The W Austin Upped Their Game… But Was it Because They Knew I’m a Blogger?

Last month I wrote a generally positive review of the W Austin hotel. It wasn’t a perfect hotel, but on the whole the hotel works for me — because it is in a great location (downtown but not on 6th by the bars, with a view of the lake) and the staff are friendly.

And it’s just around the corner from the world’s best barbecue restaurant that offers sit down service, online reservations, and a bar.

I noted a few minor gripes — housekeeping not especially thorough, toileteries go unreplaced, and room service trays littering the halls much of the time. And requests for chocolate cake (on the menu) and a yoga mat went unfulfilled by “Whatever/Whenever.”

I like the hotel though, and on balance I found it worth returning to (although readers made a couple of good suggestions for alternatives in the comments to my last post on the hotel).

So I went back — and experienced what for one of the first times was an obvious and over-the-top ‘different stay’ from what a ‘normal’ guest would have.

I’m often asked whether I get treated differently by travel providers because of my blog. Most of the time it seems pretty clear that I do not. I have way too many bad hotel stays to think that hotels are treating me better because of my blog.

Generally the treatment I get stems from the nature of the property, from hotel program elite status, or because I’m a frequent guest at the given hotel.

Still, it’s a relevant question, how much will your stay experience be like mine? And most of the time I think the answer lies more in whether you are a similar type of traveler to me … lots of paid domestic rates for business travel, lots of points redemptions internationally at upscale hotels for vacations.

This time, though, they clearly knew I was coming. They must have seen my last review, either because of a ‘Google alert’ or through twitter. They hadn’t reached out to me about my post. But when I arrived they had things at the ready.

  • They assigned me to a top floor room, very similar to the rooms I had had on previous stays, although closer to the elevator.
  • They had a display of chocolate cake with a yoga mat — things I couldn’t get on an earlier stay. And it was accompanied by a bottle of prosecco (which I did not drink).

  • The bathroom had an extra set of Bliss toileteries, and a set of full sized ones as well.

  • My review commented on a previous ‘Whatever/Whenever’ failure at the W San Diego where I couldn’t get coffee… and this stay there was a machine in the room that I didn’t recall being there on previous visits.

Housekeeping seemed more thorough on this stay. And room service trays were never left outside of rooms — they went from being in front of most rooms (this hotel must do a relatively high proportion of room service) to never seeing a tray even once during the weekend.

That left the hotel as being just a good property, in a good location. The pool scene wasn’t as happening (you can look down on it from the rooms looking out at the lake) because of the generally overcast skies during the weekend. But that, to my mind, is better.

This stay was really really good on the hotel side of things, although my bill had an extra day’s valet charges that I’m working to have corrected. I suppose my only gripe is with the other guests, the hotel does draw quite the crowd looking to be seen. But that just makes the lobby a ‘show’ that you can watch for the price of your room if you wish… or not.

I’m going to have to stay again, making my reservation under a different name this time, to see how the experience differs… whether the improved housekeeping was a one-off or something they’ve actually fixed, whether they can keep room service trays out of the hall.

The chocolate cake display on arrival notwithstanding, they did seem to fix some of my minor nicks from my earlier post. I’d love it if that actually sticks.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. You are giving another review of this hotel, but you state that they were aware of your previous review on this blog and you received special treatment. You typically have worthwhile content published daily so why not skip a second review?

  2. I totally appreciate your sentiment and post.

    But, honestly, wouldn’t you agree that they were in a bit of a ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t” pickle?

    With respect, what would have gotten a positive comment from you?

  3. I average 175/nights a year at SPG hotels and the have said in the W Austin. Your first review was spot on, having been upgraded to suits at this hotel, not once have I ever seen K Cup machine, hopefully this is new! I have seen K cups at IC hotels which is nice and I bring my own from home.

    Now when I’m in Austin I only stay at the Omin Downtown, it’s one block off 6th st, you don’t hear the music or noise and the lounge food is the best of any hotel in North America. Breakfast is a full hot meal, with all the fixing. The Evening food is enough to be a meal and the drinks are first rate. I’m not surprised that bloggers aren’t elite with their program, there are no CC sign up bonuses and fast way to Elite level, however I kinda like that, in all my stays at this hotel over 50, not once have I had to listen to some bratty kids scream or run around.

  4. No fair person could miss how unfailingly ethical Gary tries to be in presenting such potential conflicts of interest. The criticism is to laugh.

    Enjoy the flight Gary. I’ve flown everywhere for 40 years and yours is the only travel blog I read as a habit.

  5. Gary, is it possible that after reading your comments and issues (with the previous stay) that they were smart enough to make the necessary changes for your return stay as a guest coming back? Publicity aside as a blogger, perhaps they actually did go the extra mile to correct the wrongs from before. I’ve never stayed at the W, as my program is with Hilton, so I honestly don’t know the extent of their customer service to make a return visitor happy or was it for fear of getting another mediocre review. If it was the former, then that’s pretty impressive.

  6. Perhaps off topic but W lost me long ago as have most other Starwood Hotels
    The W bed which was sensational years ago was replaced with hard super firm platforms (fail)Have they improved the cement feel?
    The scents or should I say stench of perfume in lobbies annoys me and the hotel food in most of them bad or simply peculiar trying hard to be different as opposed to good. They are horrible to do business in and best to stay in when getting laid.
    Add to that overpriced in most markets and absurd redemption amounts/costs
    Also the frequently inability to use cash & points
    Funny how SPG pioneered this and every other program has better availability who copied them!!!
    SPGs awful seasonal surcharge has me staying in a wide variety of other properties and programs
    Having said all that the W Austin looks nice
    Glad you finally got your chocolate cake better late than never lol

  7. This just shows you that the hotels do gave the ability to step up their service if they wanted to. In your case they knew you so they did. For another Joe Nobody not worth the hassle. It’s easier to send a generic form letter apologizing.

  8. What makes you think they won’t recognize you?
    You’ve posted plenty of selfies.

  9. So, what tipped you off to them being onto you? When they greeted you by name at check in? When you saw the oversized toiletries? I’d probably overlook those, but suspect something was up when I saw the big cake with the “Welcome Gary!” sign- LOL…

    I’d suspect that some of the service aspects are generally changed, like the trays in the hall- it’s tough to do that just for a couple of days to impress a blogger. I’d guess that the fancy coffee machine, along with the welcome cake, are features that only a blogger who posts reviews would get…

  10. I think it was “because of they knew” about your flawless command of the English language. Just kidding. Thanks for the review.

  11. The cake and yoga mat are funny – I think I’m slightly happier with the hotel for doing that and removing any doubt as to what they were trying to do.

    Gary’s ethics remain the best in points blogging, but it’s sad that I have to take most flight and hotel reviews with a healthy dose of skepticism due to stuff like this. I don’t believe for a second it’s an isolated incident – see for example Lucky and the Air France lounge in CDG.

  12. Love it. You should definitely make an undercover visit. Complete with some misleading info on where you would be traveling that week.

    I’m curious though, how would you go about doing that, technically? You could use a fake name and pay by cash, but they might ask for ID, right? Probably easiest is to use a friend for the entire transaction?

  13. That would be an interesting experiment. Choose some hotel suspect of giving you special service and stay simultaneously with some “nobody” in a second room. Have both of you ask for similar special services or amenities. Might be an eye-opener. I volunteer to help in Chicago.

  14. One hilarious report. Proof – that sometimes they care – and sometimes they don’t Good luck next time.

  15. @AM make a reservation in someone else’s name, they add you as a second guest right before check-in or check you in.

  16. @ABC – this was the first stay where I was clearly recognized. first time ever where a review or potential review had an obvious impact on the stay. so i thought that was worth sharing with folks.

  17. As always, Gary, you are entertaining and ‘at times’ provide some valuable insight and tips. I would give the W Austin a (+)for their service…I typically bypass their living room scene and head to a higher floor for peaceful rest.

  18. I agree with Gary’s sentiment. It’s obviously great that they went above and beyond this time and I’m sure that he doesn’t want to seem ungrateful. But the two points to be made (in my opinion) are:

    1) Did they just react to his bad experience because he’s a blogger and fixed it in order to get a better image or do they always try to “fix” things for any “regular” guest who has a bad experience?

    2) Is this a one-off fix or have they truly addressed the back-end problems (housekeeping, room service, concierge, etc.)?

  19. Nothing against prosecco, I didn’t drink it but there’s nothing inherently wrong with prosecco!

  20. I stayed at the W Austin for 5 days in mid March and it was one of my favorite stays. Everything about the place was fantastic from the service I received upon check-iin, restaurant recommendations and help with reservations and their complimentary “whatever/whenever” car service. All of the employees went above and beyond what they needed to do to make my experience excellent. I also agree the hotel is in an ideal location.

  21. re the prosecco, in situations like this where they seem to be paying such close attention, I wonder if you should leave a note that says something like, “I do like prosecco, but simply did not feel like drinking it this time.” Otherwise, they’ll probably make a note in your file to never put prosecco in the room as a welcome gift again. (btw – this is meant as a joke – mostly 🙂 )
    @phil – if you want bliss toiletries, go to the UK and then go into any decent sized Boots (which is like an upscale walgreens). You will find them there quite reasonably priced. They probably have them at other shops in England as well.

  22. Gary – a lot of hotels are starting to check in on guest preferences, especially elites. No doubt they read your review and adjusted accordingly, but if that’s happening across the board to those who have issues with a stay, that’s good customer service.

    FWIW, I had a stay at the Park Hyatt Aviara last year that wasn’t terrible, but it also wasn’t good. They had loud events going on in the courtyard until very late (~11:30pm),someone pulled a fire alarm one night, smoking in the hallways, etc. At the time, I was not a Hyatt elite, but did stay through FHR. I complained, which I felt was fair of me because I was at a Park Hyatt, not an Andaz, with my family and expected a little more resort and a little less party. They contacted me directly to apologize, and I told them that it was all minor, that I rarely if ever complain (which is true, I’m kind of a pushover when it comes to customer service, which isn’t good) and that I’m still likely to return. I had a stay already booked for 2 weeks later. Upon my return, they had us in what has to be the largest suite on the property and everything was flawless. They listened, which was nice.

    I’m not too sure what my point is, except to say that hotels do listen to us even if we don’t have blogs. I’m sure there’s a cost-benefit analysis weighing the reasonableness of the demands and the volume of the voice complaining against the costs involved, but I think they did the right thing for you.

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