Mandarin Oriental Or Holiday Inn?

Filed Under: Hotels

Over the years I’ve stayed at most luxury hotel brands, from Four Seasons to Ritz-Carlton to Aman to Taj to Shangri-La. While I generally tend to stick to the luxury brands belonging to the major chains (mostly Park Hyatt and St. Regis, since they belong to my preferred loyalty programs), I do like trying out new hotels.

I had actually never stayed at a Mandarin Oriental before, though I’ve always heard good things. The “symbol” of the Mandarin Oriental brand is the “fan,” and they have a marketing campaign based around that.


They have celebrities say what they’re “fans” of, and then finish with them saying “I’m a fan of Mandarin Oriental.”

Here’s one by Bryan Ferry, which sounds a bit more like a eulogy than anything else, but…

Anyway, we had a one night layover in Kuala Lumpur yesterday, and I decided to book the Mandarin Oriental through American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts. It was a steal, as it cost ~$140 for the one night stay, including complimentary breakfast, a room upgrade, late check-out, and a free lunch or dinner. If you value the breakfast and dinner anywhere close to face value, that makes the stay “free.”

Mandarin-Oriental-Rate-1 Mandarin-Oriental-Rate-2

So I came in expecting it to be about as nice as a Holiday Inn based on the price… and my expectations were met.

Is there anything luxurious about this room?


Was that desk chair ever in style?


And has a phone like that been produced in the past 20 years?


On the plus side, our room did have a nice view of the Petronas Towers. Well, sort of. People recommend staying here for a view of the Petronas Towers. Personally I think the hotel is too close to the towers to have a good view, as you really have to bend your neck to see anything but the base of them.


Personally I’d rather stay at the Grand Hyatt Kuala Lumpur, which is far enough from the Petronas Towers so you can actually appreciate the view.


I guess this all comes back to the post Matt wrote in September, entitled “Hotel Branding Is A Complete Mystery.” It notes the huge variance in hotel quality within a brand, and how that makes it difficult to set expectations as a consumer.

In this instance I can see both sides:

  • Kuala Lumpur as a hotel market can’t sustain very high rates, so it probably just doesn’t make sense for the hotel to renovate.
  • Ultimately is it better for a brand to have a presence in a market than not, even if the presence isn’t up to the brand standard?
  • Hotel groups for the most part simply have management contracts with the individual hotels, so in reality as long as they’re getting a percent of revenue and aren’t pissing people off, they’re quite happy regardless of what condition the hotel is in.

Bottom line

Hotel branding continues to fascinate me. Did I get what I paid for? Yes, absolutely, and more. Was the hotel what I was expecting? Based on the pictures, yes, more or less. Based on my expectations of the Mandarin Oriental brand as such? No way.

Does this hotel leave me with a favorable impression of the Mandarin Oriental brand? Not really. I think the hotel would be just as well suited as a Holiday Inn as a Mandarin Oriental. But I get it.

How do you feel about properties like this? Do sub-par properties tarnish your view of a brand, or are you just happy when your preferred brand has a presence in a city, even if it’s not up to global standards?

  1. Certainly doesn’t look new and modern, but how about the service? Did it exceed your expectation and was it at the level of a true luxury hotel?

  2. So, I’ll buy the premise that the M-O KL isn’t as nice as, say, the ones in SF, Singapore or London, all of which I’ve stayed in.

    That said, I think you’re engaging in a wee bit of hyperbole when you compare your room to a Holiday Inn. I’ve stayed in plenty of Holiday Inns over the years, and I’ve *never* stayed in one that nice. I wish the Crowne Plaza rooms that I’ve stayed in (other than Singapore-Changi), were as nice as the picture you’re showing.


  3. If you have any interest in Clavel’s Asian Saga, Mandarin Oriental is part of Struans. And CX is Rothwell-Gornt.

  4. How many Holiday Inns have separate bathtub and walk-in shower in the bathroom? Looks like all the rooms at the MO Kuala Lumpur do (even the low-end ones). Turndown service? In-room dining?

    I can think of a number of hotels in the US where the star level’s higher but the physical plant and furnishings are in the sort of shape where I’d actually prefer a Hilton Garden Inn or Hyatt Place, or a newer, less expensive boutique hotel that’s not part of a chain at all, given that when I’m globetrotting, I’m mostly interested in a good shower, a clean bed, and a place to keep my luggage in a convenient location, all at a reasonable price, and I look at status/benefits mostly as a kickback/discount to price (the “room is part of the destination” only works out when I have points to splurge for no good reason other than I don’t want them to melt like snow in the next devaluation ;)). Since a lot of non-chain boutiques will add breakfast in, it’s hard for me to value it extremely high as a status benefit

    Your deal looks OK, but…

    If you value the breakfast and dinner anywhere close to face value, that makes the stay “free.”

    Were the MO’s restaurants really all that? Kuala Lumpur’s got a lot of good inexpensive food…

  5. As I mentioned on another post, I stayed there last weekend, same hotel, Room 2115, with about the same view.

    I felt for them money this was an amazing deal and yes the bathroom has separate tub and shower, excellent amenities, and a very comfortable sized room overall. Further I found the service to be top notch, I was walked to my room and offered a review of all in room amenities. I also found the breakfast to be outstanding, as I spent two weeks at the Shangri-La Makati (my sixth stay there) and the MO buffet exceeded the famous Circles buffet at the Shang by a wide margin.

    You’re starting to get a little too big for your britches young man.

    How about a review of the food included in your FHR rate, along with a review of the service. Hard product, as in the airline business, may be slightly behind the times, but what truly can make or break an experience is the people that you interact with. I’d like to hear more about that in your review.

  6. Why didn’t you try a starwood or hyatt in Kuala Lumpur? Were they sold out?

    Anyway everyone knows that MO BKK / HKG are the flagship properties.
    For me personnaly: among the best, the ones in Tokyo, Singapore, Jakarta, Munich, Paris, Prague, Geneva, Las Vegas, Barcelona
    Variable are London, New York

  7. MOs really vary by location.

    I find in certain cities, such as Bangkok, Hong Kong, and Singapore, both the hard and soft product are absolutely world class (e.g., the MO Singapore and the FS Singapore, to me, have the same/equal service levels), and in other places such as Surabaya (which MO left several years ago), it’s still good but not up to the MO reputation. It sounds like the KL property was on the lower end. But as Sonya says, don’t let one property lead you to form an opinion of all properties.

    FYI, the MO San Francisco was re-branded earlier this year as a Loews.

  8. Yeah, MO properties are actually VERY luxurious, it’s just that they’re focused on building new properties than refurbishing old ones

  9. This is maybe off the topic a bit, but how can a family of 4 stay at a room in a big name hotel in southeast asia? It seems like most of the rooms have max occup. of 3. My kids are 11 and 14 btw.

  10. I agree with you that as far as fitting into the brand, the room is horrifically outdated, but honestly that doesn’t seem much more outdated than Nick’s pictures of the Park Hyatt Tokyo. I’m sure the room was still far nicer at the PH in terms of amentities, size, features etc, but it also would have cost about 4-5 times what you paid. Sure that room would not be what I imagine when I think of Mandarin Oriental, but its still far nicer than most $150 per night rooms in major cities (even relatively cheaper Southeast Asian cities) would be.

    What I would be curious about is whether or not the service was what you would expect from a brand with the reputation of MO. Mandarin Oriental’s brand themselves on having very nice rooms, but its the service that sets them apart. If the service was approaching that level, then given that the room wasn’t horrible, I would more than say you got your money’s worth.

  11. It’s even cheaper then my Holiday Inn Airport Santiago which was 200 USD and was an ugly old room, not even something to put the luggage on, with a tinny bathtube, one of those horrible “Press the button” Hairdryers, and no complimentary drinks or even a minibar..not to speak about the service.

    Is a hotel really just how modern it is for you? From a Business point its not really possible to keep every single room top modern, specially if the contract with the buidling owner means its his responsibility (which in some cases is in the contract). Or is it not more the difference in the service, like turndown service, the staff who goes the extra mile?

  12. I feel like Ben has slapped my favorite child in the face.

    I am very loyal to Mandarin Oriental. Yes, there are a couple of duds in the MO family, the KL property apparently being one of them. I also think the Munich property is really dowdy. Overall, though, I love the sophistication and exemplary service of Mandarin Oriental hotels. The Vegas property is my favorite hotel of all time, followed by the original Mandarin in Hong Kong.

    @Owen: Your reference to Struan’s and Rothwell-Gornt cracked my up!

  13. I have always had great meals at the MO KL. Have a reservation to eat there again at the end of December.

    Ate at the MO in Singapore and did NOT like at at all.

    Always love eating at Lord Jim’s at the Oriental in Bangkok.

  14. Geez, folks… go easy on Lucky! Looks like there are quite a few M-O “fans” in the comments section.

    I think Lucky was more focused on the hard product rather than the soft (i.e. service) product in his review – his perogative. And he was just giving his 1st impression of the room and making some observations.

    As for myself, I’m staying at the DoubleTree KL currently for 5 nights on 40K Hhonors points. One of the best use of Hilton points. Have a Gold or higher elite tier and a great breakfast at their MAKAN restaurant is included. I’m stuffed every morning! LOL!

  15. Always look at TripAdvisor, Yelp, or other review sites. I tend to ignore brand and simply try to stay at the most appealing hotels in any given location (if a hotel in a loyalty program I use, great). The hotel ranks #4 in the city according to TripAdvisor, below your Grand Hyatt hotel. Seems like the city can’t support a ton of ultra luxury properties.

    What is interesting is that you are starting to see hotel companies realize this and “downgrade” certain brands. For example, the Four Seasons Philadelphia is being converted into a soft branded Curio as the city could not apparently support the brand (it was a mediocre Four Seasons).

  16. For $140, the room looks fine, throw in breakfast and dinner and it looks a good deal to me.
    What was the food like, or the service? Is the hotel in a good location for KL? I don’t know I’ve never been. In England we have an old saying “you get what you pay for”, I’m sure like most of the people that read your reviews I’d feel it was good value if nothing else. Granted it may not have been what you were expecting but recent reviews from trip advisor are always the way to go. I really like your articles normally but this is more of a rant really.

  17. Have to agree with Adrian. Not a fanboy but I have stayed at the MO in Bangkok a couple times. I agree with other comments here that it’s the soft product more than hard product that makes me love the Oriental.

  18. @Anthony- the FS Philadelphia is being converted to a Curio because the hotel’s physical plant was aging and not up to current brand standards. Philadelphia will be home to a new FS when the Comcast tower is built. Philadelphia can indeed support the FS brand, but can’t drive the room rates that FS commands in cities like NYC or Paris…


  19. Personally I always stay at the E&O Residences in Kuala Lumpur. 1 bedroom suites with daily breakfast as well as the standard wifi and paper with a price of MYR 490 next weekend. The 2 bedroom suites which I stayed in for the Grand Prix are about MYR 750.

  20. Did you actually get the complimentary dinner or lunch? I am curious as to what the hotel actually offers for that via Amex FHR…

  21. Sorry Ben but you are spoiled. Compare the MO with a Holliday Inn? I’ve stayed at the St. Regis Princeville in Kauai and although the views are simple jaw dropping the hotel does not delivers what you expect from a St. Regis. My junior suite was outdated, had old and worn carpet, old furniture, dark bathroom with old features, etc… Well, it was still a St. Regis and different from the $140 you’ve paid at the MO it cost me over $700 per night. I’ve stayed at the MO in KL and it is still my favorite hotel in the city.

  22. Hear hear with the other MO-fans!

    My first stay was at the then still Oriental Singapore before Mandarin&Oriemtal combined and i made it my goal to stay at every one, entry level rooms, clubrooms and suites. What sets them apart as others said is the service, housekeeping smilingg and greeting you, willing to take requests in account, wait staff remembering your favorites and willing to accomodate, other hotel employees greeting you and wishing you well. In terms of club service willing to help, extend and provide their signature “MOments of delight” service. Once my mom was in conversation with the manageress of MO-SIN club about having a bit of a cramps after trying authentic chinese reflexology at people’s park complex singapore. When we returned later from shopping at Takashimaya and Crystal Jade Golden Palace, there was a note on the desk with 3 flasks of tiger balm special neck&shoulder rub with compliments and well wishes by the club staff…… We stayed loyal after experiencing this Moment of delight ever since to both MO and the tigerbalm 🙂 Their service is what really stands out as an Asian hotel.

    But actually Lucky could you be so kind in adding to your goals, try all flagship properties of MO, Penninsula, Raffles, Shangri-La, Shilla and other asian premium hotel chains….

  23. I stayed quite a bit at the MO KL, and have to agree that it does seem a bit outdated. With that being said, the price point for a property in the heart of KLCC was the draw for me. That, and the concierge lounge felt like the exclusive perk you would expect from a high-end property.

  24. The MO Kuala Lumpur is not the best MO hotel indeed (especially since it is one of the older properties). I stayed there last year, but found the stay to be ok, especially given the fact that the room rates are not very expensive. But compare it to a Holiday Inn is really pretentious (sorry, Ben :-)). I still have to find a Holiday Inn with such a stunning infinity pool, a marble clad lobby, fine dining venues, and oversized bedrooms.

    MO is currently renovating a lot of its older properties (Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Munich) to get them back in line with the ultraluxurious character of the brand. By the way, Ben, since I guess you fancy luxury hotels as much as I do: you must try their new beach resort in Bodrum: by far the best beach resort in the Mediterranean (amazing beyond words). And I am heading to their property in Marrakech soon, which also looks stunning.

  25. I’ve stayed at two MO’s. The Atlanta location is getting a little old. Gym was just okay (I thought it would be better b/c I believe this is a hotel/residence). Didn’t get a chance to eat at the restaurants…room was fine. Nice large bathroom. Service was nice. Also stayed at Vegas location. The Lobby Bar is something special. Gym is very good.

    My hotel of choice is Shangri-La, but alas, there are no locations in America. The Toronto S-L is my home hotel.

  26. I don’t get all the shade thrown here Lucky – you state you practically got the room for free given the rate inclusions, but then bitch about it. Seems a perfectly adequate room to me, and given the rate paid and benefits received, a real steal. Seem silly to expect a lot more, for such little payment.

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