How my Amex scored me a last-minute dinner reservation on the busiest night of the year
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Like peanut butter and jelly, Global Entry and TSA PreCheck, caviar and first class, some things just make sense together.
As for me? Those two things are credit cards and restaurants — specifically, hard-to-get-into restaurants. I love scoping out the best restaurants in town as much as I love planning my next trip. That's why the Amex Global Dining Collection is one of my favorite perks.
For those of you who are unfamiliar, it's a collection of restaurants around the world that partner with Amex to offer cardholders premium dining experiences at some of the top spots in town. Think: Special menu items, free drinks and, perhaps best of all, prime dining reservations. Yes, even tables at restaurants that are otherwise fully booked online.
Naturally, we decided to put it to the test. And what better way to do so than on Valentine's Day, one of the most popular nights of the year for dining out in New York City? Would Amex really be able to get a table for two at the last minute?
Putting the Amex dining collection to the test
To do so, we came up with a strategy. First, we made a spreadsheet of every one of the 43 restaurants in New York City listed in the Global Collection (interestingly, Amex only says there are 25 — but we did the math and found more). Then, we checked availability during prime dining time — between 7:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m on Friday, Valentine's Day evening.
Even on a normal Friday night in New York City, it can be difficult to get a dinner reservation at one of the city's top spots. Booking at the last minute usually means you're stuck with a really inconvenient time, or you're rolling the dice as a walk in.
Two days before Valentine's Day, dinner availability was predictably scarce. Restaurants with some open tables typically only had reservations very early or extremely late in the evening (read: way past my bed time).
Since we really wanted to put the Amex perk to the test, I called and asked if there were any reservations at restaurants that are nearly impossible to get into on a good day — Carbone, Eleven Madison Park, Daniel, Blue Hill. Carbone, for an example, opens their books at midnight 30 days out, and reservations fill up in seconds. Seriously. By 12:01 a.m. on any given day, reservations are typically fully booked for a month.
One very helpful and friendly agent, Katie, explained these restaurants would be pretty difficult to get into for Valentine's Day dinner, but she would do her best to help. She also requested that, if I was comfortable, I change my Resy password so Amex could have access to my account and make reservations on my behalf. Amex acquired Resy back in May, so this seems like another step toward integrating the two.
Katie then explained the requested restaurants' cancellation policies. Most of them were pretty reasonable: 24 hours to cancel, otherwise you'd have to pay a $50 per person fee. The most egregious, though, was Eleven Madison Park. The reservation was nonrefundable, and I would have had to forfeit $600 if I canceled. Ouch.
She said she'd look into the handful of restaurants I requested and email back about availability.
Unfortunately, she wasn't able to find any openings on my original lofty list. They did, though, email me a few other venues to look into, although they weren't part of the Global Dining Collection. They also noticed it was my birthday, and included this sweet message:
"Enjoy your Valentine's Day dinner, and please share any feedback with us. It was truly a delight to have spoken with you today. We wish you a very happy birthday!"
I called back the next day (t-minus one day until Valentine's Day!), and a new agent said he would look through the system to see what was available within the 7- 8 p.m. window I'd requested.
Lo and behold, there was a 7:45 p.m. reservation at the Lobster Club, a swanky Japanese spot in Midtown — from the same food group as Carbone, Sadelle's and Parm — that, online, had only shown open tables at 5 p.m. and 5:15 p.m. We happily took the 7:45 p.m. slot.
So, while there are limitations to the magic strings Amex can pull, it might be useful to use this strategy next time you're making dinner reservations — and let the agent work backwards to see what's available on their end. If your plans are flexible, it can really pay off.
Related: The 29 best restaurants in NYC
The main event
Overall, the food at the Lobster Club was really tasty, and I liked the decor at the restaurant. But it was definitely on the lavish side; $30 for a toro roll isn't exactly a low-key dinner.
We were seated in a separate room aside from the main dining room. It definitely felt more like a more exclusive table due to the added privacy element.
The service was excellent, too. Our waiter was warm and courteous, while drinks were promptly refilled and napkins refreshed.
The highlight of dinner was this pina colada kakigori, a Japanese specialty. It was shaved ice with a light frosting on top; I never had anything like it.
While we didn't get a special menu or a free drink, the waiter made it a point to ask if we would like to see the "Lobster Room," a private dining space home to two Picasso paintings.
It seemed not every guest was asked if they would like to see it, so it definitely gave off a VIP feel. In fact, our waiter mentioned that the restaurant boasts other artworks as well, including pieces by Andy Warhol and Jackson Pollock.
While getting a sort of behind-the-scenes look at the museum-esque restaurant was a nice touch, we were definitely hoping for some free drinks or a special menu. But Amex really came through since they were able to secure a table at a nearly fully-booked restaurant on one of the busiest nights of the year.
And that's really the beauty of the Global Dining Collection. You never know what the special touch or access will be, but it seems like the odds are high that there will be something.
Of course, no matter where you end up dining — within this collection or otherwise — you’ll want to pay with a card that earns you bonus points on dining. My personal favorite is the American Express® Gold Card, since you’ll earn 4x valuable Membership Rewards points restaurants . The card is currently offering a welcome bonus of 60,000 Membership Rewards points after you spend $4,000 in purchases in the first six months of account opening. Based on our latest valuations, that bonus is worth $1,200. You'll also earn up to $120 in annual dining statement credits, you'll be pleased to know there are no foreign transaction fees (see rates and fees).
Access to the Global Dining Collection is a great perk from Amex, and one you should definitely take advantage of if you have a qualifying credit card: The Platinum Card® from American Express, American Express Centurion Card, The Business Platinum Card® from American Express and the Business Centurion Card from American Express all provide access to the Global Dining Collection.
One of those cards just might save the day if you ever drop the ball on planning an important date night. With the Amex Global Dining Collection, it's like having elite status at a restaurant — does it get much better than that?
For rates and fees of the Amex Gold Card, please click here.