Sunday, August 18, 2013

Westin Princeton

Hotel Stay Details 
Hotel: Westin Princeton at Forrestal Village 
Dates: August 16-18, 2013 
AAA Rate Paid: $105/night 
Points Earned: 2,582 SPG Points 

This past weekend, my parents and I took a mini-trip with my friend Ava and her parents to lovely Princeton, New Jersey.

Why Princeton? Well, first, it's close enough to drive to for a weekend trip from New York City. Second, college towns are always very quaint places to visit for families, especially when there's a beautiful university campus to walk through. But more importantly, my father just saw the movie Admission with his celebrity crush Tina Fey where she plays a Princeton admissions officer.

When we searched for room availability and rates, we noticed that the hotel was a Starwood Category 4 property which meant that we could book for 10,000 SPG points per night. However, given it was a random August weekend at a hotel that caters more to business travelers, we were able to get an attractive cash rate using my father's AAA membership for just $105/night all-in including taxes (after taking into account a $15 food and beverage credit which they applied even without any F&B charges).

If we didn't have the AAA membership, the regular prepaid rate would have been $137/night including taxes. Note: while some hotels ask to see your AAA membership card when checking in, this Westin property didn't check, so you may be able to get this AAA rate without actually being a member.

Had we just wanted to save cash, however, we could have used 20,000 SPG points instead of paying $210 for two nights, but that would have meant redeeming SPG points at about 1 cent per point (vs. the usual 3-5 cents/pt redemption my father can usually find).

Booking Trick
There's rarely a benefit to booking multiple nights in a single reservation, with one big exception being if the hotel offers a 5th night free. So when we booked this reservation, we booked it as two separate 1 night stays. When you check in, you just let the Front Desk know that you have multiple bookings and they should accommodate accordingly. If they ask why, just say that you weren't sure which day you'd arrive or if you'd be staying the entire time. They usually don't even ask.

Per standard protocol, the Front Desk should just combine the multiple one-night stays into a single multi-night stay, but sometimes they'll keep it as multiple consecutive bookings. Why is this better for you? Well, glad you asked.
  1. You get a welcome amenity for each stay (in our case multiple 500 SPG point gifts instead of one).
  2. You get multiple stay credits that help you get Gold and Platinum status (2 stays).
  3. You can easily modify your stay (more/less nights) if you want by just cancelling the individual bookings. When you have a single multi-night stay that you want to modify, Starwood's IT systems actually cancel the entire original booking and then try to re-book you, but it might be at a different rate or sometimes even show no availability if they're overbooked.
But this trick also has it's downside too.
  1. There's a slight chance that your exact room may not be available every night of your total stay, so you'd have to check into another room the other days. However, this has NEVER happened to my parents, so more of a theoretical problem.
  2. You will have to negotiate getting your SPG Green Choice gifts (500 SPG points for declining housekeeping) because you cannot request Green Choice on the nights before you check out (which would be every single night of your stay). However, we've always been able to explain the situation to the front desk and have them credit our room anyway.
Checking In
When we arrived on Friday 3PM, there was just one person ahead of us checking in. When it was our turn, the front desk welcomed my father and thanked him for being a Starwood Platinum member. He was immediately offered a choice of welcome amenity (500 SPG points, continental breakfast or a $15 gift certificate to a nearby steakhouse). But before he selected his gift, he first asked if there were any complimentary Platinum upgrades available. She spent a few minutes checking her systems and offered a Club Floor room on the 6th floor.

Since my father was going to get upgraded to a Club Floor room (that would give us access to free snacks, soft drinks and cold breakfast anyway), we opted for the 500 SPG points (worth at least $10-15) instead of the continental breakfast (cereal, bagels and fruit).

He told her that he was booked for a second night under a different reservation. She found it and was able to keep us in the same room both nights. She just asked that we come downstairs the next day and have our keys re-coded. For an extra 500 SPG points, no problem.

The room itself was quite basic, a Westin Heavenly king bed, 42" flat screen TV, with a small seat and desk on the side. The bathroom was very clean and looked relatively new. After looking at some traveler photos on TripAdvisor, we were expecting some pretty outdated rooms, but we were pleasantly surprised. Besides, we weren't planning on staying in our rooms that much, so it was perfect for what we needed.

The wifi was free for Platinum guests and was strong/consistent throughout our entire stay. The single code could be used across multiple devices so that was helpful for me to stay up to date on my Doc McStuffins shows while my father researched TripAdvisor for where to have dinner.

We did have time to check out the swimming pool as well. The indoor pool area was quite large and was connected to the outdoor pool. The water was nicely heated for us little kids. Baby Ava and I had a great time swimming with our fathers, so Westin Princeton's highly recommended for other families.

The one issue that we encountered was that Forrestal Village complex is quite dead on weekend mornings. The Westin anchors the commercial development and you can walk to a variety of retail stores and restaurants. However, on Saturday morning, they're all closed with the exception of a very uninspiring food court (chinese food, pizza, Subway, sushi and burgers) and a small higher end cafe. As you may have guessed, we opted for the cafe and had some overpriced sandwiches and crepes for breakfast.

For the 2 night stay, we received our usual 3x SPG points for our room rate, plus two 500 SPG welcome gifts, plus two 500 SPG Green Choice gifts (one was a duplicate, but I won't complain). Assuming 2-3 cents/SPG point, we earned a rebate of about $50-75 on our total $210 hotel bill. Not too shabby!

2AM Fire Drill
The "highlight" of the weekend was that there was an Indian wedding at the hotel while we were there.

Small world, but it ended up being the wedding of a guy my father used to work with 5 years ago. We said hello and congratulated him, but didn't invite ourselves to the reception. But that didn't prevent us from enjoying some of their late night dance music.

Early Sunday morning, around 2AM, we heard a loud alarm going off. My mother originally thought it was my father's cell phone and started to get frustrated at him, but she soon realized it was the hotel's fire alarm. Dazed and confused, my father opened the door to see what was going on, but there wasn't anyone in the hallways yet, but thankfully no smoke as well.

After 30 seconds to focus, we decided to play it safe and evacuate. When we left our room, we were joined by the other guests on the 6th floor and we found our way to the staircase leading outside. There we saw dozens of other guests, many of which were still in full party mode with one "gentleman" blasting Robin Thick's Blurred Lines on his hand held speakers as the fire alarm raged on. I guess it's better than hearing Punjabi MC feat. Jay-Z from 2003.

After about 15 minutes (and yes, Blurred Lines was on repeat the entire time), the staff told us we could return to our rooms because it was a guest who pulled out the fire extinguisher in the hallway which sets off the fire alarm. There was no fire, just some drunk idiots.

The hotel staff did a great job of getting everyone back to their rooms as best they could. The next morning, we went to the "lounge" to find it closed. Apparently, that was the source of the fire extinguisher incident. But the repairman suggested we go to the front desk and see what they could do. Well, instead of bad bagels and fruit, we were offered a complementary full breakfast at the lobby restaurant.

Clearly the fire alarm wasn't the hotel's fault, but Baby Ava and I definitely appreciated that the Westin staff was proactive enough to make it up to the guests as best they could.

1 comment:

  1. Forrestal Village is dead at all times of the day =)