This is part 10 in a series about my November 2016 trip to New Zealand, booked off a $215 mistake fare.
I’ve explained before why Hilton HHonors is pretty much the worst loyalty program. Being a Diamond member for the past year has pretty much been no better than being a Gold, and I’ve started to shift away my stays to SPG/Marriott and IHG. I had high expectations for the Doubletree Queenstown, but the property seemed to be determined to shatter them. When I initially booked the hotel, there was only points availability for one of the two nights I was in town, so I booked a revenue night for one (an expensive one) and a points one for 30,000 points for the other. As time got closer, I thought about changing to the Crowne Plaza in Queenstown, since I’m tired of giving Hilton money, but since Diamond Standard Award availability had opened for the second night, switched to that, as Operation Burn HHonors Points continues.
The Doubletree is in a complex with a Hilton, located on the Frankton Arm of Lake Wakatipu, outside of downtown Queenstown. There was a lot of traffic getting there, as the bridge is closed and the temporary bridge only goes one direction at a time, and the signage is poor. Despite the whole complex being only a few years old and in a fairly empty area, I was a bit surprised that the hotel buildings were built one on top of the other, and there wasn’t even a loop to pull in for the Doubletree, just a narrow “Drop-Off and Pick-Up Only” curb that was occupied by a delivery truck. So I pulled into the parking garage and found a spot two flights down after going round and round. I schlepped my stuff up the elevator, and made my way to check-in.
It’s not good when you’re thanked for being a “member” of a loyalty program, with no reference made to your elite status. I had to ask about the gym, which she said was free me since I’m a Diamond, and is located in the Hilton (although it actually appears the gym may be free for everyone, but not the pool). I had hoped to email the hotel before I arrived about linking the two reservations, but unlike the Hilton next door, the Doubletree has no email address on its website. The hotel had linked them on their own, though, so at least I didn’t have to deal with getting assigned one room for two nights.
The lobby wasn’t really a lobby. There was a check-in desk with a few benches, and then an area with a bar that looked like it wasn’t actually ever used as it had dirty, empty equipment, and had no one at it my entire stay.
My assigned room was on the 4th floor, and the agent said I’d have to take the elevator to the 3rd floor, than change to a different elevator to the 4th floor. The 4th floor is the top floor, so that seemed good, but then in the elevator I saw that the 2nd floor was the Hilton HHonors floor. Meh. So up I went to the 3rd floor, thinking the 4th floor elevator would be nearby. Nope, I had a long walk past about 10 rooms and through a set of fire doors, and then to elevator number two up to the 4th floor. I rode that elevator then walked past another 6 or 7 rooms facing the lake, before turning and finding two rooms at a different angle, one of which was mine.
The room was clearly not an upgrade at all. And I couldn’t imagine that there was an entire class of rooms at this hotel requiring two elevator rides and having a view of construction. No, I clearly was given one of the worst rooms in the hotel. The hotel’s website says: “All rooms boast lake or mountain views,” and “Each room boasts breath-taking views,” so this would be some sort of lie. I called down, and the agent said “We only have two categories of room, and unfortunately we are fully booked for tonight.” I asked if it was common practice to preassign a Diamond member the worst room in the hotel, and she said she would speak to her manager and get back to me.
A few minutes later, the manager called and said there were no upgrades available as they were fully booked, but that there was a room in the same category available on the second floor, and that I should come down to reception. They would have to convert the two single beds into a double, though. Fine. (I’d note, though, that these rooms are barely large enough for two adults.) Back down the series of corridors and elevators, and the front desk wasn’t sure what I was talking about, but eventually gave me new keys. My new room was on the second floor, where I noticed a lot of rooms were marked “Hilton HHonors.” Mine was not. Did the hotel really have that many Diamond guests staying? (Obviously not)
My new room was the identical layout, but was clearly a better room. Instead of facing construction, it faced the Hilton Lakeside Residences, which blocked the views for about 1/3 of the rooms facing the lake on floors 1 and 2. From walking around, I realized that the “Hilton HHonors” side of my floor, in addition to conceivably all of floors 3 and 4 except for the random side rooms, have lake views. I could at least see over the Hilton building into the mountains and a tiny piece of the lake.
As for the layout, the bedroom is a dark alcove, separated from the living area and bathroom by a pocket door. It’s one of the only hotels I’ve ever been in where you are physically unable to watch TV from bed. The hotel was clearly designed to maximize how many rooms they could create, each with a small view. It reminded me of a small New York city studio apartment – something you don’t expect for a hotel built twenty minutes outside a “city” like Queenstown. The narrow hallway when you enter doubles as a kitchen, with microwave, fridge, and cooktop. The living area has a loveseat and a guest chair. The only workspace is a coffee table, and the outlet situation was pretty bad- I had to unplug the alarm clock to plug in my phone, and a lamp to plug in my laptop- weird in a new build. Well, at least I got cookies at check-in. Bottom line, there’s no excuse for a Diamond member to get a poor room within his booked category, and this is not a great hotel – 30,000 points seemed too good to be true given how worthless HHonors points are.
The Hilton and Doubletree make up “Kawarau Village,” a made-up thing that as of now has nothing really but the hotels, about 15 minutes drive from the center of Queenstown, close to the airport. At check-in, the agent told me about the different restaurants available, noting that they had shut down the main restaurant for the night for an event, and the Chinese restaurant was closed Monday and Tuesday, leaving the pub/pizza place as the only option on-site. Which is absolutely ridiculous for a hotel that requires a shuttle ride (free) or water taxi (10 NZD each way) to a restaurant. (Especially if the hotel is “sold out”- if youre closing one restaurant, open the other.) I was not going to go through the rigmarole of getting a car out of the garage at night and dealing with construction. I thought I’d take the water taxi to town, but the skies had opened up, so I thought I’d make a reservation for the hotel shuttle instead. I called the service desk and it rang and rang, no answer. Quelle surprise. (Somehow, the hotel shuttle has a gap on the return with no pickups in Queenstown between 7:15pm and 11pm, which makes dinner in town entirely impractical anyway.) The $10 water taxi in the rain seemed like a bad idea, and I didn’t want to drive in the rain, so it looked like I’d be stuck with the pub.
I walked over to the Hilton, which seemed more like a real full-service hotel, and asked at the front desk for a key for the gym, as I’d been instructed. The gentleman at the desk there was very amiable and polished, and didn’t even ask my room number. The Hilton did look like a real hotel. Unfortunately, the gym was a bit disappointing, particularly for a Hilton “Resort”, with just some cardio machines and a rack of free weights.
Heading back into the hotel, I got stuck behind a large Chinese tour group. I searched for stairs and could not find any, so waited for a while until I could get onto an elevator.
I had dinner at the “pub,” Stacks, which was fine. They had a chicken Caesar salad on the menu, in addition to the standard pub food, and it wasn’t exorbitantly priced. The salad and a glass of Riesling came to about 23 USD. And then it was time for bed, since I had an early morning departure. Even though the sleeping alcove was nowhere near a window, there was still a pretty high noise level. Not only did I hear trucks and cars outside, the headboard of the bed was on the hallway wall, meaning I head lots of slamming doors.
Breakfast isn’t served at the Doubletree, but rather at the Hilton. So I walked over in the rain to the Hilton’s Wakatipu Grill, arriving at 5:50 and waited for it to open at 6. At 5:58, a crowd of Chinese tourists started to form, so I moved to the hostess stand, where I was told to wait five more minutes. Finally at 6:02 I was told to take any seat. The buffet was fine. Hot food, pastries, yogurt, Asian buffet. “Barista” coffee was 5 NZD, but regular coffee was included. Only problem, no coffee was ready yet. Coffee should be ready when breakfast opens people. That’s hospitality management 101.
After a frustrating Election Day and ordeal coming back, as covered in my last post, I finally got back to the Doubletree at 8, where I then had to get a new key. There was a fruit plate and a note at the desk asking me to contact the front desk as they had been trying to reach me all day. Well, yes, I was out. The manager apologized again about the room and said they couldn’t give upgrades, and offered to “make it right” by giving me late checkout. Now, I was already in a very bad mood, but that’s INSANE. As a Diamond, I should already be getting late checkout. I then used the opportunity to point out the restaurant insanity from the previous night. He said he’d see what he could do and call back. Well a half hour went by and I just wanted to get food, read my book and go to bed. So I had another adequate meal at the pub.
The rest of my stay didn’t get any better. I woke up early to have breakfast at 8:15, which would leave me 30 minutes to eat and checkout before heading to the Skyline Gondola. Again I checked in at the front desk, but it took me to find a table that didn’t look like a pack of wild monkeys had just finished eating at it, finally finding one at the far end in a chilly, glass-enclosed area. At the hostess stand this time, I was presented with a menu of cooked to order options. Not sure why I hadn’t been the day before. So I sat at the table and waited for a waiter. And waited. And waited. Five minutes in, with plenty of waiters milling around other sections of the restaurant, nothing. So I got up and just got food from the buffet. Coffee or water would have been nice, as waiters were going around giving those to people. But as I ate my food, no one came by. Finally, a waiter walked passed me, talking to some other guests, and then starting to clear their table. I had to say “Excuse me” three times and wave him down. I asked how long an omelet would take, and he said 4 minutes, so I placed an omelet order. He took it without asking about coffee or water. So then I got up and walked all the way across the restaurant to the giant urns for takeaway coffee, got myself some, and walked back across the restaurant. I then found a waiters’ station, and found pitchers of water and glasses and poured one out for myself. My omelet finally came (more than 4 minutes later), and I bolted it down before heading back to my room at around 8:45am.
There was an express checkout type envelope left outside my room. I thought that might save time because it would allow me to not have to take the elevator down, get out at the lobby, check out, and get back in the elevator down to parking. Nope, the envelope included several papers that needed to be signed and returned in the lobby anyway, defeating the purpose of express checkout.
Thankfully the agent at checkout was relatively friendly and professional, and it appeared that in lieu of anyone getting back to me the previous night, the hotel had comped my restaurant bills.
For some reason, I’ve had a lot of stays at Doubletrees lately. It’s the least consistent Hilton brand, but I’ve generally found them to be full-service hotels, and certainly not budget hotels. In Queenstown, it appears the Doubletree is the “budget” version (i.e., $200-300 a night in shoulder season) of the Hilton, though Its website gives the impression it is a full-service hotel. But given no concierge, no dining on-site several days of the week, and dishonest descriptions of its rooms, I disagree. Maybe the Hilton itself is better, but I’d recommend just staying in town, since the Doubletree is nothing special and not worth the pain of getting to Queenstown (my transfer to Doubtful Sound would only pick me up at a gas station 20 minutes away; and a $10 water taxi or poorly timed hotel shuttle aren’t helpful). And as a Diamond, prepare to get the worst room in the hotel!