Destination of the Week: Austin, Texas

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Since the South by Southwest (SXSW) music festival starts next week, we decided to continue our Destination of the Week series with a look at the city that hosts one of the country’s most happening music scenes: Austin, Texas.

THE SCENE
Apart from South by Southwest, which takes place in spring and has become one of the country’s premier music and film festivals, Austin has plenty of activities and sights to attract travelers year-round. We talked to a TPG reader and friend, Jonathan, who lives there, and he suggested visitors take time to tour the Capitol Building (which is a full 20 feet taller than the U.S. Capitol), visit the Congress Bridge at dusk to see the famous bats that live there fly out for a night of hunting, and take advantage of the area’s many lakes, especially Lake Austin, where people are out waterskiing, kayaking and partying on the water.

Some of Jonathan’s other personal picks include Stubbs for live music and “pretty good barbeque,” though this is Central Texas, so you can find some of the country’s best barbeque within an hour of the city; and Zilker Park to hang out like the locals and catch some of the big concerts that pass through town. If you have more time and the weather’s fine, head a few minutes outside of time to Barton Springs to go swimming in the natural waterways.

The pink granite state Capitol--everything's bigger in Texas!

For nightlife, Jonathan suggests East 6th Street and the Warehouse District around 4th Street; and in terms of restaurants, he highly recommends Uchiko for a gourmet Japanese meal, Franklin’s for BBQ in hipster East Austin, Blue Dahlia for a French meal in a small bistro, and South Congress Café for weekend brunch. Thanks for all the tips, Jonathan!

Barbecue from Stubbs, where you can also hear great bands play.

YOUR EXPERIENCES
Destination of the Week pieces are not meant to be comprehensive guides to destinations since we don’t have the time or funds to visit all these places in person and report back to you. Nor are they endorsements of the hotels we mention. They are simply roundups of top destinations that we have specifically pinpointed for the opportunity they present to use your miles and points to get to and stay there. As always, we welcome your comments to help enrich the content here, provide opinions and first-hand experiences of these destinations.

GETTING HERE
Austin is home to Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (AUS), which is located about 10 miles from Downtown Austin. The airport offers non-stop service to 36 cities in the US and Mexico. After Southwest, the largest carrier here is American Airlines. The airport is also served by most of the domestic carriers as well, including Alaska, Delta, JetBlue, United and US Airways (but not Virgin America). American offers their MileSAAver Off-peak awards for only 12,500 miles each way as well as their MileSAAver Peak Awards for 17,500 miles each way or Anytime awards for 35,000 miles each way. However, check the airfare prices first to see if a ticket redemption makes sense here since there is a lot of fare competition from the discount carriers like Southwest and JetBlue.

CARLSON
Radisson Austin: Located in Downtown Austin, the Radisson has 314 guest rooms and 99 suites. All the rooms feature 32’’ LCD flat screen TV’s and iHome docking stations. The hotel claims to have the largest outdoor pool in the city and there is an on-site gym as well as a T.G.I Friday’s restaurant. Rates in March start at $149. This is a Carlson Category 5 hotel and requires 44,000 Gold Points for an award night.

Just to note, there’s also a Country Inns & Suites by Carlson, Austin North which is a Category 2 property for 15,000 Gold Points per night for a room redemption.

HILTON
Hilton Austin: This 800 room hotel includes 25 suites and is located close to the Sixth Street Entertainment District in downtown Austin. The rooms here feature Hilton’s Suite Dreams bed, flat-screen TV’s, coffee makers, and granite countertops in the bathrooms.  The hotel has two restaurants, a lobby bar, and coffee shop. While they do charge for access to the Tower Health Club and Spa, guests have access to the small outdoor heated pool and whirlpool. Rates in March start at $229 a room, or 40,000 Hilton HHonors points since it’s a Category 6 Property.

A guest room at the Hyatt Regency Austin.

HYATT
Hyatt Regency Austin: Located on Lady Bird Lake right near the Congress Bridge, this hotel has 448 recently designed guestrooms and suites. All the rooms have 32” flat screen TV’s, iHome stereos, and the Hyatt Grand Bed. There is also an outdoor pool and whirlpool, a Stay Fit gym as well as a casual restaurant, SWB-Southwest Bistro. The hotel rents paddleboats and canoes for guests to use on the lake. The lowest rates we could find in March were $279 a night. This is a Category 4 hotel, so free night redemptions require a minimum of 15,000 Gold Passport points for standard rooms or 23,000 for suites.

Hyatt Regency Lost Pines: This property is about 15 miles east of Austin, and is positioned as a family resort with plenty of kid-friendly amenities like a kid’s camp, horseback riding, fire pits for roasting s’mores, a lazy river, and a golf course at the Wolfdancer Golf Club, and Spa Django.  It has 491 rooms and suites plus plenty of meeting and event facilities. Mommy Points wrote a review last summer with more details. Rates in March start at $259 a night, or 18,000 Gold Passport points for a free night since this is a Category 5 property.

One of the fire pits at the Hyatt Regency Lost Pines where guests can make s'mores in the evening.

There is also the Hyatt Place Austin-North Central which is a Category 2 hotel, so free nights start at 8,000 Gold Passport points a night.

IHG
Intercontinental Stephen F. Austin: It’s old-school elegance at the city’s Intercontinental. Though we heard that they’re not always the best at honoring Royal Ambassador perks, the location is very central, and with just 189 rooms, the hotel is smaller than its competitors. Guests can hang out over drinks at Stephen F’s Bar and Terrace overlooking 7th and Congress streets, or grab an American pub grub-style meal at the Roaring Fork bistro. The hotel’s gym has been newly outfitted with Cybex equipment, and the hotel has a Club InterContinental where guests staying in club rooms can have free daily breakfast, evening hors d’oeuvres and cocktails and snacks throughout the day. Rates in March start at $224 a night. Intercontinentals go for between 30,000-50,000 Priority Club points a night.

The indoor pool at the Intercontinental Austin.

Besides the Intercontinental, there’s also the Crowne Plaza Austin, which requires between 25,000-35,000 Priority Club points, as well as a number of Holiday Inn properties around the city, requiring 10,000-25,000 Priority Club points.

MARRIOTT
Renaissance Austin Hotel: Located 11 miles from downtown Austin, this hotel is in the Arboretum area, which has shops and restaurants. There are 463 rooms and 29 suites as well as a concierge level. The hotel offers both an indoor and outdoor pool, a whirlpool, fitness center, a “casual Texas-style” restaurant and complimentary self-parking. Rates in March start at $269. This is a Marriott Rewards Category 4 requiring hotel 20,000 points (15,000 Point Savers) for a free night.

Just to note there is a Courtyard Austin Downtown with 270 guest rooms and suites. Rates start at $209 in March. This is a Marriott Rewards Category 4 requiring hotel 20,000 points (15,000 Point Savers) for a free night.

Also located adjacent to the Austin Convention Center, the Residence Inn Austin Downtown has offers 179 guest suites. Rates start at $249 in March. This is a Marriott Rewards Category 4 requiring hotel 20,000 points (15,000 Point Savers) for a free night.

There are also several other Marriott properties in the area including a few Courtyards, Fairfield Inns, and Residence Inns.

STARWOOD
Sheraton Austin at the Capitol: Located between the State Capital and the University of Texas, this 365-room hotel recently completed a multi-million dollar renovation of its rooms and lobby space.  There is an indoor pool and whirlpool, Sheraton Fitness, Sheraton Club Lounge, and a Southwestern-style restaurant, Landmark. Rates start at $189 in March. This is a SPG Category 3 property requiring 7,000 Starpoints for a free-night redemption.

The W is one of Austin's newest hotels.

W Austin: Among the newest of these Austin hotels, the W opened at the end of 2010 and has 251 guestrooms ranging from standard Cozy Rooms to the Extreme Wow Suite. The rooms have 40” inch LCD TV’s, iPod docking stations, W’s Signature Bed, and local Austin artwork. The hotel has a 3,600 square foot SWEAT gym, WET pool deck with private cabanas, and an AWAY Spa. The hotel’s main restaurant, Trace, features American cuisine incorporating organic ingredients, and we hear the bar is the place to see and be seen in town. Rates in March start at $359. This is an SPG Category 5 property requiring between 12,000-16,000 Starpoints for a free-night redemption.

Westin Austin at the Domain: Located at the Domain, an outdoor high-end mall, this hotel offers 341 guest rooms and suites, all with Westin’s Heavenly Bed and Heavenly Shower. There is a WestinWORKOUT facility and the casual Urban – American Grill. Rates in March start at $249. This is a SPG Category 4 property requiring 10,000 Starpoints for a free-night redemption.

The Re:Mix lounge at aloft in Austin's upscale Domain shopping area.

Just to note, there is a 140-room aloft Austin which is also located at the Domain. Rates in March start at $139. This is a SPG Category 3 property requiring 7,000 Starpoints for a free-night redemption.

Just as a note, we couldn’t find any SPG Cash & Points options available for any Starwood properties in March or April.

The historic (and haunted) Driskill Hotel's 19th-century facade lit up at night.

OTHERS
Driskill Hotel: True to Austin’s indie spirit, this is a classic hotel with a checkered past. It was built in 1886 and is a member of the Historic Hotels of America. It is very centrally located near the city’s main sights, including Austin City Limits at the Moody Theater. Plus, we hear tell of ghosts and haunted corners, so it sounds like a place that’s full of character. It’s also home to the highly rated The Driskill Grill restaurant, so if you stay here, consider stopping in for a meal. Rates in March start at $309 a night.

The heated outdoor saltwater pool at the Four Seasons Austin.

Four Seasons: Also quite centrally located, this luxury property is right on Lady Bird Lake and has 291 rooms including 28 suites, all with views of either the lake or the city skyline. The hotel also has a heated outdoor saltwater pool, fitness and business centers, as well as a lobby lounge, and TRIO restaurant for all-day dining and a classic seafood and steakhouse menu in the evenings. Rates here start at $449 a night in March. We also hear this is where Matthew McConaughey hangs out when he’s in town. Alright, alright! Though the Four Seasons doesn’t have a points program, Amex Platinum cardholders can enjoy the card’s Fine Hotels & Resorts perks like a complimentary lunch or dinner once per stay for up to two people per room excluding alcohol, taxes and gratuity.

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