Is Priceline Lowering Its Standards For 3-Star Hotels?

crappy hotelI’ve been a devoted user of Priceline’s “Name Your Own Price” bidding tool for years. In the past year, I’ve written columns here on how to game their bidding system, how to overcome their new bidding hurdles, and another piece about trying to decode their star system. I still love the bidding concept but after several negative experiences of late, I have a few words of cautionary advice on how to bid for hotel rooms.

Two years ago, Hotel Deals Revealed did an analysis comparing Hotwire to Priceline on how generous they are in assigning star levels to hotels and concluded that Priceline was more cautious in assigning stars (i.e., they weren’t overrating hotels). But based on several recent experiences bidding on three-star hotels in Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio and London, I think Priceline has lowered its standards for how they classify three-star quality hotels.While bidding on three-star hotels in the U.S. in the last three months, I’ve gotten Holiday Inn hotels on four consecutive occasions. Each hotel was adequate, sort of, but none was as clean or nice as what I’ve been accustomed to getting – Marriott, Hilton, Hyatt, Sheraton, etc. – for three-star bids on Priceline over the years.

Charlottesville, Virginia, is a good example of how Priceline’s ratings have changed over the years. I’ve gone to Charlottesville several times over the years and have used Priceline on multiple occasions. There are a number of good three-star hotels in town – Hampton Inn, Doubletree, two Courtyards, a Residence Inn and others. But Priceline now considers two Holiday Inn locations in town as three-star properties as well.

I’ve stayed in both and they simply aren’t as clean or nice as the hotels mentioned above. The furniture at the University location, for example, is dated and ill fitting – the office chairs in the room don’t level up with the desk, for example, and on a recent stay there were a host of dead bugs in the sliding glass door, which also had a broken handle.

But as mediocre as the Holiday Inn Charlottesville University is, it’s the Taj Mahal compared to the Avni Kensington, a supposedly three-star property I got from a recent bid on Priceline in London. (Priceline refers to this hotel by its old name, the Kensington Edwardian.) My first impression was of their bathroom in the common area. There were no hand towels next to the sinks – just rolls of toilet paper to dry your hands.

My room had three droopy old single beds plus a broken television and non-functioning Wi-Fi. (The Wi-Fi was later fixed; the TV was not.) Trip Advisor categorizes the hotel as a two-star property, which is about right. I made a complaint about the property to Priceline but they stated that the hotel was “unwilling” to issue a refund so I was out of luck. A Priceline spokesperson told me several weeks ago that the company uses a number of criteria in categorizing hotels, including some factors that travelers might not care much about – like if the place has a full-service restaurant, a pool and others.

But what I found most interesting about the experience is the fact that I was unable to review my hotel experience in London on the Priceline site. I asked the customer service rep how I could leave a review of this hotel on the site because they use the customer reviews as a basis for how they categorize the hotels, but she said I had to wait to see if I received an email inviting me to take the survey. I looked through my inbox and noted that I had received survey requests for all of my previous hotel stays (none of which had I issued complaints over) but I didn’t get one from this stay in London.

Priceline gives bidders guarantees that they’ll receive a hotel with positive feedback (it varies based upon the star level you are bidding on); so I can’t help but think that they flag customers who complain about a property not to receive the survey email.

What can you take away from my bidding experiences? The most import thing is to do your homework before you bid. Use Priceline’s normal search function and look at what they are offering at each star level. Then check the reviews of those hotels online and assume you’ll get the place that has the lowest reviews. If you can’t live with that, you need to bump up the star level you’re bidding on.

For example, if you are bidding in the north suburban area of Chicago, and you see that Priceline has a hotel they consider a three-star property but that it has horrible reviews, assume that if you bid three stars, you will get that hotel. If you can’t live with that, you need to bid 3.5, or find another way to book your room.

July 8, 2013 Update: A spokesperson for Priceline tells me that the company sent me a survey email on 6/22 inviting me to review the hotel I stayed at in London. I have double checked both of my email addresses and I never received it. Either way, there should be a way for customers to review the hotel they stay in, whether one gets their email inviting them to do so or not. And, after bidding on yet another 3 star hotel in Portsmouth, NH this week, and, once again, getting another Holiday Inn with so-so reviews, I stand by what is written above. 3 stars with Priceline used to mean Hyatt, Hilton, Marriott, Sheraton and so on. These days, it seems to be Holiday Inn and other brands in that tier.

London’s worst rated hotels

The bathroom was a biohazard. The sheets smelled like curry and body odor. Conditions you wouldn’t find in the worst Compton crack house. I wanted to puke at the site of dirty water overflowing into the hallway onto the already moldy carpet. We did not have breakfast as we were afraid for our health.

These are a sampling of user-generated Trip Advisor reviews for five of the very worst rated hotels in London. Last month we brought you the lowlights from five maligned New York City hotels and if you thought those God-forsaken places were scary, wait till you read about the horrors travelers have experienced on the other side of the pond.

London is one of the most expensive cities in the world and it should be noted that these hotels are considered cheap, at least by London standards. But there’s a difference between a cheap hotel and a bargain, and based on what we’ve read, you won’t find us staying at these hotels anytime soon.

Corbigoe Hotel (above)

The website of this hotel, ranked #973 on Trip Advisor, features stock photos of London and none of the rooms, and, based upon the 161 1-star “terrible” reviews, it’s easy to see why. A U.S. Marine wrote a page-turning, 2,907 word novella on the many shortcomings of the hotel which he titled “Heinous.” He reportedly was roused from sleep at 7 A.M. by a man in a “brown leisure suite with a butterfly collar and gold rope necklace adorning his hairy chest,” who told him that he’d have to change rooms because the one he was in was being “demolished” that day.

A woman from Plymouth, U.K. wrote that the smell of “damp, rotting curry” hit her as soon as she walked in the hotel and reported that she slept with all her clothes on because of the “chillingly horrid” squalor. A British woman wrote that she knocked on the door marked “Reception” in order to check out and was greeted by a shirtless employee, dressed only in boxer shorts.

And another British reviewer remarked that the hotel was so dirty that they felt compelled to wash even the unworn clothing that was in their suitcase. A traveler from Brighton in the U.K. reported that the place was suitable only for “pigs or dogs,” and made them “think of their own grave.” A Swedish female reported that a hotel employee “pinned her against the wall,” and made an unwanted sexual advance.The Lonsdale Hotel

This hotel, ranked the #989th best on Trip Advisor, boats that it’s a “perfect” “family friendly hotel” with “original Georgian features” that has “bags of character.” But of the 116 reviews on Trip Advisor, 84 rated the place “terrible,” and just one intrepid traveler gave it 5 stars. One writer, who stayed at the hotel for Valentine’s Day, wrote that everything smelled bad- even the front desk agent. Another reviewer wrote that they found used condoms and bedbugs in their £70 room. A traveler from Lisbon said that his room had “sperm on the wall” and “drug needles under the bed. Other reviewers found “dead cockroaches in the sink,” and “an extremely disgusting pair of soiled and bloodied underpants.”

Another British traveler complained that the room was like a “dungeon,” with a bed that “had massive springs poking out,” and “no heating/radiator on despite it being below zero outside.” An American tourist reported that they were ridiculed for requesting more toilet paper. But the one hardy traveler from Wiconisco, PA who gave the place five stars, called the hotel “charming” and wrote that they were so happy while there that they sang tunes from “My Fair Lady” on their way to and from the hotel.

Park Hotel- Belgrave Road

Numerous travelers complained that they’d been cheated by management at this hotel, which is ranked #971 on Trip Advisor, and has a staggering 218 one- star reviews against just four five-star reviews. A traveler from Finland claimed that they required hospitalization after being severely bitten by bedbugs. A Japanese woman claimed that her request for help in carrying her suitcase up four flights of stairs was flatly refused. A British reviewer wrote that the “filthy stained towels they provided looked like they were harboring some sort of horrific disease.”

Other travelers complained of “blood-splattered” walls and sheets, “a bismol service,” and “large holes punched in the walls.” One traveler wrote that they “noticed a large rat trap in the yard,” which they concluded was unnecessary because “no self-respecting rat would stay in this place.” But Alan in Plymouth, U.K. , one of the four brave souls who rated the place 5 stars wrote, “if you want a 5 star hotel..stay at the Ritz!”

Earl’s Court Gardens Hotel

This hotel, ranked #990, appears to use its website to try to reduce the expectations of guests before they arrive, by describing the place as “a clean tourist class hotel with basic facilities.” But despite that modest billing, 85% of the hotel’s 71 reviews are one-star stinkers with zero five-star reviews. A Mancunian woman who titled her review “avoid like the plague, you just might catch it,” commented that her room featured “a cracked sink, a double bed which sagged in the middle, a TV mounted to the wall which didn’t work and a window which didn’t shut.”

A Swede reported that “rain poured in though the ceiling” of their “roach infested room” and concluded that the hotel was “utterly disgusting and should be closed down for health and safety reasons.” A Scot titled their review “Is that poop or mould on the ceiling?” and a traveler from Milan said the shared bathroom “scared the hell out of me.”

Others complained about graffiti on the walls and an Albertan said the place reminded them of a “horror film.” A traveler from Belfast admitted that they’d read all the bad reviews but thought they were overblown. But after staying in the hotel, they concluded that it was a “nightmare” and a violation of “human rights.”

Ventures Hotel

According to the hotel’s website, this place has been run by the same family for more than thirty years. But with a Trip Advisor popularity ranking of #978 and nearly 80% of their reviews falling in the 1-star category, perhaps the continuity in management isn’t necessarily a good thing. A British reviewer said that it was the “filthiest, most dilapidated place” they had “ever had the misfortune to come across.”

A family of five from Ireland reported that they had to move hotels in the middle of the night after being attacked by bed bugs, which gave them “itchy bleeding skin lesions.”Others complained about “curtains black with filth,” “rats in the rooms,” and “dubious stains” on the sheets and bedding. And a Torontonian opined that the hotel was run by a “very nasty and rude old man,” who told a different guest who complained about their room, “why can’t you be happy with what you have?”

Have you ever stayed in a nightmare hotel? Tell us about it in the comments section.

[all images courtesy TripAdvisor]

London hotel offers package for insomniacs

London hotel offers package for insomniacs Jet lag, stress, too much work, too much play, and the novelty of being in new surroundings can all contribute to restlessness when traveling. Because insomnia is a malady that affects every traveler from time to time, a hotel in London is introducing a wellness package designed to help you get a good night’s rest.

Through December 22, 2011, London’s Milestone Hotel will offer The Gentle Art of Falling Into a Deep Sleep package. Beyond merely offering a heavenly bed, this package includes a consultation with “sleep, stress and performance therapist Tej Semani;” a one-hour massage; and a gift bag containing aromatherapy oils, lavender eye mask, vouchers for another session with Semani, and an Alpha Sleep pod, Semani’s iPod-like device that releases sound waves meant to induce sleep. The insomniac package also provides you with a pillow menu, a detox breakfast menu, and tailored sleep tips “depending on whether you are traveling for business or pleasure.” Examples of the latter include “Turn off your Blackberry” and “Stop fighting with your spouse.” (At least, that’s what I would suggest.)

Reading about the Milestone’s “Deep Sleep” package left me very relaxed until I noticed the rate. The price per night for this insomnia package is £813.33 (plus VAT), roughly $1,324 going by today’s exchange rate. I don’t know about you, but if I had $1,300 to drop on a hotel room, I think I’d be sleeping pretty soundly already.

[Photo courtesy The Milestone Hotel]

Luxury Travel: London’s most expensive suite to open at Lanesborough Hotel

london hotelHave a few extra Euros to spend? The Lanesborough Hotel in London can help put those extra pence to good use. In May, London’s luxe hotel will open its 4,000-square-foot Lanesborough Suite for a cool £14,000 (approximately $20,000 USD) a night (plus VAT).

The signature suite makes use of Lanesborough’s Michelin-starred restaurant, personal butler service, and offers some of the best views of Hyde Park, but is it worth $20k? You decide.

The suite has four bedrooms, two living rooms, five bathrooms, a kitchen and a dining room. The decor aims to “blend 19th century elegance and 21st century opulence,” according to ehotelier.com, who received artist renderings of the London hotel suite. In an interesting twist of typical hotel layout plans, the suite will be located on the hotel’s first floor and have floor to ceiling windows. (We like the concept of feeling like you’re walking into your own home with a suite on the first floor, but we’re a little weary about the lack of privacy this might invite.) Guests will have access to 24-hour butler service, a chauffeur-driver Rolls Royce and its own personal bar.

The Lanesborough Suite is scheduled to open at the beginning of May, so if you aren’t U.K.-bound for the Royal Wedding, or have a few extra to spare after buying the new couple’s wedding gift, we suggest you head over to the Lanesborough and live it up luxe-style for the night.

[For artist rendering photos of the massive suite, click here]

London calling: DUKES LONDON concierge offers top 10 tips for visiting London

dukes londonSo, you weren’t invited to the Royal Wedding. While you won’t get to sit next to the Beckhams or drink tea with the Windsors for the big event, you can still experience the best of London (without worrying about your face appearing in Page Six’s ‘what were they thinking?’ layout of wedding fashion gone wrong).

Ian Steiger, Head Concierge of the historic DUKES LONDON in St. James’s and the Concierge of the Year 2010, is offering tips for London travelers who want to see the best of the city, without all the chaos but with a little royal flair. Here’s what he suggests:

1. Buckingham Palace isn’t the only Royal residence in town. Visit Clarence House, the official residence of Princes Charles, William and Harry, which offers public and private tours from August 6th through September 4th.

2. The best place to catch a glimpse of William departing Clarence House for the Royal Wedding will be the steps of the Duke of York “Son of George III” statue on Carlton House Terrace. Show up early, says Steiger: “Royal watchers will begin queuing two or three days ahead.”

3. While St. James’s Palace isn’t open to the public, it’s a great spot to see the comings and goings of Royal Family members. The palace was the Royals’ official residence from 1699 until 1837.4. Even the Royal Family goes out on the town. Among great dining spots they’ve been known to frequent: Annabel’s, a private club that is a favorite of the Prince of Wales; Wiltons, a famous fish restaurant founded in St. James in 1742; and Le Gavroche, Michel Roux Jr.’s Michelin Two-Star French restaurant in Mayfair.

5. For those without an invite to the Royal Wedding, DUKES LONDON will host a special Royal Wedding Champagne Afternoon Tea on April 29. The wedding will be shown on the big screen in the Regal Marlborough Suite, while Champagne, tea, finger sandwiches and assorted cakes and pastries will be served (price is approximately $55).

6. Glimpse Prince William’s maternal side at Spencer House, the ancestral home of the family of Diana, Princess of Wales.

7. Spring and summer bloom with possibilities in London. Prime among annual events that the Royal Family never misses is the Royal Ascot Races from June 14-18 and the Chelsea Flower Show, May 24-28.

8. Art lovers will be enthralled by the Royal Academy’s annual Summer Exhibition of contemporary works, scheduled this year from June 7-August 15. Meanwhile, the lesser-known Courtauld Gallery is among the finest small museums in the world, with a collection stretching from the Renaissance to the 20th century.

9. Visit historic buildings, including Marlborough House, built with red bricks from Holland in 1711; Burlington House, begun in 1660 and remodeled twice since; and St. James’s Church, which was fashioned by Christopher Wren for his friend Henry Jermyn from 1674-86 and restored with a garden of remembrance following bombing damage from the London Blitz.

10. Can’t get enough of the Royals? Tour Buckingham Palace, one of the few working royal palaces in the world, from July 23-October 3; or head for Windsor Castle, the largest and oldest occupied castle in the world with 900 years of British history to go around. It’s open daily from 9:45am-4:15pm.