Mar012009

London Calling, but can I afford the charges? – Europe Travel Planning Part 2

Finding an affordable London Hotel – Step-by-Step Guide

My wife and I arrived in London for Easter Sunday 1989 and stayed at the St. James Court Hotel, currently branded as the Crowne Plaza St. James.  K was living a dream with her first trip to Europe and our hotel was located just a few minutes walk from the front of Buckingham Palace. I booked the St. James Court in 1989 on a 2-for-1 rate for 6 nights through the Entertainment book before we headed to Edinburgh.

My 2009 budget is $2,000.  Currently, roundtrip airfare San Francisco to London is $1,094 for two tickets. I have $906 left for eight hotel nights, food, and transportation for a week in one of the world’s most expensive cities.  While we might splurge for a play (50% day-of-show tickets of course), restaurant dining is certainly eliminated due to budget constraints.

Here are my hotel loyalty program resources:

·         SPG points 30,000 points and one free award night credit (up to a Category 5 hotel)

·         Hilton HHonors 25,000 points

·         Hyatt Hotels 30,000 points

Starwood and Hyatt elite status will likely mean an upgrade for a hotel stay with one of their brands.

Starwood Hotels are my first search. 

SPG will provide a high quality hotel and the length of our stay allows me to access some of the best rates available through SPG using the exclusive Starwood hotel rate discounts for multiple night stays up to 2 nights free on a 6 night stay. This Starwood link has some additional resort hotel properties with the same discount offers.

Starwood Hotels offer: Buy 4 Nights, Get 2 Nights Free (April 10-16, 2009)

·         Le Meridien Piccadilly, London = 796 GBP + 15% tax = $1,309US or $218 per night

·         The Park Lane Hotel, London = 676GBP +15% tax = $1,112 or $185 per night

·         Sheraton Park Tower, London = 796 GBP + 15% tax = $1,309US or $218 per night

·         Sheraton Belgravia, London = 716GBP + 15% tax = $1,177 or $196 per night.

Starwood is out of my budget range.  I can stay 6 nights and get two additional nights for free using points.  If I spend $1,100 just for my hotel stay, then I will likely spend $2,700 total for the week with added ground expenses in London .

Starwood Cash & Points Availability

Finding Cash & Points awards for a week-long vacation can take multiple searches of stay dates to find available awards.

            Cash & Points Awards

Category 6 hotel = $150 + 8,000 points

Category 5 hotel = $90 + 4,800 points

Category 4 hotel = $60 + 4,000 points

 

London Hotels SPG Category

·         Sheraton Park Tower, London, Category 6

·         Le Meridien Piccadilly, London, Category 5

·         The Park Lane Hotel, London, Category 4

·         Sheraton Belgravia, London, Category 4

SPG hotel category determines the points required for a free night.  Three of four SPG-participating hotels in London went down one SPG redemption category as of March 2, 2009. The Lanesborough, St Regis does not participate in SPG.

When searching Cash & Points you need to try a variety of hotel stay dates.  My first attempt to find a room for 8 nights using Cash & Points shows no availability at any hotels.  My London searches indicate a 5 day limit for Cash & Points stays. All 6-night stays I tried showed no availability.

Finding all the Cash & Points opportunities requires a little combinatory math.  Here is what I mean:

Cash & Points Availability for London during week of April 10-18, 2009

·         Le Meridien Picadilly Friday, April 10

·         No Cash & Points options April 11

·         No Cash & Points options April 10-12

·         No Cash & Points options April 11-13

·         Le Meridien Piccadilly April 10-13, April 10-14, April 11-14, April 10-15, April 14-18, April 15-17, April 15-18. April 15 is not available when trying April 10-16, yet is available when trying April 15-17. (5 night stay possible on Cash & Points, but appears to be a 5 night limit.)

·         Park Lane, Sheraton Park Tower, and Sheraton Belgravia available April 15.

·         Sheraton Belgravia  April 12-17, April 13-17, April 14-17, April 15-17 (5 night stay possible)

April 17, a Friday night, shows Sheraton Heathrow available for 45 GBP.  This airport hotel dropped to SPG Category 2, an incredible 2 category drop from a Category 4 hotel in the 2009 SPG redemption category realignment.

Considering we need to be at Heathrow by 7am on April 18, I would opt for going to the airport on Friday night and paying $75US for a room at the Sheraton Heathrow and earn nearly 2,000 Starpoints or spend 3,000 Starpoints for a free Friday night at the Category 2 airport Sheraton.

Here are my best priced options in the combinations I tried:

·         Le Meridien Piccadilly April 10-13, 3 nights for $270 + 14,600 points.

·         Sheraton Belgravia April 14-17, 4 nights for $240 +16,000 points.

·         Sheraton Heathrow April 17, 1 night, $75US

8 nights in London with Starwood Hotels = $585 + 30,600 points.

I also have one free SPG night awarded as a SPG Platinum gift for 2009 that I could use at the Le Meridien Piccadilly to eliminate one award night using Cash & Points to save $90 and 4,800 points from the total expense.

Starwood is an option, however, London has other loyalty program options that will likely result in a less luxurious hotel experience, but possibly be more affordable in the long run if saving money is my priority.

And for travelers not sitting on 30,000 Starpoints there are still low cost options before resorting to Priceline or Hotwire for a discounted hotel.

Europe Travel Planning Part Three: The IHG Factor 

About Ric Garrido

Ric Garrido of Monterey, California started Loyalty Traveler in 2006 for traveler education on hotel and air travel, primarily using frequent flyer and frequent guest loyalty programs for bargain travel. Loyalty Traveler joined BoardingArea.com in 2008.

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