Monday, August 26, 2013

Westin Westminster

Hotel Stay Details
Hotel: Westin Westminster
Dates: August 24-25, 2013 
Rate Paid: $134 / night 
Total $ Savings: $0 
Points Earned: 595 SPG Points
Platinum $ Value Received: $35

Since we were visiting my new friends Calvin and Kyle in Boulder, we decided to just spend the night somewhere close by instead of driving 2.5 hours all the way out to Avon/Beaver Creek. Boulder didn't have any Starwood hotels, but we found a Westin in nearby Westminster.

As you can see from the map below, despite the website saying it's a "Boulder hotel," the Westin is actually a 30 minute drive southeast of Boulder proper. But fortunately, it's a very easy drive (99% is just driving south on I-36).

However, since we were going to head south on I-36 anyway to get to Avon/Beaver Creek the next day, the Westminster location ended up being convenient for us. And additionally, the hotel was pretty great for a non-resort.

My father double-dipped again using the Chase Ultimate Rewards Shopping Portal to earn 2x points on his stay. But in the past, his Starwood Hotel purchases often haven't given him Chase UR credit automatically like other purchases. Several times, he has had to contact Chase to get credit and has failed a few times since the charge was put on his Starwood SPG American Express card (to earn an extra 2x SPG points) instead of a Chase credit card. So the Chase customer representative couldn't (or wouldn't) verify that the hotel purchase was completed and wouldn't award him any UR points. But I digress.

However, he did book the reservation using the AAA rate like he did for the Princeton Westin last weekend. Again, they didn't ask to see his AAA Membership card, but your results may vary. This AAA rate was $119 plus tax and was the same as the advance prepaid rate, but with the AAA rate, we could cancel anytime before 24 hours without any penalty. The regular refundable rate was about $15-20 higher.

Check In

Since we were going to visit our friends in Boulder, we only stopped by the Westin along the drive up I-36 (around 3:30PM) just to check in and secure our room (and upgrade?), but then continued on our way up to Boulder. The plan was to meet my father's friend for an early dinner and then return later that evening. Upon entering, you couldn't help but be impressed with the massive open lobby area. Walking through the main space, you saw the entrance to the hotel restaurant Kachina to the left.

My father however, took the right turn and saw the front desk to check in. When it was his turn, he asked the front desk if his Platinum status showed up in their systems (his passive aggressive way of asking for the complimentary room upgrade to a suite). The computer still showed his Gold status, because that was his status at the time of booking. But after the front desk clicked a few things, they found his Platinum status and offered him his choice of welcome amenities (500 SPG points, free continental breakfast or a local gift).

If you're new to SPG Platinum status (like we were), you should follow these instructions to maximize your welcome benefits:

1. First ask if they have a lounge and if it's open during your stay. SPG Platinum guests get access to the club lounge where they will often have breakfast served each morning. So in this case, go for the 500 SPG points (or the local gift) since you'll get breakfast anyway.

2. If they don't have a lounge open, then ask what the breakfast gift gets you. The cheaper strict hotels are obligated to only give you a continental breakfast (cereal, pastries and fruit). If that's all you get, you really can't complain, because that's what the rules state. Then you need to decide if that's worth foregoing 500 SPG points or not. Personally, I value 500 SPG points at least $10-15, but can often redeem for up to $30 of value. But for longer stays, it may be worth getting free bagels, fruit and juice for the family each morning.

3. However, several hotels care more about your guest experience instead of just reluctantly complying to Starwood rules, so they'll offer you an enhanced breakfast option (either a full hot breakfast at their restaurant or a voucher/coupon for a set $ amount for you to use as you see fit).

In our case, we had #3. The Westin Westminster's breakfast amenity was a voucher for 2 people to get $12 breakfast credit each at the hotel restaurant, Kachina. So we could order whatever we wanted and get $24 taken off our breakfast bill. That's pretty generous given most items on Kachina's diverse breakfast menu (also seen here) were $10-15.

We originally booked a traditional room with a double bed. We were eligible for a complimentary room upgrade, but the Westin Westminster "didn't have any suites available" that night. Apparently they had 5 weddings at the hotel that weekend.

Sometimes hotels just say that no suites are available, but we had already confirmed that online before we arrived, so we didn't challenge their claim. Nevertheless, we were only staying 1 night (after getting into our room after 9PM) so we didn't really need much space for less than 18 hours, 50% of which, we'd be asleep.

As you can see below, the traditional room was pretty basic with the standard desk, flat screen television and basic bathroom. The Westin Heavenly beds were exceptionally comfortable though, and my grandmother was adamant that the room was meaningfully cleaner than the Marriott Denver West we stayed at the night before. Personally, I couldn't tell the difference, but as a 22 month old, all I cared about was the stuffed butterfly toy they had on the bed. But for $18, my mother wasn't interested me taking it with us.

We also used the wifi in the room which was very strong and consistent, though we had to re-log in each time we switched devices. Normally, wifi would cost about $11 per 24 hours, but it came free for having SPG elite status. They accidentally charged it to our room when we checked out, but took it off when my father pointed it out before running the credit card. Always pays to check the bill.

Unfortunately, we didn't have time to check out the other hotel amenities like the swimming pool or the Westminster Butterfly Pavilion across the street. But we'll definitely make sure to come back to the Westin next time we're visiting Boulder.

Hotel Staff Service
I can't speak about the daily housekeeping services since we were only there for a single night, but the rest of the hotel staff was simply amazing. I've been to a lot of hotels in my short 2 years of life, but this hotel had the friendliest service (baby) hands down. And I'm pretty sure this type of customer treatment had nothing to do with status because most people we interacted with had no clue we were anything other than regular guests. Little did they know, my Lap Child Diaries travel blog reaches tens of people every morning.

Nevertheless, every single person we interacted with (from the Front Desk to the Bellman to the Restaurant Server) was exceptionally warm and cordial. Basically, they didn't just treat you like a VIP guest, but more like like you were a personal friend. They asked about your day and actually paused to hear your answer. They engaged you in a meaningful conversation that you'd remember 10 minutes later. Everyone there just had a lot of Colorado charm.

Our favorite staff interaction was with the Kachina server at breakfast. He seemed like the type that was moonlighting as a comedian or actor. Despite it being 9AM on a Sunday morning, he was very outgoing, cracked funny jokes, and (my father's favorite) had strong views on his favorite menu items. His suggestion for my father, the Duck Confit Hash with Eggs and Homestyle Potatoes (just $12) was outstanding.

But then again, everyone's meal was quite excellent and reasonably priced, especially for being a hotel restaurant. My mother had the Bright Salad (seasonal greens, mint, cilantro, sage, jicama, grapefruit, red chile, smoked tomato vinaigrette) and my mother had the exceptionally tasty Huevos Rancheros. Including a diet coke and a side of delicious bacon, the total bill came out to $33 total for three adults. But after our $24 Platinum breakfast credit (see above), it came out to just $9! Pretty sweet.

Best of all, breakfast was free for kids under 8 eating from the kid's menu. I had a choice of Belgian waffles, pancakes, mac and cheese or about 5 other delicious choices, but my mother ordered me the plain eggs and potatoes, because usually I LOVE eggs. As you can see, I was a little bit disappointed that I didn't get to eat from the Make Your Own Pancake bar they had available. But my demanding Asian father just told me to use this experience as incentive to learn to talk sooner.

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