Breakdown on Broadway: A Review of the Crowne Plaza Times Square in New York City
In my years of working remotely for TPG, I've stayed at dozens of hotels in New York City while visiting the office. Few of them have impressed me, especially those located in Manhattan. On a recent visit, I found a very cheap $91-per-night stay at the Crowne Plaza Times Square. I booked it because it was a great deal for a Times Square hotel, but my expectations weren't very high.
While some aspects certainly were a pleasant surprise, there were some big red flags during my stay, from a check-in process that stretched more than 30 minutes to security concerns.
Katie and I were lucky enough to snag one of the Cathay Pacific first-class mistake fares from Da Nang, Vietnam to NYC. Shortly after Cathay Pacific confirmed that it would honor the fare, I started looking for a hotel for our short two-night stay in NYC. And as a IHG top-tier Spire Elite, I started my search there.
I figured at worst I'd book two nights at the Holiday Inn Express Bronx NYC Stadium Area, which is reasonably-priced at 20,000 IHG points per night. That's just $100 per night at current TPG valuations, a pretty good rate for NYC. However, I figured cash prices might be cheaper during the shoulder season. Sure enough, my search yielded a surprising result: The Crowne Plaza Times Square was going for just $91 per night.
Or, at least that was the base rate per night. It wouldn't be until the final reservation confirmation page that an additional $30 per night (before tax) "facility fee" plus taxes would be tacked on. This meant that the advanced purchase prepaid rate jumped from a $182 subtotal to $284 total for the two-night stay.
Tacking on a "facility fee" — the non-resort version of a resort fee — so late in the booking process is bad enough. But it turns out that you don't even get points on this mandatory hotel fee. So that means only the base rate of $181.40 earns points. Spire Elites earn 20x points per dollar spent and the confirmation email noted an estimated earnings of 3,628 IHG points.
The facility fee is pure profit for the hotel; it doesn't even have to award points on this hidden cost.
The definite selling feature of this hotel is its location, just a block from the heart of Times Square off of Broadway between 48th and 49th street.
Except for a large and partially burnt-out sign, the main entrance on Broadway isn't especially grand:
The back entrance -- designed for car pickups and dropoffs -- is even more understated:
From either entrance you'll need to take the escalator up to the lobby level. On this level, there's the hotel front desk as well as the Brasserie 1605 breakfast restaurant, Broadway 49 bar and the Grind & Co. coffee shop.
When we arrived at 12:30am, the front desk was unoccupied and there were several people in line. Quickly we found out what a mess we were walking into. The traveler in the line ahead of us informed us that the hotel's reservation system was down. Another traveler chimed in that he'd been waiting for a room since 9:30pm, a whole three hours earlier.
After a few minutes, check-in agents emerged from a back office with a plan to manually check in guests and assign rooms with the system still down. As word made its way around the lobby, the check-in line quickly swelled with dozens of guests that had been waiting out the system outage in the lobby bar.
This plan backfired spectacularly. The first two guests that were checked in this way returned to the lobby, frustrated because there were already guests in the rooms they had been assigned to. It couldn't have been a good experience for either the guests that were hoping to finally get a room or for the guests that were walked in on at nearly 1am.
At 1am, a front desk agent stepped in front of the desk for a speech informing us that the system was still down but that they had IT staff working on the issue. His update was interrupted by another agent exclaiming that the system was finally coming back online. After re-assigning rooms to the guests who had returned to the lobby, it was our chance to check in.
While trying to keep the check in quick for the sake of the long line, I asked for details about the gym access that came with the $30 per night facility fee. I wouldn't get a response to that question. Instead, the agent looked down and noted in the system to waive the facility fee.
As we were arriving in the US for the first time in a month, we'd shipped a couple of packages of supplies to the hotel. I asked about these at check in. The exhausted agent said that he could look into it, but the packages wouldn't be delivered that night until after we were asleep. He said he sent a note for them to be pulled for delivery the next day.
No welcome drinks (included in the facility fee), welcome amenity (elite benefit) or room upgrade (elite benefit) were offered. The only acknowledgement of elite status would be two coupons for a reduced $16 breakfast buffet. Still, after hearing about other guests having waited for hours, we felt lucky to be getting a room just over a half hour after arriving. And, we were very happy to have a room after having traveled for more than 27 hours.
We booked a "King Bed Traditional Room Nonsmoking," and that's the type we got -- no upgrade this time. The centerpiece of the small room was the not-quite-king-size bed, which measured an awkward 69 inches wide by 80 inches long.
In the back corner of the room, there was a comfortable chaise with a small side table.
The room description included a "large work desk with ergonomic chair." Given that description, I found the desk to be disappointingly small:
The room had a 46-inch flat screen TV, which we didn't even have time to turn on during the very short stay. Under the TV were five empty drawers, the room's safe, ice bucket and single-serve coffee machine.
It seems that the "two welcome drinks upon arrival" included in the $30 facility charge were actually just two bottles of water that were left on top of the counter next to the TV.
In the closet, the hotel provided a luggage rack, a number of hangers, an iron and an ironing board.
The bathroom was well-stocked with numerous towels, tissues, plastic-wrapped plastic cups and Beekman 1802 amenities.
The amenities included shampoo, conditioner, shower gel, lotion and two bars of soap. (Travel-related aside: Beekman 1802 was founded by Josh and Brent Beekman, winners of Amazing Race Season 21.)
One unique aspect of the bathroom design was a semi-circle hole cut in the shower wall. While strange at first glance, it quickly dawned on us that this was useful for turning on the shower and feeling the temperature without having to open the shower door. Now I'm surprised that I haven't seen this seemingly obvious feature in other hotels.
When I got back to the hotel from the TPG offices on the second night, I stopped by the front desk to inquire again about our packages and ask if my request for late checkout was processed. Curious about the check-in speed and details -- and since there was no elite check-in line -- I joined the general check-in line.
The agent who helped me was completely unaware of the issues that'd happened the night before, but recalled the hassle she'd experienced six months prior when the system went down for an entire day. She checked the system and confirmed that the hotel was waiving the facility fee for our stay. However, she was unaware how that would work in practice as this was a prepaid rate.
I'd overheard this agent welcoming a previous Platinum Elite guest with a choice of 600 points or a free drink, so I mentioned that I didn't get any welcome amenity when I'd arrived. Apologizing, she gave me a Spire Elite drink coupon -- plus an extra one for the hassle -- and a snack mix box. Unprompted, she also spoke with her manager and got approval to give me two free breakfast coupons.
When I inquired if the hotel had received the packages that I'd shipped there, the agent also went into the system to waive the $6 per package handling fee. While I hadn't seen this fee before, this fee is indeed stated in the FAQ page on the hotel's website.
The agent found the packages in the system and said they'd be delivered to my room. After waiting in the room for about 15 minutes, Katie and I wanted to head down to the bar to utilize the drink coupons. So, I called the hotel service via the room phone. After about a 60-second wait, a friendly agent picked up. She gave me the option of having the bellman wait to deliver them until we returned to the room or drop them inside the door 'with your permission.' We chose the latter and by the time we got back, the packages were waiting on the floor just inside the door.
Food and Beverage
With the drink coupons in hand, Katie and I headed to the lobby bar for our "drink and a light snack." The drink choices were limited to beer, wine or a non-alcoholic beverage and we each opted for a Brooklyn Brewery Lager, one of just three beers on draft. Both were served in Blue Moon glasses.
No light snack was provided with the drinks, but we wanted something more substantial anyways. We ordered a club sandwich with fries, which ended up being large enough to split -- making the $17 cost more reasonable.
The next morning, we stopped by Brasserie 1605 for breakfast. We were pleasantly surprised that the breakfast vouchers were for the pricier "American Buffet" option, which typically costs $34 before a mandatory 15% gratuity. The buffet offered a decent spread of hot and cool American-style breakfast items with a sprinkling of other stereotypical food options like fried rice.
In the back of the lobby bar, there was a small business center stocked with three computers and a printer. One of the three computers was labeled as "available exclusively for printing airline boarding passes."
One of the most fascinating aspects of the $30 per night facility fee was the "29,000 square foot New York Sports Club fitness facility." That's certainly larger than any hotel gym that I've experienced, so I stopped by midday hoping to get photos of the empty gym. Turns out that this is a membership-based gym and it was slammed at lunchtime.
I awkwardly walked around in non-workout clothing while what seemed like hundreds of members exercised on a similar amount of machines. There were also studios full of active dance classes, a four-lane pool with a water exercise class and likely much more I didn't see. You definitely won't lack for exercise options when staying at this hotel. Here's one of the smaller, quieter parts:
One of the annoying aspects of staying in Times Square was the number of hawkers on the streets. Seemingly each time we left the hotel, we'd find salesmen trying to sell hop-on hop-off bus passes right outside the front entrance. However, since they were on a public sidewalk, there was probably little that the hotel could do to force them to move.
Overall, security at the hotel was quite lax. At the base of the lobby escalator, there was a desk where guests were supposed to show their room key, but this desk was only periodically manned and we were never asked once to show a room key. In the elevators, there was a key slot and a sign to "please use your hotel key card to access your room." However, this control wasn't active at any point during our stay -- even at 1am when we were first heading up to our room.
If you want to stay in a major chain hotel in Manhattan, you're typically going to have to pay a lot -- either in points or cash. Meanwhile, the hotels themselves aren't the best versions of that brand, as they realize they're able to fill these properties despite offering a mediocre hotel.
Through dozens of nights at Manhattan hotels, I've found few exceptions to this rule -- and the Crowne Plaza Times Square was no different. While the location was great for those looking to be in the thick of it all, the hotel didn't live up to its upscale goals. Add on numerous hidden fees and the typically pricey hotel got even more expensive when it came to the bottom line.
That said, for the price I ended up paying -- particularly after the facility fee was waived -- this stay was a steal for such a central location. If you value location above amenities, this might be the perfect place for an NYC stay. Despite its shortcomings, I'll be glad to book this hotel again for less than $150 per night. Let's just hope that the reservation system isn't broken down next time.