A Long Weekend in London…

As you may recall, a couple of months ago I was alerted to an amazing opportunity to redeem 25,000 Starwood Preferred Guest points for 2 tickets to see Adele in concert at the O2 in London. In a suite. It was clearly an opportunity I couldn’t resist and this past weekend, my sister and I made the trek across the pond for the show and a weekend in London.

London is one of my favorite cities in the world. It’s very walkable, has some great pubs and great sites, and is nearly as easy to reach for those of us who live in or around Boston as it would be to get to California. We chose to fly Virgin Atlantic using 60,000 Delta miles and about $162 in taxes each. We had debated over what our best option would be given that taxes on award tickets to London are generally quite high. We finally settled on using Delta miles for the roundtrip as the taxes on the roundtrip award were quite reasonable. When we priced it as two one ways, the taxes were in the vicinity of $300 but were only $162 as a roundtrip. While 60,000 miles is not cheap (considering it could be as little as 25,000 to Dublin or California), given the timing of the flights and the alternatives, this ended up being the best choice for us.

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I have to say that I wasn’t overwhelmed with Virgin Atlantic although it wasn’t horrendous either. The seats were terrible. Not good. Granted I haven’t flown 6 hours in coach in a while, and while I easily fell asleep, I was awoken by pain in my tailbone due to the lack of padding in the seat. And I wasn’t able to get comfortable again after that. I didn’t notice the padding issue on the return but that was a daytime flight so I was moving around a bit more. The seats were quite narrow with little leg room, but I suppose that’s relatively normal for airlines these days. On a positive note, the food was quite edible and unlimited beverages, including wine and spirits were provided. And the entertainment selection was also quite good. I got caught up on several movies I have been wanting to see so the time passed quickly.

In London, we chose to stay at the Intercontinental Park Lane which is a hotel we’ve stayed at before. It’s very centrally located to Piccadilly Circus, Hyde Park, and other sites like Buckingham Palace. We used two of our IHG free night certificates for two nights there. And it was a very enjoyable stay. The rooms are small, but that’s standard for London. And we weren’t upgraded (despite our status) as seems to be standard for the IHG program. But our stay was perfectly enjoyable.

We spent our first day in London getting caught up on sleep missed on the flight over, having a pub lunch, and seeing Deirdre O’Kane in one of her first stand up shows since taking 7 years off to raise her kids. She was hysterical. I highly recommend seeing her if you ever get the chance.

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The second day we walked about 9 miles around London seeing sites we had seen before (Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, Hyde Park, etc.) and others we hadn’t seen before (like the inside of Westminster Abbey for Evensong service on Palm Sunday). We stayed on US time while in London so we had a few late nights, including an 8pm dinner at Cicchettis in Piccadilly Circus which was wonderful. Others must love it as well as there were lots of photos on the walls of the owner and celebrities.

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Our third day in London was the big day. We were off to North Greenwich for the concert. The Tube ride was efficient and there were big signs pointing the way to the Intercontinental O2 upon exiting. It was about a 5 minute walk from the Tube to the Intercontinental and in no time we were checked in. We may have been the first to stay in this particular room as the hotel is only a few months old and there was no sign of wear at all in the room (see other pictures at the end of the post).

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While we were only at the Intercontinental O2 for about 24 hours, we enjoyed our stay. There appeared to be improvements or maintenance happening throughout the hotel, but it didn’t affect our stay. We had a great view of the river and all the staff we interacted with were friendly and helpful. There isn’t a better option for concerts at the O2 simply for its proximity. There are plenty of places to frequent for food and drink, even if you aren’t attending a concert, and it’s only about a 10 minute bus ride into Greenwich as well.

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Access to the SPG suite didn’t happen until 630pm, but we arrived at the arena around 6pm for drinks at the American Express Invites Lounge and a little shopping. The Invite Lounge was a nice place to wait, but nothing special. We each only got a Coke in anticipation of the suite experience. In retrospect, we probably should have gotten a little something to eat as well…

At 630pm sharp, we headed up the escalators to the suite. Passing several different suites en route, I anticipated what would be offered for dinner! We couldn’t wait! We were the first to arrive in the SPG suite, and that included the suite host. He arrived about 10 minutes after we did. And there was no food. Nothing. And the fridge was locked so no drinks either…

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About 45 minutes after we arrived, they were able to open the fridge and wine was brought in, but still no food. Basically, the host ended up calling in “arena” food which was eventually delivered (as the show was starting – 1.5 hours after doors opened). The arena food was hot dogs, burgers, and nachos. Definitely not the gnocchi, fish, and chicken dishes that were on offer during earlier shows.

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We are reaching out to SPG to find out what might have happened. Our host was a very nice and friendly guy and we’re not sure if he dropped the ball or someone else did. But everyone in the suite was disappointed by the lack of offerings and what appeared to be an uncoordinated evening. There was also a group (who shall remain nameless) that were a bit obnoxious in the suite and that took a little bit away from the evening as well.

But Adele was phenomenal. I love her. I can’t say enough about what a joy she was to watch perform. I would love to see her again at some point. She’s so humble and gracious and funny. And, of course, her set list included everything that I would have wanted to hear her perform.

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The next day we headed back home. We had a nice lunch with a friend in the city center before making the trek to the airport. Before heading home, the news was dominated by the terror attacks in Brussels at the airport and on the subway. It goes without saying that that was on our minds during our Tube ride to Heathrow and while checking in at the airport.

But we arrived home without issue and with many unforgettable memories from a weekend that quite literally would not have been possible without miles and points. In the end, we spent about $400 each. $162 of that was made up of the taxes on our award flights. $45 was airport parking, $12.50 was the Deirdre O’Kane comedy show. The rest was food, souvenirs, and 3 Tube rides.

And that was the best $400 I’ve spent in a really long time.

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