Going Green by Forgoing Clean … and Earning 500 Easy Starwood Starpoints

Playing the points “game” often means being opportunistic … and a bit obsessive … about picking up points whenever and wherever you can get them (check out my earlier post on using the “right cards” to maximize you Pointing opportunities on your daily spending). I often lecture my Partner F on this topic. Therefore, it really warmed my heart when he came back from a recent business trip and told me how he picked up 500 Easy Starwood Preferred Guest Starpoints.

Starwood Preferred Guest

Starwood Preferred Guest Starpoints are a “currency” you can use not only for hotel stays but also for travel on a variety of different airlines (check out my earlier post Starwood, Starpoints, Starstuck on the great value of this loyalty program).  In addition, banking your points in a transferable currency like Starpoints can help manage the risk of such (inevitable) events as a major frequent flyer program devaluation (e.g., like the recent United Airlines bloodbath).

However, opportunities for earning Starpoints are generally limited to traditional hotel stays and by spending on the Starwood Preferred Guest American Express card (which doesn’t offer the great category bonuses your receive on the Chase Sapphire Preferred Visa or the American Express Premier Rewards Gold Card). As a result, Starwood’s Make a Green Choice program is a very welcome Pointing opportunity.

The Make a Green Choice program is available through select Sheraton and Westin hotels.

Sheraton Westin Starwood Make A Green Choice Program

For each night of your stay that you decline housekeeping services, you receive your choice of either 500 Starwood Preferred Guest Starpoints or a $5 voucher that can be used at participating hotel food and beverage outlets. Specific Terms & Conditions are as follows:

Sheraton Westin Starwood Make A Green Choice Program Terms and Conditions

Given that Starpoints can be valued at 2.2 cents / point (one of my favorite bloggers Ben at One Mile at A Time provides a great overview of Hotel Point Valuations), “taking the points” yields a much greater value. For the extra points, I wouldn’t mind making the bed and rinsing out my own champagne glasses …

Hotel Marincanto Positano Welcome Prosecco After

How about you? Would you be willing to take a pass on some hotel services in order to earn extra points?


Trenitalia Frecciarossa Executive Class Review – Microwave Pasta on the Italian High-Speed Express

I love the romance of train travel in Europe.  There’s something magical about the concept of seeing the countryside glide by as you listen to the clickety-clack of the wheels on the rails. Hoping to catch a whiff of the nostalgia associated with rail days gone by, I booked my Partner F and I two tickets in Executive Class on Trenitalia’s Frecciarossa express train service between Naples and Florence.

Trenitalia Frecciarossa Welcome Sign

However, in the 21st Century the high-speed train networks knitting the Continent together result in a travel experience that’s more Star Wars than Orient Express. Although our journey was fast and comfortable, I wouldn’t necessarily put our experience in the “luxury” category. That said, we did get some fun “Facebook shots” out of the deal. Oh yeah, and there was that nice plate of microwave pasta …

Last summer we spent a relaxing week on the Amalfi Coast.  After a wonderful stay at the Hotel Marincanto (see my review Hercule Poirot Should Have Slept Here for more details), we reluctantly bid Positano good-bye. Our driver Salvatore Jr. (see my earlier post on Driving Mr. Daisy for the highlights of the day we spent with him) dropped us off at Napoli Centrale where we were due to catch our train to Florence.

Naples Positano Private Car Transfers

Our Executive Class ticket included access to the station’s FrecciaClub lounge. However, getting into the lounge required jumping through a few hoops.  The club was located a level above the station’s main floor. I sent my Partner F upstairs to get the lay of the land. After ringing the doorbell several times, it seemed that “no one was home.” I then spotted an elevator entrance that required a key card or PIN code to use. I tried punching in the various Ticket Codes and other numbers on the printout of my reservation but to no avail.  Finally, two business guys exited the elevator lobby so we just ducked inside. Of course, once inside I couldn’t figure out how to work the lift! Finally, a friendly station attendant informed me that I had to press and hold the elevator button to get it work. Things just got even more comical from there since the elevator cab literally crawled its way up to the second level.  Now realistically, most people would have given up much earlier.  However, I love a good business class lounge and  … well dammit … I was going to get in! Was it worth it? Well, here’s what awaited us …

Trenitalia FrecciaClub Executive Lounge Naples Central Napoli Centrale

The room was bright and airy and featured some funky oversized modern furniture. An espresso machine, cookies and crackers as well as complimentary cold drinks were available.

Trenitalia FrecciaClub Executive Lounge Naples Central Napoli Centrale Train Station Refreshments

After relaxing a bit, we decided to make our way out to the train since we didn’t want to risk any elevator snafus that might occur as we tried to exit the lounge which frankly left me feeling a bit … well, you fill in the blank …

Trenitalia Freccia Club Executive Lounge Naples Central Napoli Centrale Train Station Indifferenziata

Trenitalia, Italy’s national railway company, operates the premier ETR500 Frecciarossa (meaning Red Arrow in Italian) high-speed trains on its main Naples-Rome-Florence-Bologna-Milan-Turin route.  The train can reach speeds of 300 kilometers per hour (186 miles per hour) and the journey between Naples and Florence only took 2 hours and 51 minutes.

Trenitalia Frecciarossa Naples to Florence Speed Indicator

The train features a restaurant car as well as free Wi-Fi. The Frecciarossa offers Standard Class (Second Class), Premium Class (Second Class but with leather seats and a “Welcome Drink”) and Business Class (First Class – like Premium Class but with a little more leg room).  However, on this journey we decided to splurge and traveled in Executive Class.  What do you get for the extra money? Well, for starters there is that “Welcome Drink” along with a few nibbles …

Trenitalia Frecciarossa Executive Class Snack

After we passed Rome, a hot meal was served …

Trenitalia Frecciarossa Executive Class Meal

Sigh, believe it or not even the folks at Lean Cuisine could probably teach these guys a lesson or two. Thankfully, Trenitalia was pretty generous with their prosecco pours.

A special feature of our car was a private conference room …

Trenitalia Frecciarossa Executive Class Conference Room

After I was done pretending to address the Board of PepsiCo, the cabin attendant promptly locked up the room … and later used it to take a nap. With nothing left to amuse ourselves, we settled into our seats which admittedly were very comfortable …

Trenitalia Frecciarossa Executive Class Seat

… and offered a ridiculous amount of leg room.

Trenitalia Frecciarossa Executive Class Seat Legroom

At this Point I asked F to leave the train car so that I could enjoy the exclusivity of the space all to myself.

Trenitalia Frecciarossa Executive Class Cabin

All in all, our journey in Frecciarossa Executive Class was comfortable.  The train staff was polite and the cabin clean, modern and quiet.  That said, while Executive Class was a fun novelty, I don’t think I’d pay the premium to experience it again and would likely just opt for “regular” Business Class on my next trip. In fact, the quality of most European trains is so high that riding in Second Class isn’t second rate at all.

How about you? What has been your experience with European train travel?