Tag Archives: marriott

The Milelion’s RTW Trip 2017: Courtyard Madrid Princesa Review

Introduction: It’s the most wonderful time of the year
A Tale of Two Lounges: SATS Premier T2 and the Qantas SIN Lounge
Malaysia Airlines B737 Business Class SIN-KUL
Malaysia Airlines Business Class Golden Lounge KUL
Malaysia Airlines A330  Business Class KUL-NRT
Japan Airlines Business Class Sakura Lounge NRT
Japan Airlines B77W Business Class NRT-LAX
The Westin LAX
The Westin Westminster
Aloft Boston Seaport
The Consolidated AA Domestic First Class Experience
American Airlines Flagship Lounge JFK
American Airlines B772 Business Class JFK-LHR
American Airlines Arrivals Lounge LHR
The Great Northern Hotel, London
Sheraton Grand Park Lane, London
Westin Paris Vendome
Courtyard by Marriott Madrid Princesa
Four Points by Sheraton Barcelona Diagonal
The Consolidated Intra-Europe Business Class Experience
Sheraton Casablanca
The Casablanca Lounge CMN
Royal Air Maroc B737 Business Class CMN-ACC
Ethiopian Airlines B772 Business Class ACC-ADD
Ethiopian Airlines Cloud 9 Business Class Lounge ADD
Ethiopian Airlines B737 Business Class ADD-DAR
Protea Hotel by Marriott Dar Es Salaam Courtyard
Tanzanite Lounge DAR
Qatar Airways A320 Business Class DAR-DOH
Qatar Airways Al Safwa First Class Lounge DOH
Qatar Airways A350 “First” Class DOH-DXB
The Grosvenor House Dubai
W Doha
Qatar Airways B772 Business Class DOH-BLR
The Ritz Carlton Bangalore
Cathay Pacific A330 Business Class DEL-HKG
W Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific’s HKG Lounges
Cathay Pacific A350 Business Class HKG-SIN


There are two Starwood options in Madrid, but both were pricing upwards of 400 euros a night on the nights we were looking at. It’s a shame, because I’ve stayed at the Westin Palace Madrid before and although the building itself is very old, I found the rooms charming and the service excellent (in other words, the opposite of the Westin Paris Vendome).

Image result for westin palace madrid

Moreover, they have an amazing breakfast buffet with a free flow of cava. Who can argue with that?

Image result for westin palace madrid breakfast
photo credit: contented traveler

The next best alternative was to find a Marriott property, because now that SPG and Marriott Rewards accounts are linked, you can transfer points freely between both of them. Also, when the merger of the programs eventually happens your lifetime nights from both programs should roll into one. I do suspect they’ll increase the threshold for lifetime qualification though. Good thing I’ve hit SPG Lifetime Gold!

Marriott’s footprint is many times larger than Starwood’s, so it wasn’t surprising to find an abundance of options

We settled on the Courtyard Madrid Princesa because it was decently located and less than 100 euros a night. The hotel itself is part of a complex that includes a branch of the department store El Cortes Ingles, and there’s a big supermarket and all the other conveniences you could ask for.

Image result for courtyard marriott princesa

I didn’t have high hopes for this property from reading the reviews on Tripadvisor, but I noted that most of the complaints were about the old rooms and the property had been recently renovated. In fact, if I’m reading this right the previous owners of the property went through some insolvency that ended up with the property under new management- Marriott’s. So hopefully this change in management would mark a turnaround.

The recent acquisition is evidenced by some elements of the past on the facade, most noticeably the Princesa Hotel sign (which is how most taxi drivers will know this place. BTW, There are hardly any Ubers in Madrid)

When you get around the side to the main entrance, however, you’ll see the sign of new management.

The lobby was empty when we arrived in the early evening. I noticed quite a few Japanese tour groups had chosen this hotel.

The lobby also had a lot of seating, the kind that people lounge around in while waiting for tour buses.

Check in was smooth and the front desk told me I’d been “upgraded” to a renovated room on account of my Marriott Platinum status. I’m not sure if that counts as an upgrade, but based on what I read about the old rooms I was thankful nonetheless.

Here’s the floor plan-I was assigned to a newly renovated room on the 2nd floor. If you ever stay here, the 01/02 and 23/24 rooms are suites

The new rooms are fairly sizable, if not fairly unimaginative. But they were clean and modern and I really couldn’t ask for more. There was a good amount of space infront of the bed.

The bed was on the soft side, which I prefer. I didn’t know that Courtyard by Marriott has a brand standard bed, but apparently they do! It’s definitely not in the same league as a W or Westin bed, but comfortable nonetheless.

In the corner of the room was a large sized sofa.

I was happy that the room had a large work desk with a comfortable chair for getting work done.

No need to worry about closet space here (Tom Cruise reference?) because there’s plenty of it.

The closet had a safe, hairdryer, bathrobe and ironing board.

The minibar was empty, but there was a sticker asking guests to fulfill their snacking needs at the lobby shop. This arrangement makes much more sense to me. For the hotel, it minimizes restocking logistics and pilferage, and for the customer you get plenty of fridge space in which to put your own stuff.

Still on the topic of food- there was a room service menu but it worked European hours. That is, didn’t start till 12pm, and finished by 7pm or something like that. Fine, enough cheap shots at the Spaniards, they actually work longer hours than most countries.

Nothing fancy in the bathroom, but as I alluded to in my AA review, there’s something classy about a sink that’s extruded from the counter surface

There were some mass hospitality brand toiletries available as well.

The shower was the best part of the bathroom. After my experience at the Westin Paris where they couldn’t even get reliable hot water, it was amazing to have a shower with proper water pressure.

Free breakfast isn’t a standard benefit for Marriott Platinums at Courtyard properties, but we got a 50% off breakfast voucher which reduced the cost of breakfast to 9 euros.

Breakfast is served at the only restaurant in the hotel on the 1st floor.

It wasn’t half bad. I mean it definitely was more hearty than gourmet, but at 9 euros I can’t complain

You had your usual salad selection

Hot items included eggs (not made to order), bacon, mushrooms, ham, some indeterminable Spanish omelette cake and baked beans

The expected cheeses and cold cuts

Cereals

Bread selection and a toaster that pretty much incinerated everything you put inside

And an electronic juice dispenser, yogurt and water.

The best thing was that it was melon season. I helped myself to a big plate of ridiculously sweet melon, which would easily give any Japanese muskmelon a run for its money.

So, considering the money paid, this was a very good stay with all you could ask for at a sub 100 euro price point. Madrid probably pales in comparison to Barcelona as a tourist hotspot, but if your travels bring you here you could do far worse than this hotel.

How ridiculously good is Ritz Carlton service?

Until Bangalore, I’d never stayed in a Ritz Carlton Hotel before. Their properties were always too expensive and they weren’t part of Starwood anyway, so they never came on my radar, even for work trips.

Image result for ritz carlton bangalore

But with the recent Marriott acquisition and the upcoming merging of SPG and Marriott Rewards (boo), I figure all my Marriott nights will eventually be rolled into my SPG lifetime totals (or more accurately, vice versa) so there was no harm getting a few of them on the board. Plus, my company had a pretty hard to beat US$120 corporate rate at the Ritz Carlton Bangalore.

Image result for ritz carlton bangalore

The hotel is amazing and I’ll be doing up a full report eventually, but one thing I’d like to talk about today is the service at the Ritz Carlton. I’d heard stories about it, but I’ve always been a bit skeptical about just how good service could be, and how it’d be relevant to me. You see, I like to keep to myself normally and don’t really go out of my way to interact with hotel staff beyond the regular pleasantries. So I’m sure that many of the hotels I’ve visited in the past had good service, I just didn’t avail myself of it.

That said, the Ritz Carlton Bangalore set a whole new standard for doing things. Here are some of the highlights.

Taking care of my mishandled baggage

Long story short, I had a very unfun misadventure with my bag and Omanair (full story will come in the trip report) where my luggage got delayed more than 30 hours in Dubai.

I eventually got my bag back, but to claim my travel insurance, I needed an official letter from the airline stating what time my bag was returned to me. This proved harder than it sounded, given that the staff at the Omanair Dubai luggage office were fond of not picking up the phone, dnata ground services were fond of saying it wasn’t their problem and I was now in a different country altogether.

After many calls, I eventually got my letter from Omanair. But they somehow

  1. Got my name wrong
  2. Got the flight number wrong
  3. Got the bag return time wrong

I deeply suspect the staff at Omanair have difficulty getting dressed in the morning without assistance.

I really wasn’t looking forward to calling them up and waiting on hold to get this all sorted out, so I explained the situation and asked the club lounge team for help. They called up Omanair in Dubai and, get this, got the concierge team at the Ritz Calrton Dubai to visit the airport and get things sorted out. I guess that’s one way of sorting out people who don’t pick up the phone…

The spectacular thing is that despite all this effort, the Omanair team somehow contrived to send back the same letter with only the flight number corrected. It took a further day of calling by the concierges at the Ritz and Grosvenor House in Dubai to resolve this. Stay tuned for my Omanair report by the way…all i can say is never again.

The takeaway here, however, should be how impressed I was that the Ritz in Bangalore was able to rope in people on the ground in Dubai to get this attended to. I shudder to think how long it would have taken me to get this sorted out by myself.

Getting my shoes repaired

All that walking around the world had worn a hole right through the insoles of my favourite pair of loafers. I knew from my time in Mumbai that there are plenty of cobblers on the streets who repair this for next to nothing, but I didn’t trust my ability to communicate/not get ripped off. So I passed the shoes to the staff at the lounge and within 2 hours got them back, good as new, and for all of $3. Incredible.

Resolving a prawn vs lobster debate

passageway to Lantern

One evening, my colleague and I dined at Lantern, the hotel’s dim sum restaurant (40 days without Chinese food was getting to me). One of the items we ordered was called “lobster moneybags”, but biting into it revealed it was just regular prawn. I mean, that’s not honest advertising, but I didn’t make a big deal of it at the time.

The next day I went back to get lunch (I’m boring that way) and mentioned it in passing to the staff when ordering. They apologised and I thought nothing more of it.

But a few minutes later the (Chinese) chef came out to chat with me and told me it was indeed a mix of lobster and prawn, but mostly prawn (I am embarrassed I did not know what lobster was in Chinese. Turns out lobster literally means “dragon prawn”. I was tempted to say “da xia” (big prawn)).

When the dishes came out later, I was surprised to see there was an extra one. The chef had gone to cook some lobster in Singapore chili crab sauce, just for me. They comped that plus one of the other dishes.

What was also impressive was that the wait staff remembered my preferences from the night before. I ordered some cut chili padi the last time, and this time round when setting the table a plate silently appeared.

Attention to fine details

As a club room guest, I was entitled to free pressing for two garments each day. I dutifully sent off some shirts in the morning to get a proper ironing (you won’t believe how bad I am with one).

Now, I had not washed these shirts since (stop judging) starting my RTW trip, because I only wore them at meetings in air conditioned offices. Therefore there were some stains on the sleeves. I mean, they weren’t big stains or anything, but definitely there.

But when I got my shirts back, they weren’t just ironed, those stains had been removed. I don’t know if they washed the whole thing or just used a stain remover, but whatever the case I was amazed they were that observant.

Anticipating needs

Some say that the best hotels are the ones that know what you need before you need it. I’d agree with that, but I’d say that most of the time anticipation doesn’t need mind reading, it just needs common sense.

Case in point- our flight to Bangalore landed at 2am and it was past 3 am by the time we reached the hotel. The only thing on my mind was getting into bed.

Sure enough, from the time our car arrived at the Ritz we were greeted by name and whisked up to reception where our keycards and welcome letters were already waiting. A quick swipe of a credit card for incidentals and we were whisked up to our rooms, bags deposited and goodnights wished. The whole process took less than two minutes.

Now I have stayed at so-called luxury hotels where I arrived at a similarly late hour, only to find the staff totally oblivious and take close to 10, 15 minutes to finish check in procedures. I know, it’s only 10 minutes in the grand scheme of things and I certainly don’t approve of DYKWIA moments, but how difficult is it for a hotel to look at its roster and say- ok, these guests haven’t come in yet, it’s late and when they’re here they’ll want to get to bed. Let’s assign rooms now and have everything ready to go. And trust me, at 3am every minute feels like an hour.

Anticipation manifests itself in a whole lot of small ways too- it can be simple things like when I’m in the lounge with a plate of food and heading to a table that doesn’t have cutlery, and finding that as soon as I sit down some cutlery appears without me having to ask for it. Or seeing a guest at the pool selecting a lounger without a towel, and quickly getting one without being asked. These are simple, simple things and don’t need you to be psychic, yet you’d be amazed how many “luxury” hotels don’t train these things into their staff.

Not at the Ritz though. All these things happened, silently, automatically and unintrusively.

Everything else

Here are some of the other small things that just made me smile.

The towel animal and handwritten note that came with turndown service

The small token from the lounge staff on my second last day.

Finally, I left my laptop charger in the club lounge when I checked out to move to a nearby ITC property just so I could clock a few additional Starwood nights (a decision I immediately regretted, from a product quality point of view…but every step towards 50 night requalification is impossible to say no to…). A call to the Ritz and my charger was sent over to me at no cost. I have had more than a few hotels in the past ask me to cover the cost of the taxi for similar incidents (which, fair enough, is my own fault, but still).

So all in all, an amazing stay at a Ritz Carlton property, and hopefully not the last for me.

BookBRG- another useful tool for finding BRGs

Best Rate Guarantees, or BRGs, are cool ways you can make the cheaper prices offered by Online Travel Agents (OTAs eg Hotels.com, Expedia etc) work for you while still earning loyalty points and status with the hotel. Have a read of my refresher here on how BRG claims work.

Now, I’m one of those people who actively hunts for BRG opportunities every time he travels. I wrote previously about JustBRG, a rudimentary site that did something very similar.

However, JustBRG was slow, buggy and inelegant, and the site has not been working in a while. I think it’s safe to say the developer has abandoned that project.

Fortunately, I’ve learned about a new site called BookBRG. The interface here is much more like a traditional OTA, the site is a lot smoother and less buggy. Here’s me looking at potential BRG opportunities in Bangkok for my post Christmas trip-

You’ll note on the top left that I’m able to search for Hilton, Best Western, Marriott, Starwood, IHG and Choice hotel options. The engine also tells you the maximum value per point possible if you opt to redeem points.

The engine also recommends whether or not you should book direct or go with the 3rd party OTA and then file a BRG.

In this example, I can see 3 opportunities to file a BRG claim with Hilton, because the agency price < booking direct.

Let’s try this with the Conrad, since that’s the biggest price differential.

Clicking on Conrad sends me to this page where I can see all the competing sites that offer the $138 rate.

Just to verify that this $138 rate does indeed exist, I click through to Hotels.com and see this (the rate is actually even lower @ $131)

Versus this price on Hilton.com. Now in this case there’s actually an even cheaper rate of $120 on Hilton.com so perhaps this isn’t the best of examples, but hopefully this gives you an idea of how the general principle works. You use the search engine to identify possible BRG opportunities, click through and compare like for like rates between the OTA and the official site.

Just as a reminder, here are the BRG offers each chain has

  • Starwood- 20% off competing price OR 2,000 Starpoints
  • Hilton- 25% off competing price
  • Marriott-25% off competing price
  • IHG-Match competing price + first night free
  • Choice- Match competing price + first night free
  • Best Western- Match competing price + US$100 gift card