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Rating the Holiday Inn Express Wall Street

During our brief sojourn in New York City we stayed in the Holiday Inn Express Wall Street. Here’s what we thought:

The low-down

Cost: £220.40 for two nights
Fair cost: £100 per night
Rating: 3.5 out of 5
How accurate are the website pictures? 4 out of 5

Key considerations

I spent ages choosing a hotel, making and cancelling several bookings as the prices fluctuated wildly in the months in the run-up to our visit. Here are the factors that influenced my final decision

  • Proximity to Pier 11 – to catch the ferry from Manhattan to Red Hook Cruise Terminal
  • Price
  • Accessibility
  • Breakfast

Eventually I booked the Holiday Inn Express Wall Street via Booking.com because the price, including breakfast, was ridiculously low compared to other nearby options. So low, I suspect it may have been a mistake <shrug>.

Location

Just off actual Wall Street, the hotel is located in the oldest part of Manhattan – the Financial District. Although handy for the ferry terminal at Pier 11 (more on that tomorrow) there isn’t much touristy stuff in this area.

This may not actually be a bad thing. My New Yorker friend believes this is a much more civilised, safer part of the city than say, Times Square.

On the flip side, with the exception of Battery Park and Ground Zero, there’s not a lot to see in this district. Not ideal when travelling with a scooter and trying to avoid the subway.

A picture of the Continental Hotel from the John Wick movies
John Wick fans may recognise this nearby building which provided the externals for the Continental Hotel

Check-in

Once inside and enjoying the air conditioning, check-in wasn’t too bad. The young man checking us in was very polite and efficient. 

Initially we were offered a room on the 5th floor. We asked the man for something higher and he countered with the 19th. 

‘Yes please!’ said we. 

‘Are you ok with a bath?’ he asked, looking doubtfully at Linda’s scooter.

‘Oh yes, I’d quite like a bath,’ said Linda.

Tap tap tap.

‘Fine, your room is on the 7th floor.’

Huh?

The room

Our room is not on the 19th floor. It does not have a bath. I offer to call down to reception to have us moved, but Linda says no. So we make the best of what we have.

It is quite small, quite dark, quite brown, quite cold and quite noisy. At least we know the air conditioning works. In fact, we can hear the air conditioning units for the whole building through our (closed) window.

A picture of the view from our room at the Holiday Inn Express Wall Street
The view from your Holiday Inn Express Wall Street room may be underwhelming

The bed is nice and comfortable, the bedding clean and crisp. I like it. Linda says the bed is more comfortable than the one at the Thistle yesterday.

The bathroom is large, but the walk-in shower design means that the whole room gets soaked. I hate that.

The wall mounted air conditioner is very effective and it takes a few attempts to find a comfortable temperature. It is also ridiculously loud – particularly when it fires up in the middle of the night.

—-

Top tip: Take some ear plugs. Or ask to be moved to a higher floor – there are 27 to choose from.

Breakfast

One of the big draws for the Holiday Inn Express, other than its location, is the free breakfast. 

The food choice is relatively ok. Bagels, bread and English muffins for toasting. Hot options include omelettes, pork sausages, turkey sausages and cubed potatoes. There’s three cereals, fresh fruit and yoghurts. Annoyingly, the pancake machine is out of action for our entire stay.

The breakfast is good and filling – a definite plus.

Check out

This is the point at which everything starts to go wrong. The weird layout of the building means that there’s a tight turn into the elevator with a scooter, particularly on the ground floor. Factor in three suitcases and it’s almost impossible to fit anyone else in.

As we leave, there are already three people in the elevator. We do manage to squeeze everything in – and then the alarm goes off. For no reason at all. The elevator refuses to move. We’re stuck on the seventh floor.

Our fellow passengers disembark in annoyance. Eventually I manage to reset the alarm and the lift shoots us up to the 25th floor. By the time we finally make it back to the lobby, we have acquired another six passengers. It’s cramped, uncomfortable and bad tempered.

Check-out itself is simply a matter of throwing our keycards in a bowl and sprinting for the door. We have less than ten minutes to make out ferry to the Red Hook Cruise Terminal

The run

Pier 11 is just a six minute walk from the Holiday Inn Express Wall Street. Pulling three suitcases across New York’s poorly maintained roads in 30ºC heat makes it feel like a six-hundred mile run – and that’s before a wheel falls off the other suitcase.

A map showing the walking route from the Holiday Inn Express Wall Street to Pier 11
It’s a short walk/run from the Holiday Inn Express Wall Street to Pier 11

We reach Pier 11 and I hesitate as I find my bearings. It costs us 30 seconds – long enough for the ferry team to close the access gate and stop us boarding. It’s now a one-hour wait for the next ferry.

Top tip: Walk down the Pier, past the ticket office/café and you will find Slip C on the right-hand side. 

Bonus tip: Download the NYC Ferry app and buy your tickets in advance. It will save you time queuing at the dock.

I say we made it in time. Linda disagrees. I guess the fact we’re still sitting on the dock proves she is right.

Other options

During our last NYC visit, we stayed just around the corner at the Wall Street Inn. I quite liked the slightly dated charm of the hotel, but the cost (prices fluctuated between £350 and £750 in the months running up to our trip) and the poor quality breakfast counted against it.

The good news is that there are plenty of other hotels in the Financial District – most hugely over-priced. Other cruisers on our adventure stayed at the Doubletree by Hilton or the AC Marriott which are also close to Pier 11.

Overall

The Holiday Inn Express is quite bland and faceless – it is part of chain after all. However, the breakfast and slightly closer position to Pier 11 means we think it just beats out The Wall Street Inn.

JFK Airport Transfer Adventures

The POD trip to Terminal 5 is quick, efficient and smooth, unlike our JFK airport transfer. But more about that later.

The only problem so far is that I managed to break the wheel on one of our big suitcases yesterday. That’s going to make the walk to the New York ferry terminal fun on Friday morning…

Check-in at Special Assistance desk in Heathrow Airport, isn’t particularly efficient. Despite completing all the paperwork accompanying Linda’s mobility scooter in advance, we have to go through the whole rigmarole again. On the plus side, we get to fast track the security queue when it’s done.

No lounge today

Having lost Executive Club Silver status, we no longer have access to the BA Club lounge. Although my Amex Gold card includes four free Priority Pass credits, we decide not to bother today.

Instead we find a nice quiet corner on Level 2 and sit to enjoy an early morning coffee.

A map of Heathrow Terminal 5 showing where to find some quiet seats while you wait for your flight
There is a quiet seating area located between the escalators on Level 2

Boarding the 777

People with mobility issues are allowed to board the plane first. This is particularly useful as we are sat in the very last row of the Boeing 777.

The two-seat set-up of this particular row gives us a tiny bit more room – and no neighbour’s elbows. Nice.

The buttons on my in-flight entertainment system are broken. And the in-flight mapping system goes down after an hour and never comes back.

The flight to JFK

The flight is smooth and uneventful. We even nap for an hour or so. Not that it feels like it. 

Disembarkation and immigration

We are the last off the plane – which makes sense as we’re in the last row. Once off the plane, we simply follow the other special assistance passengers. 

Normally, immigration at JFK takes us at least an hour, standing in a hot, dingy corridor waiting to have passports and visas checked. This time we are through in a matter of minutes. Nice.

Transfer from JFK to the hotel

This is the point where the journey gets “interesting”. I have pre-booked a JFK airport transfer with Booking.com in a ‘large SUV’ for just £51.40. That’s about half the price of a yellow taxi or an Uber ($100+)…

A picture of the Booking.com confirmation of our JFK airport transfer
These are the same JFK airport transfer details the driver received – but he still headed for the wrong Holiday Inn Express!

According to my confirmation email, the transfer service is provided by Carzen, a Chinese company.

After collecting our luggage I send a text as instructed and receive a response from our driver. Perfect. I told him where to meet us – and again the driver responded to say he would be with us in a few minutes.

However…

The car details supplied via the Booking.com were wrong. The confirmation email told us to expect a black GMC Denali. Instead the driver arrived in a white Volkswagen. It takes us quite a while to find our car. At least there is plenty of boot space for our luggage and the scooter.

As we headed towards Manhattan it became clear that the driver didn’t actually know which Holiday Inn Express we are staying in. It took a bit of to-and-fro to get him pointed towards Wall Street. 

That said, we didn’t make any wrong turns, double-backs or unexpected toll roads. So although somewhat mysterious (will we get there?) the journey was actually straightforward and fast.

Would I recommend a Booking.com transfer? Yes. But you may find the process smoother if you have a US data plan just in case you need to call the driver – or help point them in the right direction.

As for the Holiday Inn Express Wall Street, I’ll write the review after we finish our stay…


Please note that we use sponsored links on this blog. Although we may earn a referral fee or bonus points on some of these products and services, we never recommend anything we wouldn’t use ourselves.

Thistle Terminal 5 Hotel Heathrow – Rating

The Thistle Hotel Terminal 5 at Heathrow has become our default overnight stop for early morning flights out of London. Firmly located at the ‘budget’ end of the price scale, this hotel has the distinction of being the closest to Terminal 5 – other than the luxury Sofitel which is connected directly to the airport.

This is now the third time we have stayed here.

Check in

Having booked and pre-paid via Ebookers/Expedia, check-in was quick and easy – just collect a keycard from reception. There was no additional paperwork to complete, nor any need for ID or credit cards for ‘incidentals’.

The room

On this occasion we had a king-size double room which I think is supposed to be at the upper end of the accommodation options. The bed was decent (Linda says the mattress was too hard for her) and the crisp, white linen clean and comfortable. The fixtures and fittings in the room were in generally good condition.

The shower is warm and the water flow perfectly reasonable. There is a bath tub if you are that way inclined.

Pros: We had a Nespresso coffee maker and capsules

Cons: No runway view in room 209. It’s a long walk between reception and room 209.


Top tip: The electrical socket mounted above the desk has 1 x USB-A and 1 x USB-C charging ports for your electronic devices.


Other facilities

The Thistle Hotel Terminal 5 has had a few upgrades since our last visit, most notably the addition of a ‘shop’ in reception. This replaces the vending machines of old, selling over-priced beer and snacks. There is also a Costa Coffee machine for those staying in non-luxury rooms.

Food and drink

There is a restaurant and bar on the first floor offering excellent runway views across Heathrow Airport – expect to pay approximately £20 per person for a main meal (pizza, burger, fish and chips etc). We did not visit either on this occasion.

We opted for KFC delivery instead.


Top tip: Meet your delivery driver at the front gate to the car park. They will be extremely grateful for saving them from the parking ticket hell that ensues once they pass the entrance barrier.


Appearance

The Thistle Hotel Terminal 5 is very much a product of its time. The 1970s building has the same vibe as many British Telecom telephone exchanges and other utilitarian buildings of that era. Externally, it has definitely seen better days.

Inside, the hotel fares much better. And is actually in relatively good shape considering the sheer number of people passing through every day.

Check out

Very quick. Just drop your keycard in the glass bowl, nod to the receptionist and leave.

The Heathrow POD

The most important reason for using the Thistle Hotel Terminal 5 is its unique transport deal with the airport. Guests are permitted to use the automated Heathrow POD transport system to and from the terminal. It’s a journey that takes just 5 minutes in little autonomous vehicles that run on their own dedicated track, away from the busy airport ring road.

A picture showing the POD route between Thistle Heathrow Terminal 5 hotel and the airport
The red line traces the route taken by the POD between airport and hotel

The PODs run from level 2 of Heathrow Terminal 5 to the nearby ‘POD car park’ which backs onto the Thistle Hotel. There is a security gate between said carpark and the hotel grounds, offering a slightly cheaper, faster alternative to taxis (and far less stress than the Heathrow Hoppa hotel bus service). 

On arrival, simply press the ‘Call’ button to gain access. 

NOTE: The POD service is NOT free for hotel guests. You are supposed to pay a fee of £8 per person per trip at the hotel reception. Whether you are actually charged or not is at the discretion of the person on the hotel reception desk.

The same process applies for the return journey. Technically you must pre-pay at Reception to get a PIN code which opens the gate. 

The POD is a novel and fun way to travel. We were able to fit ourselves, the mobility scooter and three suitcases without too much of a problem.

Given that I was quoted upwards of £50 for a taxi to do the same five minute journey, the POD represents reasonable value.

Can residents of other hotels use the POD?

There are several hotels near the Thistle, such as the Travelodge and the Sheraton. Which raises the question,  can residents of other establishments use the PODs? 

Officially, the answer is no. There is an exclusive agreement in place between Heathrow Airport and the Thistle. 

However… Having arrived at the hotel, you may be able to feign ignorance and pay your fee at Reception before heading on to your hotel. Similarly, you could turn up at Thistle’s reception the next day and purchase a return ticket – it is unlikely the receptionist will ask too many questions.

Please proceed at your own risk.

Overall

The Thistle Hotel Terminal 5 is unlikely to win any style or design awards. And you wouldn’t stay here for a romantic weekend away. But as an airport adjacent crash pad, it’s a very solid choice.

Cost: £152 booked through ebookers.com
Fair value: £70


Please note that we use sponsored links on this blog. Although we may earn a referral fee or bonus points on some of these products and services, we never recommend anything we wouldn’t use ourselves.

Wembley Stadium Accessibility – The Complete Guide 

This guide will answer all of your Wembley Stadium accessibility questions. Note that the experiences we have written about are for someone who is still partially mobile, who can get around a little with crutches a stick.

With 90,000 seats, Wembley Stadium is the UK’s largest. It is the home of English football and the chosen for venue for the world’s largest music acts – Taylor Swift and AC/DC are due to play here soon.

There are plenty of reasons to visit Wembley. But what issues do wheelchair users face?

Underground to Wembley Park

Wembley Park is one of the few London Underground stations that is properly wheelchair accessible. This means you can wheel a chair straight off the train and onto the platform without crossing steps or gaps.

Once you have disembarked, you will have to find a lift from the platform up to the ticket hall. You must then catch another elevator down to Wembley Way. This means crossing to the right-hand corner of the station – fortunately the wider wheelchair-friendly gate is on that side of the station.

Verdict: Step-free access to trains is good – when there aren’t any crowds.

Boxpark

We like to stop at Boxpark when visiting Wembley Stadium (or the Arena) because they have a good selection of food and drink. However, the venue tends to get jam-packed quite early in the day.

Getting around the crowded food hall is impossible, so we found a quiet(ish) corner and plumped for German Doner Kebab. There’s Indian, Chinese, Jamaican, Thai and many other street food choices to consider too.


Top tip: Wheelchair users get to jump the Boxpark entrance queue.


The queues for the ladies toilets are crazy long and the cubicles are tiny. There is a disabled cubicle at the back of the ladies toilets, but you will still have to queue with everyone else. And then fight your way through the crowded toilet.

Our recommendation: Skip the toilets and wait until you get into the Stadium.

Verdict: Good food, crap accessibility.

Accessible entrance to Wembley Stadium

There are two long, sweeping ramps that flank the Stadium taking you up to the entrance level. Wheelchair users can find four elevators hidden under the front stairs next to the VIP entrance (marked with a purple X in the map below). Follow the signs for the Accessibility entrance.

A picture of Wembley showing the location of the Wembley Stadium accessibility lifts
The purple X makes the location of the Wembley Stadium Accessibility elevators

Follow the signs to the turnstile printed on your ticket. Each gate has its own disabled entrance – look for the steward standing by the door. You pass through a double airlock-style system, which includes a half-hearted security search. It is much faster and more efficient than the standard turnstiles.

Verdict: Security works quite well for wheelchair users.

Park your wheelchair

Wembley Stadium has 301 dedicated wheelchair ‘spaces’, located on Level 1. They are easy to access and well staffed – but they also have terrible views when watching concerts.

If you have booked a regular seat, you will have to climb or descend some stairs. You cannot take your wheelchair to your seat.

You will need to find one of the Information Desks on your level (we used the one opposite entrance 137). The stewards will label your wheelchair and lock it away securely in a storage room. You can ask the stewards to meet you at your gate with your chair at the end of the gig/match.

There are two Information Desks on each level (1, 2 and 5).

In theory, you could also take (and leave) a mobility scooter, but you will have a much harder time navigating the Underground.

Verdict: The Wembley Stadium accessibility team are friendly and the option to store a wheelchair securely is really helpful.

Take a RADAR key

Wembley Stadium has plenty of accessible toilets but you will need a Radar key to access them. The queues are shorter, the cubicles larger and the experience much more comfortable for wheelchair users.

Lokko Radar Key

This key grants access to thousands of accessible toilets across the UK. Wheelchair-friendly, these bathrooms tend to offer much more comfort and room for anyone experiencing mobility issues.

We believe one of these keys is a “must-have” for your accessibility travel toolkit.

Wembley Stadium accessibility stewards also have spare Radar keys if you need assistance. Just speak to the nearest person wearing a hi-vis jacket.

Be warned that as queues grow in the regular toilets, plenty of people will try and push their way into a disabled cubicle.

Getting around Wembley Stadium

It is possible to have a steward wheel you to your gate if you need help – just ask at the Information Desk.

We found the stewards to be incredibly helpful – a real credit to the Stadium.

After the gig – wheelchair recovery

This was where everything started to go wrong. We had asked to be met at our gate with our wheelchair – but it wasn’t there at the end of the gig.

It was a long walk back against the flow of the crowd to the information desk. We also had to pass through several gates that had been locked to help manage foot traffic.

Thankfully, retrieving our wheelchair was relatively straightforward.

Verdict: The first and only time the stewards failed. But with 80,000 concert-goers to look after, mistakes will happen.

Exiting the stadium

Leaving the Stadium, head back towards there front of the building.  You are looking for the accessible lifts that will take you back to ground level. Be aware that lifts are much busier after the gig.

Verdict: Going against the flow makes this particular part of the evening quite daunting.

Back to Wembley Park station

At ground level you face a choice. Head straight ahead to join the foot traffic going down Wembley Way. 

Alternatively, bear right under the stairs and keep heading along the road in front of the Stadium, then take the first road on the left. A few hundred metres down on the left you will find the Accessibility minibus which ferries wheelchairs back to the station.

A picture of Wembley Stadium showing where to meet the accessibility minibus transfer back to the station
The red X shows where to meet the accessibility minibus transfer back to Wembley Park station

The minibus only holds 10 wheelchairs, so you could be waiting for a while.


Top tip: The bus is free. If you’re not planning on a stop at Boxpark, you can use the transport to get from the station to the Stadium too.


After seeing the minibus queue we opted to walk. It took nearly half an hour to get back because of the crowd management system in place to prevent the station being overwhelmed. 


Top tip: Head for the left-hand side of Wembley Way. Otherwise you will have to try and cut across 80,000 people to reach the lift.


Verdict: Claustrophobic and uncomfortable.

Problems in the station

The lift and the wheelchair accessible ticket barrier on the left-hand side of the station. The elevator to get back down to the platforms is on the right. This means trying to cut across the crowds which may take a while (and bruise a few ankles). 


Top tip: Lift door won’t close? The problem is almost certainly caused by someone leaning against the ‘door open’ button.


There is just one lift to serve the London-bound train so you will probably have to queue for a while just to reach the platform. Whether travelling Metropolitan or Jubilee line, you will also find it incredibly hard to get onto a train because they are packed.

You may have to push and shove a little (or a lot) to get on board.


Top tip: The Jubilee line runs through the night on Fridays and Saturdays so you won’t have to rush – unless you’re planning on catching another train at a mainline station.


Verdict: Complete nightmare – as was the entire Tube ride home in the crowded carriages.

When should you NOT visit Wembley Stadium in a wheelchair?

  • You have to make a train connection elsewhere after the gig
  • You do not have an able-bodied helper

Consider staying over

The sheer volume of people heading back to the station can make the journey long, slow, tiring and stressful. There are several hotel options in the immediate vicinity of the Stadium:

Just remember to book early as prices increase dramatically nearer to the date.

Disabled parking

Another option would be to drive to Wembley. There is an official Blue Badge parking zone offering discount prices – and a connecting bridge to the Stadium entrance level. 

A picture of the official Wembley carparks. The disabled parking section is denoted by the blue square.
The blue square denotes the official Wembley Blue Badge parking section

Bear in mind that your car will be subject to the much-hated ULEZ congestion charge which could significantly increase the cost of your visit – especially if you don’t leave the charging zone until after midnight.

Did we miss anything?

Hopefully we’ve answered all of your Wembley Stadium accessibility questions. Feel free to drop us a comment if we missed anything.

Visit details

  • Date of our most recent visit: 29th June 2024
  • Gig: Green Day

Please note that we use sponsored links on this blog. Although we may earn a referral fee or bonus points on some of these products and services, we never recommend anything we wouldn’t use ourselves.

Avios air miles comes to Revolut (sort of)

Another day, another email regarding loyalty schemes, this time our favourite international card provider, Revolut. The headline change is the addition of RevPoints, a loyalty currency like air miles that can be spent and traded within the Revolut ecosystem.

Of greatest interest is that RevPoints can now be swapped for airline loyalty points, most importantly, British Airways Executive Club Avios. Also cool is that points are convert 1:1 . 100 RevPoints = 100 Avios.

Nice.

Why has Revolut introduced air miles?

Historically, Revolut customers on Metal or Ultra plans would receive cash back on card spend. Typically this was as low as 0.01% (1p for every £1 spent). There was also a monthly cap of £12 cash back earnings to prevent churners making a healthy profit with manufactured spending.

RevPoints should offer a better deal, right? Not quite. Metal subscribers will receive 1 RevPoint for every £2 they spend. Standard subscribers will get just 1 point for every £10 spent.

What’s the problem? Most third party air miles experts value Avios at roughly £0.01 each, equivalent to the old Revolut cashback rate. With a 1:2 earning ratio, RevPoints will be worth £0.005 each. The ability to switch points to another program at 1:1 will help to offset some of that devaluation, but the reward feels a little less rewarding because you receive less of them.

Currently RevPoints can be swapped for Avios or Flying Blue air miles, offering plenty of redemption options. You must transfer a minimum of 100 points each time and the transfer cannot be reversed.

A screenshot from the Revolut app showing how to swap RevPoints for air miles - and other redemption options
Screenshot from the Revolut app outlining RevPoints redemption options

It’s worth noting that RevPoints can also be used as part-payment for hotel stays or travel experiences. Given that we never use our air miles in this way, I’ll leave it to you to decide whether that’s good value or not.

Currently there are a few ways to accelerate your air mile earnings. Certain products and services bought within the Revolut app will pay rewards at a 1:1 rate. And if you make 150 card transactions within 3 months of the program going live, you’ll receive a 3000 RevPoints bonus.

Air miles hides bad news

Air miles will (probably) be more useful than the laughably low cash back rates previously offered. However, there have been some very unwelcome updates to the Metal subscription plan:

Travel insurance changes

Metal subscribers used to receive annual multi-trip travel insurance for themselves, their partner and their children as part of the plan. The policy was pretty decent, providing medical cover for travel, including cruises, and a host of mid-tier benefits. Best of all, it covered ALL your trips. For some people, this would be worth the £140 annual fee alone.

Unfortunately, that will all change on 25th July 2024 when Revolut switches insurance provider. From that date, only trips purchased using your Revolut card will be covered. This is annoying for us double-dippers who like to earn transferable air miles from American Express at a 1:1 rate for instance. 

That’s not all. The coverage window shrinks from 90 days per trip to 30 AND delay expenses are only payable after 8 hours. Under the current policy you can make a claim after waiting for four hours.

No more SmartDelay

More of a gimmick than a feature, Revolut Metal subscribers used to be able to pre-register their flights in the app. If there was a flight delay, the app would auto-generate two free airport lounge passes, providing somewhere to relax and chill while everyone else stressed out at the gate.

We’ve only ever been issued with SmartDelay passes once – on a trip where we were flying BA business class, so we already had lounge access.

The SmartDelay perk will be removed from 19th July. In future, you will have to pay for the lounge privilege. There are Priority Pass discounts available in the app, but if you have already been rinsed by the airport once, are you really going to throw more money at them for your inconvenience?

A picture of a Revolut Metal card which can now be used to earn air miles
Revolut do not allow you to add company logos on their custom metal cards. Thankfully mine can be easily recreated with text art!

Time to downgrade?

We have been Revolut subscribers for many years and would never hesitate to recommend the service. But as of these most recent changes, we’re a little more reluctant.

The addition of air miles to Revolut is welcome. However, the changes to the travel insurance policy are not.

The annual subscription fee for Revolut Metal continues to rise – as does the American Express card. Given the overlap in services, a time is coming where we will probably have to choose between Revolut and Amex.

Where Revolut wins out is the banking side of things. If you make or receive payments in foreign currencies, the card is quite useful. Lloyds Bank charges £7 per transaction to receive a payment in Euros for instance.

Amex Gold is the big winner when it comes to rewards. The 1:1 points earning facility along with the option to transfer points into virtually any airline or hotel loyalty program is incredibly valuable. As is the ability to earn bonus points and statement credits through the various cardholder deals each month. However, the annual travel insurance policy included with the card is quite weak and lacks much of what we would consider ‘standard’ requirements.

Our Revolut Metal plan doesn’t renew until November, so we have until then to decide what we’re going to do.

Interested in having your own Revolut or Amex Gold cards? You can use our sign-up links below to activate special bonuses:


Please note that although we may earn a referral fee or bonus points on some of these services, we never recommend anything we wouldn’t use ourselves.

Ebookers Bonus+ Closes. Will be replaced by Expedia One Key

An email from Ebookers has landed in my inbox this morning, advising that the Bonus+ loyalty program is shutting down in September. It will be replaced by an all-new program called ‘One Key’ managed by Expedia, the parent company of Ebookers.

For semi-budget travellers like us, the closure of Ebookers Bonus+ is a shame. It wasn’t the best program, but it did allow us to earn some loyalty benefits without having to be loyal to a specific hotel chain.

Ebookers Bonus+ Closes – what now?

Reading between the lines, the Ebookers website itself will probably shut down in September too, with all products and services being rolled into the Expedia brand. At the switchover, your existing Bonus+ benefits and earnings will also be merged into the One Key program.

One Key looks like poor value

It is very, very rare that a loyalty program improves over time. Which is a shame because the Bonus+ benefits were actually pretty decent, particularly at the Platinum level:

A screenshot of the current Bonus+ benefits taken before Ebookers Bonus+ closes

Perhaps better still, earning status was relatively easy. Every member automatically qualifies for Silver status at sign-up. Stay 4+ nights to earn Gold, or 12+ to hit the heady heights of Platinum.

Unsurprisingly, we managed to hold Platinum status for several years. And the annual DragonPass airport lounge passes were a genuinely handy benefit.

The One Key loyalty program is significantly less generous (in my opinion):

A screen shot of the One Key loyalty program tiers and the benefits for each

At the very highest tier, you have the opportunity to earn an additional 1% cash back – and that’s about it. Earning status is also harder, not least because there’s a new, unnecessary Blue tier to navigate first:

A picture of the earnings thresholds required to reach each One Key loyalty program tier

What is a ‘trip element’?

The Bonus+ program was beautifully simple – for every night stayed, you earned one credit towards the next tier. One Key introduces the concept of ‘trip elements’ to further obfuscate how difficult it will be to reach Platinum status.

The idea is that you are rewarded for each service you purchase through Expedia. So you earn a credit for each night in a hotel or each day you hire a car etc. According to the official example, two nights in a hotel and three day’s care hire would count as five credits, allowing you to achieve Silver status in just one trip.

Bumping the Platinum tier threshold to 30 credits has made it much harder (and more expensive) to reach goal.

It’s also worth noting that membership tiers are not permanent. You will have to meet the credit threshold every year to maintain status. Much like regular hotel programs such as Marriott Bonvoy or Hilton Honors.

Are there any upsides to One Key?

One Key will become the new loyalty program for all of Expedia’s brands. This means you can earn status on qualifying spend at Expedia, Hotels.com and Vrbo, allowing you to consolidate your travel loyalty memberships a little.

And in theory, by making Platinum status harder to achieve, fewer people will. Aside from perceived exclusivity, there is a very slim chance that the properties you visit will provide better perks.

What happens to my left-over Bonus+ credit?

When the One Key handover completes, Expedia promise that any left-over credit will migrate automatically. They also confirm that your existing Bonus+ membership tier will migrated to the corresponding One Key tier. But given the credit thresholds, there will be plenty of Platinum members who find themselves bumped down to Gold (or lower) overnight.

Ebookers Bonus+ closes – and so does my loyalty

The benefits of Bonus+ weren’t earth-shattering – but they were better than most of the hotel aggregator websites. By making it harder (and more expensive) to reach higher tiers, I don’t think we will bother in future. I certainly will not go out of my way to choose Expedia over Booking.com for instance.

As Ebookers Bonus+ closes I will no longer be tempted to gravitate towards loyalty program benefits over raw costs. I will always lean towards the cheapest prices for comparable hotel rooms in future.

Goodbye Bonus+, we will miss you.


Please note that although we may earn a referral fee or bonus points on some of these services, we never recommend anything we wouldn’t use ourselves.

Another Amex Center Parcs Discount Code

UPDATE 17/05/2024: An email newsletter landed in my inbox today with a genuine Center Parcs discount code: SAVE50

The code is valid for ‘all spring and early summer breaks when you book before midnight on 21st May‘.

Looking at the Amex T&Cs, it would appear you can “stack” the Amex rebate with the Center Parcs discount code to give a £125 total discount on your next forest lodge holiday…


The UK’s favourite middle class holiday camp is offering another Center Parcs discount code to American Express cardholders. This is highly unusual in the run-up to the summer holidays.

A picture of the Woburn park which we visited without a Center Parcs discount code
A Center Parcs discount code could allow you to enjoy a view like this at the Woburn park

As always, the discount is not earth-shattering. Amex card holders will receive a £75 ‘statement credit’ when they spend over £1000 on a Center Parcs break. That’s the equivalent of a 7.5% discount.

The Center Parcs discount code is available to the first 10,000 American Express card holders who activate the deal from the online account portal. The holiday booking transaction should be detected automatically, no discount code is actually required. The £75 credit will appear on your next statement. If not, Amex customer support are generally very good at making things right.

And don’t forget, you’ll earn at least 925 American Express Reward Points for your booking (one per pound spent). Reward Points are extremely useful because they can be traded for other loyalty points, such as Avios or Virgin Red points.

This particular offer is probably only of interest if you are already planning a trip to one of the Center Parcs parks. But as the famous supermarket slogan says, ‘every little helps‘. Just make sure you complete and pay for your booking before the offer ends on July 13th.

If you don’t yet have an American Express card, you can use our custom referral link to receive a 22,000 Membership Rewards bonus (equivalent to 22,000 Avios).

Aurora Borealis – Sometimes you get lucky

We have seen the Aurora Borealis a couple of times over the past few years, usually somewhere up near the Arctic Circle. Last night we were lucky enough to catch sight of the Northern Lights from our own back yard in Eastern England.

And it was spectacular.

A picture of the Aurora Borealis looking north west
Looking north west
A picture of the Aurora Borealis looking north east
Looking north east

Obviously, it is incredibly rare to see the Aurora Borealis this far south. Even more so to see this level of colour and detail. As always, Norway and Iceland offer a far greater chance of seeing the phenomenon in real life, but sometimes even the UK gets lucky.

If you happen to be in the UK, you can monitor Aurora activity with the AuroraWatch UK app. It’s free and will even alert you to heightened activity (when you are most likely to see it).

Fingers crossed we get to see the Aurora again in July as we head to Greenland and Iceland.

*Note: Neither of these photos of the Northern Lights has been altered in any way. They were captured on an iPhone 14 with the low-light Night Vision mode enabled.

Introducing DI Carson

Our travel options are still quite limited so time must be filled in other ways. In my case, that’s through writing which has led to the creation of DI Carson.

A picture of the cover of the DI Carson novel, Misadvertised

DI Carson is the ‘star’ of my latest novel Misadvertised, a gritty crime thriller set in London. Here’s what you need to know:

‘Yes’. A perfectly harmless message. Except for when it is written in the blood of an innocent man.

In the heart-pounding thriller Misadvertised, DI Carson is thrust into a grisly murder case that sends shockwaves through London. When a young man is found brutally murdered, his head severed with an axe, DI Carson and his fledgling murder squad are faced with a chilling mystery: no evidence, no motives, and no suspects, except for the cryptic messages left behind by a madman.

Struggling to rebuild his life after two years undercover and a strained marriage, DI Carson must rally his new team of detectives as they dive into the dark underbelly of London’s most notorious neighbourhoods. From the neon-lit streets of Soho to the dank sewers of Camden, every lead brings them closer to a deranged killer who shows no mercy.

As the body count rises and pressure mounts from all sides, Carson must navigate through the skepticism of his colleagues, the demands of his superiors, and the relentless scrutiny of the media. Can he piece together the twisted puzzle before more lives are claimed?

Misadvertised is a gripping tale of redemption, resilience, and the relentless pursuit of justice that will captivate fans of Alex Smith, K.T. Galloway, and JD Kirk alike.

Sounds interesting? Misadvertised ships on April 27th. Pre-order your copy now.

The Illusionist escape room, Escape Basildon

Unusually we managed to catch both boys at home and in a good mood, so we arranged another family trip – The Illusionist escape room hosted by Escape Basildon. Because of the relatively short notice, we had to book by phone (not a problem) and pay over the phone (big problem).

The escape room itself is located close to the pedestrianised city centre of Basildon opposite one of the more run-down looking buildings. Once inside however, the shop itself is fine, looking very much like any of the other games arenas we have visited over the years. 

After a shortened introduction and safety briefing, we were led into the room and given an analogue countdown clock and the background story: 

The curtains close, the cheering stops, yet you still await the appearance of the Illusionist. Having volunteered to take part in the grand finale it turns out there is a more sinister edge to the Magicians final trick. In order to escape you will need to defeat the magical challenges ahead!

Then we were set loose. 

It took us a little while to get into gear but once the first few puzzles were solved, we found our groove. There are quite a few padlocks in this particular game, some easier than others. On the few occasions we did get stuck, it was usually down to miscommunication rather than the difficulty of the puzzle itself. 

Experienced gamers will recognise many of the puzzle principles used in The Illusionist. But we still had fun and enjoyed the challenge, escaping from the room in just 45 minutes. The theming and condition of the room is also pretty good.

A picture of the family inside The Illusionist escape room in Basildon
As you can see, we had 15 minutes left on the clock

With four people playing, the room did feel a bit cramped at times. With six (max capacity) I can see fellow players becoming a hindrance – especially if one of you is less mobile than the others. There is no crawling, climbing or uneven floors in this room, which makes it relatively accessible.

Back in the Escape Basildon foyer, there are plenty of comfortable seats and a collection of 80s style arcade games. There is also a milkshake bar selling Shakeaway style drinks which is pretty cool.

There are two other rooms to play at Escape Basildon (a horror room and a wizard-themed room) which we may come back and play at some point in the future.

Did we escape? Yes
Did we have fun? Yes
Mobility rating: 4.5 out of 5 (the whole game operates in one room on one level)
Price: £88.00
Would we recommend? Yes
Rating: 3.75 out of 5

Other important stats for The Illusionist escape room:

Number of players: 4
Time limit: 60 minutes
Time remaining: 15 minutes
Number of clues: 0
Live actors: No
Escape Basildon difficulty rating: 4 out of 5

It’s worth noting that there is no parking at the Escape Basildon escape rooms, although there are plenty of car parks nearby. After 6pm on Sundays and Bank Holidays, it costs just £0.75 to park. There is no free parking for Blue Badge holders.

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