Category Archives: Hotel Reviews

Hotel Review: Conrad Centennial Singapore

An UberX from Singapore Changi airport to the Conrad Singapore was less than 16 SGD. The airport pickup was easy, given that you can specify which terminal and door you’re at in the app.

I had checked in online and chose a corner room on the 22nd floor. This was a deluxe business room, but there was no upgrade to Executive Lounge access for a Hilton Gold. At the time, I was told I could have breakfast at Oscar’s on the first floor since the fourth floor salon by the pool was undergoing renovation.

Hotel lobby

Hotel lobby

The corner room was nice and had decent views of the Singapore Flyer, Gardens by the Bay, and the Merlion statue. The furniture and room looked a bit tired and dated, and there weren’t enough outlets in the room, but the bed was comfortable.

Business deluxe room

Business deluxe room

Views from hotel

On the fourth floor of the hotel, there’s a pool and fitness center. It’s a good place to get some sun, and the fitness center was pretty well-equiped for a hotel gym. The gym could have been cooler and better ventilated, though.

Pool

Bar by pool

Gym

Gym

Gym

Gym

Breakfast at Oscar’s was a little hectic. The buffet selection is quite large (as is common in many Asian hotels), but there was also lots of turnover. This meant that the service was a little lacking, but they generally kept tables turning over.

Breakfast

There were tons of options. There was typical western food like eggs, bacon, sausage, baked beans, potatoes, waffles, and pancakes; there was Asian breakfast food like congee, dim sum, fried rice, and noodles; there was Indian food like daal, aloo, and roti; there was a decent salad bar, lots of fruit, and individual servings of Nutella, kaya jam, and peanut butter; and there was even a dessert and gelato bar with self-serve froyo. The quality of food was good for a hotel buffet, meaning that it wasn’t stellar, but you can probably find something to eat.

Breakfast

Ice cream and cake for breakfast, anyone?

Breakfast

Breakfast

Breakfast

Breakfast

Breakfast

Breakfast

Breakfast

Breakfast

Breakfast

Breakfast

Breakfast

Overall, I had a good stay at the Conrad Singapore. At the time, the room I stayed in was a bit tired-looking, but it was perfectly comfortable, and the hotel is not too far from a subway station, so it’s easy to get around. Breakfast is typical luxury Asian hotel buffet. I think I paid 60,000 Hilton points per night for the hotel.

Hotel Review: The Danna Langkawi, Malaysia

The Danna Langkawi is the top-rated hotel in Langkawi according to TripAdvisor. It doesn’t get that much attention in the points and miles world because it’s not bookable with points, but it has been reviewed by a number of non-points and miles travel bloggers.

When I was choosing where to stay in Langkawi, I thought I might as well try the Danna, but I was slightly skeptical in that all of the travel blogger reviews seemed to be comped stays (i.e. the hotel paid for everything, so the travel blogger review was essentially a paid advertisement). But in general, I think I set my expectations too high, as so many of the online reviews said that this was the best hotel that they had stayed at and that this hotel had the best service.

To book the hotel, I paid with my Citi Prestige card to get the fourth night free. The cash rate at the time was around $250 per night (which is way more than I would normally pay for a hotel and is quite expensive for this area). To get to the hotel, I booked a rental car from the airport. In general, this is a less touristy area of Langkawi, so having your own car to get around might be a good idea.

Entrance

Typical of hotel’s decor

I had emailed the hotel prior to my stay inquiring about the possibility of upgrading my room. I was able to arrange for an upgrade for part of my stay to a Viceroy room, which had an amazing view of the pool and the sea. In general, all of the rooms at the hotel are sizable and nicely appointed. The variation in pricing comes from views and amenities like private balconies.

Viceroy Room

Room

Shower

Toiletries

Bathroom

View from a Viceroy room

Hotel courtyard

The main attraction for the hotel is probably the pool. It’s a huge infinity pool, and there are lots of loungers and seating options. There’s towel and beverage service by the pool, and people will periodically come by offering free snacks like fruit and sunglass cleaning. The pool was quite warm and lovely to wade around in, but probably too warm to do any actual swimming (but it’s definitely large enough!).

View of hotel from pool

Pool

Pool-side seating

There’s also a small private beach. Most people spent their time at the pool, as the beach was nothing special.

You can pay to have a meal on the beach

Beach

The gym was decently well equipped for a hotel gym. They had a bench press, which I liked (even though I had to move it away from the column in order to actually use it).

Gym

Gym

Breakfast at the hotel is copious. The buffet is quite large, but I think it suffers from the issue of trying to do too many things and not enough things well. There’s also the issue that the hotel doesn’t have enough guests to have enough turnover in the buffet, so some of the items may have been sitting there for a long time depending on when you eat breakfast. But there’s a made-to-order menu as well as the buffet, so I’m sure you can find something to satisfy you.

Breakfast menu

Breakfast

Breakfast

Breakfast

Breakfast

Breakfast

Breakfast

Breakfast

Breakfast

Breakfast

Breakfast

Breakfast

Breakfast

Breakfast

Breakfast

Breakfast

Given the lack of food options nearby, I also ate at the main hotel restaurant for dinner a couple of times. The food isn’t cheap for Malaysia, but the vegetarian entrees are pretty affordable for a fancy hotel (35-40 MYR for a vegetarian entree; a bottle of sparkling water was 24 MYR by comparison). In general, I found the service to be very eager and earnest, particularly at dinner. And the food was tastier at dinner when it was made to order compared to breakfast. That being said, I did have a couple of issues with food not being cooked correctly, but once I brought up the issue to the waiter/manager, things were taken care of.

Restaurant menu

In terms of non-hotel things to do in Langkawi, many people go on a mangrove tour, so I went on one booked through the hotel that was operated by Dev’s Adventure Tours. It was okay. I loved the guide, but the tour itself wasn’t that impressive, especially compared to something like a Halong Bay cruise. On the other hand, I really enjoyed the cable car and skybridge, so I would recommend those.

Overall, the hotel is pretty nice, although at the time there was major (loud) construction going on (which I did not know of at the time of booking). But this hotel has nothing on a hotel like the Conrad Koh Samui in terms of privacy/rooms/views/facilities (granted, the cash rate for the Conrad Koh Samui is considerably higher, but it’s also bookable with points or free night certificates). And while there was good service recovery (attempts to compensate for service issues),  the service itself generally was not at that high of a standard compared to other high-end hotels (e.g., the Park Hyatt Paris Vendome). I would not go out of my way to recommend this hotel, but if you want to head to Langkawi for another reason, it’s a decent option, but I would not set my expectations that high.

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.

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.

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.

Hotel Review: Radisson Blu Style Hotel Vienna, Austria

I stayed at the Radisson Blu Style Hotel in Vienna on a trip to central Europe last year. I booked this hotel with points when Club Carlson was still offering a one award night free for every award booking and when the highest category of hotel was only 50k points (instead of 70k points). In spite of the devaluations on the award redemption side, Club Carlson can still offer some great values in Europe, especially if you’re into manufactured spending since the credit card still offers 5x points on all spend.

This hotel has a super great location. It’s conveniently located just steps from the Herrengasse station on the U3 subway line, and it’s within walking distance to much of the inner stadt. It’s also right next to Cafe Central (although I found that place to be overrated).

Entrance to the hotel

Entrance to the hotel

I tried to check in early to the hotel (a consequence of most flights from the US to Europe is the early morning arrival times). The agent at the front desk told me that the hotel room would be ready in 30 minutes, so I left my luggage and went for a short walk.

Hotel lobby

Hotel lobby

I was assigned a twin room. The room had a slightly odd shape, but it was comfortable and quiet. The furnishings were basic but perfectly adequate, and I enjoyed the decor of the room.

Twin beds

Twin beds

TV and desk

TV and desk

Bathroom

Bathroom

As a welcome amenity for being a Club Carlson Gold member (a benefit of the credit card), I received a small bottle of champagne.

Welcome amenity

Welcome amenity

Hotel bar

Hotel bar

The hotel had a small sauna as well as a very basic gym for guests to use.

Sauna

Sauna

Basic gym

Basic gym

In general, the staff was very friendly and attentive, and I enjoyed my stay. This hotel was a great deal at 50k Club Carlson points for 2 nights, but I’m not sure how I feel about 70k points per night now. But it’s a great location with comfortable rooms and good service.

Hotel Review: Grand Hyatt Jakarta

For my relatively brief stay in Jakarta, I decided to redeem points for the Grand Hyatt Jakarta. Since it was a category 3 Hyatt property, it cost 12,000 points per night. Chain hotels in Jakarta are ridiculously pricey given how inexpensive other things in Jakarta are, as rates were over $300 USD per night, so I felt like I got a good redemption value by using points.

To get to the Hyatt, I took a Bluebird taxi from the airport. Everyone I talked to told me to only take Bluebird (or Silverbird) taxis, and you can tell that it’s the queue for the Bluebird taxis because there will actually be people waiting for those taxis. Don’t trust the people hanging around the Bluebird line unless they have a Bluebird shirt, as there are lots of touts trying to get you to take other taxis.

The taxi to the Grand Hyatt was 155k IDR, which included the toll and airport surcharge. Upon driving up to the hotel, there was a security check for the car (I believe they were using a mirror to look underneath the car), and there’s a baggage and metal detector for all people to enter the hotel.

The lobby of the hotel is quite nice and impressive. The service at the check-in counter was extremely friendly, and I was offered free breakfast, even though I wasn’t strictly entitled to that via status.

Lobby

Lobby

The room that I received was enormous. Not a suite, but a huge room that seemed well though out. There were plenty of outlets by the bed, the outlets were universal, the TV was on a swivel stand, and the furnishings were nice. I felt that it was a pretty nice Category 3 hotel (and it was a huge steal before when it was still a Cat 2!).

Bed

Bed

Furniture

Furniture

Minibar

Minibar

The bathroom was also a nice size. It didn’t have a Japanese toilet, but there was a bidet function.

Bathroom

Bathroom

Shower

Shower

The room also featured a nice view of the adjacent monument, which was also where there was a car-free walking street on the Sunday that I was there.

View from my room

View from my room

Other amenities available

Other amenities available

I didn’t use the gym during my stay, but it was a sizable space with a fair amount of equipment. One thing that I always appreciate about a gym is when there are free barbells and not just a Smith machine.

Gym

Gym

Gym

Gym

Gym

Gym

Gym

Gym

I had breakfast at the club lounge one day that I was there. The breakfast at the club was not as mobbed as I would have thought, and it featured pastries, juices, dairy beverages (including soy milk), whole fruit (including salak or snakeskin fruit), Asian breakfast foods like fried rice and noodles, congee, made-to-order eggs, breads, cheeses, and salads. It was a decent spread, but nothing special by Asian luxury hotel standards.

Club

Club

Lounge breakfast

Lounge breakfast

Refrigerated items

Refrigerated items

Cold cuts and yogurts

Cold cuts and yogurts

Breakfast

Breakfast

Breakfast

Hot items for breakfast

I had breakfast in the normal restaurant on another day, and the restaurant featured a more extensive buffet. I tried to take pictures, but I was told to stop because taking pictures of the food was apparently a security hazard for the hotel :/

One notable incident about my stay was that there was actually a fire at the hotel. The lobby was filled with smoke, the hotel was evacuated, and we weren’t allowed back into the hotel for several hours. Apparently there was a fire in one of the restaurant kitchens.

This hotel is connected to the Plaza Indonesia mall, which is a nice luxury mall. There’s an entrance to the mall within the lobby, which is convenient when it’s hot out. There’s also the Keraton at the Plaza hotel connected on the other side of the mall, which is a Category 5 SPG property.

Overall, I thought that this was a pretty decent Category 3 Hyatt hotel. Service at the hotel was good, my room was spacious and nicely furnished, and the hotel offers pretty decent amenities. Given how expensive cash rates can sometimes be, a points redemption can be a worthwhile option to consider.

Hotel Review: Holiday Inn Express Sathorn in Bangkok, Thailand

For this quick trip to Bangkok, I stayed at the Holiday Inn Express Sathorn. At the time, this hotel was on PointsBreak, so I was able to book it for 5000 IHG points per night. That being said, I felt like I still overpaid paying 5000 points per night, which is indicative of my overall sentiment around the hotel.

The biggest benefit of the hotel is the location. It’s very close to the Chong Nonsi BTS station, which is great. You can even see the hotel from the BTS station.

View of the hotel from the nearby BTS station

View of the hotel from the nearby BTS station

When I checked into the hotel, the first room I was given was not cleaned properly. There was lots of evidence that the hotel room had been used and not cleaned afterward except for the bed being made, so I told the front desk and switched rooms. More generally, even though the hotel is ostensibly non-smoking, the hallway often reeked of smoke.

Reception seating area

Reception seating area

The bed itself was decently comfortable, although the air conditioning didn’t work quite as well as I’d have liked.

Basic room

Basic room

TV and work area

TV and work area

Not a real closet

Not a real closet

One thing that I didn’t expect about the hotel is that the shower just had a single soap/shampoo pump. It was pretty terrible, and I should have brought my own soap, shampoo, and conditioner.

Bathroom

Bathroom

Breakfast was edible. They had the expected variety of western and Asian foods (e.g. eggs, hashbrowns, fried rice).

Hot food at breafkast

Hot food at breafkast

Pastries at breakfast

Pastries at breakfast

Fruit and yogurt

Fruit, yogurt, and salad

More pastries and fruit

Muffins and bananas

Dining area at breakfast

Dining area at breakfast

The gym was pretty small and only had dumbbells and some cardio machines. But at least they had dumbbells? The gym also was a source of bottled water.

Hotel gym

Hotel gym

The hotel also had a couple of computers available for use in the lobby.

Hotel workstations

Hotel workstations

Overall, I wouldn’t stay at this hotel again. Even on PointsBreak, I felt that it was too expensive, especially since Bangkok has so many good and inexpensive hotels. The service wasn’t good, and the amenities were not great.

Why I Think SPG Points Are Overrated

The SPG Amex card has long been a staple in the travel hacking world. People love their SPG points, as well as their Starwood status. SPG points are one of the hardest points currencies to accrue given that you can only earn points either by staying in hotels or earning 1x on the credit card, but people laud the numerous airline transfer partners of the program and the fact that 20k SPG points gets you 25k miles. Thus, many say that SPG points are some of the most valuable points around.

SPG points are definitely valuable, and I would happily take them if someone were to offer them to me. The category 1 and 2 hotels can often be an incredible redemption value (e.g. Le Meridien Chiang Mai), and the flexibility in terms of airline partner transfers can be very helpful. But I don’t think it’s correct to think of earning 1 SPG point as equivalent to earning 1.25 airline miles, which is one of the reasons why people love the program.

You only get the transfer bonus if you transfer SPG points in increments of 20k points. This is a huge drawback in my eyes. 20k SPG points is a lot of points for the layperson to earn (of course, if you’re actively MSing a lot per month, 20k SPG points is nothing, but at that point, you’d probably prefer cash back to points). You can get 25k-30k as a sign-up bonus, and then that’s about it. If you travel for work frequently, you can supplement your points there by staying in their hotels, but otherwise, it’s a long slog to get to your next 20k increment.

And since you only get the bonus if you transfer in 20k increments, I imagine that a lot of people don’t want to transfer unless they have 20k points to transfer at a time, which means that their points will likely sit there unused when they could be put to better use. The numerous airline partners is one of the biggest benefits of the program, as you can “top off” a program when you’re close to an award, but the structure of the incentive means that people probably don’t use it this way as often as they should.

Yes, SPG points are valuable, but given how difficult they are to accrue as compared to other transferable points currencies like Ultimate Rewards, Membership Rewards, and Thank You Points, I don’t think it’s right to take the 25% transfer bonus to airline partners at face value.

Review: Hilton Doubletree Kuala Lumpur

For my short trip to Kuala Lumpur, I stayed at the Hilton Doubletree. As a Category 2 hotel, it’s only 10k Hilton points per night, which is a great deal, especially as a Gold member when you can get free breakfast and lounge access.

The Hilton Doubletree is attached to the Intermark Mall, so you actually go through the mall to get to the hotel. It’s close to the Ampang Park metro station, so it’s relatively easy to get around using public transit if you wish. (There’s also a temple not too far from here that serves an awesome vegetarian lunch buffet that’s super cheap)

Hotel entrance in the mall

Hotel entrance in the mall

Check-in desks

Check-in desks

As a Gold member, I was escorted up to the Executive Lounge to check in. The check-in process took quite a while, which may have been because someone else booked the room for me and wasn’t actually staying there…

Anyway, no upgrade on room besides getting lounge access, but that’s about all I would need/want when I’m traveling by myself. My room was a standard, well-appointed hotel room in Asia by a Western brand.

Bedroom

Bedroom

Room furnishings

Room furnishings

Shower

Shower

Bathroom

Bathroom

Views of KL

Views of KL

View of the Petronas towers from the hotel

View of the Petronas towers from the hotel

The hotel had a pretty nice fitness area. I’m not 100% sure on this, but I believe it acted as a health club/gym that outside people could pay to have access to.

Hotel pool

Hotel pool

Gym

Gym

More gym

More gym

The executive lounge offered both breakfast and evening canapes and cocktails. I don’t really drink, but apparently, free alcohol is kinda a big deal in Malaysia because of alcohol taxes. I enjoyed eating the snacks, though.

Executive lounge

Executive lounge

More lounge food

More lounge food

More lounge food

More lounge food

Lounge alcohol

Lounge alcohol

Breakfast in the restaurant was pretty crazy. The restaurant is massive and has a number of different sections representing different cuisines. For example, there’s a Western section with things like pancakes, eggs, bacon, and waffles, but there’s also a Chinese section with dim sum, a Malaysian section, and an Indian section. This was by far the biggest breakfast buffet that I’ve been to.

Restaurant breakfast spread

Restaurant breakfast spread

More breakfast

More breakfast

More breakfast

More breakfast

More breakfast

More breakfast

More breakfast

More breakfast

Overall, I really enjoyed my stay at this hotel. It’s a great redemption value in the Hilton program, and if you’re a Gold member, you can get access to an awesome free breakfast and lounge access. I would happily stay here again if I find myself in KL.