Looking for a downtown Houston hotel near the convention center, I stumbled upon an independent brand I didn’t know SPG had acquired, Magnolia. The boutique brand commanded a premium when it was independent with midwestern locations in Omaha and Denver and now that it resides inside of SPG, I wanted to see how the brand assimilated into the Tribute Portfolio.
The property is located in the heart of downtown. Situated close to the Convention Center, the Toyota Center and several major businesses, the hotel is perfectly suited for meetings and dinner afterwards. This is perhaps the only part of Houston that is even remotely walkable, but with nice weather (not in July) a walk to the convention center would be enjoyable and avoids the hassle of finding parking. On that note, at $35/night for valet at this property, you may want to consider Uber.
1100 Texas Ave, Houston, TX 77002
+1 (713) 221-0011
Upgrade, Yes or No?
As an SPG Platinum, if a suite is available (up to one bedroom, not Presidential) it’s mine for the taking regardless of what I book. I am a new SPG Platinum as a result of a Marriott challenge last year but so far this year I am earning my keep and find myself 1/3 of the way to re-qualification just 5 weeks into the year. I wrote last year why Hotel Status upgrades are tough and especially so for Hilton and IHG where the policy is more ambiguous than Hyatt and the clear black and white of SPG’s policy.
When I checked in, I asked if there was a suite available. I was being polite; I knew there was a suite available.
“We’ve already complimentary upgraded you to a Premier Studio Suite.” – front desk agent.
“Is it a studio or a suite?” – me
“It’s a ‘Premier Studio Suite'” – agent
Confused look on my face.
“The hotel is completely sold out tonight, but your suite is the size of an apartment.” – agent
She handed me the card that recognized my Platinum status but distinctly did not say that I had been upgraded, the telltale sign that I was not. While a Premier Studio Suite may have been an upgrade from the Deluxe King or whatever I booked, it’s not a category difference. Is a window seat an upgrade from a middle seat? Perhaps to some, but not when talking to an Executive Platinum or 1K flyer. Pretending that there is a material difference is a little insulting.
I opened the door to a darkened Premier Studio Suite. I looked left, looked right, I didn’t even bother to turn on the lights, closed the door and returned to the lobby. I’ve stated before that I am not going to look the other way while a hotel willfully decides which of my elite benefits they choose to honor. No one would look the other way if the hotel wanted to deny points for a stay, breakfast or any other benefit – I’m not going to pretend that this is somehow negotiable.
And another thing… “Studio Suite” is an oxymoron. This is a “jumbo shrimp” situation. A suite has a closed-door bedroom, a studio is an apartment containing one main room. You can’t have a studio suite, premier or otherwise. You can call this room anything you want except for suite or upgrade. It’s another case of the Emperor having no clothes, I’m not afraid to tell him.
Let’s Try This Again
Returning to the front desk to address the issue, I waited for a few minutes (maybe five) as the desk was unattended. When an agent came out from the back, she recognized that I had just checked in and asked if there was an issue.
I told her the problem. The app clearly shows that they are selling a number of suite packages for the evening, literally dozens of pricing options and in every case several suite types are available with just one clearly sold out. While the rest of the suites are available for a surcharge of about $9-20/nt more than the standard room available, the Presidential suite was several thousand dollars. It’s clear that for the right amount of money they will walk a guest buying that suite, but someone had in fact booked the Presidential and I wouldn’t have expected that anyway.
What is most insulting to me, is the difference in price from the standard room to the entry-level suite is less than $20/nt and while that’s all the more premium they felt the room was worth, they thought so little of their Platinum guests to outright lie to their face, over $20. Further, if the “Premier Studio Suite” is a suite as they suggest and not just a studio as I believe then why do they drop the “Studio” line from the Signature Suite which I would concur is an actual suite.
In case any hoteliers are in doubt, as nice as the property is, I wouldn’t have stayed there if it wasn’t an SPG property. As such, if I hadn’t stayed there and the room remained unsold (because they were not in fact sold out) Magnolia would be short $220 in revenue and the suite would have been vacant. Because they went out of their way to not honor a benefit for which I am entitled that literally costs the hotel nothing, I probably won’t return to the property. There is too much competition in the area for me to have to fight at the front desk for something the brand promises when I arrive. The property is lovely, but it’s not that special.
I was told by the second attendant that the hotel was sold out and that they didn’t have any suites available. I turned my phone towards her and showed her this was false and now we both knew it was. She looked at it puzzled, then back at the computer.
“The computer doesn’t show any suites available tonight.” – new agent
“Ok, well I will just book this one and call SPG to have them take care of the rate difference.” I turned back to my phone and started to touch the screen as if I was making a booking.
“Ah, I found you the last one.” – new agent.
“Great.” I am sure you did. Once you realized that I was going to get the suite anyway, but that it probably wasn’t going to be pleasant if I did call SPG to handle the matter. I didn’t roll my eyes. I wasn’t sarcastic. I just took my key (now in the official “upgraded” platinum sleeve) thanked her, and went upstairs.
When I made it up to the Signature Suite, one we can all agree is an actual suite, I was impressed. I can understand why they don’t want to give these rooms away, but that’s the deal. If you book the Magnolia Houston and have an opportunity to secure the Signature Suite in advance for $9/nt, I recommend you do. Photos tell most of the story from here, so I will refrain from adding content where a photo will suffice.
Deluxe Studio Suite
Before I had yet stayed at the property I had already booked in another night at the property on a separate stay and I am including the photos from that encounter on this post. I checked for an upgrade at check in during my second stay, they were sold out on the app for the property. I didn’t challenge them because there were no rooms available at all.
Here is what the Deluxe Studio Suite (hint: not a suite) looks like. Note the bathroom had a vanity both inside the bathroom and outside of the bathroom – it looks like a reflection in the photo but it’s not.
Offered in their restaurant until 10AM, I had full access to the breakfast menu. I did not see a buffet in the area, but I could have been mistaken. I typically prefer the menu anyway. I was involuntarily involved in one of those hotel restaurant server battles where the sections aren’t really assigned and they fight over the table in a passive aggressive manner. One would bring the coffee, the other would bring the menu and ask if so-and-so brought me the coffee. I would order, and the other would bring me silverware. This went on and on until I finally paid the bill and left without ever knowing who my server actually was – and I frankly didn’t really care, I just didn’t want to be in the middle of it.
Breakfast was good, it wasn’t life changing.
Will I Be Back?
The price paid for the room, the location, and the suite I eventually stayed in on my first visit were all very positive. I just couldn’t get the sour taste out of my mouth from the first encounter. There’s a Hyatt Regency, Le Meridien, and a very nice Westin all within walking distance of this hotel along with the Marriott Marquis, and a Hilton attached to the Convention Center. The competition nearby is just too significant to feel cheated when I stay there. I will probably run through all of those options first before coming back to this property.
What do you think? Much ado about nothing? Is the hotel nice enough to forget about the front desk hassle? Could it have been a genuine mixup?