The Milelion is embarking on a round the world trip over the next 4 weeks to more than 10 different countries. En route I will be doing reviews of different airlines and hotels. This will be one really, really long trip report. Thanks for keeping me company.
Introduction: Around the world in 28 days
EVA Air Business Class Singapore to Taipei
EVA Air Business Class Taipei to Los Angeles
Avenue of the Arts Costa Mesa
Sheraton Gateway Los Angeles
United First Class Los Angeles to Mexico City
Le Meridien Mexico City
United First Class Mexico City to Houston
United Business Class Houston to Sao Paulo
Sheraton Sao Paulo WTC
South African Business Class Sao Paulo to Johannesburg
Ten Bompas Johannesburg
Turkish Airlines Business Class Johannesburg to Istanbul
Turkish Airlines Business Class Istanbul to Zagreb
Croatia Airlines Business Class Zagreb to Frankfurt
Lufthansa First Class Terminal
Lufthansa First Class Frankfurt to Riyadh
Four Points Riyadh
Air India Business Class Riyadh to Mumbai
St Regis Mumbai
ANA Business Class Mumbai to Tokyo
Asiana Business Class Tokyo to Seoul
Asiana Business Class Seoul to Tokyo
ANA Business Class Tokyo to Singapore
Note: I’m changing up the titles of these trip reports because it’s quite boring to read the same format over and over again. I’m a giver, you see.
It’s no secret that Starwood realises the Sheraton brand has some serious issues.
Even before the Marriott takeover, Starwood had already announced Sheraton 2020, a blueprint to revamp the tired Sheraton brand. This plan involved a $100M marketing campaign, opening 150+ new hotels by 2020 and converting 100+ premier Sheraton hotels to the Sheraton Grand tier. In other words, they wanted Sheratons to go from this
But would that be enough? When Marriott acquired Starwood, Marriott’s CEO said (regarding the Sheraton brand) “Some hotels are holding the brand back and might, over time, have to be deflagged.”
Which brings me to the quintessential airport Sheraton. I’m pretty sure Arne Sorenson had properties like this in mind when he talked about holding the brand back.
To be clear: it’s not a “bad” hotel by any means. It’s just a very “Sheraton-y hotel”. Sheratons aren’t the place you fantasise about staying at when you plan your dream vacation. Sheratons are the selected for location, not luxury. Sheratons are when you’re having a conversation with a colleague and tell him about your work trip and he says “so where’re you staying?” and you say “Sheraton” and he says “oh” and then changes the topic.
So, on to the Sheraton Los Angeles Gateway. The check-in line was long but fortunately they actually gave priority to the SPG elite lane (remember that you can get Gold status with a single stay through your World mastercard). Still, it couldn’t compare to the line I saw in the evening when a shuttle bus dropped off 20+ people at one go. I felt sorry for the 2 desk clerks on duty then, having to juggle a line that stretched out the entrance of the hotel.
I had been upgraded to an executive suite on the 11th floor, which was probably the highlight of the stay given how notoriously tight-fisted US-based Starwood properties are about upgrades (compare this to the Asia-based properties which have consistently upgraded me to fantastic suites time after time)
The room was big. Like really big. Although it wasn’t two separate rooms it still had a large living room area with the writing table forming a semi-partition between the living room and the bedroom
The desk didn’t have universal power plugs, which was surprising for an airport property. It did have 2 fast-charging USB plugs though along with the usual coffee machine and surprisingly not ridiculously overpriced water (US$3 for a 1 litre bottle).
The bedroom had a spectacular view of the carpark, which I suppose is a defining feature of most Sheratons.
The bathroom had the usual assortment of Sheraton toiletries. If Sheraton really wants to reinvigorate the brand they would be wise to start with the toiletries, because the in-house Shine brand pales in comparison to what’s offered at similar competitor properties (eg Peter Thomas Roth at Hiltons)
The sink had zero storage space for personal items. Fortunately, there was a small table next to it. If this is the standard-sized sink in regular rooms I can imagine it’d be quite an annoyance
A tiny bathtub was on the opposite side of the bathroom. I do wonder why business hotels feel there’s a need to still go with bathtubs. I don’t imagine the majority of business travellers feel inclined to draw themselves a luxurious hot bath and soak in a tub that people probably pee in (not guilty). By having just a shower they could free up more space for a dressing table or something.
The previous guest had left a nice souvenir on the wall that housekeeping had overlooked…
The property was 15 floors high, which given its proximity to the airport (you could see the runway from some rooms) was probably subject to a maximum height restriction
On the 15th floor there was a lounge behind a keycard-accessed door. The lounge is technically for club room guests and SPG Platinum members only, but in practice there is very little stopping you from just inviting yourself in when someone opens the door to get out. Contrast this with the arrangement you find in most other Sheratons ex-USA where there’s a host at the entrance to take your room number
I visited during happy hour (or I suppose because it’s a Sheraton it might be more aptly termed “less sad hour”)
The food layout was a strange mix of everything. There was pasta salad with pesto sauce
There was something they swore were meatballs (but everyone else in the lounge seemed to know better, judging by the uptake)
Fresh fruit and veggie sticks (which are quite hard to screw up, let’s be honest)
A cheese and fruit platter
Something suspiciously resembling tomato salsa
And a random assortment of soft drinks
As is the case in most US Sheratons, no alcohol was available, even for purchase.
I never saw any more than 5 other people in the lounge, so it was a nice quiet place to work and watch planes land.
The lounge overlooked the tarmac and you could do all kinds of plane spotting
On the morning of the second day I explored the outside of the hotel. There was an outdoor pool area where you could take breakfast, but with the weather a brisk 17 degrees there wasn’t much uptake
There were several cabanas by the pool, which was a bit of a curious decision given that the property wasn’t branding itself as a resort. I mean, does the average airport hotel passenger really have time to sit by the pool and sip a maitai?
The pool itself looked perfectly servicable but again with the weather at 17 degrees there were no takers
There was also a “spa pool” with hot water, but there were so many discarded towels strewn around it the whole setup just looked dodgy.
Breakfast was a small-scale affair. I opted to have it in the main restaurant instead of the lounge, figuring that it would have a larger spread.
I didn’t get any photos of the spread so please make do with the poorly focused shot above and the excellent photo of a box of lucky charms below
Random gripe: The property charged a $5 handling fee for each package received. I cannot understand the purpose of this fee, especially when other hotels are perfectly fine signing for and storing packages for free. I mean conceptually how hard can it be? I was having 2 packages redelivered to me after the Avenue of the Arts hotel lost them, so ended up having to pay $10 out of pocket. I briefly contemplated asking the Avenue of the Arts to reimburse me for this as well, but decided that there had to be some logical point at which their financial responsibility for the loss ended. After all it wasn’t there fault that the Sheraton wanted $10 for what essentially amounted to signing for 2 packages.
What is the fundamental problem with the Sheraton brand? I think the one word answer is “joy”.
Sheratons have this general miserable feel about them. Perhaps it’s because they’re so closely associated with work, or being away from family, or because I have yet to see a Sheraton that incorporates natural light as a feature.
But I’m trying to think of the last Sheraton stay that I truly enjoyed and I’m coming up blank. Over the years I’ve stayed at numerous Sheratons- Times Square, Towers Singapore, Sao Paulo, Casablanca, Hongqiao, Pudong
The best of that lot was probably the Sheraton Pudong, and it’s quite telling that that property has been reflagged as a Sheraton Grand representing the best Sheraton had to offer.
Would I stay at a Sheraton again? Of course. Let’s get things in perspective. Sheraton hotels are clean (well, hair in my bathroom excluded), they’re predictable, they’re functional. A Sheraton will give you a good night’s rest and get you on your way the next day. And for some people, that is all hotels need to do. But for those of us who think a hotel needs to be more than that (and the Sheraton’s below par brand performance suggests there are more of us than you think), the Sheraton is in desperate need of a spark.