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Middle Age Miles

Amex FHR Is a Hot Mess These Days

UPDATE, 4/1/2019, 4:00 pm – We updated our research on Amex FHR and found that some things mentioned in this article had improved, but there are still issues. See our further article at Amex FHR Update: Better, But There Are Still Issues.

As most of our readers will know, American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts (Amex FHR) is a program that allows Amex Platinum and Centurion cardholders to book high-end hotels and receive a set of elite-like benefits. Amex FHR says that “more than 1,000 luxury properties” participate in this program.

Amex FHR benefits include:

  • Room upgrade upon arrival, subject to availability
  • Daily breakfast for 2 people
  • Guaranteed 4:00 pm late check-out
  • Early noon check-in, subject to availability
  • Complimentary Wi-Fi
  • Special property amenity, such as a food and beverage credit (varies by hotel), valued at a minimum of $100

Amex FHR also sometimes runs promotions for its hotels with third, fourth or fifth nights free, which can be quite valuable.

We have thoroughly enjoyed the Amex FHR program over the past 3 years that we’ve held a Platinum card. We normally wouldn’t stay in the highest-end luxury hotels, but a few times Amex FHR has presented us with a good enough deal that we were able to stay at places we never would have. Other times, Amex FHR benefits have simply presented us with deals that couldn’t be beat. Importantly, bookings through Amex FHR do earn loyalty program points and night credits, and you can still receive your elite benefits if you have status with the hotel’s chain.

For those reasons, Amex FHR is certainly in our bag of tricks for great hotel deals. We almost always at least take a look at FHR when we’re planning a trip, and sometimes we find a great deal or an opportunity to stay at a very cool place we wouldn’t have otherwise considered. We’ve been very pleased with the program, and I’d estimate that we’ve stayed 20-25 nights on Amex FHR bookings in the past 3 years, including at:

  • The Adlon Kempinski, Berlin (just steps away from the Brandenburg Gate)
  • The Charles Hotel, Munich (rated #2 of 400 hotels in Munich on TripAdvisor, although it was actually #1 when we stayed there)
  • The Ritz-Carlton Central Park, New York
  • The St. Regis, San Francisco
  • The Waldorf Astoria, Bellagio and Delano hotels in Las Vegas
View of the Brandenburg Gate, from the breakfast room at the Adlon Kempinski, Berlin

Major Problems with Amex FHR Right Now

Unfortunately, Amex FHR seems to be plagued with major problems right now. We’re not entirely sure what’s causing the problems. When we began to see issues near year-end 2018, we weren’t terribly worried. It seems that FHR renews its contracts with participating properties each year, and we’ve seen some glitches arise in previous years near year-end. For example, you might not be able to book properties through FHR if you were booking in October/November 2017 for a stay that would occur in 2018. This time, however, the problems have not resolved after the calendar turned to 2019, and the problems are far more widespread than a simple inability to book into the next calendar year.

Also, the current problems are particularly disappointing to us, as we were very excited when Amex recently introduced the ability to earn 5x Membership Rewards (MR) points on FHR bookings.

Whatever the source of the problems, we hope Amex can fix them soon so we can return to having a fully-functioning FHR program. We’d sure like to receive the full benefits for which we pay big annual fees on our personal and Business Platinum cards!

In broad strokes, we’re seeing at least the following types of problems on Amex FHR:

  • Showing “No Availability” when rooms are available
  • Requiring a call to check availability and rates
  • Jacked-up rates
  • Las Vegas – only spa credits; no food & beverage credits
  • No current free night promotions

For our first 3 points, we use an example of a search for properties on the Amalfi Coast, Italy, for early April. For our point about Las Vegas, we’re using a search for late January. Although we’re only presenting one example for each point, the problems we illustrate are pervasive.

No Availability

Here’s a perfect example of a “no availability” glitch. In our search for Amalfi Coast in early April, Amex FHR says that the famed and beautiful Le Sirenuse property “is not available on the dates selected.”

However, a search for the same dates through the Le Sirenuse website shows 3 different types of rooms with availability.

Requiring a Call to Check Availability & Rates – Which Seems to Make 5x Points-Earning Unavailable

At this time, the search results for many Amex FHR properties have no availability or rate information, but rather require you to call in to check availability & rates. Here’s an example from the Grand Hotel Excelsior Vittoria in Sorrento, Italy:

Calling is a pain. We all want to be able to check availability and compare rates easily on the website. That’s sort of the whole point of the Internet, right?

In addition, it seems like the only way to earn 5x MR points on an Amex FHR booking is to make your booking online. One Mile at a Time says that 5x MR point-earning “is only available for bookings through amextravel.com so bookings by phone don’t qualify.” Thus, it’s a major problem to not be able to book online to earn 5x points!

Jacked-Up Rates

It’s actually often been the case in the past that many Amex FHR rates were slightly higher than rates from booking direct with the hotel (or other discounted rates). That doesn’t seem unreasonable to me, as the benefits you get through an Amex FHR booking can justify a slightly higher rate. And with easily-usable benefits such as a $100 food & beverage credit and free breakfast, a slightly-higher FHR rate can still present a better deal than a “regular” rate.

But now, we’re seeing some Amex FHR rates that are through the roof and entirely unreasonable. Take this example from the lovely Casa Angelina in the village of Praiano on the Amalfi Coast. Amex FHR shows the best rate available as $1,662 per night, which turns out to be for a Deluxe Sea View room.

However, a search on the Casa Angelina website reveals a Classic Room available for as low as 432 Euros per night ($497/night at today’s exchange rate). Note that this rate also includes breakfast and a 80-Euro ($92) property credit.

And, what I believe is the same type of room that shows at $1,662/night on Amex FHR is available for 1,001 Euros per night ($1,151/night) through the hotel website.

Las Vegas – Only Spa Credits, No Food & Beverage Credits

All of the Las Vegas properties on Amex FHR now show only $100-per-stay spa credits as the property amenity. Just a few weeks ago, some of the Vegas properties, such as the Bellagio and the Delano, had food & beverage credits instead. Needless to say, for virtually every person staying in Vegas, a food & beverage credit is far more valuable and easier to use than a spa credit!

(And for what it’s worth, when we stayed at the Waldorf Astoria last month (December 2018) on an FHR booking, the spa credit was $125, not $100.)

For example, if you look on FHR for a Bellagio stay during 2019, you’re offered a $100 spa credit:

But when we stayed at the Bellagio just last month on an FHR booking, we received a $100 food & beverage credit:

This is a huge devaluation for Vegas properties on FHR, and we certainly hope that F&B credit options return soon!

In the meantime, you might want to book your Vegas stays through the Chase Luxury Hotel & Resort Collection, if you want similar benefits. Holders of the Chase Sapphire Reserve, Sapphire Preferred, Ink Preferred, Ink Cash, and some other Chase cards have access to this program.

We’ve actually just made a great booking to stay at the Aria through this Chase portal! We’ll get free breakfast and a $100 food & beverage credit. And it’s our understanding that we’ll also be able to earn loyalty program points and elite night credit (MLife and World of Hyatt) on our booking through this program. We’ll report back on this stay and experiment later.

No Current Free Night Promotions

As we mentioned earlier, we’ve enjoyed previous Amex FHR promotions for a third, fourth, or fifth night free. And while they weren’t universal or always available, they certainly weren’t uncommon. At this time, we’re not seeing any of these promotions available. If this situation persists, it’s yet another big devaluation of the Amex FHR program.

Conclusion

We’re publishing this article for a few reasons. One, we certainly want our readers to be aware of the numerous current issues with the Amex FHR program, and massive devaluation of the program if these problems are not fixed soon. Two, we want this article to serve as notice to Amex about the widespread problems and that they need to pay attention to these problems – soon! Three, we hope that our readers will also contact Amex, through social media or whatever outlet suits you, to add voices to our own. And four, I suppose, we wanted to present the option of the Chase Luxury Hotel & Resort Collection as an alternative. We’re about to have our first experience with this program, and we’ll report back on how it goes.

What are your thoughts and recent experiences with Amex FHR? Do you have data points on using the Chase Luxury Hotel & Resort program as an alternative? Please share with us and other Middle Age Miles readers in the Comments!


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4 thoughts on “Amex FHR Is a Hot Mess These Days

  1. HS

    Matches my recent observations (which is too bad, too) — but you have documented it here more systematically and in greater detail, which goes to describe all the other posts I have (happily) stumbled upon on your site.

    You have absolutely the right orientation for the niche you describe, and really make clear how this whole thing works (which is basically that it’s not one thing, it’s everything, and if you are committed to a fair amount of fun, non-work travel, there are some amazing opportunities at realistic prices).

    1. Craig Post author

      Hi HS – Thank you for reading and commenting, and thanks so much for the great compliment! I’m really glad you’re enjoying Middle Age Miles. Comments like yours really encourage me on what I’m doing with the site. And you summed it up quite nicely, we can do a whole lot of incredible things (many of which I never dreamed I’d be able to experience) without breaking our bank.

      I’m so disappointed about Amex FHR. I really hope they fix these issues soon. At least Chase LHRC seems to be a solid alternative for now, and Virtuoso and/or Hyatt Prive may be helpful too.

      Thanks again for the kind words – you made my day. ~Craig

  2. Bruce N

    Craig:

    Hadn’t seen this post of yours until today, but I’m very glad that someone has posted publicly about the increasing disappointment with the FHR program that we’ve experienced. We’ve booked hotels through FHR for about 10 years now, and, generally speaking, we are seeing less and less benefit in doing so, and we are contemplating other credit cards that offer comparable or superior benefits.

    Our biggest issues with the program are: (1) Fewer and fewer free 3rd, 4th or 5th night hotels (the last several times I’ve checked for a particular destination, I have found no such promotion at any hotel in that destination, and, like you it seems, we too used to rely heavily upon this promotion to justify paying the price of a hotel at which we would not have otherwise stayed); (2) With increasing frequency, I have been told by the hotel upon check-in that there is no upgrade available (which has been a valuable benefit to us); (3) With increasing frequency, I have been told by the hotel upon check-in after Noon but before the hotel’s standard check-in time that my room is not yet available (yet another important benefit to us); and, finally, FHR’s confirmation / paperwork is so insufficient (it fails to provide a final (or nearly final) price including fees and taxes, even though many other online travel sites are able to provide this information; it entirely fails to mention any exorbitant so-called “resort fee” that is in addition to the price shown on the site (just last month I was hit with a $40 per night resort fee at a San Francisco hotel that was a city hotel, not at all a resort, and I had no idea about the fee until check-out; unlike pretty much every other travel site, I do not get any type of reminder email about an upcoming reservation, leaving me to have to sign on to AmEx in order to confirm that my reservation still exists). While not quite as important to us, I too have noticed more and more FHR hotel listings requiring a call to get availability and rate information. When I’ve encountered that in the past, I have simply eliminated that hotel from consideration, but it’s getting harder to do that when that’s required at more and more hotels.

    Besides wanting to state my agreement with your post, what prompted me most to write today is my curiosity as to whether you’ve seen any improvement on these issues since your January 2019 posting? I just looked for a free night promo at any hotel in Mexico and found exactly none of them!

    Finally, just fyi, Le Sirenuse is spectacular if, in fact, you are planning a stay there. If so, I’d be happy to provide a specific room request suggestion that I discovered online as we were planning our trip there. I’d provide it now but it will take me a while to dig it out, so I won’t bother if you’re not going to Positano anytime soon).

    Thanks!

    Bruce N

    1. Craig at Middle Age Miles Post author

      Hi Bruce – Many thanks for the detailed and thoughtful comment on the FHR program and your experiences. It’s very sad that this has become the norm for FHR. You’ve definitely used the program more than we have over the past few months, so I really appreciate your firsthand feedback on how the program is performing in practice on delivering the published “subject to availability” upgrade and early check-in benefits (or not performing, as the case may be). We did a follow-up article on 4/1/2019 where we found some improvement but still major issues with the program (https://www.middleagemiles.com/2019/04/01/amex-fhr-update-better-but-there-are-still-issues/). It sounds like it might be time to take yet another closer look.

      Thanks also for the thoughts on Le Sirenuse. We visited Positano in April, but given that we were with our son & daughter-in-law, an Airbnb was a better way for us to go. The one we stayed in worked really well for us. It was basically directly up the hill from the Covo Dei Saraceni, where we had stayed back in April 2018. No immediate plans to return to Positano, but I’ll ping you back if and when we plan to return. We absolutely love it there. Philly says it’s one of her top 2 or 3 places we’ve visited in all of our travels.

      Finally, apologies for the delayed response while we were traveling. I hope you continue to read and enjoy Middle Age Miles! ~Craig

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