This is the second in a series of reviews from my late December 2018 trip to London. You can read my last post, on my Air France journey over, here.
I ended up staying at three different hotels in my three nights in London, utilizing free nights/points for all three. It was less-than-ideal, and I really want to go back to London and stay in a different part of town for a few days solid so I can really get a sense of a neighborhood. I stayed at the Intercontinental London Park Lane, using my annual Chase free night certificate; the Conrad London St. James, using 65,000 Hilton Honors points; and the Hotel Indigo-London Paddington for 50,000 IHG Rewards points. I don’t think I’d rush to stay at any of them again, though I spent very little time at the Indigo, and it is a good property for easy access to Paddington Station/Heathrow. Apologies in advance for the mega-post, but I’m trying to keep up with the blog in a heavy travel season.
Intercontinental London Park Lane
About four years ago, I had a single night layover in London and stayed at the London Hilton on Park Lane. I had some weird room issues, but the room I eventually got was nice. I didn’t find the Mayfair area very neighborhoody, as it’s mostly some posh hotels on Hyde Park, but it is right off the Piccadilly line on the Underground, and walkable to the West End and Westminster sights. There is an Intercontinental down the block, which seemed nice, so I figured it would be a good use of my annual Chase IHG Visa free night certificate especially given how tight award availability was at properties around town for the holiday weekend.
It took about an hour and fifteen minutes on the Underground from Heathrow to Hyde Park Corner, about a three-minute walk to the Intercontinental (which unfortunately requires going up stairs, down stairs, and up stairs again). Although you can see the hotel from the exit to the Underground, it took me a bit to figure out where the entrance is (around the corner). It was about 3:25pm when I got to the small check-in desk, and was told that my room was not ready. Ugh. She said they just needed to check that it was clean, though, so I figured it would be three or four minutes. Then she said she’d text me when it was ready. I was confused. She handed me a card that specified that for the holiday season, the hotel was giving Ambassador members (and maybe IHG Rewards Club elites?) a 25 GBP minibar credit. So that was nice. I was also offered points or a drink as per Rewards Club policy, but points had actually already posted to my account before check-in.
There was nowhere to sit near the front desk due to the layout, so I kind of stood near a wall, generating suspicion from various hotel employees. I waited about ten minutes, which provided me with a good sense of the hotel clientele; like the Hilton Park Lane, it was a lot of very wealthy people from the Middle East who were very pushy, had a lot of shopping bags, and, in at least one case, had an entourage of Southeast Asian personal assistants.
After ten minutes standing there, a front desk agent approached me and asked if she could help me. I said, “I am waiting for my room to be ready.” She then told me she would look into it, asked me for my passport again, and then gave me keys. My room was a “double upgrade” to a Deluxe room on the top (8th) floor. (It was also the room right next to the elevator, contrary to my preferences, but I didn’t hear much noise).
The room (and entire hotel) was very much in what I consider classic Intercontinental style, similar to other properties renovated about ten or fifteen years ago (Medellin, Wellington, Sydney… now that I think of it, I’ve stayed at a lot of Intercontinentals- 25 or so). The room was not very large, but I guess that’s to be expected in London (even with a double upgrade). It actually may have felt smaller than it was because of the amount of furniture in the room, which included walls of dark-wood built ins on two sides – one in lieu of a closet and one around the TV facing the bed, that included bookshelves. I get the going for traditional British/Old World feel, but it seems like openness would be better. You can’t see from my pics but there was a desk and chair next to the bed, and then an armchair in another corner.
In an alcove in the entry was a bar area, which had a Nespresso machine and a kettle, as well as a stocked minibar. As you’d expect, the minibar prices were astronomical. Over my stay, I indulged in a can of Diet Coke (5.50 GBP), a small container of nuts (7 GBP), and M&M’s (5.50 GBP). On my way out, I grabbed a chocolate bar (5 GBP) since I still had credit.
I wasn’t clear if the 25 GBP minibar credit was in lieu of the standard Ambassador amenity, because my Ambassador amenity of bottles of water, fruit, and a local snack never arrived. At check-out, I confirmed that it was supposed to be delivered. The front desk agent responded with an apology but no offer of compensation. It may seem silly, but that is one benefit that I really expect, since I literally pay for Intercontinental Ambassador status and it is a guaranteed benefit. I followed up when I got an email survey, and was awarded 10,000 IHG points which is fair. There was turndown service in my room when I was out, though, suggesting there certainly was time for an amenity delivery.
The only other feature of the Intercontinental Park Lane I explored was the gym, which was not a big space, but was very modern. There was a lot of new equipment in the small space, including a variety of cardio machines, a decent variety of free weights, and a few resistance machines.
Given how expensive this hotel is, it was a good use of my free annual Chase IHG Rewards Club Visa night, but I don’t think I’d return if I was in London, preferring to stay at a hotel in an area with a bit more character and that feels less like a rich Emirati factory. I also didn’t like the whole room not ready thing given how late it was.
Conrad London St. James
I’m still not sure how I feel about the Conrad London St. James. In terms of luxury level, I’d say it was comparable to the Intercontinental, though a much more modern décor. It was absolutely jam-packed, though, making some of my Hilton Diamond benefits less enjoyable than otherwise. There was also a little snafu with rooms, that I think was handled well, but was still strange.
It was about a twenty-minute walk to the Conrad from the Intercontinental, right through Green Park. The location is a bit livelier than where the Intercontinental is, but in more of a business-y neighborhood. It is a very short walk to the sites of Westminster, and is also directly across the street from the St. James’ Park Underground station.
I arrived a bit on the early side, around noon, so wasn’t bothered by the fact my room wasn’t ready yet. The agent was very friendly about it and made me a key for the Executive Lounge where she said I could wait. She explained I had been given a one-category upgrade and assigned a room on the top floor, which sounded nice. She was super-apologetic – even though it wasn’t even check in time yet, and explained all the other benefits of Diamond membership (mostly breakfast, wi-fi, and lounge access). (Alas, unlike most Conrad properties, this one does not give out stuffed animals (although some report success requesting them).
I left my bags, which she said would be delivered to my room directly, and stopped in the lounge, but it was pretty empty both in terms of patrons and food on offer, as it was between breakfast and tea time. I had a Diet Coke and cookies and went about my day.
When I returned, I stopped at the desk to pick up my keys. I was a bit puzzled that they were for a room on the fourth floor, but figured maybe it was still a nice room. Upon getting to the room, it was a very strange room. First, the shape was completely unorthodox, with a massive bathroom and a massive foyer, and then a fairly small actual usable bedroom. So, although the square footage was probably decent, it was mostly not usable. But the weirdest part was that there was only one small window, which directly faced another part of the building. It was already night, but there was no way there was any natural light. From looking at the hotel floor plans, almost all the other rooms had two windows. And if I had been on the top floor, even in the same room, there would have been better light.
So, I called down, nicely, and asked if there was a different room, explaining I had been told that I had a room on the top floor. I wasn’t a diva at all. The front desk agent transferred me to a supervisor who explained it was the same category, King Deluxe, as I had been assigned to initially, just on a lower floor. I didn’t argue, but we all know not all rooms within a category are the same. He offered to see if there was something he could do, and called me back within a few minutes saying there was a King Grand Deluxe, a further upgrade, available on the 6th floor, which “faced the outside,” and he could send someone to my room with a key and to help with bags (unnecessary). While I appreciated the way he handled it, this highlights part of the uselessness of Hilton Diamond status. Each hotel has so many categories that a “one category upgrade” is meaningless, and despite availability of better rooms, that’s all you get.
The room on 6th floor wasn’t any bigger, but it did have better light. It also was oddly shaped and had only one window. There was no foyer, but there was still a weird-shaped bathroom. I wouldn’t say it “faced outside” really, as it more faced another part of the hotel, but at least it wasn’t a fully enclosed “atrium”, and if I craned my neck, I could see the street.
The bedroom had a desk on one side, next to a cabinet with a Nespresso machine and a mini-fridge that was mostly stuffed with minibar items, though you could move them around without being charged. Across from the bed was a “wall” with a TV that separated the sleeping area from the bathroom. It felt tighter than the Intercontinental room, but a lot more modern.
The bathroom had an angled wall with the sink and Shanghai Tang toiletries, a tub against one wall, and then a glass-doored shower and toilet against the other wall. There were no water bottles anywhere but the pricey ones in the minibar.
I used the gym, which was surprisingly small. It seemed to have a completely random assortment of machines, with no ellipticals but a random leg machine, as well as bikes and treadmills.
The Executive Lounge plugs its Happy Hour as a highlight. It is a bit of a mess, though. First, the lounge was super crowded. I was able to grab the only table available, which hadn’t even been bussed yet. In terms of food, the only self-serve items are cheeses and meats, as well as the all-day items and some bread. Oh, and alcohol. Except they ran out of wine glasses, and cocktail glasses, while I was there. For the “canapes,” you have to hail a waiter, who will bring you a sample mini-tower – unless you’re alone, in which case there are just four on a plate. There were two hot and two cold. The barbecue chicken was the only good one. It was not relaxing so I peaced out quickly. In all, the lounge at the Hilton Park Lane was much better (or at least it was four years ago).
I slept alright, despite some hallway noise. There was a long line for breakfast in the hotel restaurant, thought it moved quickly. The whole thing was chaotic. I was never told anything about cooked-to-order options, though other guests nearby were ordering omelets, eggs, and espresso drinks. I stuck with the buffet, which had minimal hot options, as it was not a relaxing experience. There were eggs, sausage, tomato, waffles, and bacon, as well as an “Arnold Bennett omelet” – which I learned was an omelet with haddock in it and is disgusting. There was a large table of cold items, including pastries, breads, yogurts, smoothies, cheese and meat, and fruits, and then a smaller table off to the side, which had “British specialties,” which included donuts, apple turnovers, lemonade, and cheese on bagel sandwiches. Why not?
Perhaps the Conrad is more enjoyable on less peak travel days, but I don’t see it as a property I’m likely to return to, as I rather stay at a cheaper neighborhood-y property, as the “luxury” aspects weren’t really a sell. I can’t imagine spending $500 a night and being in a dark room looking into another room.
Hotel Indigo London-Paddington
My last night was at the Hotel Indigo London-Paddington. I could have stayed closer to the Conrad in the center city, but since this was New Year’s Eve night, points options were limited, and I figured it would be good to be close to Paddington Station as I could have an easy trip to Heathrow on New Year’s Day. It ended up taking over an hour to get from St. James’ Park to Paddington due to Underground delays, and then I couldn’t find the exit from Paddington Station, but once I did, it was just a few minutes’ walk to the Hotel Indigo.
I have actually stayed at the Hotel Indigo before, in pre-blogging days on a one-night layover in London – probably around 2011. I remembered it being a well-located for Paddington Station, nice, fairly simple property, and it was still. Although not huge on amenities, everyone was nice, and the finishes were not cheap at all. My room was just as nice as those at the other hotels, though the bathroom was substantially smaller. The hotel is definitely in more of a neighborhood, although not a ritzy one, with lots of local food options and take-out available at all hours. Even though I arrived at noon, my room was already ready. As an IHG Platinum member, there was a welcome letter for me, even though there really weren’t any benefits, other than a 10 GBP discount off of breakfast.
My room was on the second floor, and faced the street, but I didn’t experience any noise in my limited time there. It had a lot of local décor, including a Paddington bear, which I appreciated, which made the room feel both modern and have character – unlike the Intercontinental. The room was basically just a large bed with nightstands, and a desk under the TV, with an armchair off to the side. There was also a couch at the foot of the bed with a side table.
The room had a Nespresso machine, and a “Handy” free Smartphone for local use, which I was surprised to see. I’ve heard of them more in Asian properties, and it was the first time I had one. Basically, guests can use it during their stay and have free data access wherever they go, which is great for a one-night stay if you’re just transiting. (I had my own SIM card.) There was also a mini-fridge in the closet area, which was stocked with a Coke, Diet Coke, and two bottles of water – which would have been 20 GBP at the Intercontinental.
My only gripe was that the bathroom was super-tiny, i.e., I could barely turn around in it. But it was clean and modern and everything worked.
I didn’t check out any of the other facilities, but I recall there being a fitness center. There’s no lobby to speak of, just the check-in desk and the adjoining restaurant. Check-in and check-out were friendly, and in all it was a good use of points for a New Year’s Eve stay, especially when leaving to Heathrow on New Year’s Day. I left my room at 8:18, and was on the 8:30 TFL Rail to Heathrow (what used to be the Heathrow Connect).