Without question, I receive tremendous value when redeeming miles and points, and particularly on the hotel front. Combined with elite status perks, hotel awards have not only allowed for some great stays at properties that would otherwise have been a bit out of reach for me, but have made the increasing frequency of travel in our household a little less painful.
So I’m a big fan of using points for hotels, particularly when said points can be acquired inexpensively or through credit cards. But there are times when using points for a hotel just doesn’t make sense — or where hotels don’t make sense in general.
And one of those times is when you realize at the last minute that you need a hotel in London for three people.
Last minute? You’ve been talking about this trip for actual months!
Yeah, I know. But for almost all of that time I was planning on a different version of the trip. Travel is easy when it’s just Ben and I — we don’t even care if we’re at the same hotel — but it’s different when I have my family in tow.
A few days before we left, a change in plans meant there was an extra ticket to the One Direction concert. And because Ben is a fantastic friend and a generally good sport, we invited my 15-year-old niece to come along:
A further reshuffling of plans meant my husband would be flying with her, so in the space of a few hours we’d gone from “doesn’t matter, wherever you want to stay” to “ZOMG need to find a hotel room for three people in one of the most difficult cities to do that in.”
London geography wasn’t helping either
For those unfamiliar with London, the main airport, Heathrow, and the O2 Arena where the concert would be are about as far from each other as can be. They’re also on opposite sides of Central London, which is where the bulk of the hotels you’ve heard of are located.
So for this trip, we knew we wanted to stay closer to the O2. Two long commutes are easier for me to adjust my work schedule around than several short ones, so the goal was to stay as far East as possible — ideally in Canary Wharf or the Docklands.
Many London hotel rooms have a low capacity
That being said, I would have gladly dealt with a less-convenient location if there had been a Central London option that made sense on points. The challenge, however, is that most “standard” hotel rooms in London have a maximum occupancy of two.
Some chains will allow you to use additional points for premium rooms, but that adds a layer of complexity and there aren’t always many of these rooms available. But I started making my way through the list of award options just in case.
Of the Starwood hotels in London, there was nothing available in the central zone that could accommodate three people:
The Park Tower had availability, but we would have been crowded in a tiny room with a rollaway, and the location in Knightsbridge was less than ideal. So not a great option, especially for such an expensive redemption:
Of the Hyatt properties, the Churchill only allows three people in Junior Suites or larger — none of which were available.
The Andaz allows three people in a Large King, which isn’t bookable on points.
So that was out as well.
While it’s typically my backup hotel chain, Hilton probably has the broadest assortment of options in London, and is probably where you should start if you’re booking a room for a larger group.
I’ve had great stays at the Hilton London Tower Bridge, and it’s convenient enough for the O2. Rates were very very high at the last minute though:
I’ve also heard good things about the Hilton London Canary Wharf, which would have been ideal location-wise.
But to accommodate three people we would have had to book a Junior Suite, which was rather pricey:
Of all the major hotel chains, Club Carlson makes it the easiest to redeem for larger rooms, so they were a strong contender. The only property with availability was the Plaza on the River, which wouldn’t be super convenient, but was the most reasonable option so far.
Feeling frustrated, but not defeated, I looked at Marriott options as well. My husband has top-tier status there, so we could have taken advantage of his benefits, but there wasn’t anything particularly compelling.
In an effort to not leave any stone unturned, I also checked IHG options. Several of the Crowne Plaza properties will allow three or four people, though sadly none were available.
An alternative to hotels
Realizing that I was scraping the bottom of the points barrel if the best options were looking like an Holiday Inn Express, I thought of checking airbnb.
I’ve rented apartments for longer stays overseas — typically for a month or more — but this was the first time I’d considered renting a place for just a weekend. The idea was compelling though — if we could find something large enough, Ben could stay with us as well, which would make everything much more convenient.
I wasn’t interested in sharing space with a stranger, so filtered for private units with at least two bedrooms and two bathrooms:
And to my surprise (don’t judge, it had been a frustrating hotel search up until this point), there were tons of options available, and in the exact area we wanted to be:
Once we’d decided on a property, the actual booking was easy through the airbnb portal. A two bedroom and two bathroom apartment in Greenwich was about $620 all-in for the two nights — far better than the rates we’d been considering for hotels (in either points or dollars).
Even better, airbnb counts as a travel provider for the Barclaycard Arrival® Plus World Elite Mastercard®, so I’ll be able to use my points for a statement credit — making this stay still “mostly free to me” even without using traditional points.
While the accommodations weren’t as glamorous as some of the places we review around here (Ben will have his full review later), it was certainly serviceable. The location was great for us, and the views were fantastic.
Hotels can certainly be trickier when traveling with a larger group, and while London typically has tons of options for using points, sometimes it just doesn’t work out.
But we ended up with something that worked just fine for us, and was still a pretty good value overall. And everyone slept well, which is the most important thing!
Have you tried airbnb overseas? What would you have done in this case?
If you don’t already have an account with airbnb, you can receive a $25 credit when you sign up as a new user. We receive a credit as well, which we of course appreciate. Feel free to share your links if you’re a current user!