Understanding Virtuoso and American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts

I think both Virtuoso and American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts are among the most overlooked programs when it comes to adding additional benefits to your hotel stays at no additional cost. As some of you may recall I was temporarily a luxury travel agent with access to Virtuoso properties, though I had a bit too much on my plate and in the end wasn’t able to do it justice while keeping up with my other obligations. I don’t for a second regret having done it, though, since I learned a ton about the travel industry, and hopefully in turn I can use that to provide you guys with an unbiased opinion about the programs.

So what are Virtuoso and American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts? Basically they’re both booking channels through which you can get additional benefits for stays at select luxury hotels that belong to both groups while not paying more than the prevailing/flexible rate (it’s worth noting that you can’t get these benefits on points stays, corporate rates, discounted rates, or advance purchase rates). In some instances booking through Virtuoso or American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts is even cheaper than booking directly through the hotel (I specifically remember this being the case at a couple of InterContinental hotels in Europe), though that’s more the exception than the norm. The benefits typically include free breakfast, a room upgrade upon availability (typically one category), late check-out, and an added amenity that’s valued at about $100 (resort credit, spa credit, food and beverage credit, free lunch/dinner/afternoon tea, etc.).


View from the Ritz Carlton Hong Kong

The two programs are very similar, though there are a few distinctions that should help in your decision making process.

It’s worth noting that regardless of which program you book through, you can still earn points and elite credit if the hotel you’re staying at belongs to a loyalty program. For all practical purposes it’s like booking directly through the hotel. With that in mind, let me break down the basics:

 

How do you book through the programs?

American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts

American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts is open to all American Express Platinum and Centurion card members (in the interest of full disclosure I do receive a referral credit for anyone that applies through that link). While you don’t have to settle your bill with your Platinum/Centurion card, you do have to use an American Express branded card.

Virtuoso

Virtuoso hotels can be booked through any travel agency with a Virtuoso affiliation. Typically these are the top agencies since being a member isn’t cheap/easy. Many Virtuoso agents don’t charge service fees, so as a consumer you shouldn’t have any issue finding a Virtuoso agent willing to work with you.

 

How do you search rates and benefits?

American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts

If you’re a Platinum or Centurion card member you can go to this page to search for affiliated hotels. Once you log-in and select your preferred city or hotel, both the price and benefits will be displayed. Like I said earlier, in 90%+ of cases the rate will match the flexible/best available rate displayed on the hotel’s website directly.


Search page


Benefits page


Pricing page

Virtuoso

While Virtuoso won’t let you search rates online, they will let you search the hotels and benefits. Simply go to virtuoso.com, click on “Exclusive Offers,” and then click on the “Properties” tab, which will bring you to this page. From there you can either search by the property’s name in the “Keyword” section, or narrow down the hotels by region.


Search page

For example, when searching for Florida, here are some of the results that are returned:


Results page

Once you select a specific hotel you’ll be brought to a page which displays a lot of information about the hotel. If you scroll all the way down you’ll see the “Virtuoso Exclusive Benefits.” In the case of the Four Seasons Miami, for example, they’re as follows:


Benefits page

 

How do the benefits differ?

American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts

For reasons I really can’t understand, American Express really has their affiliate hotels by the you-know-what. They have the exclusive rights to offering guaranteed 4PM late check-out at their hotels. So while you may get 4PM late check-out subject to availability through Virtuoso, they’re not technically allowed to offer it on a guaranteed basis.

Virtuoso

While American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts offers continental breakfast, Virtuoso typically offers full breakfast.

 

Customer service

American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts

It’s rather convenient to be able to make bookings online, though at the same time you typically don’t have a dedicated travel agent like you’d have if working with a Virtuoso agent.

Virtuoso

The beauty of Virtuoso is that if you have a good agent they can work wonders for you and really customize your stay. At the end of the day if you’re a good customer of their’s, they can make just about anything happen if they have the right contacts at a hotel.

While mildly unrelated, let me say this as an onlooker: understand that for the most part your agent is working on a commission, so the more money you spend on hotels, the more the agent will want to go out of their way to take care of you. Along the same lines if you’re working with an agent for the first time and making a one-night booking at a mid-range hotel, don’t expect them to secure you a suite upgrade at the time of booking or anything like that. At the end of the day they have to leverage their relationships to make “one time exceptions” happen, and it isn’t fair to do that to them if you’re a first time customer. But by building a relationship with a Virtuoso affiliate agent they usually will go the extra mile for you over time.

 

Other random observations

American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts seems to have more properties. In the past six months I’ve used Fine Hotels & Resorts more often than Virtuoso due to the fact that they have a lot of properties that Virtuoso doesn’t, including the Westin Grand Frankfurt, Le Meridien San Francisco, St. Regis Bangkok, etc. Keep in mind that participation in both programs is reviewed annually, so it could be that they’ll still be added to Virtuoso, or they might not meet their “standards.” So while there is a lot of overlap, there are some properties unique to each program.


St. Regis Bangkok

Always compare the benefits. The obvious benefit that sets apart Fine Hotels & Resorts is the guaranteed 4PM late check-out. The obvious benefit that sets apart Virtuoso is the full breakfast (instead of continental breakfast). While everyone places different value on those things, always compare the other benefits. Typically the “added amenity” is about $100 of retail value, though one program might offer a $100 spa credit while another offers a $100 food and beverage credit. Depending on which you prefer, that could make a huge difference in the value you get out of the program, and for me is often the deciding factor when choosing which program to book through. For example, I’d rather have a $100 food and beverage credit than afternoon tea.

Added amenity is on a per stay basis. While the room upgrade and breakfast are benefits applicable throughout the entire stay, the “added amenity” is only offered once per stay. That’s why it’s often advantageous to book just one or two night stays, since a $100 resort credit (for example) goes a lot further on a one night stay than a five night stay.

Make your life easier by looking up rates first. Rather than findind a Virtuoso agent and waiting to hear from them with rate quotes, you can cut out a lot of the communication lag by looking up rates on your own first. For example, if you want to stay at the Four Seasons Seattle, go to their website and type in your dates. The first rate displayed will be the best flexible rate.


Rates on fourseasons.com

Combine that with searching the Virtuoso website and American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts website for the benefits, and you have as much information as the agent does.


Virtuoso benefits


Fine Hotels & Resorts benefits

Nothing makes an agent’s day quite like getting a request from a client that knows exactly what they want.

Free night promotions. I saved among the best for last here. One of the other huge benefits of these two programs is that they’re often running third or fourth night free promotions. Sometimes both programs are running overlapping promotions, while at other times they’re not. For example, back in January I stayed at the Park Hyatt Shanghai on a fourth night free promotion through American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts, since Virtuoso wasn’t offering the same promotion. At the same time I’ll be staying at the Four Seasons Dublin next month on a Virtuoso booking, since both American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts and Virtuoso were offering the third night free.

You can find these promotions on the Fine Hotels & Resorts website by the gold stars that display next to the hotels with the words “SPECIAL OFFER.”


Special offer listings

As you can see in New York, just about every hotel is offering the third or fourth night free. By clicking on “View Details” you can see the eligible dates and fine print of the promotion.


Mandarin Oriental fourth night free

Anyway, hopefully this was at least a useful explanation of the basics. If you have any questions about either program please let me know in the comments below!

Later today I’ll have a post explaining the benefits of the Visa Signature Luxury Hotel Collection, which is a more mild version of these programs offered to Visa Signature card members.

Comments

  1. progapanda says

    Lucky, you may also want to look up Chase’s LHR Collection offering (explorelhrcollection.com), which now stacks up pretty well to FHR depending on location. Although unadvertised, most Chase “premium” cards (Sapphire Preferred included) can be used to book LHR rates.

  2. oneeyejack says

    I find it strange that people want to eat breakfast or get food credit for the hotel they are staying at during vacation. I would MUCH rather be eating the local food at local places. I’m always perplexed at why a lot of you bloggers like to eat at the restaurants within the hotels. I would understand if it’s a well known restaurant but a majority of these “hotel” restaurants are overpriced and not worth it at all.

  3. Jerry says

    Sorry, I forgot to add these comments

    I’m CANADIAN AMEX Platinum cardholder, so I cannot book online but to use AMEX Personal Travel Service (PTS) by phone or email ptscanada@aexp.com
    but I had a lovely lady Patricia arranging everything for me, so she’s almost like my agent :)

    A Virtuoso website with prices (I used this to get an idea of AMEX FHR rate as they’re usually on par)
    http://www.classictravel.com/

    I found about the “continental breakfast” != full breakfast or buffet, but luckily we still got the free buffet breakfast, and awesome dinner at Sutton Place Hotel in Vancouver.
    In this case, AMEX FHR was great because we booked for $170/night but got free breakfast and dinner (almost $100 value), and upgrade to Executive Suite.. so the room was essentially only $80-$100/night, almost as cheap as Priceline :)

  4. LarryInNYC says

    Yeah, what happened to the hotel agent thing?
    .
    If you’re not in the game, do you have anyone to recommend in the Virtuoso program?

  5. TC says

    I have used the AMex program a few times and love the additional benefits. When staying 1-2 nights, it really can be a tremendous value!
    One more program that really works for me is the Visa Signature Luxury Hotel Collection.

    http://www.visasignaturehotels.com/

    It gives you:

    Best available rate guarantee
    Automatic room upgrade upon arrival, when available
    Free in-room Internet or Valet parking
    Complimentary continental breakfast
    3PM check-out, when available
    VIP Guest status
    $25 food or beverage voucher

    They include some chain hotels but also smaller boutique properties. The best rate guarantee takes the bite out of having to pay the best flexible rate.

  6. Steve says

    Do hotel stays booked through AMEX FH&R earn points in loyalty programs? I know that booking through the regular AMEX site will disqualify you from earning credit. I would assume that Virtuoso would earn hotel points/credit sine it is booked through a travel agent.

    When staying at a $400+ resort for a week, that could be a big deciding factor if the prices are similar and if AMEX isn’t eligible to earn points.

  7. caveman says

    @ oneeyejack, I agree with you regarding eating and tasting food at the local places but for breakfast, it is the convenience that matters most and definitely I would love to have breakfast in the hotel if possible.

    @ Lucky, I you do not have Amex platinum card, is there a way to go around their web site?

  8. MB says

    Thanks for this post. My tastes are starting to rise a bit, and I find myself moving stays towards higher end hotels. Hopefully I can utilize these hints to get even better hotels at great value.

  9. Philipp says

    Ben

    If I book Starwood properties through the FHR or virtuoso will the stay count towards status? Same for other hotel chains?

    What about in the “vanilla” Amex travel site?

  10. AdamH says

    What about Kiwi Collection? Was trying to book a room for BKK coming up and Virtuoso apparently had no availability though I was able to get (allegedly) the same benefits through Kiwi (not a Amex Plat member so didn’t look into FHR).

  11. Alex says

    I dont have a platinum card so can’t access AMEX FHR. So I was wondering if you can have someone else (who has Platinum) reserve the room through AMEX FHR and then the other person without a Platinum stay?

  12. Antonio says

    http://www.kiwicollection.com/

    Visa Signature is a subset of the Kiwi Collection. The Kiwi collection lists all Visa Signature properties and benefits, and includes other properties as well. Some properties have Kiwi benefits and not Visa benefits. Some properties have both. Some have none.

    Also, how can you tell when a Virtuoso property is having a 3rd night free promo?

  13. lucky says

    @ Alex — If you’re booked as the second guest on the reservation and at least have some sort of an AmEx card that should work.

    @ Antonio — With Virtuoso there’s not a way to tell on the website, as far as I know. You’d have to ask the travel agent.

  14. David says

    On Virtuoso bookings, are they prepaid or pay @ the hotel. I have $1,000+ Hyatt gift checks that I would like to apply after a Virtuoso booking? Thanks for all the info!!

  15. says

    @caveman @oneeyejack Couldn’t agree more with wanting to check out local places, which are often better priced and more authentic. That’s why F&B is such a common benefit–high margins, so it’s not costing the hotel much to throw it in. That said, many TravelSort hotels do include full breakfast, so caveman, feel free to check out our collection.

  16. jayy says

    @Antonio – how do you access Kiwi? Need to be a certain cardholder?

    What does Visa Sig’s ‘VIP guest status’ mean? Do you get the same benefits as top-elites? i.e. lounge access, etc.?

  17. Antonio says

    @Jayy – Kiwi is publicly accessible. Hotels with Visa Signature benefits though do require you pay the hotel with a Visa Signature card. Fortunately, those cards are common, including the very popular Chase Sapphire Preferred which gets you 2.14 points for hotel stays.

  18. RakSiam says

    some really great info here. Thanks I knew about the Luxury Hotel and Resort Collection but not the Visa Signature one or Kiwi.

  19. Erik says

    Ben,

    If I have elite status at a property i book through FHR, do I have to worry about the status privileges being diluted? For example, as Hyatt DMD I usually get a full breakfast at most hotels. If I go through FHR will this be downsized to a continental breakfast?

  20. Antonio says

    @Erik – I’m pretty sure when there’s overlap of benefits, you simply get the better of the two. FHR does not void elite point earning and elite benefits.

  21. lucky says

    @ Erik — Nope, you have nothing to worry about at all. You’d get the best of either benefit (elite of Virtuoso/FHR).

  22. Steven S says

    Great summary. We had $3600 in Hyatt certificates from the original Capital One 100,000 point promotion. That allowed me to cancel my points stay at the PH Paris Vendome. My Virtuoso agent called the hotel directly and got them to offer me 3 paid nights at the hotel in the Park Executive Suite (!!!) with the fourth night free and at a preferential rate of 795 Euro per night versus the website rate of 995 (with no free night) Add the breakfast and other amenities and it was a fabulous deal. I can guarantee that the AMEX Centurion Travel Service would not have called the hotel to get me a better deal.

  23. LIH Prem says

    I was wondering how LHR fit in as well, as @propoganda mentioned in comment #2.

    lhrcollection.com

    -David

  24. Carl says

    like Oscar, just wondering if you finished your training to be a Virtuoso agent, as well as the ability to book flights. Hope you are feeling better.

  25. Michael says

    I guess this offerings are only valid for US Cardholders, aren´t they? I tried to reach similar offerings with my German account without success. Am I doing something wrong or is it just living on the wrong side of the pond?

  26. Eve says

    Michael, the German version of the Visa Luxury Hotel Collection can be found here: http://de.myvisaluxuryhotels.com/

    But you should be able to book on any of the Visa hotel sites (the German one is just translated to German, change languages at the top right corner) as long as you have a Visa Infinite, Platinum or Signature card.

  27. Michael says

    Thanks for that, Eve! But unfortunately I don´t hold a premium visa – just the Amex Platinum (german version), which gives access to some special travel deals, but they are are not half as good as the american version. At least, I could not see and/or book any of the offers Bens mentioned.

  28. Arjun says

    when booking the ritz through the FHR program, how do I input my Marriott Elite number? Do i tell the phone agent? do i have to give it to them at the point of check in?

  29. lucky says

    @ Arjun — You can either call up the hotel or Marriott/Ritz directly to add your number to the reservation.

  30. says

    I am a Virtuoso travel advisor booking primarily luxury hotels for clients (many of which are members of the Platinum card program and Centurion program at Amex).

    Knowing this, I always work with properties directly to assure that I can get them the best benefits available, and try to at least meet or not beat the Amex benefits.

    It’s really simple– Amex is a credit car with great benefits and travel services, however a Virtuoso travel advisor is an individual who works for their client (assuming you have the “right advisor!”).

  31. JEE SOO says

    I booked virtuoso rates directly online at http://www.classictravel.com. I stayed at the St Regis Bahia Beach Resort and received an upgrade and great amenities!

    When I called Classic they explained that they were a full service travel agency….. but had recently launch a booking platform for the online consumers who wanted to book direct …they do not charge to book or cancel either.

  32. lucky says

    @ Hamurabi2001 — I noticed that, though sadly the amenity is also only afternoon tea. Grrr!

  33. says

    I am a Virtuoso travel advisor as well as Four Seasons Preferred Partner and Ritz-Carlton STARS. Having a good relationship with an agent who gives each reservation her personal attention and follows up directly with every hotel assures you the best opportunities for upgrades and added amenities. There’s just nothing like a hands-on personal touch. Amex Platinum is not needed to receive benefits; any credit card can be used.

  34. says

    I read this with interest because I am a Virtuoso travel advisor. Linda is exactly right: having a relationship with an advisor (especially a Virtuoso advisor) who takes the time to know you and your family, who gives personal attention to your booking, who knows the hotels — and personally knows the hoteliers, not to mention the special services we have in our back pockets (“VIP Meet & Greet,” anyone?) makes all the difference between an ordinary vacation and a spectacular one. As Virtuoso advisors, we have partners and local hosts and special access all around the world. We add hundreds and thousands of added complimentary, exclusive value to our clients’ bookings. Why would anybody NOT want this VIP treatment? As we say: You can’t VIP yourself. As one of my guests just told me on the phone: our personal service “is beyond my wildest dreams.”

  35. Anuj says

    I would like to book using a 3rd night free special offer on Amex plat for Mandarin Oriental, Miami, but I am staying for 9 nights. Will I get 3 nights free?

    Part of fine print: Offer may not be repeated during stay.

    If they are strict about this and it is what i think it means, what if I make 3 separate consecutive reservations?

  36. lucky says

    @ Anuj — Are you traveling with someone else, by chance? If so, how about booking the first three nights in your name, second three nights in other person’s name, and last three nights in your name again? Should get you around the restriction.

  37. Anuj says

    @Lucky: I am travelling with someone else and we can definitely do this. Have you done it before or heard of someone doing it? Since the offer is availed at time of checkout, I wouldn’t know it advance if it works.

  38. lucky says

    @ Anuj — Yes, it shouldn’t be an issue to alternate people, so just change the primary person on the reservation with alternating stays.

  39. Ben says

    Let me present this scenario to you, and if possible you can give me an educated guess on what my chances are. I have booked six nights at the Park Hyatt Tokyo in a few months time. I paid the standard room “Park King” price and applied a Diamond Suite Upgrade cert to get a confirmed “Park Suite King”. I’m CURRENTLY back to Platinum with about 6 stays at Hyatt hotels in the last twelve months. Anyway, the suite upgrade is confirmed, I’ve got AT LEAST a Park Suite King when I arrive.

    However, I also booked this with a Virtuoso rate and I’ve heard about these programs “stacking”. On the new look Virtuoso website it states “Upgrade upon arrival, subject to availability”, as usual, and it also SPECIFICALLY states that the upgrade for a “Park Suite King” is a “Governor’s Suite”.

    So, since I already have a confirmation email stating my room is a Park Suite King (thanks exclusively to the Hyatt loyalty program side of things) on a Virtuoso rate, do you think I have a reasonable chance of the Virtuoso side kicking in and getting me a Governor’s Suite? ASSUMING there is one available for six nights?

    Thanks.

  40. says

    @ Ben — My guess is that the upgrade to a Governor’s Suite only applies if paying for a Park Suite, though I suppose anything is possible if the room is available. Good luck!

  41. says

    I worked nearly 10 years for American Express in Salt Lake. The Fine Hotels and Resorts (FHR) program is not always continental breakfast. It depends on the contract with the hotel. Some hotels you can order breakfast off a menu with your FHR benefits and some hotels it is a continental breakfast. Some hotels it’s a $60 daily breakfast credit per the room. It depends on the hotel. Just like the special amenity will vary depending on the hotel ($100 spa credit, $100 resort credit, etc.) And if you ever stay at an FHR property and they don’t offer the FHR amenities, give the hotel a friendly reminder that they have a contract onsite with American Express. Call your American Express travel counselor if you need to. I had to do this with a lot of hotels to make sure card holders got their FHR amenities. FYI the FHR web site has only been in use for a few years. To get personalized service call American Express and speak with a travel counselor that can work with the hotel. Remind your counselor if you are having an upcoming birthday, anniversary, etc. for added benefits from the hotel.

  42. Rick says

    Lucky

    I am going on a vacation tomorrow. Got two rooms on C+P and one of them upgraded using Suite Award certs. Should I expect other one to be upgraded as long as there is availability at check in?

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