Staycation at Waldorf Astoria Monarch Beach

Last year we received two Hilton Free Night Awards(FNA) from credit cards and planned to use them for a family Cancun trip in August of this year, but recently Hilton changed their policy on expiring FNAs and limited expiry extension to 2 weeks. This meant we could only use 1 FNA for Cancun, and the other one was left stranded, expiring in July.

To make use of it, we booked 2 nights at the Waldorf Astoria Monarch Beach, with 1 FNA and 95k points, during the Fourth of July weekend, 7/5-7/7. (Originally we tried to use both FNAs for this reservation but there were problems doing that too) This was P2’s booking, and I tried to include my Diamond status in the reservation for a tiny hope of some benefit or upgrade but that was not possible.

Hotel experience

We live near Pasadena, 60 miles from this hotel. Seeing an Air Quality Index of 460 on Friday morning after the fireworks, I was a bit relieved that we were escaping the inland area for the weekend.

The hotel was packed for Fourth of July weekend. There were no upgrades. We were able to check-in around 2pm. The basic King Bed room was nice and roomy. I liked that there was a very large 1-person deep soak tub in the bathroom, and that it had a little window blind thing that allowed the person at the bathtub to talk with the person in bed. With some squirming, we managed to squeeze two people into the tub.

The hotel seems completely geared towards children. The main pool is 3 feet deep with a couple dozen teenagers playing ball and with a DJ blasting EDM music all day. There is a “family pool” that is 1 feet to 3 feet with two dozen preteens, babies and their parents on floaters. The loud, bass-heavy EDM was really not our vibe. We moved to the family pool and cornered ourselves into the less crowded section, pretended that the screaming babies weren’t there, and managed to take some nap while floating on our floaters. All in all, pretty nice for a free staycation.

I think one big trap for families with chidlren trying to keep costs low will the cookie drawer. There is an entire drawer filled with cookies in the room. If upon check-in, chidlren discover this drawer and eat it all, that’s easily a $200 bill to your room charges.

We were pretty satisfied with our pool experience and did not even bother taking the tram to visit the beach until next day dinnertime, and were pleasantly surprised by how convenient everything was at the beach. The tram takes you to the beach club restaurant, there is a hotel worker handing out towels and water by the sand, and there are almost a hundred hotel beach chairs and parasols already set up. Since we live in the area, we drove to the hotel packed with things to use at the beach or pool – floaters, beach chair, beach mat, beach towel, even a little tent – but as it turned out, this beach was equipped with everything you could possibly need, so we ended up not using any of the things.

Costs

We tried to keep this hotel stay “free” with the credits, but that ended up not quite happening.

We spent $640 on:

  • $140 Parking (2 nights)
  • $500 Food
    • $134 Fried Yucca, Shrimp Cocktail, Hamburger (Aveo)
    • $73 Egg Benedict, French Toast (Aveo)
    • $56 Chicken Enchilada, Piña Colada Smoothie (Sombra)
    • $180 Clam Chowder, Ceviche, Salmon Curry, Pasta (Beach Club)
    • $62 Oatmeal, Eggs, Sausage (Aveo)

During most of the stay I was not feeling too hungry (maybe I was subconsciously scared of overspending?), so we just ordered for about 1.5 servings per meal and shared the dishes.

We used these $550 in credits to offset the costs:

  • $100 Hilton Gold Food Credits (2 nights)
  • $140 Aspire Resort Credit Q1-Q2
  • $110 Hilton Business Q2 Credit, Q3 Credit
  • $200 Aspire Resort Credit Q3-Q4

We spent $200 more having lunch elsewhere in Orange County before arriving at the hotel and after leaving the hotel: Heritage Barbecue, and Nok’s Kitchen. (All the food photos above are from Heritage and Nok’s, not from hotel. Hotel food was just okay, didn’t take any pics.)

This might look like significant savings. But I would also like to stay at the Waldorf Astoria Cancun next month and there’s only $160 Hilton credits left, so I’ll need to give that some thought. (I added the $750 spend credit.. umm spending more money to “save money”..)

The choice to eat at the hotel was a bit of a conundrum. There is no requirement to eat at the hotel, but my reading was that this being in an expensive, secluded neighborhood, we would save some money by eating off-site, but not a whole lot. For significant savings, we would need to drive 30 minutes back and forth each time, going to Garden Grove or Irvine. And there were the credits.. so we just ate on-site the whole time. We ate enough at each meal, but we were counting the food prices and keeping track of it to ensure we stay within a sane budget.

There were two unexpected hiccups to using the credits. When I called the Hotel in June to “prepay room charges”, the hotel said that their new policy was to only allow prepayment toward parking. Prepayment towards room charges as a general category was not allowed, the hotel said, as a.. security measure? prevent fraud? something like that. So I could only use $140 of the $200 Q1-Q2 Resort Credits.

The other part is that I forgot that in the U.S., the $50 daily F&B credit applies each day regardless of breakfast. I assumed that the second day breakfast would trigger the first $50, and the last day’s breakfast would trigger the second $50. Instead, looking at the folio, I found that the first night’s dinner had already triggered the first $50, and the second day’s breakfast triggered the remaining $50. So it seems it’s just the first two meals, on separate days, that trigger the credit. Knowing this, we would rather have skipped the last day’s breakfast, as we were pretty full.

Mid-afternoon during our second day, we got a bit hungry in between meals, but were apprehensive about spending even more money on food. We had packed some leftovers from our Heritage Barbecue lunch stashed in the fridge, but no easy way of heating them. I put the food containers on the balcony under the sun for half an hour, got extra plastic utensils from Aveo, and that’s how we ate them. 😅

Future considerations

I was under a lot of work stress the past few weeks, and I tried to use this opportunity to avoid nervously tab-switching or sitting on the computer stressing about work for a bit. I tried things like staring into the sky or palm trees without falling asleep. I think it helped a bit.

A weekend getaway in a local luxury resort hotel is an interesting experience… but I’m not sure I will have the spare points or FNAs to do this in the future. I would rather make FNAs a part of our international trips. If we had known that we couldn’t use this for Cancun, we would have used them in France in the Spring. There are couple of other resorts in the greater Los Angeles area, and I guess this one is an okay alternative when left with an expiring FNA.

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