Recently, my friend and I traveled to Chicago to attend the Georgia Tech-Notre Dame college football game. Though the game was in South Bend, Indiana, we wanted to spend the majority of our time in the Chicagoland area. All of the things we planned to visit and do - downtown Chicago, attend a Chicago Cubs baseball game, and tour the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio in suburban Oak Park - was accessible by public transit (though we did rent a car to drive to the game), so we needed a hotel near a subway station.
Though I have points from various chains, I generally don’t use reward stays for domestic hotels, since I can usually find a reasonable rate if I compromise on location and amenities. This allows me to save my point balances for more expensive properties overseas. This was one such occasion. While we would have loved to have stayed in downtown Chicago, we were not willing to pay the going rates for a city center room due to the ease and low cost of taking a CTA train to wherever we were going.
The Aloft Chicago O'Hare satisfied our requirements for rail accessibility and a reasonable rate. The hotel is located a short walk from the Rosemont Red Line station; proximity to the airport made picking up a rental car very convenient. The hotel provides complimentary shuttle service to and from the airport twice each hour, which was easier than the subway when we arrived at O'Hare with luggage in tow. Best of all, our AAA rate was less than $150 per night before taxes and I earned valuable Starwood Preferred Guest points!
Upon arriving at the hotel, you immediately notice the modern design and non-traditional layout. The front desk is an oval located in the middle of the floor just inside the front door. A food area is located to the left of the entry area that offers a variety of items for purchase. Packaged snacks are offered at all hours, with breakfast sandwiches available in the morning. Coffee is complimentary. Just beyond the front desk is a open lobby area featuring a large seating area as well as the hotel bar, the W XYZ. Since we arrived late on our first night, we grabbed a bite at W XYZ. The food was nothing special - the chicken fingers were a small cut above those from the freezer section at the grocery store - but it sufficed in a pinch. With more time, you can do much better for food.
We were assigned a double queen room on the first floor. As a division of W Hotels, Aloft has a more lively lobby scene than some brands. While the seating and bar area not nearly as raucous as the W I stayed in in Manhattan in July, there is a door that separates the first floor guest rooms from any lobby noise. The only significant noise we experienced over our four-night stay was a mini-party in the parking lot one night and a severe thunderstorm another. A bigger concern with the first floor location was limited privacy when the shades were open due to the small hotel parking lot (more on that below) immediately outside the windows.
The room itself continued the modern design motif with a non-standard layout. The biggest difference from your typical hotel room is that the room is wider than it is deep. The bathroom is immediately to the right upon entering. I loved the vessel sink! Rather than a closet or armoire, there were shelves in the bathroom for storage. Clothing could be hung facing outward and hidden by a curtain. A pocket door provided seclusion for the toilet and shower. The rest of the bath area was open to the room.
The sleeping area was separated from the bathroom by a partition. Two counter areas, one of which served as a desk, and bench seat ran across the outer wall with a flat-panel TV mounted between two windows. On an upper floor, the windows would have provided lots of light, but being on the first floor, we kept the blinds closed much of the time. The queen platform beds were comfortable and separated by a wall-mounted nightstand. Even the hotel-provided clock featured a simple, contemporary design. Switches just over the nightstand controlled the reading lights mounted over each bed.
In terms of amenities, the hotel offered a 24-hour fitness center. The equipment was in good condition and the treadmill was newer than my gym at home! An indoor pool was across the hall from the gym. Just outside the lobby seating area was a very nice courtyard with a variety of seating areas. I particularly liked the gas-fed fires that would be perfect on a chilly day! The business center is simply two desktop computers just before the door to the first floor guest rooms. WiFi was consistently strong for me during our four-day stay. For holders of the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express, in-room premium WiFi is free when you book directly with Starwood.
The biggest downside was the parking situation, but even this was not a major problem. The hotel parking lot is very small and we were not able to find any spaces on the two days when we had a car. Fortunately, the hotel is in an entertainment area with nearby restaurants and movie theater (as well as the Big Ten Conference headquarters!). In the middle of this was a large municipal parking deck connected to the hotel with an enclosed pedestrian bridge. When the hotel lot is full, guests can park in Aloft spaces in the deck. The hotel will validate your parking ticket, though one of the two days we parked there, we still had to pay a $13 parking charge to exit.
Overall, I was very pleased with my first experience at an Aloft hotel. Many of the design and layout elements made me think of European hotels. The Chicago O'Hare property is a great mix of price and accessibility if you are willing to forego staying closer to downtown. Most importantly the rooms are comfortable and quiet. I will certainly make a point to seek out Aloft for my future travels!