Getting the elite experience without elite status via credit card & preferred partner hotel booking programs

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Updated 7/15/21 to now also include IHG’s Luxury & Lifestyle (including recent program changes), Four Seasons Preferred Partner, Peninsula PenClub, and Shangri-La Luxury Circle. Also added updates for the Fine Hotels & Resorts section regarding new the Platinum card benefit.

This hobby has spoiled me into a love of luxury hotels and elite status perks thanks to both shortcuts to status and many amazing “free” stays I have enjoyed using hotel points. Things like free breakfast, room upgrades, and late checkout can be among the luxuries enjoyed by those with elite access. However, many of those perks can be bestowed upon you even without elite status when you book through the right partner programs. I’ve been surprised to find that this is not only applicable to overpriced luxury hotels but that you can sometimes score these perks at mid-tier properties (or at luxury properties with mid-tier prices when rates are reasonable). Standout values are possible on short stays and when room rates are low. This post compiles a list of many of these programs and their associated benefits. Don’t sleep on these hotel booking programs: we sometimes see extraordinary values emerge when room rates are low and in some cases the range of included properties is wider than you may expect.

The bedroom in a standard room at Delano, my preferred place to stay in Las Vegas and bookable via FHR and Chase Luxury Hotel & Resort Collection

Credit card programs

American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts

Amex Platinum for Less

Link

Participating properties

This site lists all Fine Hotel & Resort (FHR) and The Hotel Collection (THC) properties. To look at just properties in the United States, you can start here.  To narrow the search just to FHR properties, click the Fine Hotels + Resorts checkbox.  To change to another country or continent, click “Update Filters”. If you’d prefer to search within a narrower region (such as a single state within the U.S.), start here and select the region of interest.

Note that Fine Hotels & Resorts is a program available to Amex Platinum cardholders (including each of the consumer flavors as well as the business card). Consumer Platinum cardholders (those with the consumer Amex Platinum, Schwab Platinum, or Morgan Stanley Platinum card) get a $200 credit per calendar year toward prepaid Fine Hotels & Resorts or The Hotel Collection bookings. Also noteworthy is that you can book up to three rooms with the included benefits. One of my favorite things about Fine Hotels & Resorts is that unlike traditional online travel agency programs, FHR bookings typically earn hotel points and elite credit (even on prepaid rates). Furthermore, I have often found that these bookings have also triggered associated Amex Offers when paying at checkout (though you won’t trigger Amex Offers on prepaid rates). Finally, note that while you need a Platinum card in order to book Fine Hotels & Resorts properties, terms indicate that you can pay with any Amex card at checkout.

Benefits
  • Daily breakfast for 2
  • Guaranteed 4pm late check-out
  • Complimentary Wi-Fi
  • Unique property amenity (usually a $100 resort credit, food & beverage credit, or spa credit)
  • Noon check-in when available
  • Room upgrade upon arrival based on availability
  • No minimum stay requirement

I have long been a big fan of Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts and have previously contrasted it with the Chase Luxury Hotel & Resort Collection. The key strength of Amex over many other similar programs is that Amex guarantees 4pm late checkout (whereas most other programs offer it based on availability).

Chase Luxury Hotel Collection

Link

Participating properties

Varies by city. Note that Chase doesn’t publish clear criteria in terms of which credit cards offer access to this program. You need to enter the first 6 digits of your credit card number in order to see search results. Anecdotally, it seems that the first 6 digits on most Chase credit cards seem to work. Avios credit cards (British Airways, Iberia, and Aer Lingus) do not appear to work, but most other Chase cards do (including those with no annual fee).

Benefits
  • Daily breakfast for two
  • A special amenity unique to each property such as lunch or dinner for two, a spa treatment, golf green fee waivers, welcome gift, or airport transfers. Note that this benefit is highly inconsistent from one property to another. Unlike Amex FHR, it is not a standard value of $100 but rather varies by property so check the details.
  • Complimentary Wi-Fi (though I don’t see this at all properties)
  • A room upgrade (when available at select properties),
  • Early check-in and late check-out (when available at select properties)
  • No minimum stay required

Mastercard Travel & Lifestyle Services Luxury Hotels and Resorts

Link

Participating properties

Varies by city. Note that Mastercard Travel & Lifestyle Services is the most variable value of any of the included programs and includes the widest range of properties. I recently saw a Hyatt Regency available for $85 that included a $50 dining credit, but another property that was $136 through all other booking channels (with a $100 property credit and breakfast for 2) was $281 through Mastercard. You have to shop around. Also note that the Mastercard program appears to work with any Mastercard, even those with no annual fee.

Benefits

These vary (and are only available at participating properties, which are indicated with an icon in search results. Benefits at included properties are listed along with the rates). Typically, benefits are similar to the other programs in this list and include:

  • Daily breakfast for two
  • A special amenity valued at up to $100. This is highly variable and could be as small as $25 in some cases (check the rate details).
  • A room upgrade (based on availability)
  • Early check-in and late check-out (when available at select properties)
  • No minimum stay required

Visa Infinite Hotels

Link

Participating properties

Varies by city. You need to have a Visa Infinite card to search (you’ll need to enter it before being able to search properties).

Benefits

These vary but are similar to others in this list and typically include:

  • Daily breakfast for two
  • A special amenity valued at up to $100, typically a resort credit (note that I’ve found Visa to sometimes include a resort credit at times when Amex provides only a spa credit)
  • A room upgrade (based on availability)
  • Early check-in and late check-out (when available at select properties)
  • No minimum stay required

Public programs

Virtuoso

Participating properties

Varies by city but is typically very similar to Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts. Note that anyone can book via Virtuoso (no special credit card required), but you’ll need to book through a Virtuoso agent.

Benefits

Note that Virtuoso benefits are identical to Amex FHR benefits in general, though late checkout is subject to availability via Virtuoso (whereas Amex guarantees it).

  • Daily breakfast for 2 guests per room
  • Room upgrade (subject to availability)
  • Early check-in (subject to availability)
  • Late checkout (subject to availability)
  • A special hotel amenity (usually a $100 property credit or other amenity valued at a minimum of $100)
  • No minimum stay to receive benefits

Hotel Preferred Partner Programs

Note that most chains now offer Preferred Partner programs. We’ll continue to add more programs to this list. Of key importance is that almost all of these programs require booking through an affiliated agent. I believe that most agents do not charge a fee for this, though some may. I have had positive experience booking through Travel Zork as they have an easy online request form (direct link to online request form), excellent turnaround time, a secure online system for entering payment information, and they have been responsive to my questions and requests. Furthermore, they are able to book all of the preferred partner programs listed below and more. While Travel Zork has a particular expertise in Las Vegas, they are able to book worldwide through these programs.

Also note that these programs and their associated benefits typically require booking the best flexible rate. Special rates including member rates, corporate rates, AAA, etc, do not qualify. That is a little counter-intuitive: you won’t be able to access the room discount available to members of the loyalty program, though in many cases the benefits affiliated with these programs outweigh those discounts. One key strength of booking through these hotel programs is that you will earn hotel points and elite night credits and likely be prioritized for things like room upgrades.

Four Seasons Preferred Partner

Participating properties

All Four Reasons properties participate.

Benefits
  • Room upgrade (subject to availability)
  • On-property benefits vary but can include complimentary breakfast and/or property credits
  • Ability to stack Preferred Partner benefits with hotel promotions (like 3rd or 4th night free for example)

More info: Four Seasons offers the least concrete set of benefits of any of the included programs here. You’ll have to reach out to a Preferred Partner travel advisor to find out what is available at your chosen property, though since you will be getting the best available rate and can stack with promotional offers you see on the Four Seasons website (like 3rd or 4th night free in some cases), there’s often no reason not to reach out to advisor if you’ll be booking a Four Seasons anyway. Keep in mind though that many Four Seasons properties are also available via Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts and via Amex they come with guaranteed 4pm late checkout whereas late checkout is not a typical feature of the Preferred Partner program.

Hyatt Privé

Living room of my suite at the Park Hyatt Washington DC, where I received a guaranteed upgrade to this suite when booking the category below it and where I could have used my $100 property credit at their formerly-Michelin-starred restaurant.
Participating properties

One Mile at a Time has a full list of participating properties here.

In short, all Park Hyatt, Andaz, and Miraval properties participate. Select Grand Hyatt, Hyatt Centric, Hyatt Regency, Unbound Collection, Thompson, Alila, and Joie de Vivre properties participate (though it is quite a long list of these properties that do participate).

Benefits

Benefits vary somewhat by brand. For starters, there is no minimum stay to receive Prive benefits at Park Hyatt or Andaz, but other participating brands require a 2-night minimum.

Hyatt Prive benefits include:

  • A $50 or $100 property credit per room per stay (this is always $100 at Park Hyatt hotels but can be either $50 or $100 at the other participating brands. It varies by individual property, so you’ll have to reach out to a Prive advisor to inquire about your preferred property)
  • A one category room upgrade confirmed within 24 hours of booking (room-to-room or suite-to-suite) — based on availability at the time of booking
  • Daily full breakfast for two in the hotel’s restaurant
  • Early check-in (as early as 9AM) and late check-out (as late as 4PM), subject to availability
  • A welcome gift and letter
  • No minimum stay at Park Hyatt or Andaz, 2-night minimum at other participating brands

More info: I’ve written about my experience with Hyatt Privé and I would definitely look at booking via Privé any time cash rates are cheap at a participating property.

Hilton Impresario

Paid rates at the Conrad Bora Bora Nui can be pricey, but the savings with free breakfast for 2 and $100 property credit could add up for someone without Hilton elite status.
Included properties

Almost all Waldrof-Astoria, LXR, and Conrad properties

Benefits

Normally, the Hilton Impresario program includes the same benefits as most other preferred partner programs, including:

  • Daily complimentary full breakfast for up to two people per room
  • A complimentary room upgrade, subject to availability at check-in
  • A $100 property credit once per stay
  • Early check-in and late check-out, subject to availability
  • Double Hilton Honors points (valid at select properties)
  • No minimum stay to receive benefits

However, through December 31st, Hilton Impresario is offering “Twice the Perks” at select properties, which includes:

  • A guaranteed room upgrade upon reservation
  • Complimentary breakfast for two guests daily
  • $200 hotel credit per stay (Double hotel credit)
  • Double Hilton Honors Points
  • Book a minimum 7 nights and you can get an adjoining room at a 50% reduced rate. Available only from February 1, 2021, to December 31, 2021. Must book a minimum 2-night stay.

See the full list of properties participating in Twice the Perks here. H/T to Travel Zork for bringing this promotion to my attention.

IHG Luxury & Lifestyle

Participating properties

There are more than 150 participating properties from the following brands: Regent, InterContinental, Kimpton, Indigo and Principal, including all Regent and InterContinental hotels globally.

IHG “Luxury” Benefits:

Includes Regent (all hotels globally), InterContinental (all hotels globally) and Kimpton (hotels outside the U.S.)

  • Guaranteed 2pm Late Check-Out

  • Upgrade to next room category (subject to availability on arrival)

  • $100 property credit, per stay (available at Regent & Intercontinental properties)

  • Complimentary breakfast daily two guests in the hotel restaurant

  • Bottled water, fresh fruit, and snacks in room upon arrival

  • Complimentary WIFI (unlimited devices)

IHG “Lifestyle” Benefits:

Includes Kimpton (in the U.S.), Hotel Indigo (participating properties only), and Principal (participating properties only)

  • 2pm Late Check-Out (subject to availability)

  • Upgrade to next room category (subject to availability on arrival)

  • $50 property credit, per stay (available at Kimpton, Hotel Indigo and Principal properties)

  • Bottled water, fresh fruit, and snacks in room upon arrival

  • Complimentary WIFI (unlimited devices)

More info: I initially found conflicting information about IHG Luxury & Lifestyle benefits, but it looks like the program changed in 2020 and some sites just haven’t updated information. The program used to have a 2-night minimum, but it no longer has a minimum stay requirement and now splits properties out into “luxury” and “lifestyle”. Late checkout is now only guaranteed at the “luxury” properties (it is subject to availability at “lifestyle” properties).

Marriott STARS

Booking the Ritz-Carlton Abu Dhabi via Marriott STARS can be a phenomenal deal when paid rates are low.
Participating properties

The nice thing about Marriott STARS is that several of the included brands do not otherwise recognize Marriott elite perks like free breakfast and suite upgrades, so these programs can be a great way to access those types of benefits on paid stays. All properties in the following brands participate in Marriott STARS:

  • BVLGARI
  • EDITION
  • Luxury Collection
  • Ritz-Carlton
  • Ritz-Carlton Reserve
  • St. Regis
Benefits
  • Complimentary full or continental breakfast daily for up to two people per room
  • Hotel credit valued at $100 (USD) once per stay
  • Room upgrade (subject to availability at check-in)
  • Complimentary basic Wi-Fi daily
  • Personalized welcome amenity and note
  • No minimum length of stay to receive benefits

Marriott Luminous

I’m not sure whether the JW Marriott Phu Quoc is a participating property, but a $100 credit could get you a couple of room service dinners if it is included.
Participating properties

Select properties in the following brands participate (note that individual properties can opt out, so you’ll need to contact an advisor to find out if your chosen property participates):

  • Autograph Collection
  • JW Marriott
  • Le Meridien
  • Marriott
  • Renaissance
  • Tribute Portfolio
  • W Hotels
  • Westin
Benefits
  • Complimentary daily breakfast for two people per room
  • Early check-in & late check-out, subject to availability
  • Complimentary room upgrade, subject to availability at check-in
  • Local welcome amenity and note
  • Complimentary basic Wi-Fi daily
  • Only at select properties: Hotel credit valued at $100 once per stay
  • No minimum length of stay required

Peninsula PenClub

Participating properties

All Peninsula hotels participate.

Benefits
  • “Peninsula Time” – flexible 24-hour check-in and check-out times (the hotel will make a room available for you until your room is ready)
  • Hotel-specific amenity (like a $100 hotel credit). This varies by hotel.
  • Complimentary full daily breakfast for two
  • Room upgrade, based on availability
  • Welcome amenity

More info: I’m not positive that PenClub is based on the best available rate, but since many Peninsula hotels are also available via Fine Hotels & Resorts or Virtuoso, I imagine the rate should be the same through each program.

Shangri-La Luxury Circle

Get breakfast in bed at Shangri-La since your complimentary breakfast can be taken as in-room dining.
Participating properties

All Shangri-La and Kerry properties participate in the Luxury Circle program (but Traders and Hotel Jen properties do not).

Benefits
  • Upgrade to the next room type category at the time of booking (subject to availability)
  • Hotel credit of $100 USD (or 10% of average daily room rate, whichever is higher), per stay
  • Complimentary full breakfast for two, including in-room dining
  • Early check-in and late check-out, subject to availability
  • Welcome amenity
  • No walk policy

More info: This is actually one of the best preferred partner programs since it offers an upgrade at booking rather than based on availability and it gives you the option for in-room dining for your complimentary breakfast for two. I’d definitely look at this the next time a Shangri-La fits my needs.

Bottom line

These credit card and preferred partner programs offer most of the key benefits of elite status by simply booking your stay through the affiliated program or agent. That can be a great deal for those making paid stays who want to enjoy elite-like benefits such as full breakfast for two and access to early check-in or late check-out. One of my favorite things about these programs is that most of them require no minimum stay, making them a great way to get fantastic value on short stays. At times, my wife and I have even booked separate back-to-back 1 night stays (one in her name and one in mine) to double up on key benefits and save a bundle on a weekend away.

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Joe Scmho

Hey Nick – I think your article needs a correction. You write w/r/t the IHG “Luxury” deal that it “Includes Regent (all hotels globally), InterContinental (all hotels globally) and Kimpton (hotels outside the U.S.).” At least as it relates to InterContinental, this is incorrect. I spoke to a travel agent and he said that the InterContinental in Monterey, CA does not participate.

Michael (TravelZork)

IHG has a scoring system for the IHG Luxury & Lifestyles Program. A hotel has to qualify. Most ICs and Kimptons do. I do not follow Regent closely.

Michael (TravelZork)

Thank you, Nick, for the mention. TravelZork Travel really does strive to reply and inform as best we can with regard to numerous programs. We also have more flexibility with some of the programs. One of the advantages that agencies can have is leverage and negotiation with the various properties and programs. For instance, we can often get rates matched to the best available rate and also apply luxury benefits. Lots of factors are involved with bookings, but we try our best to provide a custom solution. Logically, there is not a lot of leverage for a single one-night stay in comparison to a multi-room longer length stay. Another common question from Hilton Elites (for Impresario) are upgrade chances, and we really try to provide a realistic assessment of the situation.

Aaron

Nick, I’d like to conduct an initial search myself before I contact an agent. Is there a preferred way to search through the hotel-based systems for a rough guide to their rates? Can I presume that each of those systems (Hyatt Prive, for instance) will book a room at the lowest standard rate that I can find available online for the hotel for a specific stay, for instance?

Reno Joe

Listen up everyone: Nick has just done everyone a massive favor with this article. My wife and I spend seven figures a year on hotels. As a result, I have Hilton Gold, Hyatt Globalist, and Marriott Ambassador statuses. We’ve all seen it: elite status benefits are often unavailable, devalued, or elusive. Loyalty simply is not a two-way street. Loyalty to a hotel network does not translate to returned loyalty from the owner of a specific property. I have had a top-tier loyalty program CSR admit that owners of specific properties RESIST giving room upgrades. I’ve experienced this and it is at that point I realized it is all a game. On the other hand, we frequently use the AMEX FHR program. Elite status benefits even to someone new to the game — even at hotels with no loyalty program. Right at check-in, a property recognizes that you are an AMEX member and presents you will a list of benefits receive. The relationship with AMEX truly seems to mean something to the owner of a specific property. At the end of it all, I find little UNIQUE value in hotel loyalty programs. It is all rather sad. Save yourself the years of frustration that my wife and I have experienced. Book paid stays through one of the programs Nick mentions. View membership in the loyalty programs as solely about points — that’s it — forget about elite status benefits. Thanks for the article Nick.

Reno Joe

Correction: six figures a year. Sorry.

Dan the Man

Was thinking seven figures was a lot! I’m now Hyatt Globalist, Hilton Diamond, and Marriott Platinum, but I’m going to take your advice, and Nick’s, and start booking paid stays through Zork or some other travel agent. Thanks for the advice, much appreciated.

Reno Joe

Dan and everyone else out there, if you use any online travel agency other than FHR and the like, understand what fees are being imposed. How does one suppose that a well-known hotel booking website can offer a 10 percent reward rate? If one looks at fees and taxes on the summary page just prior to finalizing a booking, one will note that the fees include a 10 percent charge (above what the taxes should be). Is this a property fee? Is this some other tax? No, it is the website charging you 10 percent that will be you reward. It’s a sham. Test this yourself. Do a booking of a hotel in Venice, Italy — any hotel. The hotel tax is about 10 Euros. Compare a booking of the FHR-type sites and then the OTA sites. Be aware and don’t be ripped off. Happy travels.

L M

Do you get the privileges at Fine Hotels if you use Marriott Points but use your Amex Platinum card at reservation and for extras at the hotel? Has anybody ever tried this?

Reno Joe

Been there, done that. To receive the AMEX FHR benefits, you need to book the reservation via AMEX Travel. But, to use points, you obviously need to book the reservation via Marriott. If you use your AMEX Platinum Card in the way that you say, you will receive no FHR benefits . . . and only 1X per dollar. You’d be better off using the Green Card, which would receive 3X per dollar on incidentals at the property.

Ryan

Has anyone ever used multiple programs or had 2 people use the same program during the same stay? Ex: one person books the first night and the other books the 2nd? I’m sure this would be frowned upon but I’m curious how the property may handle it

[…] Getting Elite Hotel Experience Without Status:  There’s no question that having elite status with certain hotels elevates the hotel experience.  However getting status can be difficult.  Can you experience the perks of elite status without having status?  I’m glad you asked! […]

psh

Is there any way to book through these programs with points? Seems like a Venture or Arrival+ type of thing might be the only way…

Akuma

Travel expense “eraser” cards like the ones you mentioned along with the CSR’s $300 travel credit come to mind. Amex MR points work for FHR bookings at 1point/cent, which isn’t terrible if you have a ton of MR points. Anyone know of any other ways to book above options with points/miles?

Last edited 7 months ago by Akuma
Morgan Francie

Stupid question: what is an Impresario Agent? Is there a special phone number or promo code you use to book through the Hilton program?

Sebastien

Does anyone know how the Impresario double points stack with the triple point promo hotline has going on currently? Potentially very attractive if it does

Michael (TravelZork)

They are supposed to “stack,” but that is about the most clarity I have received. For sure, Diamond Benefits stack (such as the $50 daily breakfast credit).

[…] I must admit I have never used any of these programs. Maybe it is because I always had plenty of hotel points and never wanted to pay for a room lol: Getting the elite experience without elite status via credit card & preferred partner hotel book…. […]

rich

Hotel perks just don’t do a lot for me. Hilton’s gold status in the past was nice but breakfast isn’t much for me (water/tea/pastry). Late check out once in a while can come in handy. Mostly when I have a late flight, especially internationally.

Room upgrades are fine but nothing I value much. Maybe better for families.

Now airline upgrades are another story. I can’t imagine sitting in a regular coach seat internationally. My 2,000 mile trip in March (one way) on Southwest was about as far as I want to go unless I have an empty seat next to me.

I’m guessing most of the food/beverage credits aren’t worth much right now.

Using Chase points years ago we stayed at the Park Hyatt in Milan and they gave up 3 days of free breakfast. Breakfast was some outrageous price but while it was nice we won’t remember that at all.

Paul

Very helpful piece!

Erik

I think the answer is probably No, but if you use one of the Credit Card Reservation Services do you get the Points and Credit for the Night stayed with the Hotel Points program.

Thanks!

Erik

Sorry,

I see your answer below.

Kent

Great post – it’s good to know that “elite” hotel stay options are available for no annual fee cards. Some notes:

  • With Chase Luxury Hotel Collection, my Iberia card ($95 AF) wasn’t eligible. My Freedom card (original) was.
  • I assume that Freedom Flex / Unlimited cardholders would NOT get the 5x on travel since it’s technically not the UR travel portal, but it would be worth getting a solid answer on this.
  • With Mastercard’s option, almost all the Mastercards I tried were eligible, including no AF cards such as the Citi DoubleCash, AA MileUp, and REI Mastercard (USB). One did not: a card from a local credit union, which I found strange in that it’s a semi-premium card with a minimum credit line of $10k.
  • It seems that of the properties Mastercard lists, a good portion are without any extra benefits – like they’re just throwing in some prepaid hotel options you could find with any OTA, including some $30/night hostels. Maybe they’re “luxury” hostels. 🙂
  • It seems MC options with room upgrade “if available” is only determined at check-in (I saw no confirmation doing a ghost booking), so it raises the question of whether one wants to potentially pay extra for a roll of the dice to *maybe* get an upgrade.
Kathleen

For Chase, my Hyatt card did NOT work, but my legacy Marriott card ($85 AF) DID work

DavidS

Seems like some of these allow for elite recognition/accrual and benefits, but I’m not sure if they all do.

DavidS

Sounds great. Thanks.