Location Isn't Everything: A Review of St. Ermin's Hotel in London
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London is one of my favorite cities in the world, but having spent a semester studying there in college, I know just how expensive it can be. As a result, I'm always keen to carefully analyze hotel options when we're visiting, since redeeming hotel points can be a great way to save some serious dough.
At the same time, I love a central location that provides easy access to the London Underground and the various sights in the city. This is what led me to the St. Ermin's Hotel, part of Marriott's Autograph Collection. For better or for worse, I'm sticking with Marriott in 2019, and this particular property was in a fantastic spot with an almost too-good-to-be-true award option for my dates of travel. And while there were many things that impressed my wife, my daughter and me during our stay, we did come to realize that location isn't everything.
As noted above, London prices can be astronomical, even with the pound's Brexit-related drop. Add in the fact that many London hotel rooms are quite small and you could quickly find yourself shelling out hundreds of dollars for closet-sized accommodations.
Fortunately, the St. Ermin's Hotel generally allows you to redeem points and use a small copay for upgraded rooms, and since I was traveling with my wife and daughter, this looked like a terrific option. For 50,000 points and 150 pounds per night (about $190, based on current exchange rates), we could book a two-room junior suite that included a sofa bed, so we quickly jumped on that option for our four-night stay — one that (at the time of booking) would've set us back an astonishing 3,838 pounds (nearly $4,700).
Now, before you flame me for booking a four-night award stay with Marriott when I could've added a fifth night for free, there are two facts you should know:
First, because of travel times, return award availability and obligations back home, our trip to London simply had to be four nights — there was no possible way to extend it for another day.
Second, two of the four nights were covered with free-night certificates from my 2018 sign-up bonus for adding the Ritz-Carlton Rewards card to my wallet (before it was closed to new applicants). These certificates were set to expire in just a few months, and I had no other use for them. Since Marriott's fifth-night-free perk only applies when you use points for four or more nights, adding a fifth night would've still required 50,000 points plus another 150 pounds ($180).
It's worth noting that the insane paid price for our stay was thanks to the first night pricing at over 2,000 pounds ($2,400), with the other three in the neighborhood of 550 pounds (around $675). That's somewhat atypical for this property, though it can be solid value on points. I've seen paid rates for a standard room as low as 185 pounds per night ($230), but they can climb much higher if you're booking within a few months of arrival.
St. Ermin's is a Category 6 property, meaning that a free night will cost you 50,000 points per night -- if you book before September 14, 2019. Once Sept. 14 rolls around, Marriott's new peak/off-peak pricing will go into effect, meaning that a free night at this property could cost anywhere from 40,000 to 60,000 points per night, depending on what the algorithm decides for it. Even after peak/off-peak pricing goes into effect, this property will still be eligible for a free-night certificate that comes with the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant® American Express® Card, which currently offering a bonus of 75,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening. However, in order to use it, you'd have to find a night that has either standard or off-peak pricing, since the certificate is tied to the 50,000-point level rather than a category. I have this card in my wallet, but since I'd already maxed out the up to $300 annual credit on Marriott stays, I chose to swipe my Chase Sapphire Reserve for the daily upgrade fee and on-property purchases to earn 3x points.
The St. Ermin's Hotel is in the middle of the Westminster area of London, roughly halfway between Big Ben and Victoria Station. The nearest Tube stop is St. James's Park — on the District and Circle lines — so after arriving at London Heathrow (LHR), we hopped on the Heathrow Express to Paddington and then took the Circle Line eight stops to St. James's Park. From there, it was just a few minutes to Caxton Street and the grand entrance to the property.
It's worth noting that this was our second time staying in this area after a 2015 stay at the Conrad London St. James, and it's quickly becoming one of our favorite neighborhoods in the city. Even though it's centrally located, it's relatively quiet and residential. You can reach many of the city's sights, including Buckingham Palace and Westminster Abbey, in less than 10 minutes by foot, while the nearby Tube stations allow for easy exploration beyond.
We finally arrived at the hotel around 9:30pm, and a bellman immediately assisted us with our luggage. The main, central entrance had four steps up to the automatic doors leading into the lobby but if you're pulling a plethora of suitcases, head to the left side of the driveway, as the ramp there deposited you right at the check-in desk.
The lobby itself was gorgeous, with a two-sided spiral staircase and eye-catching chandeliers in the center of the room.
The middle of the stairs held a door that we were told led directly to Parliament and was used during World War II — though it was now sealed shut.
After taking in the beauty of the lobby, we veered left to the check-in desk, where we were quickly helped by a friendly agent who thanked me for my Platinum elite loyalty and reviewed the benefits, including complimentary buffet breakfast in Caxton Grill and a welcome amenity of either 8 pounds ($10) to use at the bar or 750 bonus points. Even though the bar credit was technically worth more, based on TPG's valuation of Marriott points, I opted for the points to put toward my next award.
The agent who helped us was nice — even digging out a St. Ermin's-branded yo-yo for my daughter — but it all took over 15 minutes. And when we were finally sent on our way to the third-floor room we had been assigned, little did I know that our check-in adventure was just beginning.
As noted above, we had booked a junior suite with a sofa bed, and Marriott's website clearly depicted this feature in both the description and the photo.
However, when we arrived at our first room, we were discouraged to see the same general layout depicted above but in a smaller area. Most importantly, a regular sofa occupied the right corner — not a sofa bed for our daughter. In addition, the sole entrance to the bathroom was just inside the front door, meaning that a guest in the bedroom needed to traipse through the living area to use the bathroom. Not at all what we were expecting.
We immediately called down to point out the issue and were told to sit tight and they'd figure something out. Roughly 10 minutes later, we received a call back and were asked to relocate to a fifth-floor room with a sofa bed, one that wound up being terrific.
Unfortunately, by the time this was all sorted out, the restaurant had closed, so we were forced to order room service, a frustrating end to a long travel day — and a service failure that would wind up being indicative of what we'd encounter throughout our stay.
Our second room — 544 — was a welcome sight compared to the one we were initially given. Even though this room was still billed as a junior suite (the third picture of the junior suite on the hotel's rooms page was our exact bedroom), it was actually a full-fledged suite, which was evidence that the property's rooms were far from standard within a given category. We were immediately struck by the spaciousness of the room as well its darkness. Even with all of the lights turned on, it still wasn't well-lit, as you'll see in the pictures that follow.
The door opened into the living room, with a coffee table, the promised sofa bed and a pair of matching chairs on either side.
Just to the left of the door was a small desk and chair, which wound up being used as storage more than a workplace during our stay.
This table also housed an array of plugs and the only working phone in the room.
Immediately to the right of the door, but still in the living room, was a wardrobe that was part clothes storage, part kitchen storage.
This also included the minibar, though the fact that it was supplied on request rather than prestocked was something I'd never seen before.
True to form, the inside of the refrigerator contained a bottle of still water and a Kit-Kat bar, both of which were replenished daily at no charge.
Just above the fridge was a Nespresso machine and six complimentary pods plus an electric teakettle. Inside the wooden box were three types of tea, milk, sugar and instant coffee, though we didn't get a chance to use any of these during our stay.
Just past the wardrobe was a door to close off the living room, and through it was a spacious and luxuriously appointed bedroom. The comfortable king bed included wavy-lined accent pillows and a long ottoman at its foot.
The head of the bed was draped with a canopy, though it appeared this was more for effect than practical use, and we kept the drapes tied up during our stay.
The far corner of the room housed in another wardrobe, and a small storage bench lined the wall.
Inside the wardrobe was a safe and a pair of robes and slippers.
Directly in front of the bed was a small flatscreen TV mounted over a set of drawers, with the entrance to the bathroom immediately to the right.
The bathroom was relatively small but functional, with the shower straight ahead upon entering.
It seemed strange that there was only a single shower head, a rainfall one. Though the pressure was nice, most hotels with a rainfall shower head provide the ability to switch between that and a wall-mounted and/or handheld one. This room did not.
The toilet, sink and mirror occupied the other corner of the bathroom.
Initially I was dismayed by the lack of counter space around the sink.
That is, until I noticed the semicircular metal rack placed discreetly underneath that afforded us plenty of room for our various toiletries.
One frustrating aspect of the room was the lack of convenient spots to charge our electronic devices. As noted above, there were several outlets on the desk, but that was the far corner of the living room. The outlets next to the bed were occupied by the lights, phone and alarm clock, so instead, we were forced to use the four outlets behind the storage bench throughout our stay.
As a result, the bench frequently looked like this.
Nevertheless, the room was comfortable for our family of three, so if you've booked a junior suite at this property, I'd strongly encourage you to request one with a sofa bed and a bathroom accessible from the bedroom.
Food and Beverage
St. Ermin's Hotel had one restaurant on site: Caxton Grill. With entrances from the street, the main driveway of the hotel and the lobby, it was easy to access and provided a comfortable, British countryside vibe, thanks to the vintage wooden floors and varied décor.
Though it was open to the public for lunch on Monday to Friday and dinner all week, it was also where breakfast for hotel guests was served. The buffet was complimentary for me as a Platinum elite member, though unlike other hotels I've visited, I wasn't allowed to order off the a la carte menu. In fact, it wasn't even presented to me as an option, leaving me to choose from the buffet options for all four mornings of our stay — which would've set me back 21 pounds ($25) per person each day.
The buffet included a continental section with fruit, cereal, yogurt and bread.
Next to that was a nice selection of meats and cheeses and pastries that rotated daily.
Finally, there was a small section with hot dishes, though the options were the same all four days: scrambled eggs, fried eggs, bacon, sausage and baked beans.
The buffet also included drinks, though I was never presented with a drinks menu. However, we were able to order tea, coffee, cappuccinos, lattes, juices and even a hot chocolate for my daughter.
Where the breakfast really failed, however, was in the service. The first day went off without a hitch, but the second day, my server brought me a bill for the buffet. I pointed out that it was included with my status, and after checking, he came back to inform me that my rate didn't include breakfast. I persisted and, after a lengthy wait while he checked with a manager, he came back and noted that I was correct. He blamed the "new hostess" for the mix-up — even though the exact same hostess had seated me the previous day and properly confirmed that my breakfast was included. Regardless, the 10-minute delay was frustrating, as it simply delayed my departure for work.
The third morning was an even bigger hassle. This time I was with my wife and daughter, and we were shown to a table that had just been vacated and needed cleaning. The hostess promised that she'd have someone clean it right away and took our drink orders. I went to the buffet with my daughter and came back five minutes later with her plate — to a still-unclean table. I flagged down a waiter who acted as though I were inconveniencing him, and after another five minutes, the table was finally cleared for us to sit down.
No apology was given, no explanation provided.
Our waiter then took our drink orders for a second time, and when he returned, I asked for cold milk for my wife's tea. Another 10 minutes passed with no sign of the milk, so I finally went to the buffet and got a glass myself. A couple of minutes later, a small carafe finally arrived, once again with no apology.
Any one of these items would've been easy to shrug off, but at a hotel that frequently charges over $500 per night, I was quite surprised at the overall indifference of the staff.
As mentioned earlier, we were forced into ordering room service our first night, and I'd actually highly recommend this. Here was the menu we were given, with the highlighted options available 24 hours a day.
You could also order from the Caxton Grill menu during normal restaurant hours, though we were outside this timeframe.
All three of the meals we ordered were quite tasty. The lentil salad was small but filling.
The spiced pumpkin burger had terrific flavor and was accompanied by hefty sweet potato wedges.
And the ham-and-cheese toastie was the definition of late-night comfort food.
Of course, a luxury hotel in London wouldn't be complete without afternoon tea, and that was served in the Tea Lounge and library — or the outdoor terrace during the summer months — from noon to 5pm. Though we didn't try it out during our stay, the options include standard tea or gluten-free tea for 30 pounds ($35) per person, and you could also add unlimited rosé wine for an extra 10 pounds ($12).
The final food-and-beverage option on the property was Caxton Bar, just outside of Caxton Grill. This served a variety of drinks and lighter dishes, and it's also where my daughter got her "shaken not stirred" Secret Spy Cocktail on our final night — more on that below.
In addition to the formal food and beverage options, once of the nice, value-added amenities offered by St. Ermin's was the daily wine hour. Hosted on the patio just outside the main entrance from 5:30pm to 6:30pm, it provided complimentary wine and a daily snack service for hotel guests.
My wife enjoyed a couple of glasses of rosé wine one evening while I was working at the office late, and my daughter couldn't overlook the opportunity to indulge in some cotton candy.
I finally got a chance to enjoy this perk on our final night, and I was especially impressed. To celebrate the Fourth of July, the staff brought out trays of mini hamburgers and hot dogs, complete with American-flag toothpicks.
It was a lovely touch, and I overheard several fellow guests with American accents remarking on how nice it all was.
As we were visiting during Wimbledon, the above snack was followed by small dishes of strawberries and cream in celebration of the tournament's signature dessert.
The staff also transformed part of the main driveway into a makeshift tennis court each afternoon, allowing kids to enjoy playtime while their parents relaxed with a glass of wine and a snack.
My daughter especially enjoyed climbing into the umpire's chair.
During this social hour on our last night, my daughter latched onto a pair of older girls, and she soon was introduced to the hotel's top-secret, kid-oriented undercover operation.
This required her to search around the hotel for various items, and when she completed them, she earned her special agent ID, redeemable for a nonalcoholic cocktail at Caxton Bar.
While all of the tasks were above her 4-year-old (nonreader) abilities, her newfound older friends were more than willing to help, and soon she had completed the mission and earned her drink — which she enjoyed after we returned from an evening show.
Another neat amenity at the hotel was the bee garden on the third floor. This area consisted of several hives, where bees could come back with pollen from flowers in nearby St. James's Park and create honey. This honey was then used throughout the hotel, a neat example of city-to-table dining that I'd never seen before.
This is the one area where the property really failed for us. I documented the arrival snafu with the room and the breakfast issues above, but we experienced it in other areas as well. For example, on our first night, we requested an additional set of towels for our daughter, and then the next two days, only two washcloths were replaced — despite the three clearly used ones hanging in the shower. On the third day, only one was replaced, and then on the final night, we once again received two. Despite being registered as three guests, housekeeping never bothered to fully replenish our linens.
Then on the final night, we ran out of tissues, and there wasn't a spare box in the room. I had to call down twice to request a replacement, which took over 25 minutes. When it arrived, the new box wasn't even the same size and thus didn't fit the cube that covered the existing box. This is far from a massive deal, but isn't something you'd expect from an upscale property like this.
The final straw came when I called to request a late checkout on our final evening. We had an afternoon train out of town, and I wanted to utilize the guaranteed late checkout benefit (4pm) of my Platinum status. The agent put me on a brief hold and came back to advise me that they could offer 1pm. I pointed out that my Platinum status guaranteed a 4pm checkout, to which he replied that they were too busy the following day and could only do 1pm. I firmly replied that, as a Platinum member, I would be staying in my room until 4pm, as it was a guaranteed benefit of my status. This ended the debate but still left a bad taste in my mouth. Why should I need to fight for a perk that is guaranteed, per Marriott's terms and conditions?
Just for reference, here's the full verbiage that covers this perk (4.3.c.v., emphasis mine):
4 p.m. Late Checkout. Platinum Elite Members and above may check out as late as 4 p.m. local time of the Participating Property. Members can request late checkout when making a reservation through central reservations, at check-in, via the mobile app (where available) or at any time during their stay. This benefit is guaranteed at all Participating Properties, except at resort and convention hotels and Design HotelsTM, where it is based upon availability. Marriott Vacation Club, Marriott Grand Residence Club, and Vistana properties are excluded from this benefit.
St. Ermin's Hotel is an impressive facility, but, sadly, our stay was marred by inconsistent service that really soured us on the property. The location is superb, especially for some of the major tourist sites, and our room was terrific — though we had to fight a bit to get it. The complimentary wine hour was a great touch, and as soon as you turned off Caxton Street into the driveway, it felt as though you'd left the entire city of London behind.
However, the multiple service issues we encountered were quite unfortunate. Any one of them would've been easy to brush off as an isolated incident, but when they occur across multiple areas — room assignment, housekeeping, food and beverage and elite recognition — one can't help but assume there's a fundamental flaw to the approach the property is taking to serving its guests.
Overall, did we enjoy our stay? Yes. But will we be back? Almost certainly not. With numerous other Marriott-branded properties in London, I'd be hard-pressed to find a reason to pick St. Ermin's over another spot given the collection of issues we ran into during our stay.
All photos by the author except otherwise noted. Featured photo courtesy of the hotel.