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The American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts (FHR) program provides elite-like benefits at over 1,000 extraordinary properties worldwide. But, only American Express card members with a Platinum or Centurion-branded charge card, including The Platinum Card® from American Express and The Business Platinum® Card from American Express, can utilize the FHR program.
To be honest, I underestimated the value of the FHR program until I had my first FHR stay at the Park Hyatt Beijing this past fall. And even TPG Editor-at-Large Zach Honig was blown away by his FHR experience at the Amanjena resort in Marrakech, Morocco. Here’s what you need to know about American Express’ Fine Hotels & Resorts program.
Booking through Amex FHR oftentimes isn’t the cheapest option — and you’ll miss out on the up to 24% return you could get booking through Hotels.com/Venture with your Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card or Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card — but the perks you’ll receive through booking through Amex FHR may make up for any price difference.
Here are the perks you’ll receive with every FHR booking, regardless of the length of your stay:
- Room upgrade upon arrival, when available
- Hit or miss, since some room types are excluded from upgrades and some hotels may simply give you a room with a better view
- Daily breakfast for two people
- Guaranteed 4pm late checkout
- Noon check-in, when available
- Complimentary Wi-Fi
- Unique property amenity
- The amenity should be valued at $100 or more and usually consists of a property credit, dining credit, spa credit, private airport transfer or similar amenity
In addition to these perks, FHR properties sometimes have various special offers like a third night free, fourth night free or exceptionally large property credits.
How to Book
You can book FHR stays through the Platinum Travel Service, Business Platinum Travel Service, Centurion Travel Service, americanexpress.com/fhr, any American Express Travel office or the agency services desk.
Although only a subset of properties are bookable through americanexpress.com/fhr, you’ll want to book online if possible. This is because only FHR prepaid stays booked online will earn 5 Amex Membership Rewards points per dollar spent. Bookings made over the phone and bookings that aren’t prepaid will only earn 1 point per dollar spent.
If you want to earn 5x on a prepaid booking made online, you must use your eligible Platinum or Centurion-branded charge card to pay for the reservation. Otherwise, you can use any of your Membership Rewards program-enrolled American Express cards to pay.
You can also use Membership Rewards Pay With Points for prepaid FHR bookings, but you’ll only get a value of 1 cent each for your points. Since you can get more value from your points — TPG’s valuations value Membership Rewards points at 2 cents each — most travelers will be better off instead earning 5x points on prepaid bookings.
Will I Earn Hotel Loyalty Points and Benefits?
When you book FHR stays with Amex and provide your hotel loyalty number, you will generally receive hotel loyalty points and benefits. Indeed, Marriott properties are the only hotels where readers have reported not receiving loyalty points and benefits on some FHR stays. Some readers have reported their loyalty number was repeatedly dropped from their reservation, while others report that Marriott has refused to provide points because the booking showed up as an Expedia booking.
To see whether hotels are likely to give you hotel loyalty points and benefits, I made refundable test bookings at two Hyatt, Hilton and Marriott brands under the assumption that if the stays show up when I log in, I’d get loyalty points and benefits. So, did the stays show up when I logged in?
Hyatt — Yes. My Park Hyatt Beijing stay in October earned hotel loyalty points, and future test bookings are currently showing up when I log in to my Hyatt account. When I view the reservation details on Hyatt’s website, the rate shows as “Amex Fhr” and there’s a travel adviser ID listed. For one booking, the rate is shown while for the other, the rate is listed as “confidential.”
Hilton — Yes. Future test bookings are currently showing up when I log in to my Hilton account. When I view the reservation details on Hilton’s website, the rate shows as “Expedia Online FHR, Amex FHR Plat Retail” and there is a travel agent number listed. For both test bookings, the rate is visible.
Marriott — No. Future test bookings at properties that were historically Marriott Rewards properties aren’t currently showing up with I log in to my Marriott Bonvoy account.
Based on these reports, I’d expect to receive hotel loyalty points and benefits during FHR stays at Hyatt and Hilton. But, based on reader reports and my test bookings not appearing in my account, I wouldn’t expect to receive hotel loyalty points and benefits on FHR bookings at Marriott — although you may be able to in some cases. We didn’t test smaller loyalty programs and larger loyalty programs that don’t have many FHR properties.
Is FHR Competitive?
Now you understand the benefits of booking through FHR. So, let’s consider how the price of booking through FHR compares to booking direct and booking through Hotels.com/Venture for a few sample properties. For each of the properties below, the price is for the cheapest refundable option currently bookable May 17-19, 2019, for two people including taxes and fees.
|New York EDITION (New York City, USA)||$2,141||$2,100||$2,141|
|Park Hyatt Beijing (Beijing, China)||$544||$491||$544|
The Palazzo at The Venetian (Las Vegas, USA)
|The Savoy London (London, England)||$1,474||$1,580||$1,474|
|The Langham Sydney (Sydney, Australia)||$786||$698||Not available|
As can be seen from this limited set of examples, FHR rates are usually not the cheapest. Indeed, for most of these options, booking through Hotels.com/Venture with an eligible Capital One Venture card looks appealing when you consider the cost and the 24% return. But you usually won’t get any hotel loyalty earning or benefits when booking through Hotels.com — and you’ll likely receive better service on-site when booking direct or through FHR.
But booking cost isn’t everything. The elite-like benefits provided on FHR stays, including daily breakfast for two, guaranteed 4pm checkout and an amenity worth at least $100, have tangible value. Plus, you’ll get a 10% return via the Amex Membership Rewards points you’ll earn on prepaid FHR bookings made online plus loyalty points from most hotel brands.
Considering these benefits and earnings, booking through FHR will be the best choice on some bookings. And, if you snag a FHR property that is offering a third, fourth or fifth night free, booking through FHR might end up being significantly cheaper than booking direct or through Hotels.com/Venture.
When & Where to Use FHR
Despite not always offering the lowest rates, FHR can still be an incredibly compelling booking option. However, there are a few scenarios where this program really outshines the competition:
- Short stays: One of the biggest selling points of FHR is the unique property amenity, which is often times a property credit valid for food, drink or spa treatments. You receive an amenity worth at least $100 no matter how long your stay is, so the shorter your stay the better a value this represents. $100 back on a $300 stay is a whopping 33% rebate, while it’s only 10% back if your longer stay costs $1,000 instead. It might be worth going out of your way to book FHR hotels for only one night, at the beginning or end of your trip, to squeeze the most value out of this credit.
- Boutique/non-chain hotels: We already mentioned that it’s better to pay cash for FHR stays instead of redeeming your Membership Rewards points at a low rate of 1 cent each, but this choice is even easier if you’re staying at a boutique hotel where you can’t redeem your points. I’ve always wanted to stay at DC’s historic Watergate Hotel, which has attractive rates through FHR despite not being affiliated with any of the major hotel chains.
- Travelers without elite status: With the exception of the onsite property credit, most of the benefits of FHR are also offered to those with hotel elite status. This means that FHR becomes an even better value if a) you don’t have any hotel elite status or b) you’re staying at a different chain than the one you have status with. At some properties the free breakfast alone is enough to offset any difference in the room rates.
Beyond the strategies above, you can maximize your FHR bookings even further by targeting hotels that offer better “property amenities” (i.e. more than the standard $100 credit) or those that offer a third or fourth night free. For example, the Peninsula Shanghai offers a complimentary dinner for two (excluding alcohol) which can easily net you more than $100 in value.
The iconic Burj Al Arab in Dubai offers a complimentary 50 minute massage for two people as its welcome amenity, while other properties might offer a $125 or $150 credit instead of the required $100 minimum.
Of course at many of these properties a free night is the most valuable amenity you can receive. Here are a few hotels offering free third or fourth nights, but this is by no means an exhaustive list:
- Raffles Singapore (4th night free)
- Mandarin Oriental Singapore (4th night free)
- Shangri-La Paris (3rd night free)
- Mandarin Oriental Paris (4th night free)
- The Peninsula Chicago (3rd night free)
- Four Seasons Boston (4th night free)
If you’re already planning to stay at a luxury hotel, booking through Amex’s FHR program provides elite-like benefits — sometimes at little to no extra cost. You might even save money with the third, fourth or fifth night free offers available at some FHR properties. But, you don’t normally book through FHR for cost savings — you book for the benefits that come with FHR bookings.
Indeed, the benefits that come with a FHR booking can sometimes make paying a bit more for the stay worthwhile even for budget-conscious travelers — especially if you need early check-in or late checkout and don’t have elite status that will provide those benefits.
My suggestion: If you have an eligible Platinum or Centurion-branded charge card, add Amex FHR to your list of things to consider when booking hotel stays. Oftentimes you won’t find a property or price point that works, but sometimes you’ll uncover an excellent property that fits your needs.
Featured image of the Observatory Bar at The Langham Sydney by Eric Rosen/The Points Guy.
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