Tag Archives: tribute

The Milelion’s RTW Trip 2017: Heathrow Express and the Great Northern London 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 London Park Lane
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
Labadi Beach Hotel, Accra
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
Westin Doha
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 Dragon Lounge Bangalore
Cathay Dragon A330 Business Class BLR-HKG
W Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific’s HKG Lounges
Cathay Pacific A350 Business Class HKG-SIN


After exploring the arrivals lounge, my colleague and I took the Heathrow Express for the 15 minute ride into Central London. I know, I know. The Heathrow Express has its share of detractors, and it’s often far from the cheapest option, but those are the perks of business travel.

That said, Heathrow Express tickets can be mighty affordable if you’re willing to commit to dates in advance. Like, way in advance. Here’s how the pricing (in GBP) looks for one-way (OW) trips depending on what day you travel and how far out your book:

  • >90 days: Weekend- 5.50 OW, Weekday- 12.10 OW
  • 30-89 days: Weekend- 8.80 OW, Weekday- 14.30 OW
  • 14-29 days: Weekend- 12.10 OW, Weekday- 16.50 OW
  • Within 14 days: Offpeak- 22 OW, Peak- 25 OW, Return- 37

For comparison’s sake, it’d take GBP 5.70 and about an hour to take the tube from Heathrow into Central London. Of course, taking the tube doesn’t require you to buy a non-refundable ticket 90 days out, and the Heathrow Express drops you at Paddington, which depending on where you’re heading may or may not work for you.

It’s easy to find the Heathrow Express from the arrivals area. Just follow the many, many signs.

You’ll eventually need to head down a lift to the train platform

It can get a bit confusing for first timers because it’s not just the Heathrow Express that departs from this platform- the cheaper, slower Heathrow Connect service does too. But there are many announcements and as long as you can read basic signage you’ll be fine.

The Heathrow Express is also clearly labeled, so as I said, you’d have to be simple or something to get on the wrong train.

photo credit: kwokanathan

My colleague and I both bought standard class tickets, but by virtue of us being Star Alliance Gold members we got a free upgrade to the BusinessFirst cabin. The T&C of this promotion technically say that you need to buy a full fare standard class tickets (i.e not advance fares) to be upgraded, but the fare conductor on both my inbound and outbound legs didn’t care.

BusinessFirst seating is much nicer than the regular cabin, but let’s be honest. It’s a 15 minute ride. You’ll survive being in coach.

Each seat is private and has its own work tray that will just about fit a laptop computer.

Power points are available too, for topping up your devices on the short ride in

There is plenty of luggage storage space throughout the train cabin.

The ride was unmemorable, but perhaps that’s the mark of a good airport transfer. 15 minutes to Paddington, then an Uber to Kings Cross where we had booked ourselves at The Great Northern Hotel, a Starwood Tribute portfolio property. We chose Kings Cross because we had to take a train to Cambridge the next day.

If you pressed me to classify the Great Northern, it would have to fall in some sort of catchall boutique category. It’s not quite business-focused, but its proximity to the train station makes it a good choice for business travelers. It’s not cheap enough to be in the mass market leisure segment, but then again few properties in London are.

The website lists various accolades such as:

Proudly acclaimed in the prestigious Condé Nast Traveller 2014 Hot List, Telegraph’s Top 10 UK Hotels, Tatler’s Top 300 UK Restaurants and presented the Trip Advisor 2015 Certificate of Excellence award.

I wouldn’t put too much trust in Trip Advisor ratings of late, though, because of Trip Advisor’s frankly deceptive attempts to boost their revenue by “enhancing” your search results by the nebulously defined term “relevance”, showing you the hotels that have paid them more to get featured higher in the list as opposed to those which were actually rated highly by guests.

The hotel was a short Uber ride from Paddington station that couldn’t have been more than GBP 10 in total. UberX has been a real boon to London, in that you can finally get affordable private car rides without getting ripped off by Black Cabs.

The hotel lobby is small and narrow, and doesn’t have a lot of waiting room. The idea is to get your check in done quickly and head on out.

Our rooms weren’t ready when we arrived at about 10 in the morning, but that was fine with me. It was Sunday, and I headed out to watch Arsenal’s final game of the season, where we won the coveted 5th place trophy after defeating the overwhelming forces of Everton. We even chose to play most of the game with 10 men because awesomeness.

After the match the players did a lap of the field with a thank you for your support for the season banner.

It was exhilarating. Never before had I seen mediocrity so up close and personal before.

I came back later and got my keys. The hallways to the room are filled with hipster black and white photos.

The room itself  is pretty nice. A bit cramped but definitely a welcome change from your usual Westin/Sheraton decor.

Unfortunately, unlike other boutique hotels the minibar is not complementary.  The minibar prices were…well, minibar prices.

There’s a premium coffee machine in the minibar as well. That’s free, fortunately.

Although it’s an old-ish property I’m glad they made the effort to install USB charging outlets in the room.

As well as a modern A/C controller on the wall. Those old fashioned controllers with knobs and switches and no display bug me to no end.

They even have these cute do not disturb and make up room hangers.

The bathroom had 0 sink space, so minus points for that. It’s really not that difficult to install a separate shelf or at least have a side table to put all your washing up barang barang right?

My favorite feature was the heated towel rack. I scalded my hand touching it but was thankful for the warm towels when I stepped out of the shower on a cold evening.

The shower amenities were Malin + Goetz branded.

Breakfast is served at Plum and Split Milk, the hotel’s restaurant. There’s no buffet, so you order off the menu.

Unfortunately, SPG Elite members need to choose between 500 points and breakfast. Since it was a work trip, I took the points and paid about 17 pounds for the full English breakfast.  I quite enjoyed it, just look at the color of those egg yolks!

On the second day I had something simpler but just as good.

Overall I quite enjoyed the Great Northern. It was a welcome change from the usual cookie cutter Sheratons, and despite the proximity to a major train station they did a heck of a job sound proofing the windows so there was no noise pollution. That said, King’s Cross may not be the most convenient location for you if you’re in London for a vacation, and there are hotels in better located areas at cheaper price points as well.

The Milelion’s RTW Trip: Avenue of the Arts Costa Mesa

The Milelion is embarking on a round the world trip over the next 4 weeks to more than 10 different countries. En route I will be doing reviews of different airlines and hotels. This will be one really, really long trip report. Thanks for keeping me company.


Introduction: Around the world in 28 days
EVA Air Business Class Singapore to Taipei
EVA Air Business Class Taipei to Los Angeles
Silvercar LAX
Avenue of the Arts Costa Mesa
Sheraton Gateway Los Angeles
United First Class Los Angeles to Mexico City
Le Meridien Mexico City
United First Class  Mexico City to Houston
United Business Class Houston to Sao Paulo
Sheraton Sao Paulo WTC
South African Business Class Sao Paulo to Johannesburg
Hilton Sandton
Ten Bompas Johannesburg
Turkish Airlines Business Class Johannesburg to Istanbul
Turkish Airlines Business Class Istanbul to Zagreb
Westin Zagreb
Croatia Airlines Business Class Zagreb to Frankfurt
Lufthansa First Class Terminal
Lufthansa First Class Frankfurt to Riyadh
Four Points Riyadh
Air India Business Class Riyadh to Mumbai
St Regis Mumbai
ANA Business Class Mumbai to Tokyo
Asiana Business Class Tokyo to Seoul
Westin Seoul
W Seoul
Asiana Business Class Seoul to Tokyo
ANA Business Class Tokyo to Singapore


tribute

In 2015, SPG added a new brand to its portfolio– Tribute Hotels. The idea was to create a collection of independent 3/4 Star hotels which complimented the (usually 5 Star) Luxury Collection hotel brand. I wonder why they couldn’t simply fold this hotels acquired under the Tribute brand into the Design Hotel brand, but I think the acquisition of Design Hotels happened too close to allow for reflagging.

In any case, SPG is actively trying to encourage guests to try out the Design Hotels and Tribute brands. They’re offering a 11,000 Starpoint bonus to anyone who stays in all 11 Starwood brands by 31 Dec 2016

11kbonus

This is easier said than done, though, given that Tribute hotels are few and far between. There are currently 9 Tribute Hotels in the world-

  1. Great Northern Hotel, London, UK
  2. Royal Palm South Beach, Miami, USA
  3. The Riveria Palm Springs, USA
  4. The Kiroro, Hokkaido, Japan
  5. Avenue of the Arts, Costa Mesa, USA
  6. SLS Las Vegas, USA
  7. The Hermitage, Jakarta, Indonesia
  8. Le Dokhan’s, Paris, France
  9. Le Metropolitan, Paris, France

The majority of them are in the USA, 2 are in France, 1 in Japan, 1 in the UK and 1 in Indonesia. So if your travels don’t take you there anytime soon, well you’re SOL.

Fortunately my RTW journey took me to Los Angeles, and Costa Mesa was only slightly more than an hour away. I’d willingly take the detour to check another brand off my 11 brand checklist.

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That brought me to the Avenue of the Arts Costa Mesa, a Tribute Portfolio Hotel, where I now file this report

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The Avenue of the Arts Hotel was opened in April 2016 after a refurbishment following its purchase by Starwood. There are 238 rooms in this property, and the art deco inspired architecture was done by interior design firm Dianna Wong.

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Check-in was straightforward and I was informed of my upgrade to a junior suite. While they processed the formalities I took a quick look around the lobby

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The front desk proactively offered me 4pm late checkout and a choice of 500 points or a local gift. I took the 500 points so quickly I forgot to ask what the local gift was.

Keys in hand, I made my way to the 5th floor (the total building is 6 floors)

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Although I’d been upgraded (which is rare for US-based SPG properties), I didn’t have high hopes for the room. In American parlance a suite is simply a room with a separate sleeping and sitting area.

I will say that the room was slightly larger than I expected. The main door opened to a separate living room area with a TV and small work desk.

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Entrance area to room
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Reverse angle- entrance area

Two small bottles of water were on the table

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And the bedroom was perfectly adequate. The bed was one of the most comfortable I ever slept on. My bedroom overlooked an inner park of some sort with a large fountain and duck pond, but noise was never a problem even for this light sleeper.

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Bedroom
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Reverse angle- bedroom
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view from the bedroom

I was pleased to note that this property also participates in the MAGC program, which fortunately in the USA is still 500 points (versus 250 in Asia and Latin America). For those of you who don’t mind 3 consecutive nights of rolling in your own filth (I sure don’t!), you can use MAGCs to really rack up the points on long stays. 1,500 bonus points per 3 night stint (on the 4th night you must get housekeeping) over a long enough period is going to be some extra reward night stays.

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The toilet was small, but they somehow managed to fit a bathtub inside too. It was more decorative than anything as  it was way too small for anything other than a tight fit. Or maybe I’ve just put on weight.

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There were Baronessa Cali branded toiletries in the toilet. I’m not going to pretend I ever heard of that brand, but a quick google search shows that they’re perfectly respectable.

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Rounding out the room was a capsule coffee machine. It’s actually quite an atas branded machine, Keurig. The coffee machine with DRM. No, seriously.

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And a closet with bathrobes, an iron, a hairdryer and the safe.

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One very annoying trend that’s popping up in a lot of hotels is restricting access to the minibar. I thought it was bad enough in Las Vegas hotels where each item has a sensor and if you remove any item for any reason, even if it’s to store some personal stuff, that item is automatically billed to your account. But some hotels go one step further and lock up the entire minibar.

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Breakfast was served at The Silver Trumpet restaurant. This is a sit-down restaurant with no buffet option. Although it’s not ideal for a grab-and-go breakfast, a sit-down restaurant generally comes up with better, freshly-prepared food.

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On the first day I went they were serving both breakfast and brunch, so I got to choose from both menus

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I wasn’t disappointed with my choice of the California Crab Benedict on the first day (bacon on the side)

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Or the Silver Trumpet Classic on the second day.

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Outside the Silver Trumpet there is a small gift store with your usual overpriced hotel amenities.

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Elsewhere on the property there was a business centre where you could print boarding passes for free.

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There was also a gym and a pool, but I didn’t manage to take photos of them due to time constraints.

The overall location of the hotel isn’t great if you want to go to downtown LA, given how notoriously bad LA’s traffic is. I found the 45 minute ride often stretched to double that.

A final note: I had several Amazon packages sent to the hotel. Although 2 arrived just fine, another 2 were misplaced. The hotel manager was apologetic and agreed to cover the replacement cost + 1 day shipping, so I’d get my packages in time before I left for Mexico. So no harm done overall, but it was still an inconvenience.

I didn’t spend an awful lot of time in the hotel but at the end of the day the only reason I stayed was to check off the Tribute brand from my list. When Monday came it was time to relocate to a much more business-focused, less glamorous destination…