Some links to products and partners on this website will earn an affiliate commission.
Having previously enjoyed a visit to Cardiff in 2013 for the International Food & Drink festival, she-who-must-be-obeyed decreed that we would visit again this year. I then embarked on the familiar routine of finding a decent hotel, with reward night availability in the city centre.
I had some options given healthy points balances with Hilton and IHG, just under £100 as a hotels.com free night and a Hilton free night from the Hilton HHonors Barclaycard. The hotels.com option was quickly dismissed, as anyone with standards who has ever paid for a hotel room in Cardiff will understand. With Hilton Diamond and IHG Gold status, I focussed on Hilton for the superior benefits, despite considerably more IHG points at my disposal.
The Hilton Cardiff came up with standard reward room availability at 40,000 points (standard reward room availability means you can use the Barclaycard free night). A done deal? Not quite, as we have a one night, pre-cruise stay in New York coming up, and standard rooms at the New York Hilton Midtown we were looking at were coming in at 60,000 points, so that looked like better value for the free night certificate. As a result, I shelled out the 40,000 HHonors points for a King Hilton Guestroom, which for reasons that will become obvious I did not get to see.
The Hilton must be one of the easiest hotels to find in Cardiff when approaching by road. Unless you are using one of those old fashioned, paper based sat-navs, or live West of Cardiff, then the odds are you will be guided by an electronic voice south on the A470 into Cardiff after leaving the A48(M). The Hilton appears in front of you, as this Google Street View imagery shows:
Just to be clear, the big red writing and line were added by me but trust me, you will see the hotel. Take the left lane and follow your nose round to the hotel drop off for valet parking at £25 per 24 hours, or self-park in a number of public (Mainly NCP) car parks nearby. If you prefer to travel by train, Cardiff Queen Street is around ½ a mile away, and Cardiff Central under ¾ of a mile, so all walkable in 10-15 minutes for the average person.
On booking I was presented with the option for an e-standby upgrade. I had previously been wary of these, just the look of the button on the booking confirmation page says “dodgy” to me, but I clicked through, and was offered an upgrade to an Executive room for £0, yes zero. Apparently, the way this works, if a better room is available on check in, you commit to pay the value presented when booking (it is usually above zero in my experience). What’s to lose, I thought, so I clicked on that.
I did also drop the hotel an email to tell them it was my wife’s birthday a few days before, and that was the reason for our visit (mainly true), and asking if it was likely that I would be upgraded via the e-standby upgrade as well as my Diamond status, or would only one apply? As it happens, I did not receive a reply.
I checked in online the day before using the excellent Hilton HHonors app, and chose King Hilton Guestroom that looked like it might have a view of the castle or nearby gardens, and was away from the lifts. Out of curiosity, I looked at the room rates for the night we had booked, and was rather shocked:
My 40,000 points had got me a £263 room, 0.66p per point of value, not bad at all. Later that day when I checked, it showed all rooms as sold out (which I then found out was probably due to the Speedway Grand Prix at the Principality Stadium – turns out Speedway is really popular!) so my hopes for an upgrade were dwindling.
On arrival, we were politely greeted by reception, and happily told that we had been upgraded to an Executive Room with View, which looking at the rates above, is 3 steps;
King Executive with View > King Executive > King Deluxe > King Hilton.
This also represents 0.83p of value per HHonors point!
All the Executive rooms were on the 6th and 7th floor, and we had a room on the 6th. On the way to the lift we noticed a crowd of people around some guy in brightly coloured clothes who seemed to be signing autographs. Someone in the lift later told us he was the current Speedway world champion and was staying in the hotel. To this day, I have no idea who he is and couldn’t tell you what he looks like, but at least the Speedway fans seemed pretty excited about him.
The room itself was a decent size, without being overwhelming and was well maintained and clean throughout. There was sufficient wardrobe space (and hangers!) for two of us to hang our evening outfits (that makes them sound much fancier they really were!), the wardrobe also contained a safe, two robes and slippers. There was plenty of floor space for the case, as well as a desk running most of the width of the room, also housing the TV, mini fridge (no snacks or soft drinks as used to be the norm) and amenity tray with tea, coffee and plastic milk. I was able to easily find an available outlet to charge our phones. The TV was a bit of a let-down, as it appeared to use old fashioned analogue aerial to distribute the pictures, so while choice was pretty good, the picture quality was frankly, rubbish. Many hotels have better systems, and I think HD is a minimum requirement, particularly on a large flat screen TV.
This is the point at which I let you all down by neglecting to take any photos (which we all know speak a thousand words), but the Hilton stock photos from the website are a fair representation, albeit typically a little brighter than reality.
Like the main room, the bathroom was perfectly clean, and everything worked. The overall design appearance was rather dated, in that large void between quaint old-fashioned and contemporary.
Our actual bathroom had a marginally different layout, and I suspect was a little larger than the one in the photo, with the toilet where the sink is shown, the sink to the left of that and a bath to the right of the shower, which will please many people who like the option of a shower or a bath.
Now this is where I risk my credibility as a writer, with what will sound like a ridiculous claim, but trust me it is 100% true. On this particular weekend, in Cardiff (which is in Wales), it was hot and sunny! No, really, and I mean we got sunburnt kind of hot and sunny. This was a rare opportunity to test out the air conditioning in a hotel room in Wales, and I am pleased to say it worked just fine. We actually left it on all night, and the constant white noise helped us to a very good night’s sleep. The bed was one of the most comfortable I have slept on, even my wife slept well and she is something of a Princess when it comes to these things. There is a downside to the location, and while during the day, you will appreciate the convenience of a City Centre location for shopping, when it gets dark Cardiff changes! I think to be polite, you would describe it as a vibrant nightlife, or thriving night-time economy, but basically it means a whole load of people get very drunk. Up on the 6th floor with the air conditioning running, we were largely insulated from the shouting and sirens etc. but think carefully about your choice of floor, unless you plan to be one of the ones shouting and getting arrested, in which case have a great time, but show some consideration for those of us too old to participate anymore.
There is a LivingWell health club on-site, that offers;
- 20 metre pool
- Gym with cardiovascular machines, free weights and resistance machines
- Steam Room
Deferring once more to the hotel’s stock photos for visual reference…
On a one night break, with a return timetable to adhere to, we didn’t get to visit the leisure facilities, but the LivingWell clubs in Hiltons, particular those like this one that offer external access and membership, are generally well maintained, and certainly better than hotel-only gyms in my experience, which often consist of little more than a rowing machine and a couple of dumbbells in a basement room.
We didn’t eat dinner in the hotel restaurant, so can’t really comment on it. (We went back to the Laguna Kitchen at the nearby Park Plaza hotel, having eaten there before and it was excellent, again)
Knowing that the hotel was sold out, we elected to take breakfast in the Executive Lounge in the hope that it would be quieter. It was still reasonably busy, and the selection was not as broad as a typical hotel buffet, but that is normal for a lounge. Available hot food was
- Scrambled eggs (slightly overcooked for me, I prefer some retained moisture)
- Toast (rather oddly from a domestic 4 slice machine, rather than the usual conveyor)
Cold options were wider
- Fruit (grapefruit, mixed berries, fruit salad, pineapple)
- Yoghurt (individual flavoured pots and large bowl of natural)
- Sliced meats and cheese
To drink, there was good choice of tea bags, a bean to cup coffee machine and jugs of fresh juice, as well as bottles of water in the fridge.
Some of the seating in the lounge wasn’t ideal for eating, with lots of low chairs and tables which are ideal for a relaxing evening drink and nibbles, but not for eating a meal from. When things ran out, it did take quite some time for the hostess to return with replacements (perhaps a feature of the lounge being on the 7th floor and kitchens, presumably, on the ground floor?). On departure, we looked into the restaurant and concluded that we should have eaten breakfast in there. The choice was much better. Lesson learned for next time.
Having already covered the breakfast offering in the lounge, I’m going to jump back in time to the previous afternoon to give you some more detail on the lounge. After checking in and dropping off our bags (and forgetting to take any photos of the room) we did a quick recce of the lounge. The room key granted entry to a deserted lounge. I helped myself to a coffee in a paper cup, with a packet of biscuits and headed off to explore the Food & Drink festival.
On our return later (with sunburn, remember!) we headed back to lounge for the evening drinks and canapé service. The large window gave a panoramic view of Cardiff, and was a great outlook from the lounge. The choice was fairly limited, and this inconsistency across properties is a bit of a frustration. Some hotels offer a choice of beers, red and white wine, prosecco and spirits with mixers, but not this one. Your alcoholic options were red or white wine, or a bottle of Carlsberg. There were also bottles of water, as well as small bottles of Coke, tonic water, fruit juices etc. (glass, so you wouldn’t want to take them out). Food options were varied, but I have no idea what much of it was. It’s not that I’m a fussy eater, far from it, but there were bowls of “stuff” with no labels. I’ll try to describe some – consistency of mayonnaise, bright yellow in colour, topped with mixed nuts and seeds. This was a large bowl from which you would serve yourself some, and dip crudités or breadsticks into. It was actually very nice, but I have no idea what it was. There was a selection of similar dips, as well as small pieces of deep fried, battered white fish which was tasty enough, albeit a little greasy. Some little labels telling you what in each dish, would have gone a long way here.
Quality of service
The front desk staff were excellent, very friendly and welcoming and acknowledging my Diamond status. Even though it was only 1:00PM, the room was ready and we were very quickly checked in. The valet parking service was very efficient, as you would expect, drive up, handover keys, get ticket. On departure, handover ticket, car turns up a few minutes later. As it was likely to cost around £20 to park in a nearby NCP, a £5 premium for valet is well worthwhile in my opinion. If you’re on a budget, there are cheaper places to park if you do your research beforehand with Parkopedia, or JustPark, and don’t mind a bit of a walk. We didn’t really encounter any more staff, other than the lounge hostess who was efficient without being overly friendly.
Rate Paid: 40,000 HHonors points (Cat 6 hotel), booked as a King Hilton Guestroom (i.e. standard room). Equivalent cash rate for that night: £263. Points were earned mainly through revenue stays associated with business travel.
A few days after checking out, I checked my HHonors account and found that I had earned 1,806 points through spending just £25 at the hotel on parking. Sounds a lot for a £25 spend, right?
- 1,000 points for being a Diamond member (even on reward stays? That surprised me),
- 10 points / $ on £25 (I do not like their exchange rate!) = 269 points
- Current double HHonors promotion = 269 points
- Diamond bonus of 50% base points = 134
- Diamond bonus on double HHonors bonus points = 134
You have to love how Hilton promotions stack up!
Room Type: Upgraded to King Executive with View on checkin (Cash rate for that room that night: £332)
With a net points cost of 38,194, the booked room returned 0.69p/point and considering the upgraded room 0.87p/point. Would I have paid > £300 for that room, absolutely not, but the key here is there is no demand based pricing of points redemptions, so booking for a very busy weekend when cash rates were high giving me the best perceived value.
Summary of stay
Overall, we enjoyed our weekend in Cardiff and would almost certainly return to the Hilton when we visit again, but will take breakfast in the restaurant. I would say having Diamond status contributed hugely to the overall experience, which may have been less rewarding without the room upgrade and/or guaranteed lounge access. The hotel isn’t going to blow anyone away with luxury fixtures and fittings, but it’s clean and well maintained and you’d be surprised about how many big name hotels I can’t say that about. Location is spot on for the City Centre, and being sensible, you have to accept some noise as the payoff for the convenience. If you want complete peace and quiet all night, you’re going to need to travel out of the City, and sacrifice the convenience. Stick to a higher floor if you can, and use the Hilton app to look at the choice of rooms available, even if you don’t check in online beforehand.
You can see my ratings below, but do note that they would be lower if I didn’t have status. If you’re reading this site and don’t have at least Hilton Gold, have a look back over some status matching articles to see what you’re missing out on.