Book this, not that: San Francisco hotels
Whether it's a paddleboat picnic on Stow Lake or a stroll down the Embarcadero, the City by the Bay offers numerous hotel options where elite status and points can pay off.
However, many hotels in San Francisco are still struggling with the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic, so you need to do your due diligence before booking a room.
In this edition of "book this, not that," we are heading to my hometown to uncover the best hotels to book on points. While we're at it, we'll share a few that you should avoid.
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Book this: Palace Hotel, a Luxury Collection Hotel, San Francisco
This is one of the most historic hotels in the nation.
Within its walls, former President Woodrow Wilson spoke in support of the Treaty of Versailles and the League of Nations, former President Warren G. Harding passed away and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev spoke at a banquet during the dawn of the Cold War.
The hotel's construction is equally fascinating. Following California's gold rush, infamous architect John P. Gaynor was tasked with designing a hotel that would "outdo" all European properties. He put together a colossal interior carriage entry space for San Francisco's most distinguished elites. By 1900, this space was converted into a three-story, Parisian-style concourse (pictured above). To top it off, tea has been served in the Garden Court on Bavarian gold china since 1910 — despite the hotel's damages from the 1906 earthquake and fire. This tea time tradition still continues today.
Rooms at the Palace Hotel start at 50,000 Marriott Bonvoy points per night. You'll unlock the best redemption rate when you take advantage of Marriott's fifth-night-free perk, which would make it possible to spend five nights at the hotel for as little as 200,000 points. For five nights this month, the equivalent cash price for five nights is $2,209.19.
Staying here will net you 1.1 cents per Marriott point, which is notably higher than TPG's latest valuations.
Related: Haute and historic: A review of the Palace San Francisco
Skip that: Courtyard San Francisco Union Square
Although its location is unbeatable, the Courtyard San Francisco Union Square isn't your best bet in the city — from any angle.
Introductory rooms measure just 228 square feet, and multiple reviewers commented on the unwelcome sounds of toilets flushing from other rooms. Plus, you'll have to fork over at least 40,000 Marriott Bonvoy points per night to stay here. For a night that costs 40,000 points, the equivalent total cash price comes in around $220. By using points, you're getting around 0.5 cents per point — significantly below our valuation.
If you're looking to stay at a Marriott outpost near Union Square, The Westin St. Francis San Francisco on Union Square is a historic four-star property that's recently undergone a renovation. It's a complete contrast from the Courtyard location.
Best of all, with rooms starting at 40,000 points, the Westin's award and cash prices generally mirror the same rates as the Courtyard. Find out if you can get into the Westin before booking the Courtyard.
Related: Marriott is finally giving its Courtyard brand a facelift
Book this: Hotel Kabuki
If you're looking for something a bit more local, consider the Hotel Kabuki, a JdV by Hyatt property. Its Japantown location is evident in the guest rooms, which feature 1930s and 1940s Japanese-style pop art. Nari, the hotel's restaurant, offers a delectable collection of Southeast Asian dishes. Guests also enjoy access to the hotel's mediation garden and 4,000-square-foot gym.
As a Category 5 Hyatt property, award rates range between 17,000 and 23,000 World of Hyatt points per night, so you might be able to score a great redemption here.
On select dates in June, a standard room costs $669.64 per night. For the same room, you can use 20,000 points, and by doing so, you're scoring more than 3.3 cents per Hyatt point — roughly twice our valuation.
Related: 2 years into COVID-19 pandemic: If it’s still gone from hotels, is it ever coming back?
Skip that: Grand Hyatt San Francisco
My February stay at the Grand Hyatt left me walking out the door thinking, "not so grand anymore."
While the Grand Hyatt offers the same appealing Union Square location as the previously discussed Courtyard and Westin, it's impersonal, orange and outdated. The fitness center on the 35th floor transports you back to the 1980s with fluorescent lighting and office-style ceiling panels. Also, the 2 a.m. boisterous street construction noise was totally audible from the 19th floor.
Like the Hotel Kabuki, the Grand Hyatt is a Category 5 hotel and will set you back between 17,000 and 23,000 World of Hyatt points. Cash rates are around $275 per night, so you'll probably get a redemption of around 1.7 cents apiece, which is in line with our valuation.
Related: Not so grand anymore: A review of the Grand Hyatt San Francisco
Book this: Intercontinental San Francisco
With an exclusive club that rivals some of the best international business-class lounges, the Intercontinental San Francisco remains one of my go-to hotels in the city. In addition to the massive indoor pool, the IHG-affiliated hotel has always been generous in providing Ambassador upgrades to its king corner rooms, which offer great views and extra space.
It's located a block from the Moscone Center and Metreon on Howard Street and provides easy access to the Bay Bridge.
Cash rates hover around $250 per night for much of summer. Alternatively, you can use around 35,000 IHG One Rewards points per night.
For a given night in July, you can book a standard room for $282.58 or 39,000 points. By using points, you're getting around 0.75 cents apiece — about 50% above our valuation of IHG points.
Related: IHG Hotels & Resorts introduces its new IHG One Rewards program
Skip that: Hilton San Francisco Financial District
Once described as the "hideous Hilton," this location is not worth considering. Beyond the dated and rundown decor, most reviews discuss unwelcome odors emerging from the HVAC systems.
Don't think you'll be getting a deal here either — the typical standard room award goes for 60,000 Hilton Honors points. Alternatively, you can book a room for around $260 per night. Once you add taxes in, you're looking at around $302 versus 60,000 points. If you opt to use points, you'll be falling about 20% below our valuation.
If you want to stay in the Financial District or Chinatown, I recommend checking out Le Méridien San Francisco, which is just down the street. An award night here only costs 40,000 Marriott Bonvoy points.
Related: The award traveler’s guide to Hilton Honors
Bonus: Taj Campton Place
While you can't use one of the major points currencies to book this property, you can use credit card points to check out the Taj Campton Place in Union Square. Staying at this Taj outpost, which is one of only two available in the U.S. (the other is The Pierre, New York), is a great choice if you have The Platinum Card® from American Express and haven't used your up to $200 hotel credit on prepaid reservations with American Express Fine Hotels + Resorts. By booking through this program, you'll enjoy a multitude of valuable benefits beyond that statement credit, including:
- Daily breakfast for two.
- An experience credit worth $100 to be used during your stay.
- 4 p.m. checkout guaranteed.
- Noon check-in, when available.
- Room upgrade at check-in, when available.
- Complimentary Wi-Fi.
Best of all, cash rates here are relatively low for a hotel of this caliber. It's not hard to find rooms for just $270 per night. When you redeem your $200 hotel credit and add up the other benefits you receive, the deal becomes one that's hard to pass up.
When I stayed at the hotel in January, staff offered me a complimentary upgrade to a Campton Suite. Plus, the $100 property credit was enough to cover dinner and drinks for two at the hotel's restaurant.
Related: How the Amex Platinum card easily saved me $200 on a one-night hotel stay
San Francisco is a wonderful city to visit, and there are numerous great hotels to choose from.
Between the major hotel players, Marriott offers the most choices, but that doesn't mean other brand portfolios don't have their fair share of options.
If you're planning a longer stay on points, keep in mind that IHG offers a fourth night free, while Marriott and Hilton offer a fifth night free. By saving some money on the hotel, consider treating yourself to an extra Ghirardelli sundae.