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.
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. So I headed up to the 26th Floor, and, upon getting off, the whiff of perfume was overwhelming, and my eyes were watering. The “Royal Floor” seemed to be predominantly suites, and there were piles of towels, shopping bags, and garbage outside several of the suites. Okay… I headed to my room, and I was hit by disappointment. The room was New York-hotel room sized, with a Queen bed taking up 95% of the floor space in the room. The bathroom was where the TV and dresser would typically be, and was just big enough for a toilet and a stall shower. The room overall felt very dingy and outdated, and didn’t seem to match the pictures of the hotel I saw on the website, and seemed a bit sad. What it did have was a gorgeous view of London. Since I wasn’t going to be in the hotel long, I didn’t think to say anything– this is what happens in big city hotels, I assured myself — and soon headed to the Executive Lounge for tea.
The Executive Lounge is very odd. Not only is it on the first floor, but it’s divided into two rooms – one for food, and one where alcohol is. At teatime, there was mostly a lot of pastries. Gorgeous looking cupcakes, tarts, etc. There were also scones, with clotted cream and strawberry jam. Yes please!
From there, I headed for a walk around London for an hour or so, hitting a lot of the major sites of Westminster, and then taking the tube back from Westminster.
Here’s where it started to get interesting. The hotel only has 4 elevators. They are the kind where you have to punch in your floor at a panel, and the screen tells you what elevator to go to. There are no buttons in the elevator, and it just takes you to the selected floors. The whole purpose of this system is more efficient elevator use. But the computer must need to be reprogrammed, as a crowd ended up waiting for about 5 minutes for an elevator — and all of us were directed to elevator C. And I mean all of us. There was a panel in the elevator showing what floors it was headed to, and it showed eleven different floors – a problem since no more than 7 or 8 people could fit in the elevator. So throughout the day/night, I ended up on elevators that would stop at floors for people who couldn’t get into the elevator. I started timing it, and at no point on my stay except for coming back to my hotel at 12:30 did I wait less than 3 minutes for an elevator. Also, people instinctively forgot how the elevators work. They headed to the banks and saw an elevator opening, so went in, not realizing that the elevator wouldn’t go to the floor.
When I finally got back to my room, I changed for the gym and waited again for a packed elevator down to the basement. The gym was pretty small for a hotel that size, and was windowless and very crowded, so no pictures. One of the two ellipticals was broken, and there were about 4 weight resistance machine. People were tripping over each other or space, including a trainer training a client. It’s fairly surprising to me that a hotel in this price range has such a tiny inadequate gym.
After about an hour workout, I (waited for the elevator and) headed back to my room. All the junk was still in the hallway, and now the door to one of the suites was being propped open by a towel, with very loud TV playing and entertaining the floor. That door would stay open for at least the next hour. Classy.
Upon getting back to my room (disappointed that the Gold amenity of a bottle of water did not materialize), I realized this weird whooshing sound that I had heard before was still going on. Every 60 seconds or so, “Whooooooooooooosh.” I thought it my be the fan, so I turned off the fan and took a shower. But it was even worse in the bathroom, where I could also hear banging. So after my shower, I investigated. See, there were two service doors right next to the door to my room; and the other side, essentially where the bathroom would have been in a normal room, were the service elevators. It was also the staging area for housekeeping and room service, hence the banging of carts. How did I know all this? Because when I peeked outside, a room service waiter flung open the doors with a bang, nearly running me over, but also giving me a peek inside the service area. (I should have realized right away it was elevator related due to an elevator whoosh I had experienced at the Westin Zagreb.).
I’m not a light sleeper, but I have a lot of trouble falling asleep. And that whoosh every 60 seconds (or worse, every 120 seconds) was going to keep me up all night. So I headed downstairs to the front desk and politely asked about the elevator noise. I didn’t mention anything else, and the agent said “Well it shouldn’t be any noise, but I can move you.” Great. He asked if I preferred city or Buckingham Palace view, I said City, and he said there was a King Deluxe room available on the 16th floor. Great. Added bonus? Faster elevator rides.
I went to the new room and I couldn’t believe I was in the same hotel. The room was large and modern. The view wasn’t as nice, but I don’t really care. There was a huge bathroom with a tub and rainfall shower, motorized window shades, and a proper desk and seating area. But seriously, not even within the realm of comparison.
I felt a little guilty – had I gotten an upgrade I wasn’t supposed to? This was a King room, and the other a Queen room, so maybe that was the issue? But then I looked at my initial reservation and realized it had been for a King room. Then I looked on the property’s website, and saw that a one category upgrade from the room I had booked was the King Deluxe room – the very room I ended up in.
Technically, “Executive” rooms are higher than Deluxe rooms at this property, but you don’t “upgrade” someone from a King room to a Queen room without asking or mentioning that fact. Looking at the 16th Floor plan, I realized there were no rooms comparably sized or shaped on that floor. So I think my first room was some random janky room that is often used as a connecting extra bedroom for the suite. On the property’s website, even the Queen Executive rooms are renovated in the style of my second room. I don’t know if the agent at the front desk moved me when she saw I had a Be Our Guest certificate, because that would be insane. The hotel gets reimbursed the regular rate for the Be Our Guest certificate, and it’s a big apology for a bad experience. So they gave me another bad experience? Because I can’t imagine they would’ve pulled this on me if I was paying 369 GBP cash for my room.
Once I was in the new room, the experience was fairly positive. I still had no free water, and the wifi was confusing. Each time I came back to the room, I had to re-log-in. It appeared to be free for everyone, with “premium” internet available. I have no idea if Hhonors Gold members got premium internet free, since no one mentioned wifi at all at check-in (rare).
I hit up the Executive Lounge two other times on my stay. The first for evening appetizers and drinks, where I had some champagne, Chinese chicken salad, and a spicy beef salad. It was pretty good. Breakfast was interesting, as it was not a huge spread. In addition to the standard continental buffet, there was one hot tray of scrambled eggs and bacon. The unbelievable pastries were back, though, including carrot cake “muffins” with cream cheese frosting. Carrot cake is one of my true pleasures in life. I was actually surprised breakfast was not super crowded given how crowded it had been at tea and in the evening.
As I got ready to check out, I realized I’d left my Kindle in the original room. So when I went to check out, I asked about it and the front desk seemed to know I had left it there. So security brought it over. And of course, as I checked out, no one asked me if I had a nice stay or anything, but just told me I had a zero balance.
I wrote Hilton HHonors about the situation, because I never felt bamboozled like this before. I got a “thank you for sharing your feedback” response. To add insult to injury, the hotel had originally awarded me points and miles for the stay, only to take back the points and stay credit a month later.
This hotel was supposed to be the nicest Hilton in London. And my second room was indeed very nice. But the service was pretty terrible, and I can’t believe what they pulled on me with the first room. The location is convenient, close to the tube and Westminster sights, but there really isn’t anything in the immediate vicinity and it doesn’t feel super neighborhoody. Putting aside the cost, I would try a different Hilton property the next time I’m in town.
was an “upgrade” over