Hotel Review: Deluxe Room at the Hotel Vagabond in Singapore
Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here: Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express, The Platinum Card® from American Express
I love staying in an upscale boutique hotel, but I also love booking with points. For a recent trip to Singapore, I was able to do both when I found a property in Starwood's Tribute Portfolio that had earned a certificate of excellence from TripAdvisor, even though it had only opened in late 2016. How nice could a hotel called Vagabond be?
As part of a special opening offer, rooms were available for 12,000 Starpoints per night (it's a a Category 5 property, so the usual rate is 16,000 a night). But I only had 24,000 Starpoints in my account, and I needed to stay three nights! (If I had been able to get the recent 35,000-point bonus which is no longer available from the Starwood Preferred Guest® credit card from American Express, I would have had enough for all three nights.)
To make up for the discrepancy, I had a few choices: I could have bought 12,000 more points for $357, I could have paid $248 for the third night, I could have transferred 36,000 Membership Rewards points to SPG, or I could have transferred 36,000 Ultimate Rewards points to Marriott and then transferred again to my linked SPG account. Instead, I used 13,181 Ultimate Rewards points to book the room through the Chase travel portal.
This left me with two bookings: my Starpoints redemption for two nights and my UR redemption for the third. I didn't want to have to check out and then check in again — especially if it meant changing rooms — so I called SPG to combine reservations. I was told they could not and I would have to do so at check-in. Another complication of this dual booking was that not only would the third night not earn Starpoints, but it would also have none of the benefits of my SPG Gold status (one of my favorite perks of my Platinum Card® from American Express; another was fast free Wi-Fi). I was curious to see how this would play out.
My flight into Singapore got me through customs and immigration at 1:15am, which was too late for trains and buses. Despite the taxi driver's "I've never heard of that hotel," we arrived in less than 30 minutes for S$26 (about $18.80 in US dollars, a premium fare, thanks to the hour).
The door was locked, but a staffer immediately let me in and offered me a hot drink. I enjoyed it even more when he said, "I'm happy to inform you we have upgraded you to one of the deluxe rooms." He was also able to combine my reservations so I would have a seamless stay.
A perk of my Gold status was the choice of continental breakfast, a welcome cocktail or 250 Starpoints. I chose breakfast and was reminded that the booking I'd made for my third night included a full breakfast. I would not go hungry in the mornings in Singapore.By the way, I can't believe I've gone this far into my review without mentioning the giant, golden rhinoceros.
Yep, the front desk was made from a brass sculpture of a rhino. This place was funky and artsy. There were dozens of paintings on the walls of the lobby, and it was a sign of what was to come in the room.
While not quite as colorful as the lobby, my room (one of 41) had plenty of visual stimuli. Two larger paintings hung in the entranceway-cum-office space, with more than a dozen additional artworks scattered above and around the bed.
The gallery feel continued into the bathroom, and may have included me on display, as the window above the toilet gave an unobscured view to an outdoor staircase from an adjacent building.
It was the same in the sizable shower, whose windows offered a clear view to the other side of the building (all windows had shades). The rainfall shower head was wonderful and almost made up for there being no tub.
A closet and shelving unit was squeezed into a wall across from the sink and featured a compact clothes rack, safe and complimentary robes and slippers.
French doors led to a sizable balcony, with outdoor tables and chairs atop artificial grass. The balcony was shared with another room, though I never saw anyone else.
The view left something to be desired, overlooking a concrete lot closed off with a chain-link fence.
The bed was pretty magnificent, not only large but with kitten-soft linens and neck-cradling pillows.
The size of the bed may have been too big for the room, as the flat-screen TV was placed at a right angle to the bed, making for awkward viewing.
Also awkward was the counterintuitive placement of the light switches, which even after three nights never connected to what I was expecting. On the flip side, all the electrical outlets made it simple to charge devices without an adapter, a nice touch that I wish all hotels had.
I also wish more hotels would offer a free mobile phone with unlimited calls and data during your stay. I'd never seen that before, and the provided phone was a huge help to a cheapskate like me. It's a tremendous perk.
The desk also functioned as a minibar ($4.35 for a Coke) with a tiny fridge underneath. A handwritten welcome note welcomed me to the hotel.
Though the room felt new, it was not spotless, with smudges on the mirror and a light layer of dust on the closet shelves. Despite the little annoyances, I really liked how quirky and comfortable the room was. It had its own personality that suited mine well.
The Wi-Fi delivered, with fast upload and download speeds in the room.
Food and Beverage
The bar and dining area continued the hotel's bold, upbeat theme and added punch to my breakfasts. The continental breakfasts I chose for my first two mornings were good: The toast was warm, pastries fresh and fruit ripe. They were, however, tiny: Only three little cutouts of watermelon accompanied the fruit-yogurt-granola parfait, and the selection was identical on both days.
The full breakfast on my third day was much more robust, and the full menu was available all day. The menu copy was cheeky and full of puns ("Omelette You Finish" FTW). It charged S$15 ($10.85) for kaya toast, and I was glad not to have to pay the rack rate for my eggs.
The main feature of the hotel was its design, and it was a good one. Unlike other points-redemption hotels, which tend to blend together, this one stood out. With bold colors and upbeat music playing everywhere, the place was designed to within an inch of its life — there were more than 100 artworks in the salon and bar alone. Even in the elevator there was no escape, with a colorful Marco Brambilla video pastiche of various movie characters. That this was all retrofit into a 1950s Art Deco building was quite an accomplishment.
Guests booking a club room received more amenities, including access to a daytime lounge menu, hors d'oeuvres and drinks at cocktail hour and a S$15 laundry credit. Full-size umbrellas were on offer for all guests, and I used them every day.
To the Point
Jacques Garcia was not messing around. The acclaimed interior designer got his hands on the Vagabond, and his fingerprints are all over. But the best part was that the Vagabond doesn't just rest on its design laurels. Too many designer hotels focus on the design and forget the hotel part. Not here. Every staff member I encountered was engaged and responsive. Even the breakfast server expressed her concern about my not being able to have my Gold-status benefits on the third night (even though it turned out not to be a noticeable difference). It's great to find a hotel with the individuality of a boutique property but with the backbone and benefits of Starwood. I found it a great value for the points.
The slogan here is, "If you must get into trouble, do it at the Vagabond." I'm glad to report that staying at the Vagabond was no trouble at all.