Lodging Review: DoubleTree by Hilton London Heathrow Airport

My colleagues and I left Hinckley in the late afternoon and made our way back to London so we’d be near the airport for our return flights the next day. As I have Gold status with Hilton HHonors (thanks to simply having the Hilton Surpass card by American Express) I considered the Hilton attached to Terminal 3 but it was a good bit more expensive and I was leaving from Terminal 2 anyway so I booked the DoubleTree which is located between T2 & T3 as most of my colleagues were flying Delta out of T3 so it worked for them too.

DoubleTree by Hilton London Heathrow
(photo courtesy DoubleTree website)

DoubleTree by Hilton London Heathrow Airport Lobby

Continue reading

Advertisements
Categories: England, Europe, Hilton, Hotel, Lodging Review | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Lodging Review: Sketchley Grange Hotel and Spa, Hinckley, UK

Sometimes a person’s view of a hotel is colored by their reason for being at a particular property. As I’ve thought about the time spent at the Sketchley Grange Hotel & Spa I’ve realized that some of the things that I have viewed as a negative are things I wouldn’t even have thought about if I were a leisure traveler.

The Sketchley is in a rather small town called Hinckley, in Leicestershire, about two hours north of London. There are two hotels in Hinckely and the other one (our company’s first choice) was booked so we were left with this one. (I later learned that there’s a DoubleTree in Coventry, only about 10 minutes further away, and in the future I’ll use that as the backup hotel.)

Main Entrance, older wings on the left

Modern Wing where our rooms were located

As the name suggests, it is both a hotel and spa and when we arrived on a warm summer weekend there was a tour group staying there as well as several groups of friends or families milling around. While the pool is indoors, there were lots of folks enjoying the warm weather sitting on the patio or even stretched out on blankets on the grass. There were also quite a few people enjoying the pool and hot tub inside.

Leisure Facilities

The hotel also has a pretty nice gym which closes at 8 PM on Sunday night but is open until 10 PM during the week. The bad part is that it does not open until 6:30 AM. This is one thing that wouldn’t bother me as a leisure traveler but as a business traveler I was disappointed because I’d have preferred to work out in the mornings since we went out for dinner after work and sometimes did not arrive back at the hotel until 8:30 or later and I just went straight to bed.

Sketchley Grange Gym

Sketchley Grange Gym

Sketchley Grange Gym

The spa, which is operated by an outside agency, only offers services until 6 PM, another item that’s probably not an issue for a leisure traveler but really disappointed me as I missed my massage at home and was looking forward to getting one while at the hotel.

Indoor Pool

Hot Tub

The hotel itself does have character. My room was in the wing on the complete opposite side of the hotel from the spa/gym/pool and it was an adventure getting there through the building. On a couple of occasions there would be 2-3 steps up and later 2-3 steps down or an unusual bend in the hallway as new wings had been added to the hotel. It was sort of fun walking through that way, though we later figured out it was faster to walk outside and around to the side of the building where the spa/pool/gym had its own entrance.

Sofa at a random wide spot in the hallway of one of the older wings

It seemed that locals could join the spa/gym directly as I encountered a few people walking directly into the area from the parking lot, just in time for one of the exercise classes.

Junior Executive Suite

I was assigned a room on the first floor -and was reminded that unlike in America, the first floor is the one above the Ground floor.  I left the front desk and walked through this seating area which is both near the elevator and the entrance to the bar.

Sofas outside the bar (yes, they were really *that* purple)

Getting off the elevator (or “lift”, since I was in England!) I turned right and walked just a short way down the hall to my room, which was on the left, facing the back of the property.

Modern Wing Hallway

Entrance to room 152

I had booked a Junior Executive Suite and was quite pleased with the size both of the room and the bathroom. As with many hotel rooms, upon entering there was a small hallway with the bathroom immediately to the left before passing the mini-bar and then into the main area of the room.

Junior Executive Suite Room Entry Hall

The room was plenty big for a king-sized bed, two side tables and a full-sized sofa without feeling crowded.

Junior Executive Suite Bed and Sofa

Against the opposite wall was a nice-sized desk – with outlets available above it (yay!) – and a narrow table. There was no pen or paper on the desk which normally I don’t care about but on this trip there was a point I needed to write a note but couldn’t.

Junior Executive Suite Desk

Beside the bed, against the back wall of the bathroom, was a built-in vanity (with chair) and a closet which had a few built-in shelves and the safe. Inside the closet were an iron & ironing board and the hair dryer. As usual in the UK, there was no outlet for the hair dryer in the bathroom so I had to use it at the vanity but at least the outlet was easily accessible.

Junior Executive Suite Vanity and Closet

The only drawer in the whole room was a long narrow one under the vanity. I would have preferred to use a chest of drawers for the clothes I didn’t hang up but I made-do with the shelves in the closet. The doors on the closet did not slide particularly easily either.

The bathroom had dark gray slate tile that I actually liked. The sink was high profile while the counter was lower. The large soaking tub was quite nice, one of my colleagues reported.

Junior Executive Suite Sink

Junior Executive Suite Bathtub

The shower stall was just large enough and I liked that the spray could be adjusted from brisk to gentle. I also liked that it could be hand-held or put into the adjustable holder to make it quite high or low. But the shower did leak and the bath mat was always half-soaked when I was finished. The clear caulking used against the wall seemed to either have been placed over mold or mold was growing within it, I’m not sure which. Either way, it was unappealing to look at. The lack of shelving in the shower was also an issue. There was no place to put the shampoo, shower gel and/or razor and shave gel. There was also no conditioner which is not a problem with some shampoos but would have really been welcome as I didn’t care for the shampoo that was provided and I no longer bother with bringing any with me.

Junior Executive Suite Shower

Junior Executive Suite Mulben & Fearne Toiletries

The mini-bar had tea and a pot to heat water but I’m not positive it even had instant coffee. And the cabinet built to hold the mini-fridge was empty.

Junior Executive Suite Tea Station

While all rooms had the slot (standard in many European countries) which required a room key to be placed in it for the air and lights to work, in reality only with some rooms did the slot actually have to be used. In my room both the air and lights worked without anything being in the card slot.

View from room 152

And, oh, the air conditioning. The first day we arrived it was quite warm, the warmest day of the year so far, I believe. My room cooled down enough and I was so tired from the trip over that I slept quite well. The second night, even though the day had been a little cooler, the room was extremely warm. I even noticed the thermostat was at a lower setting, as if even the cleaning staff thought my room was warm. On the third night, which was much cooler, I was able to open the windows and the temperature was quite nice. I know that I prefer a much cooler room than seems to be the norm for Europe but it sure would be nice to find a hotel that can accommodate those lower temps.

I didn’t hate the room and the bed was actually really comfortable. I was a bit surprised the sofa did not have a pull-out bed as it would seem to me this would be a great room for a family with a small child or two. I had a lovely view of the back patio and the green fields beyond.

The Garden Restaurant & Bar

We ate in the hotel after arriving from London. It was Father’s Day so we enjoyed a 2-course meal (could choose starter + main or main + dessert) for a set price and it was quite good.

Special Father’s Day Lunch: pork loin, potatoes, carrots, green beans, Yorkshire pudding

Seating in the Restaurant/Bar

Bar Seating

Bar area seating

Wine Rack

The breakfast buffet can be added to your reservation and that made it easy each morning where we just checked in and served ourselves. However, the buffet didn’t open until 7 AM. That’s another of the things that’s not an issue as a leisure traveler but was inconvenient as a business traveler who would have liked to have been at the office by 8 AM.

Service at both the restaurant and the breakfast area was always rushed. Each morning when I arrived just after opening staff were still in the process of getting the food out and generally rushing around. It seemed they needed another person or two to get everything done on time. Perhaps it’s my expectations that are different from local norms. One member of our group wanted a pot of hot water to make her own tea each morning and she’d often have to ask at least twice before getting it.

I thought the buffet was quite ample though one member of our group was disappointed. Several kinds of fruit and cold cuts were available as was a hot selection with sausages, eggs, potato cakes, etc., a cold section with a number of cereals, whole fruit, juices and water and a third station with four different types of sliced bread and a very quick toaster. I certainly found plenty to eat each day.

But here and there, not only in the restaurant, attention to detail would make a difference in the impression the hotel leaves on a guest. For example, the juices were in large, clear containers with a spigot. They weren’t emptied each night but just kept chilled, which is fine. But at least one morning it was clear that the juice had separated a good bit with the more watery part floating to the top and the concentrate at the bottom. It should have been stirred up before opening the buffet to customers.

Everyone was quite friendly, nice and well-intentioned. I hope I’m not being overly critical but a few small improvements could make a big difference in perception. There were no laudry facilities nor was laundry service offered, so one team member who stayed for 10+ days had to find a dry cleaner in town to get her laundry done. Again, wouldn’t have thought twice about it as a leisure traveler but it made a difference as a business traveler.

As I said earlier, my preference would be NOT to return here for business travel but to stay elsewhere, even if it’s a bit further away.

Categories: England, Lodging Review | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Review: United Polaris Business Class ORD-LHR-ORD

On my last trip across the Atlantic, I flew over on a United 777 prior to their rollout of their Polaris product in December. While the aircraft on this trip had not been retrofitted with the new hard product I was interested to see how the new soft product would differ. This report will cover both the outbound trip to London and the return to Chicago.

UA 938
Depart ORD: 21:20
Arrive LHR: 11:20+1
Duration: 8h 10m
Boeing 767-300
Seat 9A (Business Class)

After leaving the Polaris lounge, our gate was just a few steps away. By the time we arrived, orderly lines had already formed for zones 1 & 2 so we took our place at the end of zone 1. It wasn’t too much longer before boarding began. Everyone entered through door 2L so we turned right down the first aisle to our seats, which were the last two business class seats on the right and faced forward.

Continue reading

Categories: Star Alliance, United | Tags: | Leave a comment

Review: United Polaris Club, Chicago O’Hare Airport

I had arrived in Chicago in the morning and spent the day with friends before returning to the airport that evening. My friend dropped me off at O’Hare around 6:15 PM in advance of my 9:10 PM flight. I was excited to be able to spend some time in the relatively new Polaris lounge before my flight.

The lounge entrance is just to the left of the escalators when entering Concourse C from Concourse B/Terminal 1 check-in. There is a first checkpoint where it is verified that you’re entitled to enter the lounge. Then walk through these double doors followed by a left turn into the lounge.

Polaris Club Main Entrance

Continue reading

Categories: Airline Clubs, United | Tags: , | Leave a comment

2017 Q3 Starts Today – New Bonus Categories Activated

Just a quick reminder that today is the first day of the 3rd quarter of 2017, so if you have a card with rotating quarterly bonus categories, it’s time to move those cards to the front of your wallet.

For the Discover Cards, you’ll earn 5% cash back at restaurants.

For US Bank, you’ll have the categories you’ve chosen as most valuable to you.

For the Chase Freedom card, restaurants and movie theaters will earn you 5 Ultimate Rewards (URs) points for each dollar.  You can choose to redeem those URs as cash back on your credit card statement at the rate of 1 cent per point.  However, if you have another Chase card that earns URs and that card has an annual fee, you can pool your points and transfer them to various airline and hotel programs where it’s possible to get more than 2 cents per point in value.

So plan your purchases carefully for the next quarter!

Categories: Cash Plus, Chase, Credit Cards, Discover, Freedom, US Bank | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Chase Freedom Q3 Bonus Categories Announced

Chase has announced the 5x bonus categories for their Freedom credit card for the third quarter of 2017.  As I figured, Restaurants are on the list as are Movie Theaters. I hate that both the Chase Freedom and the Discover cards have the same bonus category in the same quarter. C’mon banks, help us out!

Using your Freedom card at Restaurants and Movie Theaters will earn 5 points per dollar spent, up to a max of $1500 spent.  While Chase bills this as 5% cash back – and you certainly can use it as cash back – you can make those points worth more than a penny apiece.  If you have the Sapphire Preferred, Sapphire Reserve or one of the Ink business cards that charge an annual fee, you can transfer these points to several airlines or hotels, where you can get more than 1 cent in value for the points.  For example, points can be transferred to United Airlines.  I’m currently looking for airfare for a Colorado ski trip in February, which is prime season.  I’d prefer to fly into the Vail/Eagle County Airport instead of making the trek from Denver.  But right now airfares are in the $590 range.  If I could find an award flight for 25K miles I’d be getting 2.3 cents in value for each point.

Registration is now available. You have until September 14th to register, but why wait? Click HERE to reach the calendar page.

Continue reading

Categories: Chase, Credit Card Promos, Credit Cards, Freedom | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Some Q3 Cash-Back Category Selections Available Now

As we are just past the middle of the 2nd quarter of 2017, a couple of cash-back cards have already announced their categories for the 3rd quarter (and even beyond).  As a US Bank Cash+ customer I received an email letting me know I could make my selections now.  Here are the choices for Q3:

I originally got this card because charitable donations were one of the 5% categories but that option went away in mid-February.  I’ve kept this card both because it’s free and because it gives me a 5% discount on my gym membership (which I need to use more often!).

Discover has also announced their categories for both Q3 and Q4, though it looks like the Q4 category list may expand once we get closer to it.

Restaurants is a category where I can certainly do a lot of damage as I eat out a lot.  My only dilemma comes when Chase decides to offer 5 Ultimate Rewards points via their Freedom card during the same quarter.  Since Chase has not yet announced their Q3 categories we’ll have to wait to see what card I will choose.

(h/t: Rapid Travel Chai)

Categories: Cash Plus, Credit Card Promos, Credit Cards, Discover, US Bank | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Danube Trip: Budapest to Chicago

Danube Trip: Chicago to Brussels
Danube Trip: Brussels Adventures and Getting to Prague
Danube Trip: Marriott Courtyard Prague
Danube Trip: Prague, Czech Republic
Danube Trip: Boscolo, Autograph Collection
Danube Trip: Prague to Nuremberg
Danube Trip: Viking River Cruise Boats – the Njord and the Bestla
Danube Trip: Nuremberg, Germany
Danube Trip: Weltenburg Abbey and Danube Narrows
Danube Trip: Regensburg, Germany
Danube Trip: Passau, Germany
Danube Trip: Wachau Valley and Göttweig Abbey
Danube Trip: Vienna, Austria
Danube Trip: Budapest, Hungary
Danube Trip: Hilton Budapest (Castle District)
Danube Trip: Budapest to Chicago

My return flight left Budapest at 6:30 AM.  I had booked this leg of the trip using my Miles & More points, hoping that shortly before I left Budapest, Lufthansa would open up space and I’d be able to fly first class via Frankfurt.  But the space never opened up so I had to “settle” for business class.  Poor me.

My friend and I shared a taxi to the airport even though she was returning on Turkish Airlines and her flight was nearly three hours later.  Sure enough, when we arrived she couldn’t even check her bags as no one was at the Turkish counter that early.  So we said our goodbyes and I headed through security to the lounge.

The lounge I was directed to was very small and nearly full.  It did have free wi-fi but didn’t even have its own restrooms.  It was a contract lounge, not a Lufthansa lounge and while it was better than sitting the terminal and had some free beverages, I was completely under-whelmed.

Eventually though we boarded our flight for the relatively short flight to Frankfurt, which was very uneventful.  Like many intra-Europe flights, business class was simply economy with blocked middle seats and nice service.  We did get an edible, if unremarkable breakfast.  Before long we were in Frankfurt where I was able to enjoy the lounge for  a couple of hours.

When I got to the gate, I admit I was surprised.  Where was the German efficiency I so appreciate?  With Frankfurt being a Lufthansa hub, there are naturally a lot of people with elite status who are not flying in First or Business class.  So they hover around, waiting for priority boarding to be called instead of queuing up. I don’t think I’ve ever seen priority boarding be so chaotic, though my experience is not that widespread.  At any rate, eventually I boarded through door 1L and found my seat.

LH 430
Frankfurt (FRA) – Chicago O’Hare (ORD)
Depart 10:40 AM
Arrive  2:10 PM
Duration: 9h 30m
Boeing 747-8
Seat 6D (Business Class)

As I was traveling solo for this leg I selected a seat in the middle section so I wouldn’t have to worry about climbing over anyone or being climbed over.  Waiting for me at my seat was a blanket and this pillow.  I loved the color scheme.

LH 430 Business Class Seat

LH 430 Business Class Seat

Continue reading

Categories: Award Travel, Lufthansa, Star Alliance | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Danube Trip: Hilton Budapest (Castle District)

Danube Trip: Chicago to Brussels
Danube Trip: Brussels Adventures and Getting to Prague
Danube Trip: Marriott Courtyard Prague
Danube Trip: Prague, Czech Republic
Danube Trip: Boscolo, Autograph Collection
Danube Trip: Prague to Nuremberg
Danube Trip: Viking River Cruise Boats – the Njord and the Bestla
Danube Trip: Nuremberg, Germany
Danube Trip: Weltenburg Abbey and Danube Narrows
Danube Trip: Regensburg, Germany
Danube Trip: Passau, Germany
Danube Trip: Wachau Valley and Göttweig Abbey
Danube Trip: Vienna, Austria
Danube Trip: Budapest, Hungary
Danube Trip: Hilton Budapest (Castle District)
Danube Trip: Budapest to Chicago

We arrived at the Hilton Castle District by taxi in the late afternoon after having walked all over the Pest side of the city.  A bellman quickly assisted us with our bags and we found the bell staff was very helpful each time we needed them.  We’d arranged for the taxi driver who brought us up the hill to take us to the airport on Monday morning.  When he didn’t show, the bell staff jumped in and got us another taxi right away.

There are several sets of entrances into the lobby.  Upon entering, the front desk is at the right side.  The lobby’s stainless steel and dark wood look combined with the rather low ceiling should make the area feel smaller than it is but I never felt like the walls were closing in.

Hilton Castle District Lobby

Hilton Castle District Lobby

Continue reading

Categories: Europe, Hilton, Hotel, Hungary, Lodging Review | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Danube Trip: Budapest, Hungary

Danube Trip: Chicago to Brussels
Danube Trip: Brussels Adventures and Getting to Prague
Danube Trip: Marriott Courtyard Prague
Danube Trip: Prague, Czech Republic
Danube Trip: Boscolo, Autograph Collection
Danube Trip: Prague to Nuremberg
Danube Trip: Viking River Cruise Boats – the Njord and the Bestla
Danube Trip: Nuremberg, Germany
Danube Trip: Weltenburg Abbey and Danube Narrows
Danube Trip: Regensburg, Germany
Danube Trip: Passau, Germany
Danube Trip: Wachau Valley and Göttweig Abbey
Danube Trip: Vienna, Austria
Danube Trip: Budapest, Hungary
Danube Trip: Hilton Budapest (Castle District)
Danube Trip: Budapest to Chicago

We awoke the next day expecting to board motorcoaches that would take us into Budapest.  However when we look out from our cabin the fog was so thick we couldn’t see the riverbank!  Viking decided that it was pointless for us to wend our way along a beautiful drive if we couldn’t see anything, so they announced we’d be staying on board until we docked in Budapest around mid-day.  That also meant that our city tour was postponed until the afternoon and any optional tours we had scheduled for the afternoon were canceled – though of course the refunds wouldn’t be processed until after the cruise was complete.

bud-foggy-morning

The view from our cabin. The Danube is not THAT wide – where’s the riverbank?!

After busy days of touring it was actually kind of relaxing to have a morning to ourselves where we could linger over breakfast and catch up on emails (thanks to the free wi-fi).  Gradually the fog lifted and we had a sunny day, though it was a bit cool on deck. Continue reading

Categories: Cruises, Europe, Hungary, Viking | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.