The Milelion’s RTW Trip: Big Fish, Please Upsell

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
Silvercar LAX
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
Hilton Sandton
Ten Bompas Johannesburg
Turkish Airlines Business Class Johannesburg to Istanbul
Turkish Airlines Business Class Istanbul to Zagreb
Westin 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
Westin Seoul
W Seoul
Asiana Business Class Seoul to Tokyo
ANA Business Class Tokyo to Singapore


One important lesson of travelling is that it’s always useful to have backup elite status, in case your primary chain isn’t available. Although SPG is my primary program and I’d gladly travel half an hour out of the way instead of taking a more conveniently located Hilton or Hyatt, I still keep Hilton and Hyatt Diamond status for emergency situations.

Hilton and Hyatt Diamond status were recently available through no questions asked status matches. I did both and now my Hyatt status is valid till 2017, and my Hilton till 2018. That said, if you’re used to the Starwood experience you might find Hilton’s elite member treatment rather underwhelming (it’s my understanding that Hyatt generally treats its elites as good as Starwood)

There are only 2 Starwood options in Johannesburg, and one of them was technically in Petoria.

spg joburg

The other one, Ten Bompas, is a Design Hotel that recently joined SPG. It has only ten rooms, which further limits practicality. Because I was travelling with my colleague we needed two rooms, and Ten Bompas only had one available.Since my colleague would only be staying for one night and going to Cape Town for the weekend, while I’d be staying in Joburg to enjoy the finest malls South Africa had to offer, I ended up booking one night at the Hilton Sandton and two nights at Ten Bompas (which was an amazing stay- look out for that report next)

The Hilton in Johannesburg is located in Sandton, which my host told me is one of the wealthiest districts in Joburg. The hotel itself is nothing special though, it’s unapologetically a very business-focused property.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The lobby had a very Sheraton-y vibe about it, in that I could imagine that exact same layout being used at Hiltons all over the world

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

When I arrived all their systems were down and the front desk was trying to sort them out. Although they were more than willing to accommodate our early arrival (around 930am), they couldn’t make keys for us until someone came to sort out the computers.

While I was waiting I noticed something disturbing. On the desk, in full view of anyone who walked up, was a list of customers who were checking in that day and their personal info. I could see everyone’s full name and their Hilton HHonors number, and for a few customers even the 3 digits on the back of their card. And people wonder how data breaches happen.

It gets better. Next to selected customer’s names, there was this tag “BIG FISH. PLZ UPSELL” (click on the image to enlarge)

bigfish

It’s no secret that any hotel or airline chain worth its salt will keep a detailed CRM system where you note the average value of each customer, and some of them will be tagged as more premium or more lucrative, but I’d imagine Mr Smith wouldn’t be thrilled to know his internal moniker. Though I am curious to know what term Starwood uses to describe me in their system.

After trying for 10 minutes they were unable to make any headway and the manager sent us off for breakfast, promising to send the keys along as soon as possible.

That was just fine with me, because the breakfast spread was easily one of the best on the trip so far (although the competition so far had been very lackluster- Sheraton Sao Paulo and Sheraton Los Angeles Gateway are two particularly egregious offenders)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

After about 20 minutes the keys came along. I received an upgrade to an executive club room on the 6th floor, the top floor of the property.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I use the term “upgrade” loosely because it’s the same room as all the basic rooms, just that I get club access. And I’d already have club access by virtue of my Hilton Diamond membership.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Therein lies another worry about the SPG-Marriott merger- the bigger chains don’t do suite upgrades the way smaller ones like Starwood or Hyatt do. It remains to be seen if the merged SPG-Marriott entity will be as suite-friendly.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The room was standard Hilton. Nothing particularly noteworthy and you wouldn’t be able to identify it from any of the other hundred Hiltons you’ve been to.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I cannot understand why business hotels cannot all offer universal plugs. And these annoying three big hole outlets won’t even take your standard travel adapter

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The minibar had one of those you break it you buy it seals, but it’s more psychological than anything else because the seal pealed off and stuck back on just fine.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The bathroom was also standard Hilton.  A lone painting hung on the wall, between the loo and the shower. In the bottom right corner, the artist had signed his name. I wonder what he tells his family when they ask him the places where his artwork now hangs. Does he, perhaps, in his most fleeting of daydreams, envision that one day his creations will grace a Westin, a JW Marriott or perhaps even a St Regis?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

As I mentioned, there was an executive lounge on my floor. You access it with your keycard

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

There’s a reception area just infront of it, and as I walked past the employee greeted me. I wished him back, but apparently he must not have heard it because I heard him grumble under his breath as I walked past. My key ended up not working so I needed his help to fix it, to which he said, very passive aggressively “It’s because you didn’t wish me back.”

Now, even if that really did happen (which it didn’t), it’s not very professional for the staff to take that sort of tone with guests. If the customer’s an asshole, you just grin and bare it. Maybe pee in his room service later. I thought that was quite jarring and was, fortunately, the only negative interaction with the staff. The others I met were very helpful and friendly.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This is happy hour in the lounge. I never saw the lounge more than half full the whole time I was there.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

When I got back to my room I found that someone had left my Diamond welcome gift inside.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It came with a drinks voucher too, though unfortunately it only covered selected red and white wines, and nothing sparkling. It must be the carbonation I seek, because white wine just tastes like cat pee to me.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I didn’t spend much time in the room or in the hotel for that matter, but I did wander outside after breakfast to snap a quick photo of the pool. It was winter in South Africa, however, and too cold to swim.

IMG_20160603_143249

It’s safe to say that the property didn’t leave much of an impression on me, but I think that’s what Hiltons are designed to do. My next hotel stay, however, showed me why boutique hotels will always have their place among the majors…

4 thoughts on “The Milelion’s RTW Trip: Big Fish, Please Upsell”

  1. That list is FANTASTIC! Shame they didn’t ask you if you wanted to upgrade to a suite or you could have asked them how big a fish they figured you were.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.