I’ve been doing some traveling and blogging this summer for the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express, and they recently brought me from Los Angeles to New York City to be a guest at the 2014 US Open Men’s Quarterfinals and attend one of their exclusive cardmembers’ “behind the scenes” events – an opportunity to meet tennis legend Billie Jean King.
My best friend from childhood joined me for this amazing experience, and while I’ve long been a fan of Starwood Hotels & Resorts, I’m now a fan of pro tennis, too.
Starwood Preferred Guest and its American Express Card
In the last few years, I’ve had a chance to stay at several Starwood Hotels & Resorts properties, which include Four Points by Sheraton, Westin, W Hotels and St. Regis, and would be happy to stay at more in the future; they represent a wide range of budgets and styles while all providing friendly service and comfy beds. I’m not personally a cardholder of the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card by American Express, but if you’re a member of Starwood Preferred Guest, Starwood’s loyalty program, I feel that signing up for the card would make a lot of sense.
Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) uses a currency called Starpoints, which can be redeemed for free nights in standard rooms at over 1,000 global properties as well as free flights on 32 different Starwood airline partners – all with no blackout dates. The SPG Amex’s present sign-up bonus earns you 30,000 Starpoints, and when using the card, SPG members earn up to five Starpoints for every dollar spent at Starwood properties and one Starpoint for every dollar spent on everything else.
The SPG American Express Suite at the US Open
One of the best perks of the card, though, is access to exclusive cardmember events called SPG Moments, which range from private dinners at Michelin-starred restaurants to great seats at plays followed by special Q & A sessions, to backstage access at concerts and VIP tickets to food and cultural festivals. Most of these events would provide exciting, memorable travel experiences for significant others and friends – which I can certainly get behind.
I was recently treated to one of these exclusive experiences: two lower-promenade seats (normally $110 apiece) at a US Open night match and access to a dedicated SPG cardmember hospitality suite on the grounds of the Arthur Ashe Stadium. It had been far too long since I’d seen my best childhood girlfriend, Andrea, who lives about 3,000 miles east of me and an hour north of New York City, so I happily invited her as my guest. We donned our version of tennis whites and had ourselves a fabulous time.
Once we found the SPG hospitality suite (which is right by the VIP ticket-holder entrance…and not halfway hell and gone across the stadium compound, as some US Open staff may think), we enjoyed a cocktail reception, tasty buffet dinner, and a meet-and-greet with tennis star Billie Jean King! As children of the 1970s – when King was at the height of her competitive fame – Andrea and I were pretty much thrilled to pieces just to be in the same room with her. This was even better than that time we snuck into a first-run screening of The Breakfast Club and got away with it.
Billie Jean was interviewed by ESPN commentator and former doubles champion Murphy Jensen, and it was sweet to hear King say she can still hardly believe that the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center (found on the stadium grounds and open to the public) is named after her. Following her talk, she invited all the guests to come say hello to her and get her autograph on some tennis balls, and we found her funny, twinkly and delightful. (Also, well done with those cool purple glasses, Billie Jean.)
Men’s Quarterfinals at the 2014 US Open
The night match between America’s Swiss-born star, Roger Federer, and France’s lanky, dramatic and absurdly talented Gaël Monfils was incredibly exciting. As someone who’d never been to a live tennis match of any kind, this was not unlike going to the Super Bowl for my first football game. Arthur Ashe Stadium is the world’s largest tennis venue, and most of its 25,000 seats were filled for this historic match between these two dynamic, top-ranked players.
As the three-hour epic unfurled, I was lucky to be seated next to my friend and colleague, Adam, who was kind to explain how the game is played. From ace to slam, Andrea and I were mesmerized by the heated action between Federer and Monfils down on the court – just like everyone else around us, including celebrities like Hugh Jackman, Gwen Stefani and Anna Wintour. If you want to get a sense of the crowd’s pin-drop quiet and rapt focus, just imagine a really tense library study hall right before midterms.
Repeatedly, Monfils displayed an uncanny ability to slide the width of the court in a leggy instant, and Federer’s energy rarely waned as he twirled his racket and prepared his next calculated move. It was touch and go for several sets, but when Federer finally scored the winning point just shy of midnight, the crowd erupted in a cheering roar. I was only surprised that we all didn’t storm the clay to hold Roger aloft like a human version of the Stanley Cup.
Civilized game, that tennis.
The Westin New York Grand Central
The good people at SPG Amex arranged for me and Andrea to stay in Midtown Manhattan at The Westin New York Grand Central, a huge conference hotel that features some beautiful, newly renovated rooms (which you should be sure to request), sweeping Times Square and Hudson River views, and a lauded steakhouse, but no spa or swimming pool and a pretty sedate bar scene. Its Times Square location makes it ideal for a weekend of theatre-going or citywide sightseeing, but if you’re looking for a little more excitement and/or romance, the nearby W New York Times Square would be just the ticket.
Getting to the US Open and Back Again
Staying in Midtown/Times Square also makes it easy to get to the US Open via the subway. A couple of my friends who’d previously attended the Open advised us against taking a cab or an Über to the Arthur Ashe Stadium in Flushing, Queens, as rush hour traffic out that way is notoriously slow.
Instead, we walked across the street from the hotel to the Time Square-42nd Street station and took the 7 train to the Mets Shea Stadium/Willets Point Station. The trip featured a blissfully air-conditioned train, took about 45 minutes door-to-door, and dropped us right beside a boardwalk that, within a three-minute walk, leads straight to the stadium complex. At the evening’s end, we joined a peaceful herd of subway-goers for the shuffle back to the train, and made the return trip back to Midtown without any fanfare. Our entire roundtrip journey cost us each less than $1o.
Attending the US Open, visiting the SPG American Express suite and meeting Billie Jean King are experiences I’ll never forget – and fingers crossed that I’ll get to attend the Women’s Quarterfinals someday, with Andrea. With so much focus on “love,” venturing to the US Open seems like a great opportunity for us to create a new tradition.
For this US Open event, the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card by American Express
provided me with free tickets and hospitality suite access,
my flights to and from Los Angeles, and two nights at the Westin New York Grand Central.
However, all opinions and observations presented here are my own.