My wife’s birthday was a couple of weeks ago. Almost a year ago, I made some reservations and planned a surprise birthday trip that I knew she’d love. Then, in November, an incredible quick deal got posted here at Frequent Miler: the Four Seasons Palo Alto in California for just $35 per night. It turned out that the Friday after her birthday could be booked through Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts for just $35. This was an incredible deal because, as you know, Fine Hotels & Resorts hotels always come with the following benefits:
- A “local amenity” worth about $100 (at the Four Seasons this was a $100 spa credit)
- Daily breakfast for 2
- Guaranteed 4pm check out
- Noon check in when available
- Room upgrade upon arrival (based on availability)
A night at the Four Seasons anywhere would be a steal at $35. A night for $35 with a $100 spa credit and breakfast for 2 was a no-brainer. As we have family in San Jose, and Amex FHR will allow a cardholder to book three rooms, I immediately booked 3 rooms and intended to surprise her at the end of the birthday week trip with a night at the Four Seasons and a trip to the spa the next day since we’d have a 4pm check out. Unfortunately, unexpected things came up on the home front that week and we made the difficult decision to cancel the trip altogether. Sorry — this post won’t be about my incredible night at the Four Seasons for thirty-five bucks. C’est la vie.
Instead, I was left scrambling for a plan a little closer to home. I started Googling for weekend events in each of the nearby New England states, which led me to stumble on a town I’d never heard of: Stowe, Vermont (you can tell I’m neither a skier nor beer drinker). It sounded like a place my wife would enjoy…but there were no chain hotels within about 30 minutes. And after I had told my wife about my plan to take her to the Four Seasons, I felt like I couldn’t very well take her to the Fairfield Inn 30 minutes away from our destination. With zero expectations, I went to Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts and put in “Vermont” as my destination. Wouldn’t you know it — there are two FHR properties in Vermont. One of them is the Stowe Mountain Resort. It seemed like serendipity. And so we were off to Stowe.
Fine Hotels and Resorts
As I said, I was surprised to find a resort in Stowe on Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts. While FHR has wide coverage in many major cities, properties in more rural parts of the world are few and far between. Luckily, the Amex website will let you enter fairly broad search parameters. As I mentioned, I simply searched “Vermont”:
The Luxury Collection (Starwood) property shown above was neither near Stowe nor available the two nights we needed. The Stowe Mountain Resort, however, was available. And it seemed reasonably priced.
Now, I’m not typically the kind of guy to spend $250 per night on a hotel…..in rural Vermont. No offense Vermont — it’s not you, it’s me. The nights I’ve spent in hotels that have cost me $250 have been few and far between as I would generally prefer to use points and I have a mental block against spending that much domestically for a getaway. But I’ve written in the past about my love of FHR – it’s one of the benefits that keeps a Business Platinum card in my wallet. In the right situations, it can provide terrific value. And in this case, for that $251, we would get accommodations for a night, free breakfast in the morning, and a $100 resort credit. I had a look at the bar menu and restaurant menu and decided that we could probably comfortably eat dinner at either place for $100. I was going to spend money on dinner either way — in this case, I was just securing a (theoretically) nicer place to stay by pre-paying for breakfast and dinner. I’m sure we would have easily spent $100 between breakfast and dinner wherever we ate, bringing the rate down to a totally reasonable $150/night net value. Except that the $100 resort credit is once per stay, whereas the breakfast benefit is every morning.
Two-player mode to the rescue
Thankfully, my wife and I play the credit card game in two-player mode. She also has a Business Platinum card. That meant that I could book the first night in my name and book the second night in her name and they would technically be separate stays. I knew that there was some risk that we would have to switch rooms due to the separate bookings. However, that wouldn’t be a huge deal — thanks to the benefits of FHR, guaranteed 4pm late checkout means that we wouldn’t have to check out of room #1 before checking into room #2. However, I suspected that we might be able to explain what we’d done at check-in and get to keep the same room for both nights. We were able to do just that. Not only that, the check-in agent let me swipe my card for both nights and confirmed that we would get a $100 credit each night. I did not push to ask whether the credits could be combined and used on one day or the other. First of all, past experience tells me that this kind of thing leads to more confusion than it’s worth. Secondly, it just wasn’t necessary — there was nothing so expensive on the menu as to warrant a $200 dinner.
The check-in agent was very warm and welcoming. He was happy to inform us that he was able to upgrade us to a Junior Suite. I’ll admit, as the resort didn’t appear to be full, I had my hopes up for a decent upgrade and was happy to get one. And it came in handy as I needed to do some work while we were there. The room was very spacious and was well appointed. Not quite luxurious — but not bad for the price, either.
The bathroom was huge (partly because they gave us an ADA room):
And in the morning, the view off of the balcony was beautiful.
For breakfast, we were told that we could either eat in the restaurant or order room service, with a $60 credit each morning. That was more than enough to have a decent breakfast (though keep in mind that the menu prices don’t include the additional service, delivery, and gratuity charges — so don’t order $60 worth of food (like we did here….luckily, we hadn’t used the entire $100 credit on dinner the night before).
Breakfast underwhelmed me. The food was fine — but absolutely nothing special, aside from getting Vermont maple syrup. Still, there is something extra relaxing about room service breakfast that I never realized until I had the chance to have it.
We had dinner the first night in the bar/lounge area and the second night in the restaurant. The two areas feature different menus, though it’s really the same place (the bar is just outside the entrance to the restaurant). Honestly, this is where I felt the resort totally fell flat. Service the first night at dinner was almost comically bad. It was a real struggle just to get menus, with the staff seemingly playing a reverse staring game — where everyone avoided making eye contact. In their defense, I think the waitstaff was just young and lacked some confidence. That said, at what I imagine the high-season rates to be, I’d hope the training would be kicked up a notch.
But service aside, the food just wasn’t good. It wasn’t terrible — but neither of us ordered something that we would order again. We left wishing that we had been able to eat at some of the cute spots in town that certainly had a bit more character and probably couldn’t have been either more expensive or less tasty. But points for presentation — the dishes looked pretty good.
All that said, the place does have the European ski chateau motif going on. Ambiance is definitely well-done in the main lobby area — and the bar is to the top left of the following picture. When we ate at the bar the first night, we were seated near the wooden rail you see in that top left corner, with a view of the lobby.
Stuff to do
Where the resort shines is in stuff to do. It has a little village of its own and has an adventure center with rock climbing, zip lining, and a ropes course.
Unfortunately, on this trip, we didn’t have the chance to take advantage of those amenities. However, they would probably help make for a really fun family vacation without having to venture beyond the resort. And for adults, they had some sort of Mercedes-Benz test drive program. We saw a new Mercedes parked out front and a logo near the valet desk. In the resort booklet inside the room, it explained that you could test drive a Mercedes for up to two hours. While it’s true that we are car shopping, I have learned enough in life to know that you can’t test drive a new German luxury car and then continue to talk about buying a used domestic 4×4. We passed on that.
There’s plenty to do within an easy drive around Stowe. In fact, one of the fun things you can do is drive the toll road to the top(ish) of Mt Mansfield, and then hike the rest. At least one reader responded to my post earlier this week about buying a car by suggesting that I should look at the reliability of a Japanese car, and he was preaching to the choir with that suggestion. Our little Toyota Yaris keeps plugging along at 137,000 miles just the same as it did the day we got it…all the way to the top of Mt Mansfield. If only we weren’t in need of more space and looking to tow a trailer to boot, I think we’d run this car over 200K miles as it’s just been nothing but reliable.
And climbing towards the peak of Mt. Mansfield made for some gorgeous views of the area.
And there’s plenty more to do in the surrounding area. We went to the Ben & Jerry’s factory, where we opted to eat ice cream and skip the tour. What can I say? Priorities.
We also drove around and checked out a couple of local events; this was a pretty area to wander. On the way home from Stowe, we stopped in Burlington and then at the Vermont Teddy Bear factory, where there was a tent sale and plenty of factory rejects — both teddy bears and pajama gram. We almost grabbed a set of PJ’s that had the name Aunt Smell embroidered on them, but we figured that neither of our sisters would probably find them quite as hilarious as we did.
I think Fine Hotels & Resorts is one of the best benefits of the Amex Platinum cards. For the same price that was publicly bookable on the Stowe Mountain Resort website, we were able to get a $100 credit each night and $60 each morning for breakfast. Theoretically, if we wanted more than two nights, we could have probably alternated for a few more without issue, especially if we checked out and back in and moved rooms. There was plenty to do in the surrounding area, especially if you like the outdoors — enough to keep you busy for at least a few more days and easily a week if you like to hike.
All that said, would I stay at Stowe Mountain Resort again? I’m not sure that I would. I didn’t come in with high expectations and the food still managed to disappoint. The room, while plenty spacious as seen in the pictures, felt a bit dated. Finding convenient power outlets was a bit of a chore next to the couch/chair and even near the bed. Everything was very clean, but it felt like it could use an update nonetheless. On the other hand, if you’re a skier, this location is hard to beat. With something like 116 trails that come out to 40 miles of skiing, you would probably be hard-pressed not to find something to love.
At the end of the day, I think this property would be a great family getaway, especially if you’re within a few hours in the northeast, and there aren’t many options at this price point in Fine Hotels & Resorts within North America (Las Vegas aside). It wasn’t the Four Seasons, but it was a nice weekend away that didn’t take us thousands of miles from home. From that perspective, I think both Stowe and the Stowe Mountain Resort are at the very least and interesting domestic Fine Hotels & Resorts destination.