Review: Radisson Blu Hotel Champs Elysees, Paris, France

I had an expiring free night certificate due to keeping the Club Carlson credit card around for another year and paying the annual fee, in spite of their devaluations. So on a recent trip to Paris, I used the certificate at the Radisson Blu Hotel Champs Elysées. The Club Carlson footprint in Paris has gotten significantly smaller since some of the hotels have since left the Club Carlson umbrella (e.g. Le Dokhan Trocadero is now an SPG property instead of a Club Carlson one). If you’re redeeming points, this hotel costs 70k per night.

The location of the hotel is super convenient. It’s quite close to L’Arc de Triomphe and, of course, the Champs Elysées. This also means that it’s quite close to the Charles de Gaulle Étoile metro stop, so it’s pretty convenient to get around via public transportation.

I was assigned a small but perfectly functional room on the 4th floor of the hotel. There was a small hallway as I entered with the bathroom off to the side, and then there was another door that could be closed to enter the bedroom. The second door was helpful for blocking out what little noise there was coming from the hallway.

Bed

Bed

Furnishings

Furnishings

The room wasn’t particularly large, but the curtains blocked out the light, and it was quiet, so it was great to take a quick nap after the red eye from the US. The shower design could have been somewhat better, though. It was a bit awkward to reach the faucet given the pane of glass, but the pane of glass also didn’t do enough to block water from getting on the floor.

Bathroom

Bathroom

When I came back to the room at night after a day of exploring, there was a welcome amenity of a bottle of water and three macarons. The macarons weren’t anything special, but I’ve never been one to turn down a macaron.

Welcome amenity

Welcome amenity

Overall, I had a perfectly comfortable and competent stay at this hotel. Would I pay 70k points per night? Probably not, but Club Carlson points are relatively easy to come by.

Giveaway: Four Alaska Airlines MVP Guest Upgrade Codes (Expire 12/31/2016)

I have four Alaska Airlines MVP Guest Upgrade codes that expire 12/31/2016 to give away!

“U” class must be available at the time of the request, and fare classes G, R, and T are not eligible for upgrades. Each upgrade code is valid for one-way travel for one person.

If you’d like one, please email me at efficientasianman at gmail dot com. Please make sure that you can actually use the code prior to 12/31/2016 (i.e. you have travel booked and your ticket qualifies). If I receive more requests than I can fulfill, I’ll figure out some arbitrary (or not so arbitrary) way to give them out.

See here for more information on how to use them: https://www.alaskaair.com/content/mileage-plan/membership-benefits/guest-upgrades.aspx

Lounge Review: Platinum Lounge Budapest Airport (BUD)

The third lounge that I visited in Budapest Airport was the Platinum Lounge serving Schengen flights. This lounge is located amongst the A gates, so you can only get to it if you’re flying somewhere in the Schengen region. Again, I accessed this lounge via Priority Pass.

Entrance to the Platinum Lounge

Entrance to the Platinum Lounge

This lounge was the saddest of the three that I visited. It wasn’t well lit given that it has no windows to the outside world, and it’s just a large room with some sad food options. There were only three other people in this lounge while I was there.

Also, I just walked into this lounge. When I entered, there wasn’t anyone at the front desk, so I waited for a couple of minutes. I got tired of waiting, so I just sat down, and then only maybe 5-10 minutes after that did two women come out of the back room and go to the front desk. Neither of them said anything or ask me for credentials to enter the lounge.

Lounge seating

Lounge seating

Work stations

Work stations

There is a salad bar with cheese slices, salami, corn, iceberg lettuce, and mayo packets. Given the lack of traffic in the lounge, I’m not sure I’d want to eat any of those things (then again, cheese and cured meats can sit at room temperature for a while). They also had Sport bars and Turo Rudi (another Hungarian chocolate bar; it’s like a curd with a chocolate coating), and the breakfast options were perhaps better because they did have yogurt and cereals.

Salad buffet?

Salad buffet?

Dairy products and turo rudi

Dairy products and turo rudi

Fruits and cereals

Fruits and cereals

Drinks

Drinks

More drinks

More drinks

Bar snacks

Bar snacks

Turo Rudi and some sparkling water

Turo Rudi and some sparkling water

That being said, I would not recommend coming here. Just spend more time at the other lounges and budget a smidgeon more time to get to your gate. This lounge was sad and depressing. I guess if you really want some Turo Rudi or some yogurt, then it might be worth a visit.

Lounge Review: SkyCourt Lounge Budapest Airport (BUD)

The second lounge that I visited at the Budapest airport was the SkyCourt Lounge. This lounge is also accessible via Priority Pass, and it’s also above the main entrance right after you pass through security.

Entrance to the SkyCourt Lounge

Entrance to the SkyCourt Lounge

One notable feature of this lounge versus the Menzies lounge is that this lounge has toilets! No need to pee with the common people. The lounge is also a bit larger than the Menzies lounge with a variety of different seating areas. I’d say the furniture was less interesting but more comfortable compared to the other lounge.

Seating

Seating

Tables

Tables

More seating

More seating

Charging station

Charging station

Coffee and milk

Coffee and milk

Drink fridge

Drink fridge

Alcohols (with Unicum)

Alcohols (with Unicum)

This was the first time I’d ever seen a sandwich fridge in an airport lounge. So many packaged sandwiches. But the sandwiches did not look or smell very appetizing, and it seemed a little excessive given how few people seemed to be using the lounge. But I guess it’s nice to have if you’re super hungry. Beyond the sandwiches, there were also a variety of pastries (both sweet and less sweet) as well as some cereal crackers. There was also a typical assortment of drinks with Unicum making an appearance.

Packaged sandwiches

Packaged sandwiches

Food

Food

Desserts

Desserts

Packaged sandwich

Packaged sandwich

The wifi was blazingly fast for an airport lounge. I got something like 15 mbps both up and down. Some of the signs also say Malev Ground Handling, so I wonder if this space used to be the old Malev lounge before they went under?

Again, this is a solid Priority Pass lounge, but I might hit up the Menzies lounge instead if I wanted some Hungarian chocolate bars.

Lounge Review: Menzies Lounge Budapest Airport (BUD)

There are a number of Priority Pass-accessible lounges at the Budapest airport. The first I visited was the Menzies Lounge. This lounge is located above the main entrance area when you pass through security.

Signage for the lounge

Signage for the lounge

Menzies Lounge entrance

Menzies Lounge entrance

The lounge is just a simple, relatively small room, but there’s plenty of seating. I thought the furniture was cool and funky, and electrical outlets were plentiful. There were a variety of seating options whether you wanted to sit by yourself, stare out the window, or eat or work at a table.

Seating

Seating

More seating

More seating

Interesting furniture

Interesting furniture

Some views of apron

Some views of apron

Cubbies to charge your phone

Cubbies to charge your phone

Alcohol in the fridge

Alcohol in the fridge

In my opinion, the most notable feature of the lounge was the giant bags of Cheetos that were peanut butter flavored and ketchup flavored. I had never had either, so naturally I had to try them. I love ketchup, but the ketchup-flavored Cheetos tasted like ketchup that’s dried up from sitting out too long. The peanut butter ones were more palatable, but not worth the calories. Interestingly, I thought that they tasted better when eaten together.

In terms of other food, there were some packaged Hungarian chocolate bars (including Sport and Balaton bars–try them!), some cereal-ish bars, and some muffins. There was beer and wine on offer, as well as Unicum, a Hungarian specialty.

Snacks and drinks (including Unicum!)

Snacks and drinks (including Unicum!)

More drink options

More drink options

The wifi was decent, and there are no bathrooms inside the lounge. This lounge is nothing fancy, but it’s perfectly serviceable for a Priority Pass lounge.

Hotel Review: Radisson Blu Beke Hotel Budapest, Hungary

The Radisson Blu Beke Hotel has a great location not too far from Nyugati Palyaudvar (a train station that’s also on the blue M3 line, so easy to get to the airport on public transportation) and Oktogon (on the yellow line), so it’s easy to walk to a lot of interesting places as well as take public transit everywhere. It’s a Category 2 Club Carlson hotel, so it’s 15k points per night, and at the time of this stay, I had used two free award nights through the personal and business version of the Club Carlson credit card and thus paid 30k points for 4 nights.

When we checked in, we were originally given a normal room with no mention of status or an upgrade. The welcome amenity for being a gold member was a bottle of water. Honestly, a bit disappointing, both in the lack of recognition, lack of a better room (it wasn’t even a high-floor room), and the paltry welcome amenity, but it was such a steal at 30k points for 4 nights that I didn’t want to complain.

Beds in room number 1

Beds in room number 1

The only qualms I had with our room were the lack of electrical outlets and the fact that the air conditioning didn’t seem to work. Many people have complained about the furniture and decor of the hotel, but I thought it was a step up from the Park Inn Bratislava. The wifi was also pretty fast compared to the other Club Carlson hotels we stayed at on this trip.

On the second night of our stay, it was quite a bit warmer that day, so we ended up calling maintenance to look at the air conditioning since it wasn’t getting any cooler in our room. To make a long story short, apparently the air conditioning on some floors isn’t very good, so after visiting rooms on a couple of other floors, we ended up getting a suite on the 6th floor, and they put an extra twin bed in the living room. Cheers to the front desk agent working that night for really going the extra mile. The suite had a huge living room, and the air conditioning worked well.

Furniture in suite

Furniture in suite

Added bed and table in suite

Added bed and table in suite

Main bed in suite

Main bed in suite

Main bedroom in suite

Main bedroom in suite

Overall, I’d happily stay at this hotel again. Yes, it’s a bit dated, but it’s a comfortable hotel. The location is amazing, and it’s still a pretty good deal at 15k points per night.

Taking the Regiojet Bus from Bratislava to Budapest

To get from Bratislava to Budapest, we once again chose the bus over the train. We were originally planning on the train, but the front desk agent at the Park Inn Bratislava recommended the bus over the train.

We booked tickets online for 9 euro each. The bus is scheduled to take about 3 hours. It departs from AS Mlynské Nivy in Bratislava and drops off at Népliget in Budapest, which is on the blue line. Again, this could be super convenient depending on where you’re staying.

The Regiojet buses are kinda funky in that they’re yellow and look like they have antennas. The bus arrived at the station in Bratislava 15 minutes late, so we ended up departing 30 minutes after schedule. In general, there was a fair amount of confusion about the bus, as there wasn’t really anyone at the station who could answer questions.

Distinctive Regiojet bus

Distinctive Regiojet bus

Bus interior

Bus interior

That being said, the bus ride itself was pretty nice. The bus has lots of amenities like in-bus entertainment with a fair number of movies on offer. In addition, they offer free hot and cold drinks, and they have snacks for sale. They also advertise wifi, but I couldn’t get it to work on my phone.

Bus seats

Bus seats

IBE: in bus entertainment

IBE: in bus entertainment

Info about the bus service

Info about the bus service

The bus is a good alternative to the train. Bus tickets are usually cheaper, and there’s more entertainment built in to the buses, but the schedules might be less reliable given that buses have to deal with road traffic. The bus stations might be more or less convenient than the train stations depending on where you need to go, so that’s also something to keep in mind.

Hotel Review: Park Inn Bratislava

The Park Inn Bratislava has a wonderful location on the Danube in the Old Town area of the city. You can walk to many of the tourist sites, it’s super close to a transport hub, and public transit is super cheap (less than one euro for a ride).

This is a category 1 Club Carlson hotel, so award nights go for 9,000 points each. At the time of this trip, I had used the old benefit from the Club Carlson credit card to get one free night on any award stay, so I only paid 9,000 points for 2 free nights. Crazy cheap.

Entrance to the hotel

Entrance to the hotel

I was upgraded to a junior suite. This wasn’t a typical suite, but rather, it was two rooms with a bed in each one and a hallway connecting the two. The rooms were not fancy at all–the mattresses could use improving, a curtain was missing from a window, the furniture was super basic–but I don’t want to complain given how cheap it was to book.

Bed

Bed

Desk and TV

Desk and TV

Second bed

Second bed

Bathroom

Bathroom

"View" of the UFO

“View” of the UFO

One thing that I found slightly strange about the hotel was the numerous unused common areas. There were locked rooms with furniture and amenities, but no one was using any of those areas during our stay, and I couldn’t access any of them.

Common areas

Common areas

Locked computer room

Locked computer room

Courtyard

Courtyard

Common area furniture

Common area furniture

One big plus of the hotel was the gym and pool. The gym in the hotel is an actual gym where people who aren’t staying at the hotel pay money to use the facilities, so it’s actually pretty nice with a large variety of equipment (including things for functional training!). There was also a smoothie bar in the gym.

Gym equipment

Gym equipment

Equipment for functional training

Equipment for functional training

Smoothie bar

Smoothie bar

Legit gym

Legit gym

Sauna

Sauna

Pool

Pool

We were offered free breakfast, and it was pretty decent for a hotel this affordable. They’ll make eggs to order if you ask.

Breakfast

Breakfast

Breakfast

Breakfast

Breakfast

Breakfast

Breakfast

Breakfast

Breakfast

Breakfast

Dining room

Dining room

Throughout our stay, the front desk was very helpful. Maybe not the most friendly, but very service oriented. Overall, I’d happily stay here again, even without the free award night for every stay. It’s definitely an older hotel that could use some refurbishment, but if you don’t care that much about old furniture, it’s got a lot of pluses (e.g. location, service, gym) for only 9k points per night.

Taking the Blaguss Bus from Vienna to Bratislava

To get from Vienna to Bratislava, I took the Blaguss bus. Here’s a link to the timetable from Vienna to Bratislava. The bus departs from Erdberg in Vienna, which is a stop on the U3 line, so it’s super easy to get to. You can buy a ticket online, on the bus, or at the bus station.

Bus terminal

Bus terminal

Across the street from Erdberg station on U3 line

Across the street from Erdberg station on U3 line

Ticket counters

Ticket counters

The bus station had large lockers for luggage storage, and there were pay bathrooms. There weren’t many visible food options around the station, so eat beforehand or bring food with you.

Bus station interior

Bus station interior

The bus itself was large and comfortable. The bus had free wifi, and it departed on time.

Bus interior

Bus interior

Bus seats

Bus seats

From Erdberg station in Vienna, the bus stops at the Vienna airport, the train station in Bratislava, Novy Most (near the UFO bridge in Bratislava), and finally the Bratislava airport. The bus we took adhered very closely to the timetable.

A one-way ticket was only 7,50 euro, and it’s perhaps much more convenient than the train depending on where you want to go. For example, our hotel in Bratislava was just steps from Novy Most, which meant that the bus saved us a transfer at the Bratislava train station, in addition to being cheaper. Definitely an option to keep in mind if you need to get between Bratislava and Vienna!