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Claremont Hotel Berkeley in a nutshell: Very nice facilities, beautiful building, professional staff, yet missed the mark on our room and had issues with extra charges. 

I really have a love/hate relationship with 5-star hotels. On one hand, it’s super cool when you can make a redemption work that lets you stay at a place you could otherwise never afford. My wife and I have stayed at some incredible places, my favorite being the Fairmont Banff Springs.

On the other hand, 5-star hotels hardly ever end up being truly free since they charge you for literally everything. Such was the case when we visited the Claremont Hotel Berkeley a couple weeks ago.

How we got here: burning my last Fairmont free night certificate

I signed up for the Fairmont Visa card last winter since it was being discontinued by Chase. My wife and I used the free nights plus a suite upgrade award certificate to stay at the Fairmont Banff Springs for three nights for an amazing price. Our spacious accommodation had an exquisite view of the Canadian Rockies. It is a stay and a place I’ll never forget (SEE: We’re going to Banff!!, ANDBanff, Alberta in 14 Photos, AND: Hiking Tunnel Mountain – best easy hike in the park).

But that wasn’t quite the end of our Fairmont adventures. When Chase finally sent out a note saying the card was being converted to a Sapphire Preferred, there was a final offer to spend $6,000 to earn a free night. I took them up on it and, through a little manufactured spending, quickly had the $6k knocked out.

My wife and I weren’t able to use the free night before our adoption trip to Costa Rica, so I ended up planning a quick getaway in February with our older two kids to the Claremont Hotel Berkeley.

The cash price for our room was $299, which is beyond anything I would pay for what we got. We were still on the hook for parking and the resort fee, which added up to ~$60. Given the facilities of the Claremont, though, I didn’t mind paying that for one night.

Arriving at the Claremont Hotel Berkeley

After our five hour drive we finally pulled up at the beautiful hotel on the hill overlooking the San Francisco Bay. I decided to opt for self park, even though valet services cost the same. We had one tiny luggage among the three of us, so there was really no reason to bother. This may be odd, but I actually avoid valet parking whenever possible. Most of this probably stems from my first valet experience where we were told there was no self-parking available, and I was rather mortified when the valet had to hands over the keys to our beat-up, old 1996 Dodge minivan.

There were plenty of spots when we arrived. The “front” of the hotel is actually on the side and the entrance is actually fairly humble.

As we entered the lobby, the kids were in awe at the place. It is hands-down the nicest place at which they’ve stayed, at least based on first impression.

There was a short line when we arrived at check-in. The front desk agent who welcomed us was extremely professional, and the service was personalized. She welcomed the kids by name (I forgot I added them to the reservation), something that surprised them. It gave me a good chuckle.

After being handed our key, we headed up to our room on the fourth floor.

We were in Room 402, not far from the elevator landing.

Room at the Claremont Hotel Berkeley

Our room looked nice enough, but there was one glaring issue: I was sure I’d reserved a queen-queen room, and the room we were given had two double beds. More on that in a few minutes.

Besides this one perplexing detail, the rest of the room was very nice. The hotel is historic and old, but the room features were modern. Near the door was a cabinet with the minibar, coffee maker, and some storage space.

Here’s the tray that was on the bed when we first arrived. It contained the in-room dining menu and card for laundry services.

The minibar was well stocked with all kinds of alcoholic and hon-alcoholic options. I don’t like paying $5 for Coke, so I didn’t touch anything. The kids were dismayed at my decision, but I told them they could order soda when we went out for dinner.

Same story for the snacks in the adjacent cabinet, even though those $9 gummy bears were sorta tempting. If you’re looking for snacks at the Claremont Hotel Berkeley, they’ve got you covered. Your pocketbook will hate you, though.

At least the coffee is free. Even better, it is Peet’s. Definitely a Berkeley (and general Bay Area) touch.

The desk contains a phone, lamp, and ethernet wire. I was happy for the extra chair, too, as it made breakfast a bit easier for all of us.

One issue I generally have with historic hotels is that outlets are either lacking or are located in hard-to-reach locations. Fortunately, neither was much of an issue at the Claremont. There was a nice power and USB outlet panel wired into the desk.

Between the bathroom door and the desk is the closet. It’s plenty large. Heaven help me if I ever travel with enough stuff to fill that. Oh wait, I did once (SEE: FOUR checked bags…you can obviously guess why).

There is only one nightstand between the beds. It suffers from the lack-of-outlet issue mentioned above, unlike the desk.

The safe happens to be hidden inside the nightstand. This bought full three minutes of amusement for the kids as they closed, locked, unlocked, and opened it repeatedly.

Bathroom at the Claremont Hotel Berkeley

As with most luxury hotels, the bathroom was spacious and of top-notch quality. There were plenty of towels for the three of us for our stay.

Here are the bath amenities.

Even though the shower was glass and tile, it was still built over a tub. I’m not crazy about the design. I much prefer just a nice shower. If they add a separate tub, too, great.

The shower did cause the kids (and myself) some consternation trying to figure out how to run one or both of the shower heads.

Trying to solve our mix-up

As I mentioned before, the one thing that missed the mark was the room type. I had fully expected to be booked into a queen-queen room, which was the entire reason I’d applied the Fairmont room upgrade certificate to our reservation. A double-double room is a recipe for a sleepless night, as sharing a bed with a 7-year-old ends up with me getting kicked in the back (and head and face) all night. Sharing a double bed with my wife is even less-than-ideal, and she doesn’t thrash about like a wild octopus. My son does.

I called the desk, explained the issue, and he said a manager would call me back. The phone rang barely two minutes later. The answer, however, was less than satisfactory: he was sorry, but there were no queen rooms available to move us to. Sigh. Apparently my certificate had not been applied the second time I had to change our reservation. We would have to make do.

This is where the free night thing probably didn’t help us. While on the phone with the manager, I pulled up the Fairmont website and found that there was indeed a two queen junior suite still available. Sure, this would have been a serious upgrade, and it was probably in their best interest not to move us to that room. I was still frustrated the certificate either hadn’t worked, or the hotel had changed things after-the-fact.

Our view was probably the worst one in the entire hotel. This must be where they must put everyone who uses free night certificates here.

But we were here mainly to relax all afternoon at the pool. Which is where we headed next.

Pool and club facilities

The reason I’d chosen the Claremont Hotel Berkeley over other Fairmont options in the Bay Area was because of the pool. I wanted the kids to enjoy the day in the water (even though it was a chilly 40 degrees out).

The pool did not disappoint in the slightest. For my kids, this is by far the most important feature of a hotel (SEE: “All I want is a swimming pool and a waffle maker”). And the pool at the Claremont Hotel Berkeley is a very nice one.

I spent a little time in the water, but mostly I enjoyed my afternoon watching them splash and play from one of the lounge chairs. It didn’t quite qualify as “sunning” since I was in my long sleeved shirt and jeans most of the time. Did I mention it was 40 degrees out?

At one end of the pool area is a shallow pool with some fountains that would be a great place for younger kids.

Even though mine are seven and ten, they still enjoyed it.

On the opposite side is the hot tub, which was where I spent much of my time as well. The kids thoroughly enjoyed the pool. The water is salted, which I much prefer to a traditionally chlorinated pool.

One bummer was that much of the Claremont Club was under renovation when we visited. The hotel had reasonably good temporary facilities in place, but I can imagine the revamped facility will be way better.

I did also check out the Bayview Café, or at least the view. Which kinda surprised me, as it didn’t let me see all that much of the Bay.

Parking Lot View Cafe doesn’t quite have the same ring.

When my fish kids were finally ready to head back to the room and change for dinner, I couldn’t help but snap a couple more shots of the beautiful exterior of the hotel.

claremont hotel berkeley review

Dinner in Berkeley

One thing I like about Berkeley is the wide array of food options available. The company I work for has an office along University Avenue, and I’ve enjoyed eating out at many different places when in town. For our dinner, I picked an Nepali/Indian place called the Mount Everest Restaurant off of restaurant.com. I have a couple certificates I am still trying to burn through, and it seemed like a decent place based on the reviews.

The kids were unsure of the place when we walked it. It was obviously very foreign-looking. But they ended up thoroughly enjoying the food, my daughter especially. I was glad to be expanding their horizons.

The rest of our evening was spent watching a movie from the cozy confines of one of the two double beds. Then I had a fairly restless night trying to sleep.

Breakfast and a quick plunge

Due to work constraints, our trip was a quick one-nighter (yeah…I’m probably crazy). I picked up a couple donuts for breakfast, and the kids enjoyed those while I stuffed myself with the leftovers of our dinner. Breakfast was interrupted by the Keurig, something we don’t have in our house. Isn’t it amazing?

We then made a dash to the pool where they enjoyed a morning dip in the wonderful heated water for about 45 minutes. I sat on the edge with my feet in, taking in the sun.

Can you tell how cold it is outside?

After that, it was time to leave. I advised the front desk at check out that we had moved several things inside the mini-bar when I put our leftovers in, and he assured me that it would be checked and that we would not be charged.

Follow up with Claremont Hotel Berkeley

Two days later my Chase Sapphire Reserve was billed an additional $22.66, which I could only assume was minibar charges. When I called the hotel to ask about it, I was transferred, placed on hold, and then hung up on three minutes later. Ok. Let’s try an email. No response even after a few days.

I thought about both the good experiences we had at the Claremont Hotel Berkeley and the ways in which the stay fell short before writing a review. I was honest and did my best to highlight what we enjoyed and what I felt could have been handled better (i.e. our bed preferences).

To Fairmont’s credit, a representative named Matthew emailed me within a week as a response to my review. The email contained an apology for our “less than desirable” experience and offered a phone number for me to follow up with him. A week later I finally gave him a call.

Matthew was extremely professional on the phone and apologized for our less-than-ideal experience. He offered to both follow up with Fairmont President’s Club to have the certificate I attempted to use be extended to the six months I requested, and he also offered to personally coordinate another stay for us with a complimentary upgrade on a paid rate. When I also mentioned the minibar charge, he immediately submitted a refund request for that as well. In my opinion, this is a great gesture from Fairmont and about the best I could have asked for.

Conclusion

Overall, we had a mixed experience at the Claremont Hotel Berkeley, but the hotel tried to make things right in the end. My kids loved the pool, and we had a fun afternoon and evening together. But the night was quite cramped, and I don’t like having to follow up with a hotel for any reason, especially when it takes three communication attempts to get something resolved.

Will we return to Berkeley? Unsure. I may give the Claremont Hotel Berkeley another shot. But that is an expensive proposition for us, and I’m not all that interested in spending the money. Maybe if I can save enough Arrival+ miles to erase the expense, I’ll consider taking the kids again.

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