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Hotel Review: Four Seasons Gresham Palace Budapest

by on October 3, 2011 · 23 comments

in Four Seasons, Trip Reports

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I spend a lot of time on the road, so I really value unique hotel experiences. While a majority of my stays are in chain hotels that give me great elite perks, once in a while I like to splurge on a luxury hotel. While I usually use points to bring down the cost of expensive hotels or get really good advance/discount rates, once in a while I get the urge to throw caution to the wind and indulge at a non-points earning luxury hotel. While I sometimes feel guilty for doing it, travel is my passion, hobby and full-time job, so at a very minimum I consider it necessary to understand the full spectrum of the hotel industry.

When I decided to go to Budapest, I decided my splurge would be on the Four Seasons Gresham Palace, which is the hotel in Budapest. The location is unparalleled – right on the Danube on the Pest side of the city, but within easy walking distance to the historic Buda side. It’s also right near top shopping and dining and having only opened in 2004, it’s still relatively new and in pristine condition.

What also sealed the deal was that it participates in the American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts program, which is offered to all Platinum and Centurion cardholders. I’ve never used this benefit, so I decided to give it a whirl. The daily rates were comparable to what was being offered on Fourseasons.com and the benefits I would receive were: 12pm check-in, 4pm checkout, in-room amenity of wine and fruit, free breakfast and a space-available upgrade.

I ended up booking a mid-level Gresham Room for 390 euros per night (for 2 nights – my third would be spent at Le Meridien Budapest on a heavily discounted advance rate of 129 euros).

Upon check-in the agent greeted me by name and explained my Gresham room was ready and it was on the first floor with a courtyard view, which wasn’t really what I was expecting. At a minimum, I thought we’d get a room with a nice view of the river on a higher floor. I had checked online and the hotel was selling every room type, so I knew it wasn’t a soldout weekend.

Four Seasons Gresham Palace Lobby

Impressive lobby chandelier and ornate glass ceiling

When I inquired about upgrades due to booking via American Express FHR, she seemed put off and told me they were soldout of all upgradeable rooms. Interesting since I knew that wasn’t true. I pushed back a little bit and she offered to look into it and mentioned that suites were available for an upgrade fee. I decided to check out my room before making any decisions and told her I’d call her back. To be honest, Lori and I both thought she was being a little shady, though I don’t know if it was just the language barrier.

The Gresham Room was spacious and nice, but it had a terrible view of the inner courtyard. It was decent, but not really what I was expecting for 390 euros. I decided to call back and see what my options were – but before doing so I loaded up Fourseasons.com to confirm that rooms were still for sale and indeed they were in every category. (At this point I started feeling like I was at an SPG hotel arguing for a Platinum upgrade!).

Gresham Room

 

Gresh Room View 2

Price list for the weekend

She finally gave in and said I could have a Danube view room, but mentioned that it wouldn’t be available for 2 hours and it was smaller than the Gresham Room. She also said if I paid for the Danube View room, she would upgrade me to a suite with a balcony and great views. She quoted me an upgrade of 300 euros per night, which was more than I wanted to spend. I cross referenced the price of the Danube View room on Fourseasons.com and it was only 200 euros more (590) than what I was currently paying and she agreed to do it for that price.

I felt guilty for spending 590 euros ($788) per night, but I’d rather have an awe-inspiring spacious suite for $788 than an unmemorable regular room for $521. The Park Suite was going for 1,120 euros per night ($1,497) so I still felt like I was getting a decent deal. My motto in life is “go big or go home” and this was definitely one of those moments.

The third floor suite was indeed gorgeous, though it wasn’t really a suite – more like an oversized room with a living area. However, the mini-balcony and views of the city were just incredible. On Saturday night I hosted a group of friends who live in Budapest for drinks, so the extra space definitely came in handy.

The suite with small step-out balcony

Living area

Not the best quality, but view of the room from the balcony

Bathroom

I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves, but overall the Four Seasons Gresham Palace experience was flawless once we got the room situation sorted out. We used the gym/sauna and got spa treatments which were actually done in converted hotel rooms because the spa is under construction.

Day view from the balcony

An even more spectacular night view

Stunning view of the castle lit up at night

After I blogged about using FHR, several friends who are Four Seasons Preferred Partner travel agents scolded me for not booking through them, because apparently they can get better rates and the amenities are better. I’ll have to try them out next time to compare, because I don’t think I’ll use FHR again anytime soon. The most important benefit to me is a nice, spacious room which is why I highly value top-tier hotel elite status. While Four Seasons are nice, I’m not in the position to be able to pay $800 a night every time I want a hotel suite! Though I have to admit, it was fun to splurge and the Park Suite was the perfect staging grounds for a quick and most definitely memorable weekend trip to Budapest.

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  • http://twitter.com/brianyyz Brian B

    Interesting experience. When I was in Budapest, I booked into the Intercontinental Budapest just down the road, also on a FHR rate (and as an Ambassador FWIW). Booked a basic king room.

    Arrived from the airport mid-day, and as I was checking in the desk agent, upon looking at my room, said: “we can do much better than this for you”, and promptly put me in an executive corner suite overlooking the Danube.

    The FHR rate came with breakfast, and a 100USD food and beverage credit for the rooftop restaurant. It was booked all weekend for weddings, so they allowed me to use it for room service.

    I have also had good luck with the FHR rate at the Le Meridian SFO.

    So YMMV.

  • tivoboy

    Mmph, mmph, mmph, playa!

  • Josh_brooks

    I do enjoy your hotel reviews, because I personally cannot fathom ever spending more than $150 for any hotel room. Enjoy!!

  • Hero258

    Nuts, insane, STUPID. $800 per night. Women, Women, Women. I bet you would never do it if you were alone there.

  • http://profiles.google.com/felipey Felipe Yang

    Oh, so that’s what happened. For my honeymoon, I used the Visa Signature Luxury hotels, which is now very comparable to FHR, at the Raffles in Beijing and I had trouble getting the upgrade but eventually they upgraded me to a nice Personality Suite. At the Mandarin Oriental in Sanya, it was upgraded the day before I got there. Both these suites were going for about 3 times the amount I paid, so I got a pretty nice deal. The good thing about the VSLH is that the rates are not marked up to pay for the amenities and the upgrades, you really do get the lowest rate they have, I compared with their site across the board.

  • Anonymous

    I went back and checked: I paid 3500 HUF for my stay. That’s about 12 euros.

    It was an apartment so I even had access to a kitchen.

  • Jamesrkunz

    I know everyone values money differently, has different priorities, etc. etc. but JESUS CHRIST MAN 800 DOLLARS FOR ONE NIGHT???? For 800 dollars you can fly to half the cities in Europe in the winter

  • Steve

    I would try the Visa Signature benefit in the future. Here is the link: http://www.visasignaturehotels.com/

    I would also call the American Express FHR and try to get your money back for the upgrade. You can explain that the woman wouldn’t upgrade you without paying and that this was a stated benefit. Then fight for the 200 euros a night back. I don’t know about you, but to me that’s a lot of money…

  • Nick

    When I was in Budapest about one year ago, I got a great three or four star hotel for about $45 per night through priceline.

  • Jansen

    My mom just went to Budapest and got the Hilton Budapest for $55/night on Priceline… She was a Hilton Gold via Visa Signature and was treated like a queen…

  • Anonymous

    Yea I need to check out this Visa Signature program.. the Hilton in Buda looked nice. $55 is a steal!

  • Anonymous

    I’m going to try that out next.

    As for FHR, I’m going to email Amex. The only problem is that when I checked out they asked if I wanted to change credit cards and I put it on my Sapphire Preferred so I’d get the 2x vs 1x on Platinum. I don’t think I’m going to have much ground to stand on!

  • Anonymous

    Yea.. in hindsight it wasn’t worth it- especially since I got a nice suite at Le Meridien (albeit after prodding) for 129 euros a night.

    However, it was a unique experience and almost all other aspects of the trip (flight, concert) were paid for with points (and this is at least a business expense).

  • Anonymous

    Yea, I wanted a luxury experience this time around, though I am a big fan of renting houses/apartments when Im somewhere for more than a weekend.

  • Anonymous

    Well don’t get used to it, because this was a one-off! :-)

    In hindsight it was probably a mistake, but I had a great time and it provided good blog fodder.

  • Anonymous

    I am really intrigued by the Visa Signature hotel benefits.. will try that out soon and let you know what my experience is.

  • Anonymous

    It wasn’t necessarily the fact that Lori was there- it was that my expectations weren’t met and I really didn’t want to spend $500+ on a room I was unhappy with. In all honesty, I should have just canceled and went to Le Meridien, but we had a short time in Budapest and I just wanted to enjoy it.

    I think if anything, this experience makes me value my hotel elite status and the value of the benefits I get vs luxury hotels that offer great benefits, but make you pay for every single one.

  • jeonsm2009

    yeah…she is even listing him as FGF.

  • Nathan

    TPG, kudos to you for spending YOUR money the way YOU decide, and a Bronx jeer to those who don’t agree with that. Some people think paying the difference for biz or first class flights is crazy: “I’m on the same plane, getting there at the same time.” Yeah, so what? I look forward to the flight, both ways, and am not in a hurry for it to end either. Lounges, faster security, and arrive in good shape, like a star. The star treatment is hard to pass up, once you’ve enjoyed it.

  • Mama Claire

    It is saddening to imagine how many socioeconomically underprivileged rent boys you abused in that hotel room over the weekend. The Interpol should be put on notice about this sex tourism nonsense.

  • http://twitter.com/austininvest Robert Grunnah

    I agree with the poster about Hotwire.. The rates on 4 and 5 star hotels are SOO much lower on Hotwire and Priceline, that they cancel out any benefit, IMHO, of amenities or perks offered by the hotel programs. I have the SPG Gold and Hyatt Platinum from AMEX Plat and Chase PP, but I never use them, because I Hotwire 5 star hotels.. Got the recently remodeled Grand Hyatt in Midtown for $201 the other day, and it was $416 online. I routinely get Vegas 5 stars for 60% of best internet rate, too.. For now, the perishable nature of hotel rooms makes them a better deal through discounters than through the perk programs.

    Also – FWIW – I have had the same problems when trying to finagle upgrades in countries in which English is not the native language. The irritation the desk lady showed you was cultural-related, not corporate related. Hungary was communist until 20 years ago, and that service mentality of you’re lucky to get service at all – still pervades, even at highly westernized brands like hotels. It’s the same all over.

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