Why you SHOULDN’T stay at luxury hotels and fly first class…

In a recent installment of my UAE trip report I wrote a review of the InterContinental Abu Dhabi, which can be found here. Reader ORD-TGU left the following comment:

I am afraid that too much exposure to premium properties has you desensitized and numb! You state “On the whole I had a pleasant stay”. pleasant? Just by looking at those pictures I would be jumping up and down in bliss, it looks outstanding!
I hope all my vacations I could stay in these kind of properties! The lounge food selection looks great!

I invite you to a couple of nights at a motel 6 by the highway and breakfast on mystery meat so you can redefine “pleasant”

All in good spirit!

You know what the sad thing is, from my perspective? ORD-TGU is absolutely right, and I know it.

As I wrote the review of the InterContinental Abu Dhabi I tried to be as positive as I could. After all I got a suite with free minibar, access to a pretty nice club lounge, etc. I had a pleasant stay, but I can’t bring myself to say more… only because as a relative matter it wasn’t that special.

And this is the one part of my “hobby” that drives me nuts. Even if I don’t come across that way sometimes, I’m incredibly thankful for the trips I’m able to take and the fact that I’m able to do what I’m passionate about every day. At the same time, it drives me nuts that I can’t really get all that excited about flying business class anymore, or staying in a four star hotel. I remember how excited I used to get when I’d be able to fly, even if it was in a middle seat in coach.

But at the same time, I don’t want this blog to come across as if it’s written by a 12 year old girl that just won a day with Justin Bieber. Otherwise every review would read “ZOMG IT WAS AWESOME!” and I doubt that would help anyone out or be interesting to read.

When I fly international first class I always pinch myself, thinking about how I’m flying it for pennies on the dollar. At the same time, I try to be a bit critical and view my experience as if I paid full price. Why? Because if I didn’t, all of my trip reports would read exactly the same — “guys, I got on this airplane, and you won’t believe it… I HAD MY OWN BED! AND THEY FED ME REAL FOOD!” So for me it’s the little things that separate a great hotel stay or flight from a mediocre one.

But back to the InterContinental Abu Dhabi. The sad thing is how jaded I’ve become. Not to play the victim card here, but I did stay at three Aman resorts in India, which no doubt have me jaded for life.

I mean, at the Amanbagh in India we had five people (including the GM) wave us goodbye, not to mention we received a departure gift and there was a departure ceremony just for us.

At the Aman-i-Khas hotel we had eight people tell us goodbye, including both of the GMs.

After consistently receiving that level of personalized service, how can you really be wowed by anything else?

Anyway, I’m not sure what exactly my point is, but admitting there’s a problem is the first step to recovery, right? My next vacation will need to be at a Motel 6, I guess.

Filed Under: Advice, Travel
  1. Sounds kinda like you’re being whiny. 🙂 I don’t mean that in a mean way. However, I think you should appreciate that you can stay at these places. The trick is the find the one or two unique aspects of each property. At a luxury hotel it’s expected that you’re going to be served, and treated impeccably, and that your bed is the most comfortable bed everrrrr, etc. etc.

    I prefer a nice luxury hotel, and I’m always using my miles for upgrades. After traveling 20+ hours on a regular basis from the Middle East to the west coast of the US, I like arriving refreshed, and feeling fabulous, and ready to see my friends and family. I don’t want to arrive all tired, with an achy back from traveling in econ seats that are unnaturally too small and with way too little leg room. And, when I’ve been pounding the pavement sightseeing (especially in countries such as India) I like coming to a room that has a comfortable bed, guaranteed hot water, and a deep tub. I’m thankful that in a world in which the majority of people live in impoverished conditions, that I’ve been lucky enough to live and travel the way that I do.

    If you can’t get excited anymore maybe you should start staying in hostels and backpacking it (my worst nightmare), that may change your attitude.

  2. I think the point the commenter was trying to make is that its all well and good to talk about Intercontinentals in Abu Dhabi, but most people travel to where work takes them – and more likely than not that will entail Motel 6s overlooking truck stops rather than suites overlooking corniches.

    Also, I’ll add that perception of good service is relative. I cannot stand being made a fuss off either on planes or at hotels. My business travel philosophy is “LMTFA” (Leave Me The F*** Alone). My favourite hotels are the ones where the staff quietly work in the background without being noticed, not the places that have a “departure ceremony”. The less people I deal with on a stay/flight, the more I usually enjoy it. I’d probably find better value at the Motel 6 than in the Intercontinental most days of the week!

    I enjoy reading your stuff, if only to reinforce to me in my day job that traveler preferences can vary considerably, so the best service providers are the ones who can create a modular delivery system that is able to cater to a range of preferences without diluting quality.

  3. What’s the problem of the reader? I guess he is just jealous, at least I am 🙂 I think you’re thanful and you love your job. It’s your job to be critical on a very high level, if you weren’t, all the reviews were the same as you mentioned in your blog post. Compared to a motel 6 all four, five stars hotels are great, but it doesn’t mean that all 5 stars hotel are that great.

    Not to mention that I pay much more on a 5 star propery than at a motel 6, so I can expect a better service, nicer room and so on.

  4. I like reading your reviews becuase frankly I don’t stay at Motel 6 and if I’m choosing between the Le Meridien Khao Lak or the InterContinental Abu Dhabi or some Park Hyatt, I want to know which one was the best.

    If you were comparing Holiday Inn to InterContinental, that might be different. But you’re not. You’re comparing 5 star hotels that offer a particular level of services and sometimes they do it well, and sometimes they do it really, really well.

    Stay away from Motel 6 vacations!

  5. Try a few legs down the back on a United Economy Flight… that’ll bring back the nightmare quick enough.

    I’ve had enough of economy reviews of a tiny bit (as all of mine were economy last year), and will be treating business and high end hotels with my harsh eye in February 😉

  6. Hi Ben.

    It’s not exciting to stay in hotels that are not “an experience”. It’s not exciting not to be wow’ed.

    That is why my best advice is to skip the chain hotels as much as you can. Find the great independent hotels which can wow me a lot.

    Avoid business hotels is another advice and look for hotels with it’s own unique character. An experience you can only get in that hotel. Aman is good at having lots of staffs to take care of you, but often one fantastic staff can make as good an impression.

    Some Leading Hotels of the World or Small Luxury Hotels of the World is world class, but a lot would be forgettable.

    After more than 400 hotels I always look for Relais&Chateaux as my first choice. It’s a unique experience every time. It’s something different and it will wow you many times. You can always count on great food as well which often is very average in a SLH or LHW property.

    Also keep in mind that stars has nothing to do with a hotel experience. It’s often set after how many facilities you how. Many 5-star hotels is very disappointing as an “experience” because it’s only focus is the business travellers. Lots of 4 star hotels can wow you, but you have to look for the right ones and do a lot of research on each hotel you select.

    Just wanted to share my opinion on this very interesting subject.

    All the best and safe travels,

  7. Lucky, your reviews are excellent. You review a premium (supposed to be anyway) product, which is and should be held to a higher standard than a Motel 6. If folks need a “regular” review, then look it up on Tripadvisor.

  8. I think it’s a matter of balance. My strategy is to use my paid stays in the middle, then use my rewards for those knockout experiences…like the Sofitel Hua Hin in Thailand where they picked me up at the train station in a rickshaw! I still have the teddy bear given to me as a welcome gift from the Conrad Hong Kong, even though my stay was in 2001.

  9. While ORD-TGU has a point, I have to say that everything is relative. One could use the same argument that ORD-TGU should enjoy his stays at Motel 6 and the mystery meat because there are people far worst off, starving, dying, etc. Sorry for sounding all “holier than thou”, only trying to to point out relativity and subjective perspectives.

    At the end of the day, for me and my friends that follow you, what we enjoy most are your objective assessments of the values of the miles/points and the difference between the services promised and actually given. Great job!

    My one critique: Although it’s unintentional, for someone that’s just jumping into the “milage game”, you and other fellow bloggers do give off a vibe or may leave the reader with an impression that most of the miles and points come “free”. Either through credit card sign ups or through bonus miles from shopping malls, etc. I kind of wish we get a sense of how you obtain your miles, to be specific, of all the miles accrued, what percentage would you say was from credit cards, purchases, and business reimbursed expenses. Just to get a better idea of what would work for each reader’s personal situation.

    Sorry for going off topic, great blog!

  10. It is interesting that I thought the same thing when I was reading about your decision to pay for a room at the Park Hyatt Shanghai and use a confirmed suite upgrade. My first thought was, “why the #@!! do you need a 1400 square foot hotel room?” I understand if you have a family with you or are entertaining clients, or the like. But just for a place to sleep?

    Now perhaps you have some need for such a huge room, I don’t know. But it made me think that perhaps you have stayed in too many really high-end hotels.

    I do not recommend writing reviews of the local airport Motel 6, but perhaps staying at a few lower-end hotels will make you appreciate the high-end hotels a little more. Recalibrate your expectations a bit.

    And every review does not have to gush and praise. However, it is not impossible to point out how each hotel was unique or special, or about the things they did really well and the things that they could improve. Making comparisons between similar hotels would also be useful.


  11. You travel and review luxury hotels for a living. That’s why I read your blog – to see insight into the luxury travel experience. I say you don’t change a thing.

  12. I feel the same way, Luckster — I try and mix up the trips and stay at a local, somewhat 1-star minus place that has loads of character. I feel that, if you have seen one Hyatt/SPG/Hilton lounge, you have really seen them all with few exceptions. It is fun, cheaper, and I get a lot more out of it. However, it is tough to pay for accommodations when I can stay somewhere else, nicer, but a bit more bland for free. Free trumps a lot of other things….

  13. Folks can (invariably will) sort it out for themselves. Business travelers do what they have to do sometimes (Marriott, Hyatt, and yep, even the occasional Motel 6, etc) and for some of us with some flex in that, we choose B&B’s or smaller non-affiliate hotels (e.g., travelsort properties) sometimes, just for the experience.

    For the airlines and reward bookings, the points aren’t free – they are earned (some more than others we all know) and using them efficiently or extravagantly is a matter of personal choice and an ongoing cost vs benefit analysis. Keep those reviews coming, and yes, some perspective is helpful and healthy.

  14. Wow, I did not think that my comment would stir up the hornet’ nest, some readers have very strong opinions!

    Talking about opinions, Lucky, your reviews are your opinions, and the comments from the readers are all their opinions, we dont have to all agree, some like it one way some other ways, after all, different strokes for different folks.

    I was just stating how the use of “pleasant” can be interpreted differently from readers.

    Lucky, keep on with your reviews, I think you do a great job reviewing premium properties, you have found a segment in travel industry journalism that not many others do. And I find that sharing credit card bonus and offers, we can all achieve these aspirational awards/redemptions.

    Finally, my sincerest apology to Motel 6, it has not done anything bad to me to get so much bad vibe, after all I am a A|Club Platinum member!

    I do invite you to review arrival on TGU, it is one of the shortest runways in the world, surrounded by mountains and a cliff at the end of the runway.

  15. Perhaps you just need to mix it up a bit. I stay at a Hampton Inn almost as often as I do a Hyatt. A quarter of my domestic flights last year were still a middle seat in coach because my girlfriend’s companion upgrade didn’t come through on CO (so I sat back with her) and she wants the window seat. I know what you’re saying about getting used to the finer things. But sometimes enjoying, not just putting up with, an ordinary product makes the luxury ones that much better.

  16. Mixing it up could help. It might also be interesting to see if you can find a non-luxury hotel that gives you amazing service.

  17. I really appreciate all your reviews Lucky and your readers’ comments as well. Thanks to your ‘team’ my wife and I have booked 3 Round the World tours and without your blog it would have been very difficult if not impossible. Thanks to your advice and reviews we’ve been to CDG, MUC, IST, BKK (3X), FRA, HKT, ATH and we are going to FRA, ICN, NRT, BKK, SGN, HKG. Most of these flights were/will be in First and again without you it would not have been possible.

    I’ve probably read every post on your blog as I do our research and I really believe that you are very thankful and you mention countless times how “Lucky” and appreciative you are. It’s not everyone that can be passionate and motivated about their work, I believe you are and you are very open and honest about this.

    Ironically just like your reviews are very personal and opinionated, so are the reviews (comments) on your blog.

    This is my favorite website, by far ! Please keep up the great work and do not change.


  18. I can see both points of view. When I stay at a 5* resort I have higher expectations because it is, well, a 5* resort. When I stay at a Hampton Inn I lower the bar and make my assessment based on similar properties.

  19. I would LOVE to read a trip report of your flying international economy (preferably in the middle seat, and yes economy plus is still cheating) and staying at a 2 Star Hotel (I wouldn’t subject you to 1 Star service)! 😀

  20. I think it would be great to post something like. The best:

    1 star (aka motel6?)
    2 star
    3 star
    4 star
    5 star

    Hotels and rank them accordingly. Everything is a matter of perspective. IF you normally stay at Motel6 AND you feel bad about reading these posts, stop reading.

    Don’t you read auto magazines comparing Mercedes and BMW?

  21. Good point, Ben… you have to have some objectivity at some level and this is an excellent way to explain where you’re coming from.

  22. I have always hesitated springing for Business Class tickets not only because of the additional cost in either miles or dollars. But, I feel legitimately concerned that I will look differently at economy than I do right now. I already feel concerned about how comfortable flying has been as an elite the last 2 years and what happens when I’m not flying on an airline I have status with.

    To that end, and the fact that it’s always been my preference for social reasons, I still try to stay in hostels anytime I leave the country. Keep me humble 🙂

  23. I’m with Matt and DanR, you’re a luxury travel writer. You know what Motel 6 and economy is like. That’s not what this blog is about. I sense humility in your writing always, keep it up!

  24. I think the secret to me, personally, enjoying luxury travel is to appreciating and acknowledging excellence but not getting too disappointed if service falls short. Of course one notices the failures, and in your case you need to mention them in your review, but also really celebrate the successes, it shows everyone what the potential is or can be.

  25. i really think you should drop that ‘modest’ attitude and stop calling it a ‘hobby’, ’cause it simply sounds extremely fake when you fly first class week in and out and book five star hotels. Absolutely nothing wrong with that, just no reason to pretend like you are some fresh out of college joe smith, when it’s clearly not the case. i’m a big fan of your blog and enjoy reading it, so no harm intended.

  26. On good bye ceremonies – you’ve got to try an onsen resort. The GM (sometimes a lady dressed in a kimono) and at least three staffers will line up outside before you depart (even in the rain) and they wave. You wave. And they wave. Wave until you can’t see them waving anymore or your arm falls off. And then peek through the trees… They’ll still be waving.

  27. First of all, Ben’s “About” section on the top states:

    “The purpose of his blog is to share his travel experiences – those both in the air and on the ground – and stay updated on the latest in the travel industry, from promotions to program changes to mergers.”

    Since Ben has been staying at luxury-brand hotels most of the time, he is giving us his honest opinions when he visits a different property. People have to chill with this topic since I’m sure most of you want to redeem your points/miles on the best airline/hotel not an airline/hotel that is half-assing it most of the time.

  28. Speaking of Aman resorts, I have been wanting to go to one for awhile now. Trying to do it on for pennies on the dollar is hard though. I can get there with miles, but they are not part of a chain that offers the signup bonuses etc. Do you have any tips on how to get better rates at Aman resorts?

  29. I think part of your problem is that you travel to and experience these things – hotels, airlines – just for their own sake.

    I know you do a small bit of sightseeing but you aren’t reviewing the luxury hotel in the context of your vacation with the girlfriend/wife; you aren’t reviewing your F seat and flight in the context of having to walk in to the client’s office first thing that morning and give a make-or-break sales presentation, etc. So you just end up comparing ammenities X,Y, and Z among various luxury chains. It sometimes comes off as, well, artificial and forced – to me anyway. Like the “3 Perfect Days” series in Hemispheres.

    I’d like to know what someone’s impression of the place is in the context of an experience I might actually have, but that’s just me.

    I also prefer to stay, overseas anyway, in non-chain local hotels. I want to experience what’s different about a Japanese business hotel in Tokyo, instead of (essentially) the same InterContinental that I would see in any other city. Or even a small, mid-range boutique type hotel in Paris rather than the Hyatt or whatever. I often have experiences and meet people that I probably wouldn’t in the sterile luxury behemoth hotel.

    Plus, it’s human nature that what you experience routinely becomes the baseline for what you then expect. I know many readers want your luxury reviews. But try some things that are still nice but off the beaten path. You’re young but sooner or later, you will have hit every major luxury hotel in most popular destinations…what then?

  30. @Reader, I must be reading a different blog than you are. I don’t see Lucky as arrogant.

    He mentions constantly that he is “blessed” or “Lucky” that he could do this. He is passionate about his hobby, in fact he turned it into a Career.

    and @PanAm I appreciate that you would have different vacation patterns than Lucky, but a lot of us (based on the RTW threads) love the journey more than the destination. Perhaps the type of reviews you are looking for could be found on Tripadvisor.com and Tripwolf.com (Which I use all the time to book hotels) I can afford to fly on points but I can’t afford to pay full price for 5 Star and I do not have any hotel rewards.

  31. For me the big difference is this –

    Did I ‘earn’ the spot up front or in this room or did I somehow ‘cheat’ to get up there.

    I’m as jaded as you when it comes to ‘blowing me away’ and throughout the past year I found that I viewed trips I ‘pay’ for very differently than the trips I don’t.

    My expectations for service, quality and value in which I’m shelling out serious coin are far different from my expectations of experiences I’m having from shelling out serious points/miles.

    This may fly in the face of what all of these travel bloggers are writing about, but in the end when I use my own money I EXPECT to be blown away. When I use points I realize how lucky am I to have this experience when so many others will NEVER be in the same place as I – regardless of how may credit card offers they complete.

  32. Love your blog … keep it up !!
    I’m one of the folks that believe the journey is half the trip.

    As cranking it down a notch or so to keep things in perspective, didn’t you recently fly/review Southwest 🙂

  33. Ben you write a great blog hence your following. I think the reader comment is from jealously. I love hearing about all your adventures. I think we are all at different places in life and can learn from each other. I don’t believe you have children but if you do someday your hotel redemption strategy might change a bit. For me I save those luxury hotel stays for me & the hubby. I love to stretch the points out for vacations with the kids. They don’t care and we hardly spend anytime at the hotel. Just really just a crash pad. So I think you should enjoy the luxury stays since you can afford it. Why in the world would you want to stay at Motel 6. Sounds crazy to me!!

  34. Ben, how did you stay at the Aman Resorts with points? Their properties all look incredible but I’m not aware of any way to book a stay there without paying full price–or is that what you did?

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