Tag Archives: starwood

Aloft Bangkok Review: Starwood’s cheapest Bangkok option

Bangkok is one of the cheapest markets for hotels that I know of. You can easily find 4 or 5 Star properties below $150 a night, which is extremely good value any way you look at it. Service standards tend to be very high, rooms tend to be new or refurbished and I can say I’ve never had an issue finding a good hotel deal in this city.

There is absolutely no shortage of Starwood properties in Bangkok

The problem, however, is that ever since Starwood’s 2016 category adjustments, Bangkok has become a difficult market to redeem Starwood points. Why is that? Because the value you get is almost always going to be lower than 2 US cents per point, the minimum value you should be accepting.

Before the last set of category changes, you could get the Four Points for 3,000 points (now 7,000) and the Westin/ Le Meridien Bangkok for 7,000 points each (now 10,000).

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Starwood Redemption Rates (First row: Weekday, Second row: Weekend)

However, there is still one bright spark on the Starwood roster in Bangkok, and that’s the Aloft. At 3,000 points per night (4,000 during weekday), it remains one of the better deals to be had.

Location wise, the Aloft is about a 8 minute walk from the Nana BTS station. Nana is, shall we say, a “lively” neighbourhood, and there’ll be no shortage of bars, nightclubs and massage places offering services of the joyful conclusion variety.

I think it’s a perfectly suitable place for young folks, but if you’re bringing the kids or your parents you might want to give this a bit more thought. As a bonus, you’re only 3 stops away from Siam (Siam Paragon, Siam Discovery, Siam Center, Siam Square One) and one stop from Asok (Terminal 21…yes, we Singaporeans have a very limited range when we go to Bangkok. My Thai friend once complained to me that Singaporeans don’t do anything other than Roast and Siam Paragon/MBK when they come)

After landing at BKK and claiming my luggage, I called for an Uber. In the past I would have taken the Airport Rail Link to town but ever since they stopped the Express service (15 mins to Makassan) I’ve been indifferent between taxi/train because you don’t really save that much time taking the City Service (30 mins) + Taxi to your final destination. Plus, Uber drivers seem to have difficulty finding the pick up point at Makassan and I’ve had way too many dishonest taxi drivers with rigged meters hanging out around the station.

My Uber from BKK to the Aloft cost THB 325 (S$13), and with some moderate traffic took about 40 minutes. In case you’re worried about coordinating pick up with a driver who probably doesn’t speak the best of English, don’t worry because Uber will let you specify which pillar you want to be picked up on Level 2 (arrivals). The process was entirely painless. FYI, the Airport Rail Link will cost THB 35 to get from BKK to Makassan.

Image result for aloft bangkok

The Aloft is about 500m deep into Soi 11. There is a free tuk tuk service that takes you to Nana BTS (or Asok, if you so wish) but wait times can be long especially during rush hour traffic.

The lobby has high ceilings and the Christmas decorations were still up (I visited the day after Christmas)

Check-in was quick. The front desk staff asked me if I wanted 250 points or breakfast as my welcome gift (I opted for the breakfast), and told me I’d been “upgraded” to a high floor room.

This property doesn’t really do upgrades, and they’ve got a big sign at the front desk emphasizing that Aloft properties are exempt from the Starwood Platinum upgrade policy. I can’t decide if the sign is too passive aggressive or a good way of anticipating questions.

There was a priority Starwood elite member check in area, but I never saw it manned.

I’ve stayed in plenty of Alofts before, so by now I knew what to expect. The Aloft is basically a cheaper version of the W, trying to maintain the same young and with it vibe while charging rates closer to the US$100 mark (W’s price upwards of US$200 in my experience). So you can expect loud nightclub music (fortunately my room was fairly well insulated because I’m a light sleeper), a lobby with “fun” stuff in it and constant reminders at every turn that the brand is hip and young.

Like this, on the back of the lift doors. Hey everyone, we are young and hip because we use the emoji (what happened to the good old days of calling them emoticons) for our room service menu lol! rotflol! #hashtag instantgram!

I swear, my generation is going to be remembered as the one that finally killed the written language in favour of poorly drawn hieroglyphics. I mean, I’m not asking people to write in iambic pentameter, but if you’re the sort who use emoji on a regular basis we will probably not get along 🙂

Where was I?

My room was on the 31st floor (32 floors in total).

It seems from this omni-review thread on Flyertalk (and other comments on the hotel’s Tripadvisor page) that the property has a serious problem with mildew in some rooms. Fortunately, my room wasn’t one of them, and didn’t really smell of anything.

Technically, the Aloft Bangkok only has 2 types of rooms- standard and suite. Not so technically, the standard rooms are further subdivided into Chic, Urban and Breezy. My understanding is that the internal hierarchy is chic–>urban–>breezy. Chic rooms are on the lowest floors and will have a splendid side-street view. Urban rooms are on the midfloors and Breezy rooms are at the top. So technically I did get an upgrade, he said, if only to reassure his desperate status anxiety (There’s an interesting discussion on this FT thread (see post 619) about why there’s a need to make these small distinctions among otherwise very similar room types. If you ask me it sounds like someone’s playing with award inventory)

My Breezy room was ~30-33 sqm, with a keycard already inserted into the power switch and the A/C at full blast when I entered.

My room was a King room. The bed was as good as any bed I ever had in a Westin, or any other hotel for that matter.

The room is sizable enough to fit an L-shaped couch in the corner. It felt dirty.

There is, fortunately, a full sized work desk. Ben over at OMAAT has a pet peeve of hotels removing desks in the name of catering to millennials (the same millennials who would rather use emoji to order room service), and I tend to agree with him here. I don’t care what generation you’re born in, a desk is a useful piece of equipment to have in any hotel room.

There was an overpriced minibar with 2 individually wrapped prophylactics. How overpriced? Said prophylactics cost $7 each. I have limited (ok, zero) experience in this area, but I’ll hazard a guess that $7 is northwards of reasonable. But I guess when you gotta go…

Fortunately, there is an abundance of mini marts around the Aloft where you can stock up on snacks and water for cheap.

Free coffee and tea in the room come standard. Ice requires a trip down to the lobby. One of the nice things that happened during the stay was when my friends and I wanted to chill a bottle of champagne. We were discussing the best way of jury rigging an ice bucket (take the trash can to the lobby? fill the bathtub with ice (and remove someone’s kidney later)? When I went down with my puny ice bucket, the lady at the bar gave me a full sized ice bucket piled high with ice.

The bathroom is sizeable and has 2 bottles of complimentary water. In practice, there’s really no problem calling down and getting additional bottles for free.

The last time I was here, the hotel had mini bottles of Bliss body lotion and Bliss soapy bars. They’ve since replaced those with generic Aloft branded toiletries, which was a disappointment

Fortunately, Bliss body wash and shampoo is still available is still available in the shower, albeit in dorm-like (I’m sorry, eco friendly) pump dispensers.

The throne room.

By the bedside there is a gentle reminder of how doomed we all are.

Breakfast is served at Crave Restaurant. The quality of breakfast was disappointing compared to that which you can find at many Asia Starwood properties

There was juice, milk and water stations (the juice isn’t fresh)

A limited choice of cereals

A salad bar (really, who eats salad at breakfast?)

A selection of cut fruit

Stale pastries

The hot food selection had a mixture of Thai and Western options

And thankfully there was a made-to-order egg station

Plus a noodle bar

Here’s my plates over two days. I was saving room for Roast, as you can see.

I explored the lobby after breakfast. There was a mini-mart of sorts within the hotel (with prices to match). I can’t imagine who would be willing to pay these prices, given that you could walk 30m outside to a 7-11 selling the same thing at half price, but hey, tourists.

The lobby is meant to be the social hub of the property, so you’ll find a foosball table, a pool table, a PS4 and a Pac Man arcade case here too.

If you feel in the mood for swimming, there’s a pool. It was somewhat full when I visited.

On the same floor as the pool you’ll find a gym. I am glad that Bangkok properties aren’t following the (ridiculous) trend that hotels elsewhere have started of charging for gym access.

So long as the Aloft stays at 3,000/4,000 points per night it’ll definitely remain a go-to place for me. The location is a bit dodgy but it’s central enough for Bangkok, the breakfast isn’t great but Bangkok has such an amazing abundance of cafes it seems a waste to eat breakfast in the hotel, and if you get rooms on the higher floors the usual Bangkok noise shouldn’t be an issue. Don’t expect much in the way of Platinum recognition/elite benefits and you’ll be fine.

Dining with kids in hotels- what are your options?

The Milelion does not have children. This is not his fault. Rather, it is the women who are wrong. However, other Milelion readers have been able to procreate, and that’s totally cool with The Milelion. He bears them no ill will, so long as their progeny don’t end up seated near him on an aircraft.

If you have kids, you might be wondering what your options are when it comes to hotel dining. If you’re going to stay at a Starwood property, you might want to know that Starwood has what’s called a “Kids Pass” which allows parents to pay a flat daily rate for their kids (aged 12 and below) to get all you can eat dining throughout the duration of the stay.

The fine print-

  • If you buy the Kids Pass, you need to buy it for the entire duration of your stay (it’s charged on a daily basis). You can buy it after your stay has started, but need to participate till the day you check out. You can’t pick and choose particular days to do the Kids Pass
  • To use the Kids Pass for meals, the adult accompanying the child also needs to buy an item (some places say main course, others only say “an item”). If the kid is only having a drink, the adult needs to be present but doesn’t need to order anything

What this is, in reality, is a sneaky way of locking in additional revenue because properties are banking on the fact the parent is locked in for hotel dining as well. Add that to the fact that you can’t pick and choose particular days to do the Kids Pass, and you might be wondering why this is a good deal.

Well, it’s not going to make sense in all situations, but it could make sense when you’re staying at a resort where outside dining options are limited because the resort is cut off from the rest of the world.

The magic question is how much does it cost? It varies from resort to resort. SPG provides a list of participating resorts where you can buy a Kids Pass, but advises you to contact individual properties to get pricing. So I did. I emailed every single one of those properties just so you don’t have to. Here’s the ones that responded within 24 hours (I’ll keep adding to this list as responses come in)

Property City Charge/Day (Local) Charge/Day (SGD)
Westin Shimei Bay Resort Hainan Free with paying parent $0
Sheraton Hua Hin Hua Hin 300 THB $12
Le Meridien She Shan Shanghai 66 RMB $14
Sheraton Grand Guangzhou Huadu Guangzhou 69 RMB $14
Sheraton Fiji Resort Nadi FJ$20 $14
Sheraton Samui Koh Samui THB 353 $14
Sheraton Shenzhou Penisula Hainan US$10 $15
Laguna Nusa Dua Bali US$10 $15
Le Meridien Angkor Siem Reap US$10 $15
Sheraton Nha Trang Hotel & Spa Nha Trang US$10 $15
St Regis Bali Bali US$10 $15
Sheraton Bali Kuta Bali IDR 150,000 $16
Le Meridien Bali Jimbaran Bali IDR 150000 $16
Sheraton Bailuhu Resort Huizhou CNY 88 $18
St Regis Langkawi Langkawi 60 MYR $19
Westin Siray Bay Resort Phuket THB 500 $20
Westin Resort Bali Bali US$15 $22
Westin Resort Nusa Dua Bali US$15 $22
Sheraton Rhodes Resort Rhodes 15 EUR $23
Naka Island Phuket 600 THB $24
St Regis Sanya Yalong Bay Resort Hainan CNY 117 $24
Westin Miyako Kyoto Kyoto JPY 2000 $25
Westin Resort & Spa, Whistler Whistler CAD 25 $27
Andaman Luxury Collection Langkawi 90 MYR $29
Sheraton Grand Rio Hotel Rio US$20 $29
Sheraton Maui Maui US$20 $29
Schloss Fuschl Salzburg 20 EUR $30
Sheraton Mallorca Arabella Mallorca 20 EUR $30
Sheraton Grand Mirage Resort Gold Coast AUD 30 $31
Sheraton Mirage Port Douglas Port Douglas AUD 30 $31
Sheraton Iguazu Resort Puerto Iguazu US$22 $32
St Regis Abu Dhabi Abu Dhabi AED 90 $35
Le Meridien Phuket Beach Phuket 890 THB $36
Westin Dubai Mina Seyahi Dubai AED 100 $39
Westin Mission Hills Resort Rancho Mirage US$29 $42
Le Meridien Fisherman’s Cove Seychelles EUR 30 $46
St Regis Saadiyat Island Abu Dhabi AED 120 $47
St Regis Doha Doha QR 150 $60
Trump Turnberry Turnberry GBP 40 $71

It seems like in general, you can get good value at properties in Asia. Of course without visiting the properties I can’t tell you anything about the quality of the food, but if you’re willing to lock yourself into hotel dining in a place like Nusa Dua in Bali (which, let’s face it, doesn’t have an awful lot going on around it) being able feed your kid at all the St Regis restaurants for S$15 a day is a pretty sweet deal. You’re going to want to think strategically about this- how many meals will you be eating in the hotel? Outside of the hotel? Will buying this plan make you feel obliged to eat in the hotel instead of heading out?

Your travels might not involve Starwood properties, so you should know that many other hotel chains offer “kids eat free” type dealies. These sometimes involve booking a special rate, but there are also situations where it’s as simple as showing up at the hotel restaurant and getting a free kid’s meal whenever the adult orders something.

Here are some examples you might find useful. You should definitely check with individual properties when booking, however, as there may be differences among properties in the same brand

  • Holiday Inn– Kids 12 and under eat free at any Holiday Inn restaurant worldwide when accompanied by a paying adult
  • Marriott– Special family rates can be booked that provide Kids Eat Free privileges at restaurants
  • Hilton- Particular properties offer special family rates including Kids Eat Free privileges

 

Starwood announces Q1 2017 promotion, hopes you have long stays planned

Starwood has announced its Q1 promotion for 2017 and I have mixed feelings about it. Registration is required and can be done here. Here’s the details-

  • Earn double Starpoints® on your first three stays between January 16 and April 15, 2017.
  • Plus, we’re giving you an extra Double Take bonus to earn even more Starpoints.
  • Offer valid at all hotels and resorts in the SPG program — no exceptions.

Let’s start with the good. The best part about this promotion is that 100% of SPG properties worldwide are participating. No exclusions. It just strikes me as petty and small minded whenever properties opt out taking part in these bonuses, and I’ve found that elite member treatment is invariably worse at such places (given that their participation in the program is only half-hearted. Sheraton Singapore, I’m looking at you)

Unlike past promotions, they only reward your first 3 stays with double Starpoints. Subsequently, however, what’s called the Double Take bonus kicks in.

So far there have been two reported variants of the doubl eTake bonus you can get

Variant 1 (I got this one)

  • Starting on your fourth stay, you can earn up to 15,000 bonus Starpoints®:
  • Achieve 20 nights and you’ll earn 10,000 Starpoints.
  • After 20 nights earn 500 Starpoints for each additional night, up to 5,000 Starpoints

Variant 2

  • Starting on your fourth stay, you can earn up to 10,000 bonus Starpoints®:
  • Achieve 10 nights and you’ll earn 5,000 Starpoints.
  • After 10 nights earn 500 Starpoints for each additional night, up to 5,000 Starpoints.

The problem with the Double Take bonus is how restrictive it is, because they only start counting the 20 nights from when you complete your third stay (confirmed by the SPG representative on Flyertalk)

So imagine a scenario like this

Stay 1: 6 nights
Stay 2: 11 nights
Stay 3: 5 nights

I’ve already exceeded 20 nights here, but for me to get my 10,000 bonus Starpoints I need to stay a further 20 nights from the end of my third stay. Therefore, another way of reading this promotion is

  • 2X Starpoints on first 3 stays
  • 500 bonus starpoints per night from fourth stay for 20 nights (but only if I hit 20 additional nights, otherwise 0)
  • 500 bonus starpoints per night from the 21st night after the fourth stay for a maximum of 10 nights

Wow, they really want you to rack up the stays. For you to maximise the 15,000 point kicker, you need to stay 30 nights after your first 3 stays.

I need to do the math on this, but it appears that for some people, it may make more sense to do 3 short stays upfront so you can trigger the count for the 30 nights. It all depends- I think in general 500 bonus points a night is better than 2X Starpoints for your entire stay, but you’ll have to work the math for yourself and see what happens.

 

I’m going to be in Sao Paulo in January for the first two to three weeks and my old friend the Sheraton Sao Paulo beckons.

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IRL
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IRL part two

Although the promotion starts on 16 Jan, as per the T&C all I need to do is get one night of my stay within the promotion period in order to have the whole stay qualifying. So if, for example, I stay 2 Jan- 17 Jan, the entire stay qualifies for double starpoints.

I was really hoping to reach Platinum 100 this year but because of a last minute change in travel plans that will not be possible. I do retain high hopes for 2017 though, with about 49 Starwood nights already locked in. Also, 2017 will be the last year of the SPG program in its current form as we know it. After 2017 it is likely that Marriott will either do away with it completely or merge the Marriott Rewards program (boo) with the SPG one.

Therefore my immediate goal is to lock in Lifetime Gold and pray that Marriott doesn’t terminate the Lifetime program (Lifetime, in the realm of loyalty programs, refers to the lifetime of the program, not your lifetime sadly). I’ve already got 275 nights so all I need to do for Lifetime Gold is requalify for elite status for 1 more year.

For those of you who earn points with Marriott (why?) you might be interested to note that Marriott Rewards and SPG seem to be aligning their promotions. Marriott’s Q1 promotion sounds, on the surface, to be similar to SPG’s but I haven’t gone to read the details.

What do I think of the promotion overall? It’s definitely weaker than past ones, but since hotels are enjoying good occupancy rates now there’s really no need to incentivize people to stay. I’m hopelessly loyal to SPG so they’ll still be my choice of hotel provider for 2017, but depending on what Marriott does 2018 may be a different stoy for me…

Oh who am I kidding.