Join the Club (Level): A Review of the InterContinental Johannesburg Sandton Towers
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To The Point
The InterContinental Johannesburg Sandton Towers is a typical business hotel in South Africa’s biggest city, though the standard of service sets it apart. Pros: Nice amenities, availability of club-level upgrades. Cons: Needs a redecoration and more interesting dining options.
I passed through Johannesburg a few times on a recent trip to South Africa and decided to spend two nights checking out one of the city’s higher-end hotels, the InterContinental Johannesburg Sandton Towers.
For a city of its size, Johannesburg does not have an abundance of attractive points properties, and I’d already visited the Hyatt Regency Johannesburg a few times. Marriott’s properties are mostly Protea hotels and a member of Design Hotels called Ten Bompas, where rates at nearly $400 per night were too high for my budget.
By contrast, the InterContinental Sandton seemed like a good fit. I was able to find standard rooms for $186 per night, and it appears that standard rooms tend to stay around the $200 mark. Award nights at this Category 5 property are available for 30,000 points each, or 15,000 points plus a cash copay of around $100.
When I finally did book, the total price for two nights came to 4,985.76 South African rand ($350). I think that was partly due to a currency fluctuation between the time I booked and the time I finally paid, and partly because the second night actually went down in price from what I found listed on the website.
I earned 15 IHG Rewards points per dollar as an IHG Platinum elite, thanks to the fact that I have the old IHG Rewards Club Select credit card. (I haven’t switched over to the new IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card yet.) I paid with my Chase Ink Business Preferred Credit Card to earn 3x Ultimate Rewards points per dollar on top of that (on up to $150,000 in combined purchases per account anniversary year).
There are actually two InterContinentals in Johannesburg. One is right at the airport, and tends to be $100 to $200 more expensive per night than the one in Sandton. I had plans in the city and was doing more than just overnighting between flights, so I decided to book the InterContinental Johannesburg Sandton Towers.
Sandton is an upscale district near other high-end neighborhoods like Rosebank and Melrose Arch. The hotel is connected to the city’s Sandton Convention Centre and the Sandton City Shopping Mall. I visited the mall several times for various errands, since it was connected to the hotel by a pedestrian skybridge, and I also strolled around the neighborhood to some of the other hotels nearby, just to have a look.
My Ubers around the city were between 70 and 180 rand (around $5 to $15), and my Ubers to and from the airport were between 280 and 320 rand ($20 to $25).
I arrived at the hotel from the airport at around 3:30pm on a Friday. Two bellmen immediately stepped up to my Uber to open the door and take my suitcase from the trunk, then one continued with me inside to the front desk.
The lobby was grandiose, thanks to the fact that the center of the building was an open atrium running its entire height — a very old-school-hotel look.
There was a sitting area just inside the entrance, and then several reception desks to the right along with the concierge desk.
The bellman directed me over to the one normally reserved for IHG Rewards Ambassador elites, and I handed over my passport.
The agent there checked the reservation then informed me that I had been upgraded to the club level and could check in on the 27th floor. This wasn’t actually the 27th floor, though, since the building seemed to skip floors three to 10.
The club-level reception was a single desk with two chairs. Though it was never really busy, it looked awkward when two guests were checking in or out at the same time.
The agents on duty here throughout my stay were, quite simply, delightful. One of them gave me great recommendations for dining and shopping in the city. Another helped take care of an issue with my credit card that was really stressful but was resolved quickly and easily.
The agent checking me in let me know about all the add-on benefits to the club level. These included:
- Exclusive check-in at the Club Intercontinental Lounge
- Getting one guest into the lounge for free
- Access to the lounge from 6:30am to 10:30pm, with free snacks and nonalcoholic drinks all day
- Complimentary breakfast in the lounge or the main restaurant from 6:30am to 11:00pm
- High tea served from 1:30 to 3:30pm
- Evening cocktails and canapés with a complimentary open bar and hot dishes from 5:30pm to 7:30pm
- Complimentary pressing for two items of clothing per stay
- Complimentary one-hour use of the meeting room
- Complimentary daily newspaper
- Turndown service
- Free local calls
After a search over multiple dates, I found club-level rooms seemed to cost between 1,000 and 1,200 rand ($70 to $85) more per night than the standard room I’d booked, which meant I’d gotten a great value over my two-day stay.
My one quibble was that the first room they put me in was right across from the lounge, so it was loud at busy times, with people chatting and the rush of servers back and forth. But when I asked to change rooms, they were able to put me in a similar room one floor up, which was much quieter.
As I mentioned, the hotel was starting to look outdated, and that extended to the room décor. It was originally built in 1994 and last renovated in 2008, so it was time for a revamp.
Housekeeping did a really nice job of keeping everything clean and fresh in the rooms, and the accommodations were pleasant, if unremarkable. My first room was large, with windows along one side that kept things bright.
The king bed was dressed in white sheets with a striped runner and golden-brown accent pillows. There was a tiled triptych resembling a seashell above it.
One nightstand had the phone, a clock, a lamp and switches for all the lights.
Between the bed and the desk were an armchair and ottoman that looked like they’d done hard duty in the last few years.
The desk was fitted into one corner and had a Bose speaker and a panel of power and AV ports that was handy for keeping everything charged.
There was a mirror on the desk as well. That’s because the hair dryer lived in one of the drawers and was permanently plugged in there rather than the bathroom. There was a wall-mounted flat-screen Samsung television and a DVD player on the other side of the desk.
Next to that was the chest holding the minibar. It included a huge Nespresso machine, with all its supplies, and a kettle.
Beneath it, the refrigerator was stocked with sodas, water, spirits and beer and wine from South Africa.
There was also a nice welcome note from the hotel manager along with a bottle of complimentary water and a plate with two apples and a plum.
The walk-in closet was back toward the entrance and inside the main bathroom area. It had a decent-sized hanging area, a large safe and a large surface for suitcases.
The bathroom was huge and decorated with mostly red and black stone.
There was a single sink, and though there was not a huge amount of counter space, there were shelves built into the walls on either side of it for stowing toiletries, which was convenient.
The far side had a full-size bathtub with a handheld shower head.
The toilet was in a WC between the bathtub and shower.
The separate walk-in shower had a single wall-mounted shower head.
As is the brand standard at InterContinental hotels, the bath products were lemon verbena by Agraria San Francisco.
There were three cans for trash based on the hotel’s recycling program, which was interesting, but also confusing. Where did you put just plain old trash that wasn’t plastic, paper or glass?
Just to give you some context, here are a few snapshots of my second room.
The layout was slightly different, due to the room shape, but everything felt mostly the same.
The main difference was that the room felt longer and narrower.
The closet was also separate from the bedroom in this one.
I was able to use upgraded Wi-Fi for free, thanks to my Platinum status, and the speeds were good.
The view from both rooms was the same, looking out over the neighboring buildings away from the mall.
Food and Beverage
The hotel’s main restaurant, down in the lobby, was called the Atrium Bar and Restaurant. It was open for meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner, though it was never busy.
The menu seemed fairly standard, with continental options and snacks like sandwiches, wraps, burgers and salads.
I was allowed to have breakfast up in the club lounge instead. Though the selection was more limited there, it was nice to eat in a smaller, quieter space, and there were still a lot of options.
The breakfast buffet included juice, yogurt, cereal and fresh fruit.
There were cold cuts and fresh vegetables.
You could also order hot items à la carte, such as eggs Benedict, salmon scrambled eggs, savory pancakes with crispy bacon and fried bananas, or pretty much anything you wanted, within reason.
I dropped by in the evenings for a glass of South African sauvignon blanc and canapés that included a few different types of crostini. The gentlemen on duty in the lounge also brought by small hot plates like mushroom gnocchi and spicy meatballs with barbecue sauce.
For a club lounge, the food was really good, and the selection of wines from around the country was nice. Would I eat dinner here instead of a restaurant? No. However, it was a nice place to get an aperitif and send emails before dinnertime.
The staff in the lounge was lovely. They were always friendly and smiling, and checked in periodically to make sure I had everything I needed. Having breakfast there set a great tone for the day, and they were generous with their wine pours, so you can imagine how congenial the evening crowd got.
The hotel’s other services and amenities were actually all outside the hotel. The property is connected to the convention center as well as to the enormous Sandton City mall, which has your usual selection of international brands ranging from budget to luxury, which you could access through a skyway on the “10th” floor.
It was via this skyway that the hotel was also connected to the Sandton Sun, part of Tsogo Sun Hotels, and with which the InterContinental shared many facilities.
Both the gym and swimming pool were on the mezzanine between the two hotels. You took the elevator there then went through a few doors to the fitness facility. The outdoor pool was small but got a decent amount of sunshine, and was never crowded.
The gym, though busy, did not feel overrun, and I did not have to wait for any equipment.
There were also locker rooms for both men and women with showers.
The hotel shared its spa with the Sandton Sun. To get there, you had to take the mall skyway on the 10th floor. Once you got to the start of the mall, you turned right and headed down an escalator. If you took the escalator another level down, you’d end up in the Sandton Sun’s lobby.
The spa treatments included the usual array of massages and facials performed with high-end brands like Phytomer and Babor. The prices were reasonable, though, with hour-long massages going for 750 to 780 rand (roughly $50 to $55). That was enough to tempt me, and I booked a deep-tissue massage.
The experience was OK. The spa itself did not feel super high-end, and the treatment room was nice but not luxurious. The treatment itself was fine — not bad but not great.
For the price, I wasn’t too disappointed, though I might not book it again.
While not the newest hotel in town, the InterContinental Johannesburg Sandton Towers was a really pleasant place to spend two nights in the city. Its location in upscale Sandton, with easy access to the mall and quick drives to other parts of town, made it a good, central choice for my needs.
The hotel interior, its rooms and the fitness facilities could use some attention and updating. The wear and tear is really starting to show. The hotel might also benefit from some more interesting dining and bar options that would keep guests around in the evenings and liven up the public spaces.
On the positive side, I have to say that the service at this hotel was phenomenal. Everyone from the bellmen and front-desk agents to the folks working up on the club level was gracious and diligent, and their hospitality lent my stay a warm, human dimension. The fact that my IHG Platinum status got me upgraded to the club level with all its perks was also a real plus that I enjoyed taking advantage of at breakfast and cocktail hour. While I might not be so fast to rebook here on my next visit so that I can try out some other hotels in town, once they redecorate the place, I will definitely be back.
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