Why did I spend $1,400 on a non-point-earning stay?
The Omicron variant that spread like wildfire affected my plans around New Years. I was supposed to hang out with friends from North America in Paris, Lisbon, and Amsterdam, but found myself in Latin America instead.
Due to the ignorance of whether more restrictions were going to be put in place in Europe, we decided to go to Mexico City instead.
As we all know, airfares often don’t make much sense. I needed to buy a business class ticket to Mexico or redeem miles about a week before departure.
Fares to Mexico from Europe were a bit higher than usual. AeroMexico offers low fares from Spain to Brazil that allow stopovers in Mexico City in both directions, without HIP. I bought one and found myself in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo in early January.
Sheraton Grand Rio de Janeiro
I’ve stayed at this hotel at least a dozen times, but it’s not quite what it used to be. The service has been “marriottized”.
The upgrade I saw on the app disappeared the moment I got the room key. I was placed in a room directly overlooking the nasty Faro Beach club which plays music until 10am on weekends (yes – I experienced that on my last previous visit), and the air conditioning was not working.
The hotel claimed to be full and could not resolve these issues. So I asked them to find me a hunter and cancel the trip.
JW Marriott Copacabana
I hadn’t returned to the JW Marriott Copacabana for a few years as the hard product is basically Courtyard quality. I was there once with a friend from Asia (in 2018), and he was shaking his head considering how good JWs are in Asia and lackluster in Rio.
The hotel upgraded me to a sea facing room with a nice view of Copacabana. The room, however, was too small, and the decor and furnishings had an ‘ibis’ quality.
What I considered:
This, like JW, is mislabeled but is even more dated than the Marriott. Decor must be from the 1990s when this hotel was still Le Méridien and later Windsor before Hilton took over in 2018, promising renovations that have yet to happen. I might even take the dated decor if the excellent service was still there, like in 2018/2019, but it’s not.
Fairmont Copacabana, former Sofitel, really struggles with service. I have also stayed at this Sofitel/Fairmont at least a dozen times. When I was there in November, housekeeping came in twice on the same day when DND was hanging out, and on the last day I woke up at 7am when a clerk was in the suite living room .
The hotel promised to “investigate” what happened, which is the last I heard from them. The hotel management is simply incompetent (same general manager as when it was a Sofitel).
Fasano (Leading Hotels of the World) and Emilian (Small Luxury Hotels) are two hotels I have not stayed at. I couldn’t get a decent quote from them for the stay, and I wasn’t willing to try a new hotel after the Sheraton & JW debacle.
Hotels in Barra (Grand Hyatt and Hilton). There are several good quality hotels in Barra, but location is a huge downside. Unless you plan to stay all or most of your time in Rio there, the area just doesn’t make sense. However, I spent several weeks at the Grand Hyatt and know the hotel well.
Copacabana Palace is probably the best known of all hotels in Rio and has been in business for a long time. I had stayed there before booking a Bellini Club rate for a suite and later extending it using a ridiculously low OTA rate.
After unsatisfactory Marriott properties, I knew I needed something that wouldn’t cause too much trouble. So I emailed a travel agent I use to book consortia and other premium rates, to make a reservation for one night using the Bellini Club Suite package which includes breakfast for two, early check-in/late check-out (subject to availability), upgrade (subject to availability) and $200 F&B credit.
Check in was chaotic as before as they had a large group leaving, but I just walked to the restaurant to type on my laptop, and soon a manager was helping with check in.
I told him that I didn’t know where I was going to spend the next two nights and that I might end up extending the stay. She then decided to block the same suite until Sunday if I decided to extend it.
The upgraded suite with a view of Copacabana was lovely and the AC worked great. I had the manager on my whatsapp in case something happened.
We had a great time at the hotel, so the next day I decided I could book two extra nights if they extended the F&B credit for the second booking (usually not applicable for consecutive stays but still negotiable).
I ended up paying about the same price as a suite at the JW or Sheraton, but staying at a much superior hotel with generous F&B credit and obviously with a different, nicer mix of guests.
My friend was surprised to hear that I had decided to stay at a non-point earning property and suggested I cover it here.
We’ve reached or are about to reach a point with some of these airline and hotel “loyalty” programs that aren’t worth the time, effort and money when better options exist without them. hassle.
Usually, I’m most satisfied with well-run city business hotels or certain select service brands with a clearly defined product (you know exactly what you’re getting). Often, chain-managed luxury properties are the ones that fail miserably. Maybe mixing budget properties and luxury properties is not the way to go as they require completely different mindsets, i.e., Fairfield Inn versus a Ritz-Carlton?
I am more than happy to return to Hilton Rio de Janeiro or JW Marriott Copacabana once their product is aligned to brand standards. Fairmont Rio de Janeiro, formerly Sofitel, has always struggled with staff. I don’t know if they will ever be able to fix it, for example see a previous post where I detailed how one of their team members used some new $100 bills from my wallet.
Sheraton Grand can’t do much with the sleeping-inhibiting outside beach club (the usual reason to stay in a hotel), where they have weekend parties until 10am , apart from buying them.
Why should we accept inferior service? I’ve always said hospitality isn’t hard, but over-promising and under-delivering is not a recipe for success in any industry.
So why did I decide to spend $1,400 on a non-point earning hotel and would happily do so in the future if needed? Product and service quality. We have to vote with our wallets when it comes to lackluster companies.
Copacabana Palace was more than I usually pay for a hotel in Rio de Janeiro, but the quality and experience was well worth the price.