Tag Archives: starwood

How I almost got quarantined and a mistake upgrade at Westin Rome

Should I have been sent to the hospital? + Amazing Mistake Upgrade at Westin Rome
Fever and Dubai do not mix well

Stayed October 2016

While writing this entry, I was thinking if I should split it into 2, but I decided I needed to reduce my backlog as much as possible.

From the St Regis, I moved to the nearby Westin which have much better online reviews.

The walk to the Westin wasn’t too bad even with luggage, and I was also eager to leave the small room at St Regis.

There, I had an amazing upgrade due to a special set of circumstances.

The hotel is easy to spot as the exterior looked really classic with the balconies and cupola as in the picture above.

Entrance

Front Desk and Lobby
Staff were less eager as there were many more guests moving around and I was attended to by Mr Flaviano who took my card and processed an authorization of a fairly large amount.
With that, he showed me to my room and proudly said I had been upgraded to a Via Veneto Suite!
Via Veneto Suite!

This was when my companion got concerned and asked Mr Flaviano to check on my booking.

I was asked to just rest in the suite while the check was being done and I was assured that the suite has been assigned to me and I shouldn’t worry at all.
The suite has a really big and impressive living room, decorated with paintings and opened up to a nice balcony with nice views of the city.
 The bedroom looked pretty normal with a nice chandelier. Perhaps I should just say less impressive when compared to the living room. Normal does seem to be an understatement.

The bathroom was more than fine and the bathtub came with Jacuzzi jets. That, I really liked.

I had trouble with the dual shower head which I never did figure out the proper usage.
On the table were some nibbles and a bottle of Martini as welcome gifts.

So what happened?First, I had booked a Junior Suite under a refundable rate (which I advise to do when booking in advance) and had changed the rate and room type subsequently.

My changes were acknowledged by the SPG system, however, I think the hotel booking was not updated.

That explains the large pre-authorization amount (I remember it was 1500 Euros) and I do think the upgrade could have been a mistake. Of course I can be wrong. Perhaps the hotel is really that great to elite members!

With the issue resolved (without a gigantic hole in my pocket), I did my usual exploration of the hotel.

I made my way to the lower lobby which leads to the meeting rooms, the business center and the gym.

Lower Lobby

Meeting Rooms
Business Centre

Breakfast the next morning was solid with a nice range and good quality in a opulent restaurant.
Not as grand as the St Regis surely, but it is only a meal…

However, it was also much more crowded and I had to wait for some time before being seated.

I took a walk around the lobby extension before checking out which was very efficient.

I returned the bottle of Martini to the front desk as I was already very surprised by the upgrade and that I do not drink alcohol either.

Sadly, I did not manage to bid farewell to Mr Flaviano and thank him for his help.

After that extraordinarily upgraded stay, it was time to home and my flight home was via Dubai.
The transit time was several hours and, after some research, I figured I could go see the famous Burj Khalifa!
The metro system was easy to use and I had a short but great time in Dubai!
Unfortunately, I started feeling unwell at this point.
A sore throat, chills, body aches and lethargy hinted at a possible fever.
Luckily, I managed to board my flight home to Singapore!
During the flight, I felt worse as time went by and I really wanted to go home as soon as possible for a good rest.
While I was glad to be in Business class for a better rest, I was also disappointed that I couldn’t really enjoy the experience.
I took comfort in the fact that I didn’t fall ill during the trip, but only at the very end.
The flight landed safely and I proceeded to disembark. 
Unfortunately, this wasn’t the end of my woes.

On reaching the gate, I was picked up by the temperature scanner for having a high reading.The airport staff stopped me and motioned me to the side.Oh Dear!

I was questioned on several things, including how long I was and what I did in Dubai, and if I came into contact with camels. I gathered there were concerns of MERS from the Middle East.

My temperature reading was less than 38.0 Celsius, so I was simply told to go to the hospital if I got worse by the protocol. 

 I was elated at that, because who wants to end a holiday with a visit to the hospital?

Happy and Healthy travels! (To myself as well!)

The Milelion’s RTW Trip 2017: W Doha 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
Royal Air Maroc Business Class Lounge CMN
Royal Air Maroc B737 Business Class CMN-ACC
Ethiopian Airlines B787 Business Class ACC-ADD
Ethiopian Airlines Cloud 9 Business Class Lounge ADD
Ethiopian Airlines Q400 Business Class ADD-DAR
Protea Hotel by Marriott Dar Es Salaam Courtyard
Qatar Airways A320 Business Class DAR-DOH
Qatar Airways Al Safwa First Class Lounge DOH
Qatar Airways A330 “First” Class DOH-MCT
Oman Air Business Class Lounge, MCT
Oman Air E175 Business Class MCT-DXB
The Grosvenor House Dubai
W Doha
Qatar Airways Business Class Lounge DOH
Qatar Airways B772 Business Class DOH-BLR
The Ritz Carlton Bangalore
Vistara A320 Business Class BLR-DEL
Cathay Pacific A330 Business Class DEL-HKG
W Hong Kong
Touring Cathay Pacific’s HKG Lounges
Cathay Pacific A350 Business Class HKG-SIN


Contrary to what you might be reading on the news, everything in Qatar is pretty much business as usual. There was an initial mad rush for supermarkets when the blockade was first announced, but when the country is rich enough to airlift cows to provide milk, you don’t really worry about outright famine. Since then, things have calmed down quite a bit as the region lapses into a kind of a “see-who-blinks-first” stalemate. It kind of makes you wonder how long the parties involved will let this continue. But as I’ve said before, I’m going to leave the politics for the politicians and focus on the travel implications of the blockade.

After a weekend gallivanting in Dubai, it was time to continue the work portion of my trip in Doha. And that meant having to fly through Muscat again, though thankfully this time not with Oman Air.

map

I took a pretty unremarkable FlyDubai flight from Dubai to Muscat before connecting to an economy class Qatar Airways flight from Muscat to Doha. Qatar has an awesome set up for arriving business and first class passengers with special immigration facilities at DOH, but its offerings for economy class passengers are just abject. I waited in line for nearly an hour with many counters opening and closing for no apparent reason.  They say Ramadan makes the situation at immigration worse as employees take more frequent breaks. Plus, if you haven’t had blood sugar for a whole day you’re not exactly going to be in the best of moods.

At long last, I cleared immigration, got my bag and headed off to the W Doha, about 20 minutes from the airport.

Believe it or not, the W Doha was the first W property to open in the Middle East back in 2009 (well, second if you count Turkey as part of the Middle East- the W Istanbul debuted in 2008). A grand total of 442 rooms await, plus restaurants helmed by celebrity chefs like Jean Georges.

The first thing you need to know about W Hotels is that they’re built for Instagram. It’s probably the only hotel chain where I don’t feel awkward for taking pictures of everything because everyone else around me is doing the same thing.

As you enter the lobby you’re greeted by quite an impressive sight- W Hotels really strut themselves in the evening, and the blue ceiling-hung lights together with the mood music make for a very distinctive atmosphere. There’s no way you’d walk into a W and not know it.

I’d arrived in the evening, well into the breaking fast time and the lobby was quite lively. Many hotels in the Middle East run special Iftar buffets in the evening, where there’s lots of food and special entertainment (I was under the impression all entertainment was not allowed during this period- maybe it just follows the same rules as eating in public).

The lobby decor was what you’d expect from a W, with plenty of seating areas that look cool but are probably uncomfortable to sit in for prolonged periods of time.

There was no line at check-in, and I was served by a very cheerful associate. He poked around in his computer a bit and said he thought I’d like the upgrade they had prepared for me.

(Later I realised that you could also check in at these sit down booths on the right hand side of the foyer)

There are 51 suites in the property, and I was given room 1214, a W Suite (16 available, 109 sqm). How do I know it was a W Suite? It says so on the door, silly.

Nothing quite like having your room specially labelled.

You know your room is going to be awesome when you open the door and can’t actually see your room yet. There’s a small corridor at the entrance

With a guest bathroom just adjacent to it.

But it’s what lies in the main room that’s even more exciting. The lighting during the day was much better so there’s going to be a mixture of shots, sorry for the confusion. Day/night cycles work the same in the Middle East as they do elsewhere in the world, for the record. I’m pretty sure my photos are not doing the room justice, but dammit, I’m not Ansel Adams (although I will soon have a flashy new camera which will obviously improve my skillz because it’s all about the equipment).

The living room area is massive. You have a full couch, working desk, TV, many chairs and this huge chandelier in the middle of the room.

One of the perks mentioned on the hotel website about W Suites are “board games”. I’m guessing the tic-tac-toe on the coffee table counts… (clearly these guys have never played Settlers before)

Here’s the reverse angle showing you the TV and rest of the room.

And a close up of the work desk.

The work desk had a stationery kit of its own, with highlighters, sticky pads, binder clips, rubber bands and paper clips. Don’t underestimate the importance of paper clips, people- they’re invaluable for swapping out your sim card.

The minibar wasn’t as extensive as the one I had at the W Seoul, but still had a good assortment of nuts, sweets and souvenirs. I noted that there were no condoms or alcohol (a potent combination), probably more on account of where we were than time of the year.

You can find a separate dining/working table in a corner of the room too, which is useful for hosting meetings and/or dumping your spare junk.

And a fun to swing in eggshell chair suspended from the ceiling.

The bedroom is equally wow worthy. I don’t know what it is about these drapes that aren’t quite drapes- these dangly things that make the room feel really nice. Yeah they get in the way, but they’re on a rail attached to the ceiling and can be extended or retracted as you please.

There were two notes on the bed- one was from the manager explaining the sensitive nature of Ramadan, and the second a notice explaining how the operating hours of the pool and F&B outlets would be affected. In general, you can’t be seen eating in public during Ramadan so restaurants with outdoor seating areas will be shut, but those which are well concealed from outside can continue operations as per normal. This is most noticeable in malls, where open concept coffee joints shut down, but restaurants can put up “modesty boardings” and continue operations.

It is a W Hotel, so the bathroom is of course a thing of beauty. Lots of frosted glass, flattering lighting and I’m pretty sure the weighing scale lies to you too.

If you feel like soaking, there is a free standing bath tub.

The shower had a rain head. The design of the shower wasn’t like what I’d seen in other hotels with a peek a boo glass window overlooking the bedroom that some other W properties have.

What was awesome is that in addition to the rain shower there were a series of wall-mounted jets that could give you a good back massage.

The amenities are, of course, full-sized Bliss branded ones and were replenished daily.

For washing up, there are dual sinks with mineral water (from bottles, not flowing out of the tap unfortunately. What? It’s the Middle East) and an abundance of towels.

On the wash counter top you also had Bliss facial wash and body butter. The staff were more than happy to replenish the supply as and when you wanted.

It’s a shame that it was Ramadan when I visited because it meant the executive lounge (called the WIP lounge here) was closed (why closed? It’s exposed to the public concourse so it counts as eating in public).

So I spent whatever time I had exploring the rest of the food options at the hotel that were still operating.

The W Cafe has cupcakes and other baked treats

I tried some of their creations like banana nutella cupcakes (is there a more heavenly creation?) and found them to be awesome.

The cafe has seating too so you can have your deserts in-house or to go.

The highlight of the dining optios was the Italian restaurant, called La Spiga by Paper Moon. For the uninitiated, Paper Moon is a chain of eateries started in Via Bagutta, Milan that has since expanded to several other locations around the world.

People who know me will tell you that I’m particular about pasta like no one’s business. I have shouted at people for not salting the water before cooking pasta, for breaking the pasta, for using teflon cut supermarket brands and cooking the pasta and sauce separately. I have met Italians who have told me I am more particular about pasta than they are. So when I say this pasta was good, you know I mean it.

I had a very enjoyable chat with the chef about cooking Italian food, and he told me he was so relieved I asked for the pasta al dente, because in the Middle East “they like their pasta cooked until soft.” We both shook our heads silently at this, shocked at how barbaric the world could be.

Breakfast was at Market by Jean Georges

Image result for market by jean-georges doha

A very large spread of items was available, and I’ll let the photos speak for themselves.

I never saw the restaurant too full despite coming for breakfast at peak period. I think a lot of business travelers were avoiding the country on account of the blockade.

The W Doha definitely provided me one of the nicest rooms I stayed in all journey long (a close fight with the Grosvenor House). The decor was fantastic, the service was always friendly and the F&B options were solid. It’s a shame that I wasn’t able to try out the lounge or pool, but Ramadan is rarely the best time to be in the Middle East anyway.

What is your best way of getting hotel points in Singapore?

It’s tough to chase hotel points in Singapore. We can earn airline miles easily enough (well, at least Krisflyer and Asiamiles), but when it comes to hotel point currencies, we’re SOL. We don’t have any cobrand cards like the yanks do, what with their fancy SPG AMEX (30,000 Starpoints with $3,000 spend) and Hilton AMEX (50,000 Hilton Points with $1,000 spend). Therefore, we either earn them the old fashioned way by staying, or we need to look at some other options.

I’m going to say upfront that I don’t have some magic way of earning tons of hotel points, so if you hope to get some revelation here you’re going to be disappointed. It’s my intention in this article to summarize the options available to help you make the best of a bad situation

Credit Cards

It is technically possible to earn hotel points through credit cards here, but the rate is so low as to make it not worthwhile. You’d get much better value redeeming your card points for airline miles.

American Express Cards (Hilton, SPG)

AMEX in Singapore has both Hilton and Starwood as transfer partners for its Membership Rewards (MR) program.

Your standard AMEX Platinum card (any of the three) earns 2 MR points per S$1.60 spent. The only other points earning option is the AMEX Rewards with 1 MR point per S$1 spent.

This means

  • S$1 on AMEX Platinum= 1.25 MR= 1.56 Hilton Points= 0.41 SPG points
  • S$1 on AMEX Rewards= 1 MR = 1.25 Hilton Points= 0.33 SPG points.

I know it’s not a fair comparison, but when you consider what cardholders in the States earn…man.

As rare as hotel points may be for those of us in Singapore, it’s simply bad value to try to earn them through AMEX cards. You’re really losing out in two ways- one, by the inferior rate of points earning the AMEX cards have, two, by the inferior rate of transfer between MR and hotels.

If you take Ben’s valuation of 0.4/2.2 US cents per Hilton/SPG point, then you’re earning the equivalent of

  • AMEX Platinum:  0.86%/ 1.23% if you pick Hilton/SPG
  • AMEX Rewards: 0.69%/0.99% if you pick Hilton/SPG

You’d get better value by using a cashback card and spending the money saved on hotels. Of course I’m not considering the possibility of earning 10X MR points with AMEX EXTRA partners, but as I said in a previous article, these partners are limited to high end boutiques and and a handful of restaurants. It’s unlikely you’ll be spending enough here to make it viable.

Final point on this- the AMEX Rewards has a little-publicized sign up bonus which awards you 21,000 bonus MR points when you spend $1,500 within 3 months of signing up. That, together with the base points you earn gives you a grand total of 24,000 MR points. It’s 7,920 SPG/ 30,000 Hilton points, which isn’t a whole lot, but one of your better options. Of course, this can only be done once so it’s not a reliable way of generating points regularly.

Citibank Cards (Hilton, IHG)

Citibank partners with both Hilton and IHG. Here’s what the rates look like, depending on whether you’re transferring your Citimiles or your Thank You points (remember that 1 Citipoint is 2/5 of a mile)

The most interesting observation is that there isn’t parity between Citimiles and Thank You points. The same 10,000 Hilton points cost 6,667 miles or 25,000 points. But 25,000 points= 10,000 miles. If you do chose to earn hotel points through Citibank cards, it seems like it would be much cheaper to do so via the Premiermiles cards rather than Citibank Rewards.

But that’s not the whole picture. If you’re using your credit cards smartly, you’d only be using your Citibank Rewards at merchants where you earn 10X points. Therefore, the equation looks something like this

Given the 0.4 US cent value of a Hilton point, your rebate is

This all assumes, of course, that you only use your Citibank Rewards card for 10X opportunities. I see a really unhealthy number of people using their Citibank Rewards card to pay at restaurants and it kills me every time.

Uber (SPG)

You won’t earn a lot of points this way, but every bit helps and it costs you nothing extra. If you use Uber and link your Starwood account, you can earn 1 Starpoint for every US$2 equivalent you spend on rides. It’s a pitifully low earning rate (until January this year it was 1 Starpoint per US$1).

There’s another catch- to earn Starpoints for Uber rides, you must have stayed in a Starwood property at least once during the current calendar year. You can only earn Starpoints for the first US$10,000 of Uber spend in a year, but trust me, you’re not gong to be maxing this one out.

Buying points outright (SPG, Hilton, IHG, Hyatt)

In the absence of any other ideas, buying points might be your best way of generating them in Singapore. I’m going to run through some of the sales we’ve seen for major points currencies recently.

Image result for starwood buy points

Starwood points typically retail at 3.5 US cents each, but from time to time we see sales of 35% that brings down the cost to 2.28 US cents each. There was an even more fantastic targeted promotion last year that saw some accounts getting 50% discounts, which meant 1.75 US cents each. Given that Starwood points are valued at about 2.2 US cents, that should have been a no brainer.

Image result for buy hilton points

Hilton often sells points with a 100% bonus, which brings the cost from 1 US cent per point to 0.5 US cents (typical valuation: 0.4 US cents).

Image result for ihg buy points 2017

IHG has run 100% bonus sales recently bringing the cost down to 0.575 US cents each (typical valuation: 0.5 US cents).

Hyatt does sales of 30-40% from time to time, allowing you to buy points at 1.71 US cents each (typical valuation: 1.5 US cents).

If you buy points in this manner, you can effectively buy expensive properties at a discount. Take for example the Conrad Maldives below- the cheapest revenue rate is US$661, but if you bought 95,000 points at 0.5 cents each you’d pay US$475. Plus, points rates are refundable whereas the cheapest revenue rate will probably not be.

Most hotel programs will cap the maximum number of points you can buy in a year- for Starwood it’s 30,000 and for Hilton it’s 80,000. Both of these amounts are before bonuses. There may also be restrictions on how old your account must be before you can buy points (eg for SPG it’s 14 days), so I’d recommend getting account set up now just in case.

Conclusion

I wish I had a better solution for you guys, but we have to accept that Singapore is too insignificant a market for any major hotel chain to offer a co-branded credit card. I still chuckle when I get the occasional email asking me whether Starwood will bring its credit card here.

There are a handful of airline loyalty programs (Virgin Atlantic and Hawaiian Airlines come to mind) that let you transfer miles to hotel points, but these are generally at very bad rates. Moreover, you can’t earn those two currencies in Singapore.

If you need hotel points, you’re probably best looking at picking them up cheap when they go on sale.