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Hotel Review: Four Seasons Santa Barbara Biltmore

by on December 8, 2011 · 8 comments

in Four Seasons, Trip Reports

An aerial view of the hotel (from the hotel's website).

As I reported a few weeks back, as a special Thanksgiving treat, I took my grandmother to see my aunt, uncle and cousins in Santa Barbara for the holiday and I decided to spend a couple of my nights there checking out the local hotels. Of course, being a Hyatt Diamond, I wanted to see the new Hyatt in town (which I’ll tell you about in another post), but I also spent a night at the Four Seasons The Biltmore Santa Barbara.

What, no points?

That might be a little confusing since, after all, I’m the Points Guy, and the Four Seasons doesn’t have any sort of formal loyalty program. But I made my decision based on a few factors.

When you get down to it, the basic commodity I am looking to get out of any travel experience is value, and points are just one way—granted, a VERY important way—to reap the most value out of your hotel experience. Points and the elite status they confer translate into some of the high-end hospitality touches travelers covet such as staff knowing your name, your preferences, treating you as a VIP and throwing free perks (upgrades) your way.

While I place great significance on using points as a currency to pull value out of an experience, it’s not always part of the equation, especially when it comes to luxury hotels, so every once in a while I like to test the waters. The Four Seasons didn’t disappoint, either. Everyone immediately knew my name, anytime I needed something, it was there almost instantaneously. Basically, I felt pampered but not coddled. But don’t get me wrong, I won’t be giving up my Starwood or Hyatt anytime soon!

The perks

For this stay, however, I booked my room through a Four Seasons Specialist travel agent who got me a rate of $425 a night. Pretty steep price considering I’m not even getting any points out of it! However, while it’s true that’s a bit expensive for my tastes, it seems to be pretty standard for a Four Seasons room, and since I was staying over Thanksgiving weekend, that rate wasn’t much more than the sky-high rates at other properties in town (including the Hyatt). Plus, because I booked through a specialist, I got a few great perks included with my stay, like free breakfast and $88 in credit to use at the restaurants. Who’d have thought I’d ever be touting the virtues of going through a travel agent?

So now on to the real question: was my stay worth the $425? The short answer is: yes. Especially since, factoring in the meal discounts, which I was sure to use, the price came out closer to $300, and I got a room category upgrade.

The facilities

The resort is actually a historic property that was built in the 1920’s, and once attracted the Golden Age Hollywood set. The property is designed in a very typical Spanish colonial style—lots of stucco, red roofs, Spanish tiles in the bedrooms, and lots of low-rise, two-story buildings scattered around a sprawling piece of land near the beach.

Though I had booked their lowest-category room, a Superior Room, upon check-in I was upgraded to a Deluxe King Balcony View Room one category higher, so that was a nice surprise—and the sort of perk I would expect from being an elite member of a hotel points program, but which I got in this case because I had booked through the Four Seasons specialist. So it had a little extra room, and a good view down to the water, plus nice amenities like a deep soaking tub and a big plasma TV, lots of light, and a really plush bed.

My one quibble is that it’s pretty difficult to find a decent internet connection anywhere on the property. There is no WiFi in the rooms, so you have to plug your computer in, and though there is supposed to be WiFi in the public areas, I found it nearly impossible to connect (for a $10 fee) and the system was having a hard time taking my credit card number. Not the best place to get work done, and more than slightly annoying.

However, I soon got swept up in the destination. As I said, the property itself is gorgeous and historic, the weather was sunny and warm, and as I ate my free breakfast—a phenomenal lobster omelet that I can’t stop thinking about—on the hotel restaurant’s patio, a huge pod of dolphins swam by as a woman paddleboarded along with them. It was kind of the picture-perfect California moment.

With my $88 dining credit, I took my family down to the little restaurant at the Coral Casino Beach Club, a high-end private beach club (I think regular membership is in the range of $250,000!) that Four Seasons guests have access to and we had a great afternoon there eating right on the water. The food was actually moderately priced, and that credit went a good way toward covering the bill, even though there were six of us.

True value

All in all, I had a really great stay (apart from the WiFi—come on Four Seasons, it’s almost 2012!). Did I wish I could get hotel points for it? Yes (at least I did get 2 points per dollars since I paid with my Sapphire Preferred). But in terms of reaping value from the experience, I don’t think I could have asked for much more. The facilities were great, the service was excellent, and it was a lovely place to spend a night in Santa Barbara.


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  • http://drcreditcard.weebly.com Sean

    Nice review TPG! Wonder about the difference between booking through FHR and 4S Preferred Partners? From your review, it seems you are getting full breakfasts and with FHR it is normally continental. FHR gets you “complimentary lunch or dinner for two excluding alcohol, taxes and gratuities.” Also is there any difference in terms of chances of upgrading?

  • Imssc1

    Where do you find a Four Seasons’ specialist? Wouldn’t the AMEX platinum people be able to get the same benefits?

  • Chris S.

    What a glorious weekend it was in Santa Barbara. I drove through on Wednesday and Sunday, and both days were among the most spectacular I’ve ever seen along the central coast. You could almost count shrubs on San Miguel Island.

  • sbtower

    I miss Santa Barbara… lived a couple blocks from the Biltmore and Butterfly Beach for a couple years… now stuck in Boston for another year and a half.

  • http://twitter.com/aXsTravel aXcess Travel

    Imssc1 and Sean I’d be HONORED to answer your questions as TPG’s FS Specialist for this reservation ;-)

    Sean, this analysis is based on a DIRECT answer to your question after asking Four Seasons sales the differences on the topic of FHR vs. Preferred Partners.

    The comparisons to AMEX are based on my experiences with clients and personal research. The central focus of my service is a boutique personalized version of their extensive quality and reach. Sometimes, the personal touch just can’t be present with the kind of volume that is the number of AMEX card holders.

    First is the full breakfast vs. continental – Preferred Partners can use the credit for lunch or dinner too. Preferred Partners are considered FIRST for any upgrades and of course with Sales being involved it usually always happens (Sales doesn’t monitor AMEX upgrades, but does with all PP bookings). Preferred Partners also receive a nice seasonal welcome amenity in their room. I think it’s important to note the very personalized booking process provided by Preferred Partner agencies. The Preferred Partner program is much like a loyalty program because it’s a Four Seasons corporate program – there is a lot of effort and emphasis on it. The Preferred Partner program is “invite only” so it’s very exclusive.

    I’m honored to have started working with TPG and look forward to being able to help anyone and everyone find the value of working with a specialist outside AND including loyalty programs like SPG and Hyatt.

  • Nybanker

    You should mention the adjacent train tracks. Trains roll through at all sorts of hours.

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