Cheap Luxury: Crowne Plaza Beijing Wangfujing
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To The Point
If you’re looking for a Beijing hotel at an affordable rate, the Crowne Plaza Beijing Wangfujing is worth considering. Pros: large room in a central location, convenient ground transportation and a reasonable price. Cons: not aging well and limited upgrades for elites.
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We previously stayed at the Crowne Plaza Beijing Wangfujing in January 2018, when we first tested out the AirMule courier service. We found that the price was right — particularly for a higher-end brand in a central part of Beijing — and we were pleased with our stay. So we decided to return again toward the end of the year on an American Airlines mileage run to formally review the hotel.
Let’s start with one of the reasons I really like this hotel: its central location. Beijing is an absolutely massive city, and this Crowne Plaza was near the center of it all in the Wangfujing neighborhood. The hotel was a short walk from massive malls and fascinating side streets packed with shops and visitors from around the world. It was a slightly longer walk or short taxi or subway ride away from many of Beijing’s key tourist attractions.
Another great perk of this hotel was the ease of public transportation. My wife, Katie, and I are fans of public transportation — especially when Uber or Lyft isn’t an option, as in Beijing. And there was a perfect public-transit option for getting between the airport and this hotel. The Airport Express Bus 10 picked up at both airport terminals and dropped off at three spots in the Wangfujing neighborhood, with one stop just a block away from the Crowne Plaza. The bus was a comfortable coach bus with luggage storage underneath, costing 25 RMB ($3.50) per person. The downside was that the bus only ran once an hour each direction. It picked up from the hotel stop just past the top of every hour from 7am to 7pm.
The subway from the airport to the hotel was less desirable, requiring two tickets (totaling 28 RMB or just over $4) and making two connections. But it was great for getting around the city from the hotel, and there were two stations a short walk from the hotel.
Both Katie and I each have IHG’s middle-high Platinum elite status from our IHG cobranded credit cards. While Platinum elite status typically requires 50 qualifying nights, you can get this status just by signing up for the IHG Rewards Premier Credit Card. Platinum elite status has scored me suite upgrades from Austin, Texas, to Sydney, Australia, at a variety of IHG hotel brands. And, thanks to its on-going 10x point earnings at IHG properties, I typically use this card to book my IHG stays.
We at TPG have gotten quite fond of booking hotels through Hotels.com Venture with a Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card to get 10x miles on the card and effectively 10% back toward a future hotel stay (offer ends Jan. 31, 2020). However, IHG doesn’t provide elite perks to those who book through online travel agencies, and we were counting on using our status to score an upgraded room. As we typically do, we booked the lowest-tier room, which was dubbed “superior” in this case. The all-in price was $304 for three nights.
Instead of the IHG Rewards Premier Credit Card or the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card, I pulled out my Blue Business Plus® Credit Card from American Express for this booking, since I’d just recently registered for an Amex offer to get $50 cash back for spending $250 at Crowne Plaza. With visions of scoring 16% cash back on top of 608 Membership Rewards points — thanks to the Blue Business Plus card’s 2x points earning on the first $50,000 of spending each calendar year, then 1x — I provided this card at booking and at check-in.
Thankfully, I checked the terms and conditions for the Amex offer before checkout and found that it was only valid at US properties. Thankfully, I was able to successfully switch my payment method to the IHG Rewards Club Premier card at checkout, scoring 3,040 bonus IHG points on the spend in addition to the 4,560 IHG points I earned from the stay as an IHG Platinum elite.
When we arrived just after 11pm, there was only one check-in line available. The priority desk was even roped off.
While we have had excellent experiences with IHG hotels overseas, thanks to our Platinum elite status, that wasn’t the case here. The check-in process was transactional at best. However, our elite status was recognized via a letter from the general manager welcoming us — and asking us to leave a TripAdvisor review — as well as two coupons for free drinks. No points option was offered as a Platinum elite welcome amenity.
Room categories at this property went from superior to premier to deluxe to club to suite. I’d seen in the IHG app before check-in that we had been upgraded two notches from a superior room to a deluxe room. Since there were club rooms and suites but no superior or premier rooms available, I figured I’d ask if we could be upgraded. At first, the check-in agent claimed no higher rooms were available, so I pointed out that club rooms and suites were still available on the app. The agent retorted that we were already upgraded and we’d have to pay to be upgraded further.
It seemed the main reason for this cap on the upgrade might center around lounge access. Both the club rooms and suites got access to the club lounge. Meanwhile, the deluxe room that we were upgraded to explicitly stated that it got club access “but not applied for upgraded room.” Translation: You don’t get club access if you’re upgraded to this room type.
After that check-in experience, we expected a pretty standard room. So we were pleasantly surprised to find that we were assigned a top-floor room in the corner of the building. Due to its location, the room had a long, L-shaped corridor from the front door to the room itself.
Generally, the room was better than most chain hotels we’d stayed at in China, a large room with tall ceilings and without the mustiness that seems to be far too common.
However, a few bits of necessary maintenance were quickly obvious. Two of the lightbulbs in the room were burnt out. (These were replaced later after we mentioned it.) Of the two universal power outlets next to the desk, one wouldn’t hold a plug, and the other one kept shorting out my power converter. So we bypassed those two outlets, unplugging a lamp to plug in the power converter for the rest of our stay.
Although there was no note on the website during booking or mention at check-in, we were informed via a letter left on the desk that the hotel was undergoing maintenance work on the hotel’s exterior marble wall from Sept. 14 to Oct. 23, 2018.
“In order to maintain your privacy, we recommend you keep your room curtains closed during the mentioned period between 8am and 6pm,” the letter read.
As we were working on Eastern time, exactly 12 hours off of Beijing, we were worried this would wreck our sleep. However, we didn’t hear any construction noise during the day from our room.
The desk was quite large and turned out to be a good place to work the three-day stay.
Storage wasn’t an issue in this room. Next to the closet was a large nook that seemed to double as either a bag storage or seating. Four large drawers beneath this were large enough to hold all of the clothing we took with us on our journeys around the world. But we couldn’t help thinking that these low drawers could be a problem for those with limited mobility.
We’ve had issues at Western-branded hotels in China that had beds as hard as a rock — looking at you, Wyndham — but the bed here was a relatively soft one. It wasn’t a plush, “cloud-soft” bed, but it was comfortable.
Two annoyances were the unnecessarily large number of light switches and lack of a master switch. In total, we found 10 light switches, including two for the bathroom.
The room impressed with the extent of amenities. The closet held a Crowne Plaza-branded robe (with a second one in the bathroom), slippers, a cloth laundry bag, large umbrella, plenty of hangers, an ironing board, a coded safe and two smoke masks.
One of the more unique and nice touches was a vase of fresh flowers.
The hotel provided a power strip with three universal outlets housed in a wooden box on the desk.
A kettle, two mugs, tea, coffee and a variety of glasses were available in drawers next to the minibar.
In the bathroom were two free bottles of water and a clear drawer filled with packaged amenities (dental kits, shaving kit, shower cap, sanitary bag and a vanity kit with cotton swabs and pads). With the Beijing water unsuitable for drinking — as indicated by a no-drinking sign over the sink — it was nice that the bottles of water were replenished daily.
The bathroom liquids were all Borghese-branded: Nutri shampoo, Nutri conditioner, body wash, cleanser, hydrating emulsion and two bars of soap.
The other Platinum elite gift we received was a fruit plate left by the room’s chair at check-in.
This Crowne Plaza had a large footprint with 360 rooms across nine floors. In the middle was a grand atrium, complete with a grand piano that was played in the evenings.
In order to get that many rooms, there was a combination of interior- and exterior-view rooms. In our last stay, we got an interior-view room, which honestly was probably more scenic than our exterior room.
Despite being on the top floor and on a corner, we found our view uninspiring. We looked over a street and construction site.
On the ninth floor was a small gym with three treadmills, a couple of stationary bikes, a stair climber, free weights and a bench press.
Down the hall from the gym was a pool. One quirk of the pool: You needed to wear a swimming cap. These were on sale from the gym attendant for 20 RMB ($3), as were swimsuits ranging from 78 to 270 RMB ($10 to 40).
Other notable features in the lobby were an ATM-style currency exchange (which accepted 13 currencies) and a tacky-looking jewelry shop plastered with loud clearance-sale signs.
Food and Beverage
The hotel contained a few food options on the lobby floor of the hotel, but the central location meant there were plenty of nearby restaurants to try out rather than eating in. And that’s what we did for our stay, only eating on site once.
Still on New York time, I tried the supposedly 24-hour room service by calling at 4am, but I clearly woke up the room-service employee who picked up. He told me the kitchen was closed and to call back in an hour. I called back just after 5:30am and ordered a bowl of dan dan noodles that was advertised on a “20-minute” room-service card for 48 RMB ($7).
Less than 15 minutes later, a knock on the door heralded the arrival of my meal. Hot — both in temperature and in spice level — and delicious, the generous portion of noodles hit the spot. The receipt didn’t charge for delivery and didn’t even have a line for a tip.
The full room-service menu ranged from 58 RMB ($8.50) for soups up to 328 RMB ($50) for a rack of lamb, with most entrees falling in the 98-to-128-RMB ($15-to-20) range. Only a few items were available 24 hours a day; the others were only available between 11am and 10pm.
There was also a minibar stocked with sodas, beers and wines. As mentioned above, the deluxe room came with club lounge access — but only if you actually booked this particular room type. Since we were upgraded to this room type, we weren’t supposed to get lounge access, but that didn’t stop me trying anyway.
There were two employees at breakfast, one refreshing the food and one seemingly dedicated to checking in guests. Despite the fact that there were zero guests, I was, as expected, turned away.
Overnight on our third and final night, we finally redeemed our welcome drinks. Sure enough, as the front desk stated, the bar was open 24 hours. When we went down at 3am, just one of the three employee was awake, and there were (understandably) no guests. While there was a full bar, the welcome drink was limited to soft drinks, juice, coffee, tea, wine or Harbin draft beer. We chose the beer and were asked to take a seat in the darkened grand atrium, where we were also received a bowl of nuts.
The reasonable cost, central location, good public transportation and solid amenities make this a hotel that we’ll likely continue to return to when we have short visits to Beijing. Hopefully the hotel’s exterior renovation finishes soon and the hotel can provide some attention to the aging features in the rooms.
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