While redeeming points are a good way to get a high value out of your points with luxury hotels, one other booking option you should consider are paid cash rates through certain companies and consortiums. Instead of booking directly with the hotel, you can often get more benefits working with certain kinds of travel agents.
These kinds of rates include Fine Hotels and Resorts, Virtuoso, Starwood Luxury Privileges, and more. Benefits often replicate elite status – with room upgrades, welcome amenities, late-checkout, and more.
Luxury Hotel Rates
Most of these rates are not advertised publicly. To book a property with Fine Hotels and Resorts, you must be an American Express Platinum cardholder. To book a Virtuoso rate, you must go through the Virtuoso site or a Virtuoso agent. To book luxury hotel rates with certain hotel chains, you must go through an affiliated travel agency.
Usually, you have to book a hotel’s best flexible rate; you cannot apply CAA, Senior, or other promotional discounts. Regardless, this means you don’t end up actually paying much more if you were booking on Expedia, and the value of the benefits far exceed any cost difference.
With these rates, you usually receive the following benefits:
- Early check-in/Late check-out
- Room and suite upgrades
- Complimentary breakfast
- Welcome amenity
- Property specific benefit – free massage, meal, or monetary credit
These benefits can also be highly variable dependent on property and rate type. You can have rates that confirm late-checkout as opposed to it being subject to availability at check-in. Rates can also offer continental breakfast instead of a full buffet, and upgrades at booking instead of at check-in pending availability.
Hotels can often have multiple rates with different consortiums, so it’s a good idea to always check all your options with the different companies. Most properties don’t have are no minimum stay requirements, which means the rebate is often higher on shorter stays.
However, these rates should be applicable to elite points, stay credits, and some promotional earnings.
1. American Express Fine Hotels and Resorts
These properties and rates are only accessible if you have a US or Canadian AMEX Platinum or Centurion card. Other countries may have access to these rates as well although I’m not sure about that. This is definitely my go-to whenever I’m planning a stay at a luxury hotel as they have a wide selection of properties and easy to access list of all hotels in a certain city/region. Although I can’t personally check rates, generally I just look at a competing travel agency flexible rate and nearly always they are the same. You can access the list of properties here by typing in which city you want to go to.
You will get a list of properties that participate in the program:
For rates you will need an US AMEX Platinum. As I’ve said earlier generally these rates will be equal to the best flexible rate available on the hotel websites, so note that if your selected property has advanced purchase rates. For example here is a rate in August for the Arizona Biltmore.
Generally, most hotels/resorts in the collection will receive the following benefits:
Notice that a lot of the benefits are duplicated by elite status, so keep that in mind, although for non-chain properties, a one-category upgrade is typical, and early check-in/late check-out is nice. Breakfast is generally continental although this may vary depending on the property. The additional property amenity is usually a $100 USD (or equivalent) Food and Beverage Credit, Spa Credit, and occasionally massages for two, formal afternoon tea service, or a resort credit.
Although it sounds like a lot, it is very important to keep in mind any surcharge the hotel might levy on food or spa prices over a non-hotel establishment. But nonetheless if you do plan on dining in the hotel or going for a spa treatment these rates can take a big chunk off your bill. I generally value the Food and Beverage Credits the most at 75-80% of it’s numerical value, and less with spa treatments or afternoon tea, but that’s because generally I don’t do the latter very much. Everyone will have their own valuations.
The biggest gripe I have as a Canadian is that you can’t access these rates online, which is a huge inconvenience for me to need to call to access these rates. It is probably the biggest pet peeve that I have about Amex Platinum in Canada (other than the signup bonus), because it removes the convenience without trading in more personalized service.
2. Virtuoso Rates
This is also something to check, especially if you don’t have a Platinum card. These rates are bookable with travel agents only. You can check the list of properties here at this link and it will show a list of hotels in the region/city you want:
As well, you can see the added benefits:
However, I’ve found out that you can also check rates online at classictravel.com which I quite like as they show you the Virtuoso rate, although I would still be booking with my travel agent.
The difference with Virtuoso that with travel agents it’s a much more personalized interaction and generally the hotel is better informed. Of course the agents make a commission on your bookings, so obviously the more money you spend with them the more likely they are willing to leverage their relationships to make special things happen.
There are a few major differences between Virtuoso and AMEX Fine Hotels and Resorts Rates. The most important is that Fine Hotels and Resorts generally have a larger selection of properties – most hotels/resorts are in some programs but a lot of the ones with lower rack rates tend to be with AMEX FHR.
Virtuoso generally offers full buffet breakfast and late check-out subject to availability, while AMEX FHR generally offers continental breakfast and guaranteed checkout time. And of course, Virtuoso is with a travel agent which I think is a tradeoff between convenience and service (especially with one-night stays generally with no special requests for me). Of course AMEX FHR require an AMEX Plat or Centurion card.
With some properties there will be special offers with hotels which often are a free night with a minimum 2/3/4/5 night stay, which might be worth it in some cases.
You can see these when if there is a “special offer” box/display when looking at rates.
For me, there are two main reasons for why I use these rates. Personally, my price range for luxury hotels max out at around $450, so I am basically unwilling to pay anything higher than that (and especially since points are so much harder to come by outside of the USA – everyone has their own ranges).
So either I look for cheap properties that are $200-250 or less, which sometimes will happen, especially with properties in China, SE Asia, and hotels with lopsided peak season rates and low off-peak rates, such as properties in Vegas, Arizona, California, and ski resort hotels. Generally I think that is a pretty good value since the rates for a similar (upper-upscale if not luxury) hotel would not be that much cheaper.
The other reason why I like to use these rates are when stacking them with chain hotel promotions, such as the SPG Targeted Promo, or even the Ritz-Carlton Megabonus. When you’re getting a free night from staying 1-3 stays, stacking FHR makes the value proposition much more palatable and more cost efficient. This is on top of elite points/stay credit/benefits that you are getting, although you want to make sure that your stays are qualifying for the promotion with some chains.
There are two other options I want to point out, and those are less useful in my opinion but may be applicable to some hotels.
3. Visa Infinite/Signature Luxury Hotel Collections
They have a range of much less “pricy” hotels including Hyatt Regencys and Westins:
Unfortunately, they have much weaker benefits which are:
Still, in some cases it may be worth looking at although because the benefits are weaker it may be a smarter choice to just lock in a discount with advanced purchase rates. You can see all the credit cards that are Visa Infinite here and Visa Signature here.
4. Other Luxury Hotel Booking Channels
Finally, if you’ve combed through the other booking channels, there may be luxury hotel rates affiliated with the hotel chain itself that may offer benefits. The one that comes to mind is the Four Seasons Preferred Partner which offers benefits similar to Virtuoso or AMEX FHR Rates for most (if not all) Four Season properties worldwide. Here is a link to a travel agent I found on google who is a Four Seasons Preferred Partner.
As well, I’ve also talked about Starwood launching it’s own “luxury property” rates which you can read more about here.
In most cases, agents who are Virtuoso are also likely going to be Four Season Preferred partners, so you definitely have options for luxury hotels!
If you’ve read all the way to the end, I hoped you enjoyed this post! If not please feel free to comment 🙂