Saving with the Hotel Collection and the Amex Gold Card

Jan 22, 2020

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One of the lesser-known American Express benefits is access to The Hotel Collection, which offers room upgrades and hotel credits for dining, spa and resort activities. To use this benefit, you just need an eligible card and to book your room through American Express Travel Services. This program can save you money and improve your experience during your next hotel stay.

The JW Marriott Marquis Miami, part of American Express
The JW Marriott Marquis Miami, part of American Express’s The Hotel Collection. (Photo courtesy of American Express)

In this post I’ll take a closer look at The Hotel Collection, and compare it to the better-known Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts (FHR) program to help you understand what to expect and how to take full advantage of the benefits.

In This Post

How The Hotel Collection Works

The Hotel Collection benefits are offered to holders of the following American Express cards:

Card holders with access to The Hotel Collection receive the following benefits (terms apply):

  • A room upgrade at check-in if available
  • Up to $100 hotel credit. You can use this credit to spend on eligible dining, spa and resort activities
  • Lower rates, depending on what Amex has negotiated with the property
  • 2x Membership Rewards points for Gold card holders on prepaid bookings
  • 5x Membership Rewards points for Platinum card holders on prepaid bookings
  • The ability to use Pay With Points on prepaid bookings
Enjoy perks at properties including The Strings by InterContinental Tokyo. Image courtesy of the hotel.

Rooms must be booked in an eligible hotel in the program either through American Express Travel Services online at amextravel.com or by phone at 800-297-2977.  You can also use the Platinum Travel Service, Business Platinum Travel Service, Centurion Travel Service phone numbers. There’s a minimum stay requirement of two nights, and you cannot book consecutive stays within 24 hours if you want to qualify for this benefit again.  However, the $100 credit excludes charges for taxes, gratuities, fees and the cost of the room.

Thankfully, those who’s have a card that’s part of the Membership Rewards program can pay for reservations with points, using a minimum of 5,000 points. However, you’ll only receive a very poor 0.7 cents in value per point redeemed, which is less than half of the 2.0 cents that TPG currently values these points at, according to TPG’s latest monthly valuations.  And since Platinum and Business Platinum cardholders will earn 5x points for prepaid reservations made through Amextravel.com, this is a case where it’s better to charge it and save your points for higher-value redemption options.

Some problems with The Hotel COLLECTION

Beware that Amex displays only the base rate that excludes taxes and fees. While airlines are prohibited by DOT regulations from displaying one price and charging another, this practice is common in the hotel industry.

For example, The James New York – SoHo hotel was initially displayed at $194/night, but actually costs 40% more at $272/night after all taxes and mandatory hotel fees are included. In fact, an Amex representative explained, and the website’s fine print confirmed, that the hotels could also add additional government taxes and fees as well as hotel-imposed fees that could only be known in advance by calling the hotel. For more information about this issue, read my post, Comparing Hotel Price Transparency Across Booking Sites.

Properties in The Hotel Collection

The Amex Hotel Collection includes a range of both popular brands and smaller boutique properties. Here are some examples:

This hotel costs more than $100 a night more than originally quoted, due to taxes and fees.
This hotel costs more than $100 a night more than originally quoted, due to taxes and fees.

New York

I picked a date this winter and performed a search for properties available in New York City, which turned up dozens of options ranging from The James New York – SoHo at $272/night to The William Vale at $540/night.

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 can be a small price to pay in exchange for the $100 credit, since the hotel points you would earn for a two-night stay would typically be worth far less. Furthermore, many of the featured hotels don’t participate in a loyalty program, so there’s no trade-off to consider in that case.

Phoenix

On the other end of the price spectrum is Phoenix in the summer, which stands out for having some of the lowest prices for hotels featured by these types of programs.

When searching for a weekend in July, I was surprised to find the Extended Stay America Phoenix – Chandler quoted at just $44 a night, which becomes $50/night when all of the initially disclosed taxes and fees are added in. On the other end of the spectrum, the Great Wolf Lodge Arizona offered a family suite, including waterpark access, for $404/night, which became $509 after taxes and fees.

Tokyo

I looked at a weekend in Tokyo this summer, and found the APA Hotel Nihombashi-Hamachoeki-Minami listed at $54 a night, which went to $66 a night including taxes and fees. The InterContinental Tokyo Bay was listed at $533 per night, which rose to $690 at the time of booking.

The Hotel Collection vs. Fine Hotels & Resorts

Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts (FHR) offers more valuable benefits, but is only available to Amex Platinum and Centurion card holders. Benefits include the following:

  • Noon check-in when available
  • Room upgrades when available
  • Daily breakfast for two
  • Free in-room Wi-Fi
  • Guaranteed 4:00 p.m. late checkout
  • A special amenity that varies by property, often a $100 hotel credit
  • Special rates, sometimes including a fourth night free

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.

The Ritz-Carlton New York, Central Park is part of the xxx. (Photo courtesy of the hotel)
The Ritz-Carlton New York, Central Park is part of the Fine Hotels & Resorts program. (Photo courtesy of the hotel)

In general, Fine Hotels & Resorts has more properties, but they tend to be far more expensive. For example, I looked at a stay next spring in New York City, and most of the properties in the Fine Hotels & Resorts program were more than twice as expensive as those in the Hotel Collection.

The FHR benefits are superior, especially the free breakfasts, early check-ins and late checkouts. But at the same time, 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.

How to Best Utilize The Hotel Collection Benefit

Food, beverage and other services at hotels can be very expensive, so the $100 credit can be 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 $100 credit can be put toward drinks, pay-per-view movies and spa services that would not be allowed by most company expense policies. I can also see some leisure travelers utilizing this benefit, especially when they find great deals like summer stays 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 and Centurion card holders, which indicates that 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 Business Gold Card. It’s not just a watered-down version of FHR.

Featured photo courtesy of The William Vale

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Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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