Welcome to my multi-part review of our summer vacation. We spent 12 days abroad, predominately in Athens and Paris. We did squeeze in about half a day in Amsterdam before heading home. While I’m writing the series, I’m happy to answer any questions you have ahead of time. We traveled in mid-July, so right in the middle of the Athens financial crisis. Here’s most of what I expect to cover, including links to posts I’ve already completed:
- Planning Our Summer Vacation!
- British Airways First and Business Class Lounges at Philadelphia Airport
- US Airways Business Class from Philadelphia to Athens
- Arion: A Luxury SPG Resort (Various Posts)
- Flying From Athens To Paris
- Hyatt Regency Etoile Paris
- Eiffel Tower
- Arc de Triomphe
- Disneyland Paris
- A Study of Macaroons
- Various Restaurant Reviews
- Taking The Train From Paris To Amsterdam
- Sheraton Schiphol Airport
- US Airways Business Class from Amsterdam to Philadelphia
Upon landing we were quickly through customs. I’d have to say this was the fastest and most relaxed customs experience I can recall. I had done very little research on transportation options to the hotel prior to departing. Public transportation seemed to be a bad fit given the timing and number of suitcases we were carrying, though it looks like a reasonable option to downtown. I had assumed we would take a taxi and had considered a hotel transfer, but given that the Arion is a high-end resort, the pricing was ouchy.
Once we cleared customs it was literally a 20-foot walk to the cab line. As we stepped outside, it was clear that all the taxi cabs were sedans and unlikely to fit our party of 5. On cue, a gentleman in a suit came up and asked if we needed a ride. He had a new Mercedes minivan and offered to take us to the hotel for 100 Euro. Given what I had read about taxi pricing and that we would need two of them, this seemed like a good deal.
He turned out to be extremely knowledgable and friendly. He quickly loaded the luggage and passed out bottled water and dispensed restaurant and sightseeing tips. We were arriving in the midst of the Greek debt crisis in mid-July, and he shared how that had been affecting the country. He was happy to have tourists to help support the economy. It was roughly a 25-minute journey to the resort without much in the way of sights along the way until very close to the hotel.
The next part of the story requires a short rewind. When we were considering the Arion, we were also hoping to score an upgrade to a bungalow. The property has a decent number of them that surround the lagoon area and some even have their own private pools. I thought this would be a treat for the kids, though it’s clear the purpose of the rooms is more romantic than family-oriented.
My SPG ambassador had made a few overtures to the property about being upgraded into one for a co-pay. This is a strategy I’ve used frequently in the past, where you redeem points for a room and offer to pay a small amount of cash per day to upgraded to a much better room. If the property knows it may have trouble filling those suites, it’s a way for them to sell another regular room and still get some cash from the suite.
In our case, the word back from the property was that they couldn’t confirm an upgrade to a bungalow at that time. My ambassador advised that we wait until closer to check-in and ask again. He also recommended we book a deluxe suite on points if we wanted to guarantee that we had more room to spread out as a family. During the time we were having the discussion, it also became clear we were going to be a total of 5 people as our quasi-adopted 3rd child, Gabby, would be joining us for the trip. I made the decision to book the deluxe suite at a total cost of 200,000 points for 5 nights (50,000 points a night, 5th night free) and a deluxe room for 85,000 points total (20,000 points for the first 3 nights, 25,000 points for the 4th, and the 5th night free).
As we got closer to our arrival, my ambassador and I noticed that the deluxe suites were actually selling for more per night than the bungalows, and that bungalows were still available for my dates. Again, he reached out to the property but they weren’t willing to offer any sort of buy-up to upgrade to a bungalow. He suggested I try at check-in, which I was certainly going to do.
At check-in, I was quickly told that an upgrade to a bungalow was impossible. When I calmly pushed back a bit, inquiring about buying up to a bungalow, I was quickly passed off to a manager. I explained about our earlier inquiries and he said that he didn’t think it was possible but he wanted some time to inquire. And, then, things got a bit weird. He said something along the lines of, “We always have this problem with ambassadors. The property has a standing rule that we do not upgrade award rooms to bungalows. They should know this and they should have informed you of such.”
I certainly never got that message. I also don’t believe my ambassador ever did, or else he probably would have said something as I politely pestered him over the months leading up to our stay to see if we’d made any progress on a bungalow.
I told the manager that message had definitely not been received on our end. I also told him we had reserved a deluxe suite because we wanted to assure ourselves of an upgrade and not leave it to chance with Suite Night Awards, and that our hope was that the larger amount of points the property was receiving plus a cash co-pay on our part might warrant a bungalow. I wasn’t sure if all the international properties were familiar with Suite Night Awards, but it became clear very quickly this manager was.
He said he didn’t understand why I had redeemed so many points, and why I didn’t just use my Suite Night Awards to upgrade from a standard room. He also invited us to enjoy the breakfast buffet free of charge while he did some research. The breakfast buffet was near ending but we enjoyed a quick and satisfying bite to eat. While the rest of the family were finishing up, I went back to the front desk to see where things stood.
He confirmed that the only way we could book a bungalow would be to refund my points and charge me the full cash rate (gulp, no!). He also said that he had spoken with his manager and that I shouldn’t have had to spend that many points on a room given that I had Suite Night Awards. He advised me to contact my ambassador and that the property was fine with me booking a lesser category room and refunding some points. He said my ambassador could interact with the property to resolve this.
Our rooms were also available at this point, so we were invited to check-in much earlier than normal and headed on our way upstairs. Here’s the rub. I sent an e-mail to my ambassador recapping the conversation. He reached out to the property, who denied ever saying anything of the sort to me. Huh?
After a short conversation with my ambassador via phone when I returned, I dropped the issue without pushing further on what the property had outlined.
Which leaves me with a question for you. If I fast forward and tell you that virtually every other aspect of our stay met or exceeded our expectations, am I:
- Reasonable for letting it go and enjoying a great family vacation.
- A chump for not pushing back on something that was promised.
Can’t wait to hear your response! Stay tuned for room reviews and a property tour.