Take Advantage of Luxury Hotel Programs for Valuable Extra Perks (2021)

From Travel Strategies
Jump to: navigation, search

  HomeEasy Access to Valuable Travel Benefits


Staying at fancier hotels can cost a substantial amount of money. If you are going to splurge, you want to make sure to get your money’s worth. And one of the best ways is to take advantage of luxury travel programs. After all, savvy travel isn't only about finding the absolutely cheapest room or flight—it is about maximizing the value you get from your travel spending.

Our normal advice to book directly with the hotel doesn’t usually apply to luxury hotels. If you can’t find a great rate somewhere else, you should book through a luxury hotel program, which entitles you to hundreds of dollars of extra perks with your stay.

A typical package of extra benefits includes free breakfast for 2, a room upgrade, late checkout, early check-in, free Wi-Fi, and a $100 hotel, food, or spa credit.

Many of the hotels that take part in these programs are extremely expensive, with room rates above $500 per night. If you don't stay at hotels in that price range, you might think that these programs are not for you.

However, most luxury hotel programs also include less expensive options, including more than a dozen of the casinos in Vegas and many reasonably priced hotels in the Marriott, Hyatt, and IHG programs (such as all of Marriott's hip W hotels and all of IHG's Kimpton hotels). Many of these hotels are in the $200 per night range. When you use a luxury hotel program to book a less expensive hotel, the extra perks can sometimes be more valuable than the entire cost of booking the room.

The three types of luxury hotel programs

There are three different types of luxury hotel programs.

  1. Brand-specific programs offered through selected travel agents. Most of the luxury hotel brands, like Four Seasons and Mandarin Oriental, have their own special programs that they operate with participating travel agents. If you book through one of those agents, you’ll get a set of extra benefits with any stay.
  2. Most of the major hotel programs have similar programs. Marriott Stars, Marriott Luminous, Hyatt Prive, Hilton Impresario, IHG Luxury, and IHG Lifestyle provide valuable extra benefits at most of the high-end hotels and some of the mid-tier hotels in the Marriott, Hyatt, Hilton, and IHG programs.

  3. Credit Card Luxury Hotel Collections. If you have a credit card that has an annual fee (and if you are following our advice, you are likely to have several), you are probably eligible for at least one of the credit-card-based programs. Each credit card program offers a distinct set of benefits and a different collection of participating hotels.
  4. Virtuoso Hotels. Virtuoso is the name of a network of over 15,000 luxury travel agents. The Virtuoso Hotel Program provides a lucrative package of benefit when you book at any of about 1,200 luxury hotels. While it includes some more moderately priced hotels, this program leans towards the most expensive hotels at each destination. There is a lot of overlap with the Amex Platinum Card’s Fine Hotels Collection.

Often you can book the same hotel, with slightly different benefits and rates, through multiple programs. For example, the Carlyle hotel in New York can be booked by a participating travel agent through the Virtuoso program or the hotel’s own Rosewood Elite program. It can also be booked through the Amex, Chase, or Mastercard Luxury Hotel Collections.

The Marriott, Hyatt, Hilton, & IHG luxury hotel programs

Marriott, Hyatt, Hilton, and IHG operate their own luxury hotels programs.

  • If you book through a participating travel agent, you'll pay the normal "best available rate" and get a valuable set of extra benefits. In many cases, the benefits are even better than what you would receive if you have high-level elite status. Expect something along the lines of breakfast for two, an extra amenity (usually some sort of $100 per stay credit), a room upgrade, and late checkout priority.
  • As these are travel agent programs, they only work on paid reservations. You can't receive the benefits on an award stay. However, a room upgrade might stick on a stay that combines a paid segment with an award segment.

  • When you book through these programs, you'll still get your normal loyalty program benefits. They are still considered a "first party" reservation. You'll earn reward points and elite night credits and will receive any non-duplicative status benefits.
  • Even though you are paying the "best available rate", you are still often paying a little bit more to get the extra benefits—make sure it's worth it. For example, you can typically use a "members" rate or a AAA rate to save around 5-10% off the best available rate. On a $300 hotel room, the best available rate might be $15-30 more than the cheapest possible rate. If you aren't getting that much value from the extra benefits, particularly if you already get some of the benefits from your hotel elite status, it may not be worth it.
  • On the other hand, you'll sometimes get an even better rate when booking through these programs than booking normally. While there isn't a convenient way to know ahead of time, each of these programs runs promotions where you might get a 3rd night free or some other special offer. Your agent will let you know what is available when they check the rate.
  • Try to find a participating travel agent that you like working with, as you are likely to want to use these programs on a regular basis. While many travel agents can't access these programs, there are thousands of agents who can, and we don't provide a specific recommendation. Ask agents you have worked with in the past or do a web search for the name of the luxury hotel program. Many agents won't charge you a fee for this service as they receive a nice commission from the hotel.
  • Working with an agent can be somewhat frustrating for people who are used to being able to help themselves online. It requires some back and forth and it can feel a little awkward if you wind up making a bunch of changes or not booking a hotel. At the same time, you will be working an experienced travel professional that can often provide valuable additional guidance or services and the extra benefits are usually worth it.

  • Whenever you are thinking about staying at one of Marriott's, Hilton's, Hyatt's, or IHG's nicer hotels, it is worth seeing if you can book it through its luxury program.
    • Marriott STARS. Marriott's higher-end program includes most St. Regis, Ritz Carlton, Luxury Collection, Bulgari, and Edition hotels. List of participating hotels.
    • Marriott Luminous. Marriott's lower-end program includes some of the fancier hotels in Marriott's other brands, including many Autograph Collection, JW Marriott, Le Meridien, Marriott, Renaissance, Tribute Portfolio, W Hotels, and Westin hotels. Benefits are more variable. You'll always get free breakfast for two and free Wi-Fi, but room upgrades are subject to availability at check-in, and only some of the participating hotels provide a $100 property credit. We haven't found an up-to-date list of participating hotels, so you'll need to ask a Marriott Luminous travel agent if any particular hotel participates in the program.
    • Hyatt Prive. Includes all Park Hyatt, Andaz, Thompson and Miraval properties. You can also use the program for 2+ night stays at most Grand Hyatt, Alila, and Unbound Collection hotels and some Hyatt Regency, Hyatt Centric, Destination and Joie de Vivre hotels. Upgrades are given within 24 hours of booking, subject to forecasted occupancy. List of participating hotels.
    • Hilton Impresario. Includes many Waldorf Astoria, all Conrad, and some LXR hotels. Along with the usual extra benefits, you'll earn double Hilton points. List of participating hotels.
    • IHG Luxury. Includes all Regent and Intercontinental Hotels and all Kimpton hotels outside the United States. At Regent and Intercontinental hotels stays include a $100 property credit. At international Kimptons you'll just receive the other benefits.
    • IHG Lifestyle. Includes all Kimpton's in the US and Hotel Indigos. No breakfast, but you still get free snacks, the other benefits, and a $50 property credit per stay.

Other brand-specific programs (available via travel agents)

  • Most smaller luxury hotel brands offer special programs with participating travel agents. As with the brand-specific programs described above, you’ll get a set of extra benefits that aren’t available when you book online or through other agents.
  • FourSeasonsPreferred1.jpg
  • For these programs, benefits are usually available at all of the brand's hotels. If the brand has a program, most or all of their hotels will participate and you should just reach out to a participating travel agent right away.
  • The programs run by the hotel companies are designed to be “exclusive”—only a small number of travel agents participate with each program. So you’ll need to search around to find an agent that participates in the program you want to take advantage of. However, many of the larger luxury travel specialists are likely to be part of many of the different programs.
    • Belmond Bellini Club. $200 resort credit and free breakfast.
    • Dorchester Diamond Club. Full breakfast, guaranteed upgrade, resort credit.
    • Four Seasons Preferred Partner. Usually can be tacked on to existing rates, including other promotions. Full breakfast, upgrade upon availability, resort credit.
    • Langham Hotel Couture. Welcome amenity, confirmed upgrade on booking, six extra hours at check-in or check-out.
    • Jumeirah Passport to Luxury. Breakfast, upgrade upon availability, $100 credit.
    • Mandarin Oriental Fan Club. Full breakfast, confirmed upgrade, $100 credit.
    • Oetker Collection Pearl Partner. Full breakfast, confirmed upgrade, E85 (one night) / E170 (multiple nights) resort credit.
    • Peninsula PenClub. Full breakfast, upgrade upon availability, free spa treatment.
    • Relais & Chateaux Preferred Partner Program. Free breakfast.
    • Rocco Forte Knights. Upgrade upon availability.
    • Rosewood Elite. Full breakfast, upgrade upon availability, resort credit.
    • Shangri-La Luxury Circle. Full breakfast, $100 (or 10%) credit, additional amenities.
    • Sofitel STEP. Upgrade upon availability, welcome amenity.

Credit Card Luxury Hotel Collections

Chances are that you have, or will soon have, access to multiple credit card luxury hotel collections. Visa, Mastercard, Chase, and Amex provide access for anyone who has one of their travel and rewards credit cards. If you have a small collection of travel-oriented credit cards, you are likely to have access to every credit card program, except perhaps the American Express Fine Hotel Collection, which is limited to cardholders of the high-annual-fee Platinum card.

For any destination that you are interested in, you'll need to search each collection's website to see the participating luxury hotels. While there is some overlap, different hotels participate with different programs. There are no rules-of-thumb to know which hotels will be available, you'll need to take the time to check.

Here are convenient links to each of the programs:

  • Visa Signature Luxury Hotel Collection. Available with any Visa Signature or Visa Infinite card (which includes most travel and reward Visa credit cards that have annual fees). The package of benefits is somewhat less valuable than the Mastercard, Chase, and Amex Fine Hotel and Resorts programs. While you get complimentary breakfast and a good chance of a room upgrade, you only receive a $25 food and beverage credit.
  • On the other hand, they have a best rate guarantee, which helps ensure you aren’t paying a higher base rate in order to receive the benefits. The program also includes a broad range of hotels, not just the most expensive hotels in each destination.

  • Visa Infinite Hotel Collection. Available with a handful of Visa Infinite cards, including the Chase Sapphire Reserve card. This program provides an extra "special amenity" unique to each hotel (typically some sort of $50-100 hotel credit), on top of the regular benefits of the Visa Signature program, but only at a few of the most expensive hotels. Unfortunately, Visa Signature cardholders need to search both websites. The Visa Infinite website only shows the small number of hotels that offer extra benefits. The regular Visa Signature website shows all the hotels but doesn't indicate which ones participate in the Visa Infinite program (and what special benefit they offer).
  • Mastercard Luxury Hotels & Resorts. Available with any World or World Elite Mastercard, including the AAdvantage cards and Citi Prestige card (among others). While the benefits are great, this is the least useful of the credit card luxury hotel programs. You'll wind up paying a premium on top of the normal best available rate to get the extra benefits. Sometimes the premium can be as low as $5-15, but often it is considerably more. The good news is that Mastercard’s website makes it easy to see the difference between a "Luxury Hotel & Resorts" reservation and a normal booking rate.
  • MastercardLuxury.jpg
  • Chase Luxury Hotel & Resort Collection. Available with most of the annual-fee-based Chase cards, but not included with the Hyatt and IHG cards (as the program competes with these hotel companies). The website is a pain to use and room rates are often $50-100 higher than you can find elsewhere. However, Chase offers a good package of benefits that can often justify these higher prices and it sometimes has competitive rates. It is usually worthwhile to see what they have available.
  • ChaseLuxury.jpg
  • American Express: The Hotel Collection. Available with the American Express Gold and Platinum cards. This program is harder to take advantage of because it requires a (minimum) two-night stay. The primary benefit is a $100 hotel credit (per stay), rather than breakfast each day plus an extra per-stay benefit. However, you won’t need to pay a higher rate to get the credit, and due to its place alongside the more exclusive Amex Fine Hotel program, it focuses on more moderately priced hotels. Like the Visa program, it is a good way to get extra value, often without paying any extra money for your room. Also, if are a Platinum cardholder, you'll receive 5x Membership Rewards points on any Hotel Collection bookings.
  • HotelCollection.jpg
  • American Express Fine Hotel & Resorts. Available only to holders of the Amex Platinum Card. Personal versions of the Platinum Card also include a $200 credit for a prepaid (but often refundable) Fine Hotel & Resorts or Hotel Collection stay each year. Rates are sometimes the same as you’d pay if you booked directly, and sometimes higher. Like the Mastercard website, Amex will show you side-by-side rates for each hotel. Tends to focus on the most expensive hotels in each destination, with a lot of overlap with the Virtuoso program.
  • FineHotels.jpg
Free Nights

One of the added benefits of the Amex Platinum Card’s Fine Hotel & Resorts program is that they frequently offer a third or fourth night free on many of the hotels in their collection. Getting a bunch of valuable benefits is great, but getting a free hotel night on top is even better.

Summary of the credit card luxury hotel program benefits

Visa Signature Luxury Hotel Program Mastercard Luxury Hotels & Resorts Chase Luxury Hotel & Resorts Amex The Hotel Collection Amex Fine Hotel and Resorts
Free breakfast, for 2
continental usually yes no continental
Unique property amenity (such as lunch, dinner, spa treatment, $50-100 hotel credit)
$25 food credit Yes Yes $75 food credit yes
Room upgrade (when available)
yes yes yes yes yes
Free Wi-Fi
yes usually yes
Late checkout (when available)
yes yes yes yes, guaranteed
Early check-in (when available)
yes yes - yes
Best rate guarantee
yes yes
Requires 2 night stay
Earn points / elite night credits
yes sometimes yes yes yes
Must use associated credit card to book
yes yes yes any Amex on the same account any Amex on the same account

Virtuoso Hotel Program

The Virtuoso Hotel Program provides extra benefits at a collection of over 1,200 luxury hotels. Typically, only the most expensive hotels at each destination participate in the program.

  • When you book one of these hotels, you’ll get a set of “Virtuoso Amenities” which typically include breakfast for two, $100 hotel credit, room upgrade, early check-in, and late check-out. These are essentially the same set of benefits that you get from the Amex Platinum, Chase, and Mastercard programs, but using the Virtuoso program adds access to an additional set of hotels. Another advantage is that you often get slightly higher priority for a room upgrade when you book with Virtuoso, rather than with a credit card luxury hotel program.
  • Virtuoso.jpg
  • You can view all the participating hotels and extra benefits you get in a hotel directory on the Virtuoso website, in their iOS app, or their glossy catalog.
  • What you can’t always see online are the rates for the participating hotels. To get that information, you’ll need to work with one of over 15,000 Virtuoso travel advisers. Many of these travel agents won’t charge any extra fees to book the hotel—they still receive a commission on the booking. However, some charge an additional service fee, so make sure to ask.
  • You can find a Virtuoso travel agent using an adviser directory on the Virtuoso website. Agents are located all over the world. If you don’t need a ton of destination-specific advice, we recommend building up a relationship with one adviser for all your trips, rather than searching for an “expert” for every trip you take. You might want to start with an adviser located in your hometown.

  • Many Virtuoso agents belong to the different brand-specific programs. If so, they may be able to get you access to non-overlapping benefits from both programs. You won’t receive two different $100 hotel credits, but if one program gives you early check-in and the other gives you free parking, you are likely to get both.

Maximizing the benefits from luxury hotel programs

  • Take advantage of multiple programs to increase your hotel options. Each program only has a limited number of participating hotels—typically around 1,000. In any given destination, a few hotels might be members of multiple programs, but many of the participating hotels won’t overlap. If you have access to multiple programs, check them all, to increase your options.
  • These programs are relatively more valuable when you can use them to book less expensive hotels. While most of the hotels in luxury travel programs have rates of over $250 per night, some participating hotels can be less expensive. At these hotels, the value of the benefits you receive can represent a significant percentage of the room rate. For example, when rates are cheap in Las Vegas, you might be able to book a luxury program hotel for under $100 per night, which will then come with a $100 food credit and a free breakfast worth another $80. It is like they are paying you to stay there.
  • Vegas.jpg

    As another example, one of us recently used the Amex Fine Hotels & Resort Program to book the Loews Chicago, one of the mostly highly rated hotels in Chicago. Their $139 rate included free breakfast, a $100 in food and beverage credits, and a room upgrade.

  • General hotel credits are most valuable, spa credits are usually the least valuable. The hotel amenity will be different for each hotel and can differ for each program. You need to factor in the type of credit when evaluating your hotel options. You can never use your credits to pay for your actual room, but you can use a general hotel credit for the widest variety of incidental purchases. Most often, the credit you receive will be a food and beverage credit that can be used at any of the hotel’s restaurants and bars (but since breakfast is usually included as well, it can be hard to get full value from this type of credit). Sometimes, the amenity is a spa credit. Due to the very expensive prices of spa services at most of these hotels, a spa credit won’t usually cover the cost of even the least expensive spa services, so it works more like a discount.
  • HotelSpa.jpg
  • Make sure to check the regular rates. While we all appreciate free breakfast and other benefits, they aren’t really free if you have to pay a higher room rate when you book through a luxury hotel program. In many cases, the luxury programs charge the same "best available rate" that you would pay elsewhere—but with the extra perks thrown in. However, better rates are often available at private deal websites, the hotel's own website, or other places. Make sure to check the price for the hotel, ideally through several of the better websites, rather than blindly booking through a luxury hotel program.
  • Luxury hotel programs are most valuable for stays of a single night—sometimes, you can break up a multi-night stay to receive additional value. While you get breakfast and some other benefits for every night of your stay, the hotel-specific amenity is only given once per visit. For example, you might get a single $100 food credit, regardless of whether your stay is one night or three nights.
  • If you are planning to visit a destination for multiple nights and you don't mind the inconvenience, you could book multiple single-night stays at different hotels to get multiple “amenities” (usually $100 credits). Or you can often book separate stays on consecutive nights at the same hotel, by using a different luxury hotel programs for each night or by booking one night with your name and the next night via a travelling companion. Simply booking back-to-back nights as separate reservations with the same name, through the same program, will be combined into a single stay.

Send comments or suggestions to editor@travelstrategies.com or leave a comment below.

blog comments powered by Disqus