Apartments Vs. Hotels in Madrid (And Elsewhere)

Introduction
KLM World Business Class 747 Los Angeles To Amsterdam
KLM Crown Lounge Amsterdam Airport (Schengen-side)
Air Europa Club Business 737 Amsterdam To Madrid
Apartments Vs. Hotels In Madrid (And Elsewhere)
Air France Business Class A321 Madrid To Paris
Air France Business Class Lounge Paris Charles DeGaulle Airport
Air France Business Class 777 Paris To New York
Delta SkyClub New York JFK Airport
Delta One (née BusinessElite) 757 New York To Los Angeles


While Ben, and many of his readers, are preparing for (in some cases, multiple) trips to Beijing from Washington in American Airlines business class thanks to that now-famous mistake fare, I suspect I’m not the only one among you who purchased tickets from LAX (or other West Coast gateways) to Madrid as a result of the great SkyTeam Fare War Sale of 2014.

I’d never been to Madrid before, so I was excited to spend a few days in a city known for its food, culture and history.  I was traveling with a friend of mine, and when we initially looked into our hotel options, we noticed that some of the best options out there lacked rooms with two beds, and those hotels that did have twin beds (and I mean twin beds — rooms with two queen beds in Europe are rarer than, say, taste and understatement are in Dubai) were disproportionately expensive.

There is a distinct lack of internationally branded chain hotels in central Madrid, other than the InterContinental, a handful of “AC”-branded hotels which are part of Marriott’s Autograph Collection and, notably, one of the grande dame hotels of the city, the Westin Palace Madrid.  It’s worth noting that hotels in Madrid are not as exorbitantly priced as hotels elsewhere in European cities, and with the Euro at historical lows, you can easily stay at a luxury hotel for under $250 a night.

The Westin Palace Hotel, Madrid
The Westin Palace Hotel, Madrid

While the Westin offered rooms with two single beds, we ultimately decided that the location in the touristy museum district and the fussy, old-school decor of the hotel weren’t our style for the trip.

I’m a Hyatt loyalist (though I do have membership in SPG), so with no Hyatts to be found, I didn’t feel any particular need to stay in a hotel out of points, either on the redemption or the earning side.  Madrid is in some ways the perfect city for people to step out of the hotel loyalty box.

A few other independent luxury hotels are new to Madrid and look sensational, like the quizzically-named Only You Hotel & Lounge (which, to boot, was a steal at under $150 a night), but in most cases these hotels didn’t even offer two beds to a room.

Only You Hotel & Lounge, Madrid
Only You Hotel & Lounge, Madrid

 

(Very recently, after we’d already booked an apartment instead of a hotel, the gorgeous, brand-spanking-new The Principal Madrid hit the hotel scene.  If I go back, I’d consider staying there in a heartbeat.)

The Principal Madrid hotel
The Principal Madrid hotel

On a previous trip to Barcelona years ago, I shared a rental apartment with a friend and had a good experience, so I looked around online for apartment rentals in Madrid and was totally blown away.

In the U.S., you may be able to find a few well designed rental apartments in major cities, perhaps on Airbnb.  But Europe is flush with stylish, large, and centrally located rental apartments aimed purely at the visitor trade.  Though there are a number of rental agencies, we liked the options we saw through a rental agency called Letsroom.

Ultimately, we rented an incredible apartment with high ceilings, period detailing, beautiful balconies overlooking the Tribunal Supremo (Supreme Court of Spain), a stylish kitchen, and two big bedrooms with well-equipped bathrooms, for a total of €200 a night (or the equivalent of about $210 at current exchange rates), which was not just competitive with most hotel rooms, but would offer us a great deal more space as well as individual bedrooms.

Our short-term rental apartment in Madrid
Our short-term rental apartment in Madrid

For us, the apartment worked out great, but there are some pros and cons of apartment rentals versus hotels you may want to consider before your next trip to Europe.

Pros 

  • Bang for your buck (or Euro).  Many very well-outfitted apartments can be had for a fraction of the price of a luxury hotel.  Given that there are two- and three-bedroom luxury apartments regularly available for well under (and in some cases much well under), say, $350 or $400 a night in Madrid (and elsewhere), rental apartments can be the only practical option for a group of friends to stay under one roof without paying for multiple hotel rooms or an exorbitant multi-bedroom suite.  Even if it’s just you, or you and a mate, you might appreciate the extra space you’d get out of an apartment that you wouldn’t in a cramped Euro-style hotel chamber.
  • Live like a local.  Many European hotels, particularly those belonging to worldwide chains, are located in business or cultural districts.  That can be fantastic if you’re in a city for business purposes, or if you’ve come to a city only to see museums and department stores.  For instance, the Westin Palace Madrid is directly across from the famed Prado museum, so if your goal is to bounce out the hotel door and into a tourist attraction, you’re golden.  However, I love exploring a city’s vibrant neighborhoods, testing the pulse of local nightlife and eating in neighborhood restaurants, and many short-term rentals are located smack dab in the middle of the “fun” parts of town, as ours was.
  • Come and go as you please.  Not that either of us were traveling anonymously or secretively, but it was lovely to be able to run errands, walk around, return to the apartment whenever we wanted, leave early for a morning walk or just hang out without interacting with staff, housekeeping, doormen, etc. every time. Of course I love a warm hotel staff as much as the next guy, but sometimes it’s nice to be able to not worry about housekeeping waking you up.
  • It feels more like home.  (Almost) everybody loves a hotel, but there are certain creature comforts in being at “home” that an apartment can provide. Our apartment was equipped with a washer/dryer and high speed internet that didn’t involve typing a code every 24 hours.  Our closet and storage space was enormous and we were able to unpack without feeling like we were living out of a suitcase.  We stocked the fridge with beer and soda, made coffee every morning, and would come home with bread and cheese and wine for an early evening snack.

Cons

  • Lacks that hotel “feeling.”  One of my very favorite aspects of travel is staying in hotels, particularly ones that are imbued with a history, charm or luxury that are very “of the place.”  You just feel pampered when you’re greeted at the door, when your bed is made twice a day, when you’ve a chocolate mint on your pillow.  At an apartment, you’re pretty much on your own (though the agencies will provide extra services upon request).
  • Toiletries?  This is a minor issue as far as things go, but we’d somehow assumed that the apartment would be stocked with shampoo, conditioner, body soap, etc. (as rentals sometimes are in the United States).  Our apartment was not.  It wasn’t a big deal to run out to the drugstore and pick some basics up, but there’s something so reliable about never needing to pack those basics when you stay at a hotel.
  • Hotels have insider knowledge.  A hotel concierge is one of my favorite resources in any new city.  They can not just make dinner reservations and provide you with maps, but they are an important link to the city, and are filled with tips and advice that can prove invaluable when you are foreigner wandering around in a strange new place.  If you don’t have local contacts otherwise, renting an apartment can leave you without that peace of mind.  However, if you’re good to go with a guidebook or some blog recommendations, then you might not miss a concierge at all.
  • No onsite restaurant or bar.  Not a huge deal for me, but sometimes one of the great pleasures in staying at a hotel is a pre-dinner cocktail at a lobby bar or a lavish hotel breakfast.  You can certainly walk out your apartment door and find a nearby bar or bakery to fill that void, but if you value the immediacy of food and drink (and room service) then an apartment may not be for you.
  • No points!  Ben may ban me from this blog forever if I don’t point out the obvious — that you can’t (yet!) earn points from staying at rental apartments and you can’t (yet!) redeem them for aspirational stays.  Very true!  But given the runaway success of companies like Airbnb, I wouldn’t be surprised at all if Airbnb started a loyalty program at some point.

Bottom Line

You may be a regular reader of Ben’s blog because you’re a hotel nut, but if like me you’re “hotel neutral,” but simply accustomed to staying in hotels as a matter of course, it may be worth looking into rental apartments in certain situations, in particular when traveling with friends (especially with multiple friends), staying in cities without good options in the Hyatt, Starwood or Hilton universes, or staying in places (such as ski resorts, for instance) where the price differential between an apartment/condo rental and a hotel is enormous (e.g., luxury ski hotels can easily run $1,300++ a night for even a basic room, whereas ski condos can rent for $400/night just next door).

As for me, I loved our apartment in Madrid, which I thought was perfectly located, extremely comfortable (seriously, with beds to rival a Four Seasons), nicely decorated and an absolute bargain.

Comments

  1. I’m not sure about the ‘come and go as you please theory’. I’ve only stayed in an airbnb once but I didn’t actually feel as comfortable coming and going – every time I did I had to go past the door of someone who I think was the owner/caretaker/security for the building, and he used to separate the blinds to see us. The host had told us to be discreet and not tell people that we were renting the apartment, so I assume she wasn’t supposed to be renting it out. The apartment was lovely in every other way and nobody caused any issues, but it just made me a bit less comfortable coming in and out than I would have been in a hotel.

  2. Very interesting outcome. I used to live (briefly) in Madrid, and it is one of those cities where if you will look past the chain hotels, there are much more affordable hotels, that are simpler but still really nice. I admit I don’t know of an online resource I would really trust to choose a Madrid hotel for me.

    Your apartment seems to be a home-run winner, but that price seems pretty steep, considering the economy in Spain. There are plenty of other places to visit for €200/night. I flat out would not pay €200/night in Madrid, unless I was splitting the €200 cost with someone else. Then that apt. becomes a first choice.

  3. For the first time, my Best Comment of the Day prize goes to . . . the original post itself for this gem: “Rooms with two queen beds in Europe are rarer than, say, taste and understatement are in Dubai.”

    But two twin beds are pretty common, of course.

  4. Honestly I much prefer airbnb to hotels. Free wifi, better check-in and check-out times, better locations, and better prices. Yes you don’t get status or points, but to me it is still worth it.

  5. I think there is some confusion about how apartment renting works in Europe. There are company’s that buy lots of apartments in a normal residential block. So you rent from that company almost as if it was a hotel just with much more room. You don’t rent through someone renting out their own apartment as you would airbnb. That means you can come and go as you please. The really large companies may have a desk at the front but that person is often out and about sorting out things. The prices are amazing. Here In the Uk the price is not much more than a hotel and a two room apartment is usually cheaper than two rooms. With of course much more room. Because of this I gave up on hotel rooms I long time ago.

  6. I agree. The washer/dryer and wifi is a great plus…along with the space. One thing I usually find is that hotels are usually in touristy spots which tend to have limited grocery stores/restaurants with very high prices. If staying at a rental I usually find that groceries and restaurants aren’t as expensive (mostly)

  7. Ever since I lost status with hotel chains (and I don’t make an effort to retain it anymore given my travel pattern) I started using apartment rental sites more and more. So far I’ve only made very positive experiences and would recommend it to anyone – and I say anyone since there is a wide variety of kind of apartments to rent.

  8. A couple notes — Marriott’s acquisition of the discount AC chain almost certainly has nothing to do with their luxurious Autograph Collection, though I agree that is confusing that they are both “AC.”

    You should look into NH/Accor/Melia if you just wanted a chain hotel in Madrid. No strong points earning but reliable properties. Also, Priceline/Hotwire and the Radisson Blu.

  9. We’re a family of four and thus often go the rental apartment route. It does generally take some more work to find a good apartment vs just booking a hotel but for me the research/trip planning is just part of the fun.

    It was funny to pull up this post because we stayed in that exact same unit for a week when we were in Madrid in February and loved it. The Chueca neighborhood is great (did you check out Mercado San Anton?) and the location of that unit isn’t touristy at all but but still has great access to everything you want. My kids loved the park at the end of the block and there was even easy access to a Starbucks.

    The payment even showed up as a reimbursable charge on my Arrival+, which is hit or miss for apartment rentals because they often code as real estate agencies, so it was a win across the board 🙂

  10. @takke: Next time you use AirBnB, restrict the search options to “entire place” only. That excludes all the rooms in shared apartments, and you’ll find that usually many people rent their whole apartment. Of course it costs more, but you get the privacy lacking with shared rentals.

    Another good place to look is HomeAway, which has listings all over the world, usually from individuals with a place to rent (i.e., not rental agencies). In general, especially if I’m staying in one place for several days, I much prefer an apartment or house over a hotel – and that’s especially true if I’m with family. Having a kitchen to prepare meals saves a *lot* of money over restaurants – which is not to say we don’t go out to eat, just that we eat in a few nights of, say, a week-long stay.

    I never use concierge services, I don’t care much about hotel points, and I really don’t need to feel pampered by hotel staff – and typically, except at very expensive places I don’t feel pampered by hotels anyway. An apartment typically has some touch of character from the owner’s possessions and it’s great to talk to them about their city. Finally, be sure to ask about things like soap, shampoo, towels and kitchen appliances (coffee maker, microwave, washing machine, etc) – never assume that an apartment has everything that your own place has! Both AirBnB and HomeAway list exactly what you can expect the place to include, and always allow you to contact the owner with questions before you book.

    In all, I’ve had great experiences renting apartments and houses, and in general I much prefer them over hotels

  11. “the Euro at historical lows” ?! Man, you must be young. Just 10 years ago the Euro was hovering around 75 US cents.

  12. No international chains? How about Melia? They might be small in the US, but they are huge in Spain, and have a large footprint in Brazil, the Caribbean, Portugal and Germany.

  13. @snic – I did actually rent out an entire place, so privacy wasn’t an issue in terms of someone being in the place – it was more the sense that the owner wasn’t really supposed to be sub-letting her apartment out while she was away on holiday. It was brilliant in all other ways (location etc.) and I’d actually return in a hearbeat

  14. @Ron: You’re way off. The lowest the Euro has ever been (since it actually went into circulation) was around 87 cents back in January 2002, shortly after it was introduced. It has been above the dollar since November ’02. Ten years ago, in April ’05, the Euro was worth $1.29. Currently, the Euro is at its lowest point against the dollar since April ’03. So yeah, this isn’t the lowest the Euro has EVER been, but it’s essentially the lowest it has been since the Euro’s first year of circulation, when it was still being phased in.

  15. My experience with Air BnB rentals has been that they usually offer toiletries and will specify in the description – or of course, you could ask. Also, the places we rented had recommendations for restaurants and local spots from the owners. Either in person, or in a book in the apartment, or both.

  16. Have stayed at a Letsroom apartment since the CSR was released? Curious if they code as travel (VRBO does NOT).

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