How I’ve Changed The Way I Approach Hotel Bookings

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In addition to leveraging points and elite status for hotel stays, there are also some other programs which can help you get the most bang for your buck. Two of my favorites are Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts, available with The Platinum Card® from American Express, and Fourth Night Free, available with the Citi Prestige® Card.

I’m planning a trip to Peru (one of the destinations I most want to visit this year), and figured I’d share how I’m leveraging those two programs to book all of my hotel stays, and how they can transform the number of nights I choose to stay at a destination for.

First a bit about both programs (you’re eligible to earn hotel points & elite night/stay credit for booking through either):

American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts

FHR is available to those with The Platinum Card® from American Express and The Business Platinum® Card from American Express OPEN, and is a really useful program. If you have access to this benefit you can book either by phone using the Platinum Concierge, or you can book directly online, which is my preferred method.

Amex-FHR

There are over 815 hotels participating in Fine Hotels & Resorts, and by booking through the program you receive:

  • Daily breakfast for two people
  • Room upgrade upon arrival, when available
  • A unique property amenity (usually a $100 property credit, free massage, car transfer, etc.)
  • Guaranteed 4PM check-out
  • Noon check-in, subject to availability
  • Complimentary in-room wifi (exclusions apply)

Those are some incredible perks, especially given that you typically pay the same price the hotel is charging directly for a flexible rate. In some cases participating hotels also offer a third or fourth night free, which can add even more value.

To give an example, I’m headed to Las Vegas soon, and will be spending a night at The Delano, which is part of the MGM. It’s an FHR hotel (new as of 2016). The rate is $118 for the one night, and for that I get a $100 property credit, plus a $60 breakfast credit.

Delano-Las-Vegas-FHR

I should note that I could get a lower rate by booking directly through M Life (they have members only rates), but I’d rather pay an extra $20 and get $160 worth of hotel credit.

Delano-Suite

Citi Prestige Card fourth night free benefit

The single best benefit of the Citi Prestige Card is the fourth night free hotel benefit, which is the best hotel benefit offered by any credit card, in my opinion. With this perk, Citi refunds the cost of the fourth night of your stay at any of thousands of hotels worldwide (including virtually all chain hotels). This applies on flexible rates, pre-paid rates, AAA rates, etc.

What’s great is that Citi refunds you for the fourth night behind the scenes, meaning you still earn points and stay credit for the fourth night.

I’ve written extensively about this perk, so see my previous post for more details.

Citi-Prestige-Card-Hotel-Benefit

How this plays into my trip to Peru

The Citi Prestige® Card really has changed the way I plan my travel in many cases. While previously I would sometimes book three night hotel stays, in most cases I’ll extended my stay to four nights nowadays, since that fourth night is free.

I’m planning on going to Peru in June, and I’m planning on staying at three hotels, all of which are Starwood Luxury Collection properties (which I’m especially excited about since I’m presently eligible to earn double elite qualifying nights):

These hotels all look great, and consistently get rave reviews from guests. I was planning on doing 3-5 nights at each hotel, so figured I’d share how I plan on approaching booking these hotels, given that Palacio del Inka and Tambo del Inka both belong to Fine Hotels & Resorts, and are both offering third night free.

Third-Night-Free

For my dates, here are the rates at Palacio del Inka, both through Starwood directly and through FHR:

Palacio-Rate

Palacio-FHR

That means there are three options for booking this:

  • Three night stay: $277 per night with taxes for the Fine Hotels & Resorts rate, with the third night free, bringing down the average cost to $185 per night
  • Four night stay: $277 per night with tax for the flexible, which I could book using the Citi Prestige® Card, bringing down the average cost to $208 per night 
  • Five night stay: 10,000 Starpoints per night, and if I stay five nights I’d get the fifth night free, meaning I’d be spending an average of 8,000 Starpoints per night

Then here are the rates for Tambo del Inka, directly through Starwood, and also through FHR:

Tambo-Rate-1

I also have three options for booking this (all include the taxes and service charge):

  • Three night stay: $358 per night with taxes for the Fine Hotels & Resorts rate, with the third night free, bringing down the average cost to $239 per night
  • Four night stay: $319 per night with tax for the member exclusive rate, which I could book using the Citi Prestige® Card, bringing down the average cost to $239 per night 
  • Five night stay: 12,000 Starpoints per night, and if I stay five nights I’d get the fifth night free, meaning I’d be spending an average of 9,600 Starpoints per night

Tambo-FHR

I have to say, I’m sitting here scratching my head deciding which option to book, since they’re all compelling in their own ways, and dependent on whether I want to do three, four or five nights. Further considerations include that:

  • Fine Hotels & Resorts would include a $100 spa credit at each property, complimentary breakfast (which I receive anyway as an SPG Platinum member), but if breakfast is included I could instead choose 500 Starpoints as my welcome amenity, and guaranteed 4PM check-out (which isn’t guaranteed as an SPG Platinum member at resorts)
  • If I book four nights through the Citi Prestige fourth night free benefit, I’d earn four elite night credits, which would be doubled, since the fourth night is refunded directly to my credit card and behind the scenes; meanwhile through Fine Hotels & Resorts the third night would be refunded at check-out by the hotel, so I’d only earn two elite night credits, which would be doubled to four elite night credits
  • I’m still tempted to redeem points, since there’s something nice about not being “out of pocket” at all for a hotel stay, but five nights also seems like too long at each property; redeeming for shorter stays wouldn’t be a bad deal, but also wouldn’t be optimal

Lastly, for Hotel Paracas I’ll be using the Citi Prestige® Card fourth night free benefit, since it’s not a Fine Hotels & Resorts  property. That’ll lower the nightly rate from ~$200 to ~$150.

Hotel-Paracas

Bottom line

While I’ve been using Fine Hotels & Resorts for years, the Citi Prestige Card fourth night free benefit is only something I started using last year, and it really changed how I approach booking hotel stays. This trip to Peru is the perfect example of how my booking method is more dependent on the number of nights I’m staying than anything else.

Has anyone else changed their average length of stay thanks to the Citi Prestige® Card fourth night free benefit? Which booking method would you use for the above hotels?

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Comments

  1. Can you book the member exclusive rate via Citi prestige? I thought that thst rate was for booking directly not for booking via a TA.

    Fdw

  2. In my experience, when booking an FHR third or fourth night free offer, you still get SPG night credit for all nights of the stay, including the free ones.

  3. Hey Ben,

    Just so you know these 3 properties are having a sale today (30% off both Tambo and Paracas and 40% off Palacio). I’ve been to all 3 and the most incredible one by far is Tambo. Paracas and Tambo have top notch service. Palacio I believe is just ok as there are better properties in Cuzco (check Belmond Palacio de las Nazarenas). Make sure to book in advance in Lima “Central” Restaurante which is 4th in the world in the San Pellegrino as bookings have to be done way in advance. Also check Astrid y Gaston. It’s excellent.

    Best,

    Alonso

  4. I’m staying an extra night in Dubai because of the Citi Prestige card. Minimum nights I had to book was two, decided I wanted an extra day, then realized if I was booking three nights I might as well book four. I’ve had no luck with FHR rates. They always seem to be worse than what I can get other places.

  5. I’m sure you’ve mentioned this before, but I’m kind of doubling down on using my Citi Prestige card. How long does it generally take for the credit to be applied to the account after checking out?

    Thanks!

  6. Make sure you spend a night or two in Lima. It is well worth it. An amazing city with the best food scene in the Americas. As somebody else pointed out, Astrid&Gaston is a restaurant worth checking out. Unbelieveable. That, plus all the ceviche places (pescados capitals and La Mar are stand outs) and the Asian/ Peruvian places… it’s awesome.

  7. I was at both the Palacio and Tambo del Inka hotels about a week ago. Checked out early from the Palacio because no air conditioning (old property). Recommend the JW Marriott in Cusco instead. Tambo del Inka is excellent.

  8. Lucky,
    Just did that exact trip. Palacio is a great property in the heart of a city… you could easily spend 4-5 days and the breakfast is great!
    Tambo is definitely the nicer of the properties, but aside from Macchu Picchu, the town is really small. The breakfast here is amazing, but there are some great local restaurants in town where you should have dinner (let me know if you need suggestions), but not much else to do. So 1 day to arrive, 1 day for MP, and 1 day to relax would probably be the maximum there unless you just want a couple spa days.
    Amazing properties all around though and great SPG treatment!

    I second everyone’s Lima = food recommendations. Do a food tour!
    Thanks!

  9. @Flyingdoctorwu: yes, I booked the Hilton Honors only rate when I made a booking earlier today. I did have to proactively tell the concierge that it was the rate that I preferred.

  10. Thanks for the recommendation on Astrid & Gaston! I am going to Lima in July and just made a reservation, I can’t wait!

  11. Have been to Lima many times on business. Definitely spend time there enjoying amazing restaurants. Here are my favorites: Astrid & Gaston, La Locanda, Central, Malabar, Rafael, La Gloria. You cannot go wrong with any of these options.

  12. FWIW the JW Marriott Cusco is arguably the nicest most aspirational Marriott property I have seen in the world where you still get full Platinum benefits (nice upgrade, amazing breakfast) and I have stayed at over 100 unique Marriott family properties.

    If you are going to be in Cusco it may be worth staying there over the Palacio assuming you or a companion are Marriott Platinum.

  13. Yet another suggestion to stay in Lima for a few days. Great restaurants as others have mentioned and ruins from pre-lnca civilizations in and near the city.

  14. We stayed in both the Palacio del Inka and the JW Marriott Cusco, and for the first time in my experience a Marriott beat out Starwood for my preferred hotel. The JW is an amazing hotel and we would have switched our post Inka trail stay to the JW had the Palacio del Inka not had draconian cancellation policies.

    Also an FYI the JW Marriott has presurrized oxygen enriched rooms, which while comfortable works against any acclimation to high altitude you may be planning. Also Palacio del Inka only has heating and no AC in the rooms.

  15. We stayed at the Tambo when it first opened and it is indeed a very nice property. I think you could spend three or four nights there and find enough to do and see in the area to make it worthwhile. However, IMHO if you are planning to just do Machu Picchu as a day trip from the Tambo that is a shame. It deserves much more time. You should spend at least one night in Agua Calientes, or even better at the Sanctuary Lodge on site to avoid the crush of daytrippers at midday.

  16. I’ve been using my Prestige 4th night in several extended business trips recently. While you have to change hotels after the 4th night (since its not every 4th night of say a 12 night stay), merely going across the street or around the block and then back is hardly an inconvenience if the hotels are comparable. But pending what programs I want/need points and/or nights for maintaining various statuses I can mix n match chains as desired. I also just booked Hilton stays and was able to easily book the 2x Points rate they have going since it was marginally more than the HHonors Member rate.

    Like Ben I had a booking method choice to make though having just gotten the HHonors Surpass Amex & CITI HHonors for the signup bonuses. But I should still have no issue hitting the minimum spend for those over.

  17. Lucky, is there an easy way to check out citi prestige price besides calling their concierge? Takes 24-48hr for someone to send back the price.

  18. The Aus version of Citi prestige books via hotels.com and 95% sure therefore means you don’t get the stay credits or status benefits.

    Can anyone confirm?

  19. @ Valerie — They should have access to the same rates which hotel websites have access to directly. But to answer your question, no, you can’t directly check Citi Prestige rates online.

  20. I think you’ve made good decisions in your Hotels choice. However in my opinion, More than 3 nights in Paracas would be too much, there isn’t too much to do around. I live in Lima and also would recommend you to do some Food Tour like somebody posted above, our Gastronomie nowadays has become very famous and there is plenty of Restaurants to enjoy. Hope you like my country.

  21. Hey Ben, although American Express has yet to admit it, they now have over 900 hotels in the Fine Hotels and Resorts. They’ve even added 4 new ones this month!

    Somehow, they under-sell themselves, whilst continuing to improve the number of choices.

  22. So basically you’ve transitioned from redeeming points to spending cash. To be honest, if I had the income you did I’d be doing the same thing without a doubt. But it does alienate a lot of your readers. This is One MILE at a time 😉

  23. Did the FH&R room upgrade come into play during your calculations? May not be a factor on this trip (I don’t know the hotels). I recently got a quadruple upgrade on an FH&R stay…cool!

  24. I am definitely incentivized now to do groups of four nights, or sometimes book a night before arrival to ensure there is a room available if you arrive early (this can also save money if your 3rd night cost more than the night before arrival).

  25. Am I the only one who thinks that $200 a night for a hotel in Peru per night is insane ?

    I mean I went in November and stayed in some fantastic hotels during my entire trip and they averaged $40 – 55 a night and we had a blast. Just seems like a waste to stay at some of these hotels.

  26. wow, i assume you are taking Ford with you as its going to be awfully lonely, he must be “tickled pink” with all this travelling you have arranged for him. Glad to hear you two are still going strong – sound like more of a honeymoon trip rather than a vacation , beautiful part of the world

    Btw – how do the check-in desks at the hotels react when the 2 of you check-in and only one room has been booked ? just curious

  27. Tambo del Inka is amazing!! The restaurant it’s outstanding (the duck), and they have a machu pichu train station in the Hotel. Moray is very close (45 mins by car). The SPG Gold service was great!!! Enjoy so much that trip to the SacredValley!

  28. You might want to look into a BRG with Tambo. We have an upcoming stay booked for ~$165 a night. Was just able to pull up some June nights that can be had for less than $145. Kayak is your friend for finding opportunities.

  29. Sorry but it seems like Mastercard World/World Elite Luxury Hotels & Resorts offers almost identical benefits as Fine Hotels & Resorts.

    Other than the high quantity of properties, how else does Fine Hotels & Resorts compare?

  30. Hi Lucky,

    I just did a very similar trip with my mother. We stayed at the Belmond rio Sagrado in the sacred valley (using visa signature points) hands down one of the most beautiful resort properties I’ve ever stayed at. We also got upgraded to a villa for no charge which was phenomenal. If you can, I recommend a night there at least. Tambo del inka was great but the Belmond rio Sagrado was definitely our favorite. I believe it’s part of the Amex FHR as well. In Cusco we stayed at the palacio del inka which I do not recommend at all. The rooms were way to stuffy and hot with no air conditioning or ways to ventilate the rooms (no screens on the Windows). While the staff was lovely the hotel is just very old. While we were there the airport was shut down for a day and we had to spend another night in Cusco. We spent the extra night at the JW Marriot and it was so much better than palacio del inka. The rooms were air conditioned and they pump oxygen into them which definitely made you feel better. It’s hard enough to sleep at a high altitude, trust me you will want to be comfortable with AC and oxygen.

  31. I got engaged to my partner of 18 years on Machu Picchu in 2014. The flights were in F using AA miles and were empty so we had the whole front to ourselves. I used a cash and points rate at the Palacio Del Inca and it was great. Took the Hiram Bingham to Machu Picchu. Christopher Lloyd was also in our tour group.

    Photos: https://goo.gl/photos/EwV1j46xzhhr8EVA8

  32. @Tummy – I tried a dSLR on one trip and will never do it again. Just too big and bulky to lug it around. I think Ireland with a rental car is probably the only time I’d do it again. Damn, I was hoping it wasn’t a Sony. We’ve had 2 Sonys and on both of them the sensor died so we’ve sworn them off. We have a $100 Canon point and shoot that doesn’t take great pictures. We’ve had it for probably 4+ years now and my dSLR I’ve had since college, so 12+ years. Can you email me please? I have some questions about the trip and don’t want to clog up Lucky’s comments.. Superorb81 gmail. Thanks.

  33. Second the suggestions to stay in Lima for a night, if only to eat at Central or another of Lima’s great restaurants. And stay at the Belmond Miraflores Park… it’s the best in town.

  34. Hey Lucky,
    I’m the French journalist that was on the same ‘run miles’ flights as you to Panama last month 😉
    We went to Peru in February…
    Belmond Hotels are the best way to go there… They have the only hotel at Macchu Pitchu & amazing locations in Lima, Cusco + the best train ‘Hiram Bingham’ to go to Macchu Pitchu from there own resort ‘Rio Sagrado’… depending how many days you’ll stay… Email me if you need any advice or questions about it. H

  35. I took my dad to Peru last spring. We both loved the Tambo, and the spa treatments were excellent (which would push me to go with the FHR deal). If you decided to stay longer, there is plenty to see in the Sacred Valley. We hired a private driver/ guide for a few days, which I highly recommend. He was able to take us to some really interesting out of the way places that you probably wouldn’t see on your own, translate for us when chatting with local people, help us determine fair prices, and felt like a friend by the end of our trip. I’d be happy to pass his contact info to anyone interested.

  36. seems like Amextravel.com for both the fine hotels and other properties has resorted to using Orbitz.com for bookings. The rep I spoke to (ymmv) told me they have a disclaimer on the website saying as much (good luck finding it) and that this has been the case for as long as she has worked for amextravel.com. She’s also said that is it true of both Fine Hotel bookings and normal bookings.

    Bamboozled into booking four nights at the Sheraton Grand Sukhumvit to access an AMEX 10,000 point bonus for a $500 booking through Amextravel.com (which I’ll admittedly receive), the SPG Triple Bonus for stays at Sheraton (which I won’t) and my platinum status with SPG and likely upgrades, breakfasts and the like (and not to mention, disappointingly aided by bloggers who fail to mention the limitations of the program, possibly, unless I am missing something). I am trying to reverse the non-refundable booking now as I am staying a bit away from where I’d otherwise like to base, for the now-unavailable benefits of staying at a hotel for which I would purportedly received platinum status benefits.

    What do you know about it? I can’t find any mention of it here.

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