When it comes down to it, though, your room is just a hotel room. It has the same two beds, bathroom, toiletries and maid service as the one down the road. The specially negotiated Symposium rate for a double room at the Omni in Austin was over twice the standard Internet-booking rate for the Best Western which we would have been able to see out of our eleventh-floor window if there hadn't been another building blocking the view. Not only that, but the Omni rate doesn't include breakfast; and you only get a refrigerator in your room if you phone to ask for one and agree to have $25 added to your bill. So you can understand why we moved down the road as soon as the Symposium was over. Although they don't offer room service or have a large array of guest facilities downstairs, your room is just the same, and does include a refrigerator. If you're in need of food, there's a Subway and a passable Vietnamese/Chinese restaurant literally next door (they share the same parking lot), and for breakfast there's the usual selection of cereals, muffins, bagels and toast. When we made the booking, the information on the web site suggested that to get on the Internet we would have to make use of the dataport on the phone; in fact it turns out they have Wi-Fi access in all rooms (just like the Omni, although with a different set of quirks in their access control system).
The Best Western in Houston was a bit more expensive for our second stay (possibly as we arrived on Easter Sunday, though it might just be that I booked late), but had started out the same price as in Austin. The rooms here include a microwave oven as well as a refrigerator, and for breakfast as well as yoghurt, cereals, muffins and toast you get scrambled egg and sausages and there are cups of batter ready to pour into the waffle maker. Room service on this occasion was provided by Papa John's pizza company. Not all rooms have Wi-Fi access, but all rooms do have wired Internet and there are wireless hotspots in the lobby and the business centre. In fact the signal from those did reach all the rooms we stayed in, though in the first one you had to go to the bathroom to get a strong enough signal. Rather symmetrically, having stayed in room 103 the first time, we were given keys to room 301 on our second stay.
So there you have it — luxury at half the price. My only quibble is that the receptionist at Houston (the same one both times) claimed my room rate didn't entitle me to GCCI points. The web site seems to indicate she was wrong, so I'll fill in the missing points credit form and see what happens.
We did more or less the same thing last year. The Symposium rate had been $90 (rather less than this year's), which the hotel had the cheek to tell me was no longer available when I booked, despite what they had previously told the Symposium organisers. It did get fixed in the end, but while I was surfing the web during the conference I discovered that they were offering this rate to anyone who mentioned their web site when booking. We were distinctly unimpressed by the room; it looked like it hadn't been furnished for a couple of decades, one of the quilt covers had a rather large cigarette burn on it, and the shower had the labels on two of the knobs transposed, which made it somewhat confusing to use. When we discovered how to turn it on, it was no more than a dribble which changed temperature every time anyone in the hotel turned on a tap. The Best Western, again just down the road, was $80 and had a proper shower and a refrigerator. Even though we had to share the car park with the carpets which they were stripping out of the upper rooms it was better value for money.