For Thanksgiving weekend, my family wanted a quick getaway for a couple of nights. Somewhere away from the Montreal area but within driving distance. I had thought about a chalet in the Eastern Townships, but availability was low due to the long weekend.
Therefore I thought of going to Montebello to enjoy the Fairmont Château Montebello there as I had never been to the property before. I was sitting on a stash of TD travel points which I could use to offset the cost of the trip. It’s quite a famous hotel, and you can read the Milesopedia review of it here.
Normally when using TD points it is most efficient to use the Expedia for TD portal as you get the most value from your points. However, seeing how we decided to go to a luxury hotel, that opens the door to multiple booking options which have different costs and different perks attributed to them.
I investigated the different options to see which would present the best deal.
Option 1: Booking Direct
The easiest way to book a hotel of course is directly on the company’s website. Doing it this way, the price for the best regular available rate came to $1,321 (all prices CAD) for two nights in a Luxury Room which featured two double beds for the four of us.
The “Luxury” part of the room, and the step above the regular Fairmont room, is that it is one of the newly renovated rooms in the hotel. While Fairmont hotels in Canada are often quite iconic properties, the rooms can be small and dated due to the hotel’s age. So if they are advertising some rooms that are newly renovated, it’s typically a good value to pay a small premium to make sure you get one of them.
Two things to note here:
First, it’s often smart to book direct with a hotel if you have a high elite status with them to take advantage of your perks and collect reward points. Being a Platinum/Diamond member with Marriott and Hilton this is often what I do. However, I have no status with Accor as I rarely stay at their properties. I was a big fan of Fairmont before the Accor hotel group acquired them in 2016. However, since then I usually steer away from them as I find they are overpriced for the service level you get. So this trip was bit of an exception for me. And this rate would have given us the room only, with no chance of any other perks.
Secondly, it is possible to get a direct rate which is lower than this. Being an Accor ALL member, I would have been able to get 5% off this booking for example. And there are sometimes other options as well such as discounts for extended stays, booking early, and notably a non-refundable prepaid rate which can be less expensive. I prefer to keep maximum flexibility with travel so this was the most appropriate rate for us.
Option 2: Expedia For TD
Because I wanted to use some TD points for this booking, it can be advantageous to book directly with the Expedia For TD portal. Using this method your points are worth 0.5 cents per point. When using them to pay off travel booked by other means, they are worth 0.4 cents per point. We had a total of 265,000 points to work with, making the worth either $1,325 or $1,060, a significant difference of $265.
Booking with the portal for the same room gives a rate of $1,335. This is about $80 higher when factoring in the 5% discount I would have gotten by booking direct as an Accor ALL member.
So clearly Expedia For TD is the winner here in terms of coming out ahead price-wise, since the $265 increase in value of points far outweighs an extra $80 to book.
Option 3: Visa Infinite Luxury Hotel Collection
While the Expedia For TD option had the best net price for our room, Fairmont is a luxury hotel brand which opens up other options to extract greater value from your hotel reservation. This hotel participates in the Visa Infinite Luxury Hotels Collection, for holders of any Visa Infinite card, for which you can get the following benefits:
This booking method priced at $1,247 so was less expensive than booking direct, but about $177 more expensive than booking through the Expedia for TD portal when you factor in the difference in value of TD points.
However, given the typically high cost of breakfast at luxury hotels, the additional $25 USD credit and the other perks, you’d likely come out slightly ahead here with the Visa Infinite rate. This is provided you were planning on eating at the hotel and taking full advantage of the benefits which we were in this case.
Option 4: American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts Program
While several of the Fairmont properties in Canada participate in the program, the Fairmont Montebello unfortunately does not so it was not a booking option this time.
Option 5: Accor STEP
The last option I investigated was Accor STEP. This is Accor’s preferred partner program. The “STEP” stands for “Special Travel Experience Program”. With it, you can get benefits at participating hotels without having to have elite status, or needing to have any particular credit card. Many Fairmont hotels around the world participate in it (in addition to Accor’s other premium brands), including all the ones in Canada.
The one catch is that you can’t make a STEP booking yourself. You need a travel agent who is partnered with the program to make the booking on your behalf. This is precisely what I did, who informed me that the hotel was in fact available through the program and what the benefits were:
- Welcome note and amenities
- $100 USD credit per stay
- Complimentary breakfast for two
- Room upgrade (subject to availability)
- Early check-in and late check-out (subject to availability)
This was the identical price to the Visa rate, but includes a credit of $100 USD rather than $25 USD, making this the very best valued booking. In addition to this, hotels can give a higher priority for upgrades to those who have booked through their own programs compared with a third-party. Therefore this was by far the best option to go with.
Our strategy then was to book this rate and pay at the hotel with a couple of different TD credit cards in order to cash out our TD Rewards points. Seeing how we had a value of $1060 of TD points (at the rate of 0.4 cents per point), and we were given a USD $100 hotel credit, the hotel reservation ultimately will only cost approximately $60.
When booking hotels there are many strategies you can use to maximize credit card points and booking methods. When planning a trip to a luxury hotel, multiple further options present themselves which may allow you to get further value from your hotel stay without occurring any additional costs. When doing so, always remember to:
- Check the best published rates on a hotel’s own website, including any non-refundable rates depending on how much flexibility you need.
- Check third-party booking sites such as the Visa Infinite Luxury Hotels Collection and the The American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts Program. There is a similar program for premium Mastercard credit card holders called the Mastercard Travel & Lifestyle Services.
- Check with a travel agent who is able to book through preferred partner programs such as Accor STEP. Other chains have such partner programs as well such as Marriott, Hilton, and Hyatt, among others. The travel agents may also have access to rates through other programs which are independent of both hotel and credit card companies.