Rewards Nights in Athens, Istanbul, and Sofia

September 27, 2015

When I planned my most recent trip to Turkey and Greece, I reserved a lot of hotels on the expectation my girlfriend and I would want a comfortable place with some privacy, as opposed to crashing in hostels or with Couchsurfers. As a result, I didn’t really feel like changing any of my reservations when our relationship ended. In addition, I’m just reaching a different stage in my evolution as a traveler. I’m still willing to crash in hostels and hitchhike from time to time, but with travel hacks like free nights and points available, why not enjoy a reservation in a clean room with privacy and fast wifi?

Here’s the breakdown of where I stayed on points and free nights, and how I got them:

1. Holiday Inn Sofia

This was more of a matter of necessity. I couldn’t find any CSing hosts in Sofia, but even if I had, I’m seldom one to only surf a night or inconvenience someone by telling them I need to sleep early to catch a flight. 15,000 IHG points got me a restful night in Bulgaria. I’m sure there are chain hotels scattered here and there in Sofia, but aside from my hotel and a Ramada, I didn’t see much of anything. This Holiday Inn had an exceptional fitness center and pool.

Holiday Inn, Sofia, Bulgaria

2. Athens Hilton

I flew into Bulgaria to give me the option of going to Istanbul or Greece first, by bus or by plane. Since I no longer had anyone waiting for me in Turkey, I thought it would be best to finally see Athens. I had no idea what Greece would be like during the crisis, or where the historical sites were in relation to the city. Fortunately, my Hilton HHonors Citicard afforded me two weekend nights at any of their locations, and the front desk was kind enough to upgrade me for free to an executive room with a great view.

Hilton, Athens

Not only that, but this upgrade entitled me to a free breakfast and happy hour snacks and drinks in the executive lounge. A real lifesaver; I can deal with eating out for almost any meal in other countries, but having breakfast taken care of is much less stress.

3. Athens Crowne Plaza

This stay was unplanned, after my traveling companions decided they would rather come back to Athens, not sleep near Mycenae and get an early start the next day. I wasn’t pleased, but it’s a good thing I had extra IHG points and wanted to try a night in the Crowne Plaza. In retrospect, it would have been better to save these points for nights at an Intercontinental, but I wasn’t in the mood to try to find a Couchsurfing host or be around other people at Athens Backpackers.

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4. AC Hotel Maçka

60,000 Marriott Points got me two nights in one of the posher areas of Istanbul. This one was planned well ahead of time; it seems like all the 4- and 5-star hotels are in Maçka or Taksim. I actually don’t recommend this location; it’s closer to the water than hotels in Taksim, but hardly accessible by public transport, being on a hill and two kilometers from the metro station. Nevertheless, I found the room quite adequate.

5. Grand Hyatt Istanbul

The coup de grâce. My Hyatt Visa Signature award anniversary night let me stay here when I couldn’t get an earlier bus to Sofia. Hyatt has been particularly good to me; when I stayed at the Paris-Vendome I was upgraded to a suite, even on free nights. In Istanbul, I was outgoing and friendly to the desk staff and attribute that to getting a slightly larger room.

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Some people use the Big Mac index as a way to gage the world economy. In Turkey, I used çay (Turkish tea) to see how prices were hiked for tourists. Locals can find çay for 2 TL – probably 1 TL for groups. In Pamukkale, I was charged 3 TL. And in the lounge of the Hyatt, 9 TL (3 USD) for a cup of tea and Turkish delight. Outrageous, but expected for the atmosphere.

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