Hilton tagged posts

The Hilton Windhoek Review and a Super-Brief Exploration of Windhoek

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This is part 11 of my series exploring my March 2017 trip to South Africa and Namibia, which started here.

Windhoek has a pretty solid range of hotel options, including two Proteas.  The Hilton Windhoek, though, had very good reviews, and seemed pretty well-located.  I had originally booked it for 30,000 Hilton Honors points, because, well how many decent Hilton properties can you get for a non-outrageous amount of points.  I checked back a month or so later, and due to the ridiculous nontransparent pricing system for Hilton properties, it had dropped down to 20,000 points, so I rebooked it.

Hilton Windhoek

The hotel stands out quite a bit in the city, as a very tall modern structure...

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South Africa & Namibia Preview #2: Planning My Stay, Hotels, the Protea Prokard Explorer, and IHG PointBreaks

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This is post #2 in a series about my February-March 2017 Trip to South Africa and Namibia.

With flights booked into Cape Town and out of Johannesburg, I had to figure out how I would spend my 12ish days in Africa.  From talking to folks, it seemed I really could spend the whole time in Cape Town and its surrounds, and that Johannesburg didn’t require a long stay.  But I also figured I should do a safari or something outdoors; you don’t go to Africa just to see cities.

Several people had recommended Namibia, so I looked at safari options there, after deciding Krueger National Park wasn’t a great option for me as a solo traveler given its location and the options I saw.  (I had also thought about Victoria Falls and Botswana, but the travel time from Cape Town was a negative.) I was pretty limited because I didn’t want to do a very long safari, and there was actually only one tour leaving on days that worked for me, the Etosha Express tour, which will start in Windhoek on a Tuesday morning, spend two nights in Etosha National Park, swing down the Skeleton Coast, and end in Swakopmund, a coastal resort-ish city with a strong German heritage.

Etosha Watering Hole

One reason this tour worked is I was able to get easy nonstop flights that allowed for a half-day in both Windhoek and Swakopmund, for a nice 4 night exploration of Namibia.  I’ll be flying on Air Namibia from Cape Town to Windhoek, and then on South African Express from Walvis Bay (just south of Swakopmund) to Johannesburg.

Two new airlines a-comin’: Ai...

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2016 Index and Year in Review

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I won’t belabor the point, but 2016 was pretty terrible.  My travels were pretty good,though.  I still owe you all a few posts from my November New Zealand adventure, but as we say goodbye to the dumpster-fire of 2016, here’s a look back at my year in travel.  For previous years’ retrospectives, check out 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011.

2016, yeah!

I’ve kept the blog as a travelogue, continuing to blog less and less about things other than my personal travel given how crowded the space is for “hacking” and “free” points.  Going into 2017, I’ve requalified for American elite status (Platinum), and let my hotel status’ drop down to be those I have via credit card (Hyatt Platinum/Discoverist, Marriott/SPG Gold, Hilton Gold, IHG Platinum) and Intercontinental Ambassador.

So, what were my tra...

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Hotel Review: The Disappointing DoubleTree Queenstown

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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.

Hilton compound on Lake Wakatipu

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.

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Don’t Stay at the Hilton Barcelona, or, Hilton Status is Meaningless

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This is part four in my trip report series from my July 2016 trip to Spain.  For an introduction, see this post.

I stayed at six different hotels on my Spain trip.  Three I would stay at again in a heartbeat.  Two I would consider again.  And one I regretted and put a damper on my stay in Barcelona.  That hotel was the Hilton Barcelona.

Hilton Barcelona

Hilton Barcelona

I’ve been a Gold Hilton Hhonors member for several years now.  Free wifi used to be the most valuable benefit that offered, but now that’s standard for all bookings made on Hilton.com.  Other than free breakfast, it didn’t provide much value in practice – particularly given the low value of Hilton HHonors points.   At the end of 2015, though, Hilton offered a status match program, which I took advantage of, and became a Hilton Diamond member – Hilton’s highest tier. (Note the fact that I was status matched doesn’t make me a low-value customer.  As of today, I’ve spent 35 nights this year in hotels. Last year was 54, and I’m on track to beat that.)

So far, my experiences have been unimpressive.  At 4 properties in the first half of the year, the only real upgrade was at the Doubletree in Little Rock, where I had a funky loft suite, and access to a lounge with $4 glasses of wine.  But at least at most of these properties they acknowledged my elite status with a note listing benefits and a smile at check in.

Hilton has three properties in Barcelona, and they all seemed to be rated fine.  The best and most expensive is the Doubletree Alexandra, which i...

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2015 Index and YWW Year in Review

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It’s a bit late, but here is my 2015 travel year in review post.  It was a huge travel year for me, as I hit 5 continents and did more long-haul flying than I’d ever done before. It was a lot of mileage redemptions, and low on the mileage earning front.  I re-qualified for American Airlines Gold status. I thought about going for Platinum but it was a busy enough fall and winter that the marginal utility was not enough to outweigh the financial and other costs.

As for the blog, I have kept it as a personal travel diary rather than changing to something else, but hopefully folks find it enjoyable, useful, or both.   My philosophy is the same today as it was in my 2013 year in review post: “I will never stop loving travel, but business class and nice hotels isn’t the point of life.”

So, what were my travel patterns and accomplishments of 2015? I’ve put indices of the places, planes, and hotels I’ve reviewed at the bottom of this post, and have some statistics as well. It was a heavy year of international travel, with only one domestic purely leisure trip.
6
Total continents visited: 5
New continents: 1 (Australia)
Total countries (excluding U.S.): 10
New countries: 5 (Australia, United Arab Emirates, Korea, Taiwan, Brazil)
New states: 1 (Missouri)

New airlines: 7 (Qantas, Etihad, Asiana, TAM, Virgin Australia, Germanwings)

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Two Days in Gyeongju, Part 1: KTX and the Hilton Gyeongju

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My original plan was to head South for three days, splitting them between Gyeongju and Busan, with one night in each. Gyeongju is a smaller city, filled with World Heritage sites as the former capital of the Silla Dynasty, about two hours south of Seoul by train. Busan is South Korea’s second city, large and on the southeastern coast, about an hour South of Gyeongju. There’s a Hilton in Gyeongju which looked nice and wasn’t too expensive on points or cash, and a Park Hyatt in Busan that should have been redeemable using my annual free night certificate as a Chase Hyatt Visa cardholder. The free night was supposed to be deposited in my account sometime in September, so I was checking daily, hoping there would be still be award availability. I decided to just give up and spend two nights at the Hilton Gyeongju, as part of my new philosophy that trips aren’t relaxing unless you stay at least two nights in the same hotel.

Since this was a fairly last minute decision, I had already bought a 3-day Korail pass, which allows for unlimited travel on Korail trains for a three day period for 96,000 won (about $83). This would have covered my KTX high-speed train from Seoul to Singyeongju, Singyeongju to Busan, and Busan back to Seoul, where I’d spend one night before flying down to Taipei the next morning. (Had I planned in advance, I could have flown directly from Busan to Taipei and done 2 nights in Gyeongju and 1 in Busan. Whoops.)   The Korail pass is only for foreigners living abroad, and you buy it online, print a voucher, and then exchange the voucher for an actual pass. Then you book tickets using the pass in person.

Seoul Station

Seoul Station

Without the Singyeongju-Busan leg, it only saved me about $1.50 – probably not worth the inconvenience. I left the Four Points at around 10:30, and it took about 15 minutes to walk to the KTX (as opposed to subway) portion of Seoul Station. I went on the ticket line, only to be told I needed to go to the Information Desk first to exchange my printout for the pass. The lines weren’t that bad, though, and I soon had a ticket for the 12:30 KTX to Singyeongju.

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Hotel Review: Hilton Cairns

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Cairns has plenty of hotels, though not many affiliated with any of the biggest chains. There is both a Hilton and a Doubletree, though. The prices were about the same, but the Hilton had the benefit of being a stone’s through from the Reef Ferry Terminal, where most excursions departed from, so I figured why not.

The picturesque Hilton Cairns

The picturesque Hilton Cairns

My prebooked shared transfer got me from the airport to the Hilton Cairns in about 30 minutes. The lobby of the hotel was pretty vast, with very high ceilings and scattered seating, and felt kind of cold.  There was a bit of a wait to check in, as some American group seemed to have arrived on the same flight as me, but the clerk was friendly and told me I had been upgraded to the “spa floor.”  I had read other Hilton Golds who reported being upgraded to the Executive Floor, one floor above, including access to a really nice lounge, but oh well.

Hilton Cairns lobby

Hilton Cairns lobby

I headed upstairs and discovered all of the rooms were on exterior corridors, which was a bit unpleasant due to the humidity.  

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A Tale of Two Hotels: The Wonderful Le Royal Meridien and the Terrible Hilton Abu Dhabi

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Abu Dhabi is a city of hotels (and not much else). There are tons of options ranging from midrange to high end to super luxury. I was spending three nights in the city- the first on my own, and the next two with my friend. So I considered that an opportunity to try two different hotels. For the first night, I got a room at Le Royal Meridien, one of several Starwood properties in Abu Dhabi, located in the center of the city. For the following two nights, I made the mistake of getting a room at the Hilton Abu Dhabi, on the Corniche with its own private beach. The Hilton was significantly more expensive, but I liked the idea of a beach and I have been fairly loyal as a Hilton HHonors Gold member. Big mistake. In the end, the two properties represented the best and worst of hospitality.

Le Royal Meridien Abu Dhabi

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Le Royal Meridien Abu Dhabi

The fancy airport taxi, a metered Mercedes van, took about 25 minutes to get to Le Royal Meridien, for about $30. (Not to be confused with the older, cheaper Le Meridien.) A bellman rushed to the door and took my suitcase, and a friendly clerk promptly checked me in. I had gotten a great rate, the “Dine Your Way” package, which was about $122 a night and included a 25 Euro dining credit. The agent confirmed the rate and also acknowledged my SPG Gold elite status, stating that I had been upgraded to a higher floor, with, “of course, a sea view.” She then proactively offered me a 4pm late checkout.

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Shenanigans at the London Hilton on Park Lane?

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My experience at the London Hilton on Park Lane was just weird, and I still have absolutely no idea what happened – a month later.

As background, I had a “Be Our Guest” certificate from a stay last year at the Hilton Northolme in the Seychelles, where construction knocked out the internet for several days. A Be Our Guest certificate is good for a standard room at any Hilton worldwide. I had hoped to use it for my upcoming trip to Australia, but the Hilton Sydney had no standard rooms available for any days I am there, even when I looked five months in advance. So I decided to switch my reservation for my one night in London from the Hilton Metropole to the London Hilton on Park Lane, which is purportedly one of Hilton’s flagship properties, right next to Hyde Park downtown. I called Hilton reservations and was supposedly all set.

I took the Picadilly Line underground from Heathrow right to Hyde Park Corner, which took about 50 minutes. The Hilton is the tallest building around, so pretty easy to spot from the tube. It was a seven minute walk to the hotel, past the lovely Intercontinental, and next to the Four Seasons.

London Hilton on Park Lane

London Hilton on Park Lane

I got to check-in and presented my passport, certificate, and credit card. The agent seemed surprised by the fact that I had a certificate, as she said there was no notation in the record, though I explicitly mentioned it and read off all the details to the Hilton reservation agent. I’ve found that the Hilton agents have no idea what they’re doing with respect to foreign properties. In fact, the agent had told me that no standard rooms were available at the hotel, only “guest rooms” – to which I explained that all the rooms were indeed guest rooms. At the Park Lane, the agent said she had to check with her manager to see if she could accept it. The rate for the night was 369 GBP – over $567 – so not cheap at all, and I was not going to pay that. Thankfully, she said it was okay.

In retrospect, something may have happened here when she spoke to someone on the phone, given the room I was then assigned. She told me I had been upgraded to a Queen “Executive” Room and said I’d have access to the Executive Lounge on the 1st Floor. I asked her if breakfast was served there, since as a Gold, I’m supposed to get breakfast, and she said yes. That was the only discussion of my Gold status, and the extent of my benefits. I thought it was a little weird as most properties end up having at least a welcome letter or something, if not an explanation by the agent of the benefits.

Whatever...

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