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I went to Washington, DC, to attend a points and miles conference organized by the Frequent Traveler University (FTU). I was excited to meet people from the Points community south of the border. What made it even better was that there were a few familiar faces from the Canadian Points community in attendance as well.
For this weekend trip, I stayed at the historic and grand The Willard InterContinental. This hotel is known as the “Residence of Presidents” with many former U.S. presidents having stayed there. The Willard has also been frequented by foreign dignitaries and celebrities.
The Willard InterContinental – Location
The Willard InterContinental is located downtown within the Pennsylvania Avenue Historic District. Only a quick 15-minute drive from Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA).
Centrally located, you’ll find that it’s near many of Washington, DC’s famous landmarks. It’s one block away from the White House, only steps away from the Washington Monument and within walking distance of the National Mall. The Metro Center Station is also only two blocks away.
The Willard InterContinental – Booking
Hotel prices were steep that Spring weekend. Initially, I planned to stay at the Hyatt Regency Crystal City because it was cheaper than staying at a Marriott or Hilton. As an aside, I think there are more Hyatts’ in Washington, DC, than in all of Canada 😉
I changed my mind and booked last minute at the Willard InterContinental to join a couple of the ladies from the Canadian points crew that planned to stay there. I booked a one-king premium room. The rate was 404 USD for the first night and 414 USD for the second night, for 820 USD excluding taxes.
Since I’m an InterContinental Ambassador, I applied my Ambassador Weekend Night Certificate to the booking, which gave me the second night free. Altogether, the two nights came at $468, including taxes. This worked out to $234/night. Not bad for a luxury hotel! Especially since the Marriott Residence Inn downtown was going for just over $300/night!
The Willard InterContinental – Upgrade Love
Things got off to a great start when I received an e-mail notifying me that my room had been upgraded before I checked into the hotel. Although, the e-mail didn’t specify the type of room upgrade and kept it a mystery.
I later checked my IHG app and discovered they had upgraded me to a corner one-bedroom suite! This suite was going for over $1,000/night during my stay. The best I had hoped for was a junior suite. Status meant something at this property!
I do have Diamond status with IHG One Rewards, and I also hold an Intercontinental Ambassador membership. Yet, so far, I have found that IHG One Rewards status recognition is inconsistent across its properties.
IHG One Rewards Elite Benefits
The IHG One Rewards hotel program has four status tiers. The higher the tier, the more enhanced the benefits. Key elite status benefits at each tier are as follows:
- Silver (10 nights)
- Earn bonus points at a rate of 20%, with no points expiry
- Free Wi-Fi
- 2 PM late check-out (subject to availability)
- Gold (20 nights or earn 40,000 qualified points)
- Includes Silver status benefits
- Earn bonus points at a rate of 40%, with no points expiry
- Ability to rollover nights for next year’s status
- Platinum (40 nights or earn 60,000 qualified points)
- Includes Gold status benefits
- Earn bonus points at a rate of 60%, with no points expiry
- Reward night discounts
- Guaranteed room availability (72 hours)
- Complimentary room upgrade (subject to availability)
- Points or snack/drink at check-in
- Early check-in (subject to availability)
- Diamond (70 nights or 120,000 qualified points)
- Includes Platinum benefits
- Earn bonus points at a rate of 100%, with no points expiry
- Choice of free breakfast for two, points or drink/snack
- Dedicated Diamond support line
You can also benefit from earning milestone rewards, depending on how many nights you stay at an IHG property. These are based on qualified nights stays in a year, and start at 20 nights. With each additional 10 nights, a member can unlock additional milestone rewards, up to 100 nights. Milestone rewards include bonus points, food and beverage credits and confirmed suite upgrades.
InterContinental Ambassador Benefits
In addition to these status tier benefits, IHG has a rewards membership program layered on top to confuse things! You can purchase a membership to become an InterContinental Ambassador. It costs 200 USD or you can redeem 40,000 IHG points instead to sign up.
You can enjoy various benefits if you hold this membership exclusively at InterContinental properties. Hence, these benefits would not extend to other hotel brands under the IHG umbrella, such as Kimpton and Six Senses.
The benefits that come with Ambassador membership are solid and include:
- Guaranteed room upgrade
- Guaranteed late check-out up to 4 p.m.
- Complimentary weekend night
- Platinum elite status and corresponding benefits
- 20USD food and beverage credit per stay
- Complimentary mineral water
You are also entitled to complimentary breakfast if you are staying at an Intercontinental in mainland China.
A notable thing about this membership is that the late check-out is guaranteed, and it is up to 4 p.m.! A top-tier Diamond elite is only entitled to 2 p.m. late check-out, subject to availability. An Ambassador is also guaranteed a room upgrade. Conversely, Diamond elites may score an upgrade based on availability.
The Willard InterContinental – Arrival and Check-in
As soon as I entered the hotel, I knew this was not a typical InterContinental. The lobby area was grand and magnificent. It had impressive marble columns with a striking coffered ceiling comprising tiles representing all the different American states. The lobby was decorated with plants, flowers and a colourful centre rug, creating a warm ambiance.
I went to the front desk to check in but found out my room wasn’t quite ready. With time to kill, I decided to explore the lobby area. Then, I noticed a line forming with many people dressed formally in the centre of the lobby area leading to a staircase into a hallway.
I climbed the few steps leading to this hallway and learned it was called Peacock Alley. They had chairs and tables set up on each side and a musician playing the harp.
It turned out that this was where Willard offered its Afternoon Tea experience. How much does it cost, you may ask? It will set you back $90 or $109 if you want to also enjoy a glass of champagne.
Further away, across the front desk, was another entrance leading to the Round Robin Bar, established in 1847. This bar is known to be frequented by Washington’s political and social elites. Condé Nest Traveller even called it the “Oval Office of Bars.”
A while later, I returned to the reception to see if my room was ready. The associate told me to return after a few minutes because she just needs to ensure the room was inspected.
More than fifteen minutes later, I returned, and she told me she would do the inspection herself since she was uncertain whether it was done.
Afterwards, she returned, confirming that my room was ready and handed me my keys. She then casually asked, “You want the breakfast, right?” After my confirmation, she handed me a paper sheet with all the info about the restaurant and facilities hours.
Although the associate was friendly, the interaction surprised me because she didn’t go through the status benefits that I would be entitled to. But the bigger surprise was that she didn’t mention that I was upgraded to a suite! In any case, I was happy to finally have my room keys to check out my home for the next two nights.
The Willard InterContinental – Corner One-Bedroom Suite
I made my way to the main set of elevators directly across from the front desk.
I was assigned suite number 1038. Once on the 10th floor, I walked through the long hallway to reach my suite.
To my disappointment, my suite was next to another set of elevators. However, my disappointment started to dissipate when I walked into the suite.
Wow! It was amazing!
After entering the suite, to the right was a door leading into a sizeable bedroom. Inside was a king-size bed that had the “W” representing the Willard embossed on the bed frame in gold. The elegant bedroom came complete with all the traditional furnishings.
Across from the bed was a desk and a chair with a city view. In the right corner was a comfortable accent chair with an ottoman to kick back and relax.
Inside the room was a full bath. Just before you enter, there is a large closet to the left with ample room to store your belongings.
The bathroom was simple yet chic. It had a white and grey colour scheme. What stood out were the bathroom accessories that were gold-coloured, adding a touch of luxury.
I found that the best amenity included in the suite was the fluffy and comfy slippers!
Walking out of the bedroom and turning right into the corridor was another bathroom. The second bathroom was smaller, even though it included a bathtub and a shower.
Dining and Living Room
Stepping out of the bathroom, a minibar area to the right had a Nespresso coffee machine and pods, tea bags and two water bottles. Directly across from it was a closet, where the safe was stored. Continuing into the corridor was another room with a charming dining and living area.
Shortly after entering my suite, the doorbell rang. Yes, the suite had a doorbell! A hotel attendant arrived with a tray of macrons, a glass bottle of water, and a card as my welcome amenity.
Each evening there was turndown service, where they left chocolates and a postcard on my bed.
Overall, I was really happy with the suite and felt guilty having all this space to myself. The only major negative was that the elevators were directly behind the bedroom. This meant I would hear the lift go up and down throughout the night. I didn’t appreciate this as a light sleeper.
The Willard InterContinental – Breakfast and Dessert
I had breakfast each morning at the on-site restaurant, Café du Parc. Within this restaurant was a coffee shop, simply called Le Café, on the main floor. What was great about this restaurant was that you had the choice of having your breakfast, lunch or dinner at either the main dining room on the second floor or outside on their beautiful terrace.
On weekdays, breakfast hours were from 6:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. While on weekends and holidays, breakfast was served from 6:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. They also served brunch on Sundays from 12 p.m. to 2 p.m.
As a Diamond elite, I enjoyed complimentary breakfast, which was à la carte. I found the breakfast benefit here was generous. You simply charged your breakfast to your room and were given $82 credit if you booked for two people.
Although I was travelling solo, I booked a room for 2 people. This allowed me to treat others for breakfast since not everyone in our points group had IHG Diamond status.
I had mixed feelings about the service and food at the Café du Parc. The first morning when we had breakfast, the service was fantastic. I also really enjoyed the avocado toast.
The second morning was different. I found that the service wasn’t attentive, the waiter seemed rushed, and it took a while to get our food. Even my breakfast was disappointing. I ordered the omelette, which I thought would be a great choice given that I was dining at a French brasserie, but it fell below my expectations.
I also had lunch here on the day of my arrival and ordered a salad. It was so-so. The highlight was sitting on their lovely outdoor terrace and enjoying the warm sunshine. It’s a must-do experience and almost makes you feel like you’re in Europe until you notice the massive trucks and SUVs whiz by.
I didn’t have the opportunity to try the dinner here, but I did try the dessert! After having dinner with many folks from the conference, I suggested we head to the Willard for dessert. Secretly, I just wanted any excuse to be back at the Willard!
We went to Le Café, discovering they ran out of most of their dessert. The employee there suggested that we head to the Round Robin Bar. We went there to find it was incredibly crowded and that they couldn’t accommodate our big group.
One of the folks in our group, Sarah, was proactive and headed to the front desk to ask if they could do anything for us. Thankfully, the front desk associate was accommodating. He told us we can head back to the Café, and they’d bring us the room service menus so that we could order dessert.
Here are a few pics of the dessert our group indulged in! I had the crème brulé, and it satisfied my sweet tooth.
The Willard InterContinental – Facilities
You will find most of the facilities on the second floor. The Willard Spa is open for treatments daily from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.
They also had a sauna, steam room and a gym open 24 hours a day. I found the gym to be on the small side, but it did have all the necessary cardio and weight equipment.
On the lobby level, they had several public spaces, with the gorgeous Crystal Room standing out as its primary social gathering place for events and celebrations.
The Willard InterContinental – History Gallery
The Willard is steeped in history! So much so that it is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The Willard celebrated its 200-year history in 2018.
This hotel had humble beginnings when it was initially built as a row-houses before being converted into a hotel. It changed ownership multiple times over the decades and wasn’t profitable then.
In 1847, when brothers Henry and Edwin Willard leased this hotel, things started to turn around. They eventually bought it and other neighbouring buildings and combined them into a single structure to establish “The Willard Hotel.”
The way it looks today from the exterior came to be when it was re-redesigned in the 20th century. The Willard brothers hired a well-known architect, Henry Janeway Hardenbergh, to re-design the hotel into the stunning Beaux-Arts-Style architecture it is today. By then, Hardenbergh had a proven track record of developing magnificent hotels like the Waldorf Astoria in New York City.
In 1986, IHG took over management and part ownership of this hotel and was renamed to The Willard InterContinental.
With its rich history, it’s no surprise you’d find a Gallery in the hotel that showcased the property’s history. The History Gallery was located a few steps above Peacock Alley.
You’d find a section in the gallery dedicated to its presidential history.
The Willard hosted every president since Franklin Pierce in 1853, either as an overnight guest or a visitor attending an event or meeting there. The 30th U.S. President, Calvin Coolidge, reportedly took his second Presidential Oath of Office at the Willard. What’s more, President Abraham Lincoln even lived there for a short time, arriving there just before his first inauguration in 1861.
Besides the long list of American Presidents who frequented the Willard, other notable guests and famous faces appeared there. The civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. finished his famous “I Have A Dream” speech at the Willard just days before the “March on Washington” in 1963.
Additionally, Hollywood is also no stranger here. In 2001, the film Minority Report, starring Tom Cruise, shot some scenes in Peacock Alley and other areas in the hotel. Also, Captain America: The Winter Soldier filmed scenes on the front doorsteps of the Willard.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed my stay at the iconic Willard InterContinental Hotel and would be happy to be back. Who knew that an InterContinental could be luxurious? I found the service here was friendly, welcoming and not stuffy. I loved the public areas, and my corner suite was phenomenal, except for the part that it’s by the elevators!
Generally, I did find that some improvements could be made to the level of service delivered at the Café du Parc. On a positive note, this property benefits from having a wonderful terrace. The location is also unbeatable. If you have an InterContinental Ambassador membership, you can extract value by using your Ambassador Weekend Night Certificate at this property.