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Middle Age Miles

Amex FHR Update: Better, But There Are Still Issues

amex fhr update issues april 2019
Middle Age Miles at the famed Blue Bar at The Berkeley Hotel, London,
which participates in the Amex FHR program

Introduction

Back in January, we wrote an article sharply criticizing the state of the Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts (FHR) program – Amex FHR Is a Hot Mess These Days. That post has been one of our more widely-read articles, so we gather that this is a subject of interest to Middle Age Miles readers.

We recently received a very nice-looking promotional book in the mail from Amex – a 2019 guide book to Amex FHR and The Hotel Collection (another Amex hotel booking program whose properties tend to be a step below the FHR hotels but still high-end). This reminded us that it might be time to take another look at Amex FHR to see whether any of the problems we identified in January had been straightened out.

2019 Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts & The Hotel Collection guide book

Summary of Our Updated Findings

Overall, the state of Amex FHR seems substantially better than when we published our January 2019 article. But there are still several problematic issues and at least one set of negative changes that seem permanent with respect to Las Vegas hotels.

In the earlier article, we identified 5 problem areas for Amex FHR, and we showed at least one example of each problem area. Here’s a summary of what we found now in each area:

Showing “No Availability” when rooms are available – This area seems better overall. The property we used as our example, Le Sirenuse in Positano (Amalfi Coast), Italy, still has issues. But in an array of test searches, this problem seemed less prevalent than in January.

Requiring a call to check availability and rates – Again, this area seems better overall. The property we used in our January example, the Grand Hotel Excelsior Vittoria in Sorrento, Italy, is now available for online booking. However, we still found examples where you will have to call in to Amex Travel, even though rooms are readily available.

Jacked-up rates – We’re not sure whether this is improved, as it would require days of research to get a full picture. We can say, however, that we still see inflated rates on Amex FHR at the property we used in our January example, Casa Angelina in Praiano, Italy.

Las Vegas – only spa credits; no food & beverage credits – This has not changed. All Las Vegas properties on FHR offer $100 spa credits as their special benefit; none have F&B credits. This remains very disappointing, especially since the Chase Luxury Hotels & Resorts Collection offers F&B credits at many Las Vegas properties, especially those under the MGM/MLife umbrella.

No current free night promotions – This has been greatly improved. When we looked in January, we could not find any free-night promotions on FHR. Now, however, we see at least 100 properties offering free-night or large-property-credit promotions.

Examples & Analysis

As we did in our January article, we pulled some additional examples on each of our categories of complaints about Amex FHR.

1. Showing “No Availability” When Rooms Are Available

As mentioned in our Summary, this area seems much better overall. However, the property we used as our example in January still has issues with Amex FHR showing “no availability” when rooms are available.

We searched Le Sirenuse in Positano for randomly-selected dates of October 16-20, 2019. Just like the dates we’d searched in January, these dates showed no availability on FHR:

But there is plenty of availability for these dates on the Le Sirenuse website, for many different types of rooms:

It’s clear that FHR has not solved this “no availability” problem. But that said, it did seem much less prevalent than during our January searches. And it’s possible that there is some other issue impacting Le Sirenuse specifically.

2. Requiring a Call to Check Availability and Rates

This issues also seemed to be better overall now than in January.

For instance, the property we used in our January example, the Grand Hotel Excelsior Vittoria in Sorrento, Italy, is now available for online booking:

However, we still found examples where you will have to call in to Amex Travel, even though rooms are readily available. Here’s one from The Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas. Amex FHR requires you to call to check availability:

But The Cosmopolitan’s website shows there are tons of rooms available at the hotel on the same May dates:

Thus, the call-in requirement wasn’t an issue of availability being tight or the hotel having only a limited selection of rooms.

As we discussed in our January article, calling is a pain. But in addition and more importantly, we believe that the only way to earn 5x MR points on an Amex FHR booking is to make your booking online (using your Platinum card). Thus, it’s a major problem to not be able to book online to earn 5x points!

3. Jacked-up Rates

As we mentioned in our Summary, we wouldn’t be able to tell how pervasive this problem is without extensive research. And we can understand that FHR prices might run a bit higher than you could otherwise book, given the generous benefits that the program offers.

But, we can at least warn you about the possibility of jacked-up rates on Amex FHR and show you that this is still happening at the example hotel we used, Casa Angelina in Praiano, Italy.

Using randomly-selected dates of October 16-20, 2019, FHR will show you rates for Casa Angelina of:

  • $1,184 per night for a Sea View Terrace room
  • $1,620 per night for a Grand Deluxe Sea View room
  • $2,368 per night for a Junior Suite

But if you search the Casa Angelina website directly for these nights, you’ll find results that are quite different. First, there are several room types that are cheaper, which don’t show up in the FHR results at all, including 539 Euros (about $604) for a Classic Room – almost $600 per night less than the cheapest room shown on FHR!

Beyond that, take a look at the rates on the Casa Angelina website for the Grand De Luxe Sea View room that ran for $1,620 a night on FHR. You can get this room direct from Casa Angelina for as little as $1,121 per night (listed as 1,001 Euros), including breakfast and a 50 Euro spa credit.

Granted, this is a pre-paid, non-cancelable rate. But savings of over $500 a night might be worth it!

(In fairness, not everything is jacked up at this property. If you need a fully cancelable rate for a Grand Deluxe Sea View Room, the hotel website’s “Best Available Bed and Breakfast Rate” of 1430 Euros ($1,602) is about the same as the $1,620 rate shown on FHR.)

4. Las Vegas – only spa credits; no food & beverage credits

This remains unchanged from January. All Las Vegas properties still give only spa credits of $100 rather than any with food & beverage credits. Here are some examples:

Of course, for the vast majority of people, F&B credits would be far more valuable and easier to use than spa credits. Thus, this is a major devaluation in the FHR program for Vegas properties compared to 2018 and earlier.

We were hoping we’d see a change back to F&B credits, at least for some Vegas properties. But alas, it looks like we’re out of luck. Going forward, we’ll be booking Vegas stays through the Chase Luxury Hotels & Resorts Collection if we want rates that include F&B credits in Vegas. Alternatively, we might use our newly-minted Diamond status with Caesars Rewards to score discounted or even comped rooms in Vegas with resort fees waived!

5. Free Night Promotions

Back in January, we were extremely disappointed to see that there were no free-night promotions through FHR at any properties at all. We worried that this potentially valuable feature of the program, which we’d used to save money previously, had also disappeared.

On this point, we’re pleased to report that free-night promotional offers are back on FHR, and they’re fairly plentiful. We counted at least 100 hotels with 3rd/4th/5th-night-free promotions or big-property-credit promotions currently in effect – including at some very, very high-end properties and places we’ve personally enjoyed visiting like the Charles Hotel in Munich and The Berkeley in London (site of the featured image of this article, taken in its famed Blue Bar).

Conclusion

We’ve seen a fair bit of improvement in the Amex FHR program since January, but some serious issues still remain. We hope Amex will continue to work on these problems, because we’ve enjoyed using FHR in the past and there are times when it can provide some good value.

For example, our test searches for The Berkeley in London showed times when the FHR rate exactly matched the best rate we could find by booking direct on the hotel’s website. In this type of situation, FHR can be a great value by providing free breakfast, the property benefit, the potential for a room upgrade and early check-in, and “guaranteed” 4:00 pm late check-out (not to mention the possibility of 5x MR earning on your spend). Beyond that, if two spouses/partners/SOs both have Platinum cards, FHR provides the possibility of multi-dipping the per-stay property benefit by booking back-to-back one-night stays.

All this to say, Amex FHR remains a tool in our box of tricks for getting great value at hotels. We’re happy to see it seemingly improving again, and we hope it’ll fix more of the problems that we still see. But, as always, you must be sure to check all of your available options for booking hotels to make sure you’re getting the best deal for your travel dollar!

What are your thoughts on Amex FHR? Do you have data points to add to our examples that are helpful and/or interesting? Please share with us and other Middle Age Miles readers in the Comments!


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