Hampton Inn – Waterloo: New Option in London

Over the years I’ve been visiting London, I’ve had a chance to stay in many of their properties in and around central London.  In the past two years, they have expanded their DoubleTree brand and have now introduced the Hampton brand.

This property offered an outstanding “Points and Money” option for the dates of my travel and, given the high cost of hotels in London, I jumped at it.  This four night stay cost me 20,000 points and 55 GBP per night.  My total bill was right about 250 GBP – the equivalent of just over $400 USD in a town where nice hotels routinely run to $250 USD per night and higher.

The location, 157 Waterloo Rd., is just two blocks south of Waterloo Station, a major transportation hub and a fairly short walk of 15 minutes can take you past the Southbank area and over the river to the West End.  Several restaurants and pubs are in close proximity and the famous Old Vic theatre is on the same block.

I did have the opportunity to have dinner at the very popular pub The Fire Station, which is named for the building it inhabits with ample evidence of its previous function.  This place is absolutely packed after work but offers a separate dining area that has a high-end menu and excellent steak offerings.  A ribeye dinner with two pints of beer ran to 42 GBP, so it is not inexpensive but I was very happy with the meal.

The Hampton is very modern, the rooms were comfortable and clean, and the service was always outstanding.  They have been open for only two months but seem to have hit stride quickly.  Their lobby has a unique approach with a bar area that is an extension of the front desk and service by the front desk personnel during non-peak times.  It reminds me of a bigger version of Hyatt Place’s combined front desk/bar area.

This is definitely a good option and one that I will check on when making future bookings in the London area.

 

Headed Home on Thai Air – PEN – BKK – FRA

I’ve never flown Thai Air before but had a short 2 hour flight this morning from Phnom Penh to Bangkok where I picked up my 12 hour flight to Frankfurt, Germany for overnight stay.  My seats were booked in their “Royal Silk” business class so was looking forward to their offering.

What I Liked about Thai

  • Service was very attentive and professional
  • The menu and wine list impressive if one is into high cuisine.  There was some stuff I tried that I didn’t particularly care for but it was all presented nicely.  For instance, the various appetizers and sides included foie de gras, salmon, shrimp, and various items that I do not recognize and did not particularly care for, to be honest.
  • I’m not a wine connoisseur but was impressed they were serving a 2004 Bordeaux as an option.
  • In Bangkok, they have a spa where they provide a complimentary massage pre-fight.  You can choose a neck and shoulders or foot massage.  I opted for the neck and shoulders which lasted about 20 minutes and was very good.
  • While I didn’t really partake of it, their food selection in their business lounge was pretty varied and had enough heft that one could make a meal of it.

What I Didn’t Like about Thai

  • Really only one thing, their business class seat.  I was on the Airbus 340-600 with an angled lie-flat seat.  It just wasn’t very comfortable in any position.  And, it was very noisy when changing positions as the person across the aisle seemed to do for most of the flight.

Hilton Garden Inn – Frankfurt, Germany

Upon arrival, I was very happy with my selection of the Hilton Garden Inn at the airport.  Since I’m only staying overnight for an 8:00 a.m. flight in the morning, I wanted something easy and reliable.  I did not even have to step outside as the hotel, and the adjacent Hilton, are connected to the terminals by walkways and are just by the rail link station.

Tomorrow morning, I finish the trip.

Vietnam/Cambodia – Hotel Arrangements

After getting my initial flights in place, the next question was developing my itinerary within these two countries.  The easiest part of deciding on hotels was for my first and last ones since I knew I would be starting the trip in Hanoi and finishing in Phnom Penh.

However, throughout the hotel planning process, I faced one dilemma.  On the one hand, good hotel rooms can be very inexpensive in both Vietnam and Cambodia.  Depending on location, $25 – $65 USD can get you a room in a nice hotel with air conditioning, free wireless internet, breakfast, and, maybe, a pool.  At the same time, my plan was to use hotel points to stay in great hotels for no cost.  At the end of the day, I used a blended method based on which city I will be in and what hotels are available.

In Hanoi, my plan was to stay with a tried and true program that I know will take care of me.  I will have been traveling for about 27 hours when I arrive and, while the Business Class experience will be good, I will be tired and ready to get situated quickly and with no hassle.  Therefore, I’m booked into the Hilton Hanoi Opera.  Of course, this gives rise to jokes about staying at the infamous “Hanoi Hilton” where American POW’s were kept, but this will be a much nicer accommodation in the French Quarter.  As a Diamond HHonors guest, I will likely get a room upgrade, will have access to their Executive Lounge, have free wireless internet, and breakfast and snacks in the evening.  Based on my previous experiences in Asia, the amenities and Executive Lounges are outstanding.

In Hoi An, there are not really any options in the realm of the major hotel chains and this presents a great opportunity to try a smaller, local hotel.  Based on reviews on TripAdvisor, I settled on the Vaia Boutique Hotel at a price of $78 that includes all taxes and service charges.  The location, within walking distance of the major sites and Old Town, was a major factor in settling on this property.

In Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), I’m back to a major chain with my booking at the Park Hyatt hotel on Hyatt Gold Passport points.  Park Hyatt’s have a sterling reputation and the ability to book here at only 15,000 points was a great value and will provide me a outstanding location in a crazy, hectic city.  I will continue on in luxury as I stay at the Park Hyatt Siem Reap when I head to the temples in Angkor.  Again, only 15,000 points a night and it will provide me with top notch amenities.

For my two nights in Phnom Penh, there were chain options available, most notably with Accor’s Sofitel location.  But, I opted for the smaller, local option in a great location based, again, on TripAdisor reviews of the 240 Hotel.  I splurged for an upgraded room with a “Mini Plunge Pool” for a total of $63 USD per night.  It is named for the street it is located on, 240 Street, which offers all types of shops, restaurants, and boutiques.

So, I ended up with a blend of upscale hotels for free on points and the chance to experience smaller, local properties that should still provide a good stay at a very reasonable price.  I’ll give more info and reviews on the hotels I selected as I stay at them and form an opinion.

In my next post, I’ll share my packing and preparation considerations for the trip.

Hotel 57 Renaissance – New York, NY

Hotel Review

A couple of months ago, I needed to be in NYC overnight on business and the hotel rates were through the roof, even by NYC standards!  While I rarely use points when on a business trip, this was a situation where it seemed like a prudent choice.  A colleague of mine, who is a devoted Marriott brand patron, suggested Hotel 57, a Marriott Renaissance property just around the corner from where my meetings were to be held.

For 35,000 Marriott Rewards points, I was able to avoid a $500+ bill at this boutique-style property.

After staying there, I would say it was well worth the points.  I wouldn’t say my room was spectacular but it was very functional and stylish with great internet connectivity.  The lobby featured a well-appointed bar, the Opia Bar & Lounge, that also provides light dining.  They also have a lovely rooftop lounge with great views of the NYC skyline including the Chrysler building.

Due to my short stay, I did not have the need to avail myself to the services the Navigators there, whom my colleague says are “top notch,” or to dine in their French restaurant.  But, my impression of the property and service was very favorable and I would definitely consider this property again if I could find it at a good rate.

Final Grade: A+

Marriott Introduces “Cash + Points” Awards

Marriott recently joined the ranks of hotel programs that offer award redemptions that combine points and cash.  These options have been offered by Hilton’s HHonors program and Starwood Preferred Guest program and I have found them to often be a great value.

For instance, I previously posted about the values I got in Europe this past summer with Hilton at their Munich City hotel and the London Olympia and with Starwood at their Sheraton property in Salzburg, Austria.

I haven’t had a chance to try out Marriott’s new program but hoping that it will offer similar options and value.

Atlanta Marriott Buckhead – Atlanta, GA

Hotel Review

As a result of this year’s first quarter MegaBonus promotion, I had two free night certificates for any Marriott property that is Category 4 or below which expired Sept. 30, 2012.  I had tried to use these for friends or family members earlier in the year but was reminded that these certificates must be used by the member who earned them.  With the deadline fast approaching and my wedding anniversary coming up, my wife and I were able to go to Atlanta and stay in the Buckhead area for two nights for free.

The Buckhead area has lots of shopping (Lenox Square Mall and Phipps Plaza) and wonderful restaurants in the area.  This Marriott is obviously an older property as evidenced by the dull, concrete exterior that Marriott used to think looked good.  But, the hotel was fresh, the staff was attentive, and the location was great.  There is a newer JW Marriott just a few hundred yards away but that location is a Category 5 property and has higher room rates.

We ate at the Shula 357 Grille in the hotel and it was very good.  While there is still a football motif focused around Don Shula’s coaching days, it is not the clubby steakhouse that you find in a full Shula’s restaurant.  They still had some great steaks but also a nice variety on the menu that is necessary in a hotel restaurant.  Breakfast in the dining room was very well done with a high-energy chef at the omelette station and attentive service.

All in all, a very good value for the money and a nice base if you want to be in this part of town.

Final Grade: A

New Orient Hotel – Paris, France

Hotel Review

Paris, like many major European cities, can be fantastically expensive and hotel prices in the summer season are usually sky high.  Over the years, I’ve tried several different hotels and have rented studio apartments but continue to try and find new properties that are affordable and in convenient locations.  I used to stay at the Hotel du Ministere on the Rue de Surene, behind the Elysees Palais, as my “go to” hotel, but they went through a major renovation a year or two ago and went from a two-star property to a four-star one with the attendant increase in rates.

This summer I picked a new property near the Gare St. Lazare based on TripAdvisor reviews and price.  The New Orient Hotel is currently the #10 rated hotel in Paris on TripAdvisor.

It is about six blocks from the Gare St. Lazare and only about two blocks from the Villiers Metro stop.  A 15 minute walk takes you to the Place de Clichy on the edge of Montmarte and the Moulin Rouge.

The rooms are what you would expect from a two-star hotel in Paris.  While tiny, they were well-kept, the internet worked well, and the staff was always helpful.

Bottom line is that the hotel is a good value for the price and in a fairly convenient location especially with the proximity of the Metro.

Final Grade: A

Points and Dollars

Here is the key point for this hotel – 105 Euros a night in the middle of July!  That price is hard to beat in Paris.

Sheraton – Salzburg, Austria

Hotel Review

The Sheraton Salzburg could not be in a better location and the hotel was beautiful.  My room looked out over the Mirabell Gardens, famous as setting for much of the Do Re Mi song from The Sound of Music movie.  A two block walk takes you to the river Salzach and into old town where Mozart once lived and filled with small shops and tourist traps.  The staff was super and I wish I had been here more than one night.

The only possible criticism I could level at this property was the fairly slow wi-fi network.  Perhaps it was a temporary issue while I was there but was noticeable.

Final Grade: A

Points and Dollars

At the time of my booking, the best rate was $187 USD.  The standard point redemption was 12,000 points per night which would have yielded a redmption value of 1.56 cents per Starpoint.  Alternatively, I could book at “Cash & Points” award for 4,800 points plus $90 per night which pushes the redemption value up to a little over 2 cents per Starpoint.  Since I earned 632 Starpoints due to my Gold Amenity and spend on incidentals during my stay, it was as if I only redeemed 4,168 points which would take the redemption value to 2.3 cents per Starpoint. 

For my one night stay, my total bill was $281 with tax. As a result, I earned 632 Starpoints based on the following breakdown:

  • Base points = 41
  • Elite 50% bonus = 21
  • Gold Amenity = 250
  • SPG AMEX (2 points per dollar) = 320

Hilton Munich City – Munich, Germany

Hotel Review

For my first trip to Munich, I was looking for a Hilton property that was well-located, relatively easy to get to, and that offered either a really low rate or a “Points & Money” rate option.  I actually had two separate stays separated by a trip to Austria, but will combine the experience into one review for simplicity.

The Hilton Munich City fit all of my criteria.  Unfortunately, the “easy to get to” portion of the criteria became a major rub and a rare disappointment with Hilton and their management.  Here is what their web site says about transportion:

DIRECTIONS FROM THE HOTEL STAFF

Take the suburban train S8 from “Franz-Josef Strauss” airport (MUC) towards Munich. The train station is between Terminals 1 and 2. Trains run at least every 20 minutes and the journey takes 35 minutes. Get off the train at the Rosenheimer Platz station and follow the signs to ‘Gasteig’. The Hilton Munich City hotel is situated directly above the station. You do not even need to step outside the station, just follow the signs to “Gasteig” and take the elevator to the lobby.

This seemed ideal and upon arrival at the very nice Munich airport, I found the train station and took the designtated train without a problem.  The problem was that the train didn’t stop a the Rosenheimer Platz as the directions said.  Luckily, Iwas paying attention to the stops and realized that we were well past the intended stop when we arrived at the Pasing stop.  I got out and asked about and was told I would have to take a train back in the opposite direction, get off at the Ostbanhof station (East Station) and take a shuttle bus to a stop across from the hotel.

Two hours after I caught the train at the Munich airport, I arrived in the Executive Lounge at the hotel a sweaty, upset mess.  When the pleasant clerk asked, “Did you have a good trip in?” I replied honestly but not angrily.  She was obviously aware that the station had been closed for repairs.  I told her that I thought the Management had done a terrible mis-service to their guests by having the wrong information on the website and that they needed to change the information on the site.

What was perhaps most disappointing to me was that management never made any attempt to contact me to apologize or make sure they understood my issue.  I would have expected more whether I was a non-HHonors member, much less as a Diamond.  And, they have never changed the information on their website. 

It does turn out that the construction work only affects weekends and during the week, the station could not be more convenient, as advertised.  But, I have to think I was not first person to have wasted a lot of time and effort and that I won’t be the last.  In fact, this could be vastly more disastarous for a traveler who is not familiar with train systems, doesn’t speak German, etc.

There were a couple of other small misses on my second stay – an incorrect room service order; a completely empty mini-bar on check-in; no bath mat in the restroom.  None of these a major issue but, taken together, enough to warrant some attention from management.

The hotel location, once there, was excellent with a 10 minute walk bringing you across the river and into a wonderful outdoor market/beer garden and another few steps to the Marienplatz.

Final Grade: C

Points and Dollars

At the time of my booking ,the AAA (American Automobile Assoc.) rate, that allows cancellation, was $287 USD per night.  The standard point redemption was 40,000 points per night which would have equaled a redmption value of .72 cents per HHonors point.

Alternatively, I could book at “Points & Money” award for 20,000 points plus $69.24 per night. This would total to $207.72 which includes tax, which you have to pay on the cash outlay portion of the stay, plus 60,000 HHonors points. While you don’t earn HHonors points on the “Money” portion of the rate, you do earn points on incidentals and also receive a couple of the bonuses normally attached to Hilton stays. Since I earned 8,300 HHonors points on this stay (making my net point cost 51,700), my redemption value comes out to a very respectable 1.26 cents per point.

For my three night stay (total), my total bill was $281 with tax. As a result, I earned 8,300 points based on the following breakdown:

  • Base points = 692
  • “Points and Points” bonus = 346
  • Diamond 50% bonus = 346
  • Q3 Triple Points Promo = 1,384
  • AMEX on-line booking bonus = 1,000
  • Diamond MyWay Bonus =2,000
  • HHonors Surpass card by AMEX (9 points per dollar) =2,532

Hilton Olympia – London, UK

Hotel Review

For a trip to London this summer, about three weeks before the Olympics, I wanted to find a Hilton property that was offering a Points and Money option as London can be exruciatingly expensive during the summer months.  On recent trips, I have tried some Hilton properties that I have not been to before and on this trip I ended up at the Hilton London Olympia hotel in Kensington.  I have stayed out in Kensington before and while it is not right where I usually need to be, it is a fairly good base to operate from and typically has lower priced options than the West End/Mayfair areas.

On my initial night, I had a room that faced to the front of the hotel which is on Kensington High Street. Unfortunately, my window did not seal particularly well and there is mammoth construction going on directly across the street on a new apartment complex.  The noise was enough to prompt me to ask for a different room.  While I was out for the day, the staff moved my belongings to a nice, quiet room on the back side of the hotel and all was well with the rest of the stay.

The hotel was fine.  There was nothing particularly striking about it but they did have a nice restaurant/bar on the mezzanie level, Society Restaurant , that was nicely appointed and had a upscale feel to it.  The biggest issue is one that not much can be done about – its location.

The hotel is right next to the Olympia Exhibition center.  It was definitely my sense from several walks around the area that the heyday of this center has passed it by.  As a result, there is a dearth of restaurants, pubs, and shops immediately around the hotel.  Granted, it is only a half-mile walk from the hotel to the Kensington High Street Station but this is just long enough that it makes it a pain in the neck when it is raining or one is in a hurry and it is not far enough to justify a cab ride, either.

Bottom line is that the hotel is fine, be aware of the location and the construction but also give it kudos for its pricing and its willingness to offer Points & Money awards.

Final Grade: B

Points and Dollars

At the time of my booking ,the AAA (American Automobile Assoc.) rate, that allows cancellation, was $228 USD per night. At this rate, my total for the three nights would be $820.76 which includes London’s hefty 20% tax rate. The standard point redemption was 50,000 points per night which would have equaled a redmption value of .547 cents per HHonors point.

Alternatively, I could book at “Points & Money” award for 25,000 points plus $86.82 per night. This would total to $312.58 which includes tax, which you have to pay on the cash outlay portion of the stay, plus 75,000 HHonors points. While you don’t earn HHonors points on the “Money” portion of the rate, you do earn points on incidentals and also receive a couple of the bonuses normally attached to Hilton stays.  Since I earned 5,554 HHonors points on this stay (making my net point cost 69.446), my redemption value comes out to a respectable .73 cents per point.

For my three night stay, my total bill was $354 with tax. As a result, I earned 5,554 points based on the following breakdown:

  • Base points = 432
  • “Points and Points” bonus = 216
  • Diamond 50% bonus = 216
  • AMEX on-line booking bonus = 500
  • Diamond MyWay Bonus =1,000
  • HHonors Surpass card by AMEX (9 points per dollar) =3,190
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