Tim Foolery

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Westin Riverwalk San Antonio

Those who follow me on other social media outlets know that I recently spent time in San Antonio. It was my first visit to the nation’s 7th largest city – yeah, I was shocked by that stat too (New York City, LA, Chicago, Houston, Philly, Phoenix then San Antonio). There were just a couple of Starwood properties in this city and since I was there for a major conference most of the hotels were going for about the same price. I chose the Westin on the Riverwalk, it looked nicer than the Sheraton must down the street.

We arrived around 22h30 and were greeted by the signature Westin scent (White Tea) that is piped throughout the building. I always love this smell when I arrive and after I return from a long day but it does start to wear on me after a while. Two people were working reception and as we made our way through the lobby they turned on their huge smiles and both welcomed us.

I didn’t get the 10 minute run down of all the hotel amenities, which I appreciated. We were offered breakfast or points as our welcome amenity, I chose points as I’m not really a breakfast guy and since I was traveling for work, I could expense the breakfast, if I chose to take one.

We were offered a standard king room on the 15th floor, so I asked about any Platinum Upgrade options. She typed a way for a bit, wrinkled her nose and said she had a Studio Suite on the 4th Floor, but the street noise may be annoying. Since I was going to be here for six days, I really wanted a bigger room. I told her we’d take the bigger room and if it was too loud we would change – she had no issues with that plan so she gave us our keys and as we walked away told us the hours of the pool, the gym and the spa, all located right next to our room. This gave me more pause as I don’t want a loud gym crowd keeping me up, but it ended up being a total non-issue.

The room was exactly as she described – a King Studio Suite. As you walk in, the bathroom is immediately to your right. The bathroom was large with a single sink in the vanity, a separate tub and walk-in shower. The toilet was tucked into a little alcove – not completely separate or private, but tucked away.

The bathroom was quite large, but I really don’t dig the sliding door.

Large separate tub and walk in shower – the tub didn’t get used this trip though.

Single vanity with standard Westin amenities.

The toilet was secluded in a far corner.

As you enter the main room, you find a ton of space. There was a sitting area with a couch, side chair and a coffee table, positioned so you could watch the TV.  The furniture was a bit old and rough, but was comfortable enough. I ended up working from the couch as often as I worked from the desk area.

The couch looked a little grungy, but it was comfortable enough – we may have put towels down when we sat on it.

The seating area was a nice touch in this large studio suite.

The desk area was quite large and allowed me to get a lot of work done in this trip – I was even able to have my papers strewn all over the place. There were a ton of outlets on the desk too – a power strip on top and another affixed to the side. It was easy to keep all my devices charged and close at hand while working.

The bed was a proper king bed, unlike those false queen beds I had at the Embassy Suites O’Hare a few weeks ago (those were full/standard, definitely not a queen). The bed was relatively comfortable, but the pillows were utterly awful. They felt like feathery bricks. I asked twice for the pillows to be swapped out for different feather free pillows, which never happened. There weren’t any accessible outlets near the bed either, which is definitely one of my big pet peeves at a hotel.

The king size bed with feather/brick pillows.

I visited the pool a couple times on this trip too and despite the pool bar using mixes for the piña coladas, they were really great. I asked for double dark rum floaters on each beverage and they really made the pool all that much more enjoyable. The bartender at the pool even came out to see if we needed refills while we were in the water. It was lovely.

The only other thing of note was the hotel internet. I got back to my room one evening and wanted to get some work done, but the internet was down. I called the front desk and they said that they do a nightly audit on internet access (basically making sure that people using the network are still staying at the hotel). This process takes a few hours and access is restricted. I have never heard of this before. A late night internet disruption likely doesn’t impact many people but it sure is frustrating. When I checked out I commented on the internet issues and the woman working reception said she never heard of such and audit, but they did have some frequent internet outages. Which is more frustrating, I don’t know?

All in all, I would return to the Westin Riverwalk during my next visit to San Antonio. It was centrally located, had a lovely pool and pretty great service. The main hiccups are the pillows and the internet.

Where do you stay in San Antonio? Do you think the Riverwalk is a bit overrated too?

Is Hotel Status Worth Chasing?

Hotel status is an interesting animal for me. On one hand, I really dig the suite upgrades and the additional points earned for stays, but on the other, the upgrades are so infrequent, why worry about them? I’m Platinum with Starwood and Marriott (their not-so-recent merger allows for a status match between programs). I earn this status by staying 50 nights a year at SPG Properties (plus the nights/stays credited because of the co-branded credit cards). I do struggle maintaining this status because sometimes my work travel doesn’t afford me the opportunity to stay at an SPG Property.

Prince de Galles Macassar Suite – Upgraded because of my SPG Platinum Status

Does Platinum Status even matter any more?

Friends have commented on how Marriott isn’t all that generous with their Platinum members – negligible upgrades being the biggest issue. What minimums do I expect from a hotel program? I expect high speed internet for at least three devices (I need my phone, tablet and laptop all connected…and if I’m traveling with anyone else, we need at least four devices connected), I would like access to a club lounge with bottles of water and some snacks and cocktails (even grocery store wine is an acceptable amenity). I don’t care about breakfast, complimentary parking, or discounts at the on-property restaurants. A room free of feathered linens and located away from the elevator is also high on my list.

In reality, I can get all my hotel needs met with a mid-tier (Gold with SPG, Marriott and Hilton) status. I get access to upgrades (that rarely materialize even with Platinum status), I get free internet and I get access to the club lounges. I get this status without running on the Hotel Stay/Night hamster wheel.

The American Express Platinum card offers Gold Status with both Hilton and Starwood. United offers Gold Status at Marriott for flyers who maintain Gold or higher status with MileagePlus. I’ve got all the major programs covered, why should I push for Platinum Status? Should I just find the best rate at the best hotel and use whatever savings I’m getting to pay for a nicer room when I really need it.

Since the Marriott and SPG loyalty programs will likely be combining in 2019 and I have confidence that it will look more like Marriott Rewards than SPG, I’m changing my hotel strategy – Find a hotel with a good rating, great rate, close to everywhere I want/need to be and call it good. I hope it feels freeing that I don’t feel obligated to stay at a property I’m just not digging because I need the Stay/Night credit (I’m looking at you, Westin Arlington, VA).

What is your hotel strategy for 2018 and beyond? If you are a Marriott fan, tell me how your luck has been with your upgrades and elite recognition.


My Favorite Elite Benefits – Starwood Preferred Guest

A couple weeks ago I wrote about some of my favorite Elite Benefits with United and I promised I would write about my favorite Elite Benefits with Starwood.  I am currently Platinum with Starwood.  To earn Platinum status you either need to stay 50 nights or 25 separate stays.  If you stay 50 nights in year you get an additional benefit over your 25 stay friends – you get 10 Suite Night Upgrades which can be used on paid nights, cash + point nights or award night stays.  My favorite Elite Benefits of Starwood Platinum Status are:

  • 3 Starpoints per dollar spent at Starwood Properties — while this isn’t just a Platinum Benefit, it is also a Benefit of Gold Members, but it’s still something I dig and technically use during every stay.  Earning 50% more points as Platinum (or Gold) than a regular member really starts to add up – especially if you are staying 50 nights a year.
  • Complimentary in-room internet access is something that I think should be included with every single hotel no matter how much you pay or what your elite status is.  To me, internet is like hot water, a room has to have it. Period.  Luckily as a Platinum member this is included at no charge to me.  I haven’t stayed in a hotel room in years where I haven’t at least synced up my phone or tablet to the wifi.
  • You have an option at check-in for a Welcome Amenity.  These options include: bonus points (500 or 250 star points depending on the hotel brand), complimentary continental breakfast, or a local amenity).  More often than not I’ll choose the points because the continental breakfast is usually no better than what is offered complimentary in the lounge (which you also have access to as a Platinum member, see below) and the welcome amenity can be as lame as two bottles of water and a snack to a bottle of mediocre wine).  I’ll take my points and parlay that into an additional stay in the future
  • Club / Executive Level access is something that is nice to have, but I often don’t go to the Club Lounge.  When I’m traveling, I don’t often want to hang out in the hotel and eat the free snacks or have the complimentary beverages.  I did visit the Club in Stockholm in January each day I was there to grab a quick glass of wine before bed.  I find the international lounges are usually much nicer than the domestic versions.  Like I said, access to the Club is nice, but I wouldn’t lose sleep if the hotel didn’t have one.

While Platinum is technically the Top Tier Elite Status with Starwood, there are a couple of sub-tiers within this status.  As mentioned earlier, staying 50 nights get you 10 Suite Night Upgrades, staying 75 nights earn 4 Starpoints for every dollar spent (this would be nice – getting an extra 33% more points than I do now), and what is called Your24 — which allows you to check-in at any time and keep your room for 24 hours (for example, you check-in at 10pm and you can check out the following day at 10pm — 10 hours after regulary check-out).  If you stay 100 nights a year, you are still platinum with all the previously listed benefits, but you also get your own single point of contact with SPG – an individual reservation agent/concierge.  This sounds great in theory, but I think I would probably just annoy this person so much when I’d be searching for dozens of different travel options (hotels, dates, etc) just to save a buck or two.  I prefer to keep my hotel booking neuroses between me and the SPG website only.

These are the Platinum Elite Benefits that I utilize most when traveling.  There are others out there as well, but I don’t find that I’m using them all that often, so they are really wasted on me.

What are your favorite SPG Elite Benefits?  What benefits would you love to see added to the list?