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Today, TPG Senior Points & Miles Correspondent Jason Steele explains how you can maximize your next hotel experience by using this relatively unknown American Express hotel program.
One of the less talked-about Amex benefits is The Hotel Collection, which offers perks such as room upgrades and hotel credits when you book a room through Amex Travel. Much like the Visa Signature Luxury Hotel Collection, this program can both save you money and improve your experience during your next hotel stay.
In this post I want to take a closer look at The Hotel Collection, and compare it to the more widely known Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts program in order to help readers understand what to expect and how to take full advantage of the benefits.
How The Hotel Collection Works
The Hotel Collection benefits are offered to holders of the following Amex cards:
- American Express Gold Card (and the business version)
- Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express
- Business Gold Rewards Card
- The Platinum Card from American Express
- The Enhanced Business Platinum Card from American Express OPEN
Cardholders with access to The Hotel Collection can receive a room upgrade at check-in (if available), and a $75 hotel credit to spend on qualifying dining, spa and resort activities. You may also be eligible for lower rates depending on what Amex has negotiated with the property in question.
Rooms must be booked in an eligible hotel in the program either through American Express Travel Services online or by phone at 800-297-8747. There is a minimum stay requirement of two nights, but you cannot book consecutive stays within 24 hours to qualify for this benefit again. However, this benefit is available for up to three rooms booked at one time, so if you’re traveling with family or in a group, you can receive up to $225 in credits per stay. Finally, the $75 credit excludes charges for taxes, gratuities, fees and the cost of the room.
Properties in The Hotel Collection
The Amex Hotel Collection includes a range of both popular brands and smaller boutique properties. Here are some examples.
I picked a date this fall and performed a search for properties available in New York City, which turned up eight options ranging from the New York Hilton Midtown at $319 per night to the Conrad New York at $529 per night. Other options included the Sofitel New York ($444), the Intercontinental Times Square ($445), the Omni Berkshire Place ($469), Michelangelo Hotel ($470), Smyth Tribeca ($474) and The New York Palace Hotel ($519).
Sadly, Amex chooses to display a base rate that excludes all sorts of taxes and fees. While airlines are prohibited by DOT regulations from displaying one price and charging another, this practice is distressingly common in the hotel industry. For example, the New York Hilton Midtown is quoted at $319 per night, but actually costs $370 a night after all taxes and fees are included. Nevertheless, I was quoted the exact same price by Hilton’s website, so it appears that The Hotel Collection is offering the best available price, at least in this case.
Often you won’t earn hotel points from your stay when you book through a third party such as American Express Travel Services. However, this is a small price to pay in exchange for the $75 credit, since the 6,400 or so Hilton HHonors base points you would earn (for a two-night stay) are only worth $32 according to TPG’s June valuations. Furthermore, many of the featured hotels don’t participate in a loyalty program, so there’s no tradeoff to consider in that case.
On the other end of the price spectrum is Phoenix in the summer, which has often stood out for having some of the lowest prices for hotels featured by these types of programs.
When searching for a weekend in July, I found 10 properties ranging from the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess at $179 per night to the Pointe Hilton Tapatio Cliffs Resort at just $109. Interestingly, the Pointe Hilton Tapatio Cliffs Resort shows a “Grand Total” of $149 per night after taxes, with no mention of the $24 resort fee imposed when booking the same rate on Hilton’s website. Certainly if I’m quoted a price of $149 with no mention of resort fees, I wouldn’t expect to pay any more than that for my stay.
I looked at a weekend in Tokyo this fall, and found four properties ranging from the Hilton Tokyo Hotel at $267 per night to The Capitol Hotel Tokyu at about $346. The other properties listed were the Royal Park Hotel for $286 and the Intercontinental The Strings at $342.
Comparing to American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts
Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts offers more valuable benefits, but is only available to Amex Platinum and Centurion cardholders. Benefits include the following:
- Noon check-in, when available
- Room upgrades, when available
- Daily breakfast for two
- Free in-room Wifi
- Guaranteed 4pm late checkout
- A special amenity that varies by property
While I expected to find significant overlap in the properties offered by The Hotel Collection and the Fine Hotels & Resorts program, I actually found none. A comparison of the two programs reveals that each has its strengths and weaknesses.
In general, Fine Hotels & Resorts has more properties, but they tend to be far more expensive. For example, there were 22 different hotels in the Fine Hotels & Resorts program in New York, but none cost less than $500 a night, which is a pretty steep price point for most people (and even for New York).
The lowest price offered in Tokyo was at the Imperial Tokyo for $403 per night, which rocketed up to $482 per night after taxes and service fees. However, I did find some fantastic values in Phoenix, as expected. The Arizona Biltmore Waldorf Astoria Resort was only $139 per night, while the Ritz-Carlton Phoenix was only $159 per night.
While the FHR benefits are superior, you’re looking at a much more expensive class of hotels, which may be outside the budget of many travelers (or their company’s expense accounts). Thus, the real benefit of The Hotel Collection appears to be access to high-end (rather than ultra-high end) hotels. One other thing I noticed is that FHR doesn’t show hotel prices until you click through to each one, whereas The Hotel Collection allows you to see prices earlier in the search process. I suppose at some of these price points, if you have to ask, then you probably can’t afford it!
How to Best Utilize The Hotel Collection Benefit
Food, beverage and other services at hotels can be very expensive, so the $75 credit is very easy to use. I think the real sweet spot of this program is for business travelers who are already being reimbursed for their room and meals. For these hotel guests, the $75 credit can be put toward drinks, pay-per-view movies and spa services that would be almost certainly be disallowed by company expense policies. I can also see some leisure travelers utilizing this benefit, especially when they find great deals (such as those currently available at Arizona resorts).
The benefits of the Fine Hotels & Resorts program — such as early check-in, late checkout and free breakfast — seem geared toward leisure travelers, albeit those who can afford the more expensive properties.
What’s interesting is that both programs are offered to Platinum cardholders, which indicates how The Hotel Collection and Fine Hotels & Resorts programs each offer distinct benefits. In short, The Hotel Collection is a valuable perk of the Amex Gold and Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express cards, and not just a watered-down version of FHR.
Have you booked stays through The Hotels Collection? Please share your experiences in the comments below. With some great bonus categories and an annual fee that’s waived for the first year, the American Express Premier Rewards Gold Card has a lot going for it. If you don’t have PRG, now’s as good a time as any to add it to your wallet, as Amex added some great new benefits several months back.
With some great bonus categories and an annual fee that’s waived for the first year, the American Express Premier Rewards Gold Card has a lot going for it. If you don’t have PRG, now’s as good a time as any to add it to your wallet, as Amex added some great new benefits several months back.