Review: Plaza Premium Lounge Hong Kong Airport

If you’ve been following the blog, you’ll have read that I’ve been working on a new global Touring Car racing championship this year called the TCR International Series. The final rounds of the series were held in Macau last weekend and saw Switzerland’s Stefano Comini win the first-ever TCR Drivers’ title, with Target Competition taking the Teams’ championship.

On my way back from Macau (and thanks to an introduction from an industry colleague) I was invited to visit one of the Plaza Premium lounges at Hong Kong International Airport. Reviews of airport lounges aren’t what this blog is all about, but I thought I’d make an exception to highlight what was a thoroughly agreeable way to prepare for my forthcoming 12+ hour flight back to Heathrow!

Plaza1

My flight was due to depart from Gate 15, so the most convenient lounge was in the airport’s East Hall, near to Gate 1, while there’s also a second, newer, lounge in the West Hall near Gate 40. Facilities included free wi-fi, snacks and soft drinks and canned beer, with a cash bar available for wine and draught beer (including Stella Artois). There were two areas serving food – since it was after 9pm when I arrived, one was serving a decent selection of tapas dishes (including olives, chorizo, potato wedges and mushrooms) while the other (see below) specialised in Chinese food, with fish ball noodle soup being a speciality.

Plaza3

The lounge has space for 300 people and has two distinct areas, with the space immediately inside the entrance being quite dimly-lit and resembling a nightclub, with comfortable seating on offer. Walking further into the lounge reveals an area with seating arranged around tables and slightly brighter lighting. As with most lounges, TVs on the walls were playing a range of news and sports programmes from around the world. There were showers available as well, but I didn’t make use of them.

The lounges are part of the Plaza Premium lounge network and can be accessed using lounge programmes such as Lounge Club (currently offered with the American Express Gold Rewards Card). There was also a sign inside the entrance displaying rates for varying stays, so I assume you can also pay on the door.

Plaza2

If you’re not travelling in Business or First Class (and so don’t have access to the relevant airline lounge), the Plaza Premium lounges at Hong Kong are an attractive alternative, particularly when you bear in mind that flights back to the UK are in excess of 12 hours. The only thing I could fault was that one of the two coffee machines was out of order – not an issue bearing the late hour and no queue for the other machine.

The TCR calendar for 2016 has yet to be published, but I understand Macau will probably be the final round once again. If that’s the case, I know where I’ll be relaxing before my final flight of the year….

 

Car dealerships: a rant

It may sound obvious, but motoring journalists are a lucky bunch. As well as the obvious benefits (driving nice cars etc) we can also pick up the phone to a (usually) helpful press office if there’s something we want to know about a car and its performance or sales figures. ┬áPeople who want to actually buy a car aren’t so fortunate.

Thanks to the Internet, things have changed a lot over the last few years. Statistics have shown that car buyers do a lot more research these days and tend to settle on a shortlist of cars they want to test, rather than spend several weekends wandering aimlessly around car dealers with a copy of their favourite car magazine under their arm. Some buyers choose to deal with an online broker, but the vast majority still prefer to visit a dealership (albeit firmly clutching the results of their research).

This, in my recent experience, is where things start to go downhill. I’m currently in the very early stages of changing my car and, having a family, I’ve narrowed my shortlist down to a small SUV or an estate. Since I cover around 20,000 miles each year, I want to either buy or lease something new and I know from the Web what’s on offer and roughly what I should be paying. The process should therefore be pretty straightforward, right? Not so much….

I contacted the first dealer via a manufacturer advert that popped up on my Facebook account. I filled in a form and waited a few days for the local dealer to make contact, but the salesman’s product knowledge when he did eventually call left a lot to be desired. I was told they didn’t have a demonstrator of the model I was after and they would call me if one became available and that, I thought, was it. A few days later, I received one of those ‘How did we do?’ emails and I filled it in truthfully (‘Would you recommend us to a friend?’, for example. ‘No’, I replied). To my amazement, I then received a call from the salesman complaining my reply had earned him a telling-off from the sales manager. That quickly escalated to the manufacturer’s Customer Services department and I duly received an apology but, needless to say, I won’t be buying from that particular dealership.

Next came a test drive of a different manufacturers’ product. Again, the salesperson’s product knowledge wasn’t great – something that hardly inspires confidence – but when they referred to a passing classic vehicle (probably of 1970s vintage) by its latest product name, that was enough for me to decide they wouldn’t be getting my cash.

A third dealer admitted they couldn’t match the price being offered by a rival dealer in another part of the country (ain’t the Internet wonderful?) and so didn’t even email me the promised quote. Then, on making contact with the ‘far away’ dealership, they couldn’t be bothered to return several phone calls. It was the same story when I contacted yet another dealer at the other end of the country. Yet more crosses on the rapidly-shrinking list.

So, after over a month of shopping for a new car, I’m no closer to signing on anyone’s dotted line. The list of cars still exists, but I’ve yet to find a dealer that seems to want my money – and that’s a problem that many manufacturers either seem reluctant to tackle or don’t even realise exists.

The vast majority of buyers only ever have contact with a dealer, not the maker or importer. Good dealers rarely make the headlines; my wife has bought her last two cars from a family-run Fiat dealership in west Wales and can’t speak highly enough of them, but my recent experiences of several dealerships close to where I live (and the pair at opposite ends of the country) have been anything but positive. Car manufacturers spend millions on developing and marketing their products, but the most important link in the chain between factory and buyer seems extremely variable in quality.

My search for a new car goes on. Hopefully there’s a dealer out there that actually wants to do business but I’m not that sure….

Welcome to the new-look UKCN!

It’s still very much a work in progress, but welcome to the new ukcarnews.com!

We’ll be adding new content over the coming weeks, including tests, pics and video of new cars available in the UK. Oh, and some thoughts about motoring and motorsport (good and bad…)

Watch this space!