Update: The offer mentioned below for the Platinum Card from American Express has expired. View the current offer here.
When it comes to travel, I’m usually fixated on the points angle (I mean, I am TPG!) and how many I am earning or redeeming to have a specific experience. However, the whole point of points, in my opinion, is about reaping as much value out of your experience as possible. Points and elite status are great ways to do that since they can often earn you back a ton of value in future award night stays or confer perks like room upgrades and VIP treatment.
However, when it comes to getting more value from a hotel stay, hotel loyalty programs are not the only game in town competing for your business. There are other programs and portals like Fine Hotels and Resorts program for American Express Platinum and Business Platinum cardholders which throw in a bunch of added perks and benefits, so that even though you most likely won’t earn hotel points or elite status stay credits (since most loyalty programs make you book directly through their site or corporate travel portals to get points), you can still get lot of extra value and perks out of your booking. Plus, there have been many reports of people still getting points and elite status benefits when booking through FHR, so it is possible to double dip, though I wouldn’t bank on it.
Hotels that participate in this program offer cardholders perks that can be more valuable than your hotel elite status can provide- like room upgrades, free night offers, complimentary breakfast, early check-ins and guaranteed 4pm check-outs, resort credits for expenses like restaurants or spa treatments, and sometimes even free WiFi. Room rates are typically about the same as those being offered on the hotel’s website so the perks may not cost you anything beyond the room rate (and taxes, of course).
Here are a couple examples where it might make sense to book a hotel stay through Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts rather than through a hotel loyalty program. Note: I placed a dollar value on things like upgrades and spa credit, but clearly if you don’t value those perks, these calculations will be different for you.
The St. Regis Punta Mita is a SPG Category 6 hotel that requires 20,000 to 25,000 Starpoints for a free night. Rates in early February start at $440 a night for a Deluxe Room. With Amex’s Fine Hotels and Resorts program you would get a room upgrade to a junior suite if available (worth about $60 a day), noon check-in, daily continental breakfast for two (about $47 a day) and 4pm guaranteed late check-out. The hotel is also throwing in a $100 spa credit per stay and a fourth night free.
The total you would spend on the room for a four-night stay booking through Amex is $1,702.80 including taxes (remember the fourth night is free.) And you would get about $528 more in value with all those perks added in.
If you were to book through Starwood (where the rate was also $440 per night), a normal SPG Preferred member would earn 3,406 Starpoints ; 5,109 for SPG Gold (and remember, you get automatic SPG Gold status just for having the Amex Platinum card) and 50-night Platinum members, and as a 75-night Platinum member, I’d earn 6,812 points myself. I could earn an additional 3,406 points for putting the entire bill on my Starwood Amex or my SPG Business Amex, but they charge foreign transaction fees, so I’d probably put it on my Sapphire Preferred to earn the 2x points on travel without foreign transaction fees instead. Starwood also has a 250-point amenity for Golds and a 500-point amenity option for Platinum elite members, which also sweetens the deal, though you can only pick the points or free breakfast (Platinums) or Internet (Golds) so take that into consideration when calculating value.
With my SPG 75 night Platinum status, I’d also be high up the chain for a suite upgrade, and I could invoke the YOUR24 to check-in at 9am and still get the 4pm late checkout (on availability). I’d also get my choice of 500 bonus Starpoints, continental breakfast for the entire stay, or a local gift, as well as free internet. I wouldn’t, however, get the $100 spa credit.
Here, it would be a bit of a wash for me since I earn so many points and get value-added perks from my high-tier elite status. Though the spa credit would be nice, since I value SPG points at about 2.5 cents each, those 6,812 I’d earn would be worth about $170 to me and I could put them towards a future high-value Cash & Points stay.
Over at the Arizona Biltmore, a member of Hilton’s Waldorf-Astoria collection, rooms in February start at $259 a night. With FHR, you’d get all of the standard perks – room upgrade ($100 a day), early check-in and check-out, daily continental breakfast for two ($26 a day) along with a $100 food and beverage credit per stay.
So in total, for a four-night stay at the Biltmore, you would pay $1,412.34 including taxes and a $28 per day resort fee. Your benefits added up would be about $400 for the room upgrade, $104 for the daily breakfast and $100 for the food and beverage credit for a total of $604. If it weren’t for those pesky taxes and the resort fee, you’d be getting a 50% bonus on the cost of your room.
If you were to book this hotel through Hilton, you’d earn 10 base HHonors points per $1, plus with their Double Dipping, you could earn either 5 more HHonors points for the Points + Points option, 500 airline miles with the Points + Fixed Miles option, or 1 airline mile per $1 you spend with the Points + Variable Miles option.
So a normal HHonors member would earn 14,123 base points, a Silver member would earn 16,242 points, a Gold member would earn 17,654 base points, and a Diamond member would earn 21,185 base points plus either 7,062 additional HHonors points, 500 miles, or 1,412 miles depending on their Double Dip choice.
Let’s say you were just a normal Hilton HHonors member who chose Points + Points, you’d earn 21,185 points from your stay – not quite the 25,000 you’d need for an award night at a Category 3 property like the DoubleTree Suites by Hilton at the Nashville Airport where rooms go for around $120 per night. You’re almost making up that value with the $100 food and beverage credit alone through Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts.
And since it’s the end of 2012, hotel promos are winding down and there don’t seem to be many enticing points bonuses out there. Hopefully you’ve got your elite status stays wrapped up (or are close) by now, so you could have some fun trying out some non-points properties for your holiday vacations.
At The Breakers Palm Beach, an iconic winter getaway spot favored amongst East Coasters and their families (and which is not currently affiliated with any loyalty program), Fine Hotels and Resorts is offering the following:
+ Room upgrade when available (about $100)
+ Noon check-in when available
+ Daily continental breakfast for two ($44 value for each day)
+ Guaranteed 4pm late check-out
+ $100 resort credit to be used during your stay
The hotel is also offering a complimentary fourth night free when you book three nights. Considering that room rates are about $600 a night, that’s a big load of change to save. A deluxe room king is going for $580 a night the first week in February – high season for Palm Beach. The next room category is a deluxe partial ocean view room for $620. So let’s say you actually book the $550 room and get lucky and get upgraded to the $620 room, with the fourth night free, and all the other perks, you’re getting a value added of $1,176 over the course of your stay:
+$70 per day for the upgraded room
+1 free night in the $620 room
+$100 resort credit
+$176 for four days breakfast
The program is in place at over 700 hotels all over the world, so there’s a good chance there will be a participating hotel in a city or destination you may be visiting.
If you’ve already scored some of this year’s hotel bonuses and are over the threshold to meet your elite status goal, booking through Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts can be a great way to explore some non-points properties while still enjoying a ton of extra perks that will add value to your stay.
FHR may not make sense if you have top tier status and need stay credits to re-qualify for elite status, but it can really enhance the experience for those with low or no elite status and who want to be recognized with perks.
I’ll have more on using the Fine Hotels and Resorts program later this week and when I talk about my recent Vegas hotel stays and the incredible value I got out booking through FHR.
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