Category Archives: Hotels

Hotels

Starwood Select Member Exclusive Bonus- did you get anything?

Starwood offers targeted member promotions from time to time on top of its usual quarterly promotions that are open to all. These present opportunities to earn additional lucrative Starpoints.

Via Loyalty Lobby, I’ve just learned that there’s another Select Member Exclusive ongoing. You need to click through to the website and register your SPG number to see your offer.

Registrations need to be done by 15 April, but stays can be anytime between 15 Feb and 15 May. As with all Starwood promos, you can earn credit “retroactively”. That’s to say, if I make 3 stays in Feb but only register in March, those 3 stays will count towards my  Feb-May tally.

Here’s the offer I got

Other people are reporting bonuses like

  • 3,000 Starpoints after the 3rd stay, 3,000 Starpoints after the 6th stay and 3,000 Starpoints after the 9th stay for a total 9,000 Starpoints bonus
  • Double elite stay and elite night credit
  • One free night certificate (up to Cat 5) after 3rd stay and 6th stay each, maximum of 2 free night certificates

Not everyone will receive an offer, but it only takes 5 minutes to register and find out.

Feeling lucky today?

On the road again to Rio: Sheraton Grande Rio Hotel & Resort

On the road again to Rio: Introduction
Singapore Airlines Business Class SIN-FRA
Lufthansa Premium Economy FRA-GIG
Sheraton Grand Rio Hotel & Resort
Star Alliance Lounge Rio
Lufthansa Business Class GIG-FRA
Sheraton Frankurt Airport Hotel
Singapore Airlines Business Class FRA-SIN


Starwood has surprisingly few options in a city with as much tourist traffic as Rio (although their presence in a major Latam country like Brazil is sparse- a total of 9 properties across the nation). There are only two properties in Rio, both of which are Sheratons.

I’ve had my share of issues with Sheraton properties before, but over time I’ve come to appreciate what they are and who they cater to. When the Sheraton is business-focused, it comes with all the amenities a business traveler would want- a lounge to work out of, reasonably solid internet access, a suite of meeting and conference rooms. When it’s leisure-focused, it has the expected amenities for families like children’s areas, a reasonable-sized pool, a few in-house restaurants.

Image result for sheraton grand rio

The Sheraton Grand Rio Hotel & Resort, which we decided on, was a mix of both. It’s 5 minutes by car from the famous Copacabana beach (you can even see it from many rooms), but it’s also got a huge conference and events centre in the basement. And so you get a situation where 6 suited management consultants jostle for space with a mix of holiday-goers and screaming kids in the executive lounge.

The ride from the airport took about 40 minutes. Given it was our first time in Rio, we thought it’d be more prudent to opt for the (overpriced) hotel car rather than take a chance with a taxi driver. (Uber allows drop offs to GIG but not pickups). The transfer cost R$260 (S$117), perhaps 3X what a regular taxi would have. What economic crisis?

The Sheraton is located on a cliff that overlooks a bay, as this inexpertly taken panorama shows you. It’s a 2 minute drive from Leblon, where you can find some rather nice restaurants. You’re also close to the Ipanema and Copacabana areas, so you can drop all your pop culture references to your heart’s content.

The 538 room hotel underwent a 2 year, $50M renovation about a year or so ago, but it can’t shake off that familiar Sheraton vibe. You sort of know it the minute you step into the lobby- there’s no mistaking this property for anything other than a Sheraton. Maybe it’s the marble floors and carpets, but at least this property had specifically renovated its lobby to rely more on natural light. I can’t begin to tell you how many Sheratons I’ve visited (of the airport variety, mainly) that have this big, high ceiling-ed dark gloom to them with nothing in the way of sunlight.

There was no one at check-in, but once we showed up we were processed very quickly. The staff automatically gave me the 500 points welcome gift without asking (since breakfast was included in the club room I had) and gave me an upgrade to a “Family Suite” (more on that anon). They also mentioned that check-in could have been done on the 26th floor where the club area is. I’ve never actually bothered going up to a club in any hotel to check in- it seems an additional layer of things to do, given that in some hotels you need a keycard before you can even access the club floor.

I wandered around the lobby a bit more before heading up to my room. This property had at least bothered to put in a few slightly nicer touches to your usual standard issue Sheraton lobby.

There was a bar overlooking the bay.

Maybe I’ve been spoiled, but I couldn’t see why all the publicity materials were describing the view as “breath taking”. I mean, maybe I’ve lost my sense of wonder but I took one glance and went “oh”.

There’s a business centre in the lobby too with printing facilities for boarding passes and attraction tickets.

The property has 26 floors. I was on level 17.

The Family Suite I’d been upgraded to (ah, how I will miss Starwood upgrades once Marriott truly and definitively ruins the program in 2018) was easily twice the size of a regular room.

There is a separate seating area at the entrance with a full-sized work desk, couch and TV.

To the right of the entrance, there’s a small wet kitchenette, but it’s more token than anything else. There’s no stove or hotplate, although there is a fridge and a microwave oven. It certainly wasn’t the awesome kitchenette I had at the Element New York Times Square, where I was able to whip up a full meal.

The kitchen has a coffeemaker with filtered coffee. I don’t drink the stuff, but I know good coffee when I see it and if you’re into coffee you’re much better heading up to the lounge where there’s a proper Nespresso machine with capsules waiting.

The fridge has the usual assortment of overpriced drinks

The room overlooks the carpark. I suppose the houses on the hills in the background aren’t bad. I couldn’t figure out if they were real favelas or those hipster favelas that have been rejuvinated with a few fresh coats of paint, the type that hotels organize tour groups to so Johnny Midwestern can write in his HBS application essay about how his summer (vacation) visiting the (gentrified) favelas gave him a new-founded sense of (faux) empathy for the downthrodden in society, the plight of which his (ovepriced) HBS education will help him somehow vaguely improve.

#notbitter

The bed is your usual Sheraton Sweet Sleeper- nowhere in the league of a Westin but still a solid enough offering.

A solid offering, bar this additional detail I found on the sheets. I’m sure that’s just strawberry jam…

A quick call down to the front desk got that sorted out. It could have been lipstick too. Man, if I had a blacklight…

The guest relations manager had left a nice gift on the table of chocolate truffles.

And a few minutes later a tourist trappy brochure was slid under my door, offering me a free trip to some jewelry workshop. I do pity the people who fall for such things.

The bathroom is quintessentially Sheraton, from the marble wall tiles (what is it with Sheraton and marble tiles?)

To the underwhelming Sheraton toiletries (this company cannot have a brand refresh soon enough). I’m in the habit of collecting hotel toiletries for travel use, but always give Sheraton branded toiletries a pass.

Another quintessentially Sheraton feature was the black and grey marble countertop. At least there was a lot of space to put things.

The property takes part in the Make a Green Choice (MAGC) program, but unfortunately it’s the neutered 250 points version. When this program was 500 points a day, a 2 week business trip could usually net you enough points for a weekend stay in Bangkok. Now that the earning is only 250 points I’m a bit less convinced about the value proposition. But as my mother will attest to, I’m used to living in a pigsty, and took the points anyway instead of daily housekeeping.

As a Platinum member I could have breakfast in the lobby restaurant or in the lounge. It’s strange because usually the restaurant in the lobby has the better offerings, and the lounge has a limited menu (but more privacy). At the Sheraton Rio, it’s the lounge which has the better offerings. I tried the lobby breakfast once, went up to the lounge the next day and never again went downstairs.

I keep saying “lounge” but technically the breakfast is served in the restaurant adjacent to the lounge, L’Etoile. There’s a spread of help yourself items like bread

Cut fruits

Cold cuts (including smoked salmon, which I noted was not available downstairs in the main restaurant)

Cereals and juices

I mean, they even had sparkling wine at breakfast (not available in the lobby restaurant), and any breakfast with sparkling wine is fine with me

There was also a hot food menu where you could order cooked to order items. This already put the restaurant heads and shoulders above the offering in the lobby where everything was in heated warmers

This was what I had over the course of a few days. just sNo prizes for spotting variations on a theme-

It seems on some days the chef put in more effort than others- there were small touches like a spring of herbs on the eggs or just some chives for color. On others the plate was more bare.

I mentioned that breakfast was served in the place that at night becomes the L’Etoile– it’s actually supposed to be one of the best restaurants in Rio, if you believe reviews.

I was a bit hesitant about heading to one of the fanciest restaurants in the city wearing nothing more than shorts and slippers, but as I’d be reminded many times during my stay here- this is Brazil. No one really cares. The maitre d seated me without batting an eyelid.

The price of mains here is about US$30-40, which all things considered isn’t the end of the world, but it’s still expensive for Brazil. The meal started with an amuse bouche. I had difficulty understanding the waiter’s explanation but I surmised it to be a semi cooked egg with tuna tartare and herbs inside. It was delicious.

For the starter I had the scallops. The scallops were cooked nicely, but the sauce they were coated in was so salty it made them borderline inedible. I had to scrape off most of the sauce in the end.

For the main, I had a very nicely grilled piece of salmon. The salmon they use is flown in fresh from Chile every day,

Other food on the property is just dire though. The room service menu was a particularly egregious offender. I know that as a rule of thumb you shouldn’t expect pasta like “la nonna used to make”, but this was a whole new level of wateriness.

Which is weird, because the hotel has a vaguely decent Italian restaurant in the basement, Bene. I suppose the room service Italian comes from a central kitchen.

Other F&B options include a cafe by the pool, which served borderline inedible food.

There was a Brazilian steakhouse on the premises as well, which we did not try. If you’re looking for beef though, CT Boucherie Leblon is the place to go. In any case, Casarao only serves its full menu for dinner. During lunch it served a rather insipid looking buffet.

The Executive Lounge is on the top floor and was where we spent most of our time working. I do pity the holidaygoers who had to listen to people discussing linear regressions, Gini coefficients and catchment analysis during their break.

During the day the lounge is pretty empty

But still gets some foot traffic because of this great Nespresso machine

And the abundance of sugary drinks

In the evening it really fills up as happy hour sets in. Although happy hour doesn’t have anything in the way of hot food (although the very affable lounge head brought around a plate of heated flatbread).

My favourite beverage made another appearance during happy hour…

I visited my pool a grand total of once during my stay. It left me with major body image issues. I know, I know, why visit the pool when you’ve got Rio’s famous beaches just a stone’s throw away. Let’s just say I’m not the textbook child for adventure travel.

Disillusioned with myself, I got out and lay down, covering my inadequate body with a towel. Then I started getting bitten by mosquitoes and decided it was prudent to relocate. In general I realised that mosquitoes were a bigger problem at this hotel than I thought. The worst of Zika is over so I’m not really worried, but I’m just annoyed that given how recent the problem was management didn’t have a mosquito magnet or something on premises.

It’s narratively easier to write this trip report as if I’ve already finished my stay, but for accuracy’s sake I should probably mention that I’ll be here for at least another 2 weeks. So if there’s any aspect of the property you’d like to know more about, feel free to leave a comment and let me know.

2 more weeks…

Hotel Review: Conrad London St. James (King Deluxe Room)


There are many Hilton properties in London, and though I’ve not actually stayed in many of them myself, the consensus (at least, on FlyerTalk) seems to be that Conrad London St. James, Hilton London Bankside, Hilton London Canary Wharf and Hilton London Tower Bridge all seem to be pretty well-regarded. With the fortuitous (and short-lived) Visa/Conrad promotion last year, I managed to net myself two free nights and stayed at the Conrad for a whopping five nights while in London, and found myself enjoying the stay immensely.

Location

The Conrad London St. James is located along Broadway, pretty much opposite the St. James Park underground station. It’s also round the corner from Westminster Abbey, which is very much a central location, as far as London goes.

The building itself looks pretty unassuming, blending in with all the other mid-rises in the area. The fancy dropoff area (and signage) are the only clues for what the building actually is.

Conrad London St James exterior

The hotel lobby has a very modern feel to it. This is perhaps due to the inclusion of modern art that I do not understand. Perhaps this sculpture represents the never-ending climb towards achieving and maintaining elite status?

Conrad London lobby

Slightly away from the main lobby is a sculpture comprising toys and action figures from across the decades, including stuff from various Pixar movies to franchises like Transformers. A geeky tribute, indeed.

Conrad London lobby toy sculpture

(Minutes after writing the above, I found out that the Conrad’s website has an Art Collection page that lists and explains the meaning behind several of its art pieces, including many pieces I hadn’t noticed, clearly proving my inability to appreciate art.)

The Room

I was assigned a King Deluxe room, which is just one step above the basic Superior Room. I got the sense that the property isn’t too generous with suite upgrades, though I didn’t try all that hard to get upgraded this time round.

King Deluxe Rm floorplan
(Image from Conrad London St. James website)

Anyway, I thought the room was more than adequate. It managed to feel sufficiently roomy, and was decked out with rather pleasant modern decor.

King Deluxe Rm

The king bed was sufficiently comfortable, and the desk was functional, I suppose. The inclusion of a media port for connecting devices (e.g. a laptop) to the TV was appreciated.

bed desk

The minibar area was pretty well-stocked, though I can’t say I’m an expert since I don’t usually take anything other than the complimentary items, which included Nespresso coffee capsules and a fair number of tea bags.

minibar-tea minibar

The bathroom was adequately large, with clear sections for the toilet, bathtub, shower (not pictured) and sink area, all nicely laid out in marble.

toilet bathroom

The TV was interestingly embedded into a flat mirror-like surface; when switched off, it’s not immediately obvious that there is a television set. Functionally it doesn’t really make much of a difference, but it’s interesting to note the attempt at integrating/hiding the television set within the room.

TV

The Extras

The room came with the fairly typical complimentary fruit platter; I’m not too sure if this is targeted at elite guests or is standard issue.

Conrad London welcome fruit

Many Conrad properties come with complimentary stuffed toys – we were lucky enough to arrive quite shortly after the launch of their new Mascot, Monty (the bulldog). Monty is a rather large (and higher cost, I imagine) toy and only comes upon request.

A very warm welcome to Monty! This handsome chap is our new mascot #MeetMonty #StayInspired

A post shared by Conrad London St James (@conradlondonsj) on

We requested for one, of course, and got a complimentary plush bulldog delivered to our room.

Monty

The availability of plush toys gave us the chance to create various dioramas within the room.

Monty Griffles fight Monty Griffles ride

Over the Christmas period, the hotel also delivered a special seasonal platter of chocolates to the room. A nice touch, I must say!

Conrad London Xmas chocolates

Breakfast

We had our breakfast at the hotel’s Blue Boar restaurant.

Blue Boar entrance Blue Boar interior

For hot food, they had the standard English breakfast items (eggs, bacon, mushrooms, tomatoes, etc.). You could also order cooked eggs – they didn’t have a live station you could order from. Also on offer – fruits, salad, bread, cereals, juices… a pretty wide range of stuff to choose from.

Hot food Fruit and salad

Bread Juice

FlyerTalk makes a big deal of the honey-roasted granola, which I must concede is pretty tasty. I believe it’s the same recipe as the one at the Hilton London Bankside.

Granola

All in all, a great place to stuff yourself with a proper English breakfast, fresh fruit, cereal, or all of the above. I was very much satisfied with the breakfast offerings.

Breakfast on plate

Lounge breakfast

I generally opt for the restaurant breakfast when able to since the lounge usually serves a more limited range of the same food, and it wasn’t any different at this property. Would suggest going for the restaurant breakfast unless you really would prefer the comparative privacy in the lounge, for some reason.

Lounge breakfast 1 Lounge breakfast 2

The Lounge

Lounge hours

Other than breakfast, the lounge offered afternoon treats and evening canapés (with drinks). The space itself was quite well-designed – there aren’t actually that many seats available, but each segment is styled differently and gives each area a distinct feel, making the lounge feel larger than it really is.

Lounge interior

Lounge 1 Lounge 2

Lounge 3 Lounge 4

There’s also a little meeting room that’s available for rental (first hour complimentary). Didn’t see any meetings going on in there during my stay, so I guess it’s not that popular an option. There were also showers available in the lounge, though I’m not too sure why anyone would choose to shower here instead of in their own room (in a really big hurry, I suppose?).

Meeting room Lounge shower toilets

At one end of the lounge is a relatively interesting centrepiece…

Lounge setting

…on the other side of which is where the action lies. The beverage offerings lie directly opposite.

Lounge alcohol

Cheese and cold cut spreads were available every evening.

Cheese platter Cold cuts

The specific hot food and desserts available differed daily, but generally I found them all to be rather enjoyable – it’s possible to substitute dinner with these, if you really want to.

Evening canapés (1)

Evening 1 menu

Evening 1 hot food Evening 1 dessert

Evening canapés (2)

Evening 2 menu Evening 2 hot food

Evening canapés (3)

Evening 3 menu Evening 3 hot food

Afternoon treats

I was exploring the city most afternoons, but got the chance to check out the tea time selections on Christmas day, when most of the city was closed anyway. Wasn’t that impressed with the savoury offerings, but the desserts were pretty good.

Afternoon tea menu

Tea dessert Tea scones

Tea plated

Assuming it’s like this every day, I think it’s a pretty good place to grab a bite, if you happen to be in the hotel in the afternoon.

Conclusion

All in all, I really enjoyed my stay here. You can get rooms here at about £240 per night without discount, although since properties like the Hilton London Bankside are available at 2/3 the price, I find it hard to justify paying the premium for this place. Still, if you’d like to pamper yourself, or are able to make a booking at a discounted rate, it’s definitely a great place to stay!


Louis believes he caught the premium travel bug after attaining KrisFlyer Elite Gold and occasionally being upgraded while shuttling between the UK, Singapore and Japan (in economy class). These travels have led to a wonderful marriage, as well as a burning desire to maximise his frequency of travel in business class or better.

He travels with a gryphon plush toy, Griffles, which often stands in for him in vacation photos. Griffles continues to amuse (and confuse) air stewardesses, hotel staff and just about everybody else, all around the world.