LONDON – Coming for the Olympics with money to spend? Then there's still time to ensure you can take tea at The Ritz, drink at the Savoy's American bar, or sleep in an Art Deco room at Claridge's.
Most of London's most exclusive hotels have been booked for the Olympics, snapped up by Olympic officials or companies block-booking rooms for favored customers, but there are still amazing places to stay.
That is, if you can afford the bill.
"You can still get some rooms in certain periods of the games, although we expect to be fully booked soon," said Simon Negger, spokesman for the Maybourne Hotel Group that owns three of London's most iconic hotels: Claridge's, The Connaught and The Berkeley.
London's hotels are walking on their own balance beam this Olympic year, trying to maximize revenues during the July 27-Aug. 12 event while not alienating loyal customers and still fulfilling obligations to Olympic organizers, who asked all hotels to hand over some rooms to house Olympic officials, athletes and delegates during the London Games.
Some have not increased rates beyond normal high summer season prices — which in central London can often hit several hundred pounds (dollars) a night — but have imposed minimum stays and stricter cancellation policies.
Claridge's still has rooms available — from around 600 British pounds ($955) for a double room to over 1,000 pounds ($1,600) for a suite — but wants customers to book a minimum of five nights over the Olympic period.
The Savoy, which was refurbished in time for the Olympics, can put you up for one night but only if you are prepared to pay at least 2,750 pounds ($4,400) for one of its suites on the banks of the Thames River.
At The Ritz, where you can stay for just one night if you want to, at rooms costing from 755 pounds to 3,255 pounds ($1,200 to $5,200).
The Olympic organizers are partly responsible for the fact that there are still hotel rooms free. Hotels began getting calls from customers wanting to book rooms for the London games years ago, but organizers had asked hotels to hand over 40,000 rooms to house Olympic dignitaries. In January, they handed 8,000 rooms back for hotels to sell to the general public. And it may well hand more rooms back in the next few weeks.
"The hotel industry was expecting to get some rooms back early this year so its not a huge surprise, but it does mean rooms are available later in the day than you may expect," said Miles Quest, spokesman for the British Hospitality Association. "I am still expecting central London to be 100 percent full by the time of the games."
The London hotel industry's promise, that it could provide several thousand hotel rooms at a variety of prices, was a crucial part of London's Olympic bid. The Olympic committee liked the fact that the city already had a wide range of hotels and was willing to build even more.
The new hotels being built reflect changing priorities.
The grand, old-fashioned hotels see themselves as meeting places. People visiting the city on vacation or on business can stay there and bump into locals who have stopped by after a shopping trip to have tea or celebrate a special birthday or other event.
The new wave of London hotels, meanwhile, specialize in keeping the public away. With Britain's economy still struggling, these new properties have been welcome investments, funded by businessmen from the Gulf states looking to create the kind of places they would like to stay.
"People from the Arab world feel at ease in London," said Gerald Lawless, executive chairman of the Jumeirah Group, the Dubai hotel group that is expanding its brand around the world. "They often studied in Britain as students and are very loyal to the city. They want places they visit often."
Jumeirah's latest project — Grosvenor House Apartments — is typical of the new breed of hotels. It's not the most romantic place — the decor is dark, somber and masculine. There are padded walls and thick carpets in the halls to hush out the sounds of London's traffic roaring past outside, and security guards on each floor.
The apartments off London's prestigious Park Lane, which open April 2, are built for those seeking quiet and high security and don't care how much it costs. The smallest apartment costs 1,500 pounds ($2,400) a night, with a minimum stay of a week. The building is not open to the public — anyone who wants to visit a guest will have to first find it, the signage is so discreet it's almost invisible — and then sign in and wait for their hosts to let them in. The more expensive suites have butlers to fetch newspapers, organize dinners, call taxis — anything involving contact with the outside world. The penthouse suite comes with the free use of an Aston Martin.
Not all of London's hotel industry is relying on the Olympics — some of the most anticipated luxury hotels will open after the games end.
The Shangri-La hotel in The Shard, Europe's tallest building, is expected to open sometime next year and The Wellesley Townhouse, which promises to be London's first "six star" ultra-luxurious hotel with its own cigar bar, opens in November.
One hotel is bucking the "rooms still free" trend. The Goring Hotel — the family-run luxury hotel where Kate Middleton stayed the night before her wedding last year to Prince William — is quintessentially English, with summer lawns and Edwardian rooms full of chintz and china tea cups. Millions watched on television as Middleton stepped out of its foyer and gave the public its first glimpse of her top-secret wedding gown.
Little wonder that, for the Olympics, the Goring is fully booked.