If you ever stay at Mandarin Oriental, Park Hyatt, Four Seasons, Peninsula or similar upscale hotels, you may be surprised to know that you are almost certainly NOT getting the best possible deal if you book via the official website.
We are just back from the Four Seasons in Hampshire for a post-Christmas break, and got a significantly improved package by NOT booking directly!
The high-end hotel chains often have ‘preferred partner’ programmes with high-end travel agents. These are, fundamentally, incentives to encourage an agent to favour one property over another.
PenClub, for example, applies to all Peninsula properties. You pay the same rate as you would on the Peninsula website, and all online promotions are also valid. However, you will also receive free breakfast, an upgrade if available at check-in, a 30-minute extension on any spa treatment and upgraded room amenities.
Four Seasons Preferred Partner travel agents will get you an upgrade on arrival if arrival, free breakfast (usually available as room service or in the restaurant) and $100 of food and beverage credit. Again, all online deals will be matched.
Starwood has ‘Luxury Privileges’. Available at mainly at Luxury Collection, St Regis and W hotels, you receive free breakfast, upgrade if available at check-in, early check-in and late check-out and an extra amenity, which varies by property. This is only bookable on Best Available Rate bookings.
Other programmes include STARS (Ritz-Carlton), Sir Rocco’s Knights (Rocco Forte Collection), Park Hyatt Prive (Park Hyatt) and Diamond Club (Dorchester Collection).
To access these deals, you need to book via a high-end travel agent, often one affiliated to a booking group such as Virtuoso. You can see the 1,004 hotels at which they can offer you special deals here. Virtuoso is a US-based group, however.
If you have an American Express Platinum card, you can access similar deals via their Fine Hotels & Resorts programme. This covers similar chain properties plus a lot of independent hotels. The 2013 directory is here.
You can now book Fine Hotels & Resorts (‘FHR’) deals online via the Amex Travel website. Once logged in, Platinum cardholders will be shown the FHR deals.
The key difference between FHR and a ‘Preferred Partner’ scheme is that Amex has their own negotiated rates. These can be higher or lower than the hotels own rates for the day you want – for our Four Seasons stay, Amex wanted an extra £20 per night, and the ‘3rd night free’ deal was not available.
A strong point of FHR is the GUARANTEED 4pm check-out. This makes it a good option for a weekend break. You also get free breakfast at every hotel, plus a 12-noon check-in ‘if available’ – which could mean anything, and isn’t very helpful.