Last minute merchants can still be heroes with top secret hotel bargains to die for
If you can hold your nerve, leaving it all to chance can be the key to a dream get away without busting the bank
- 23:47, 19 JUN 2014
- Updated 10:35, 1 SEP 2015
For some years now my nickname has been lastminute.com.
Don’t get me wrong, I always get the job done but not without causing considerable stress and trauma to those unlucky enough to live with me.
Journalists never miss an opportunity to smugly proclaim that a deadline focuses the mind.
However, when that same 11th hour 59th minute tendency spills over into your private life, you’ve got serious problems.
So it will come as some relief to last minute merchants everywhere that this irritating trait – known to have sparked huge rows and in rather more extreme cases end relationships – can actually be a virtue.
In fact, the later you book a ‘Top Secret Hotel’ with lastminute.com, the better.
Now I have to be honest, with just hours to spare, a seasoned chancer like myself was unsettled at the prospect of booking a hotel in London on a busy sunny June weekend.
Throw into the equation that the identity of the establishment I am booking is ‘top secret’, and that my wife is celebrating a landmark birthday, even the worst adrenalin junkie would have to turn down this assignment.
‘Are you sure about this?,’ she asks. ‘I’m serious. I don’t want to be in a Travelodge on my birthday.’ (Apologies to Alan Partridge and Travelodges everywhere).
‘Relax,’ I nervously reply. ‘What could possibly go wrong?’
Well, the answer is many things.
Remarkably, this apparently madcap scheme actually went off without a hitch and earned me brownie points I’ll be cashing in for the next two decades.
It all begins with a tantalisingly cryptic conversation with my enigmatic booker Laura.
Bizarrely, she knows the exact secret hotel under consideration but is bound by regulations normally only seen at MI5 not to reveal its true identity until fully booked.
The conversation is great fun; it’s charades for tourists with a twist.
‘Okay, so this is a wonderfully located hotel, five star, double room, within walking distance of the Houses of Parliament,’ she teases.
Given that there is a luxury four star in Covent Garden for slightly less, this is becoming fascinating game of hospitality roulette.
But here’s the rub. As you fumble in the dark, you are getting a serious bargain in return. In this case – almost half price!
‘So will I go ahead and book that Mr McNamara?,’ Laura asks.
Like a heavily perspiring contestant on Who Wants To Book A Luxury Hotel?, I glance around at the audience – my wife and mother. I don’t want to let them down but boy does this sound good.
As I agree, my life of booking ropey hotels flashes before me – the dodgy B B in Limerick and that damp twin double in Bangor in 1995.
But we couldn’t have done better as Laura finally informs me we have bagged two swipe cards to the five star InterContinental London Westminster .
On reflection, given that lastminute.com has an arsenal of ‘Top Secret’ four and five star hotels in 250 locations – including Dublin, London, Amsterdam, Barcelona, Paris and Rome – there was little to be concerned about.
It works because the very best deals are released when hoteliers know there is little chance their vacant rooms will be filled.
So don’t even think about booking until at least a week in advance, if you want to save up to 35% on the bill.
For those of you reaching for the beta blockers, wait for this. Masochists who really want to chance their arm can book a mystery hotel on the day of checking in using the lastminute.ie mobile app.
This is where things get really hairy. You allow the site to tag your location, it generates a number of available options within range – and then leads you to the hotel issuing directions on the phone.
However, we arrive 24 hours later, pleasantly surprised that the entrance – a stone’s throw from Scotland Yard if it helps you sleep – is directly opposite the exit of St James’s Park Tube Station.
We whirr through the revolving doors of this stunning former government building where we are met with soothing white marble d cor and shafts of sunlight beaming into the hotel’s elegant lobby.
And when we open the door to our luxury hideaway, we instantly fall in love with a sumptuous bed you could sleep in for seven days solid and a rain shower you could stay in until the fire brigade arrived.
It soon becomes clear why this location is so special. We turn right at the hotel entrance and are enthralled by the reveal of London’s political ampitheatre.
Straight ahead is the austere beauty of Westminster Abbey, behind which the imposing Houses of Parliament and Big Ben loom large. To left we spy the London eye and the South Bank beyond.
It suddenly dawns on us that after all the intrigue and drama in booking it, our fabulous hotel is within walking distance of every tourist landmark on the list, including Buckingham Palace.
On this sweltering Thursday afternoon we take a spin on the London Eye to get an overview of the bustling capital.
Light-headed from our dizzying revolution, it’s time for lunch where, giddy at the prospect of some serious grazing without two young children in tow, we tuck in at the wonderful Carluccios in Covent Garden.
After a cheeky siesta we are out again, this time opting for a succulent medium cooked burger and glass of wine in the Intercontinental’s Blue Boar Smokehouse where World Cup is in full swing on the big screen.
At this point you may have realised that the only thing more important than where I lay my head, is where I fill my stomach.
So another culinary highlight is a trip to fabulous Bentley’s Oyster Bar and Grill which we visit the following evening to kick off the birthday celebrations.
Here we feast on trays of mouth watering oysters and scallops at the establishment of our very own Irish chef Richard Corrigan.
The pi ce de r sistance, however, is our final dining appointment – this time on the banks of the Thames on the wonderfully classy eighth floor of the South Bank’s Oxo Tower
Our truffle waffles, rabbit and chocolate (not eaten at the same time you understand) are utterly delicious. This gastronomic reverie is most definitely the highlight of our trip.
As our divine food digests we stroll across the Thames with St Paul’s Cathedral in our sights, occasionally humming songs from Mary Poppins (don’t tell a soul).
This excursion has been nothing short of a triumph.
But as with all stories of courage and valour, this one comes with a salutary lesson – being a last minute merchant won’t get you tickets to see Kevin Spacey.
We stand in the returns queue of the Old Vic theatre in the vain hope we might bag gold dust tickets for the last night of the critically acclaimed Clarence Darrow.
We can only watch helplessly as two couples in front of us saunter in clutching the last pair of unwanted cut price tickets.
Crestfallen, we traipse home amidst some muttering about always trying to do things on the last minute.
Thankfully, our misery is short lived back at the hotel where our turn down service has been executed and soothing pairs of towelled slippers beckon at our bedside.