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Review: The University Arms hotel, Cambridge (a Marriott Bonvoy bargain)

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This is our review of The University Arms hotel in Cambridge.

I hadn’t planned to visit The University Arms last weekend. However, my wife and I realised on Friday night that, once the kid’s Saturday AM sports clubs were done, our weekend was totally clear. With the weather looking good we thought we should go somewhere.

Review University Arms Hotel Cambridge

Cambridge popped up as an idea and, if I’m honest, the appeal of trying The University Arms swung it for me. There has been a lot of positive feedback on this hotel from HfP readers in our comments. Cambridge is only 48 minutes from London Kings Cross on the train.

The hotel website is here.

The University Arms, Cambridge

The University Arms re-opened in 2018 after a whopping £80m refurbishment, which would make it one of the biggest ever regional hotel projects in the UK. To be fair, this sum included substantial building work – replacing an ugly 1960’s extension – with the number of rooms increasing by 75%.

The interiors were designed by Martin Brudnizki, who currently dominates the London high-end restaurant and hotel design scene. Annabel’s, Sexy Fish, the Rosewood, The Ivy Chelsea Garden etc are from his studio.

If you’ve ever been to any of these places, you will know what to expect – albeit in a tamed down version.

It is also looks VERY similar to the ex-Principal hotels now taken over by IHG. If you have visited Principal Manchester / Kimpton Clocktower, Principal York or Principal London / Kimpton Fitzroy, you will feel at home. Gleneagles also has a similar look and feel following its refurbishment.

The hotels is part of Marriott’s ‘Autograph Collection’ brand. This is a group of independent hotels which have chosen to use Marriott’s marketing and booking system. In return, they are required to take part in Marriott Bonvoy.

‘Autograph’ hotels have no fixed brand standards, beyond ‘high quality’, and they are more autonomous than other Marriott brands. You won’t find any Marriott branding on the door, except for a small ‘Autograph’ plaque.

The University Arms is well known as an excellent value Marriott Bonvoy redemption. Last Saturday, a standard room was £265 or 25,000 points. At over 1p per point, this is double my standard 0.5p valuation of a Marriott Bonvoy point.

This is NOT a detailed review because I was only there for one night and I was with my family. We didn’t eat in the hotel at night and I didn’t get a tour of the facilities. It will give you a good feel for what to expect, however.

Review University Arms Hotel Cambridge

Location

Cambridge is a small city. The biggest issue is that the railway station is very much on the edge, about a 15-20 minute walk from the centre. The good news is that The University Arms is on the ‘right’ side for the station, on the road which runs into the city.

If you divert into the park on the way, you can approach it via the view in the photo above.

As with many hotels of its age, it has taken over various adjoining buildings over the years. This leads to a slightly chaotic interior layout.

Ground floor contains reception and a spacious (and very impressively decorated) restaurant and bar, plus a ballroom. There is a gym but no pool.

Our rooms at The University Arms

One feature of Marriott Bonvoy which I rate is the ability at many hotels to pay a small supplement on redemption bookings to guarantee a better room.

(EDIT: comments below suggest that this option is not available via the Bonvoy app, only on the website.)

As a Marriott Bonvoy Platinum Elite member, I would normally expect an upgrade for free. The University Arms was clearly running at high occupancy, looking at the few room options bookable for cash, so I decided not to risk it.

We took two rooms. The first was a Superior with Park View, which was an additional £50 on top of the 25,000 points.

I strongly recommend this room category. It is £50 well spent, not just for the extra space but also the daylight and the view over the park which is directly outside the hotel.

Here is the bedroom. It was actually a LOT more spacious than it looks – the photo does not do it justice.

Review University Arms Hotel Cambridge

On the downside, if I am brutally honest, it is not done to Four Seasons levels despite the £80m refurbishment. There is absolutely nothing wrong with it but it doesn’t reek of luxury.

Here’s the bathroom (no bath):

Review University Arms Hotel Cambridge

And here is the view over the park:

Review University Arms Hotel Cambridge

Our second room was a classic room, which was a £30 supplement over the standard ‘cosy’ room. This is arguably a bit of a con and I could probably have swung it at check-in for free, but I was sharing with my son so I wanted to be certain of a king bed!

The classic room was substantially smaller and darker than the superior, although the picture does not fully reflect this:

Review University Arms Hotel Cambridge

Both room categories came with:

  • a Nespresso coffee machine
  • bath robes
  • specially designed ‘The University Arms’ cups and saucers
  • ‘D R Harris for The University Arms’ toiletries, in surprisingly large bottles

It was, especially for the classic room, impressive – albeit given that rooms here are usually £250+ per night you should expect some frills.

Wi-fi was good and free. Neither room had a bath. I should give extra marks to the showers for having wording on the controls showing you which one was on/off and which was hot/cold!

Breakfast

We didn’t eat in the hotel in the evening, but did have breakfast. The room is beautiful, as you can (partially) see below.

Review University Arms Hotel Cambridge

I’m not sure what the normal ex-corona offering is. We were offered a very short a la carte menu of, basically, two courses. Pastries, fruit salad or granola was followed by four cooked options.

The menu was unpriced so I don’t know what a non-elite Marriott Bonvoy member would pay.

Service was a little slow. We were also surprised to be brought just one basket of four MINI pastries for the four of us. This implies that a solo diner would be brought just one 7-cm croissant!

Elite benefits

This was one area where I felt the hotel fell down. To be honest, I’m not entirely sure they even knew I was Platinum Elite.

(I believe that Autograph hotels are not required to use Marriott’s IT system and so information on elite status can go missing.)

There was no mention of my status at check-in and no sign of any elite amenity benefit. (Marriott is allowing hotels to remove these during covid so this could also be the reason.) Neither room was upgraded but the hotel was virtually full. No suites were bookable for cash.

At breakfast, the guest list they were using showed that I was expected to pay. The cost was also on my bill at check-out, although quickly removed when I challenged it. (On the upside, all four breakfasts were removed. I think Marriott is only obliged to give me two for free.)

I was given a 4pm check-out without any trouble. This is a guaranteed Platinum Elite benefit so it shouldn’t have been an issue but – as I said earlier – Marriott is allowing hotels to drop elite benefits at the moment.

Conclusion

We were, overall, very impressed by The University Arms.

If the review above has a few niggles, it is only because you have certain expectations at £250+ per night. If you book a Superior Park View room or better, you will have a lovely stay.

The University Arms is exceptional value as a Marriott Bonvoy redemption. It is Category 4, which means:

  • 20,000 points per night off-peak
  • 25,000 points per night standard (what I paid)
  • 30,000 points per night peak

Given that you were looking at £250 per night pre-covid – and the cheapest room last Saturday was £265 – this is excellent value.

Remember that Marriott Bonvoy is currently letting you buy points with a 50% bonus – see here.

If you wanted to book for THIS Saturday, you could buy 25,000 points for $212.50 (£165). You would save £100 on the cheapest cash rate of £265.

The University Arms website is here if you want to find out more.

PS. Booking for cash?

If you are booking The University Arms for cash, you can get extra benefits if you book via our luxury hotel booking partner Emyr Thomas at Bon Vivant.

He is able to access Marriott’s ‘Luminous’ programme which gets you:

  • Upgrade on arrival, subject to availability
  • Complimentary breakfast for two daily for duration of the stay
  • Welcome amenity
  • Early check-in/late check-out, subject to availability 
  • Complimentary Wi-Fi

You pay exactly the same rate as the Best Flexible Rate showing on the Marriott website, and pay at check-out as usual.

You can contact Emyr via the form on this page of HfP.

Comments (82)

  • John Stewart says:

    Oddly enough my wife and I stayed exactly the same time as Rob but at the Gonville which again faces onto Parker’s Piece (park). As a result of our stay I did something I have never been able to do in a U.K. hotel – I gave it a 5 star review across the board!

  • MKB says:

    I have had two Saturday-night stays, using points each time.

    On my first visit as a Platinum in 2018, my classic queen room was upgraded to a superior park view.

    On my second visit as a Titanium in 2019, I was successful with a Suite Night Upgrade award and was allocated the Franklin Suite (room 901), a park-view terrace suite. I also received a $10.00 credit + breakfast + bar of dark chocolate + bottles of whisky and port in the room.

    Screen 1 at the Arts Picturehouse, just along the road, is a very nice place to catch a film.

    • Harry T says:

      Thanks, useful data points. How much bigger/nicer was the suite? The bottles of booze are a cute feature.

      • MKB says:

        My recollection is a little hazy, but I think it was not a real suite, in that it was only a single room with a seating area, about 20% larger than the superior park view. It had a small balcony with seats overlooking the park and a gorgeous bathroom, in one of the building’s turrets, with window on three sides.

        • Harry T says:

          Thank you. I might use some SNAs there when I make Platinum. I love a good bathroom and balcony.

  • Amber Lynn says:

    You can overlook the park then , problem being is there a lot of little metal tubes littered about the green space, the students getting their kicks on nitrous.