My first reservation in more than two years with a non-chain hotel was a
f**king booking.com nightmare for Hotel Alexis, Cluj-Napoca, Romania. Since there are many places in Cluj, Romania for about $50 per night, I figured booking one night at an independent hotel would be a better value than redeeming hotel points.
I opted for a hotel rather than a lower priced full apartment to have the advantage of a front desk to check in and not be waiting around to meet up with someone for a room key.
I had a hotel reservation with Ramada Cluj using a Wyndham GoFast reward rate of 3,000 points + 72.80 EUR. Then, five days before my arrival in Cluj, Romania I decided to change my hotel reservation after I found a great value 3-night stay in another city where 15,000 Wyndham Rewards points buys a $279 room night. I needed my 3,000 points back to book the better Wyndham deal.
Hotel Alexis, Cluj, Romania via Booking.com
Last week I flew Icelandair to Iceland and London on my $270 round trip airline ticket, spent the night at Hotel Indigo Leicester Square using my free Chase Mastercard anniversary night, rode a National Express bus from Victoria Coach Station to London Luton Airport, flew Wizz Air on a $27 flight to Cluj-Napoca, exited the airport and boarded Bus #5 for a 63 cents bus ticket to the city center and walked 10 minutes along the city streets to Hotel Alexis to check in.
“We have no reservation for you and we have no rooms!”
Showed my booking.com reservation printout, and the hotel manager said, “We have no reservation for you from booking.com, we have taken no money from you and we have no rooms available.”
I am in a city I have never been, in a country I am experiencing for the first time, and the sun has set.
There is nothing around me on the street that looks particularly inviting and I have no place to go. The nearest place of refuge I see on Google Maps to regroup and figure a way out of my predicament is Hampton Inn by Hilton Cluj-Napoca.
Hampton Inn Cluj increased from 10,000 points to 20,000 Hilton Honors points last month.
I wheeled my luggage down a street and according to Google Maps I was only about 100 meters from the Hampton Inn.
But there was a large wall between me and the street with a locked gate. That was my first experience of what I came to learn is a common residential design in Cluj-Napoca, where roads perpendicular to the main roads frequently do not go all the way through. There are large residential courtyards between many major streets. More often than not the roads leading off the main streets dead end in a residential courtyard space.
I backtracked and eventually found my way to the Hampton Inn Cluj-Napoca. Seated in the bar area with a beer, I find Hampton Inn Cluj room rate is 150 EUR for the night. If my wife had been with me, that would be the end of the story and I would be 150 EUR poorer.
If Hilton Honors had not increased the reward rate for Hampton Cluj from 10,000 points to 20,000 points last month, I would have purchased 10,000 Hilton Honors points for $100 and booked a reward night and that would be the end of the story.
But I was not giving in so quickly.
Domus Apartment, Cluj, Romania
Checking Trivago.com showed I could book an apartment for about $50 in a location nearby Hampton Inn Cluj.
And I find myself back on booking.com booking another ***king reservation for Domus Apartment, Cluj.
However, this time I called the apartment contact number immediately to confirm that I would be there within the hour.
After typing in the address for the apartment into Google Maps, I leave Hampton Inn and head out into the dark night. As I approach the Google Maps pinpoint, I see several businesses, but nothing that looks like an apartment building. I walk back and forth along the street watching the blue dot showing me move back and forth past the map pinpoint for the apartment address. There is an office door for Garmin and a long wall that says on my map it is a high school.
I call the Domus Apartment contact number and there is no answer. I watch every car that drives by on the main street and turns slowly at the street corner in expectation that someone will roll down a window and greet me with a key.
Finally, after a half hour and several unanswered phone calls, someone picks up the line.
“Didn’t you receive the email with the directions?”
“No! The only email I received gave me this contact phone number.”
(Turned out one of the 5 emails I received from Booking.com did have directions to the apartment that I failed to see.)
The problem was the apartment location is actually on the perpendicular street to the apartment’s street address and about 100 meters away from where I had been waiting.
The apartment key was in an open mailbox on a wall of mailboxes outside the door of a high-rise apartment building.
I went up the elevator to the floor of the apartment.
I step off the elevator into a stark bare walls hallway and walk to the first door to check the number and determine if I am walking the correct way down the hall.
Then the lights go off and I am in pitch blackness. Waving my arms turns the lights back on and I quickly move past doors and locate the apartment.
Inside the apartment looks nice. At this point my adrenaline is pumping and I am hungry since it is 9pm and I hadn’t eaten a meal since a light breakfast of tofu and veggies at 9am on the National Express bus ride to Luton Airport.
I make sure the doors and windows of the apartment are locked before walking to the city old town, about a 20 minute walk.
On the Unirii Square in Old Town Cluj, I see several restaurants with some people still seated outside in a row of tables on one side of the square at 10pm on a Wednesday night. Reggae music playing over the outdoor loudspeaker makes the decision of where I dine and soon with food in my stomach and alcohol flowing through my bloodstream, I settle back into the joy of experiencing a new and cool place.
A few beers in a few different pubs and a midnight walk home dispels the anxiety of being in Cluj and Romania on my first night. Cluj-Napoca seems safe and care-free as so many big European cities are where women walk alone at midnight to wherever they are going and young men on the street keep to themselves in a non-threatening way.
Domus Apartment, Cluj
An apartment in Cluj at $49 a night was a good deal. In the end all worked out.
The future of hotel loyalty points?
There are still plenty of good deals to be found, but Romania is one example of a place where Wyndham Rewards and Hilton Honors points have devalued by 50% or more in 2018.
A year ago I could have been in a suite at the Ramada Cluj for 53 EUR + 3,000 Wyndham Rewards points.
My reservation I canceled last week at Ramada Cluj was 72.80 EUR + 3,000 points for a Standard King room.
I booked an incredible deal in August at Hampton Inn Cluj redeeming 19,000 points for a 5th night free reward stay before the Hilton Honors reward rate increases in Romania last month.
Hampton Inn Cluj is now 80,000 points for a 5th Night Free reward stay, if you have Honors elite status or 100,000 points without elite status for 5 nights.