I was in Washington, D.C. recently and stayed at the Willard Intercontinental. Washington isn't a particularly cheap city, but I was able to minimize expenses by combining elite benefits with a booking under the American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts rate.
Amex's Fine Hotels & Resorts program can provide great value in the right situation. In my experience their rates track pretty closely with a hotel's "Best Available Rate." The BAR is something of a term of art, because it's not actually the best rate available. Frequently prepaid rates are available at a discount. Also, by booking through FHR, you lose out on the ability to get cashback for the stay. In this instance, though, the FHR rate made sense to me. At the Willard, the FHR rate includes:
- Noon check-in.
- upgrade, space-available, upon arrival
- Breakfast for two at Cafe du Parc.
- 4 P.M. check-out
- $100 food and beverage credit per stay.
Full review continues after the break:
I was planning a one night stay, so right off the bat the $100 food and beverage credit was appealing. For stays of multiple nights, that benefit would be "watered down." I ended up using the credit for dinner at Cafe du Parc, which was pretty good. From what I was told at check-in, the credit is not usable at the Occidental Grill.
Happily, I also have Royal Ambassador status with Intercontinental. I e-mailed the hotel ahead of time to confirm that they would honor my RA status along with the FHR benefits. I was told that they would, but that they would honor the better of the two room upgrades I was entitled to, i.e. I would not receive a "double upgrade." That was fine with me and the room I received was entirely adequate to my needs.
I booked the cheapest room and was given a "Willard Room" on the hotel's top floor. That seems to be the standard upgrade for RAs, though some have done better. My room was at the end of the hall and up the small flight of stairs seen here:
The room was large, with a separate dining/sitting area just inside the door.
Next is the "bedroom". The bed was comfortable and the room featured a flat-screen television and ipod dock:
Gary has observed, one of the nicest and most useful amenities a hotel can provide is bottled water. I'm not sure whether this was a FHR or RA ammenity in this case:
Unlike many Intercontinentals, the Willard does not have a club lounge. This is a drawback, but not a fatal one. The Willard is a historic hotel and, as such, can seem cramped at times. I tried to visit the Round Robin bar, but it was just too packed. A lounge would have been much appreciated.
Breakfast at Cafe du Parc was included in the FHR rate and entitled me to the full buffet in the restaurant. While not up to the standards of European hotel breakfasts, it was miles ahead of most American "breakfast buffets". The highlight was the croque monsieur which was truly excellent.