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Welcome to the November instalment of What Did You Book, brought to you by Sash and Mohammad. Each month, we feature a travel booking each of us made, its reasoning, and any valuable tips and tricks that we made use of. This month, we talk about Turkish Airlines awards and high-value redemptions at the JW Masai Mara Lodge and Grand Hotel Victoria Concept and Spa in the footsteps of the picturesque Lake Como.
Sash had noticed good award availability with Turkish Airlines, with up to 4 people in business class. He locked in round-trip tickets for his family to Jordon for 70K Aeroplan points and 90K to Nairobi, where he booked five nights at the JW Marriott Masai Mara Lodge, an all-inclusive African safari.
Since cancelling a trip to Lake Como earlier this year in May, Mohammad had been pining to try again next summer. By leveraging Awayz’s platform, he could book multiple rooms across multiple nights in late spring 2024 at the Grand Hotel Victoria Concept and Spa – one of the few points options at Lake Como.
What did Sash Book?
Anyone travelling with a family knows how difficult it can be to find premium cabin flight awards. When seeking flights for 2+ passengers, being picky isn’t an option. Sure, flying a family of 4 in First Class or Qatar Airways Qsuites sounds excellent, but let’s come down to earth folks. While booking these isn’t impossible, it is challenging and requires a different strategic approach that I’ll cover in a future post. What’s the next best option for flying long-haul international with a family? Turkish Airlines is right up there amongst the best.
I have noticed that Turkish Airlines has been releasing a lot of business class award availability (up to 4 seats per flight) over the past few weeks to many destinations globally. I managed to book three business class seats from Montreal (YUL) to Nairobi (NBO) and Amman (AMM) for upcoming trips in 2024.
Availability has been so good that multiple connection options were available at an excellent price.
Total: 140K Aeroplan + $275.35 per person
Total: 180K Aeroplan + $232.55
Turkish Airlines has a superb network through its Istanbul hub to many far-flung destinations. Don’t discount flying the airline if you see your destination on the map:
One final note I’d like to mention is that the business class product varies between its A350/B787 and the A330/B777. Most folks will want Turkish’s new product:
The older product looks like this:
While the new product is certainly lovely, the old seat is a favourite of mine, offering a much more spacious seat, albeit having a neighbour next to you. If I were travelling with a companion or as a famkly, I would go out of my way to choose the older seat because it allows you to converse with your family without having to peer around a an annoying partition.
The JW Marriott Masai Mara Lodge must be the influencer magnet of 2023 as it’s being hyped up all over social media. Let’s try to take a moment and ignore all the candid shots, slammers, hammers, pompous stories, and soul-sucking TikTok videos. If you manage to peel all this away and analyze the property, it’s pretty difficult to ignore the fantastic redemption value to be had using Marriott Bonvoy points.
What exactly is the JW Marriott Masai Mara Lodge? It’s Marriott’s first luxury safari lodge in Africa. It is located in the Mara National Reserve, overlooking the banks of River Talek. The property is comprised of 20 private tents for guests, a restaurant, a lounge, a bar, a spa, etc., are all on the property.
A proper African Safari can be expensive, especially given the limited number of ways to use points. What makes the JW property so appealing is the all-inclusive aspect of it. It is full board, meaning that all meals, game drives, airport transfers, and even laundry service are all included in the room rate. What is not included is the $400 round trip airfare from Nairobi and the $70/day Masai Mara Park entrance fee.
Surprisingly, the property has been releasing award inventory, so availability has been good. I have even seen 5 continuous nights available to take advantage of the 5th-night free offer. The price ranges dynamically from approximately 104-130K/night.
I am not one to boast about how reasonable the cost per point (cpp) is here. The average price of 100k/night versus a $4600+/night cash rate might be the highest CPP redemption property I have ever seen. What is remarkable is that while the cash price increases with the number of travellers in your party, the number of Bonvoy points remains the same for 1 or 3 people.
If you are considering an African Safari and want to get good value from your Marriott Bonvoy points, the JW Masai Mara Lodge might be a good option.
What did Mohammad Book?
Having been to Italy nearly a dozen times in the past decade, I’ve never reached Lake Como. A combination of the destination not being a priority in my younger years and eye-watering prices for anything half decent had been enough to keep me away from it for the most part. Fast forward to Spring 2022, and I heard Nick from FrequentMiler talk about an SLH property he had booked in Lake Como called Grand Hotel Victoria Concept and Spa (“GHVCS”), which he was very excited to check out. Hearing that, I looked the property up online and pretty quickly thought to myself that there had to be a catch. I mean, the pictures looked great – but really.. how often can you trust photos nowadays anyway – but my interest was piqued enough to follow along and see how the experience turned out.
Safe to say, I think his mind was blown after his first stay – and that was all the encouragement I needed to scour the calendar for 2023 and put something tentative on the books for May 2023. As fate would have it, we had to end up scrapping the trip in May as we were told to expect a very special little package to arrive in August – but nonetheless, I was determined to make it happen in 2024.
GHVCS is situated in Menaggio – one of many small towns on the banks of Lake Como. This SLH property is bookable with Hyatt points and, at the time of writing, is a category 7 property, meaning the cost ranges between 25,00-35,000 World of Hyatt points for a night. The hotel seems to only be open seasonally from mid-March through to the end of October, and rates are predictably at their highest during the peak summer months, where it quickly goes north of USD $1,500+ on most days. Given the cost – a World of Hyatt award redemption is the way to make a reservation, with the CPP easily clocking in at over 4 cents per point.
Better still, being an SLH property – all World of Hyatt members receive perks such as daily breakfast as that is part of the benefits you receive when you book an SLH property via Hyatt.
Being such a seasonal property in one of the biggest tourist spots in Europe – award availability can be challenging. Last year, when I booked for May 2023, it was a pure chance that I found space available in an otherwise sparse calendar. For 2024, I noticed that there was zero award space from mid-March (which is when the hotel starts taking reservations) through to the end of October, which told me that there was a good chance that space had not yet been loaded.
With that in mind, I went about setting up a series of alerts using the Awayz award alert feature across May/June/July using approximate dates and guessing that when space does open up on any of these dates, it will likely be a big award dump and availability would be good as long as I can act quickly. Setting up an alert in Awayz takes just a few moments and involves clicking on the ‘Award Availability’ button shown below.
Once the alert has been set up, you can view it in the “Preferences” section to remind yourself what alerts are active or if you want to modify/delete them. For a quick refresher/guide on what Awayz is, please see our Awayz guide.
With all the alerts set up this past summer for a year out into 2024, I just had to sit back and wait for the space to be revealed. Finally, in early October, I received a bunch of alerts, and, as expected, an award space for pretty much the entire summer had been loaded. Luckily, I had the opportunity to get online right away and make some bookings.
I wasn’t sure how many standard rooms the property offered on a given day, but after a few bookings, I can say that at least three standard rooms were available on points for some dates that I checked. In the end, that’s exactly what I booked for early May – though I did make some additional days in July and August for 3 nights each.
May should be a lovely time of the year to head to Lake Como – while it would be peak summer temperatures, I’d venture to guess that at least the crowds won’t be as bad – especially given the midweek dates I booked. Additionally, I was relieved at least that I was able to during the rare times when rooms were at peak pricing – saving me a cool 30,000 Hyatt points in the process (across the 3x 3 night bookings).
Overall, I’m ecstatic that I could book this property again. While the rooms booked are base rooms, and I have yet to see the option to apply for an SUA – with no balconies, from what I understand -all things still point to a memorable stay. Since reading FM’s review the first time, I’ve had some community members and friends comment on how much they enjoyed their stays there. I expect if the setting, service, facilities (Spa in particular), and experience live up to anything close to the positive feedback I’ve gotten – then this will have been a whack of Hyatt points well spent! For those of you who don’t have a stash of Hyatt points ready to go but would love to stay in one of the towns around Lake Como – well, fear not, as Marriott has in recent years announced plans to open an Edition (~2025) and a Ritz Carleton (~2026) around Lake Como.
Both of us are well and truly thinking about 2024 travel plans, and so should you if you want to find that coveted award you’ve been striving for! This month, we had the chance to talk about a few flavours of awards – from Turkish miles booking for 3, to sought-after awards in both the Marriott and Hyatt programs while also giving a sample case use of a valuable travel tool like Awayz. 2024 is gearing up to be another busy year of travels for both of us – so stay tuned as we continue to bring you more pieces to our respective puzzles in the next installments.
In the meantime, please feel free to drop any questions or comments/feedback on any of the awards discussed here. Thank you so much, and see you again next month!