Al Dhabi Lounge, AUH

IMG_0473This is this updated lounge of the Airport Hotel Lounge in AUH, which I have blogged about in 2011.

This lounge went through major revamp and furnishing to reach the true magnificent level of service and recognition that Abu Dhabi is reaching for to represent its image to the world of travelers.

Access to this lounge can be through association of major frequent flyer programs, priority pass and I believe some credit card programs as well. This lounge is still located at Terminal 1 of Abu Dhabi International Airport (AUH), right after the e-gate and immigration desks.

Shower facilities, Computer access area, kids area and smoking lounges were added in order to provide the best service and accommodation to AUH patrons. The seating, decoration, furnishing have all been renewed and improved to a level that it surprised me in comparison to the previous set-up of its old version.

I have to add that the choices for the buffet need some improvement, yet it still beats any premium lounges in Europe, where hot food and in almost unlimited portions are as rare as water in the Arabian desert!

While traveling to Abu Dhabi, I would suggest visiting this lounge to experience comfort before taking off on your flight!

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Khalidiya Palace Rayhaan by Rotana, Abu Dhabi

IMG_1002I’ve been only once to this hotel, but I have to admit that it is worth blogging about.

Due to my work commitment, we have decided to conduct a meeting at Khalidiya Palace Rayhaan Hotel, a Rotana property in Abu Dhabi, UAE.

This hotel combines three living quarters in one place. I believe that the hotel is one-third of them, while the other buildings are private apartments, if I am correct to assume so.

The location of the hotel is opposite the Abu Dhabi Marina mall and the Emirates Palace hotel on the corniche.

The hotel is reputable for its family friendliness and the provided swimming pools for the kids and families to enjoy. Its nearness to the mall and the corniche is convenient in distance, yet I don’t recommend to cut it through walking since it involves going through traffic and packed streets, which is not safe and the distance is not convenient during summer heat.

As for the hotel, it has to be noted that it is a dry hotel, i.e. no alcohol is provided nor allowed on its premises. So, for all thirsty travelers, I would suggest to look somewhere else.

The lobby and the reception of the hotel is spacious and convenient. The reception and the hotel staff are courteous and available upon need.

I had one major issue with one of the reception desk staff, who provided me with the wrong information regarding using the local line for making an 800 number call within the UAE. I had assumed that it was chargeable by the hotel, but the desk receptionist insisted that it was free. I called twice to inquire about it and on both calls, the reply was that I can go ahead since this call, using the hotel line is free and no charges would be placed on my bill.

I went ahead and place my call on the 800 number to conduct a conference call for an hour with business partners in the states. Upon checking out the next day, I found out that I was charged with almost 75 AED for using the local line to conduct the same call. Upon discussing the same with the reception desk staff and clarifying the issue with the manager, I provided them with the name of the hotel staff who answered me and provided me with the wrong information. The charges were dropped but I think he didn’t get away with his fault!

This hotel is part of the Rotana Rewards program and I would suggest to join the said program to enjoy its rewards. I will review their hotel frequent guest program in an upcoming post!

I would like to emphasize on the size and comfort of this hotel through the following snaps of the deluxe room at this property.

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First Class Lounge, DOH

This post is about Doha’s International Airport Premium First and Business class lounges in its Premium terminal. I’ve been to this lounge a couple of times and it is worth writing a post about.

Now, this terminal is dedicated only for Business and First class travelers on Qatar Airways. Business Class has it own lounge and thus First Class as well. The camera snaps in this post are from the First Class side.

This lounge is magnificent. You’re talking about a great breakfast/lunch/dinner buffet with a dedicated steak and sushi bar. I’ve heard that there’s an à la carte menu as well, but didn’t have the chance to try it. On the side there’s a dedicated bar for drinks and fresh juices. There are dedicated lounge staff who would service all kinds of hot drinks upon request. For all smokers, there’s a dedicated cigar lounge with nice leather seats and great view of the airport. The seating area is very big and flight update monitors can be found almost everywhere.

The most remarkable feature of this lounge is the spa. There’s a dedicated spa with jacuzzi and massage services. To enjoy it, your stay in the lounge shouldn’t be around one hour only. I’ve gotten used to their massage lazyboys chairs. For a whole hour, I couldn’t get my ass off it.

Outisde of the seating area, there is a business center for those who need to finish their office work. There is a private room for kids with video games consoles and multiple screens. A praying room with abolition is made available as well.

In general, this is one of the best lounges that I have been to in GCC region. I haven’t tried the Emirates First Class lounge in DXB, but in the meantime this stands as the best in my own opinion.

iPhone Travel Apps: Supporting Apps

The third post in the series after the airlines and hotels, comes this post which is of supporting apps that are must have for all frequent travelers. I hope that this list, I can cover most of the essential iPhone apps that could come handy for everyone.

eCurrency App:

This app is a must have, in my opinion. A very handy currency exchange app that could allow you to have up to 8 active exchanges, with different bases for each choice. This is not usually found in other apps. For example, you can have US dollar Vs Japanese Yen in the first slot, then British pound Vs Saudi Riyal in the next and so on. And there’s a calculator that you can use along, which is an awesome extra. The app is usually updated to the latest rates and it never crashed on me and has been my first choice to check rates. It is a paid app, but worth every penny, highly recommended.

Priority Pass App:

This is a must have for all users of the Priority Pass services worldwide. Instead of the heavy booklet which they usually send along in the membership kit and usually takes space in any brief case, this app covers it all. It uses GPS to locate the nearest lounge at your location that accepts Priority Pass. You can also review the lounges in whichever destination you may be heading to. Also, it downloads the latest additional lounges and updates about the current one, in case of changes in policies and such. In some lounges, images are provided but not all of them. I wish that the developer would add in renewal of the membership in the app for easier service and access.

Diners Club App:

I’m an ex-user of Diner Club and I have to say that I’ve started using it in its last years of fame and power. I have acquired mine 2-3 years ago locally in Kuwait and honestly, this powerful credit card is fading away. Yet, it comes very handy for lounge entrees and recognition when you’re traveling. This app is designed to fulfill the basic needs of any Diner Club holder, instead of going straight for their website. You can check for ATM machines which accept Diner Club cards, airport lounges, and some essential services such as merchant offers, currency convertor and customer support. Of course, don’t expect too much from the merchant offers since most business started to take down the Diner Club card sign from their business. The app is a must have only for Diner Club card owners.

American Express App:

Here’s another credit card-based app that would be handy for frequent travelers. American Express has been improving its cyber services and developed an app that would come handy for its owners. Unfortunately, this app is only for AmEx cards issued from the states. There’s no other app for other countries. So much can be achieved from this app for anyone living outside of the states. There are some services that can be utilized like checking for international merchant offers and such. But I have known that with this app, if you have an American AmEx, you can check your balance and pay your dues and more for your account. Otherwise, let’s hope that American Express would recognize its international customers and provide us with an alternative.

iPhone Travel Apps: Airlines

In follow-up of my previous post about iPhone Travel Apps, let me enlighten you with the next line of important iPhone Apps for traveling: Airlines apps. I’ve downloaded must of the available apps for airlines and frequent flyer programs available for iPhone in quest to test their worthiness. Let me present you with some of which I can recommend.

Cathay Pacific’s CX Mobile App:

Available in two formats for iPhone and iPad, this application is truly good. You can check-in for flights, check your frequent flyer status for Marco Polo Club, get flights timetables, information about countries which CX flies to and some insight on the human side of CX: its crew and the people working behind the scenes. Very recommended and you should give the iPad version a try.

Lufthansa app:

It looks like Lufthansa is also competing to reach the high level of service standards and they’re doing it good. Available in iPhone and iPad format, Lufthansa has plugged in all the needed information for any traveler. Mobile electronic QR boarding pass for scanning, check-in services, flights timetables, frequent flyer status and information and some awesome Lufthansa-related wallpapers for your gadget. I would truly recommend trying the iPad version. I have been using the iPhone version since two years ago and it evolved into something is that functioning smoothly and helped me during my trips with Lufthansa. Recommended.

British Airways App:

Being updated to the latest minute, British Airways have been working hard on getting this app to satisfy its users and it has gotten better over time. In the beginning, I didn’t like the idea that you have to login to use the app, but I think most of that gone right now and it’s gotten flexible over trial and error and users feedback. This is an interactive app display’s the urge of BA to compete to regain trust and confidence of its patrons over other competitive airlines. Generally, it has most of the functions that I have listed earlier in the previous apps but I do like the new artwork and its reflection into the app. Available only for iPhone.

All Nippon Airways ANA Global App:

Hidden and almost unnoticeable, the first app to emerge from the main two big Japanese airlines for iPhone and available in the US iTunes store. I was surprised that ANA decided to tackle the global scene with this app and it’s good. Equipped with a different interface where you can change the layout and background of the app while using it, it got me interested. The ability to display global time zones for up to 3 regions is remarkable and unique from all the other apps. Reservations, flights timetables as well login for frequent flyers are available initially but I do have some remarks about the functionality. Some of the functions would take you to the main actual website, where its re-sized abnormally and hard to use and view. I hope that ANA would address that and work on it. Another app for ANA is available for iPad and it’s called “ANA virtual airport” and it’s totally another concept of what is here, yet its still glitchy and at some operations it would cease to stop and quit. I have that could be addressed as well.

United Airlines App:

One of the competitive apps for the North American airliners, the app is almost shared between United and Continental Airlines after the merger between them last year. They share the same app icon, layout and such that you couldn’t differentiate between them. I’ve been using the United app for my flights between KWI and BAH and till now it doesn’t support the electronic mobile pass function for the region here, but it does where it’s applicable and accepted in North America and Europe. It does have all the basic functions needed for all travelers and they have worked better on improving the transition between each function smoothly. Available only for iPhone.

American Airlines App:

AA has already declared chapter 11 bankruptcy last month or so, yet they’re still functioning. Part of the OneWorld alliance, AA is the Northern American arm and they have been fiercely competing United and Delta for international travelers. By releasing two versions of their app, with a dedicated HD version for iPad, it seems that AA has taken their competition to the apps market. Nicely designed and produced to contain all the necessary functions for the frequent travelers, I think AA has been active and wish to see more improvements for the frequent flyer part in the future updates.

Turkish Airlines Fly Turkish App:

Although I have been hearing discouraging stories and experiences about frequent flyers going for Turkish airlines due to the low fares and the accountability of their tiers since Turkish Airlines is part of the Star Alliance, yet I’ve decided to try and give this app a shot since it’s free and it doesn’t involve any commitment to get on that airplane. Honestly, the interface is nicely done with some transitions between the functions that do need some attention to speed up the process, this app has almost everything anyone would need when traveling with this airline. Available only for iPhone.

Delta Airlines Fly Delta App:

Although I have never flown on Delta, I have been told by some of my buddies that it’s better than United and AA in their international and long-haul services and fares. Unfortunately, Delta Airlines only spot for arrival in the GCC region is Dubai DXB, so you would need a previous connecting flight if you’re not in UAE. Back to the app, I’ve been amazed by their thoughtfulness to include maps of local US airports which would help travelers with the gates and transfers. Aside from that, this app has all the necessary parts any traveler might require from Delta. I think some other North American airlines might need to see what Delta is doing and learn from it. Available only for iPhone.

Thai Airways Thai M Service App:

The 3rd app to review from Asia, this is nicely designed app for Thai Airways. It does contain some of the essential parts that would create a need for such an app, yet no promotion is going around to encourage people to use it. It did crash with me a couple of times and in some parts, it’s unstable. I hope that some serious effort would be put to fix it up. Further improvement is needed. Available only for iPhone.

Singapore Airlines Mobile App:

what’s one of the best airlines in the world? Singapore Airlines! what’s the worst airlines-related app in the world? this app!! I have to include in this app so more pressure would be placed on SQ to wake up and fix things up. So what’s wrong with it? Everything!! If you read the reviews in the iTunes App Store, you just wouldn’t believe how people are in disbelief that this awful app is related to SQ. Very slow and awful transitions between functions of the app, shifting to java web pages for usage, the hateful need to login each time you want to check something, this app is truly a disaster!! Till now, there has been no improvements that reflect the users feedback and that means that SQ is asleep!! I hope this post would wake up Singapore Airlines developers and start doing something for the sake of humanity!! I’ll be crossing my fingers while waiting to see something new and improved!

Holiday Inn Riyadh – Izdihar, Saudi Arabia

Being dispatched to many places in the gulf region, I had to go on my own for the first time ever to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. We’re talking about a huge city which I have never been to before and and I didn’t get to see it since my job mission was truly short. In order to have close access to the highway and of course a cheap rate, I’ve decided to stay in Holiday Inn Izdihar in Riyadh. Now, finding this place might be tricky. It’s on the highway, there are no major signs that point to it and you could miss it by an instant and have to turn around all the way for it again. My colleague took some good time to find this place and it didn’t show on any GPS navigation system.

Upon checking in, it’s to be noted that there are two buildings for this hotel which are separated through a public street!! If you are assigned a room in the other building, then you have to go and walk or drive to it which was pretty uncomfortable. I have expressed my concern at the reception desk and I was assured that my room was located where I was at and that was satisfying.  The lobby was fine although small and wouldn’t hold a lot of guests at the same time. I was assigned a ground floor room, but I don’t remember if there was a 2nd floor in the hotel!

Upon entry, I was greeted with this view of the room. The room was decent and the wireless internet service was free, which was truly appreciated. Due to the remote location of the hotel, I didn’t bother going out and checking the surroundings, although I have been told that there was a supermarket or a shopping center nearby. Otherwise, there’s nothing around to see or do. Of course since this is Saudi Arabia, you can forget the basic elements of nightlife. I would recommend giving the room service a shot, I’ve tried the club sandwich there and it was averagely good.

Of course, I have to mention that even though I’ve gotten a good room, the window view was truly awful. As soon as you open the drapes, you are hit with a garden wooden fence which goes over three meters high and you can’t see anything. That’s why I’ve decided to keep them closed! Another major issues is the power sockets and plugs. They only have the American type for wall sockets and it was very inconvenient for me. I had to go to the reception and ask for an adapter, which took them some time to allocate a one for me thankfully.

I would recommend the hotel only for business travelers and for any stays that don’t go more than a single night. The quality of the hotel fulfill the basic obligations and needs for the type of travelers I’ve mentioned earlier.

iPhone Travel Apps: Hotels

I’m an avid owner of iPhone. I can’t deny that. My iPhone has been a true part of me, especially when traveling. As a self proclaimed frequent flyer, I would like to share with you some of the best iPhone apps available for traveling usage in my humble opinion. In this post, we’re going to pay the hotels apps a visit.

Starwood Preferred Guest “SPG” App:

The famous franchise app for accessing your SPG profile, making reservations, checking rates, contacting franchise hotels and more. Very useful app but still needs some major improvement to its plain user interface. I have used it for making a reservation and its secure and functional. Recommended.
Hilton Hotels and Resorts “Hilton” App:

This app has gone through modest improvements. It has the basic functions of checking your Hilton HHonors account, making reservations and editing them and the ability to book a reward stay. The interface is OK yet no “wow” about it. I hope that Hilton would follow up and provide a major lift for the performance of the app.

Intercontinental Hotels & Resorts” Priority Club” App:

My favorite. This app has gone over admired phases of app development to today’s version, where it has proven its position among the others. For example, once I have made a reservation on the go, while driving to a Holiday Inn. The trip to the hotel took me less than 10 minutes. Upon arrival, I found my reservation ready and available at the hotel!! Secure, fast, good and truly recommended.
Marriott Hotels & Resorts “Marriott International” App:

The newest app for famous international hotel chains, Marriott app has gone through some good updates recently to address its speed and functionality issues. I didn’t use it for making a reservation, but I have used it for fetching my current reservation and its smooth and working fine. I have to say that the developers need to work on the transitional performance when switching through the functions of the app.
Booking.com “Booking.com” App:

The famous worldwide hotel reservation and search engine finally got its iPhone app and its truly up to standards. We’re talking about a light app that takes you through a fitted replica of the original website but maintained as a stand-alone app, not a JAVA portal to their site like what other lame app developers do out of laziness. This app is recommended for its security, user-friendly and an intriguing graphical experience like it’s original website.
Carlson “Club Carlson” App:

One of the new apps in the travel category for iPhone in the App store. Developed after the company decided to lift off its trademark and its frequent guest program. This app is good. I have tried using it to check my current reservation and some details. Like many other apps, it still lacks the possibility to check out and enroll in current promos. Hope that it would be considered in future updates.
Accor Hotels “Accor Hotels” App:

This app is something else. I truly admire the effort placed in the graphic design of the app. Each hotel is given a spot to sell itself to the travelers. The developers have been active since lots of updates are being released recently for this app. The only thing which I still don’t like about this app is the non-integration between reservations made on the website and ones made using the app. In the app, you can’t access any reservation you have made using their website and this is very ridiculous. I hope Accor Hotels would reconsider this.
Agoda.com “Agoda.com” App:

The Asian twin brother of Booking.com. They have finally decided to release their app for iPhone. Till now, it doesn’t strike a “wow”, but I could say that there’s plenty of room for improvement. I never used Agoda.com personally, although I know couple of friends did and they recommended their customer service and their quick desk support around the clock. Not yet tested for actual reservation.
Choice Hotels “Choice Hotels Locator” App:

Till now, this app has not been of true usage for me. Why? because sadly none of the chain’s hotels exist currently within the Middle East. This hotel chain is very famous in the states and some parts of Europe. The latest update to the app was considered a major step forward, including an overhaul of the visual interface and some function improvements. Not yet tested for actual reservation.
Intercontinental Hotels and Resorts “Concierge Insider Guides” App:

Please note that this app is only available for iPad. I thought about giving it a shot for review, since it’s one of a kind. This app displays all the necessary data about the Intercontinental hotels located worldwide. It would give major outlines and info about the location of the hotel, tips about the city itself and more. Very entertaining visual experience and one of the biggest travel apps in size (currently 137 MBs). Worth a try and a “wow”.