As part of our son’s high school graduation trip, my family of three spent the first two nights of Memorial Day weekend in San Diego at the US Grant, a Starwood’s Luxury Collection Hotel. We booked two rooms: we booked the first night through American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts, and the second night with SPG points (12,000 points per night, per room).
Fine Hotels & Resorts (FH&R) is a booking site exclusively for American Express Platinum and Centurion cardholders. They offer only a small selection of upscale hotels in any given city. Rates are usually equivalent to those found by booking directly. The advantage of booking through FH&R is the extra perks: noon check-in (when available), room upgrade (when available), daily breakfast for two, guaranteed 4PM late check-out, complimentary wi-fi, and a unique property amenity (this is often a $100 food & beverage credit).
Non-Amex premium cards offer similar luxury hotel booking sites. And, for those without a premium card, there’s Virtuoso which offers similar benefits. For example, here are the Virtuoso benefits at the US Grant Hotel: breakfast for two (up to $60 per day), $100 Food & Beverage credit, etc.:
While the breakfast benefit is available for every night of a booking, the unique property amenity (e.g. $100 food & beverage credit) is a single time benefit. That’s why single night bookings are especially worthwhile through these programs.
What happens when you book multiple rooms through Fine Hotels & Resorts? Do you get multiple free breakfasts and multiple food & beverage credits?
Yes, you do. We booked two rooms through Fine Hotels & Resorts with a single reservation and we were given $150 in breakfast credits ($75 per room) plus $200 in Food & Beverage credits ($100 per room).
The Two Night Dilemma
Friday night rates at the US Grant we quite reasonable ($214 after taxes), but Saturday night rates were considerably more (over $400 if I recall correctly). As a result, we booked the first night through Fine Hotels & Resorts, and the second night with points.
The Fine Hotels & Resorts booking included $100 in food & beverage credits, per room, plus $75 credit towards breakfast, per room. That’s awesome, right? Yeah, but we were scheduled to arrive late Friday night. Given that breakfast was free, how would we spend the $200 in food & beverage credits before Saturday check-out? Remember that the second night was booked with points and so it was considered a separate reservation.
I called SPG and asked them to link the reservations together so that we could keep on room for the entire stay. I hoped that would be enough to make it possible to use our food & beverage credits for Saturday night dinner. My fall back plan was to eat a gigantic lunch on Saturday before check-out.
I was looking forward to fine dining at the Grant Grill. Trip Advisor reviews were mostly excellent:
We checked in to the hotel around 11pm (2 am our time) Friday night. The Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts benefits were confirmed and clarified: Free breakfast for two meant $75 in credits to be spent for breakfast either in the restaurant or via room service. And, yes, we would get $200 in food & beverage credits ($100 per room).
I asked if it was possible to use the food & beverage credits for Saturday evening dinner. The desk manager was called over to answer. No. Absolutely not. There was nothing they could do about it. The desk manager explained that by then we would be checked out of the Fine Hotels & Resorts booking and that the credit needed to be spent during that stay.
OK, so we’ll do lunch. I asked “so, as long as we spend the $200 before 4pm, it will be OK, right?” Nope. He said that we had to spend the money before noon. I mentioned that our rate guaranteed 4pm late checkout, but he claimed that didn’t matter. The food & beverage credit would expire at noon.
I then asked the original check-in person to ensure that our room keys would work the next day when the reservation switched over to the points reservation. She worked her magic to make that happen.
Our next plan was to try to eat breakfast early and then lunch before noon. I figured that we were still on east-coast time and would get up early. And, if we were seated for lunch before noon we could order and ask the waiter to run the bill up-front. It didn’t work out that way…
What actually happened
The US Grant beds were wonderfully comfortable, but we were on the third floor where street noise made sleep difficult. Worse, there was something wacky about the room’s a/c: we woke up sweating multiple times overnight, no matter how low we set the temperature. As a result, we didn’t get up for the day as early as I had predicted. I wasn’t at all sure that we would use our credits beyond breakfast..
Our son loves ordering room service, so I told him to try to spend $175 after taxes and tips. His objective was to order whatever he wanted for breakfast plus whatever stuff might be good to keep for the rest of our trip. The room had a mini fridge that would be great for keeping stuff cold.
Meanwhile, my wife and I went to the Grant Grill for brunch. While we didn’t plan it this way, we spent exactly $75 after tip and taxes. If you’re interested, you can click here to see a photo I took of the brunch menu.
After breakfast, I returned to the front desk to see if I could get a better answer about the remaining food & beverage credits. I asked the desk agent if it was possible to use our remaining credits for dinner.
The desk agent looked at my account and said that we had already checked out of the Fine Hotels & Resorts reservation early that morning. Not only wouldn’t we get to use the Food & Beverage credits, but our breakfasts wouldn’t be free either! I remembered then that I had mysteriously received a folio via email that morning showing the final room charge. I suspect that this was a result of whatever the evening desk agent had done to key our room to work for both reservations. That turned out to be a very good thing…
I told the desk agent that we certainly hadn’t intended to check out and that it was a big problem for us because we had planned to use the breakfast and food credits. He disappeared to a back room to talk to the manager about the situation. When he returned, he said that the manager gave him the OK to extend our credits until 4pm (which makes me think that the evening manager was wrong about noon being the last time to use the credits under normal circumstances).
Then the desk agent went above and beyond. He said that he would let us use the credits for dinner! He added notes to both rooms and said that if we had any trouble during checkout on Sunday we should drop his name: Henry. Thanks Henry!
I then ran to my son’s room to tell him not to order so much, but it was too late. He had already ordered $113 worth of room service :). That left us with $162 in credit for dinner ($100 from one room and $62 from the other).
That evening, we ate late. The Grant Grill was elegant and featured live jazz. Our son skipped the dinner. He had snacked on breakfast leftovers and wasn’t at all hungry. So, my wife and I happily enjoyed a romantic dinner in which we didn’t worry at all about the restaurant’s high prices. $30 signature drink? Sure, why not? Multiple appetizers? You bet. In the end we overspent our credits by $14. We didn’t love the food — in my opinion the food was good, but not great. But the environment was terrific, the service was amazing (which was like night and day compared to the lax service at breakfast), and we had a great time.
The next morning, our son ate leftovers for breakfast while my wife and I ate again at the restaurant. Our food credits were used up, but my Starwood Platinum status gave us $40 towards breakfast: in-restaurant only, to be spent before 11 am. I learned that we didn’t get an additional $40 credit for the second room. That was OK. $40 was enough to fully cover the two of us. While breakfast service was poor on Saturday, our waiter was quite attentive on Sunday and we enjoyed the meal.
I had hoped to have a definitive answer about what happens when you combine a Fine Hotels & Resorts stay with a points stay. But, if you read above, you’ll see that our experience was almost certainly atypical. We were able to extend our credits to the second evening only because the hotel had goofed and checked us out early after the first night.
I think that it should always be possible to use food & beverage credits up until 4pm late checkout, but I can’t promise that. The evening manager was adamant that we had only until noon.
If you book a two night stay, as we did, with the first night through Fine Hotels & Resorts (or a similar agency), the ideal approach is to arrive early enough to enjoy any Food & Beverage credits on the same day after check-in. Even better would be if you book the nights in the opposite way: first night with points and second night through Fine Hotels & Resorts. This way, you should have plenty of time to spend the credits. In our case that wasn’t practical since the second night was much more expensive.