Advice for hotel/resort booking with AmEx rewards?
March 31, 2014 8:45 AM   Subscribe

I have a zillion AmEx rewards points on a card I use for work, and my wife and I would like to use them to stay in a resort/hotel in Hawaii this summer (Kona/Waikoloa area), also booking a (possibly adjoining, but that's not a big deal) room for my mother to join us. I've never done that before (the points part - I totally know how to go on vacation), and I'm looking for advice on getting it right.

We're close to having enough points for the entire stay (2 rooms for 4 nights each), but it might take another month or two. Paying a few hundred bucks to make up the difference wouldn't be a big deal, but it would be sweet to get as much of the trip for free as possible.

My questions:
-Will the prices (we're mostly looking at the Marriott, the Hilton and the Sheraton) go up soon? Down soon? Is there some predictable arc or "best time to book?"
-Should I book directly through the Amex rewards site, or convert the rewards points to the resort's program and then book? When I make a cursory look it seem like the prices are very similar, but I also get the idea I'm missing something.
-Should I do this over the phone (somehow?) to ask about upgrades, freebies, etc?
-What else am I missing?
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly to Travel & Transportation around Kailua-Kona, HI (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
The first question you should be asking is: Does your employer allow this?

I know that I can only use my corporate AmEx card for travel-related expenses incurred while on official company business. Then again, my card does not accrue any rewards points. This is kind of a fuzzy situation.
posted by tckma at 8:59 AM on March 31, 2014

If you call American Express Travel, they can explain to you which option would be better (booking directly through them or converting your points to the rewards program). It will depend on their arrangement with the resort you're interested in using and also on the kind of card you have. Be forewarned, I have to do something similar every year when our CEO uses the corporate AmEx points and it's no picnic navigating the whole process. But when you can finally get someone on the phone, they are generally helpful.
posted by something something at 9:01 AM on March 31, 2014

I should have said: I own my own business. These are totally my points to use.

I know the process is a pain -- that's why I'm hoping for tips from folks with experience.
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 9:12 AM on March 31, 2014

I just booked/stayed at a hotel via Amex points, booked through the Amex site. This is the second time I've done it. Some things:

-Flights are the best deal w/ points as you get a 1000=$1 conversion rather than 1000=$.75 or similar conversion

-for any travel, they charge the amount to the card and then issue a credit for the full amount after deducting the points -- so you'll want to make sure the card has sufficient limit for the full charge

-Prices when searching may not be available when you actually go through to book -- several times, I'd find a hotel at a good price, get through to the payment page and then it would say "sorry that rate is no longer available, here's a rate for $100 more per night"

-They may change the hotel reservation on you -- I had this happen a few years ago. The hotel cancelled their Amex agreement or something and Amex couldn't honor my reservation request (understandable). However, they did not handle it well at all. This was about 2 weeks prior to departure to an expensive location in peak times for a wedding, so I couldn't exactly make other arrangements. After a million phone calls, they rebooked me at some other hotel, which was not nearly as nice as the original one (at first they tried to rebook me at the equivalent of the Newark Airport Motel 6 when the original hotel was more like the Gansevoort, but I didn't let that slide). It was a HUGE HASSLE. After many issues and disputing the charge for over 6 months, they refunded the charge and credited the points.

-The stay I just had last week had no issues like that, but the website did go down during booking because their server crashed (so no one on the phone could help me book either; when the server came back up, prices had gone up by 25%).

Basically, it's a decent deal with somewhat comparable prices, but you'd better hope you have no issues because customer service is atrocious (quite shocking because their general card customer service is excellent).

I have had no issues with flights booked through them though, so I'd try to use the points for that first.
posted by melissasaurus at 9:13 AM on March 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

I've done this many, many times, and mellissaurus is giving you what I consider to be both correct and incorrect information.

I agree that using Membership Rewards points (which I presume is what you have) for airline travel is a better deal than using them for hotel accommodations, but I disagree that "for any travel, they charge the amount to the card and then issue a credit for the full amount after deducting the points".

I wouldn't use your points to book travel through American Express's travel agency.

What you want to do is "link" your airline frequent flyer accounts to your Membership Rewards account (which you can do on the Membership Rewards site - if you don't have the frequent flyer accounts you need, you can set them up there for ones that are part of the Membership Rewards program).

Pay attention to conversion rates because some airlines are 1:1 and some (like Virgin America) are 2:1 (but the cost of flights in points typically reflects that difference).

When you want to book a flight, just transfer the points on the Membership Rewards site then book the travel on the airline site using points (of course first make sure the flights you want are available and how many points they cost because once you transfer the points, you can't transfer them back).

I've found JetBlue particularly easy to use with Membership Rewards in terms of availability and cost, but I've used other airlines as well.

I don't use my points for hotel bookings so I'm sorry I'm not able to give you any advice on that type of usage.

If you have any other questions, feel free to MeMail me.
posted by Dansaman at 10:42 AM on March 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

but I disagree that "for any travel, they charge the amount to the card and then issue a credit for the full amount after deducting the points".

I meant travel booked through Amex's travel site, paying with points. Apologies if that was unclear! That has been my experience for both hotel and airline bookings through the site. I haven't done rewards-->airline mile conversions (most of my miles are on United and they no longer participate in Amex rewards, unfortunately).
posted by melissasaurus at 10:54 AM on March 31, 2014

I've done this with Amex Membership Rewards points and have a third perspective, slightly different from Dansaman's and melissasaurus's.

When I've sought to pay for hotel travel, I've used the travel card option--Marriott, for example, will issue you a travel card voucher in several denominations ($50, $100, $500, etc.), and each one costs a certain number of points. You can then use that voucher to pay for travel that you have booked on Marriott's own site. But be careful that you don't book through a discount broker, as those bookings can't be paid for via the travel card voucher.

I've done exactly the same thing with rental cars. It's a little easier than with the hotel travel cards, in that there's a link on the Amex site where you go to the rental agency's special page for Amex Membership Rewards customers, get a quote, and then return to the Amex site to request a voucher amount ($50, $100, etc.). You can immediately enter in the voucher information and pay for the car rental that way.

Generally, I find the process of using the Amex site a little cumbersome. There are several extra clicks and verification steps, but the ultimate result is good.
posted by yellowcandy at 11:52 AM on March 31, 2014

Thanks everyone, and keep them coming! We have some other travel rewards that we are using for airfare, so even though lodging isn't the best possible use of rewards points that's still what we're interested in here.
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 1:39 PM on March 31, 2014

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