A Residence Inn by name only: A review of The Wilson Hotel in Big Sky, Montana

Apr 20, 2021

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Marriott operates more than 800 Residence Inn properties throughout North America, along with a handful of others in destinations around the world.

Almost every member of Marriott’s extended-stay brand follows a standard formula, named “Residence Inn,” followed by the name of the city or town, or a nearby landmark. In Tennessee, for example, you’ll find the Residence Inn Chattanooga Downtown. Illinois is home to the Residence Inn Chicago Midway Airport, and so on.

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In Big Sky, Montana, the brand’s ski-friendly property carries a different name: “The Wilson Hotel,” conveying a sense of prestige, and perhaps a storied past. As it turns out, The Wilson Hotel offers neither — but nor is it your typical Residence Inn.

In This Post

Booking

Located just a few miles from Montana’s famed Big Sky ski resort, and an hour’s drive from the west entrance to Yellowstone National Park, The Wilson Hotel’s location is hard to beat.

Naturally, that means it can command some fairly steep rates. For my shoulder-season stay, I was able to lock in a discounted rate of $267 per night for a room with two queens, including tax. During peak season, such as over the December holidays, you could be looking at upwards of $600 per night for a base room — certainly not typical for a Residence Inn.

Screenshot courtesy of Marriott.

Given the hotel’s proximity to Big Sky, I was happy with the rate, including a modest up-charge for two queen beds. I also added in a rollaway bed, since three of us were staying together, however, the room already included a sleeper sofa (and doesn’t actually have room for a rollaway), so the hotel never ended up adding that charge.

Screenshot courtesy of Marriott.

My final bill came out to $535.36, which I charged to my Chase Sapphire Reserve®, earning me 1,606 Ultimate Rewards points, worth about $32, based on TPG’s valuations.

I also earned 7,073 Bonvoy points, including 2,390 base points, a 1,793-point Titanium elite bonus, a 500-point welcome gift and another 2,390 points from Marriott’s current “Better Two-gether” promotion. I was also issued 5,000 points as a goodwill gesture (more on that below), for a grand total of 12,073 points, worth about $96.50, based on TPG’s valuations.

Screenshot courtesy of Marriott.

Of course, you can also use your Bonvoy points to book a stay. The Wilson Hotel is a Category 5 property, requiring either 30,000 35,000 or 40,000 points, depending on the night — if you’re staying during a more popular time of year, an award redemption could definitely take the sting out of those pricey peak-season rates.

Screenshot courtesy of Marriott.

Most dates can be had at the standard 35,000-point level, making your stay eligible for the free-night certificates that come along with a handful of co-branded Marriott cards, including the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card and the Marriott Bonvoy Business™ American Express® Card.

Location

As you can tell from my DJI drone shot below, The Wilson Hotel is located just down the road from Big Sky. While I normally prefer a ski-in/out hotel, there aren’t many to choose from in Montana, especially if you’re hoping to use your points.

With good road conditions, you can make it to the base of the mountain in just over 10 minutes, and parking is free once you get there. The hotel also offers a free shuttle — if you’re planning to use that to get to the slopes, be sure to reserve a spot in advance.

Screenshot courtesy of Apple Maps.

Odd-numbered rooms (like ours, 331) offer fantastic views of Lone Mountain — with the hotel’s pool and a large parking lot in between. Even-numbered rooms face away from the resort, so a parking lot view (covered in snow, if you’re lucky) is the best you’ll get there.

While skiers will need to begin each day with a short drive, there are plenty of shops, restaurants and bars within walking distance of the hotel.

One of Big Sky’s more popular restaurants, Copper, is actually directly attached to the hotel, with an entrance in the lobby. It’s independently owned, so you can’t charge food and drinks to your room, but it’s certainly a convenient option.

Check-in and lobby

The Wilson Hotel offers free parking, with a large lot just outside the main door. We had no trouble finding a spot and walked the few steps into the lobby from there.

I’ve definitely never had views like this from a Residence Inn — or any views, for that matter. The common areas are beautiful, and well-designed overall. There’s even a piano in the lobby, though it was purely decorative during our stay.

As much as I would have liked to spend time in the lobby, it was often packed before and after the ski day, with many guests not wearing masks. Fortunately, you can breeze right through, bypassing the front desk entirely if you choose to unlock your room via the Marriott app.

The lobby also had a well-stocked market, with a variety of essentials, along with drinks and snacks.

You’ll definitely pay a premium to shop there, though. On the drinks front, expect to pay between $2.75 and $6.50 for a bottle of water, up to $5.50 for juice and $3.50 for a bottle of soda.

Frozen pizzas were on offer for $8 a pop, meanwhile, with pints of ice cream for $11, chips for $2.30 and beef jerky for $5.25. In other words, you’ll want to do most of your shopping outside of the hotel.

The high-end design continued through the rest of the lobby, all the way up to the elevators.

As for COVID-19 precautions, the hotel offered wipes throughout the common areas, along with hand sanitizer dispensers (that were actually full). Smaller elevators were limited to two guests at a time, with the large elevator accommodating four, though some guests weren’t especially mindful of those restrictions.

The atypical Residence Inn aesthetic continued as you exited the elevators as well, with some locally inspired yet somewhat generic furnishings at the beginning of each floor.

The fun stopped at the guest room door, though — once inside, I felt that the quality of the fixtures and attention to detail were clearly lacking compared to the rest of the hotel.

Room

I had booked a standard “studio” room with two queen beds — similar in size to rooms with one king, but likely a bit more cramped, since there’s more furniture to fit in.

As with many Residence Inn properties, all rooms and suites include a full kitchen.

There’s a full-size refrigerator, microwave, dual-burner stove and a dishwasher, so you could visiting a grocery store nearby and prepare meals in the room if you’d like.

There were enough plates, bowls and cups for four people, along with basic kitchen equipment, including mixing and storage bowls, a measuring cup and a strainer.

Our room also came with two fresh dishtowels, a new bottle of dish soap and a sealed sponge.

There was also a pod-based coffee maker, with a few Starbucks pods and some Twinings tea.

There were small pots and pans as well, along with some cooking utensils, a cutting board and silverware. Some of the items didn’t feel especially clean though (more on that below), so I’d recommend running the dishwasher if you’re planning to use any of the kitchen supplies.

The bathroom was decently large for one person, but it would definitely feel cramped with a family preparing for a day of skiing, or with everyone freshening up for dinner at the same time.

The walk-in shower was large, which I appreciated, but it was terribly designed, with a partition that only extended halfway across, making it impossible to avoid getting water all over the floor.

The amenities were quite problematic as well, with bottles that were so small that they’d barely get half the group through a single shower.

The rest of the room was fine, but all of the furnishings felt especially cheap — more like a “fancy” dorm room than a hotel that can sometimes command rates of $600 per night.

I liked that the dining table was compact, but it was too small, especially when eating meals with more than one other person.

There was also a small sofa that pulls out into a bed, but even though it was small, it made the room feel extra cramped, squeezed in beside a pair of queen-size beds. Also, it’s worth noting the sofa bed wasn’t especially comfortable, though that may not be much of a surprise.

TPG’s Clint Henderson booked a king room for a different stay, which looked considerably more spacious.

(Photo by Clint Henderson/The Points Guy)

The beds themselves were large and comfortable — if you’re skiing all day and going out to eat at night, that’s what’s most important, after all.

And there were outlets all around the room — each included built-in USB ports, though we chose to use our adapters to charge up our gadgets a bit more quickly.

There was one small closet over by the window as well. It was fine for our short stay, but a family could quickly run out of space to store their luggage, apres-ski outfits and winter gear.

For me, the real highlight was the view. On a clear day, you can see the top of Big Sky’s Lone Mountain, and I really enjoyed looking through the window at different times of day to see how the light hit the mountain at sunrise, mid-day and just before dusk.

TPG’s Zach Griff joined me for the trip — the mountain view was a clear favorite for him, too.

Be sure to request an odd-numbered room — I can’t overemphasize how nice it was to have a view of something more exciting than the parking lot and highway.

Amenities

As I alluded to earlier, the common areas are really where this hotel shines — the recreational facilities are certainly no exception.

Out back, there are multiple fire pits, each with plenty of seats, along with a large pool and a hot tub. During the pandemic, guests are required to make a reservation to use the hot tub, since it’s a fairly compact space, though the rest of the amenities are open.

There’s a sizable gym in the basement, but unfortunately it was quite crowded when I went to check it out, with multiple guests ignoring the hotel’s mask requirement. I’m sure it’ll be more appealing during off-peak periods, and of course after the pandemic, too.

There was also a family room with bean bag chairs in front of a TV, a ping pong table and foosball.

Finally, there was a dedicated ski and boot storage room near the front door. I made the mistake of leaving my boots in the car one night, which made them impossible to put on — you’ll want to store them inside the hotel, instead.

There’s also free Wi-Fi in the rooms and common areas. It’s probably not as fast as what you’ll find at home, though I had no trouble getting some work done and streaming TV.

Screenshot courtesy of Ookla.

Food and beverage

As with many Residence Inn properties, The Wilson Hotel includes a free breakfast, which is served just off the lobby.

There’s a menu posted by the front desk, but you can also just walk up and take a look at the offerings available each morning.

Because of the pandemic, everything was individually wrapped — and I do mean everything.

There were “hot” dishes on offer, but they were barely warm, even though they were served in heated buffets and wrapped in aluminum foil.

I grabbed some waffles, sausage, hash browns and bacon. There were eggs available the second morning as well, though they weren’t on the buffet on the first day.

If you prefer to avoid creating unnecessary waste, you’re likely to find this buffet very upsetting. With each item wrapped individually, the amount of packaging materials used was simply insane.

I mean, come on… do we really need four kinds of syrup, plus caramel and sprinkles for those mushy, individually wrapped waffle slices?

I made myself one to try it out for this review, but I’m just not sure who this appeals to — parents don’t want their kids loading up on tons of unnecessary sweets, and adults (most of the guests during this stay) tend to seek out healthier or more filling options for themselves.

I was excited to see breakfast sandwiches on the second day, but they were served room temperature and were incredibly soggy — even after re-heating it in the room, it was the saddest breakfast sandwich I’ve ever had.

There was a tower of cereal, as well — all served in plastic containers.

Coffee is poured fresh by the staff into paper cups, which seemed a bit less wasteful — until I encountered this heaping pile of tiny creamers.

If a pre-pandemic experience is what you’re after, the attached Copper restaurant offers a packed apres-ski scene.

I popped in before it opened — a couple of hours later and it was so crowded with maskless patrons, proper distancing was close to impossible. The tail end of happy hour, from 3-6 p.m. daily, seemed to be an especially popular time.

We’ve been participating in indoor dining after being fully vaccinated, so we decided to visit for happy hour, too. I was a bit particular about where we sat, though, and stopped by the day before our reservation to request a private high-top booth in the back.

I really enjoyed the happy hour appetizers, including pretzel bites ($6), fried pickles ($8) and spinach artichoke dip ($11), which all came out very quickly. We also ordered some food from the regular menu, including the 16-ounce ribeye below — it was unremarkable and a bit pricey, at $45, but prepared as requested.

Service

Unfortunately, service at The Wilson Hotel left much to be desired. Cleanliness is obviously paramount during the pandemic — although it doesn’t seem that COVID-19 spreads easily via contact, proper cleaning remains a top concern. The Wilson Hotel was clearly lacking in this area. We were greeted by two bags of garbage when entering our first room…

… and the second room had garbage in the closet.

Pots and pans also seemed borderline filthy — the pan looked like it had barely been rinsed before being shoved back in a drawer.

The bedding also looked like it had been swapped in a rush — the fitted sheets weren’t pulled down to cover the mattress, and the finished product hardly looked picture-perfect, as you can see in the room photos above.

Ultimately, the hotel was very quick to address the garbage issues, and assign us a new room — and then a second new room. I was offered 5,000 Bonvoy points as compensation as well, worth $40, based on TPG’s valuations. The front desk staff was also super responsive to messages sent through Marriott’s chat tool, including a request for an early check-in and additional soap and shampoo.

Overall impression

The Wilson Hotel clearly wants to stand out as an atypical Residence Inn. The common areas certainly accomplish that, but the rooms just feel too cheap and cramped for an extended-stay hotel — especially one that can charge close to $600 per night.

The hotel is also showing age well beyond its years — it first opened in June 2019, but chipped paint and frayed carpet make it feel far more than two years old.

At the end of every stay, I ask myself one question: Would I book this place for a friend? In this case, despite its shortcomings, and high nightly rate, I absolutely would. The location is hard to beat, just down the road from Big Sky, and it can be a heck of a deal on points — especially if you’re looking to book a five-night stay, when redemptions really shine with Marriott’s fifth night free.

All photos by Zach Honig/The Points Guy, except as marked

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Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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