No, it’s (probably) not too late to use your Fine Hotels & Resorts credit

Happy speculative booking day!

As today is the final day of the year, many of us are scrambling to use calendar-year benefits. There is a misconception about how Amex calendar-year credits work, specifically the Fine Hotels & Resorts credit on the Amex consumer Platinum card, as a reminder, the consumer versions of the card, including the Schwab. If you have a Platinum card, you can use the $200 credit on your stay in 2022. The post explains why I think that and gives some examples of sub-$300 domestic US properties for the Procrastinations.

You can see more of your Amex FHR questions answered in this post.

I am not an expert on payments technology, but the information to follow in this post is based on personal experience and my educated guesses.

Many people think that since a charge is pending on your credit card for a few days, it's too late to use your hotel credit in 2021. That shows a generally incorrect understanding of the Amex calendar year credits.

The transaction date is counted by Amex for calendar year or calendar month credits. The date the merchant finalizes charges is what matters.

In the past, I have been able to use my annual airline fee credits by making charges on either 12/30 or 12/31 that have been drawn from the fee credit bucket for the year in which I made the charge. I was reimbursed by Amex after I made charges on 12/30 that didn't post on my statement until the first of the year.

If you buy something from a store, things usually work the same way.

Chances are good that you will be out of luck if you try to use your Saks Fifth Avenue credit with an online order today. The charge with Amex won't be finalized until the day your order ships. That is normal when buying online. The SimplyMiles deal had a problem where the merchant didn't ship for a couple of days and didn't finalize the charge until they shipped, which was a problem for some of us.

I use a few different words that I am not sure are scientific, but I use them to differentiate concepts.

When you hit the "submit" button, you'll get preauthorization. The merchant will do the same thing to make sure you have enough credit to pay for your gas as a restaurant will do to make sure you have enough credit to pay for your bill.
The time between when you hit submit and the credit card statement shows up is pending.
Finalized is the time when the merchant tells the credit card company that you bought a lot of stuff and they want your money. This is the key point for people who are late, it happens between the preauthorization stage and before the charge is posted.
There is a charge on your credit card statement that is no longer in thepending category. It may not be for a few days after the charge is finalized. The date next to the transaction is the most important.

Most online stores that sell stuff first preauthorize your card and then finalize the charge at some point thereafter will show up as posted. The date shown next to the transaction is when the merchant finalized the transaction.

When you buy stuff in person at a store, the charge is usually finalized as you leave. There is a lag between preauthorization and finalization when you buy online. I think it's related to the cost of transactions and a retailer having a preference to only finalize when they can confirm that they have sent you the stuff, which is why it's free to drop a preauthorization if they have to cancel your order but they incur some nonrefundable credit

On September 3rd, I bought something at the store. The transaction would be pre-authorized and show up on my Amex online statement. They ship on September 5th, finalize the charge, and then on September 6th or 7th, I see the transaction is no longer pending but is now posted in my online statement. September 5th is the date that the charge was finalized and the date that matters for Amex fee credits.

There is always a chance that a transaction doesn't get finalized in the moment, especially when it is for physical stuff.

When buying or paying for digital stuff, the charge usually gets finalized right away. If I pay my cell phone bill at the end of the month, the transaction date shows up as today even if I make the transaction late in the day. If I send an Amazon gift card to someone today, the transaction date will also show as today, which is different to the situation if I buy a physical item from Amazon, which typically shows the ship date as the transaction date. Confused yet?

Most digital stuff I have ever purchased is dated with the transaction date when I entered my payment info. The airline charges have only been posted to my statement a few days later because they show a 12/31 date and I have gotten calendar year credits for the previous year successfully.

I expect that a hotel reservation through Fine Hotels & Resorts or The Hotel Collection will be finalized today and posted with a 12/31 transaction date even though it won't move from pending to posted until early 2022. I feel confident that when Fine Hotels & Resorts charges from today, they will be dated 12/31 and receive the credit for the year 2021. I have booked several Fine Hotels & Resorts reservations today.

I won't be able to change the bookings if my credit gets applied properly. I won't get to keep the $200 credit if I cancel. That is how the cookie falls apart.

I will be able to cancel and rebook using my credit if I am wrong about all of this. I have nothing to lose since I have credits left to use, if I don't try.

I concede that you are right but I counter that I would have used these credits in any normal year. We will see what comes in 2022.

I say that these credits are used in expensive markets since everything is expensive through Amex FHR. If you want to find things that will be covered or nearly covered by the credit, you need to look in cheaper markets. Several members of our Frequent Miler Insiders group recommend Portugal, a cheap foreign market. The Ritz-Carlton Abu Dhabi was $136 on the same day we stayed, so I can vouch for the cheap luxury options in the United Arab Emirates.

Many people might be hesitant to book speculative international travel. If you want to travel during off-peak seasons and/or midweek dates and less popular destinations, here are some places I have seen in the past 24 hours. I almost exclusively focused on places that were less than $300 per night but included a couple over with no rhyme or reason.

The Woodstock Inn is from $249 on weekdays.
$299 on many mid-week days into June at the Hyatt Residences. I have booked this a bit cheaper in the past.
On many Sunday/Monday nights in the winter, it's from $247
The Liberty is from $305 on several Sunday/Monday nights.
Washington, DC.
I stayed at the Ritz-Carlton Tysons Corner a few weeks ago. Outside of DC on the Beltway is this one. It is close to the Tysons Galleria shopping mall, which has stores like Louis Vuitton and Gucci. FHR is as low as $199 in February or $249 on many weekends throughout the year.
The Ritz-Carlton in DC has winter dates.
The Park Hyatt has winter dates. It is worth keeping an eye on the rates because I booked this one for less than $250.
During off-peak seasons, several Florida properties can be reasonable. I found the Hotel Effie Sandestin for $19. A number of properties in the Miami area are over $300.
I saw rates go from $258 to $258 in the fall.
Over the winter, Gateway Canyons Resort is as low as $249.
Viceroy Snowmass will cost $275 on many fall dates.
It is as low as $259 during the winter at the Kimpton Hotel Born.
During some fall dates in 2022, the price is from $106 on Sunday-Thursday. The resort fee at the hotel is not covered by the credit and can be paid at the hotel. The tax adds up to $120 per night for pre-paid and $44 at the hotel. You can get a $100 property credit at Delano if you use it at any of the restaurants at the hotel. I booked a two-night stay for $240 today. I will be out of pocket because of that. On a weekend night, my wife booked a single-night weekend night to follow and it came to $203 pre-paid with $44 to be paid at the desk.
NoMad is from $135.
Conrad has nights from $139 with a $125 property credit.
The nights are from $162. That is around the $200 mark with tax and resort fee.
I saw two-night stays at Park MGM starting at $62 per night before tax and resort fee, Mirage starting at $85 per night, and some others just over $100 per night. The Hotel Collection includes a $100 credit, but no breakfast or late checkout.
A reader pointed out the Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe because of its starting price. I booked a fall stay for $229 and it came to about $258.
Washington is a state.
Many dates this winter were $300, but I saw at least one midweek date for $280.

I think there are many more. It is possible to search for an entire state with the words Texas, United States. Some properties don't show up when you do that. The Ritz-Carlton Tysons Corner doesn't show up when you search Virginia, United States.

Happy hunting and best of luck to those who waited.