Tag Archives: hotels

On the road again to Rio: Sheraton Frankfurt Airport

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


Ah, the airport hotel. The subject I could (and indeed have) spend 4,428 words waxing lyrical about.

My flight from Rio landed in Frankfurt at 2pm, which was too late to catch the 11.40am SQ25 back home. The next flight to Singapore would be the 9.55pm SQ325, but unfortunately that was booked solid. My only option was to wait until the following day to catch SQ25 back home, which gave me slightly under 24 hours to spend in Frankfurt.

I was originally intending to explore Frankfurt during this layover, before I realised it was the dead of winter and I didn’t have a stitch of warm clothing on me.

Now this normally would not bother me, because I am a very manly man, and manly men have copious amounts of body hair to keep them warm in deepest darkest winter. I mean, I often wrestle shirtless with polar bears in Arctic conditions as part of HIIT (it’s all on my dating profile, ladies). But I was also very jetlagged and needed my beauty sleep.

Fortunately there were two Starwood properties available at Frankfurt airport- the Sheraton and the Element.

The Sheraton was only about 9 Euros more expensive than the Element, and had the benefit of being physically connected to the airport (the Element requires a 5 minute taxi ride or 20-25 minute walk in the cold)  so it got the nod.

If you’re ever transiting through Frankfurt, it might interest you to know that the Sheraton also has day use rates if your transit is shorter. The silly thing is that the day use rate can often be almost as much if not more than the best available overnight rate, as you can see in this example below.

En route to the hotel, I got excited when I saw signs for the Lufthansa Welcome Lounge. But upon reaching I realised that it only opened between 0500-1300. Those crafty Germans. I suppose it’s meant more for passengers who fly over on transatlantic red-eye flights and need to freshen up before heading to meetings.

The Sheraton is connected to Frankfurt Terminal 1 through this umbilical cord of a walkway.

As you progress through the walkway the building comes into view. The Sheraton building conjures all the charm of brutalist 1960s Eastern German architecture (yes, I know Frankfurt was part of the West)

All the tips I read about the property on the Flyertalk thread told me I should avoid the queues in the lobby and head up to the executive lounge on the 9th floor to check in (as is the entitlement for Platinum members). However, the lobby was completely empty. I think it was a function of the time I arrived- it was after the rush of early/mid-morning check outs and too early for the arrival of the late afternoon flyers.

Check in was fast and before I knew it I had my two keycards, 500 welcome points, a letter about lounge access and was headed up to my room.

I was given a room on the 8th floor (there are a total of 9 floors). Airport hotels, for obvious reasons, aren’t built very tall. It seems that every room in this hotel is “special” in that there are club room floors, SPG floors (a marketing initiative started by SPG where rooms on those floors get like 2 free bottles of water or something) or a tower room (whatever that is).

How was the room? Let me put it this way. It was a Sheraton room. It looked like a Sheraton room, felt like a Sheraton room and you’d be hard pressed to pick it out from a line up of Sheraton rooms.

And that’s not a bad thing, per se. Just that if you come here looking for creative inspiration you’ll be sorely disappointed.

The annoying thing is that Germans (and Europeans in general) do not believe in the concept of air conditioning during the winter. Only the heating function in the room worked. I know what you’re wondering- why do you need air conditioning when it’s 0 degrees outside? And the answer is simple- ventilation. With the heater off there’s no air moving inside the room and it gets stuffy. In the end I resorted to turning on the heater and putting it on the coldest setting. That at least got some circulation inside the room.

The room had two bottles of free water at the minibar. The water felt infinitely classier by the fact that it came in glass bottles.

There’s a large work desk with a comfortable chair for getting work done. One glaring anti work feature was the fact that the on-property Wifi didn’t let you log into more than a single device at once. It could just be that I wasn’t doing it properly, but if that’s a feature rather than a bug it’s an appalling way to try and squeeze out more money from guests.

I’m not sure if my room just didn’t have it or whether the property didn’t have it at all, but I couldn’t find the room service menu anywhere.

Puzzlingly for an a airport hotel, the sockets were not multi-country friendly.

Bathroom wise, nothing to see here folks. It’s your usual Sheraton line up.

I’d like it if someone from Europe can explain to me the idea of the half glass partition you find in showers at European hotels. I’ve never understood this. It doesn’t particularly stop the floor from getting wet, it’s not nearly as effective as a shower curtain, the thing keeps looking like a potential safety hazard. What is the point of this?

The big draw of the hotel is the fact it has a lounge. In fact, you can purchase lounge only access at a rate of 99 euros a day without booking a hotel room. Again, that rate makes no sense, given you can get a room for 94 euros.

The lounge isn’t 24 hours, but is a good place to spend most of the day working or grabbing a snack.

This is the standard layout during non happy hours. You can see that alcohol is available by default, as opposed to many other club lounges where they only bring it out during happy hour.

The lounge views aren’t exactly inspiring…

I visited again during happy hour and they had some additional items, namely a salad bar and a single hot item (spring rolls). They also added a decent German sparkling wine to the mix.

In the morning there’s a small breakfast spread with made to order eggs and some meats.

There’s a gym on the 9th floor too which was deserted when I got there. No swimming pool, sadly. I think great joy is being able to stretch out with a swim after a long flight, and any airport hotel with a pool instantly goes up a few notches in my mind.

When checking out I took a brief tour of the lobby. There’s a mini business centre in the lobby with printing facilities.    

And a Starbucks cafe with plenty of seating.

The lobby restaurant is doing a game promotion. As in, edible game, not video.

Although the F&B choices in the hotel weren’t amazing, there’s a decent selection of restaurants in the airport and in the office complexes surrounding the airport. I went to The Squaire, where there are a few restaurants in a semi alfresco setting

I’d like to believe the yin balances out the yang.

At the end of the day the Sheraton Frankfurt Airport is meant to be a passing through kind of place. If you stayed there any longer than 24 hours I’d imagine you’d go mad with boredom, but as a place to recharge and recuperate before your next flight it gets the job done.

My job now was to get back to Singapore and do one more review on SQ’s old business class seat before it starts disappearing in 2017…

Three tips for booking travel via cashback sites

I’ve written about cashback portals before and how if you don’t use them, you’re basically leaving money on the table. If you’re conscientious about using cashback portals when buying things online, you can, over time, accumulate a pretty penny for yourself.

As a recap- how cashback sites work is you register for an account, click through to a merchant site, complete your transaction, and earn your cashback. That’s all. Your cashback usually becomes payable in a few weeks, depending on the merchant in question.

I wanted to talk about using cashback sites specifically for travelling, given that travel is a big budget item and earning even 2-3% cashback can really add up.

What cashback site should I use?

There is certainly no shortage of cashback sites out there. For example, Cashbackholic lists no fewer than 43 cashback sites offering varying rebate percentages for Hotels.com (you might be wondering why the same merchant has different rebates for different cashback sites- it’s simple commercial reality. Different cashback sites have different commission agreements with different merchants, and keep different % of the money on their side before giving the rest to you)

Should you use a best of breed approach, picking the cashback site that offers the highest cashback for a particular merchant? I sort of see this akin to the legendary “how many credit cards should I have” question, where some people (like me) insist on using multiple cards so that you max out the miles on each individual transaction, and others prefer to use one card for convenience.

It may surprise you to know that unlike my multiple cards approach, I’d advocate using one cashback portal. This is because I find there are too many merchants out there and the rebate percentages often change. Compare this to credit card bonus categories where I know a restaurant is a restaurant and online is online and overseas is overseas, and so long as I always use my HSBC Advance card for all local dining and online spend and my UOB Visa Signature/UOB PRVI Miles for all overseas spending I’m good.

My personal preference is Shopback, because they have good rebate percentages with the merchants I use the most, their cashout process is painless and their app offers some unique opportunities to earn cashback on things you wouldn’t have thought possible (eg Uber). You can sign up for Shopback here and earn a $5 starter credit (I will also earn a referral bonus).

That said, I would strongly encourage you to do your own research and come to your own conclusions- what works best for me may not work for you. You might also want to check out some other sites like Ebates Singapore and Getex (both of which I have not tried before) to see if they offer merchants that Shopback does not.

So, once you’ve decided on your cashback site, what should you know about booking travel?

Tip 1: You’ll get good cashback on hotels

OTAs (Online travel agents) offer good rebates through cashback portals. If you’re not brand conscious, you can easily get 6-9% cashback on your hotel bookings

Given that OTA hotel pricing can vary widely, it’s probably prudent to shop around and ensure that your 6% cashback on Site X isn’t more than offset by Site X pricing the same property 10% more than the 2% cashback offering Site Y.

The other catch is that hotels require you to book directly with them if you want to earn points and elite status credit. So, for example, you would not get points, credit or elite status recognition on a stay with a Westin booked through Hotels.com, even if you are an SPG Platinum member (certain properties may, at their discretion, offer benefits on such stays. However these are not required under the T&C and these rates will still not earn points or credit)

That doesn’t rule out cashback portals completely, of course. You can still use a cashback portal to book directly with a hotel chain. Shopback offers the following direct booking options

Starwood, Marriott and Hyatt are the major missing chains here, but you should be able to find them on other sites (eg BeFrugal and Mr Rebates)

You might wonder why cashback via direct hotel bookings (2-4%) is less than cashback via OTAs (6-9%). It’s quite simple, really. Hotels pay OTAs commissions every time someone books a site through an OTA.

Stop-Clicking-Around-Hilton

I’m not privy to the details, but I understand these can be substantial (think 10-15% range, or even higher in some geographies). The higher cashback you earn on bookings via OTAs is reflective of that spread the OTAs earn.

Tip 2: You generally won’t get good cashback on flights

Although 6-9% cashback on hotels is very common, you’d be hard pressed to find the same for airlines. Airlines work on a very different basis from hotels and pay lower commissions to OTAs. That’s in turn reflected in the lower cashback available for flight bookings. Here’s how TopCashBack caps airline cashback for Expedia

and for Orbitz

Low cashback or not, airlines base your miles earning on fare class, not where you bought your ticket, so there shouldn’t be anything stopping you from buying your air tickets through an OTA (note: if you buy an SQ ticket via a 3rd party site and try to upgrade it using your miles, you will not get the 15% online redemption discount, regardless of whether you actually do the upgrade online).

$2.50 and $3 maximum cashback doesn’t really sound appealing, but Shopback is running a promotion with Singapore Airlines till the end of this year that awards 1% cashback on SQ flights, capped at $150 per transaction, booked via the SQ website.

You can also earn 1% cashback with

  • Qatar Airways
  • Emirates
  • Scoot
  • Air France
  • Air Asia

Tip 3: Don’t forget about ground transport

Car rentals and train bookings can also earn cashback. Priceline will give you 2% back on car rentals (don’t forget to buy insurance). Rail Europe also has 2% cashback, but I vaguely remember someone telling me that Rail Europe’s prices were inflated anyway.

Admittedly this is an area where I find Shopback’s options a little lacking. They don’t have any tie ups with Avis/Hertz/Sixt. For these you can consider Ebates Singapore, which offers cashback with Enterprise, Avis and car rentals done via Travelocity. These generally hover in the 2-3% range.

Conclusion

The applicability of cashback sites to travel isn’t just limited to hotels and transport. You can also get cashback on activities you do when you’re there, such as those you find on Groupon or even attractions (I vaguely recall USS being available on Shopback’s site).

I hope this clarifies some things about cashback sites and that you’re able to find a way to save more on your travels.

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?