Amex's FHR Program Is Worth the Extra Cost. Here's Why

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KEY POINTS

  • Booking through FHR unlocks multiple credits that can easily be worth $375 and up.
  • The "when available" upgrades are typically not only available, but downright awesome.
  • Having a guaranteed 4 p.m. checkout gives you nearly a full day, meaning your check-out day isn't spent racing against the clock.


I like big credits and I cannot lie.

When I first got The Platinum Card® from American Express, I'll admit, I didn't take the Fine Hotels and Resorts (FHR) program too seriously. Given the wealth of other card benefits, this one seemed, well, silly. "Book with us and get extra perks at these super expensive hotels. Oh, and there's a 50/50 chance you'll pay more for the room than if you booked directly with the hotel."

Woo. Great. Pass.

Then one day, I spent a little time actually looking at the FHR offerings. And I crunched some numbers. That's when I realized there was a lot of potential in the program I had previously discounted.

Now, after having had my own FHR experience, I am firmly on the side of it being well worth the cost. Here's my reasoning.

Holy credits, Batman

Right off the bat, any extra cost you'll pay to book through FHR versus the hotel is made up for in credits. And there are a lot of them:

  • $200 annual hotel credit: First, if you have The Platinum Card® from American Express, you get an annual $200 credit for prepaid FHR or Hotel Collection bookings made through Amex Travel. You can only get the credit once per year, but that credit alone is almost a third of the annual fee. (If you're paying for your FHR booking with points, split it up; pay for all but $200 in points, then pay the $200 with your Platinum card to get the credit.)
  • $100+ property credit: Every hotel in the FHR portfolio offers some sort of property credit worth a minimum of $100 (some hotels offer $150 or more). Most commonly, this will be a food and beverage credit you can use for on-site restaurants or even room service. In other cases, it may be for spa services or even a generic credit for any hotel purchases you can charge to your room. (Note you get one property credit per stay.)
  • Free breakfast for two, every day: Each day of your FHR stay, you'll receive a credit toward breakfast. The exact amount of the credit varies by property, but it should be enough for a good breakfast for two at the hotel's restaurant. Given that the hotels in the FHR aren't the free continental breakfast types, this can be easily worth $75 or more.

Taking the credits into account, you're looking at $375+ back for your first FHR booking each year. And while the Hotel Collection requires a two-night minimum stay, FHR bookings don't have that limit. So, you can book a single night in a fabulous hotel and get $375+ back in credits.

Oh, and because you're booking through Amex Travel, paying with The Platinum Card® from American Express earns you 5X Membership Rewards points per dollar on the purchase. This easily compares with other high-end travel rewards cards in terms of earnings.

It's a bird, it's a plane -- it's a big upgrade

The credits alone make the FHR booking worthwhile in the vast majority of cases. But then there's the icing on the cake: upgrades. An FHR booking comes with a space-available upgrade at check-in.

All right, yes, you may have caught the "space available" caveat. But let me tell you, I have yet to hear from someone who didn't get an upgrade at check-in on an FHR booking. On the contrary, I've heard a ton of stories about getting pretty awesome upgrades (and my own experience supports that, too!). 

At the worst, expect a better view. At the best, your base-level room could be upgraded all the way to a suite. (We wound up in a one-bedroom suite with a dining room and wet bar.)

And in case you're wondering, I have top-tier status through some of my hotel credit cards, and the FHR upgrades blow status upgrades out of the water. Depending on the upgrade, you could easily be looking at $100 or more in value -- emphasis on the or more.

Late checkout: The unsung hero

Finally, let me wax poetic for a while on the most undervalued perk of the FHR program: guaranteed late checkout. That's right, guaranteed late checkout. None of this "when available" nonsense here (though you should give the front desk a heads-up when you check in). 

When you make an FHR booking, you get guaranteed 4 p.m. checkout. Think about this for a minute. Most hotels have a checkout time between 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. This means your check-out day is often wasted on breakfast and packing, with little time for anything else.

A 4 p.m. checkout means you're getting five to seven extra hours. That's a full day at the theme park. Or an extra day of sightseeing. Or even just a few extra hours of soaking in the ambience of your fancy hotel room. 

For my trip, we had a one-night stay. But that late checkout meant it felt like two days. We could sleep in, enjoy our breakfast credits, relax for a couple hours, then have a leisurely lunch before we finally got around to repacking our bags to leave. 

In my opinion, the guaranteed late checkout alone is worth the extra money we paid to book through FHR instead of booking directly with the hotel. And that's before you add in the fantastic upgrades and the truckload of credits.

So, TL;DR? Yes, the FHR portfolio is full of very expensive hotels. And yes, you may pay a little extra to book those already-costly hotels through American Express. But the perks and credits easily make up for the difference -- and then some. By the time everything is added up, you can have a truly luxury experience at a very reasonable price.

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