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As I’ve discussed often in the past, the Fine Hotels and Resorts program from American Express is an online booking portal for hotels that comes as a cardholder perk for folks who have the Platinum and Business Platinum cards as well as the Mercedes-Benz Platinum and Centurion cards.
Hotels that participate in the FHR program offer cardholders perks and benefits such as room upgrades, noon check-in, guaranteed 4pm check-out, complimentary breakfast for two, free internet, and even third or fourth night free and resort credits for food and beverage or spa treatments. 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.
The one thing caveat that seems to hold a lot of people back from booking hotels through FHR, though, has been the fact that most of the major hotel chains prohibit their loyalty program members from earning points or elite credit for nights on stays booked through portals other than their own hotel sites. That’s true of online travel agencies (OTA’s) like Travelocity and Expedia, and at first glance it should be true of FHR as well since it is an online portal that actually uses Orbitz as its OTA for hotel searches per the terms & conditions of the program.
However, many readers over the past couple of years have reported getting points and elite credit for stays booked through FHR, so I decided to find out the answer once and for all. I called the customer service number on the back of my Mercedes-Benz Amex, asked for the hotel booking service and talked to an agent there about whether I would receive credit at a Hyatt or Starwood property for booking through FHR and she told me unequivocally that yes, I would. All she would have to do would be to include my membership number in the reservation as I booked it through her, or that I could book the reservation online and then call back and give an agent my membership information.
Just to verify, I called back and asked another agent the same question, though this time I asked about Ritz-Carlton (Marriott) and Hilton, and got the same answer. So although Fine Hotels & Resorts utilizes an OTA for the travel search, the hotel chains seem to consider the program as a traditional travel agent, which means you can earn points and elite stay credit for reservations booked through them.
That’s great news for a number of reasons – especially if you find rates on FHR that are similar to those being offered directly through your hotel chain. Instead of having to book through the hotel, you can book through FHR and take advantage of all those benefits and perks instead. That’s especially good for loyalty program members who might not have elite status, but who want to enjoy the benefits of it, which is pretty much what FHR provides (well, pretty comparable – the free internet is not be a standard benefit like it is with elite status with most chains now, and there are no points booking bonuses).
After all, the whole point of points is to reap as much value out of your experience as possible. Points and elite status are great ways to do so since they can often earn you back a ton of value in future award night stays or elite benefits, but since you are going to get those points on FHR stays anyway, you might as well enjoy the VIP status and value-added benefits of FHR bookings, even if you’re not a mid- or top-tier elite.
I’ve even been able to use a different credit card upon check-out, so if you book a Starwood stay, you can try to use your Starwood Amex to get two Starpoints per dollar spent instead of the 1 Membership Reward point per dollar when paying with the Platinum card.
To see a situation in which it might make sense to book through FHR instead of a hotel chain’s website, let’s say you wanted to take a long weekend on Kauai in September at the St. Regis Princeville. Booking through FHR, you could get a Mountain Garden King Room for $400 a night as well as the added benefits of a room upgrade based on availability to a Garden View King Terrace Room, which is $60 more expensive per day, early check-in and late check-out, daily breakfast for 2 (let’s say that’s about $60 based on prices at this hotel), and a $100 resort credit.
This hotel also features the fourth night free benefit, so for four nights, you’d be paying the equivalent of three for an estimated total of about $1,360 including taxes. With all the benefits, credits and savings, you’d be getting an additional value of up to about $1,050 with the room upgrade, free night, resort credit and breakfast factored in.
Starwood is offering the Mountain or Garden View rooms for $509 those same dates.
Though it looks like you’d be rolling the dice on the upgrade – elite status would really come into play here. Let’s say you did get a Garden View room, so that your nightly room rate was slightly over what FHR was able to quote you – you still don’t get a 4th night free here, and your benefits would depend on your elite status level, but would definitely not include a $100 resort credit. Your whole stay would cost $2,035 plus taxes (I’m estimating them at about $270) for a total of around $2,300 – literally $1,000 more than your FHR reservation.
The Question of Points
In terms of Starpoints, if you were to book through Starwood, a normal SPG Preferred member would earn 4,600 Starpoints; 6,900 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 8,200 points myself. I could earn an additional 4,600 points for putting the entire bill on my Starwood Amex or my SPG Business Amex as well, which is not an option when booking through FHR. 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 get the $100 credit though. I’d probably choose the free breakfast, so I’d come away with a total of 12,800 points myself.
If you booked through FHR, with your automatic Amex Platinum Starwood Gold status benefit, you’d earn at least 6,900 Starpoints (more if you’re a top-tier Platinum) and still get free breakfast and the resort credit, and you’d get free internet if you wanted that as your welcome amenity thanks to your Gold status. You’d get the early check-in and late check-out as well, though not with the YOUR24 flexibility unless you were a top-tier Platinum.
So if the hotel didn’t let you use your Starwood Amex, booking through FHR would net up to 6,900 fewer points – but you’d be enjoying all the same elite benefits you would get if booking directly through Starwood, plus the resort credit and free breakfast, and your stay would be nearly $1,000 less in this case with a guaranteed room type. In this case, it would be a no-brainer and I’d definitely book through FHR thanks to all the value-added benefits because even the extra 4,600 points I’d earn by using my SPG Amex are only worth about $115 to me (I value Starpoints at about 2.5 cents each), and the savings from FHR far outweigh that.
As with all things points-related, in order to make sure you’re getting the best deal and the most value from your stay, check out all your possible choices in detail, do the math for yourself, and decide which option suits your needs. However, now that it’s been confirmed that you earn points and stay credit for hotel reservations booked through American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts, I’m going to be booking more of my stays through it and enjoying a host of extra benefits in addition to those I already enjoy thanks to elite status with various chains.