I Can’t Believe It’s Not Ritz-Carlton!

I wanted to share something funny that happened to me yesterday (and why I think it applies to this hobby). So, my father-in-law occasionally buys  groceries for us while shopping at Walmart. He has my credit card, so he just pays for our stuff separately. This time was no different…mostly.

Before I tell you the story, keep in mind that my father-in-law is very cheap. He grew up poor and his parents usually bought his clothes and furniture at Salvation Army sales. They did dumpster diving for food on occasion, and his room was the size of a closet.

Anyway, here is our phone conversation:

Me: I need bananas and a tub of butter.

Him: Are you sure you don’t want me to buy margarine instead? It’s cheaper and tastes just as good.

Me: Thanks, but I don’t like margarine.

Him: Are you sure? It costs way less.

Me: I’m sure.

Him: Hey, I see a margarine brand here that’s called “I can’t believe it’s not butter!”

Me: I still want real butter.

Him: Fine. Well, at least I tried.

For some reason, it made me think of my blog. I’m sure this is how I come across at times:

Imaginary reader: It sure would be nice to vacation at  Hyatt or Ritz-Carlton beach resorts. There is no way I can afford something like this without points, and my spouse and kids would definitely enjoy it. Can you help?

Me: No! You want Holiday Inn or Wyndham motels on the beach. Just as good and better value on points.

Imaginary reader: But I don’t really like Holiday Inn or Wyndham. I was hoping this hobby would present opportunities that we can’t afford otherwise.

Me: Forget Hyatts. Pfft, overrated. Holiday Inn is what you want. Cheaper and just as good. You like, you like!

I really hope my posts don’t across that way… I’ve said before that my blog is biased. Not in a way that I try to intentionally  mislead readers for personal gain, but that my content is influenced by my preferences and cheapness. I’ve mentioned before that I grew up poor, but I never gave any details.

Well, the thing is, we didn’t have indoor toilet or hot water till I was ten. Yes, we had to use an outhouse and boil water in order to get a bath. Every day. Funny thing is, I never thought it was a big deal. Our house was clean and  we always had enough food, which is more than many families in the world can say.

As you can imagine, that shaped how I view material possessions and luxury. I’m not super picky when it comes to travel options. I’m fine as  long as hotel is clean and there is working toilet as well as hot water. Even after many years of living in America, I still get giddy thinking: “We are staying in a hotel at the beach!” The brand of the hotel  is of secondary  importance.

But most of you probably grew up in middle-class families and took vacations during your formative  years. And I bet you anything, many of them were at a Holiday Inn. So, it’s no surprise that now that you have a bit more money and points, you want something a little fancier. There is no shame in that, friends!


16 thoughts on “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Ritz-Carlton!

  1. Had to laugh at this post. I grew up poor as well, and even though I do like to stay occasionally at a Hyatt, or Westin, and will be trying our first Fairmont in a few months, I still do appreciate a nice, clean, 1 bedroom suite with kitchenette and free breakfast through Hilton or IHG. All my kids care about is the pool and food (whether we bring our own or they provide), and my husband and I appreciate any extra space we can get in a hotel room and free meals or snacks. It’s funny that the first thing our friends ask when we return from a vacation is where we stayed — it’s a status thing to stay at certain brands and they pay full price 🙂 I’ll always try to stay humble and remember where I came from and will appreciate all the hotels I have ever stayed at with points or free stay certificates and will just enjoy it while it lasts.


    • Stephanie, I feel the same way. I’m very low maintenance and so is my husband. My kids definitely don’t fully appreciate fanciness, and I’ll have a post on it at some point. I did start adding nicer hotel options here and there, but the juice has to be worth the squeeze. As in, my opportunity cost needs to be minimal, otherwise, it will be hard for me to enjoy myself. I tend to overanalyze things, which I’m sure isn’t a huge surprise to my readers.
      By the same token, I don’t want to come across as preachy about my travel choices and rain on someone else’s parade. To each his own, right?


  2. I grew up in a family that went camping everywhere and it was the rare treat when we stayed at a hotel (and you can bet that it was budget-class). We visited about half the US states during my childhood years, all by station wagon or conversion van. Lunch enroute was often lunch meat sandwiches from the cooler in the back of the car, not fast food. it was an upgrade when my parents finally bought a pop-up trailer and ditched the tent. I never boarded a plane until I was in my mid-20s and my budget goal for a hotel at that time was probably under $50. Business travel spoiled me and raised my minimum standards (increased income also did not hurt). Once you have experienced better things in life, whether that is travel, food, or material goods, it is hard to go back. Take wine, for example. Before we took a trip to Napa Valley, we had only been exposed to cheap, crap wine and therefore had a poor opinion of wine. It was not our drink of choice. But then we did all the tastings at various good Napa wineries and discovered that, yes, we do like good wines. If we have an alcoholic drink nowadays, it is probably going to be a quality red wine. I haven’t forgotten where I came from, but have channeled those memories into a mantra which is something like get the best quality experience/product for my budget and learn to recognize good value. The cheapest things aren’t always the best and neither are the most expensive things. Be an educated consumer and be willing to step outside your comfort zone occasionally – you might find something new that you enjoy.


    • @Erik Well said! I totally agree that cheapest things aren’t always the best. Boy, did I learn it the hard way! In the past, I have picked some crappy hotels which almost ruined our vacations. One thing I insist on when we visit Europe is central location. It can be budget hotel, but it can NOT be located in industrial area where we need to take two buses to get to our tour meeting point. Speaking from experience, btw…

      I think the key is to find happy medium. Funnily enough, IHG, Wyndham and Club Carlson suit our family just fine (well, most of the time). But I do recognize and respect the fact that they are not for everyone. I hate to pay a lot for hotels, so it would spoil the fun if I kept thinking about the price tag whether it’s cash or points.

      But we do splurge, like the cabana rental during our recent Hyatt stay. It wasn’t cheap, but it was totally worth it. And it didn’t hurt that I had a Hyatt gift card which covered the cost. I guess knowing that our two nights were paid with certificates made this an easier decision. So, in a way, I view this hobby the same way as you: a discount mechanism.

      An interesting observation on wine. I’m very much a “crap wine” drinker. We did wine tasting in Oregon once, and the wine was pretty good. To be honest, I’m not sure I can tell the difference between fine wine and crap wine, but then again, I’ve never been to Napa Valley!


  3. The thing that greatly concerns me about opportunities like the Ritz is the cost of entry to play.

    $450 for 3 free nights at a ritz is an incredible deal.

    But $450 on something you don’t need is a ton of cash. Wow. The annual fee aspect of the hobby is starting to be a real barrier. They are higher, and many are starting to be non waived first Year. Yikes. Case in point: SPG went up, PRG went up (I think?), ritz went up, and the best Marriott isn’t waived.

    Having said that, I can see us getting the Ritz in about a year to prep for our 10 year anniversary trip. The Hawaii property has caught my eye but reviews are pretty underwhelming. The ritz on the caymans was awesome when we went there for dinner a few months ago but it’s a tier 5 so no go.


    • @Cheapblackdad You make an excellent point! I’m sure the Ritz offer is attractive to many in this hobby. At the very least, you are getting a deeply discounted rate on some of the finest properties in exchange for credit pull. For someone who is planning on staying at Ritz anyway and paying cash, this deal is a no-brainer. Of course, it’s important to do research just like with any property. Some hotels invest a ton of cash into making the lobby look divine, but leave the rooms rather dumpy. I’m not there to look at the lobby.

      As you have probably guessed by now, I’m not the type of person to EVER pay cash at Ritz-Carlton, so for me, this offer is weak sauce. Paying $450 upfront AND spending $5,000 to get bonus nights? No way, Jose. I would never consider it in a million years. But then again, I don’t highly value lounge access, companion perk (since I use points), and incidental reimbursement. Those who would otherwise pay for those things should definitely look into the card. Oh, and it goes without saying that quite a few will probably load up on gift cards and get them reimbursed even though it’s against the terms.


    • I agree that the Ritz card isn’t worth it unless you have a specific use. BTW, if you have access to corporate discounted rates, it’s worth checking them on a Ritz-Carlton property. My one and only stay at a Ritz-Carlton was in Santiago, Chile after a cruise. Our corporate rate was like 50%+ off the public rate and that hotel definitely lived up to the hype, in my opinion. We had a fantastic stay. Another time, I had a business trip planned to Berlin and my company’s rate was 99 euro, which – again – was a dramatic discount from the public rate and it even included breakfast. Unfortunately, that trip got cancelled and the next time that I visited Berlin, that rate wasn’t available.


      • @Erik Personally, I have a hard time justifying paying more than $200 in cash per night for any hotel room. I don’t care what the rack rate is, my personal valuation isn’t going to change. Well, we did pay $250 for one night to stay in a real castle, and the breakfast (quite amazing!) was included. To me, it was a good deal. BTW, the rack rate of that place was $500 per night.
        I also see paying a good bit for an overwater bungalow in Tahiti/Maldives. It’s a unique experience, not easily replicated. Otherwise, a hotel room is just a hotel room. Sure, it might be bigger and fancier, but I doubt there is going to be a significant difference to justify $400 difference in price. Obviously, Ritz-Carlton agrees, otherwise, they wouldn’t discount their rooms by 50%.


    • I have my eye on the Ritz Carlton Aruba. Our two-year anniversary of getting the Ritz bonus rolls around in December, so I hope to get both of us this card early next year. Fingers crossed that the offer is still three nights at a Cat 1-4.


  4. I hear ya, sister! I didn’t grow up poor per se, but my parents were extremely frugal. All of our vacations growing up were at really dumpy motels or Holiday Inns with a pool. I can’t remember staying in a nice property until I was an adult and paid for it myself. Seriously.

    I am cheap with points and money. I recently booked the Ritz Carlton in Chicago for my husband’s birthday for 50,000 points, then cancelled it because I didn’t want to pay the $49 for parking. Now we’re staying at a 3,000 points per night Sheraton Four Points at the airport. LOL We’re going to see a concert.


    • @Holly I can’t imagine that this offer will get worse in a few months, since Chase just came out with it. Plus, the annual fee will scare off many folks, as it should.
      Out of curiosity, I checked out that property in Aruba, and it does look gorgeous! I’m sure it would make for a nice base on the island. Speaking of, we are actually going to Aruba in a few months (a post coming up). But we will be staying at Holiday Inn. I’m eagerly awaiting August 15th, so I can rebook it for 15,000 points under new IHG promo.
      Oh, and I can definitely relate to having a hard time dropping huge amounts of points on hotels. It’s a constant struggle for me because I love good value. And paying 50,000 points for hotel just seems obscene. But I have done it!


    • @Holly – I have some experience with the hotels near O’Hare airport because we frequently go to that area on an almost annual basis. The Westin O’Hare(cat 4) is very nice, but I believe they charge for parking. The Westin Chicago Northwest in Itasca (south of the airport) is a cat 3 and often a very cheap place to stay on the weekends (I think their main clientele is weekday corporate road warriors visiting the nearby office parks). They recently completed a refurbishment. For the last couple of trips, we have stayed at the Sheraton Suites in Elk Grove Village. It is a cat 2 that often has good weekend rates. We’ve been given nice rooms and we appreciate having the extra space. Parking is free at Westin Northwest and Sheraton Suites. Woodfield Mall and the massive number of restaurants options are only a 5 minute drive away in Schaumburg.. I’ve mentioned cheap rates on weekends, that seems to hold true for most hotel chains within a 10 mile radius of Schaumburg – it’s not hard to find good quality hotels under $100, with $79-$99 fairly common.


    • @Steve That’s what I’ve read too! I’m suspicious of anything that’s processed. Not that we only eat natural foods, but the price difference between margarine and butter isn’t that huge. So why bother?


  5. That convo sounds like the convo between me and my husband. He wants St. Regis. I want Holiday Inn Express. I had to spend 50K IHG pts this summer so he’d be comfy. That just hurt my heart so I made up for it by later staying at a Hyatt place by the airport for our next trip. I’m slowly turning him tho, little by little, by showing him how we get more space, a fridge instead of a mini bar, free parking AND free breakfast. As long as it’s clean, I’m good to go. No need for bellmen, valet parking and all the extra tips.😉

    Now, don’t get me wrong, when I have a free night cert I’m looking for a high dollar redemption, maxing out the ROI. Other than that, I have an obsession with seeing high (point) balances in my accounts so I hate spending huge blocks of points at a time.😣


    • @TravMom LOL My husband likes nicer places as well, but he will pretty much go where I tell him to go. 🙂 He isn’t super picky, and doesn’t have any strong preferences.
      One thing he does like is a bigger airline seat due to his size. It’s not always an option, but I do try to book him in business class whenever I can.
      Oh, and I can definitely identify with a desire to squeeze as much value out of points as possible!


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