The expiration date on my free night award for IHG was drawing near so Patty and I decided to redeem it at the historic Willard InterContinental on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC. Here’s my review of our visit…
Background on the Willard InterContinental
Some hotel staffs will claim their property is “historic” but with the Willard InterContinental there’s no debate – this place is legendary. Almost every modern president has stayed at the property and Martin Luther King Jr. even finished his iconic “I have a dream” speech while staying at the hotel. It’s been mentioned by Walt Whitman, and Mark Twain even wrote two books onsite.
The hotel was originally built in the early 1800s. It’s experienced various changes and updates through the centuries (not many hotels you can use that word with!) but it has retained much of its original elegance and classic character. The hotel offers 335 guest rooms and 40 suites so although it’s a special property getting a room is quite doable for the average person.
Location Doesn’t Get Much Better than Pennsylvania Avenue
One of the reasons the Willard is so famous is its unrivaled location. It’s situated mere feet from the White House. You can literally walk out of your hotel room on foot and be staring through the fence of the White House in five minutes. Come out of the main hotel entrance/exit and look to your left and you’ll see the Capitol Building and the clocktower of the iconic post office building (now transformed into Trump International Hotel).
Booking a Willard InterContinental Room with IHG Free Night Award
I redeemed my Chase Anniversary Free [IHG] Night Award for our one-night visit to the Willard InterContinental. The award is one of the most valuable recurring perks in the hotel industry. In this case it got us a room that often goes for over $400 if paid in cash.
The free night award is one you get with renewal of your Chase IHG Rewards Club card. Given that the the card’s annual fee is only $49 as of writing, renewing this card is a no-brainer if you’re going to be traveling at all in the following year (the award is good for a year). We essentially got a 9:1 return on our $49 annual fee.
We were put into a room on the eight floor, sufficiently high above the street to isolate us from most of the road noise. With our Platinum Elite status, achieved solely by holding the credit card, we also received a free drink at the bar.
You can redeem the Chase Anniversary Free Night award through the IHG website or by calling IHG’s customer service team at 1 877 834 3613. If a room is available for booking with points you should be able to redeem your anniversary award night for it also.
If you don’t have an anniversary award night and still want to stay without doling out any cash you can book a room with IHG Rewards Club points. As of writing the nightly rate is 60,000 IHG points. The Chase IHG Rewards Club card is traditionally offered with a signup bonus of 60,000 points (and sometimes you can get a $50 statement credit also). So it’s very realistic to apply for the card with that signup bonus and quickly earn the bonus points as the minimum spending requirement for the card is traditionally $1,000 (and the annual fee is usually waived for the first year).
Check-In at the Willard InterContinental was Smooth
We arrived at the hotel at around 5pm on a Saturday. The hotel has a reasonable streetside setup for getting your luggage out of a vehicle.
There was no line at the front desk. The agent was friendly and effective, getting us set up for our room quickly.
We Avoided the Expensive Parking at the Willard InterContinental
Once we checked in I headed back down to our vehicle to park it. The only parking option offered by the hotel is valet parking at a rate of $55/night. Now parking in DC isn’t cheap so that’s not an unheard of rate but it’s still tough for this frugal guy to swallow.
I pulled out my smartphone and did a search on Parking Panda. I was able to find a $13 rate a mere block and a half away on G street. That rate was good for a 24 hour block.
My drive to the garage took all of three or so minutes. My walk back to the hotel took about the same – another 3 minutes. I’ve waited significantly longer than that for valet attendants to retrieve my car at other locations.
ProTip: If you sign up for Parking Panda through my link you’ll get a $5 credit toward your first use!
Our Room Was Elegant, Spacious and Effective
Staying at historic hotels can sometimes be a bit of a mixed bag. Rooms can often be elegant but small. Sometimes rooms are renovated and they’re now effective but they’ve lost their character. Our room at the Willard InterContinental was an appealing blend of classy, old-school elegance mixed with modern usefulness.
The beds were draped with silk adornments and a velvety sitting chair was situated by the window. Marble tiles covered the floor of the bathroom. The bathroom was surprisingly spacious though the standard tub was underwhelming. A stand-up shower or a claw-foot tub would have offered more space to move about or an elegant touch, respectively.
We Tried UberPool for Dinner Trip to Fig & Olive
DC offers a tremendous variety of restaurants and there are quite a few near the Willard InterContinental. Right next door, at the corner of 14th and F street, you’ll find The Hamilton, a highly-rated American eatery.
We decided to check out Fig & Olive though, a Mediterranean-style restaurant a little under a mile from the Willard. With it being cold and windy outside we decided to Uber over to the restaurant and back.
We hadn’t previously tried UberPool and we weren’t in a huge rush so we gave it a shot both ways. On both rides we were by ourselves – no other customers were picked up. Our fares were silly cheap – $4.74 and $3.62. I can foresee some situations where UberPool would be un-enjoyable – for example, if you’re joined by some smelly drunks – but it worked out great for us.
ProTip: If you don’t have an Uber account yet, sign up through my link and get $20 toward your first ride.
Fig & Olive was pretty good. Service was decent and the food was tasty, though not extraordinary. The crostinis are a fun offering. We particularly enjoyed the caramelized onion version. Patty got the scallops linguine and rated it very good. I had the hanger steak which was also very flavorful. Overall, we’d recommend Fig & Olive but wouldn’t call it incredible.
The Willard InterContinental is Surrounded by World-Famous Attractions
Besides the aforementioned White House, you can reasonably walk from the Willard InterContinental to the Washington Monument and the World War II Memorial.
You can also walk to three of the Smithsonian’s National museums: the American History, Natural History and the new African American History & Culture museum. Note that the latter requires a reservation at this time.
The Willard InterContinental is a unique hotel with incredible history. It may not be the most upscale hotel in America but you can’t help but feel like you’re in a special place as you walk within the property.
The location is outstanding – the hotel can serve as a great base for checking out the White House, the Washington Monument and various Smithsonian museums.
With IHG points or a Chase Anniversary Free Night award you can experience the iconic hotel without paying anything.
If you’re planning a visit to Washington, DC, the Willard InterContinental is definitely worth consideration as a lodging choice.
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Have you stayed at the Willard InterContinental? Share your thoughts on the property in the comments section below. Or fire away with questions – I’ll do my best to answer!