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Insights: The Best Way to Book Luxury Hotels

Updated: Aug 16, 2020

For years clients have been under the impression that booking a luxury hotel directly offers the best value. Unfortunately, consumers are slow to adapt to the new realities of luxury travel.

Luxury hotels spend millions of marketing dollars to recruit the best travel agencies and their clients. They have created exclusive programs for top producing agencies to reward clients with room upgrades, complimentary breakfasts, hotel credits & more. Elli Travel Group is proud to be a member of several invitation only preferred programs with Four Seasons, Ritz-Carlton, Belmond, Rosewood Hotels, Small Luxury Hotels of the World, Hyatt Hotels & many more. Forbes Magazine highlights many of the benefits in their article "19 Luxury Hotel Loyalty Programs You've Never Heard Of".

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"19 Luxury Hotel Loyalty Programs You've Never Heard Of"

From Forbes Magazine

Originally Published October 3, 2016

Despite what all the TV commercials say ("Book Direct"), when it comes to your next hotel stay, at least at the luxury level, if you want more for less, go to a travel agent.

Breakfast for two at luxury hotels can easily run $100. Daily WiFi charges can range from $15 to $35. Late check-out is often 50 percent of your room rate, so easily in the hundreds of dollars, and if you are arriving early, before check-in time, many times you need to pay for the night before if you want to be assured your room will be ready for you.

Yet some guests, paying the exact same rates as you are, get these perks for free. Additionally they get dining and spa credits, guaranteed and space available upgrades, VIP status, free airport transfers and so on. Some of these programs also protect you from getting walked when the hotel is oversold, and give you waitlist priority to get in, even though you've never stayed with the hotel before. What's more, many of the hotel groups that offer these programs don't have consumer loyalty programs. So what am I talking about? These programs are for their top producing travel agents.  To get the benefits, you need to book via an agency in the program. The below list was provided to me by Jack Ezon, president of Ovation Vacations, which generates over $250 million in sales to luxury hotels and suppliers. However, ask your agent what programs they are part of, or Google the name of the program and “travel agent” and you will find participating agencies pop up. The hotel groups don’t publish lists of agents who are part of their programs. While the perks of each program vary, in a one-week stay, they can easily be worth $1,000 or more. If you book a suite at a Mandarin Oriental, I value the offering at over $2,000 per week.

Belmond Bellini Club: Belmond is the name for what was formerly known as Orient-Express, and it has some very notable properties, including La Samanna in St. Martin, Maroma in Riviera Maya, Inn at Perry Cabin outside Washington D.C., El Encanto in Santa Barbara, Villa San Michele outside Florence, Cipriano in Venice, Mount Nelson in Capetown, Copacabana Palace in Rio and more. - Priority waitlist clearance and upgrades - VIP welcome amenity - $200 resort credit

Dorchester Diamond Program Dorchester Collection features its namesake hotel next to Hyde Park, a more modern take across the street, a country retreat near Heathrow, Plaza Athenee and Le Meurice in Paris, The Beverly Hills Hotel and Bel-Air in Los Angeles, plus top properties in Geneva, Milan, and coming next year, Rome. I value the give here at over $200 per day.

Benefits from booking rooms: - Guaranteed one category upgrade at time of booking - Credit of 100 units of local currency once per stay (applied to final bill) - Daily full breakfast (breakfast menu only), available in any outlet including in-room dining, for up to two people per bedroom - Daily unlimited internet access for unlimited number of devices

Benefits when booking suites: - Daily credit of 100 units of local currency per suite - Daily full breakfast (breakfast menu only), available in any outlet including in-room dining, for up to two per bedroom - Daily unlimited internet access for unlimited number of devices - Complimentary airport limo transfer, as an alternative way to spend your 100 units of local currency.

Four Seasons Preferred  Four Seasons is the largest of the mono-brand luxury groups that remains independent, and it has been opening new hotels at a pretty fast clip, including re-opening Lanai, plus Oahu, Abu Dhabi, Jakarta, Kyoto, Downtown New York, with a second Miami property on the way, and two relatively new hotels in Bogota. It also just launched two very, very nice new Presidential Suites in Maui.

Amenities: Available on all published rates and corporate promotions, and also, in some cases, on other packages, the benefits encompass: - Daily full American breakfast for two people per bedroom, served through In-Room Dining or in the hotel restaurant (including buffets). - Extra value-added amenity, such as: Spa credit of USD100 once during stay (not applicable to products); golf credit of USD100 once during stay (not applicable to pro shop purchases); or lunch for two once during stay (up to USD85, excluding gratuity and alcohol).  - For each hotel’s specific extra amenity, see the individual property’s Hotel Page, or the Hotel Amenity Listing - Upgrade of one category, based on availability at time of check-in (excluding signature suites and villas). - Complimentary high-speed Internet access for all suite bookings.

Jumeirah Passport to Luxury Program The Burj al Arab is Jumeirah’s flagship property in Dubai, where it is a major player with more than a half-dozen hotels, but its wings stretch to London (The Carlton Tower), Frankfurt, Istanbul, the Maldives and China. - Breakfast for 2 daily - Upgrade on availability - $100 USD F&B or Spa credit - Early check-in based on availability - 4 p.m. late check–out based on availability

Langham Hotel Couture Program A key advantage of the Langham program is it is offered on any rate, so if you already have a corporate deal you can double dip, or combine it with the American Express Platinum/Centurion Fine Hotels and Resorts (FRH) benefits, as well as those of Virtuoso and Signature, two groups of high-end travel agencies that have their own hotel amenity programs. If you are not familiar with Langham, they are a fast-growing group with hotels in London, Hong Kong, Pasadena (the former Ritz-Carlton), New York (the former Setai on Fifth Avenue), Chicago, Shanghai, Sydney and Melbourne with a number of new hotels in the pipeline.  - Confirmed one-category upgrade at time of booking - 6 complimentary hours per stay, allowing customized arrival and departure times - VIP Status Including personalized welcome note from GM/MD, honoring of guest preference and indulgent welcome amenity. - Multiple program benefits: Also entitled to receive the benefits from the following programs where applicable – American Express FHR, Virtuoso, Signature

Mandarin Oriental Fan Club While Mandarin Oriental doesn’t have a consumer loyalty program, their agent program is excellent, and for a one-week stay I would put the value of these perks at about $2,000, sans the personalized welcome amenity. I particularly like VIP airplane "meet and greet" if you are coming into a busy airport.  Paying directly for these type of plane side arrivals typically ranges from around $150 to $500 excluding the limo transfer to the hotel. - Full Breakfast for 2 people daily - $100 F&B or Spa credit per room per stay - VIP treatment - 1 category upgrade confirmed upon booking - Complimentary internet access - Complimentary 4pm late check-out upon availability - Complimentary one-way transfer with meet & greet at the gate of the plane (valid for suites booking only) - Personalized welcome amenity

Monte Carlo SBM Gold Club If you are going to Monaco, the one-way helicopter transfer which goes for 200-250 Euros pays for the membership.  Join Le Club membership for $55, and it gives you: - One-way free helicopter transfer from Nice airport - Complimentary entrance to the Casino de Monte-Carlo - Complimentary entrance to all museums in Monaco

Oetker Pearl Partner Oetker’s hotels include Le Bristol in Paris, The Lanesborough in London, Hotel du Cap Eden Roc, L’Apogee Courchevel, Brenners Park, venues in the Indian Ocean and St. Bart’s among others. One of the smaller groups, but each of its properties is truly 5-star worthy. - One category room upgrade at time of booking, upon availability - Allocation of best room in the category - Personalized welcome amenity and note from our senior management - Daily unlimited internet access for unlimited number of devices - Priority access to courtesy car (when applicable) - Daily complimentary breakfast for 2 (including buffets) - Spa or F&B credit of 85 € for each stay of 1 night and 170 € for 2 nights or more

Peninsula’s Pen Club Loyalty Program While not a large group, it has good global city locations in Paris, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Beijing, Tokyo, Bangkok, New York, Chicago, Manila and Beverly Hills with London on the way. The flexible check-in and check-out time could be worth significant savings, and the complimentary spa treatments are a nice perk.  - Full daily set breakfast for up to two persons - Priority Room upgrade to the next category upon arrival - “Peninsula Time” – Flexible check-in and check-out times in all hotels - Upgraded welcome in-room amenities - Complimentary 30-minute extension on any 50-minute body or face treatment (excluding manicure and/or pedicure) - Unlimited in-room wireless Internet access

Preferred Hotels Platinum Premier Preferred Hotels & Resorts is a representation company that provides sales and marketing for independent luxury hotels globally. The below benefits are available at its Legend and LVX Collection hotels which include several hundred properties, including Banyan Tree Acapulco, Enchant Resort in Sedona, The Upper House in Hong Kong, The Leela Palace in Delhi, and The Temple House in Chengdu. - Breakfast for two - $75 hotel credit - Complimentary internet - Additional tailored amenity

Relais & Chateaux Preferred Program Relais & Chateaux is a membership organization that represents small hotels and restaurants, so hotel owners get to decide if they want to participate. This program offers perks at select R&C properties, not significant, but a free breakfast is a free breakfast: - Personalized welcome amenity - Breakfast Daily

Ritz-Carlton Stars Ritz-Carlton, as you probably know, is part of Marriott International, which last month acquired Starwood and its luxury brands, St. Regis, Luxury Collection and W Hotels. I like this program as it enables the travel agent to clear space in sold out situations, sometimes the most valuable perk of all, and also helps ensure you get priority for connecting rooms, which can be important if you haven’t booked a suite, or specific suite that has connecting rooms guaranteed. - Complimentary, customized amenity, activity or service - Pre-registration & express check-in - Clear space in sold out situations - First priority for requested room category, bed type, rollaway and connecting rooms - Late check out - Complimentary 4pm departure upon request at time of booking - Applicability – STARS amenities are applicable to any reservation, regardless of the rate or if booked through a wholesaler.

Rocco Forte Knight’s Program None of Rocco Forte’s 11 hotels carry his name, but you are probably familiar with Brown’s in London, Villa Kennedy in Frankfurt, The Balmoral in Edinburgh, Hotel de Rome in Berlin, Hotel de Russie in Rome and Hotel Savoy in Florence. You can also find locations in Munich, Sicily, St. Petersburg and Brussels. The “no walk” policy means they won’t give away your room in an oversold situation. - Space Available Upgrades - No Walk Policy - Priority Waitlist Clearance - Personalized Welcome Note - Welcome note from the General Manager  - Space Available Early Check in / Late Check out - Virtuoso amenities also combinable when booking qualifying rates

Rosewood Elite Rosewood is a group on the move, with openings in Paris (reopening Hotel de Crillon), Phuket, Sanya and Laos due next year, plus reopening Little Dix Bay in the Caribbean. Earlier this year it took over Capella’s 49-room hotel in the Georgetown area of Washington D.C.  Two of its most notable hotels, The Carlyle in New York and Las Ventanas in Los Cabos, don’t prominently carry the Rosewood name, but are part of the group. - Priority waitlist - Pre-registration of clients - Special client welcome amenity and note - Priority upgrade on arrival - Full breakfast daily - Amenity/credit which differs by property - Designated Elite "hero" at each hotel with 3-hour response time

Shangri-La Luxury Circle This Asian luxury group has been increasing its western presence with hotels in Canada, Paris and London. It has an extensive portfolio in China and Southeast Asia, with properties that tend to be a bit larger, and have extensive meeting facilities, large and comprehensive fitness centers and a multitude of restaurants and bars. - Complimentary full breakfast for 2 - Early check in/ late check out (subject to availability) - Guaranteed upgrade at the time of booking - Choice of 3 VIP amenities (by hotel) - Hotel credit of the higher of 10% or $100 per stay - Enrollment into the Golden Circle Jade membership - No Walk Policy - Dedicated concierge

Small Luxury Hotels  Small Luxury Hotels is a representation group that has over 500 properties around-the-world, from two to 200 rooms, both in cities, the countryside and resort areas. Most are owner operated single properties, so each style runs the gamut. City hotels include The Scarlet Singapore, The Quin, The Refinery and Inn at Irving Place in New York, resorts like Coral Reef Club and The Sandpiper in Barbados, Hotel Esencia in Playa del Carmen and numerous others gems around the world. - Complimentary room upgrade on arrival on your first stay - Access to exclusive Club rates - Regular Club newsletters with exclusive partner offers Loved Member - After 1 stay - Complimentary room upgrade on arrival on every stay - Daily complimentary continental breakfast for two on every stay - Late check-out* on every stay - Access to exclusive Club rates - Regular Club newsletters with exclusive partner offers Honoured Member  - After 5 further stays - Free reward nights** - receive a complimentary 1 night stay and then again after every 5 stays - Priority complimentary room upgrade* on every stay - Early check-in* on every stay - Daily complimentary continental breakfast for two on every stay - Late check-out* on every stay - Access to exclusive Club rates - Regular Club newsletters with exclusive partner offers

Sofitel Travel Experience Program Sofitel is part of French giant Accor, and not particularly known in the Americas, but recently acquired Fairmont and Raffles, which will help increase its luxury profile. Sofitel, Sofitel Legend and SO Sofitel were its main luxury offerings. The Grand in Amsterdam, Hotel Metropole Hanoi and Hotel Santa Clara in Cartagena, Colombia are part of the “Legend” group. There are nearly 100 Sofitel locations, many of which I would describe as 4.5 stars, although it’s harder these days to really be too strict with star ratings as properties within the larger groups tend to vary considerably. - Guaranteed Upgrade between Classic, Superior and Luxury room types - Upgrade from Luxury to Suite upon arrival, based on availability - Personal greeting by management upon arrival - Personalized welcome amenity and note signed by the GM or Sofitel HERO on behalf of the travel counselor and the travel agency - Automatic placement at top of waitlists - Dedicated Sofitel Program Director in each hotel: “Sofitel HERO” - No walk policy for guaranteed bookings

Starwood Luxury Privileges While its merger with Marriott was completed last month, it will take awhile to merge various programs. Starwood luxury brands include St. Regis, Luxury Collection and W Hotels.   - Available on BAR (Best Available Rates) rates booked directly with the hotel (no tour operators). Starwood luxury brands include St. Regis, Luxury Collection and W Hotels. - Upgrade on arrival if available - Early check in if available - Daily breakfast for 2 daily (depends on hotel whether contintnetal or full) - Complimentary WiFi - Late checkout if available - Value-added amenity specific to hotel ($100 value) -Options not combined with Virtuoso amenities but you can use at any St. Regis, W or Luxury Collection Hotel.

Trump Elite The newest additions are Washington D.C. and Vancouver.  Many Trump properties are condo hotels, so you get oversize rooms and suites with kitchens and kitchenettes. - Room upgrade upon arrival, when available - Pre-registration and welcome amenity - Breakfast for two daily - $100 credit per stay for use in spas or restaurants - Complimentary Wi-Fi in-room - A hotel or destination specific exclusive extra - Early check-in, when available - Late check-out, when available

Follow me on Twitter or LinkedIn. Check out my website or some of my other work here Doug Gollan

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