Monday, January 20, 2014

The Westin Austin at the Domain

Hotel Stay Details 
Hotel: The Westin Austin
Dates: January 17-19, 2014 
Rate Paid: $185/night (incl. taxes)
Points Earned: 3,466 SPG Points

We wanted to finish off our Texas trip at a proper hotel in Austin. Our best options were The Driskill Hotel (Hyatt), the W Austin (Starwood) or the Westin Austin (Starwood).

All three were available for the weekend on points or cash and offered varied types of stays.

A. The Driskill (604 Brazos Street)
The Driskill was a classic Austin luxury hotel that recently joined the Hyatt family. The style was "old money" like the Peabody Hotel in Memphis or the Waldorf Astoria in Manhattan. Cash rates were going for over $425/night, but we could have booked free night awards using Hyatt Gold Passport points (22,000/night at the time we were booking, but now at 25,000/night).

While that would have been a fair point redemption (1.9 cents/pt), we weren't sure using 44,000 Chase UR points to convert into Hyatt points was optimal since we probably weren't going to spend much time in the hotel itself. Even though the idea of free breakfasts (still had our Hyatt Diamond status through Feb 28) at such a luxury property was tempting, we'd still be spending a lot of Chase UR points and probably feel out of place at the traditionally styled hotel that probably attracted a more mature clientele.

B. The W Austin (200 Lavaca Street)
The W Austin was another higher end option but a much younger hipster crowd and modern style than the Driskill. Apparently, during the summer season, the rooftop pool is quite the singles scene as you'd expect from the young urban crowd that the W attracts. Now, I've had my fair share of experiences with W Hotels (including W Bangkok,  W Santiago and W Vieques to name a few), and in general, we've found them to be more appropriate for couples and business travelers, and less for young children.

Cash rates were going for about $300+/night or we could have redeemed 12,000 SPG points for a free night award. That would have been a 2.5 cent/pt redemption which was the very minimum we'd even think about redeeming our valuable SPG points for. That being said, redeeming 24,000 SPG points for 2 nights would have saved us $600 in cash, so clearly justifiable in many ways.

However, the other way to think about our SPG points was that they were worth 2.5 cents each to us. That meant that we'd be using $600 worth of point currency to get 2 nights at the W Austin. Did we really want to spend $600 (either in the form of cash or points) on a hotel for a weekend (and then pay $25-30 for overnight parking)? Not really...

C. Westin Austin at the Domain (11301 Domain Drive) 
...especially when we had another great Starwood option that was much cheaper ($161 nightly rate + $24 in taxes) and offered free parking. Of course, this location by the Domain shopping center in North Austin (C on the map below) wasn't as convenient for walking around downtown where the Driskill and W were located (A and B), but being 2 years old, it's not like I was going to be bar hopping on 4th Street this weekend. So being 20 minutes north of downtown wasn't a big deal at all, especially since we had a rental car.

We could have also redeemed SPG points for a free stay at the Westin, but it was a Category 4 property that cost 10,000 SPG points for a free night. Using our 2.5 cent/pt valuation for Starwood points, those 10,000 SPG points were worth about $250 to us. So, mathematically we were better off spending $185/night in cash than using $250 worth of SPG points. Or said another way, we didn't want to redeem 10,000 points at a low 1.9 cent/pt redemption value.

My parents and I pulled into the Westin parking lot around 3:30PM on Friday afternoon. The check-in desk was straight ahead in a massive lobby with ample seating all around. At the front desk there were three people working, so we didn't have to wait in line at all before we were called up. The super friendly front desk representative welcomed us and confirmed our reservation (which was booked as 2 separate one night stays in case we wanted to modify our dates without cancelling the entire reservation).


She consolidated the reservations so we'd be able to stay in the same room for both nights and asked if we wanted either (a) free breakfast vouchers or (b) 500 SPG points. We went with the complimentary breakfast which was the weekend buffet downstairs or $40 worth of room service.

My father had asked if his Platinum status gave him any room upgrades, but after checking the system, the front desk agent apologized about not having anything available. We didn't complain and were happy to take our free breakfast vouchers and head up to our room and Westin Heavenly king bed.

Unfortunately, the first room we were assigned (room 830) had some housekeeping issues when we walked in (leftover stains on the toilet seat). While not a huge infraction, my mother immediately lost all trust in the cleaning staff. My father called down to ask them to do another bathroom cleaning, but the front desk immediately offered to switch us to another room, so within minutes, someone came up to our room and handed us keys to a new room down the hall. They also gave us 1,000 SPG points as a courtesy.

The second room (room 803) had an identical set up and also smelled cleaner with the signature Westin white tea scent in the bedroom and Chlorox in the bathroom. My mother was satisfied. The standard room was pretty modern and looked very new in typical Westin fashion. In contrast to the Four Points stay the prior night, the Westin was set up more for a comfortable stay as opposed to functional. We appreciated the nice touches such as the high thread count bed spread and bathrobes in the closet.

The wireless was complimentary for Starwood Gold and Platinum members, though we found it to be quite spotty at times during peak use (7-10 PM). Nevertheless, can't really complain when you're receiving it for free.

Since we were staying for 2 nights, we decided to forego the housekeeping after the first night and receive 500 SPG points for the Green Choice option.

Breakfast the next morning was at the lobby restaurant Urban. As mentioned earlier, we had the option of getting the weekend buffet (which retailed for $20/person). The buffet offered the usual suspects (eggs, bacon and sausages), but also included a cheese and meat cold cuts, as well as smoked salmon and several tasty pastries.We could have also opted to get a la carte for up to $20/person for 2 people or enjoyed breakfast via room service, but chose to dine at the restaurant (and earn 100 points from as well).

The Westin Austin also had a nice gym and outdoor swimming pool, though it wasn't quite warm enough to go swimming this weekend.

Additionally, the Domain outdoor shopping mall was right across the street and easily walkable from the hotel. For those who didn't want to walk much, the hotel also offered a free ride in their 6 seater golf cart on demand. Nice touch!

Overall we definitely enjoyed our stay here and would most likely come back if we're ever in Austin again, which according to my mother, looks to be an annual trip going forward. However, walking downtown on Saturday, we saw construction and signs for a new Westin Austin Downtown coming in 2015. Choices, choices.

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