Lufthansa – CDG – MUC – LHR

For an intra-Europe trip from Paris to Munich and then back to London Heathrow, I found some good flights on Lufthansa, a German airline that is a member of the Star Alliance.  It is my impression from reading other blogs by travelers who frequent the Star Alliance, that Lufthansa has a good reputation both on in-flight product and from a service perspective.

As I mentioned in a recent post, I had to check the rollaboard bag that I usually carry-on with me but there was no fee involved and the check-in process worked efficiently.  On the flight from Munich back to London Heathrow, I was concerned about going through passport control because of stories about long wait times.  The check-in agent at Lufthansa tried everything she could try to get my back checked through and over onto the Delta flights so I wouldn’t have to reclaim but I was traveling on a separate itinerary, with a non-alliance carrier, and on an award ticket to boot!  No luck but great effort from her.

I can’t remember the details of the aircraft but the planes were clean and service was efficient.  I also like some of the amenities that Lufthansa provides for all flyers such as this newspaper and beverage stand that is in the gate area and free to all travelers..

The other Lufthansa program of note is their utilization of a self-scan boarding process that they call Quick Boarding.  Of course, agents are still available, but I was able to negotiate this process with no trouble.

Overall, a very good experience and a few more United miles in my Mileage Plus account.  The is no hesitancy on my part to recommend them as a good option in Europe.

Baggage Allowances on European Airlines

It is not very often that I fly an airline other than Delta domestically or across the ocean, but I do occasionally have intra-region flights on other carriers and there are usually some lessons learned from them.  I recently had some Lufthansa flights from Paris to Munich and then from Munich to London and was reminded that carry-on baggage criteria can be very different than what we are used to in the U.S.

There is some variability by air carrier in Europe but I learned first hand how Lufthansa handles it.  I was traveling with a pretty standard TravelPro 22″ wheeled carry-on bag that I take on flights all over the place without checking it (other than gate checking on regional jets).  However, Lufthansa has a one carry-on rule which applied to my briefcase.  Even if I didn’t have my briefcase, they have some pretty stringent guidelines around both dimensions and also weight.  Here is the info from their website:

In First and Business Class you may take two pieces of hand luggage and their contents on board with you. Economy Class passengers are only permitted one piece of hand luggage. Please check for possible country-specific variations to this general rule.  A piece of hand luggage may not be larger than 55 cm x 40 cm x 23 cm and may not weigh more than 8 kg. Foldable garment bags are an exception to this; they count as hand luggage up to a size of 57 cm x 54 cm x 15 cm.

To save you the troube of looking it up, 8 kg is only 17.6 pounds.  This is going accomondate most briefcases but not a roller bag packed for two weeks in Europe!  There are a few implications to these rules.  First, you may need to arrive earlier than planned since the queues to check baggage can be pretty long since almost everyone is checking a bag.  Second, if you are changing carriers and on different bookings, as I was, you may have to allow enough time to claim your baggage and then go back through passport control and security.

For instance, on my return to the U.S. from Munich, I was connecting to a Delta flight in London.  I had to check my carry on in Munich due to Lufthansa’s rules which meant I had to claim it in London, go through passport control and customs, and then go back through the same process for my Delta flight.  I was lucky and was able to do this very quickly, but it has the potential to add a couple of hours to the process if you hit passport control at the wrong time.

The lesson is to check with your individual airline and not make assumptions that the same rules you are used to on domestic U.S. flights will be the same around the globe.

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