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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.

  • pauldb says:

    Can you actually visit the university though? It seems like my college and a few others I’ve checked are not open even to alumni, which makes it a bit of a lame time to visit.

    • Paul says:

      I would say that you don’t have to go into the colleges to appreciate the city. There are some lovely walks to be had in and around too, e.g. out across the meadows to Grantchester.

    • Rob says:

      Colleges are currently closed, although of course term hasn’t started yet so I don’t know what may change.

      Kings College Chapel is open but pre-booking is essential.

  • mark2 says:

    We stayed at University Arms last autumn and were very impressed. As gold we were upgraded to a deluxe room with a view over the park. Excellent position within easy walking distance of centre attractions.
    Useful valet parking at £30 per night.
    Can often be used for Bonvoy free night.

    • Rob says:

      That’s true. It is probably the best UK use of the free night you get for spending 25k on the Bonvoy credit card – not that I recommend spending this much on that card.

  • Paul says:

    “The park” is Parker’s Piece, reputedly where the rules of Association Football were laid down.

    Apart from convenience or points gathering or a deal why eat in the hotel at all? Cambridge is littered with dining options, though I appreciate this may have changed a bit in the last 6 months.

    • Rob says:

      The nearest restaurants to the hotel are a Bella Pasta, Pizza Express, Pizza Hut and Gourmet Burger Kitchen, however 🙂

      • Paul says:

        True, but but for anyone contemplating a stay in the future, a hop skip and jump takes you to the Chop House, Smokeworks, The Old Bicycle Shop, Tom’s Cakes, Fitzbillies, Franco Manca amongst many others..

        • Rob says:

          Franco Manca is also a massive chain!

          The head chef at the hotel, unless it has changed recently, used to run Petrus for Gordon Ramsay in Begravia.

          • Paul says:

            On Franco Manca, again true, but I do like their pizza. I am a man of but simple tastes. 🙂

            Over decades of working away from home I’ve tended to stick to the maxim of not eating in hotels and not sleeping in restaurants, though I must admit to having done both.

        • Harry T says:

          @Paul
          I’m visiting again in October – can you recommend anywhere decent for brunch?

          • Paul says:

            Hot Numbers (if you can get in), Millworks (part of the excellent Cambscuisine group), The Old Bicycle Shop. Depending on taste, weather and day the food options in the Market Square can be worth a punt, too.

          • Nathan says:

            Aromi is also another fantastic option, or Fitzbillies. With so many great independent restaurants and cafes, there really is no need to use any large chain restaurants.

          • Nathan says:

            As Paul says, Cambscuisine group are excellent, so check out their website and take your pick. I must say that if you like BBQ, Smokeworks is absolutely mouthwatering.

    • TGLoyalty says:

      As far as I know PT is well reviewed.

      Not all hotel restaurants are just hotel restaurants.

      • Harry T says:

        The food is decent for the price point, and friends who live locally say the restaurant is well regarded.

        • TGLoyalty says:

          I thought the bar was very good at decent prices even better with small shop 🙂

      • Paul says:

        Yes, I suspect my view is coloured somewhat by my employer’s travel and expenses policy which rarely stretched to hotels with anything other than a very functional dining experience.

  • guesswho2000 says:

    I stayed here when I visited back in 2018 and catching up with some old colleagues and loved it, good location too, but agree with the elite recognition, which was basically nil.

    However I spent a lot of time in the Wetherspoons across the road, so it wasn’t much of an issue.

  • George K says:

    Had to cancel a long weekend booking at this hotel with less than a day’s notice last month due to a family emergency, which was regretful as I managed to snag a family room for an absolute steal of £155pn (and that was pre-VAT reduction, which would have meant a lower bill at checkout). Thankfully everyone’s recovered since, but I’ve come to appreciate the blanket Marriott flexi-policy which over-rode most if not all the non-refundable rates and we were able to cancel and not get charged about £450 as a result.

    I booked another hotel for next summer just before the flexi-policy expired, meaning my non-refundable June booking is actually refundable up until the previous day.

    I don’t think I’ve ever booked a flexible rate in my life, but you just never know these days…

    • Lady London says:

      I’ve had 3 hotel stays recently and none of them gave the VAT reduction to me as the client. The amount of the room miraculously went up to meet what had been vacated by the VAT reduction. So even at 5% I paid the same overall.

      I don’t really begrudge it though as I think it was kind of meant to support hotels.
      Whereas German retailers, for anything being shipped in Germany, did seem to be honouring their VAT reduction (not if shipped elsewhere in Europe – correct, as for products (not services) sold to personal (not business) customers across European borders, sadly the destination rate of VAT applies not the selling rate of VAT. Grrrr.

      • George K says:

        Thanks for the update. I had the emails all printed out which said any VAT reduction would be adjusted at checkout, so I would have definitely cruised for a fight if it came down to it.

        But point taken on showing support to the hotels.

        All the best

  • n_g says:

    Thanks for the review, would be happy to see more of these UK hotel reviews given the current climate.

  • C says:

    Thanks for the review – we have stayed two nights in Cambridge over the summer, one at the Clayton Tamurlane (the UA was still COV-closed) and the other at the Hilton. The UA is on the list for the next stay, and while the Clayton and Hilton were both good, the UA looks to be a step above. The Clayton was actually pleasantly surprising, seeing as it was just after hotels had reopened in July; it’s also within a stone’s throw of the station.

    Cambridge isn’t just about students; the university is about much more than just teaching, and the sciences and technology sectors in the area are quite strong as well.

  • Ryan says:

    Why would anyone pay £250 for a room like that?
    Just stay in a Travelodge or Premier Inn and get your soap from Lush and go to some fancy breakfast place, would still save you half of that!

    • TGLoyalty says:

      Supply and Demand. obviously the see demand at that price

      As Rob said don’t spend £250. spend points ‘worth’ £150-175

    • cinereus says:

      Have to agree. Even paying points it’s a massive rip off. Which is why boasting about getting 1p/point is a bit meaningless in many instances.

      • Rob says:

        As with all redemptions, that’s only true if you wouldn’t have paid that for cash. You wouldn’t, so fine. I probably would, as it is the best option in town.

        But if you’re spending your life in Travelodges when you can afford to stay in better places it will be a slightly sad one, I think 🙂

      • TGLoyalty says:

        I think rip off is a bit strong.

        It’s a 4 star boutique hotel in a pretty popular tourist destination the rates reflect the market. I’d pay the £150-200 it usually costs and perhaps a bit more if it was last min on a lovely weekend like Rob did.

        I could stay in Premier Inn or Travelodge etc but I won’t.

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

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