This is Part 5 of a series of airline and hotel reviews covering my trip to New York. To recap – I have just arrived, via Lufthansa First Class, in NYC.
My aim for this New York trip was to use as little cash as possible. That meant that my hotel choice had to be on points.
I had a few options. I have a slug of Carlson points from last Summer but none of their New York properties are life changing – the chain is stronger in Europe. I have a lot of Priority Club points, but my last NYC trip was at the InterContinental Times Square and I like to try out different areas.
I also had almost exactly 150,000 Hilton HHonors points, and Hilton have just opened their first luxury Conrad hotel in New York. I also have a Hilton Gold card until April, which would mean free breakfast, free internet and an upgrade. This seemed an ideal chance to wipe out my Hilton balance and try out somewhere new.
The Conrad New York has an interesting history. It is opposite Goldman Sachs, and Goldman actually owns it. However, it was built as a 3-star Embassy Suites property (also a Hilton brand). Goldman staff and clients didn’t want to stay there, so the company felt it made sense to convert it into a luxury hotel.
Embassy Suites are aimed at longer staying guests and include kitchen facilities. The rooms had to be big, and the sizes were not altered during the conversion. The means that the standard rooms at the Conrad are 43 sq metres, which in New York is almost unheard of.
The location is just west of the World Trade Centre, in Battery Park – the Canary Wharf-style office complex which was built on the landfill created during construction of the original World Trade Centre. The (nearly finished) Freedom Tower is literally a block away.
Somehow, though, the hotel just didn’t ‘click’ with me. Sorry, Conrad.
Check-in was very off-hand and unfriendly, completed in about 30 seconds
The room is large but oddly arranged. It runs – sitting area – toilet – wet room – bed, with the window at the bed end. The sitting area has no natural light. The floor is raised where the bathroom and toilet is, so you go up and then down again everytime you walk across the room.
My newspaper didn’t arrive on the first morning
The in-room safe was faulty
The room was pretty close to the apartment block opposite, which cut down on natural light
The TV’s are ‘smart’ TV’s (ie computers, not really TV’s). In the same way that your computer will occasionally freeze and ignore all your keystrokes, before catching up in one mightly blast of gobbledygook, so the TV would freeze whilst you banged away at the remote. It would then ‘unfreeze’ and execute all of your keystrokes in once!
The corridors are not top-lit. The only lighting is at floor level. This is quite spooky, especially as the corridors are quite narrow as well.
There is no breakfast buffet – they only do a la carte. You get a $20 credit as Hilton Gold, which is good for a set menu – juice, coffee and 1 item for a short list comprising porridge, pastries and some other small things – or a discount on other stuff. All nicely done, I must say, but it doesn’t set you up for the day!
Due to Freedom Tower construction, it is not a straightforward walk to do the two blocks to the subway
There is a sink in the middle of the room, for no reason! (18 inches away is the bathroom sink!) This MUST be because – when it was an Embassy Suites – the kitchen unit would have been there and would have required a separate sink. Presumably cutting off the water supply was too complex! Fundamentally, the rooms are not laid out in the way you would have done it if you were not converting an existing property.
I didn’t get upgraded. This is despite getting a (standard) letter at check-in saying I had. This is possible because I was able to book a ‘better than base level’ room on points originally, so they didn’t feel the need to upgrade further.
The hotel lacks facilities. There is one bar / restaurant and that’s it. No pool. A tiny shop. (The rooftop bar is closed out of season.) It is, to all intents and purposes, a bed factory and little else. I expect more from a luxury hotel, although this is the trend these days – the InterContinental in Times Square where I stayed last time has even less public space.
The in-room internet was dropping every few minutes on my last night – although apart from that it worked fine.
Lighting in the restaurant is terrible. They use spot lights, which are few and far between. Literally only about 6 seats (seats, not tables) have a direct light source which allows you to read a newspaper over breakfast.
There is some good stuff, of course, and I would stay in this hotel again if the price was right (as it seems to be most days!):
- The rooms are large, at 43 sq m. You are not short of space.
- The wetroom with its rainfall shower is good
- Two large TV’s
- Good strength in-room wifi
- The PC’s in the business centre are well equipped and free to use
- ipod dock provided
- It’s the first time I’ve stayed in a hotel with a multiplex cinema in the same building!
- Nespresso machine provided, albeit with only 3 capsules, one of which is decaf. (There are also teabags, but no cups! You need to use a glass. And no kettle – you had to run water through the nespresso machine! The coffee machine only has tiny cups.)
- The lobby – see the stock photos above – is certainly jaw-dropping, although not exactly cosy
- They gave me a 2pm late check-out when I asked, although at 2.03pm I had a knock on my door asking why I was still there!
Here are some shots of my room / suite. This is the smallest room on offer (note the sink in the middle picture above the drawers!):
I thought when I arrived that I may have made a mistake in using Hilton points. I checked the rate 10 days before I left and it was over $300. However, ‘snowmageddon’ then hit New York and I was there over President’s Day weekend. A lot of people seem to have changed their plans and headed out of town.
When I looked after checking in, rates (at least for Monday night) were $209 plus tax, so about GBP 165 all-in. That is just over GBP 3 per 1,000 Hilton HHonors points, which is not fantastic.
That said, I have no other obvious use for the Hilton points at present, so using them up made some sort of sense. And then, during my stay, Hilton announced a massive devaluation of the Hilton HHonors programme. Unfortunately, I cannot do a proper write-up of how it impacts most hotels until early next week – although it does not take effect until March 28th in any event. New York is particularly badly hit, though, with the Conrad going up from 50,000 points to a ludicrous 80,000 points per night in the peak periods.
I am now glad I used up my points stash!
One question is ‘is this the best use of Hilton points in New York?’.
In terms of quality, almost certainly. Wetrooms, nespresso machines and 43 sq metre rooms and two TV’s are not standard issue anywhere else! Whilst I had my gripes – and the hotel does seem to give off bad vibes – by New York standards it offers exceptional amounts of space and surprisingly good value for money, especially at weekends.
The 2nd best choice – in terms of hotel quality- is probably the Millennium Hilton, which is a few minutes away and faces the World Trade Centre site. There is a good pool here and I was upgraded to a junior suite on my last stay (as a Gold) – albeit that suite was no bigger than the basic Conrad rooms. It may also be noisy whilst WTC construction continues, and a new tower is rising in front of it which will eventually cut out some light.
There is also the Waldorf-Astoria, of course. This is a genuine historic monument, but the rooms are pretty poor in general. Some have been updated but a lot have not. My advice is to tour the lobby and not stay!
There are also a huge number of other Hilton Family properties in the city, of course, although none that I have ever got excited about.
So …. after 3 nights at the Conrad, it was time to leave. I was booked on the 6pm flight on airberlin from JFK to, erm, Berlin! 40,000 Avios and GBP 1.50 of taxes for business class. This was going to be a new experience ….!
Unfortunately, you are going to have a wait a few days for my review of this flight – but it should be interesting.