My London Hotel Conundrum (And What I Ended Up Booking)

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Yesterday Tiffany wrote an excellent post about redeeming hotel points in London. The timing was especially useful for me, because I’ve been trying to decide which hotel to book for my trip to London over Thanksgiving, which I booked thanks to the great British Airways business class fare sale.

British-Airways-A380-Business-Class
British Airways A380 business class

While I’ve transited London more times than I can count, Tiffany has actually visited the city exponentially more times than I have, so I went to her for advice when it came time to book. I figured I’d walk through my thought process, as someone who over analyzes everything when it comes to using miles & points.

London drives me crazy (as a hotel market)

As a points addict, there are some cities in the world which drive me crazy when it comes to hotels. In 2013 I wrote a post entitled “Is Singapore The Most Frustrating Hotel Market For The Points Obsessed?”

In general, what frustrates me most in hotel markets is when there’s not a clear “best” value. In other words, when hotels are expensive without any “stand out” options, but the points requirements are high as well, and you just become indecisive. To be clear, there are some markets where I don’t really struggle, despite the fact that they’re quite pricey:

But for someone who likes to look at pros and cons and go off data, London is a bit more challenging:

  • As noted by Tiffany yesterday, London is spread out and there’s not a single “best” neighborhood
  • As far as the major chain hotels go, most options aren’t amazing, and the costs are quite high (both in terms of points and cash)
  • Traveling over Thanksgiving seems better in theory, since paid rates aren’t actually that bad; as a result, it can often make more sense to pay cash than use points

My hotel choice thought process

My two preferred hotel chains are Hyatt and Starwood, so when I started the search, I looked up those options first. Before I get too deep into this, I should note that we’re staying in London for four nights, which sort of shifts my approach towards hotels a bit:

  • Starwood offers a fifth night free benefit on free night redemptions, so in general I hate redeeming for four nights; it just feels wasteful
  • The Citi Prestige® Card offers a fourth night free hotel benefit, which generally shifts my thinking towards paying rather than using points

Here’s what Starwood prices looked like:

SPG-London-4 SPG-London-5

And then here’s what Hyatt prices looked like:

Hyatt-London

To sum up my general thoughts looking at these prices:

  • In theory I’m tempted by the W London, but I’d ideally like to avoid being directly in Leicester Square
  • I’ve heard not-so-great thanks about the Le Meridien and The Park Lane Hotel, so wanted to avoid them in general
  • The Park Tower Knightsbridge has a fantastic location, but at the same time was recently converted from a Sheraton, and does look a bit past its prime
  • While I’d like to try the Tribute Portfolio Hotel, I don’t feel like I know enough about the property to decide to stay there
  • The Hyatt Regency Churchill has a great location, but at the same time the price was kind of high, and 25,000 Hyatt points per night didn’t seem like a good value given the alternatives
  • I really enjoyed my last stay at the Andaz Liverpool Street, and the price is unbeatable; that being said, most of our plans are in West London, so being in East London doesn’t seem especially convenient

Andaz-London-Liverpool-Street-04
The beautiful Andaz Liverpool Street — too bad it’s in East London

For what it’s worth, I also looked at some other options:

  • Hilton has tons of options, though none jumped out at me as especially good deals either paying with cash or points, certainly not good enough to “cheat” on Hyatt or Starwood
  • I would have loved to book the InterContinental Park Lane, but it only had availability for two nights, and was “capacity controlled” for the other two nights

What I ended up choosing

As I ended up going through the thought process, I was leaning towards the W for most of the time. But from one second to the next I had a change of heart and chose The Park Tower Knightsbridge instead. Why?

  • It’s further west than the W Hotel, so will save us quite a bit of time for most that we have planned
  • It’s close to the Park, which in general I love for the views
  • It’s located directly on the Piccadilly Line, so we can take the tube directly from Heathrow to the hotel, which is convenient
  • Looking at Suite Night Award options, the hotel lets Platinum members use Suite Night Awards for Executive Suites, while at the W you’re limited to their Studio Suites

SPG-London-3
Suite Night Award option at The Park Tower Hotel London

So I saw the “Hot Escapes” rate was 263GBP (~$400) per night, and wanted to see if the Citi Prestige® Card concierge could book that in conjunction with the fourth night free benefit. As you can see, that’s significantly cheaper than the flexible rate of 394GBP.

SPG-London-2

I phoned them up and gave the concierge my information. She said she’d forward the request to the Carslon Wagonlit department which is responsible for these bookings, and that I should get a quote same day (in the past I’ve asked to be connected directly, but I figured I’d give this a try).

I did indeed get the quote I requested same day, for exactly the rate I was looking for. It’s awesome that the fourth night free benefit can even be used on the promotional “Hot Escapes” rate.

Citi-Prestige-Hotel-Quote

So in the end I’m paying $1,628.89 up front, but then I’m being refunded $407.22, making my total out of pocket for the three nights $1,221.66. That’s ~$305 per night, including London’s ~20% VAT. For that stay I’ll be earning:

  • Over 10,000 Starpoints (I ordinarily earn four Starpoints per dollar spent as a 75 night SPG Platinum member, plus double base Starpoints and 500 bonus Starpoints through SPG’s “Stay For More” promotion); I earn these points for the entire cost of the four nights, since the reimbursement of the fourth night is directly to my Citi Prestige® Card
  • ~4,000 Citi ThankYou points, for the triple points I earn on hotel purchases with the Citi Prestige® Card on the ~$1,200 of spend

So that’s ~$1,220 out of pocket, and by my valuation I’ll be earning ~$300 worth of points. ~$920 for four nights — or ~$230 per night — in a London hotel with a great location, free wifi, free breakfast (as a Platinum member), etc. is tough to beat. And as far as I’m concerned it’s better than any of the options for redeeming points.

Now here’s to hoping the Suite Night Award clears, and then I’ll be especially happy.

Park-Tower-Executive-Suite
The Park Tower Knightsbridge Executive Suite

Bottom line

London is a hotel market I’m not especially fond of, and I spent way too long trying to make a decision here, as I waffled back and forth. That being said, once I thought about it rationally I think I made the right decision:

  • Location is important, and it’s tough to beat the location of The Park Lane Knightsbridge for what we have planned
  • Using the Citi Prestige® Card fourth night free benefit, I got a deal which I consider to be better than virtually anything I could have booked on points; after all, points aren’t “free”
  • “Luxury” hotels are much less important to me in cities than at resort destinations, given that I don’t spend much time in the room; so while the rooms might not be the most modern in the world, it still looks perfectly nice
  • This seems like a “safe” option; I probably won’t be blown away by the hotel, but at the W I’ve read reports of noise issues, and the street outside the hotel is apparently closed and under construction through the end of November, so I’d rather not risk that

Anyway, while I’m far from an expert on London hotels, the above is sort of the conclusion I came to based on Tiffany’s post yesterday, and applying it to my particular circumstances.

What would you have done in the above situation? Did I fall into the “chain hotel trap,” and could I have gotten an all around better value elsewhere?

I’m curious to hear what you guys would have done differently!

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Comments

  1. Great choice! I stayed at this hotel in July, and the location was truly unbeatable. With great views of the London skyline (you need a South or South East facing room), the Knightsbridge stop on the Piccadilly line only a 2 minute walk away, Harrod’s being a 10 minute walk away, and the gorgeous Hyde Park just across the street, you really can’t go wrong. Let me know if you want to see my report of the hotel including pictures and I’ll send a link.

  2. My wife and I stayed there for the first few days of our honeymoon last summer and actually really liked the Park Tower. The location is great with the park just a short walk away along with a super convenient tube stop just down the street. My wife loved that Harrods’s and a ton of other shopping options are right there. Our room was a little on the small side but the views were fantastic and we found the staff to be very nice and helpful. We didn’t spend too much time at the hotel other than sleeping, but the lobby bar was serviceable and their afternoon tea service was kind of fun although I’m certain there are much better options elsewhere. I would certainly consider staying there again when we return to London.

  3. Does Carlson Wagonlit behave like an OTA or more like an actual travel agency? I ask this because most hotel chains seem to laugh at the idea of honoring elite benefits (like a suite upgrade) on a Priceline reservation, but it sounds like you have high hopes of actually clearing the upgrade on your Citi booking.

  4. @ poinster — The benefits are exactly the same as booking directly with the hotel. It acts like a “true” travel agency.

  5. ~$230 per night in a London hotel is not tough to beat at all over the dreary November timeframe – there’s tons of ibis and traveloges and other etc around. A quick check on Expedia/Orbitz/HotelCombined will tell you that.

    Your out of pocket of over $1000 is fine and all if you can afford it, but don’t act as if you got a good deal.

  6. I always skip the points options in London, the choices aren’t great. Highly recommend the CitizenM (not a points option) but cheap, great service, cool location (tate modern, borough market, bermondsey street, etc.)

  7. @ Jon — Well sure, but an Ibis doesn’t really compare to a Luxury Collection property. I’m not claiming it’s the cheapest hotel in London, but rather that I got a good value (which I believe to be true).

  8. @ Jon – Staying at Ibis or travelodge it`s not an option. We are talking about a person that lives from travelling in style.

  9. I’ve been staying in the City recently, especially on weekends. Andaz Liverpool or Doubletree Tower Hill are good choices.

  10. I think you made a solid choice. I haven’t stayed in London for years but it never changes and hotels in London and UK just aren’t that good frankly.I’ll be interested to see the trip report too. Economically it looks like you did the right thing.

  11. Was just in London last week and got a great deal at the Hilton Paddington (connected to the station for easy 15 minute ride to Heathrow) — 166 pounds for the night (AAA rate). Maybe not enough to justify “cheating” on your other chains, but now with HHonors Gold through AmEx Platinum you can still get a nice chunk of points and an upgrade 🙂

  12. A post that is worth the drama of telenovela. Please don’t box yourself into this type of content.

  13. Also looking for London hotels, so loved Tiffany’s guide. What’s strikingly missing from your assessment are all the Marriott and Carlson options.

  14. Do you have any club Carlson points left to burn? I know without the second free night the value is a lot less but they’ve got some great properties located in awesome areas. I really enjoyed my stay at the mercer street radisson blu. I know you get the SPG benefits but just wondering if CC crossed your mind. To me Europe, especially London is where they shine. So might as well burn them there and save my cash and more valuable points for elsewhere.

  15. Agree the credit card benefit you get is excel but the basic fact is that Hyatt and Starwood have limited options outside the US and by restricting yourself to them you’ve got fewer options. Hilton is MASSIVE in London with lots of options (incl some pretty decent cash rates if you know all the different offers available) but obviously in your situation what you’ve picked makes sense. For others not so tied to these brands it makes sense to think wider.

  16. My family has a scheduled vacation there at that location on Thanksgiving. Looks like we may be running into each other!

  17. I agree that London is a bizarre hotel market. Everything is expensive with poor quality. The only place to stay is The Connaught in Mayfair. I guarantee it is among — if not the — best in the city.

  18. I recently stayed at the Cheval at Three Quays and it was *fantastic*. Beautiful spacious apartment with a full kitchen (including w/d) and a great view for the same price as a hotel room. Looks even better in real life than in the photos. It overlooks the Thames next to the Tower. No hotel points but I used by Barclaycard and took the rebate. There are several other Chevals in London but I’ve only tried the Three Quays.

    The Knightsbridge area looks so seedy these days, like a 3rd world market. I stayed in the Park Tower a few times, the last time in 2006. Even though the exterior looked crappy the rooms were really nice and I loved the views. But the area has changed for the worse and I won’t stay there any more.

  19. I don’t mean to be contrary, but to go to London and stay at a Starwood property seems a bit nonsensical. Why not stay at a typically London place like Corinthia? Ham Yard? Even Rosewood?

  20. @ Jon – Just because Travelodge or the like is cheaper in London than other hotels doesn’t make it a good deal. What about location, amenities, cleanliness, service, etc? A lot goes into choosing a hotel in addition to price. If saving money is all that matters, why even go to a Travelodge when a hostel gets you a bed too.

  21. No argument with Jason when he says you’d have a good stay at The Connaught. Of course you would; but I doubt that’s available on miles.

    I used to live in London (as in for about 36 years) and have visited a number of times since I left in 1995. I do not agree with the comments that there are no good hotels but I do agree that London is expensive. It is also true that you do not always get what you pay for: I have stayed cheaply at The Grosvenor House on Park Lane and I have stayed more expensively at lesser hotels. It is a very dynamic pricing market.

    If you must use miles you could look at somewhere like the Conrad St. James (not fantastic but very acceptable, and a good central location), where you could use your Hilton points and status. There are also Marriott properties that might work for you, though they tend to use a lot of points.

    My experience over the years with London hotels has been to forget points and instead use Expedia to find reasonable prices, make cancellable bookings either through Expedia or direct with the hotels if their price is the same, and then use Priceline with aggressively priced (ie, low) offers for 5 star hotels in acceptable districts. If Priceline delivers you cancel the other bookings; if it doesn’t you have a fallback. And keep watching the prices and switch into better deals as they appear. I don’t know any other approach that works better in London.

  22. London is in my opinion one of the best places to explore local boutique hotels. I usually stay at the Ampersand in Kensington or at the Covent Garden in Covent Garden. There are amazing boutique hotels and although you don’t earn SPG or Hyatt points you are treated like a king. Also, London is a place I avoid big chain hotels since you will face tour buses loading and unloading tons of tourists in those hotels.

  23. Travelodge and ibis were just mentioned as options if simply sleeping were the criteria, as was mentioned in the post.

    But even so,perfectly well reviewed 3-4* hotels are available for four nights on hotelscombined site in late November for way less than $1000.

    If the point of this site is getting good value, then for the criteria mentioned (a place to sleep), we can’t ignore things outside high end chains.

  24. Check out The Laslett at Notting Hill. Very pretty boutique hotel super close to the Tube. Persuaded my friends to try it out, and they loved it. Lived in London for over 18 years on and off, and echo the sentiments about skipping the chain hotels (with the exception of the luxury level ones) and heading straight for the boutique properties, or serviced apartments.

  25. You have no concept of money. For ~$1200 (or $900) you can find some incredible places to stay 4 nights that aren’t in chain hotels. Therefore your net spend is less so it would be a better deal – but I guess you don’t understand a deal which doesn’t include points. I think you’ve truely been fooled here

  26. Looking forward to your report, but I assure you you would not have regretted the Churchill. Stayed as a diamond 1.5 years ago, and just loved hotel and location.

  27. Lucky, I have yet to use Citi Prestige to book, but I was planning to do so in the near future.

    Just a check: when you gave your details to the Citi Prestige Concierge, and they forwarded it to Carlson Wagonlit, how did they get back to you? (And at this point, you gave your SPG Plat no. to Citi Concierge?)

    Was it Citi Prestige Concierge that emailed back to you? or Carlson Wagonlit themselves?
    How did you complete the booking? via email? or by calling back Citi Prestige? or Carlson Wagonlit?

    I see that this is a very longwinded process to get that the 4th night free promo booked, but perhaps it is not as painful as I thought it would be, so just checking.

    Enjoy London!

  28. I would have looked at airbnb or a non major chain, but I generally dislike most of the chain hotels.

    There’s the Connaught, the Mandarin, even the jumeriah or ritz in that part of the city, but even better are the many great airbnb options available at that time.

    I prefer extra space, a real kitchen, and a washer/dryer over a hotel lounge and included breakfast.

  29. First off – great to finally meet you in person in Chicago. Second, when I took my 6 year old to London in April, we shuttled between 2 nights at the Club Carlson program’s Mayfair and the Park Plaza Westminster bridge and then back to the Mayfair. We loved the Mayfair’s location and service, but the PPW had an amazing balcony and terrific location if you want to go to the London Eye or to Big Ben. I was able to do the 2-fer nights before Club Carlson took that benefit away.

  30. I’m a life-long fan of the Sofitel brand, and it was the Sofitel St. James in London that got me hooked. Ever since, it’s always my first choice in London. Also, I find Accor has a pretty decent points programme (although I’m by no means an expert on those things).

  31. On another note, Marriott really has a great portfolio in London. I am not a Marriott guest (nor do I have points or anything),but London has surprised me – very modern and well located properties. So credit where it is due.

  32. I recently purchased tickets during the BA club world sale. I booked the Hyatt Churchill on points as cash and points wasn’t available. I would prefer to use cash and points so I can use a DSU and get credit for the stay. Is there a strategy in getting cash and points availability?

  33. I always stay at Accor properties in London – Pullman St Pancras and Sofitel are very strong, and much better value (to me) than the properties you outlined. Novotel London Blackfriars is really affordable option too, and still in a good location tube-wise.

  34. I think your thought process is sound in this case. Choosing a chain hotel over an Airbnb, a BnB, or non-chain hotel doesn’t factor into your article. As you have mentioned, you’re not looking for the cheapest hotel in London but the best deal for the value. Which you got, in my opinion. Chain hotels offer a value of familiarity/comfort to frequent travelers and in your case the 4th night free as well as a discounted rate on the regular night stay. That’s a savings! As an aircrew spouse, my family and I travel often, so I look at things differently. If the exchange rate of the dollar in the country we are traveling to is bad then I will always look for cheap accommodation so that monies can spent on sightseeing and shopping. However, if the exchange rate is good I always book a chain hotel and will use my points. Different mind set but one that works on a family travel budget. Safe Journeys.

  35. Ben,

    London is a difficult place for hotels due to the price levels. Yes there are many boutique hotels non-branded, nice places to stay but pricey.
    The brands are pricey as well most of the time regardless of whether there are events going on in town or not. It has not been an easy affair for us.

    We had stayed at the Sheraton Tower in Knightsbridge over the years. And as you say the location is convenient if you are doing things in that area of the city.

    However, the last time we stayed there was our last time. Hopefully you will receive a fresh room perhaps slightly renovated with some paint and good cleaning. We could only stand one night and had to exit. Previous years before we had enjoyed it. We think the management was overly confident on the location and traffic and let the physical aspects fall.

    However a few people here said they stayed recently, so perhaps they have freshened it up and it will be alright for you. Good luck !

  36. Why not the Doubletree Hyde Park? We found it to be the best value for us and worked out well. I think the category may have jumped up one to match others in the area recently though. Not a notable property but works fine and location is good. Or is that too pedestrian for your tastes?

  37. No love for The Savoy among commenters? Terrific location off the Strand, possibly incredible views, depending on the situation of your room, and fascinating history. Those all add up in my book. I suppose that being a Fairmont property makes it less desirable, though.

  38. Couldn’t agree more that London is an amazing city for boutique hotels. Not every stay has to be about maximizing value of $ or points. Otherwise why bother traveling, especially when you don’t have to?

    I’ve really enjoyed my stays in splurge-requiring boutique hotels all over the world, but I’m currently in love with Citizen M in London. It oozes style, the beds are enormous, and the price can’t be beat.

    Todd

  39. My “go to” hotels in London are the Marriott Gros. Sq. and Hyatt Churchill, which I can sometimes find as low as L206/nt. Both are fine properties but this is more a matter of location being convenient to my office.

    I think it’s pretty tough to get a 5* centrally located property for < US $300/nt. so you got a pretty good deal. Most of the Hiltons are very inferior so of course they are cheaper, this is true for HIX and some Marriotts as well.

    Surprisingly I find myself agreeing with your other picks as well. Good taste on the city hotels!

  40. Tough choice. I live in London, so don’t often stay in hotels here, but the Andaz Liverpool Street has always impressed me. It’s on the Central line so will take you to the West End in less than 20 minutes. Judging that it was the cheapest option, I would have probably gone for that one. Also, if you’re looking last minute, the Double Tree by Hilton in Tower Hill is more than fair. Often better than the Hilton in Canary Wharf for example. Smallish rooms, but wonderful beds. My 2 pence of advice 😉

    Question for you Lucky: for someone who doesn’t travel enough to achieve status in hotel chains, would you think that schemes like hotels.com that give you 10% of the value over 10 nights towards a voucher are a good bet? It means no upgrades or free breakfast, but since I wouldn’t get these anyway…

  41. I love SPG hotels in the far east, but as a Londoner, I always recommend my guests to stay at the Sofitel St. James’s in London. Its closer to the luxury of Claridges/Connaught/Dorchester, but still part of a chain and compared to SPG’s pretty mid level offerings in London, its much more luxurious.
    St. James’s as a location is ideal to get both East, West & Central, and charming too.
    Club Accor are generally good with room upgrades, drink vouchers etc.
    On a different budget, The Langham is nice, and their loyalty program good, but it doesn’t have much over the Sofitel in hard product. Sure, service and F&B are better at the Langham, but (Sofitel) St James’s is still a far more charming location than the border of East Marylebone and West Fitzrovia that The Langham lies on.
    I’m also quite a fan of the terrace rooms at 10. Manchester Street Hotel. (Not a chain sadly).
    I’d be caught dead sooner than booking a hotel in East London or the City… no matter how nice the Andaz looks. You’re better off staying in Surrey or Berkshire, you’d reach Central London quicker than from the East!

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