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While hotel loyalty programs in and of themselves can be extremely rewarding, there are many ways to get additional perks for stays at luxury hotels. In many cases these are perks at hotels which don’t otherwise have loyalty programs (like the Sunset Tower Hotel West Hollywood), so these perks are as good as they get.
The idea is that luxury hotels do everything they can to avoid discounting rates, since they don’t want to diminish the perceived “value” of their offerings. But they’ll do just about anything else to attract guests, from offering added amenities (free breakfast, food & beverage credit, upgrades, etc.), to offering a third or fourth night free, for example.
I’ve written extensively about some of these programs, including American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts and Virtuoso. I figured it would be interesting to do a side-by-side comparison of the two programs. For those of you already familiar with the programs, by all means skip this post, though I do get a lot of questions about them.
Let me say two things upfront which apply for both of these programs, which I know a lot of people are wondering about:
- To take advantage of the benefits associated with them, you have to book the flexible rate at the hotel; booking a pre-paid rate or redeeming points won’t get you these perks
- You still earn points, elite night/stay credit, etc., when booking through these programs; it’s the same as booking directly through the hotel
With that in mind, here are my thoughts on the two programs:
American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts
The American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts program is available to those with The Platinum Card® from American Express and The Business Platinum® Card from American Express OPEN, and offers added perks at over 815 hotels around the world.
For booking through Fine Hotels & Resorts you receive the following perks:
- 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)
Taking advantage of my food & beverage credit at the Rosewood Abu Dhabi
The great thing is that you can search rates and make bookings directly through American Express’ website. While the perks are great, you’re not really getting much in the way of personalized travel planning, which is great for those of us who like to plan our own travels. If you just want to book a hotel with great perks, this is tough to beat.
Virtuoso has over 1,100 member hotels, and is in many ways similar to Fine Hotels & Resorts. Those who book through Virtuoso receive:
- Daily breakfast for two
- Room upgrade subject to availability
- Early check-in and late check-out, subject to availability
- A special Virtuoso amenity (usually a $100 property credit, free massage, car transfer, etc.)
You don’t need a specific credit card to book through Virtuoso, but rather need to find a Virtuoso affiliated travel consultant, all of which are listed on Virtuoso’s website.
You can’t typically make Virtuoso bookings online, so you’ll be dealing with a person, which can be a blessing and a curse. It’s a bit of a curse because it’s not as easy as just logging onto a website and booking. But it’s a blessing because you also get the “human touch.” If you’re celebrating something special or have special requests, your advisor may very well have contacts at the hotel, and can help make the stay special.
In general travel advisors aren’t going to charge you a fee if you’re simply wanting to make a hotel booking (they get a 10% commission on most bookings, so they’re making decent money for a couple of minutes of work). But if you want help with more complex travel planning, these advisors can add a ton of value, though also expect them to charge a fee. Katie recently wrote about the value of having such an advisor, especially one who is a specialist in one region.
Do I prefer Virtuoso or Fine Hotels & Resorts?
The first thing worth noting is that a lot of the properties between the two programs overlap, though not all. For example, the Westin Grand Frankfurt is an Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts property, but not a Virtuoso property. So I recently booked through Fine Hotels & Resorts for my stay there, which scored me an 85EUR food & beverage credit, among other perks.
Even among matching hotels, the amenities offered can differ. One distinction is that Fine Hotels & Resorts comes with guaranteed 4PM check-out, while with Virtuoso it’s based on availability.
Beyond that, the unique property benefit often differs. For example, at the Ritz-Carlton Marina del Rey, the Amex FHR amenity is a $100 food & beverage credit, while the Virtuoso amenity is a full day bicycle rental for two or a one hour tennis lesson.
If you tend to stay at luxury hotels, Amex FHR and Virtuoso can add a lot of value. Of course you’ll always want to crunch the numbers and see if you’re better off booking a promotional rate or going with the flexible rate, which comes with the above amenities. In many ways the Citi Prestige® Card fourth night free benefit has somewhat reduced my use of Virtuoso and Fine Hotels & Resorts, given that it allows you to get a fourth night free even on pre-paid rates.
I’ve found these programs especially useful for short stays, since the property specific amenity is on a per stay basis. In other words, a $100 food & beverage credit is a lot more valuable on a one night stay than on a seven night stay, in terms of the proportional value you’re getting out of the perk.
Do you use Amex FHR or Virtuoso for your hotel bookings, and if so, which do you prefer?