FRIDAY, AUGUST 18, 2023 --
Not that long ago, $300 would get you a pretty nice hotel room for a night in a downtown American city. Now, not so much …
Earlier this month, I opted for Seattle's lovely, leafy University District after being priced out of the Emerald City's attractive downtown core. But room rates were, surprisingly, little better.
The Residence Inn in the area, an extended-stay player from Marriott, is a bit tired. Worse, I had a hard time getting past Marriott's centralized reservation department to connect with the hotel itself and ask a few questions. The nearby Graduate Hotel, part of a national chain that specializes in college-adjacent accommodations, was a bit lower priced, but it took me four calls to reach a front desk staffer. When I finally connected, a manager on duty apologized sincerely. But I was spooked by the experience and passed.
A third property, close to where I was visiting, was the Staybridge Suites
in Fremont. I'd never checked into a Staybridge, part of the sprawling InterContinental Hotel Group, but I took a flyer based on IHG's once-sterling reputation. The hotel quoted two nights for a total of $669 with taxes. That was pretty steep considering I was using an AAA discount over a weekend. But the rate included a hot breakfast. Besides, I was running out of options.
For starters, there was no one at the front desk when I checked in. In fact, there were no employees to be seen anywhere. For $335 a night. I had to say "hello, hello" to get some attention. A smiling woman finally came out from a back room and did assign me accommodations two hours before the official 3pm check-in time. I appreciated that small courtesy.
Still, the Staybridge is stark. No warmth in the lobby. No plants. Nothing welcoming about it. There are just two elevators for a 167-room property. I waited and waited for one to arrive. Turns out one was on the fritz. And had been for over a month. They're waiting for a part, I was told.
The room itself was clean, but hardly a "suite." The days when extended-stay brands like Staybridge or its IHG clone Candlewood Suites offer the old Embassy Suites standard of a genuine two-room suite are long gone, I guess. Still, my accommodation did have a large refrigerator, oven, coffeemaker, dishes and a dishwasher.
But many small details were lacking. There were several coffee pods, but no creamers or sugars to go with them. For $335 a night, I also expected maybe a few bottles of water. No such luck. Plus, the sheets were clean, but felt cheap. Not crisp like you find in a Hilton, Hyatt or Marriott-branded property that charges $335 a night.
A one-page cheat sheet in the room explained that "light touch housekeeping"--new towels, trash emptied and bed made--was available during the week. But on weekends you were on your own.
Other annoyances? WiFi is free, but there is no simple way to get on the Internet. No Staybridge pop-up page on my laptop. I had to call the front desk twice for help and then take my computer downstairs--and, yes, wait for the lone elevator again. The smiling woman at the front desk showed me how to get online. It was not quick or easy.
Then there was the problem with the TV remote. It didn't work. At night, there was no maintenance or engineering staffer to bring me a new one. The solo staffer on duty couldn't leave the desk so I had to get dressed, wait for the elevator--still inexplicably pokey at 11pm--and fetch a replacement. The next morning that remote failed, too. I called down to the front desk and was told housekeeping would bring one up "shortly." Shortly was precisely one hour and 10 minutes and three phone calls later and I had to leave for a meeting.
The in-room cheat sheet explains that the hotel will provide sleeping masks and earplugs to combat the road noise from the busy highway outside. But it doesn't mention that the room's electrical system is controlled by one of those energy-saving key-card devices. Put your room key in the slot by the door and the lights go on. Take out the card and the room goes dark. But it doesn't tell you what to do when the system malfunctions. I had to call the front desk for assistance.
Staybridge Suites is a franchise operation, of course, and sometimes the franchisees cut corners to save or make a buck. I wasn't the only guest to comment on the property's overall miserliness, a hotel front desk clerk admitted to me.
One example: The hotel charges for parking ($20 a night) unlike most limited-service properties outside the city's central core. And while the weekday complimentary evening happy hour offered passable wine and beer, the accompanying snacks were pretty skimpy.
The daily breakfast buffet rated a B-minus. There's a make-your-own-waffle station, eggs, a breakfast meat and some cereals. But the buffet was noticeably short on fresh fruit. Still, it was continually stocked.
The hotel has a grab-and-go snack pantry off the front desk. The business center has two computers and a printer and there is a fitness center. All three are open 24 hours a day. There's also a pool and roof-top deck.
I was curious to learn more about Staybridge Suites, but no one at this property seemed to know IHG's corporate whereabouts or phone number. Worse, central reservations staffers would not disclose the information and would only give out a room sales toll-free number. (For the record, InterContinental's U.S. headquarters are in Atlanta.)
All in all, something very much less than a sweet stay at a Staybridge Suites charging north of $300 a night on a weekend far from the madding crowds of downtown Seattle.