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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.


How to earn Marriott Bonvoy points and status from UK credit cards

How to earn Marriott Bonvoy points and status from UK credit cards (August 2022)

There are various ways of earning Marriott Bonvoy points from UK credit cards.  Many cards also have generous sign-up bonuses.

The official Marriott Bonvoy American Express card comes with 20,000 points for signing up, 2 points for every £1 you spend and 15 elite night credits per year.

You can apply here.

American Express Marriott Bonvoy credit card

Marriott Bonvoy American Express

20,000 bonus points and 15 elite night credits Read our full review

You can also earn Marriott Bonvoy points by converting American Express Membership Rewards points at the rate of 2:3.

Do you know that holders of The Platinum Card from American Express receive FREE Marriott Bonvoy Gold status for as long as they hold the card?  It also comes with Hilton Honors Gold, Radisson Rewards Gold and MeliaRewards Gold status.  We reviewed American Express Platinum in detail here and you can apply here.

EDIT: Until 25th October 2022, there is an exceptionally generous sign-up bonus on The Platinum Card. You will receive 60,000 Membership Rewards points – double the usual amount – and £200 to spend at Amex Travel. You need to spend £6,000 within six months to earn the bonus.

American Express Platinum card Amex

The Platinum Card from American Express

60,000 points, £200 travel credit and an unbeatable set of travel benefits – for a fee Read our full review

You can also earn Marriott Bonvoy points indirectly:

and for small business owners:

The conversion rate from American Express to Marriott Bonvoy points is 2:3.

Click here to read our detailed summary of all UK credit cards which can be used to earn Marriott Bonvoy points

(Want to earn more hotel points?  Click here to see our complete list of promotions from the major hotel chains or use the ‘Hotel Offers’ link in the menu bar at the top of the page.)

Comments (82)

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

  • Tom says:

    My Marriott statues was recognised & mentioned at this hotel last month + at another Autograph Collection hotel few weeks ago – so I am sure they can see it. A Hilton receptionist completely ignored my status last weekend. So I guess it depends on the person behind the desk.

    • John says:

      My Hilton status is “ignored” more often than not (even last year), in that they don’t mention it, but I still get everything I expect.

      • Joan says:

        I stayed there a few times around 2008 when my daughter was at uni there and it was a very tired old place which really wasn’t nice to stay in – but convenient . So it’s good to hear about all the improvements as it’s certainly in a lovely spot with views over the park

        • Crafty says:

          Yes, I studied in Cambridge 2006-9 and my impressions have always been the same, so I am very pleased to hear that the hotel seems to have been completely turned around.

  • Dominic Barrington says:

    I had one night in Cambridge on business two years ago and chose to stay here. I’m also elite status with Marriott, and that was part of the reason behind my choice. I was very satisfied with my stay. As mentioned above it’s not Four Seasons level of luxury, but nevertheless done very well. And I took a client to dinner in the restaurant, and had a very good English meal that was reasonably priced for what it was, and cooked and served well.

    I don’t remember what breakfast was like, but that’s probably a good sign not a bad one! I’d certainly recommend this property as a high quality option in a town that I think is complex for hotels.

  • Tariq says:

    Exciting and timely – I booked here for this coming Friday night, room rate was £142 when I booked months ago. Applied a SNA and a few days ago was confirmed into a Park View Terrace Suite!

    Breakfast sounds a little disappointing but in line with what I’ve seen at other Marriotts recently.

  • John says:

    Cambridge and York seem to be two places where prices are back to even higher than before. Whereas other cities are still cheap

  • Save East Coast Rewards says:

    A staycation is where you stay at home and visit local attractions. Going to another part of the UK and staying in a hotel is just a holiday.

    When I lived in London it was nice to be able to pop on the train to Cambridge when the weather was nice although it’s been a while since I’ve stayed there.

    • Simon Diggins says:

      +1 one the definition of staycation

      • Janeyferr says:

        Ditto. I didn’t have a holiday out of the UK until I was 18, but according to the new definition I didn’t have a childhood holiday at all.

        • Michael Jennings says:

          Although if you are going to then review the hotel on the travel website you run as a business, and therefore also presumably gain some tax deductibility from it, does that perhaps just make it “work”?

    • TGLoyalty says:

      While that is the general definition the UK doesn’t actually use it like that.

      • Save East Coast Rewards says:

        It used to until this summer! I never heard anyone say “I’m going on a staycation” prior to covid if they were holidaying anywhere else in the UK

        • TGLoyalty says:

          Even prior to 2020

          The US definition is to stay at home and travel around

          The UK use has been to holiday in the UK rather than go abroad

      • Rhys says:

        The meaning has definitely changed in 2020! I’ve heard a lot of people talk about ‘staycations’ in other parts of the UK.

    • guesswho2000 says:

      Agree to a point, it depends on the scale of where you live. If I go and stay at a hotel in Melbourne it’s a staycation, if I go to Sydney, or anywhere else outside Victoria it’s a holiday.

      If you live in Singapore and stay in a hotel in Singapore, it’s a staycation (that’s generally how they package it to Singaporeans).

      In the UK I’d generally class a staycation (if living in England) as staying somewhere else in England, a holiday would be one of the other constituent countries. Just my 2c though!

      • Bagoly says:

        Singapore is one of the few cities where I can imagine people sometimes staying in a hotel in the same city where they live, even if they live centrally.

        • blenz101 says:

          Staycations are how hotels in the city are promoted here to residents in Dubai and are very popular.

          We also have nearcation which is how hotels in one of the other (usually northern) Emirates choose to promote themselves.

          So I guess Rob had a nearcation which meets everyones definition regardless of location.

          https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/nearcation

  • ChrisW says:

    Who is the target .market for this property? Wealthy parents visiting their kids studying at the Uni?

    • Rob says:

      Partly, but the Uni only operates 30 weeks per year. The main market is probably wealthy tourists.

      • Genghis says:

        24 weeks – same as Oxford, though “coming up” a couple of days prior to term starting (which of course assumed people lived in London, I “came down”).

        • Pangolin says:

          Isn’t it always “coming up” when referring to Oxbridge (even if you came down from John O’Groats)?

          • Genghis says:

            Exactly.

          • Paul says:

            Yes. We would “go up” to College at the start of studies and “go down” at the end (unless we’d been “sent down” in the interim)

          • Bagoly says:

            To understand the language, think of the country as an upturned bowl with London at the top, but Oxford and Cambridge as two posts sticking up (equally!) higher than the peak.

      • David P says:

        The university operates 52 weeks per year. Postgraduate students (many from wealthy overseas families) and research staff are not restricted by undergraduate term dates.

    • Chrisasaurus says:

      Specifically wealthy *American* parents, at a guess, and Again US visitors to the science parks etc since the chains aren’t well represented outside of the two Hilton’s (one of which is in any case something of a chain tart!)

      Did I get it right that the DT remove its pool permanently? Hilton doesn’t have one, neither does uni arms, do any in the centre?

      • Rob says:

        The DoubleTree is now independent. Amazing location though on a sunny day – I didn’t realise where it used to be until I passed it. When they refurbish it, it could be stunning.

        • TGLoyalty says:

          Is that the one that’s been bought by the American uni hotel group to turn into a uni themed hotel?

    • mark2 says:

      When we stayed there last year there seemed to be a lot of people attending conferences, some held in the hotel.

  • Harry T says:

    @Rob
    I can’t actually see how to pay an additional cash supplement on top of points – the app just offers me the opportunity to pay more points for a bigger room. Am I just being dense?

    I also found breakfast service slow, I must say. I attributed this to the hotel being extraordinarily busy the weekend I stayed in August (the weather was glorious). I ate at Parker’s Tavern in the evening too and the food was reasonable, although they did serve my best friend a meal with cling film in it (service recovery was good though). The oddest quirk was that the hotel wasn’t allowed to serve alcoholic drinks in the outside area on Parker’s Piece, which was a big shame, considering it was 30 degrees. At least it was on Shop Small at the time, so we paid for drinks on various different Amex cards.

    Regarding status, I was upgraded from a Classic Room to a Classic Room with a Park View and given 2pm checkout, as a Gold. My status was acknowledged, I believe, although I was parking the car when my girlfriend checked in.

    A piece of advice for anyone driving here. There is a very small underground car park at the hotel, which costs £30 a day. Due to covid, the valet parking team can not drive your car to park it, so they just watch you park in the rather tight car park. The hotel will also not guarantee you a space. Best to park in a nearby car park, or park and ride, or get the train.

    For the active readers, this hotel actually has a large gym for its size, and the equipment is decent.

    Overall, this hotel is a steal for the points, especially if you get free breakfast, which I assume Plat and above do. I found it rather quaint and the hard product was high quality, with lots of personalisation.

    • Harry T says:

      Also, this hotel can booked using the HJH healthcare rate – £119 for a cozy double, £139 for a classic.

      Some of the Member Rate Welcome Back packages are cheaper than the £250 too. I’m looking at October though. Last minute will also be more expensive and better to use points.

      • TGLoyalty says:

        I paid £150 a night for a classic here on august bank holiday weekend last year.

        Looks like last minute staycation demand has really pushed the price up.

    • Dave says:

      I think the additional cash supplement only comes up when you search on the desktop site

    • Adam says:

      I’ve found a few times that I have to log in on the website to see the options to pay extra cash for an upgraded room when doing a points booking; for some reason it just does not show up on the app for me.

    • Lady London says:

      “we paid for drinks on various different Amex cards”.

      I think you’ve just invented the “card crawl”, @Harry T ! 🙂

      • Stu p says:

        A mate and I have enjoyed an “Amex crawl” in Winchester the last couple of years. The £10 threshold is comfortably made in Winch for 2 pints at most pubs!

  • Michael C says:

    Along the lines of a Marriott bargain (although not the qualit y of this hotel!), just reserved the St Pierre in Chepstow: GBP80 for a junior suite for 3 inc. b/fast during Oct. half term. Never been (anyone?) but looks a bit like a grand ole dame that hasn’t been dusted recently….but massive grounds, the essential indoor pool for the youngster, and halfway between Bristol & Wye Valley for daytrips.

    • TGLoyalty says:

      Sounds like a great deal

      I personally hope Marriott has a plan to refresh these old country house Marriotts with something a little more personalised than the cookie cutter approach they took the last time it was done.

      • Chrisasaurus says:

        Well looking at what happened to Hollins Hall near Leeds – which had a truly glorious fitness centre/wing (it became a Britannia!) I’d just be hopeful it remains a proper hotel…

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