As I explained on Monday, I was flying out to Amsterdam for the night to test out the Hotel Tonight ‘last minute booking’ app. I had earned some credit from signing up and from referring a few HFP readers and I wanted to try it out.
I did have a kind of plan. I had been watching Hotel Tonight for a couple of weeks and I knew roughly what hotels they featured in Amsterdam. I had also picked my preferred target for the night. I guessed that trouble was brewing, though, when I checked cash prices last Friday and saw the top five-star hotels coming in at £600 for Monday night!
HotelTonight loads its offers at ‘9am local time’. I assumed this was ‘hotel time’ so at 8am, on the train to Gatwick, I fired up my phone – to be told to come back in an hour. It seems that ‘9am local time’ means 9am in the country you are in – this is a bit odd, frankly, as anyone living in France, Germany, Netherlands etc gets a 1 hour head start on booking Amsterdam hotels.
At 9.15 I was in the British Airways lounge at Gatwick. Before I go on, let me explain what I needed. I am a family guy in my 40’s. My plans for a night in Amsterdam involved getting a meal in my hotel, watching TV and working on the blog in a comfortable room. I was not after a ‘crash pad’ which I would hardly see after a night of hard drinking and other stuff ….
These were the offers at 9.15am London time:
‘Espresso’ – ‘Basic’ quality level, 12 square metre room, £106 – rejected on quality and room size
‘Albus’ – ‘Solid’ quality level, 18 square metre room, £170 – rejected on room size
‘NH Carlton’ – ‘Basic’ quality level, room size n/a, £283 – rejected as laughable value for money vs quality
‘NH Caranso’ – ‘Basic’ quality level, room size n/a, £258 – rejected as laughable value for money vs quality
‘Vondel’ – ‘Hip’ quality rating, 15 square metre room – rejected on room size and TripAdvisor reviews. They warned that some rooms are in the basement and have massive noise issues from the hotel kitchens etc. I was pretty sure this is where my room would have been.
‘NH Museum Quarter’ – ‘Solid’ quality rating, room size n/a, £235 – rejected on value for money grounds
I rejected the above pretty quickly. This was not necessarily the fault of HotelTonight – on a busy day, there is less distressed inventory to be had and it will still fetch a good price. In some ways HotelTonight is more useful on very busy nights as you know the hotels they feature will be available – if you’re willing to pay. The hotel I wanted to book for the night was not there at all.
Half an hour later, The College Hotel appeared. This was better – 29 sq m rooms and £155. A quick look at TripAdvisor found many complaints about major falls in service levels and, more importantly since I wanted to work, that the rooms were very, very dark.
I could have gone with the College and, if it had been there at 9.15, I probably would have. In the 30 minutes before that hotel popped up, though, I had started looking at other options using my hotel loyalty points. Some of these options looked a lot better.
Starwood has ‘last room availability’ so I tried them first. The Pulitzer was sold out so that was off the list. Perhaps luckily as I have had bad experiences there twice before.
Hilton had the brand new Waldorf-Astoria. At 80,000 points this seemed like a serious hit even with a cash rate of €595 – and at 28 sq m (before any Gold upgrade) the room was smaller than the College. The standard Hilton was not a contender at 70,000 points (€299 cash). The Doubletree by the station would have done at 50,000 points if I was desperate.
I moved on to IHG. I finally got lucky. The InterContinental Amstel, one of the finest hotels in the chain, was available. There is a picture below. For cash, they wanted €729 for a 35 sq m room. For points, it was only 40,000 – only 5,000 points more than you would pay for some Holiday Inn Express hotels in London!
I also have InterContinental Ambassador status, which meant (as long as they honoured my benefits on a reward stay) 4pm check-out and an upgrade. I stayed at the Amstel about eight years ago so I knew the location was good for the Rijksmuseum – the only bit of sightseeing I definitely wanted to do.
HotelTonight got the push. I still have my credit and I hope to use it over the next few months. I booked myself into the Amstel – review to follow – and then also decided to give the pretty poor BA First Class lounge the elbow as well. I wandered downstairs to No 1 Traveller – more on that tomorrow …..
(PS. There is an ironic postscript to this story. At 6pm, in the Amstel, I took another look at HotelTonight. The hotel I was hoping to get – Banks Mansion – was now available. It wasn’t even at an inflated price, just the usual £170. If they had loaded this at 9am then my night would have been very different.)