Travel Tuesday: Booking My Chicago Stay Through Amex’s Hotel Collection
At a time when most Americans and those in several other parts of the world are avoiding group gatherings at all costs, a couple of weeks ago my wife and I headed to Chicago for a comic book convention. This was our first time attending C2E2 — short for Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo — and also marked my first visit to the Windy City since I was in high school. Not knowing much about the city or its hotel establishments, I first turned to the Amex Travel website, where I could make the most of my Platinum card and earn Membership Rewards points. In doing so, I found a property that was part of American Express’s Hotel Collection, which included some additional perks.
During my stay at the Palmer House by Hilton, I discovered a lot about the Hotel Collection and whether it’s worth using this offering to book. Let’s take a look at what I learned:
What is the AMEX Hotel Collection?
Not to be confused with the similar American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts (FHR) program, The Hotel Collection is a separate feature on Amex Travel that allows Platinum and Gold cardholders to enjoy special perks such as a $100 on-property credit — typically good for dining, spas, or other activities — during stays of two consecutive nights or more as well as complimentary upgrades when available.
How is this different from FHR? For one, generally speaking, the properties in the Hotel Collection are a bit more affordable than FHR ones, which tend to be high-end. In turn, the Hotel Collection doesn’t offer as many perks as FHR, as the latter also includes things like guaranteed 4 p.m. late check-out, early check-in when available, and free breakfast for two in addition to property credits and potential room upgrades.
If you find this all a bit confusing, the good news is that the Amex Travel site makes things very clear about what you’ll be getting when you book. So, be sure to look all this over when comparing your options.
Booking through Amex Travel
In order to take advantage of the Hotel Collection, you’ll need to book via the Amex Travel website. Of course, if you’re a Platinum cardholder, you probably want to book your stay using this platform anyway since pre-paid Amex Travel hotel bookings earn 5X points. When conducting a search, you’ll find any available Hotel Collection properties located in between Fine Hotels & Resorts offerings and the normal listings. If you’re scrolling, you’ll note that the Hotel Collection properties feature a purple/plum background on their listings compared to a silver/grey for FHR and plain white for all others.
Something important to note regarding the Hotel Collection and Amex Travel in general is that you will likely want to explore your options and check rates against other platforms. For example, when I was looking at booking my stay at Palmer House, I could have booked directly from Hilton at a slightly lower rate or bundled my room with things like parking for an equally attractive price. That said, I ended up going with Amex for a few reasons: 1) 5X points 2) factoring in the $100 credit, it ended up being a good deal and 3) I wanted to write this review.
While the math worked out for me on this stay — especially when you consider that my Hilton status still worked (more on that in a second) — I’d definitely recommend taking a closer look before booking for yourself.
Using the Hilton app (and getting my status perks)
When I made the decision to book via the Hotel Collection, I did so with the hope that I’d be able to also take advantage of my Hilton Gold status that came with my Amex Platinum while knowing that, technically, you cannot use these benefits if you booked through a third party. I did feel slightly more optimistic about the whole thing when I first was able to enter my Hilton Honors account number when checking out on Amex Travel and then when the stay appeared on the home screen of my Hilton app. These good vibes intensified when, the day prior to my stay, the Hilton app offered me the chance to check-in, select my room, and request a digital key so that I could bypass the front desk if I wanted. I ended up visiting the desk anyway as I wanted to inquire about how to use my credit and more).
As luck would have it, I was able to double-dip, making use of both my Gold status and Hotel Collection benefits. This meant I was able to enjoy free breakfast in addition to my $100 dining credit among other perks. To my surprise, I even earned points for my stay — meaning I not only got 5X Membership Rewards points but got Hilton Honors points on top of it!
While we’re talking Hilton, this was my first time using their app in any real capacity and I have to say I was impressed. First, even though I ended up going with the room they recommend (which was later upgraded when I checked in for real), I liked that I was able to view all available rooms and select my preference. Also, the digital key worked incredibly well, to the point where I often used that to enter my room even if my physical key was accessible. The one minor hiccup was that, when I went to check out, it told me to visit the front desk anyway. Yet, when I did so, they just asked if I wanted a copy of my folio and said I was all set. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Anyway, despite that minor annoyance on the way out, I really liked using the Hilton app and my Gold status — so I hope that’s something I can do regularly for future stays.
Using my credit
As I mentioned, one of the main reasons I decided to visit the front desk upon arrival even though I had already checked in on the app was because I was curious about how to use my credit. It turns out that it was actually quite simple: charge my meal to the room and then $100 would drop off my bill when I went to check out. Plus, in addition to credit applying to the hotel’s restaurant and lounge, there was also a Starbucks on the property that I could use my credit for.
We ended up using the bulk of our credit on a dinner that concluded a long day at C2E2. I can’t tell you how nice it was to not only not have to worry about heading out to find food after an exhausting day but to also not have to fret about the prices of what we were ordering (although we were of course sure to keep it within reason and not run over our $100 allotment). And, as it turns out, the food was really good — so bonus!
Sure enough, when I viewed my folio on departure day, the $100 credit had been applied, leaving us a tab of just a few dollars. Later, the hold on my card also updated to post this amount. All in all, I was quite pleased with how simple this whole process was.
Who is the Hotel Collection best for?
The first thought I had at the conclusion of my stay at the Palmer House is that this method of booking would be great for business travelers who are being reimbursed for their room (which I was, for the record). In these cases, I imagine they won’t mind spending a little extra on the room rate in order to get the benefit of free food. Of course, a company-issued per diem or stipend might render this point moot.
Beyond that group, I’d say that the Hotel Collection makes sense in cases where the on-property dining is attractive — both from a price and menu option perspective. On that note, it’s also probably a good idea to check the dining venue’s hours if you plan on being away from the hotel for most of the day. Finally, I should state again that, while this particular hotel offered a dining credit, others might apply this $100 credit to spa services or other resort activities, so be sure to read carefully.
When I decided to book my Chicago stay with American Express’s Hotel Collection, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Part of me feared that I wouldn’t be able to take advantage of my Hilton status while yet another part of me worried that I wouldn’t make enough use of the $100 credit to justify the slightly higher room rate. However, in the end, I definitely think it was worth it in this case. That said, I’ll still be comparing my options and running the math for future trips in hopes that I can replicate my successful stay this time around.
Also published on Medium.