Monday, October 14, 2013

Westin Memphis Beale Street

Hotel Stay Details
Hotel: Westin Memphis Beale Street
Dates: October 11-14, 2013
Rate Paid: 10,000 SPG points/night 
Suite Upgrade: 2 Suite Night Awards
Regular Room Rate: $249/night
Regular Suite Rate: $1,099/night
Total $ Benefit: $3,297
Point Redemption Value: 2.5 cents/pt

This past Columbus Day weekend, my parents and I traveled down to Memphis, Tennessee to enjoy a long weekend of Southern food - lots of fried chicken and BBQ.

Fortunately, we were able to score some direct flights out of Newark to Memphis on United (free using our Citi Thank You points). Since we'd be spending most of our time in the downtown area, we didn't need a rental car either. Then add the fact that we used SPG points for our 3 night stay, we were looking at a pretty cheap weekend.

There's a handful of hotels in the downtown Memphis area, but there's really only two quality ones - The Peabody and The Westin. While both are pretty high end properties, the former is more of a traditional classic hotel and the latter being more modern. There are also a handful of other chain hotels (Sheraton, Doubletree, Holiday Inn), but my parents love their Westin, and I love my collection of Westin rubber ducks.

Suite Night Awards
The week before we arrived, my father decided to use some of his Suite Night Awards on our stay. For reaching 50 nights at Starwood this year, he received 10 Suite Night Awards for any Starwood stays through 2014. Basically, he can apply an award to any stay as long as he has enough SNAs to cover the entire stay. Then Starwood will start searching for suite availability starting 5 nights before the check in, and if there is a suite available, then you'll be automatically upgraded.

This approach takes a lot of the "risk" away from being subject to the whim of the front desk associate when you check in, especially since Starwood Corporate is handling the upgrade process and not the hotel itself. If you get to your check in date and the upgrade has not cleared, then the SNA is re-deposited back into your account to use for another stay.

So our SNA cleared this weekend and we were able to get an Executive Suite for the 3 nights. Hard to see someone actually paying the cash rate, but these rooms were going for $899-1,099/night on weekend stays. Given the hotel is situated 1 block away from famous Beale Street, you can imagine it's a popular weekend place to stay.

Check In
We were quite excited to have a large comfortable room, but unfortunately, we landed at Memphis Airport at 10:30AM, so we weren't expecting our room to be ready when we arrived at 11AM. The front desk pre-checked us in and told us they would call us when the room was ready.

We went over to Gus World Famous Fried Chicken a few blocks away for an early lunch (though to be fair, it was 12PM in New York). After our delicious first Memphis meal, we meandered around the shops of Beale Street for a bit before heading back to the Westin to check on our room a bit after 1PM.

But we were still too early. Having no where to really go, we decided to have a seat in the lobby and wait. However, it was getting close to my nap time, and I was growing frustrated with the deliberate pace of the housekeeping staff. The front desk did their best and made multiple offers to get us something to eat/drink, but we were still stuffed from our Gus Fried Chicken. By about 3PM, we were finally given the keys to our room.

The Room
We were given room 713, which was the corner room on the Starwood Preferred Guest floor. We were lucky that we were upgraded to the Executive Suite (which is a real one-bedroom unit) as opposed to the Junior Suite which is just a studio unit that's slightly larger than the regular traditional room.

The first thing you saw when you walked into our suite was the massive living room area with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking FedEx Forum, home of the NBA's Memphis Grizzlies.

Despite the website mentioning that the Executive Suites come with a dining room table for six, we just had an extra set of chairs and a round couch/ottoman thing. The room also had a large 42" flat screen TV with a small mini-fridge in the cabinets below. I, however, was more focused on the decorative plate full of tiny pebbles on the coffee table.

Then through another door, we had a separate bedroom with massive king size bed, 32" flat screen TV, desk and chaise lounge. Again, the entire room was flooded with light from the wrap around floor-to-ceiling windows. There were so many windows that the shades were controlled electronically from switches on the walls. Otherwise, it would take me all morning to open the shades after waking up.

While the Westin Memphis didn't have a swimming pool, the massive main bathroom in the suite more than made up for it with a bathtub that could easily fit 2 adults simultaneously or be converted into a makeshift swimming pool for a soon to be 2 year old.

Platinum Amenities
The front desk associate who checked us in seemed a little flustered. While we normally have someone walk us through the various options we have (Platinum welcome amenity, free internet, late checkout, etc), we were just handed our keys and pointed towards the elevator. Perhaps they're not too accustomed to having SPG elites stay at their hotel, but in either case, we figured we'd just call downstairs later to get our benefits.

We connected to the wifi using a voucher code given by the front desk. It was good for up to 3 devices for the duration of our stay. We could have also logged in using our room number and agreeing to the $6.95 charge for 24 hours (and asking for the charge to be removed at check out), but figured the voucher was easier to use. The internet wasn't that great as it often would get slow during peak usage hours and one of our devices kept losing signal (though we're not sure if it was due to the wifi or the device). Nevertheless, we wouldn't recommend streaming movies or making Skype video calls using the wifi here.

The Platinum welcome gift is usually a choice of 500 SPG points (worth $10-15 to us) or a continental breakfasts (cereal, pastries, yogurt, juice) each morning. Some Starwood properties actually give you a hot breakfast or a $ credit for breakfast at the lobby restaurant. However, at the Westin Memphis, it was a straight cold continental breakfast. Given we wanted to save space in our stomachs for some real Southern food, we opted for the 500 SPG points instead of breakfast. I know many other families would pick the breakfast option (especially since it's for every morning of your stay), but my father's pretty crazy about his SPG points and big BBQ lunches.

Other Hotel Features
As I mentioned earlier, we didn't need a rental car for most of our stay, so we didn't need parking, but I figured some of you readers might want to know about the parking options here. Parking in any downtown city hotels can be quite expensive and the Westin Memphis was no exception. Daily overnight self parking was $18/day and valet was $24/day. However, that gave you unlimited in/out privileges. But if you weren't going to benefit from coming in/out multiple times, the local parking garage next door charged just $10/day (but without in/out privileges).

The hotel restaurant is called Bleu, but again, we didn't see a reason to waste a meal opportunity on "regular food" when we could have amazing Memphis fried chicken and BBQ just walking a few blocks from the hotel.

However, my father did find some time to sit at the lobby bar watching college football on the three 50" flat screen TVs (Michigan-Penn State, Alabama-Kentucky and Texas A&M-Ole Miss) on Saturday night.

Bud light bottles ran about $3 each, which is the expensive hotel price given that you could get a "Huge Ass Beer" (32 oz) for $3 on Beale Street. But since my father's accustomed to paying $5-6 in New York City, he was fine with paying $12 for his 4 beers at the lobby bar in the comfort of his own hotel (without dozens of drunk Beale Street tourists).

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