“Do you know of any cheap and good staycation options?”
This has been one of the most frequent questions posed to hotel and travel writers during the past few months. Everybody wants to know which hotels they should book: single men, dating couples, married couples with children, guys who want a venue for a birthday party, guys and girls who wish to show their formidable cleavage or their wet sausage legs in the swimming pool on social media, girls looking for where is best for their hen’s night, women wanting to treat their mums etc. For those who never had the habit of going for staycations but are now considering one due to currently limited options in terms of avenues for leisure and spending time with loved ones, deciding the best hotel for your staycation at might prove to be quite the daunting endeavour.
I recently reviewed the website stats for my Singapore hotel reviews and articles, and the numbers have jumped to an all-time high and have remained consistently high since the end of Singapore’s Circuit Breaker. It does seem everybody is searching hard for hotel reviews, recommendations and deals these days.
I must confess that “lowest price” has never been one of my realms of expertise, given the website’s emphasis on luxury experiences. While it is prudent under our current economic climate to be restrained when it comes to setting your staycation budget, I do have strong reservations about choosing hotels purely based on the lowest price possible, for reasons which I will explain below. However, I am by no means a snob when it comes to great value, and would celebrate a terrific bargain and trumpet about it on social media any day.
In this article, I propose 5 key questions people should ask themselves before booking a staycation hotel to ensure they have the best staycation experience possible. These questions are meant to open your mind and encourage the adoption of a long-term strategy towards your future hotel bookings which will give you what you really want from a hotel stay as well as stretch your dollar as much as possible.
IS GOING FOR “CHEAP” WORTH IT?
In these tumultuous times, unless you star in Singapore Social or have the means to splurge on the top suite at W Singapore just to brag about it on Instagram Stories, it may be very natural to stalk Agoda, Klook or websites like the value-centric The Milelion or the luxury hotel chain-focused The Shutterwhale for staycation deals, and then shortlist your research findings based on the lowest prices.
However, the Chinese saying “one cent money, one cent worth” is usually true when it comes to hotel rates. There are of course budget and boutique options around – respectable properties with individual unique selling points in their own right – which offer rates below S$200 such as M Social Singapore, Hotel Mono, Lloyd’s Inn Singapore, lyf Funan, Hotel Soloha, Hotel G, Four Points by Sheraton Singapore Riverview etc. However, you need to be realistic and reasonable in your expectations if you wish to proceed with such options, be it in terms of the room experience itself, service standards, attentiveness of staff, modernity and maintenance of the premises, hygiene and cleanliness levels, availability of facilities or the quality of food at the club lounges or breakfast. There are few things more fascinating and uncomfortable to watch than the formidable diva tantrum of somebody in a mid-range hotel who booked a basic room through Agoda demanding top service with the indignation and self-importance of a Four Seasons Hotel Singapore guest.
By way of illustration, I am more likely to fear for my health and well-being due to inadequacies in operational systems and SHN guest management at one of the above hotels than I would at, say, a hotel like the Ritz-Carlton, Millenia Singapore which usually costs two or three times more for a basic room.
While the allure of a great deal (or simply spending as little money as possible during these challenging times) may be strong, one should definitely do some research about the hotel prior to locking down the stay to avoid unpleasant surprises and to manage your expectations before you arrive at the property.
DOES THIS STAYCATION OFFER ME WHAT I REALLY WANT OUT OF IT?
Significant overlap with the above question, but this question is more specifically geared towards why you want to book a hotel room in the first place. If you simply need a space to hole up whilst your apartment (or your neighbour’s) is being renovated, to get work done which requires more time than is offered by all those “work from hotel” workcation/daycation packages or to have a perfunctory romp in the hay with somebody who is more Sing Hoe Hotel than St. Regis in your books, then it makes more sense to go for a more lower-priced selection without all the frills.
However, if your staycation is meant to celebrate a special occasion such as a birthday celebration/wedding anniversary or to unwind and treat yourself after a tough week at work by way of escapist self-indulgence, choosing a low-to-mid range option is likely to do yourself (and your loved ones in attendance) a great disservice, and you may end up feeling in need of a more expensive staycation to make up for the one you just tried to save money on.
The need to research the relevant property and room category prior to booking cannot be stressed enough if you wish to have an enjoyable stay. I know of somebody who recently booked a stay package at the Shangri-La Hotel Singapore’s Valley Wing for its free-flow champagne and other inclusions but ended up being fairly frustrated by the room’s lack of up-to-date technological touches expected of a more modern room. I cannot say I empathize too much because, aside from how the Valley Wing isn’t exactly the most recently renovated space within the hotel (or the surrounding 5km radius for that matter), it’s a Shangri-La hotel.
In such an instance, he might have been better off (and would have spent less money) staying at the relatively young Sofitel Singapore City Centre and buying bottles of champagne or, if he enjoys mature buildings aged like fine wines but desires modern technological facilities, the recently renovated Executive Suite at Hilton Singapore.
Perhaps a sensible approach towards choosing a hotel for a special occasion would be to first shortlist hotels which you would have liked to stay at prior to the pandemic but have yet to do so (maybe due to their prohibitive pricing) and then check if there are now existing offers, promotions or deals for these properties which make staying now more palatable to the wallet.
AM I BETTER OFF BOOKING DIRECTLY?
If you can imagine yourself booking several hotel stays from now until when overseas travel is possible again, you may wish to considering planning your staycations based on hotel loyalty programme strategies instead of purely considering the most price-appealing packages around, so that your money spent now can reap you rewards in the future. This will essentially involve booking your stays directly (ie. as opposed to using third party websites like Agoda and Hotels.com) with hotels which belong under a specific hotel loyalty programme, and clocking nights/spend under that programme. Such strategies will eventually net you a higher-tier elite status and corresponding membership privileges such as complimentary room upgrades, free breakfast, lounge access, early check-in and late check-out.
Of course, third party booking websites do give you their own set of benefits, but building your stay profile under hotel loyalty programmes by booking directly is recommended if you value preferential treatment at the property as an elite member as well as privileges which can be enjoyed on-site at the hotel.
Marriott Bonvoy, Accor (ALL), Hilton Honors, World of Hyatt, IHG Rewards Club and GHA are the key hotel loyalty programmes in Singapore. The 2020 Ultimate Guide to Singapore Hotel Loyalty Programmes should serve as a good primer for familiarising yourself with the different programmes and deciding which is best for you based on your use case and interests.
(A caveat: some staycation deals booked directly may not necessarily award you loyalty nights/spend, e.g. due to the heavily discounted nature of the package, so always check the T&Cs before booking.)
ARE THERE WAYS FOR ME TO STRETCH MY DOLLAR?
Once you have decided the hotel you wish to book, you should most definitely find out if there are any staycation offers, credit card promotions or other means to stretch your dollar and extract the most value.
For example, American Express is notable for their extensive staycation promotions this year. They will soon conclude their very popular travel campaign involving statement credit given to registered members who hit the respective minimum spend at qualifying Marriott, Millennium Hotels, Hyatt and Hilton properties in Singapore. The following list sets out some of the participating properties and property-exclusive perks (on top of discounted rates) under American Express’ latest staycation promotion:
Raffles Hotel Singapore: hotel credit for use at the hotel’s boutique or to upgrade to the next suite category
The Ritz-Carlton, Millenia Singapore: late check-out and 15% off spa services
Pan Pacific Singapore: a free shoulder and neck message
W Singapore: complimentary breakfast and dining/spa credit
PARKROYAL COLLECTION Pickering, Singapore: 3-course plant-based set meal
Elsewhere, Singapore Marriott Tang Plaza Hotel is currently offering attractive room rates to TANGS members (free for everyone to sign up), and some of these rates even include free TANGS vouchers for every booking. Also, Klook is offering various staycation packages, some of which are exclusive deals offered in conjunction with various credit cards such as Citbank and DBS.
In addition, if you book selected luxury properties such as The Ritz-Carlton, Millenia Singapore and Andaz Singapore through a travel concierge such as Foray Travels, you may pay the same price as what you would have paid had you booked direct but you will enjoy additional VIP benefits such as room upgrades, early check-in, hotel spending credits and late check-out at no additional cost. This approach works best when the hotel is not part of one of the key hotel loyalty programmes (e.g. Mandarin Oriental, Singapore, Four Seasons Hotel Singapore, The Fullerton Bay Hotel Singapore). More crucially, if the hotel belongs to one of the main hotel loyalty programmes (such as Andaz Singapore; see previous section), you will usually also accrue the usual loyalty nights for your stay.
The sheer expanse of staycation deals out there is far beyond the scope of this article, and you are advised to refer to the other sources named in this article for more comprehensive information on the latest hotel hacks, promotions and staycation packages.
WHICH HOTEL SHOULD I CHOOSE FOR THE BEST ________________ (BREAKFAST, BATHTUB, BATHROOM AMENITIES, VIEWS ETC)?
If you are less fussed about price points but have no clue what hotel to book for your staycation, you should ask yourself what aspects of a hotel stay matter to you. Is it the comfort level of the bed? The amazingness of the bathtub? The luxuriousness of the bathroom amenities? The quality of the morning breakfast? The duration of evening cocktails at the club lounge? Or the gloriousness of the views offered from the bedroom?
The 2020 Ultimate Guide to Singapore Hotels covers my recommendations across various categories, from the best bathtubs, showers and bathroom amenities to the club lounges with the longest cocktail hours for maximum liver indulgence, the best recently refurbished rooms and the sexiest bedrooms.