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Rob’s travel highlights and lowlights of 2017

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There is just one article today as we gently ease back into things.   What impressed me on my travels during 2017?  And what didn’t?

What I realised when I looked back over the last year of articles is that I haven’t done much which was radically new.  When travelling with my young children, I tend to be risk averse by visiting cities and even hotels that I already know.  By letting Anika do most of the ‘official’ reviews – everything below I paid for, either with cash or points – I missed out on a few unexpected highlights in places such as Ljubljana.  However, of the stuff I did do:

There are some very good unbranded family hotels in Europe

I think I did around 80 nights in hotels this year.  I only wrote about a fraction of them because I don’t write about run-of-the-mill hotels and generally keep our family trips off the site.

That said, I continue to be impressed by two family-focussed hotels we returned to this year.  Both are ski properties in winter and walking properties in summer.  Near Salzburg you have Elmauhof and near Innsbruck Cavallino Bianco (photo below).  We spent an enjoyable week in each this year for the 2nd year running and are off to Elmauhof again in February.

There is nothing like this in the UK, especially Cavallino Bianco.  The village of Ortisei, where Cavallino Bianco sits, is also astoundingly pleasant.

cavallino-bianco

I took the family down to Asia for the first time

With my youngest now six, I felt it was time to show them a bit of ‘proper’ Asia.  A week in Sentosa, Singapore two years ago doesn’t count.

This was meant to be a trip to Japan but the lack of Avios seats over Easter meant a more complex Hong Kong – Tokyo – Beijing route, with a bullet train to Kyoto thrown in.  The regional Asia flights were Avios redemptions on JAL which worked well.

The InterContinental Hong Kong (reviewed here) still has some of the best views in the world although the building work on either side is a bit of a disaster to be honest.  Both the Conrad in Tokyo (review) and the Waldorf-Astoria in Beijing (review) were well worth the visit although my Hilton Diamond status didn’t get us any ‘wow’ upgrades.  The stand-out, by far, was The Ritz-Carlton in Kyoto.

We were exceptionally lucky that our Japan trip coincided with the peak cherry blossom period.  It was never part of our plan and, if it had been, we would have booked for a few weeks earlier because it was surprisingly late this year.

Virgin Atlantic stuffs me

Last year I flew Virgin Atlantic for the first time in too long on a new Boeing 787My review of Upper Class on the new 787 fleet is here.

I decided to give them another go this year coming home from New York.  Little did I know that Virgin had moved me, without telling me, from a Boeing 787 to one of the old A330 aircraft leaving a couple of hours later.  Here is my unhappy review.  It seems that this is now common practice on redemption tickets as cash customers in Upper Class actively avoid the A330 aircraft which have yet to be refurbished.  After flying it, I can’t blame them.

My request to Virgin for an explanation of why reward customers were being moved to inferior aircraft did not get a reply, except for an apology that I didn’t receive an email informing me of the move.

Ritz Carlton Kyoto

Hotel revelations of the year

As I mentioned above, The Ritz-Carlton in Kyoto (above) is a real return to form for the brand.  It operates in an almost theatrical way.

The upgraded tent we received at The Ritz-Carlton desert resort in Ras Al Khaimah (review) was superb.  It was easily one of the five best rooms / tents I have ever had.  I can’t give a final verdict on the rest of the resort because it had still not fully reopened as a Ritz-Carlton when we were there.

I was also intrigued by the Family Hotel Amarin in Rovinj, Croatia, where we spent three nights.  I didn’t review this, but it has a lot going for it if you have young kids.  My only gripe was the seating in the dining area which was more like an office canteen than a five star hotel – although the all-inclusive food was very good.  British Airways now flies to Pula in Summer which is a short taxi ride away.

Less glamorously, the Hilton in Bournemouth (reviewed here) was surprisingly accomplished.  My Diamond status finally paid off here with a suite upgrade and access to their decent lounge.

I didn’t review my night at the Hilton Brighton when I was there for a conference.  It was better than expected despite warnings from friends and the hotel has some impressive Victorian features.  It is utterly different to the Bournemouth hotel in almost every way, which shows the real problem for branded hotels in trying to define exactly what the brand stands for.

At the other end of the scale, I had dinner – but didn’t stay – at one of the Marriott / Ikea jointly run MOXY hotels this year.  It looked good and I liked the vibe although apparently the rooms are very small.  If I had to stay in one for some reason I’d be happy to do so.

And, despite everywhere else he went this year, my 6-year old was most excited by the – very good – 3-star Park Inn in Southend on Sea which I reviewed here.  From our balcony he could see the sea and the pier and the funfair.  If you’re 6, it doesn’t get much better than that.

Four Seasons Hampshire

Hotel frustration of the year

Four Seasons Hampshire wins my ‘most chaotic hotel stay of the year’ award.  Not only was the hotel without a dining room for most of the year due to rebuilding work, but it was also without a chef for a Bank Holiday weekend when we were there.

This led to hour-long waits for tepid food served in the hotel ballroom, which has all of the character of a Debenhams in-store cafe.  To give the hotel credit, they refunded my entire bill – room, food, activities – when I complained.  Given the queue of people complaining at check-out, I wasn’t the only one.  I told the story in this article.

PS.  The new FS Hampshire restaurant is now open and in theory everything is now operating as normal.

First Class experience of the year

I had my second trip in Etihad’s A380 First Class Apartment this year.  It is clearly an amazing product with a ludicrous amount of personal space.  My review is here.

Something about it just doesn’t work for me, however.  I’m not sure what – I think I just don’t like being shut away in my little private room for seven hours.

Lufthansa remains the pinnacle of First Class flying for me, perhaps surprisingly.  Lufthansa First Class is a standard ‘open’ seat with no real privacy at all.  Returning to it after three years, it was a pleasure to experience the great food (image above) – Lufthansa is one of the biggest caviar buyers in the world, apparently – and attentive staff.  My review of that flight is here.

I was a little underwhelmed on my return to the Lufthansa First Class Terminal in Frankfurt as I wrote here.  The real highlights are the food – which didn’t work for me this time – and the limo ride to the plane, which was a letdown as I ended up in a minibus and the aircraft was about as near to the terminal as it was possible to get!

I also had a perfectly acceptable time in Emirates A380 First Class this year as I reviewed here.  Whilst I didn’t write about it, we also flew Emirates A380 business class again this year which retains its high standards.

I finally got to try a private jet

Jetsmarter invited me to try their private jet shuttle service between Luton and Switzerland.  This was, oddly, a private invitation and nothing to do with running this site.

It was a novel experience, and I also got to visit the Signature Flight Support lounge in Luton, see here.  The highlight was chatting to my fellow passengers, both successful men in their own fields.  The rest of the private jet experience (DIY food and drink, no proper loo) I was less bothered about as I wrote.

Party of the year

Ours!  Having been terrified in 2016 that no-one would come – and I was relieved when the tickets sold out in eight hours – we were shocked when the tickets for the 2017 Christmas Party sold out in literally five seconds.

Thank you to those who came along, to Qatar Airways for being our headline sponsor and to everyone else who donated raffle prizes and goody bag items.

We will do it differently in 2018 so more of you can come.

And we won some prizes ….

I should also mention that we won three gongs at the 2017 Business Travel Journalism Awards, including the top award for ‘Editor of the Year’.

To be honest, I was happier for Anika who won ‘Best Newcomer to Business Travel Journalism’ because it will help her career.  My career is beyond redemption at this point ….

We also won ‘Best Digital Strategy’ so I got to take two of the heavy perspex awards home.  Which, after a week, my wife hid away in a cupboard on the flimsy grounds that she thought the kids might start throwing them at each other and end up knocking someone out ….

BA status benefit of the year

If you have kids, the most underrated benefit of a BA Gold card is the ability to book Gold Priority Rewards during peak school holiday weeks.  This lets you book any seat, any flight on Avios as long as you pay double the normal price.  In February you will be paying £500 per person for a flight to a ski resort (Saturday out, Saturday back) during half term – or just 18,000 Avios if you force open Gold Priority Reward seats.  Which is what we did, for the second year running.

Surprise tube experience of the year

Coming home from World Travel Market in November, I found myself standing next to British Airways CEO Alex Cruz.  We had a good chat for 20 minutes or so about life as he sees it and life as I see it.  In terms of BA cost cutting, you can’t argue that he wasn’t walking the talk with his £3.30 tube ticket.

I genuinely liked him and now I’ve met him, I have a better idea of where he is coming from (and, in terms of tube travel at least, where he is going).

Travel lesson of the year

I will leave this one to my wife, who ran up a £1,400 Vodafone bill on her company iPhone whilst watching online videos in our hotel in Dubai over half term.  The hotel wi-fi was spotty and it seems to have dropped out at a very bad time …..

Missing in action

The ‘pointless cause of extra work in the HfP office’ award goes to Hilton Honors, who decided to drop an ‘H’ from the previous Hilton HHonors branding.  Much retyping ensued.

Anyone wondering where the missing capital ‘H’ had gone soon found the answer.  Le Club Accorhotels became Le Club AccorHotels.  More retyping ….

The Langley hotel Iver

What is coming in 2018?

We will hopefully be bringing you reviews of SWISS First Class, Royal Jordanian Business Class and – for no particular reason other than I have some Jumeirah Sirius points to burn – the OTT Burj Al Arab hotel in Dubai in the next few weeks.  SWISS First already has a black mark against it because they expect me to pay for seat selection – even BA doesn’t try to charge First Class passengers.

We have had early stage discussions with some Star Alliance carriers about doing a series of reviews, following Anika’s ANA business class piece this year, but let’s see where that ends up.

With the Qantas Terminal 3 and Plaza Premium Terminal 5 lounges now open, I’m not expecting any major new London airport lounge openings this year.

Interesting hotel openings in the UK include a Hotel Indigo in Leicester Square from IHG and Hilton’s first Canopy hotel in the UK (Aldgate).  I am also intrigued by The Langley, pictured above, a country house hotel which will be operated by Starwood’s The Luxury Collection.  It looks like it will be the most impressive UK ‘country house’ property which can be booked with points.

There is also a better than average chance that the site gets its first facelift for five years ……

Tomorrow Anika will give you her own impressions from a busy year of reviewing, and normal service resumes with our usual mix of news and articles.

Thank you for your continued support.

Comments (122)

  • JamesB says:

    The stand out story from this and 2017 generally I think is the targeting of redemptions by both BA and Virgin for inferior treatment as exemplified by TripRep and Rob, and substantiated by numerous comments. In light of this I feel happier with my own strategy of the moment where I focus on cheap premium flights and mostly use points and miles for hotels.

    For me personally 2017 was a year or pleasant suprises:
    1. Earned £429 of nectar points with very little effort (thanks to Anika and Genghis for a decent part of this).
    2. Receiving a huge chunk of hotel points following a x10 error in crediting.
    3. My first flights ever with Easyjet, and discovering I prefer them to BA shorthaul.
    4. Switching from LeGrande to HI Gare de Lyon for convenience and getting first use of a great newly refurbished room and saving 25000 points per night.
    5. My sole trip of the year on BA, a return CW redemption to BKK, was faultless!
    6. A three week whistlestop rail and air tour of 10 cities across 8 European countries paid for with miles and points, T C B credit and £700 spending money for both my partner and I.

    My only disappointment I can recall was being rejected by amex for an SPG card, very likely my own fault for applying just weeks after receiving my nectar card.

    Overall, a great year for me. Thanks again to Rob, Anika and the HFP community for helping make it what it was.

    • Jon says:

      I was also surprised to be turned down for the SPG card – Although the way I churn Amex’s, I can’t blame them!

      • Genghis says:

        How do you churn Amexes?

        • Jon says:

          Open – spend the minimum required for the sign up bonus – close – repeat in 6 months

        • Genghis says:

          That’s what I do, apart from when need a 241. I thought the recent spate of SPG rejections were internal errors?

      • Melvin says:

        I too was rejected for SPG card. I pursued Amex for an explanation as my credit score is very good and they suggested that i had too much available credit. Cannot reapply for 90 days.

        • Genghis says:

          Interesting. I’m sure we had people on here commenting a few months ago that total available wasn’t relevant…

          • Rob says:

            Definitely relevant – because, if you spent up to your limit on your existing cards tomorrow (which you could) it would obviously change your risk profile. There is also a ‘why are they doing this?’ element I think – it is the sort of behaviour that someone about to be laid off, for example, might do.

            In the US this is also a major new source of card fraud. You create fake identities, apply for a few cards with small limits, spend, pay them back and, over a year or so, get to a point where you can open lots of cards with high limits. At which point all of the cards are immediately run up to their limits and the cardholder vanishes.

        • CDB says:

          I too got rejected for SPG Amex in Oct, wrote to appeals dept who reversed decision but almost 2 months later…. no explanation but had 16k limit on ba prem and then got 14k on SPG.

  • Michael C says:

    Thanks to Rob and all the team and also all the contributors for their great tips. I’m a slightly “lower level” user, but love the reads, and thanks to the advice have managed:
    BA-BKK return for Easter ’18 @1250GBP, out in club, back (daytime) in premium,
    and most importantly, a daytrip to Paris in Sept. which tipped me over into BA SIlver two days before my points expired!
    Hope you all have a fantastic 2018 and Happy Travels.

  • the real harry1 says:

    I think people should understand that EU/ EEA airlines do not have the unfettered right to cancel your booking and re-route you on a different/ later/ earlier flight, this point made more obvious by the fact that Raffles’ original New York flight still flew – just without him. This entitles you to compensation, regardless of the fact that you still might arrive within a ‘reasonable’ time of our original booking. Being a reward flight would not change the right to compensation.

    • TripRep says:

      +1 TRH, thanks for reminding us and championing our rights and validity for EU251/2004 compensation (including duty of care) when airlines appear to try and “pull a fast one”. Still think it’s a pity Rob didn’t put a claim in for the VS flight, they need to prove that they sent the email….

      • the real harry1 says:

        1. it’s money in the bank for the next 6 years, ruhig, it evaporates on T+2191 though
        2. istr Raffles has plenty of knowledgeable friends over at FT
        3. would make a nice 3rd article/ filler series over here, better than Eastenders (though who am I to sub-edit? 🙂 )

        • JamesB says:

          I’ve been fortunate never to have had any major flight issues but keeping in mind all the advice from you and others if I do. The problem I have though is best way to handle it if it all hits the fan within 2 hours of departure with check in or gate agents either playing dumb or genuinely clueless and digging their heels in. Should we play hardball at this late stage or just avoid the stress, accept it and seek compensation later if limited but forceful request for our rights fail?

        • RussellH says:

          (Almost) anything is better than Eastenders (though the signature tune is OK…
          🙂

        • the real harry1 says:

          I think playing hardball at check in or at the gate rarely works (often opposite effect) so best avoided unless you are Senor Cruz or one of his wingmen

          recommended be polite & turn on the charm, mention status if you have it

          coming out here, we got to the airport 4+ hrs before flight and they used the minimum 3 hrs rule (when busy) to stop us dumping checked luggage that early & go through – but did ask if we had status – answer no but was polite & chatty/ smiled so they said OK to come back in 30 mins = 30+ mins more in the lounge than might have been the case 🙂

        • the real harry1 says:

          it does sorta help that I look like George Clooney

    • Lady London says:

      @harry would this be true. if Rob was only bumped to a flight 2 hours later? that might have landed within 2 hours, or within 3 hours, of the original flight Rob was booked on until Virgin Atlantic pulled their fast one? Can the airline seriously do this if the substitute flight is shortly after the original one on a decent plane?

      I’d really like to know this…

      Sounds like VS know that everyone paying cash would have refused to go on the horrible plane they cheekily bumped Rob to… and I think TripRep is right there is a good chance VS didn’t send the email at all,,,,,, expecting even a redemption pax would refuse to be moved… ??

      • the real harry1 says:

        yep, I think compo goes down to 50% but still worth the effort of forcing the issue; Great Ormond St Hospital (those poor wee sick kids) would welcome the donation even if Raffles is too busy; delegate: learning point for Anika?; mates on FT; what’s there to lose?

        • Rob says:

          See that big Virgin ad at the top of the page …..

        • the real harry1 says:

          heh heh!

          GOSH, all goes to a loveable cause 🙂

        • JamesB says:

          Yes, the ad could not be more approoriate, it says “Aventures start here”!

        • the real harry1 says:

          well, you don’t want to bite the hand that feeds you

          I worried enough about that before putting in my F&B claim (with MCOL) vs BA

          I worried that they might harm me in some way/ pinch my Avios/ stop me flying Rewards etc

          then I just did it & realised that these are very separated sides of the business & I’m sure Commercial/ service recovery doesn’t talk much to Avios etc

  • roberto says:

    Many positives for me this year including my first ever upgrade to First on a 380 out to LAX but the overall winner by a huge margin was picking up 1.28Million Avios for two x 2 day Avis car hires over the Black Friday promotion for a total outlay of €65.

    Currently sitting in Terminal 3 in the Cathay lounge off to Miami / Peurto Rico and thankful for the help, guidance, insight and tips for the staff at HFP and all the contributors on this site.

    All the best for 2018 and beyond..

    • the real harry1 says:

      would have been worth flying to Spain for the weekend… 🙂

    • Worzel says:

      No need to rub it in roberto!

      Struggled to accumulate Avios this year.

      Sitting in our dining room, and not far off the usual BRS take-off path, every few minutes I’m reminded that some lucky b….r is off somewhere!! 🙂 .

      • Peter K says:

        Or that someone is having to catch a flight to work in another country and just has a longer commute than you…

        • Worzel says:

          Apologies- the comment was made in jest- and I had thought of underlining the fact.

          I honestly enjoy hearing of others’ learning and earning experiences.

          I hope roberto enjoys spending the miles………..

        • Peter K says:

          To be fair I always feel jealous every time I go past a travel agents window…even when I have a holiday booked and lined up 🙂

    • Lady London says:

      @roberto congrats but 1.28 million? On 2 car hires? what did I miss?

  • Debra Lidgley says:

    I booked a holiday with BA when they had their sale on, saved £2500 on the price for three of us travelling to Abu Dhabi in club class. I had to wait a few weeks before I saw availability open up to upgrade to first class return for the three of us for 100,000 points I think ( can’t recall exact amount without looking it up) we will earn nearly 37k points for actual flights and bonus for booking BA holiday. It was this site mentioning the BA holiday sale that led me to book it so thanks to Rob for that. Roll on April 14 2018 I’m just looking forward to my first break in 3 years, that we are travelling first class and going to a lovely hotel makes it even better.

  • Gavin says:

    Barely did any flying this year as my wife no longer works abroad. Used my silver card for the final time to experience the newish Gatwick lounge on our way to Spain for a short break. Trying to get the Avios up to a decent redemption level.

    Bronze card got used flying to Sri Lankan to Maldives in Y, priority check in only! Didn’t bother crediting to BA as Iberia give more Avios in some fare classes and no longer in the tier points game.

    Burnt most of my IHG points to accommodate my wife’s family when they visited. Gold status gave us a late check out which was handy. I did manage to create BAEC accounts for all of them and enrol them in our household account as surprisingly they chose to fly BA rather than Korean Airlines.

    Branched into hotel points, and stayed last week at the Conrad St James in London, where gold status (via a status match from IHG) using the Visa card voucher. My wife, a reluctant player in the points game, was quite impressed and even indicated she is willing to get a Hilton card next year.

    Bar the Conrad stay I feel my best value redemptions were small beer and Nectar related – exchanging 1000 points for 2 cinema tickets, and doubling up 2000 points for £20 worth of wine / champagne. Small return but fun.

    This Christmas I’ve discovered my uncle is a Concorde Room Card holder (though he didn’t offer me one of his partner cards!) and that we have been invited to a wedding in Hawaii! Maybe I can persuade my wife to do a tier point run!

  • Genghis says:

    2017 for us has been BA F to SIN and return from KUL, great upgrade to Seaview Suite at Conrad Bali, discovered how whilst Ritz Carlton Bali had a great hard product, soft product was seriously lacking (and found babi guling – yum!) and in SIN found Canopy at the RC to be the best buffet ever.

    Got further good upgrades at IC Amstel and IC Le Grand (with a free breakfast thrown in but wasn’t great IMO). Stayed at Hilton Opera which was fantastic (got a decent upgrade to Junior Suite) and had a help yourself Iberico ham leg at breakfast.

    Discovered Scottish food is fantastic (I’ve booked for us to go back just for one night in March) and did the Barra beach landing (the fudge from the island sweet shop is fantastic). We’ll also go back to the Highlands at some point, perhaps on the new train when it comes out.

    A work trip earlier in the year took me to Israel. Lovely people, good food, Jerusalem fascinating and rubbing myself with the Dead Sea mud and learning the knack of how to float (if you’ve been you’ll know what I mean) an experience.

    First half of 2018 will be busy: South Africa (funded almost entirely with points – avios, Marriott, hotels.com, Tesco), Scotland weekend, mini break in Northern Ireland then a week of food and wine in Porto, Galicia and Bilbao (got a theoretical 8ppa on an Air Nostrum flight, lol). A work trip to New York might see me tag on a bit of travel and get Mrs G out there and a work trip to Brussels in Jan will see Mrs G coming for one night so we can visit one of our favourite restaurants in Antwerp of all places.

    Leaving H2 open currently but need to use my Marriott travel voucher. Open to ideas but thinking Domes / Phu Quoc currently depending on our circumstances.

    There’s always something to learn and experience. I want my wife and I to experience SQ Suites so plan on diversifying away a bit from avios. I’ll be asking questions on this throughout the year I’m sure. Also looking forward to the next HfP (summer) party.

    • Scallder says:

      Paying an extra 30k to upgrade the hotel category of the voucher should(!) Extend it for another year so wouldn’t be forced to use it in H2 Genghis.

      I’ve had to cancel our week in the Renaissance Tuscany so hoping to do this myself to extend it from Sept 18 to Sept 19…

    • ankomonkey says:

      I have 7 nights booked for Phu Quoc next August from the Marriott Travel Package. Taking direct flights from Bangkok on Bangkok Airways to avoid needing visas (wife wanted to visit Bangkok anyway so worked out nicely). I had this redemption in mind when I started collecting for the TP, so was glad to get it once I had the points. Took 162.5k Avios during the bonus which I plan to use for JAL J in 2019.

      • ankomonkey says:

        Phu Quoc seemed the outright best use of a Cat 1-5 Marriott cert out of all their global hotels in that range. I want to save for another package for the airline miles, but am struggling to find another worthwhile hotel (need redemption rooms that will take 2 adults and 2 children).

        • Genghis says:

          Domes do villas don’t they accommodating 2 adults and 2 kids? I was trying to flog me booking that for a colleague recently.

        • ankomonkey says:

          I only looked at Cat 1-5, so not sure. As soon as I found Phu Quoc achievable with the smallest number of Marriott points, I gave up looking at higher cateory packages.

  • the real harry1 says:

    no great trips to report, just our usual shuttle out to the place in the sun for school hols & to see my wife’s rellies

    points accumulation also being the name of the game for us, with an as yet only hazy idea of my wife & I going off to SE Asia again in the European winter – finally on our own once more when our youngest goes off to study in about 5 years

    took a punt on Virgin miles and emptied Clubcard coffers thataway with the latest +20% bonus conversion, so we’re up to about 500K there – idea being something decent will materialise when they combine Flying Blue with Virgin Flying Club next year (?)

    • the real harry1 says:

      almost forgetting my small win (£300 in total) compensation for BoB introduced/ F&Booze taken away on flights booked before M&S was announced – I guess Cruz’s office didn’t like the look of my screenshots 🙂

      which is a reminder to spend a few seconds getting your own screenshots whenever you see a decent deal/ make a record of the T&Cs and they can’t retrospectively change the rules & deny you whatever you signed up for, eg Virgin ISA minimum term changing from 6 to 12 months – that one still has to play out…

      • Genghis says:

        I’ve now cancelled ours. Still got points but VS have a habit of removing points six months down the line. Good reminder re T&Cs screen shots.

      • The Original Nick says:

        Harry, has the Virgin ISA changed from 6 to 12 months recently? I took mine out the same time as Genghis I reckon.

        • JamesB says:

          Yes, it has.

        • Liz says:

          I’ve just paid for 6th £100 today so have cancelled the DD. I am looking st the T&Cs but it is all to do with the ISA and not the rules about the pts. We applied 3/7.

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