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It’s hard to see how an AMEX platinum card or Fairmont Hotels would have anything to do with budget family travel but stay with me here.

My first year with my platinum card is coming to an end and I admit I have gotten a bit addicted to it.  If you remember, I signed up for the $700 (all prices in Cdn funds) card and got 75 000 bonus points worth about $750.  Thus making the card free in the first year if you are a traveller.  This was during an insane promotion last year.  You can convert the points to Aeroplan or Avios or you can simply pay for any type of travel on your card and use your points to pay the balance.

You also get a $200 travel credit per calendar year so in essence, in your first year of card use you get $400 in travel credit.  There are many other benefits including access to airport lounges regardless of airline flown or seat class.

The benefit that I’m focusing on today is with Fairmont.  The first thing to do is get a platinum AMEX.  This is not as difficult as it might seem.  The main barrier is the $699 annual fee.  Other than that, you have to be Canadian, have an income of at least $40K and have excellent credit.

The next thing to do is to sign up for the Fairmont President’s Club (FPC).  Luckily, it’s free.

Now, let’s start combining to get this party started.

If you are a platinum card member and you stay five nights at any Fairmont hotels in a calendar year, you are automatically catapulted to the highest FPC membership status (also called platinum so you will be platinum squared).  This gives you a host of benefits, the most useful for the budget traveller being the credits.  And they are -drum roll please-

  • 2 room upgrades
  • 2 suite upgrades
  • 1 free night
  • 4 x $25 US restaurant/spa credits

When you join FPC, I recommend you take advantage of “Great Rates, Great Dates”.  This is a program for members only, whereby excellent rates at certain hotels, for certain dates are posted on the first Thursday of every month.  This is a great place to start in the first year to get your five nights.  Fahbio and I used GRGD for our 7-night stay in Chicago in August.

We then used our free night for a recent romantic staycation at the Chateau Laurier, in Ottawa.  With our platinum AMEX, we were guaranteed early check-in (as early as 9 am!) and late check-out (till 4 pm!!).  We took advantage of this and essentially had a two-day stay using only one night.  We also cashed in a suite upgrade to pamper ourselves.  Presto – free sanity break.  Even with the worst freezing rain of the winter thus far, we had a lovely time.  I would say that this was would have cost about $450 for the suite or $200 for a room.

We then used GRGD to book the Chateau Montebello resort for one night.  Because GRGD are so heavily discounted, it’s not possible to use FPC room upgrades on them.  Depending on hotel, Fairmont has rooms that sleep up to 6 people and the Montebello is one of them.  We booked one of these larger, premium rooms for $179.  With taxes and fees, it came out to just over $200 – a stunningly low price for a large room at the Montebello.

As of this year the Montebello is tacking on an additional $25 per room per night “resort fee”.  This is over and above the $200 I quoted for the room.  With one or two people in the room, this is a pretty crumby tax but for a family it rocks.  The fee covers all activities (which used to be free anyways) but it also covers all equipment (which you used to have to bring or rent).  So now you can skate, snowshoe, cross-country ski etc without having to bring anything with you to do so. Even for those of us with equipment, it is definitely worth $25 to not have to fill the van with 6x all of this stuff.

We used our early check-in to arrive at 10:30 am.  We spent the day skiing, swimming, and playing games by the enormous six-sided fireplace.  We then had a picnic dinner in our room watching trashy Food Network tv.  We had brought pulled pork and heated it up in a weird Salton kettle-looking thing we found while cleaning out the basement.  Threw in some tortilla chips and 7-layer dip.  Delicious!

Using our late check-out, the next day Fahbio and I attended a curling clinic while the girls played more games by the fire.  We then treated the kids to dog-sledding (extra cost).  At noon we cashed in our dining credits and enjoyed the excellent cold buffet in the dining room.  The buffet included hot soup, composed salads, cheese platters, charcuterie, green salads, smoked fish, and a stunning dessert table along with coffee and tea.  After lunch we played cards and headed out for an afternoon of skiing.  We made it back to the sports centre ten minutes before they closed at five.  After a quick visit to the lobby to check out and hydrate, we hopped in the car and headed home.

The current AMEX platinum bonus offer is 50 000 points which is still a great deal.  If you sign up via this referral link you’ll receive 60 000 points instead.  I’m currently in the difficult position of trying to decide whether or not to renew my card at $699.  If I do, I won’t be getting any bonus sign-up points so the card will be more dear but I’m leaning toward thinking it will still be worth it.  I’ll let you know what I decide :-)