Review: Westin Arlington (Best Value in the DC Area on Weekends)

The hotel opened in spring 2006. The hotel is in the DC suburbs — but located just two blocks to the Ballston metro, Orange line straight shot into the city.

It pulls high rates during the week, it’s a business hotel that brings people visiting the FDIC, the EPA’s Fish and WIldlife Service, and DARPA and various other government agencies and consulting firms doing business with government agencies. On the weekends though? Dead. And the rates show it. Which makes it a great place to base DC tourism.

The hotel just dropped from category 5 to category 4, so award nights are 10,000 points — a good deal when the property is pulling ~ $300 during the week, not a good deal when it’s in the $100 vicinity of course.

I certainly like this hotel more than the Hilton Arlington a block away (one of the worst Hiltons, with a history of HVAC issues) and the Hyatt Arlington in Rosslyn.

The Property

The lobby is stylish, though most of it remains similar to what it looked like when it opened it has been kept up very well with minor refreshes.

There’s decent conference space on the second floor and a gym and indoor swimming pool on the third floor.

They’re currently doing renovations little by little — several suites were just being redone and taken out of service, for instance (I got once on my recent stay, though it wasn’t completely finished — no couch yet in the living room).

Part of the lobby is being updated with a living wall.

The third floor is getting refreshed now and you can’t actually take the elevator there. If you want to go to the pool or gym you need to get off a floor above or below and take the stairs.

There’s a Starbucks in the lobby, currently closed for renovations. Frankly I do not see at all where it needed it, the place was in fine shape, though I’m likely just bitter that I couldn’t use it during my stay. The hotel had complimentary coffee in the lobby in the mornings, though. (You can bill your Starbucks to the room and earn Starpoints as though otherwise dining in the hotel, so you need to make your choice versus earning with a Starbucks card that earned 5 points per dollar and credit towards Starbucks Gold status and a free drink… Personally I’ll take the Starpoints.)

The restaurant validates parking, so if you’re staying and having folks meet you it can make sense to stay in on that basis alone, but the restaurant and bar aren’t a draw otherwise.

Suites at the Westin Arlington

Getting a suite here can be a challenge, just because there aren’t a whole lot of them (maybe a dozens standard suites). I suspect that many aren’t booked, so using Platinum Suite Night Awards could be effective here although the suites themselves aren’t spectacular. There will just usually be more Platinums on property than suites available for upgrade — at least during the week and outside of December / January which is a low period.

I lucked into a suite on my most recent stay, something that hasn’t happened for several years (and it’s worth noting — that at work we’ve been doing perhaps 18 events here a year).

Getting off the elevator on the 11th floor I was struck that there’s no signage directing you to rooms, although I quickly figured out to turn left instead of right.

Once inside the room seemed mostly the same as before the refresh. The suites didn’t look very different in 2008, the lamps, drapes, and carpet are different now.

The bedroom is typical Westin.

The dresser hasn’t been updated though, there were still water stains on the top.

The living room will get more furniture. On this visit, it was still a bit barren (it was just opened back into service after getting its refresh).

The bathroom isn’t large, and doesn’t seem updated. The sinks are in one room, and the toilet and shower in an interior room from there. The bathroom is in the middle of the living room and bedroom.

Platinum Benefits

When the hotel opened it had a club lounge. That was closed a few years ago, and the hotel offered breakfast to Platinum members in the restaurant and also coupons for an evening cocktail and appetizer.

The cocktail and appetizer coupon was discontinued in January, and now Platinums simply have the published benefit of breakfast if they choose to forgo their points.

Breakfast is taken in the hotel restaurant. There’s a modest buffet that seems to me about average quality — your usual cereals, eggs, breakfast meats, and pastries none of which is out of the ordinary.

Platinums are given a coupon valid for up to 2 people, and they’ll tell you that you can simply order off the menu if you prefer which is actually my choice here.

They don’t bring you a check to sign, once you’ve given your coupon you can just get up and leave when done.

Taking Advantage of the Neighborhood

The location of the hotel is actually pretty good, in a lot of unexpected ways. The neighborhood has gotten much more interesting over the past decade since the hotel first opened. Across Wilson Boulevard there are several bars and eateries. You’re a block away from the Ballston Commons Mall (in the Arlington Rap, Remy immortalized it with the words that there’s a mall “but there’s nothing good.”

Right behind the hotel though is a residential area with some ground floor restaurants of note. Skip the hotel burger from room service and stop by ‘Big Buns’ (The staff at least used to have shirts, “I like Big Buns and I Cannot Lie”). You can call ahead and they’ll have your order ready in about 10 minutes.

Perhaps the better tip is right next door is Grand Cru.

It’s a wine shop with food and outdoor seating. Now, you can get better deals on wine at other bottle shops in the area. But the unique thing is that you can go in, pick out a bottle, and pay their regular retail price (plus a few bucks on the cheaper bottles) and drink whatever you wish right there.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community Milepoint.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. Nice review. I used to live in the condo building right next door to the Westin and remember when it was being built. I agree – it was always dead on weekends…but that meant great deals for out-of-town visitors.

  2. Overall, this is a very nice property. The modern design, the room quality, most of the staff, and especially the neighborhood all make for a relaxing, enjoyable stay. However, it has three major drawbacks. First, the restaurant. Dinners are outrageously overpriced. Brunches on weekends–although the food is average–are a deeply unpleasant experience if there is an event at the hotel. I’ve waited as long as 45 minutes for breakfast on a Sunday morning during event weekends. Sadly, the hotel responds it could not have anticipated the demand and they could not call in extra staff. Disappointingly, I’ve experienced this many times. Second, check-in. If it is busy, you are going to wait for a long time. Although there are about four check-in counters, I’ve never seen more than two open on weekends. So when there are events at the property, plan to wait for a while. Third, transportation. The valet is pretty expensive, pretty slow, and pretty poor. There is not much space to park while checking-in, especially if there are any taxis picking up/dropping off. That is frequently the case on Friday & Saturday night. If you ask them to call a taxi, make sure you watch them call or do it yourself. Even after calling, taxi service from the hotel at peak periods is pretty terrible too. Despite the location, it’s not uncommon to wait 10-15 minutes for a taxi. True, this isn’t the hotel’s fault. But it’s something potential guests should be aware of if planning to taxi to Washington for dinner on a Friday or Saturday night–as well as taxiing to the airport. That said, the hotel can be a great escape and excellent value on the right weekend, but it is not nirvana.

  3. Do you have a review of the Hilton Arlington or any other words of comparison? I’m interested in staying in either for a vacation weekend. I’m gold through Amex Platinum and diamond for hilton if that changes your perspective.

  4. Not to sound like a Federal government geek, but the US Fish and Wildlife Service is an agency of the Department of the Interior. Great article.

  5. @Fat Ted Hilton Arlington is a place I’d never go back, after they had no a/c one summer night and felt like guests could just make alternate arrangements on their own at no expense to the property.

  6. Nice write up. This is my old neighborhood. We stayed at this Westin once after getting home from our honeymoon to find the power was out in the middle of July – was an excellent last second use of SPG points!

  7. @ED

    Sometimes I can’t tell if you’re a troll or if you’re just out to lunch… permanently.

    By what measure is “The Tysons Corner area” a much better place? For the shopping mall? Ok. Got me.

    I work about a mile from the mall, and never, ever would I consider TC a “much better place.” As a neighborhood, Ballston is so much better… and ten minutes closer to DC.

  8. How would this property compare to the Hyatt Arlington? Looks like a similar pricing structure.

  9. @Garrett – different location of course, hyatt arlington is above the rosslyn matro station, i like the westin better – the rooms and the public spaces and even the breakfast though neither’s is great on that score

  10. I didn’t even know there was a Westin in that area as it seems like SPG is low on my radar the last few years. My ” bargain” goto in the area has always been the Hyatt Arlington at least since it was renovated a few years ago. Before the renovation it was kind of a dump. The lobby there is kind of funny as you mentioned. The breakfast there is nothing to get too excited about but as a diamond I found it better than the typical lounge carbapalooza.

  11. The Westin lobby and Starbucks renovations seem to be done, and both are lovely beyond some crowding issues in the new Starbucks seating area.

    And you’re right, the Ballston Mall has little to recommend it but there are three good things: the best cobbler I’ve ever been to (Hakky), the Shiki Sushi restaurant, and free, open-to-the-public Washington Capitals practice sessions upstairs at the ice rink.

    Your Grand Cru and Big Buns suggestions are spot-on (and Big Buns has fantastic happy hour specials every single afternoon). There’s also a brand-new Spanish restaurant, SER, on Glebe just a quick walk from the hotel. It’s getting fabulous reviews and I’m looking forward to eating there soon.

    Hope to see you at the Starbucks sometime!

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