of their properties. Gold status in Hilton can be quite valuable, and all you need to do is pay $75 annual fee on Amex Surpass in order to keep it year after year. Obviously, think about your future plans when deciding on whether to renew the card or not.
A reminder: you can still apply for 100K points bonus on Amex Surpass. You can do it before 7/27/2017 via my personal referral link Thanks in advance if you choose to use it!
Do keep in mind that the affiliate offer on Chase IHG card has been recently increased to 85K points. Some have received a targeted offer of 105K points and reportedly, Chase has been matching it. As of now, IHG card is not subject to 5/24 rule. So, if you can only pick one, I would go with that offer instead. Otherwise, Amex Hilton Surpass is worth considering for some families, though there are many other good deals on the market. Only you can determine what’s right for you.
If you are heading to Krakow, the hotel I’ve mentioned is as good of a deal as IHG PointBreaks. Better, actually.
Leana is the founder of Miles For Family. She enjoys beach vacations and visiting her family in Europe. Originally from Belarus, Leana resides in central Florida with her husband and two children.