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Hotel Vagabond Review: how does Singapore’s first Tribute property stack up?

Dr Frederick Ee is a medical doctor, author, blogger and traveler. He discovered his passion for travel on his first long-haul trip to New York City in 2012. His quest for premium travel experiences started on that very same flight as he endured a smelly foot beside him from the passenger behind him for the 24 hours of flight from Singapore to New York. He blogs at goodhotelreview.blogspot.com, focusing on hotel experiences. His most memorable moment of travel was to participate in the resuscitation of a collapsed patient during a long flight to Paris. Feel free to add him on Facebook with a message and his Instagram at @drfrederickee

He would like to thank MileLion for having him as a guest writer and hope readers would enjoy his writings and musings.


Art Meets Hospitality at Hotel Vagabond

A very different stay from the usual.

Stayed November 2016
Published November 2016

This was a really last-minute decision as there is a promotion for Starwood members to stay at all 11 brands by the end of 2016.

Our nearest Tribute Portfolio hotel was in Jakarta and naturally I was happy that I could instead do a staycation and not travel to the Indonesian capital.

The hotel opened in 2015 and joined the Starwood family this month in the Tribute Portfolio as mentioned.

Located in Little India, the hotel is made up from 6 historic shop houses, reminiscent of Waldorf Astoria Amsterdam.

Thankfully the service was much better than at the Waldorf which was my main gripe.

Please note that some of the artwork can be explicit and may be seen in some of the pictures.

Continue reading Hotel Vagabond Review: how does Singapore’s first Tribute property stack up?

Starwood Mystery Point Bonus- up to 50% off Starpoints

Starpoints are one of the most valuable points currencies out there because of the great redemption opportunities that exist. What’s more, they’re very hard for us Singapore-based travellers to earn. The only credit card route we have to earn Starpoints in Singapore is through American Express, at a really crappy ratio.

So whenever Starwood announces a sale on points, I get interested. This time round they’re offering a mystery bonus of up to 50% on points purchased before 31 Dec 2016.

Note that the wording is up to 50%. From what I understand, there are 4 offers available. Starpoints regularly retail at 3.5 cents per point, so depending on what offer you get you will be paying-

  • 25% off — 2.625 cents per Starpoint
  • 30% off — 2.45 cents per Starpoint
  • 35% off — 2.275 cents per Starpoint
  • 50% off — 1.75 cents per Starpoint

Guess what offer I got?

Pfffft. 78 nights this year and on track to hit 100, and I get 25%. Why do the ones we love hurt us the most?

If you got the 50% deal, I would advise you to absolutely buy the maximum number of points you can. 1.75 cents per Starpoint is a ridiculously good deal, given that you can typically get upwards of 2 cents per Starpoint value on hotel redemptions

Remember that you don’t just need to use Starpoints for hotels though, they can also be transferred to most airline FFPs (including Krisflyer) at a 1:1 ratio. What’s more, for every 20,000 Starpoints you transfer, you get a 5,000 miles, so that’s a 1:1.25 ratio.

The full list of airline partners is here.

Aegean Airlines 1:1
Aeromexico Club Premier 1:1
Aeroplan/Air Canada 1:1
Air Berlin 1:1
Air China Companion 1:1
Air New Zealand Airpoints 65:1
Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan 1:1
Alitalia MileMiglia 1:1
All Nippon Airways (ANA) Mileage Club 1:1
American Airlines AAdvantage 1:1
Asia Miles 1:1
Asiana Airlines 1:1
British Airways Executive Club 1:1
China Eastern Airlines 1:1
China Southern Airlines Sky Pearl Club 1:1
Delta Air Lines SkyMiles 1:1
Emirates Skywards 1:1
Etihad Airways 1:1
Flying Blue 1:1
Gol Smiles 2:1
Hainan Airlines 1:1
Hawaiian Airlines 1:1
Japan Airlines (JAL) Mileage Bank 1:1
Jet Airways 1:1
Korean Air 1:1
LATAM Airlines LATAM Pass 1:1.5
LifeMiles® of Avianca 1:1
Miles and More 1:1
Qatar Airways 1:1
Saudi Arabian Airlines 1:1
Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer 1:1
Thai Airways International Royal Orchid Plus 1:1
United Mileage Plus 2:1
Virgin America Elevate 1:1
Virgin Atlantic Flying Club 1:1
Virgin Australia 1:1

If you were to max out a 50% discount, you could essentially buy airline miles on any 1:1 partner for 1.4 US cents, which is very, very cheap.

For Singapore based flyers, this might present an opportunity to redeem some exotic cabin products that would normally be very difficult. For example, you could conceivably transfer to American Airlines or Etihad to book the Etihad First Class Apartment on the A380

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Alternatively, you could convert Starpoints into Japan Airlines miles and use those to redeem Emirates First Class awards. This seems to be the only reasonable way to get them, now that Alaska has devalued their redemption rates.

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Image result for emirates a380 first class

What happens if you get the 30% or 35% offers? I’m a bit more indifferent about these. At 35% I might bite, if I had a confirmed redemption in mind and wasn’t just buying speculatively. Probably not at 30%, because there have been publicly available 30% sales before that anyone could take advantage of.

Anyway it’s a moot point for me because I’m definitely not biting at a 25% sale. The good news for those of you on the fence is that you have until the end of the year to decide, so there’s no need to rush to buy now.

A couple of people have asked me if there’s any chance Starwood will launch a cobranded card in Singapore. My answer to that is a flat no. The market here is just too small to make such an effort worthwhile. The best we can hope for is one of our banks adds Starwood as a transfer partner with a reasonable points exchange rate.

The Long Way to New York: Sheraton Times Square

Singapore Airlines SilverKris Lounge, Singapore
Singapore Airlines Business Class SIN-BKK
Thai Airways First Class Lounge & Spa, BKK
Thai Airways First Class BKK-HND
Getting from HND to NRT
ANA First Class Lounge, NRT
ANA First Class NRT-ORD
United Club ORD
United Economy ORD-EWR
Visiting the US Open
Sheraton New York Times Square
Hilton New York Midtown
Wingtips Lounge JFK & Delta to DC
Exploring Washington DC
Element New York Times Square West
Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse, JFK
Singapore Airlines Suites JFK-FRA
Lufthansa Senator Lounge FRA
Singapore Airlines Suites FRA-SIN


There is no shortage of Starwood properties to choose from in New York City, but I wanted something near the theatre district which would give me easy access to the usual touristy things plus a more or less straight route to Flushing for the US Open. The cheapest Starwood properties in New York are Category 5, or 12,000 points a night.

Once I filtered out those properties in the above map which were Category 6 or higher, I was basically left with the Sheraton, the Element and the Four Points. I picked Sheraton solely because my Platinum gift would be 500 points instead of 250. Yup, that’s right. 250 extra points swayed my decision (it would later prove to be a dubious one based on how much I enjoyed my subsequent stay at the Element. More on that anon)

="Sheraton

The Sheraton New York Times Square is certainly a fabled hotel. Scenes from The Godfather were shot here, and the property hosted the Emmy Awards once upon a time. Luminaries such as Ella Fitzgerald, Peggy Lee, John Lennon and Paul McCarthy have graced its halls through the years.

The property was originally built in 1962 as The Americana of New York. The idea was that the Americana, along with its next door neighbour the New York Hilton (stay report on that much better property coming up too!) would help host the influx of tourists expected at the 1964 NY World’s Fair.

Sheraton eventually bought the property in 1979, renaming it the Sheraton Centre Hotel and Towers. A $192M renovation in 1991 led to another name change- Sheraton New York Hotel and Towers. A subsequent $180M renovation in 2012 shortened the name to Sheraton New York, and it finally gained its current moniker Sheraton New York Times Square in 2013.

You can read the full history here if you’re interested, but TL;DR, that’s the story of Sheratons in a nutshell. They were the cultural centre of activity in the 60s to 80s, but the brand has struggled to retain any sense of relevancy in today’s world. The large railway station clock adorning the main lobby is a subtle reminder that Sheratons are frozen in time, relics clinging to a bygone era. Will Marriott actually have the cojones to finally put the Sheraton brand to pasture? I doubt it, but there will be few tears if they do.

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So, on that note, here are some hi-res, glossy publicity photos that show the hotel at its finest.

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Image result for sheraton new york times square

Image result for sheraton new york times square

And now, reality. I’ve written at length about the problem with Sheratons. The Sheraton Times Square New York certainly isn’t the worst Sheraton I’ve ever been to, but it doesn’t do anything in particular for the brand either.

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This is a 1,781 room property, popular with airline crews and tour groups alike. So it probably shouldn’t be a surprise that the lobby was absolutely swamped when I arrived. The noise level was high, people and luggage were parked all over the place and it was difficult to even find the back of the check-in line. Fortunately there was some semblance of order at the Platinum/Gold queue. To the credit of the staff, they were admirably trying to manage the very bad hand they had been dealt, what with working in a Sheraton and all, passing out bottles of water to frustrated guests.

There were just so many people in the lobby it was impossible to take an unobstructed photo. I finally managed to take a shot of the lobby around 7.45pm at night, after the last of the airline crews had checked out.

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The first thing you’ll notice about the hotel is how Sheraton-y it is. You could pull a design scheme out of a hat labelled Sheraton, and this is exactly what it’d look like. Marble floored lobby. Carpeted hallways. Elevators that still go “ding!” on every floor.

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The room is standard-issue Sheraton too. You’d be hard pressed to pick it out of a police lineup of other Sheratons around the world (except, perhaps the Sheraton Sao Paulo which to its credit actually tried to make some of its rooms unique)

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Which isn’t a bad thing per se- I mean one of the reasons why people stay in chain hotels is they want consistency. They dislike surprises. I’m like that when it comes to vanilla ice cream.

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Suffice to say that the room will purely be a place for you to sleep and nothing more. But no one comes to NYC to stay in a hotel room all day so maybe it works out.

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When you take the perspective that you’re solely there to sleep, bathe and handle other bodily necessities, you can even start to overlook the marble sink and Shine amenities.

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And it’s not all bad. Look, free Starbucks!

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And a vaguely threatening sign telling you not to use the mini bar fridge for personal storage, you vile wretched horrible person.

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The Sheraton New York Times Square is one of the tallest hotels in New York City with 51 floors (150m). It therefore stands to reason you’d want to ensure your elevators are in tip-top shape.

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Therefore, it’s generally never a good sign when you see this notice posted by the lifts…

In one of the rare nods to modernization in the hotel, the lifts had this newfangled system installed where you tell the system what floor you want to go to and it assigns a lift. This is a great piece of technology and it works great in a lot of office buildings and other hotels, ensuring an efficient allocation of lift cars.

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But something at the Sheraton was lost in coding because the lifts were a nightmare. During some periods they’d simply stop working, requiring everyone to troop towards the service elevators around the back. Other times, they’d display really odd behavior. If floors 25, 26 and 27 were selected, the lift would go from 1 to 25, then back to 1, then to 26, then to 1, then to 27. I couldn’t understand it.

There was one evening when the lift would come to the first floor, open its doors invitingly, teasingly, then after it filled up the doors would open and close randomly as it sat stagnant on the first floor. Thinking the lift was overloaded, people would get out. No difference. The doors just continued to open and close, even with one person inside.

I was sure that this must have already been flagged to management, but I decided to go over to the front desk to make my voice heard. I found the nearest front desk staff.

“There’s a problem with the lift. The doors keep closing and opening and it’s not moving”

“The what?”

“The lift”

“Come again?”

At this point I remembered I was in America, where they speak American.

“The elevator”

A fleeting look of realization dawned upon her face.

“Oh right right. Yeah, it does that”

And that was that, really. There was no plan in place to deal with it, just a vague undertone of “you’re in a Sheraton, what do you expect”

There was an executive lounge where breakfast and evening happy hour were served. The breakfast was as continental as they come, a far cry from the generous spreads you’ll find at Asia Starwood properties.

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Hard boiled eggs, yogurt and a fruit salad.

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Whole fruit

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A coffee machine and tea. Starbucks, as per the tie up.

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And lots of bread.

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There was a happy hour in the lounge, but it was US-property happy hour which meant a continental breakfast version of happy hour. Which meant fruits. And cheese. And a salad bar. And a cash bar.

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Oh and granola bars, because why not.

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There were complimentary soft drinks at the bar, but if you wanted alcohol you’d have to pay. A glass of prosecco was going for $14. Which in the grand scheme of NY prices isn’t terrible, but it’s a far cry from the amazing spread at the Westin Seoul. 

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You could also make your own tea if you were so inclined.

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Recounting the offerings in the lounge has made me very depressed. So here are some photos of lunch at Balthazar’s, which I think couldn’t possibly live up to the hype but was pretty solid nonetheless (if not pricey). Here’s the famous steak frites (we had to send it back once for them to get medium rare nailed right)

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And cod, which was done a lot better. Crispy skin and a very french preparation of vegetables.

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And here’s a bowl of ramen, just because I’m a giver that way. This was a post Fiddler on the Roof supper at Ippudo near the theatre district. I know, I know…

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Is the Sheraton Times Square New York a horrible property? Lifts aside, no. I got a solid rest in the rooms, the staff were cordial if not warm, and being a few blocks from the theatre district and Central Park are both awesome. It’s just that given the abundance of hotels which can offer the same, I really don’t think there’s any reason to pick this one again. When I write my Element trip report in particular you’ll see how you really shouldn’t look at the marquee on the front of the hotel when taking a call of where to stay.

Trust me, all the hotel reports after this one get a lot better.