A few months ago, I wrote about Le Meridien Chiang Rai, then a category 2 SPG redemption (now cat 3) for a luxurious 5-star resort tucked away from the bustle. Now I’d like to tell you about a different kind of low category luxury – one that’s very much in the center of bustle, in one of the world’s up-and-coming cities.
Chengdu is on many people’s radar for two reasons: pandas and Sichuan food, and rightfully so; they are indeed highlights. It’s also one of China’s fastest growing mega cities, having been handpicked by the central government to become a center of IT and finance (when they decide something, they get it done fast). Real estate price certainly seems to reflect the boom. This has led to rapid modernization in the last 5 or so years, including a brand new 6-line metro system (still expanding) and high speed rail connecting Sichuan to greater China. Nowadays only foreign visitors seem to still use cash. Residents have long adopted electronic cashless payment such as Wechat Pay and Alipay (for transactions <~ RMB 500). Dockless bike sharing is pervasive. In the center of this transformed world class infrastructure is JW Marriott Chengdu, a brand new hotel of less than 2 years, 5 minutes walk from Chengdu’s symbol and metro hub, Tianfu Square. Considering I paid merely 15k Marriott points per night, it might be my best low category redemption for a world-class city hotel* yet. Note, as of March 2018 it’s a cat 4 (20k).
* I’m saying the hotel is world class by city hotel standards, not that the city necessarily is, yet.
Location / Facility / Room / Service
As mentioned, the hotel is centrally located and very convenient for sightseeing. Tianfu Square and its metro station is a 5 minute walk. Chunxi Road, the modern retail shopping center of Chengdu, is a 15 minute walk or one metro station from Tianfu Square. Jinli, the ancient entertainment street (highly recommended at night), is a short public bus ride right outside the hotel or $2 USD by taxi. The Giant Panda Research Center is more convenient by taxi but can also be reached by metro (requires transfer to line 3) + bus. We took the metro from Shuangliu Airport, which required 2 transfers. Follow that act if you’re brave 😉
Hotels in China are hit and miss. Some have great shiny facility but mediocre service. I’ve also had some truly fantastic service. This hotel had excellent facility and great service. We were warmly welcomed at check-in, and the staff went over the Gold benefits, with breakfast in restaurant an option (in addition to in lounge). I always prefer restaurant breakfast for the bigger selection, though some like the quieter lounge. Anyway, it’s always great to have both options, which I’ve found common in Asia but not elsewhere (i.e. you’re restricted to lounge food only).
We were automatically put into the Executive (highest) floor with a nice city view (though nothing impressive compared to, say, Hong Kong). I believe it’s the same configuration as a standard room, just the floor and view being upgraded. It’s a spacious 450 sqft, very modern, with a sizable tub and rain shower. As you’d expect, the bedding is heavenly.
English was adequately spoken at concierge, front desk, and lounge. Safety generally isn’t an issue, thanks to ubiquitous police presence throughout the city (their omni-presence might seem startling at first).
Food / Lounge
Food was my favorite feature of the JW. The highlight was complementary dinner in the lounge between 5:30 – 7:30pm. They call it hors d’oeuvres, but it’s more than enough for dinner, with a variety of hot dishes, snacks, fruits, and desserts. Here are some samples from my visit:
Lounge service was phenomenal. The staff checked often if I and other guests needed anything, without being too intrusive. They were very pleasant. I encountered one or two loud/running children during the 5-6 hours I spent there, overall not bad.
I loved that they had authentic Sichuan specialties, such as:
There’s also Afternoon Tea preceding the dinner. It ends at 5pm, I believe it starts at about 3pm? There were some amazing desserts. Their durian cake (not pictured, sorry) is one of the best cakes I’ve ever had in my life. It was seriously not possible to not overindulge such that by the time the complementary dinner starts, your stomach has no room, having just been bombarded with desserts. Of course, indulge anyway. Speaking of tea, the variety in the lounge (TG Art of Tea, from Singapore) is among the best complementary ones I’ve had while traveling. The one pictured above is “melon honey”, and it’s pretty unique.
This is the best complementary dinner I’ve ever had at a hotel. The Grand Hyatt Hong Kong had comparable amount of items and they’re more “exquisite”, but I loved that the food here more so reflects traditional local specialty, and the desserts are a highlight. Of course, GH-HK has way better view, but it was also more than 3x higher in redemption rate (if you value 25k Hyatt at 50k Marriott, although the 2018 Marriott change makes it just 2.5x higher). And like HK, Chengdu offers one of the richest cuisines on the planet, so while it’s a great convenience to sample some local flavor from the free food for Gold and Platinum members, remember it’s just the tip of the iceberg and there’s a lot more outside.
Interestingly, we found the restaurant breakfast less impressive than dinner in the lounge. It was still good, but not as great as we expected.
There are also 2 other Marriott properties in Chengdu that interestingly went down a category, both to cat 2, in 2018. They are the Renaissance and a Marriott brand, though both are farther out location wise.
If flying out of CTU Terminal 1 (international), avoid the Air China lounge. The other Priority Pass lounge (upstairs) is better & way bigger.
This is a world-class hotel in a city of growing importance. Every time I’m in Chengdu, I see in it more of Singapore’s modern elegance. There were even several days of very clear sky in June! The rapid transformation of Chengdu means we could see the JW Marriott rise to category 5 (or higher) in a few years. The newer Grand Hyatt a few blocks away is already 12k Hyatt (equivalent to Marriott cat 5). Although I don’t find Chengdu particularly beautiful in terms of landscape or architecture, it’s well worth a visit for the food (THE FOOD!), close encounters with pandas, and as a base for exploring the wonders to the west, including Four Maidens Mountain, Tibet, and possibly Jiuzhaigou (post-earthquake). JW Marriott Chengdu was a great deal as a category 3. Now that it’s cat 4, it’s worth considering paying cash, with rates hovering around $150 all-in in the warm months, and it might be possible to reduce it with corporate rate, best rate guarantee, etc. Or, consider one of the cat 2’s further out.