W Hotel truly means whatever whenever

So the W Hotels motto is whatever whenever.  tonight I put that to the test at the W Hotel in Buckhead.

You see I had a mole removed on Friday on the small of my back.  I got a call today that said it was not cancerous, yay.  However, I am supposed to change the band aid and neosporin on a daily basis.  Even though I have 37 inch arms, I cannot reach this area on my back.  Tonight my bandage was in need of changing, and so I asked the W Hotel concierge to help me put it on.  he kindly agreed and we headed to the men’s room in the lobby.

Now that is what I call service.

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whatever, whenever

According to the concierge, this did not rank too high on the crazy list of things he has had to procure for his customers at this hotel.  Some of those things are on mentionable on this blog.

Platinum Plus – The New Marriott Status?

On my flight yesterday, I overheard my seat opponent call a Marriott hotel to make a reservation, he said:

Hello, this is Fred. P. calling, a Platinum Plus, member and I would like to make a reservation for XYZ hotel on XYZ date…

 

I chuckled to myself.  You see, up until January, I thought there were only 3 tiers of Marriott elite status: Platinum; Gold; and Silver.  That was until I received my Platinum Premier card in the mail in January.  It is an unpublished higher tier, that doesn’t offer many other benefits except a few more bonus points.  And they sent me a free Marriott toiletry kit.

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The only Platinum Plus I have ever heard of is a shuttered strip club in Memphis.  So this interaction cracked me up.

Well it seems if Marriott is not clear in its terminology, or at least the marketplace perception of what this status is called.  Case in point, I posted this on facebook about this interaction:

Overheard my seat opponent this morning on the phone with Marriott, “yes good morning, this is Mike M., i am a Platinum Plus member, and i would like a reservation…” Ha ha, there is no “platinum plus” elite level. However my friends in Memphis tell me there is a Platinum Plus there… Maybe he is enrolled in a loyalty program there.

 

Without my prompting of the correct name, this is what frequent travel facebook friends of mine replied:

I don’t know what to think of this, but someone in Tampa claimed they were a Marriott Platinum Plus member as well. Maybe there’s a secret society out there…..; and

 

It is a thing, it is not advertised, I was Platinum Plus a few years ago, I don’t know how it was achieved but all my stuff said Platinum Plus;

To share my understanding of this name nuance, I then noted:

It is called Platinum Premier per my membership card. Platinum Plus is a strip club in Memphis.

Even after this clarification, I still had friends of mine, that I consider saavy, note:

It’s a designation You get after 1000 or 1200 nights. It’s real

 

So either there is a secret status, even more secret than Platinum Premier, called Platinum Plus.  Or Marriott needs to better brand recognize their elite loyalty tiers.  Which is it?

 

 

A Question for the Travel Sages: How Does SPG Target Elite Customers for Promotions?

This is an open question that goes out to the travel sages out there, like Gary at View From the Wing or Ben from One Mile at a Time.

The Question:

How does Starwood Select Which Targeted Promotions Go To Which Elite Customers?

You see, I am a Platinum member with Starwood.  I have had 15 stays so far just in 2013 alone.  Even though I subscribe to Starwood’s promotions e-mails, I never receive e-mails about targeted or unique promotions except for their standard promotions.  For example, Starwood has the “Power Up” promotion currently underway as a standard promotion, available to any member.  Basically, earn 2,000 bonus starpoints for every 4 nights stayed, for a maximum of 10,000 bonus starpoints.  However, there are more promotions out there.  For example, my co-worker noted to me today that he is a Gold member with Starwood and got an e-mail from the offering him double Starpoints on every upcoming stay.  Why is Starwood not offering me this promotion?  Is it because they are trying to encourage him to make it to Platinum?  In a way, getting him addicted to the crack?  How does they select which promotions go to which customers?

I would be curious to get the insights from some travel thought leaders.

Ranking Most of Atlanta’s Starwood Hotels – 2013 Edition

Last week I completed a stay at my 7th different Atlanta area Starwood hotel since January 1, 2013.  In fact, this was my 10th different Starwood hotel nationwide for 2013 (The other 3 were Sheraton Chattanooga, aLoft Asheville, Four Points Sheraton Asheville).  The Atlanta hotels have a lot to choose from and to offer, and vary greatly on location, “WOW Factor”, quality of product, quality of service, and platinum breakfast offering.  I will rank them on these crude criteria on a 0 – 5 scale, with 0 being awful, and 5 being best in class.  The contenders are, in no particular order:

Location

  • 5 – Westin Atlanta Buckhead
  • 4.5 – W Atlanta Buckhead
  • 4 – W Atlanta Midtown
  • 3.5 – Le Meridien Atlanta Perimeter
  • 3 – Westin Atlanta Perimeter North
  • 3 – W Atlanta Downtown
  • 1.5 – Sheraton Atlanta Galleria

Buckhead is no doubt the entertainment and nightlife capital of Atlanta.  Sure, Midtown, Little Five Points, Inman Park, West Midtown, Vinings, and the suburbs all have some nightlife and entertainment to offer too.  However, Buckhead gives you the highest concentration of this stuff.  The Westin Buckhead is slightly closer to Lenox Mall and Phipps Plaza, which gives it the location edge over the W Buckhead.  The W Midtown has decent walkability, including Piedmont Park, and many restaurants, and clubs.  And all the Buckhead and Midtown properities are walkable to MARTA (which is sometimes more of a liability than an asset).  The Perimeter Mall area is less exciting, but is more accessible to the north side of town.  The Le Meridien wins here over the Westin Perimeter because it is closer to Perimeter mall, and walking distance from many restuarants.  The Westin Perimeter is a giant business park, which doesn’t “feel” as exciting of a location than the Le Meridien.  The W downtown, is, well in Downtown.  Walking distance there is nothing too exciting, except for the sporting venues.  Unless you had to walk to something nearby, I would take the W Midtown in a heartbeat over the W downtown.  The Sheraton Atlanta Galleria is next to the Galleria mall, which is a marginally upscale suburban mall.  It is driving distance from some nice restaurants, including two favorites of mine, Canoe and OK Cafe.  And it has decent access to I-285, US-41, and I-75, but that is all the location has going for it.

Winner: Westin Atlanta Buckhead (by a hair)

WOW Factor

  • 4 – W Atlanta Buckhead
  • 4 – Westin Atlanta Buckhead
  • 4 – W Atlanta Midtown
  • 4 – W Atlanta Downtown
  • 4 – Atlanta Le Meridien
  • 1.5 – Sheraton Atlanta Galleria
  • 1 – Westin Atlanta Perimeter North

 All the hotels in this category with a 4 ranking are relatively new.  In fact, the Le Meridien, which is a renovated W, opened last month.  For Atlanta, they are in the top of their game.  The W’s are a little funkier, and the Buckhead W has a non-private shower, which might be an issue for some traveling with a non-intimate companion.  The Le Meridien has a brand spanking new concierge lounge, which is big and pretty compared to most, and certainly nicer than the Westin Buckhead concierge lounge.  The Sheraton Galleria and the Westin Perimeter North are both clean and comfortable.  But that is about it.  The Sheraton is the kind of hotel that reminds you that you are out of town away from family and friends and are just another statistic business traveler.  The rooms are on the bigger side there, but less comfortable and cozy than the other hotels.  The Westin Perimeter North suffers from the same maladie, only it is smaller and dingier.  It has the Westin Heavnley Bed, that is great, but the two rooms I have stayed in had a damp smell to them, and the lobby and rooms feel kind of worn.

Winner: Five-Way Tie (W’s Downtown, Buckhead, Midtown; Westin Buckhead; Le Meridien Buckhead)

Quality of Product

  • 4.5 – Atlanta Le Meridien
  • 4 – W Atlanta Midtown
  • 4 – W Atlanta Downtown
  • 4 – W Atlanta Buckhead
  • 3.5 – Westin Atlanta Buckhead
  • 2.5 – Sheraton Atlanta Galleria
  • 2.5 – Westin Atlanta Perimeter North

The Quality of Product follows the same trend as the WOW factor.  The Atlanta Le Meridien takes the cake, because it is new, and very comfortable.  It didn’t hurt that my stay two weeks ago featured a corner suite, that was easily 1,000 square feet.   And they pump in some kind of smell in the lobby that I love, I don’t even know how to describe it.  My wife thinks I am crazy.   It would be a five if it wasn’t currently still under renovation.  Right now only floors 12 – 8 are open, with 7 – 2 and the lobby under serious renovation.  The W’s and Westin Buckhead have all the comforts you would expect from higher end W’s and Westins.  In fact, their beds, showers, couches, etc. are nicer and more comfortable than mine at home.  I would rather be home, because it is my nest, but if I am going to be away it is nice to have top quality amenities.  The Westin Buckhead oddly does not have a bar, knocking it’s product points down one notch.  The Sheraton is comfortable, but less comfortable than the bed and amenities I have in my own home.  The same with the Westin Atlanta Perimeter, except that I almost rated it a 2.  It got the .5 because they have the dual shower head, referenced here.  That is pretty neat.  Also as a Platinum you get a free day-pass to the next door Concourse Athletic Club, a full-service gym.  Otherwise it is drab and passable, but not exciting.

Winner: Four-Way Tie (W’s Downtown, Buckhead, Midtown; Le Meridien Buckhead)

Quality of Service

  • 4.5 – Atlanta Le Meridien
  • 4.5 – W Atlanta Midtown
  • 4.5 – W Atlanta Downtown
  • 4.5 – W Atlanta Buckhead
  • 4 – Westin Atlanta Buckhead
  • 3.5 – Sheraton Atlanta Galleria
  • 3.5 – Westin Atlanta Perimeter North

The differences in service qualities narrow between our contenders.  While the W hotels always go out of their way to get you what you want, Whenever, Wherever, the Le Meridien seems to have strong service woven directly into its customer experience.  From the way that you are greeted at the front desk, to the professional kindness of the concierge lounge attendant, you feel like you are at a customer service focused team.  The other hotels all have what seem to be experienced staff who recognize my Platinum status, and address my random questions and concerns.  The staff was a smidge shakier at the Sheraton Galleria and Westin Perimeter, but overall still good to excellent.  The Westin Perimeter had no hesitation in helping me track down an invoice from a past stay and e-mailing it to me, even if that stay was at the Le Meridien.

Platinum Breakfast Offering

  • 4.5 – W Atlanta Buckhead
  • 4.5 – W Atlanta Midtown
  • 3.5 – W Atlanta Downtown
  • 3.5 – Westin Atlanta Buckhead
  • 3.5 – Sheraton Atlanta Galleria
  • 3.5 – Westin Atlanta Perimeter North
  • 3 – Atlanta Le Meridien

As a Platinum SPG member, I am entitled to free complimentary breakfast at any starwood hotel, which I can select as my check-in amenity.  In addition, some hotels have a concierge lounge which I have access to for free breakfast there.  Either way, I get free breakfast, and in Atlanta Starwoods some are better than others.  I’ll start with the low-end of the list, the Le Meridien.  the Le Meridien has a beautiful, new concierge lounge with friendly attendants as I mentioned above.  This really could be a 4.5 level ranking.  My only niggle which takes it to a 3 is the selection.  They have pastries and fruit, which are of a very high quality and variety.  They have high-end coffee and tea.  But they don’t have any hot entrees.  No proteins, no eggs, hot oatmeal, grits, nothing.  Maybe this is an interim thing while the rest of the hotel is under renovation and only 4 floors are open. But either way, it is a miss compared to every other Atlanta Starwood.  Even the Sheraton Galleria gives you a breakfast coupon for their standard lobby buffet, which includes multiple hot items and waiter service.  The same goes for the Westin Atlanta Perimeter North.  The Westin Buckhead has a concierge lounge, without waiter service but with a hot and cold variety of entrees.  The W Atlanta downtown sets aside a small room for a standard continental spread, which works but isn’t particularly exciting.  The real winners here were the W Atlanta Buckhead and the W Atlanta Midtown.  For me, a 5 would be complimentary breakfast, including room service breakfast.  So a 4.5, is very strong, and the next best thing, complimentary breakfast a la carte off an actual restaurant menu of high quality.  And both of these W’s come through.  The W Atlanta Buckhead has the Cook Hall restaurant in the lobby.  My server informed me that the breakfast coupon given to me a check-in was worth a whopping $38 of food and drink from their menu.  I really enjoyed the fresh fruit plate, and chicken sausage personally.  The W Atlanta Midtown offers $38 of food and drink from their breakfast menu at Spice Market.  In both cases, you are served by an actual waiter, and can choose from freshly cooked to order breakfast food of your choosing.  Now that is outstanding.

The Bottom Line

The W Buckhead is Our Winner

The W Buckhead is Our Winner

In each of my crude categories, the W Buckhead, W Midtown, and Westin Buckhead earned an average score of 4 or higher, putting them in the top tier of Altanta Starwoods I have reviewed.  The Le Meridien and W Downtown come close, and are just a few small things away from being in the top tier.  The Westin Perimeter and Sheraton Galleria, are passable and clean, but not exciting for the weekly road warrior.  So which hotel do I have booked for my upcoming trip to Atlanta?  The answer may surprise you.

You see, my client I am visiting is in extreme North East Atlanta, where John’s Creek meet’s Suwanee.  All 3 W hotels, and both Westin’s are easily 45 minutes to 1 hour from that location each way in rush hour.  The Sheraton would be 1.15 hours at least.  That leaves me with the Le Meridien and the Westin Perimeter North.  The Le Meridien is far and away a better hotel than the Westin, however my company’s negotiated rate is $40-100 less per night, AND the Westin offers free full service gym access for SPG platinum members at the private gym club next door.  For someone trying to get back in shape, that is very competitive compared to the Le Meridien’s standard hotel gym.  So I will be at the Westin Perimeter North until a better rate can be had at the Le Meridien or I start working with a client in a different part of town.