A look inside an exclusive AmEx cardmember event, where attendees enjoy luxury hotel accommodations and meals prepared by award-winning chefs
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- American Express frequently offers cardholders access to exclusive events, travel packages, and restaurant reservations.
- Recently, AmEx offered card members early access to a travel package to San Juan, Puerto Rico, that included tickets to see Lin-Manuel Miranda in "Hamilton."
- From luxury accommodations, to cocktails and dinners with award-winning chefs, and an exclusive meet and greet with Lin-Manuel Miranda, it was an unforgettable experience.
- Below, take a look at what the event was like in Puerto Rico, so you can get a good sense of what AmEx travel packages can be like.
- For more, check out our guide to the best American Express cards. Our top pick is the Platinum Card® from American Express.
All of the major card issuers offer a version of an events program, whether it's backstage tours at concerts offered by Citi, or behind-the-scenes access at film festivals with Chase.
There's a case to be made, though, that American Express is the standard bearer in this area. From its exclusive By Invitation Only events, to perks like air conditioned lounges for cardholders at events like the US Open, events can range in cost from free, complimentary access to thousands of dollars, and in size from intimate groups of one or two dozen, to massive and open to anyone with an AmEx card.Because it has so many hands in different areas, AmEx is occasionally able to offer full-service, all-inclusive travel events, with itineraries, activities, hotels, transportation, and meals all arranged.
Invitation Only events, which are exclusive to AmEx Platinum cardholders. However, it sold out within just a few hours.The cornerstone of the event was attending an opening weekend performance of "Hamilton," which was produced for a three-week run by creator Lin-Manuel Miranda as a way to raise funds for and awareness of the island's continued recovery from 2017's Hurricane Maria.Advertisement
For cardholders who managed to snag the coveted spots on the trip, the event wasn't cheap - the full package was $6,800 for two people - but it included everything, and made for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for "Hamilton" fans.Advertisement
Attendees had the chance to stay at an AmEx Fine Hotels and Resorts property - the Condado Vanderbilt - take self-guided tours of small businesses in the historic Old San Juan shopping district, enjoy dinner hosted by chefs who are part of AmEx's Global Dining Collection, and, of course, see the show.
"We're big 'Hamilton' fans, and we've seen it before, but never with Lin," said Marianne Guschwan, who took advantage of the travel package with her daughter Winnie Thompson, a super fan who sang a song from the show during her sixth grade play audition. "When we heard about the Puerto Rico production, I started to keep an eye out, and when I saw the AmEx event it seemed like a perfect way to get tickets and take a trip."AmEx chartered a plane for the event to bring all the card members down from New York's JFK airport. There were a few extra seats available on the plane in each direction - some card members I spoke with had decided to extend their trips before or after the event, and arranged their own alternate travel - and AmEx invited several members of the media, myself included, along to cover the show's opening weekend.Advertisement
While I was there, I had the opportunity to experience most of the cardholder's event. It was a whirlwind of a weekend, but for cardholders, everything from cocktails and dinner with internationally renowned chefs, to a chance to meet Lin-Manuel Miranda, seemed like a perfect way to make a special trip.
For the right event, and price, I'd definitely consider taking advantage of a future travel package offered to cardholders.Here's what the whole weekend was like:Advertisement
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After going through security — the operating airline had representatives escorting attendees of the AmEx event to the front of the line — and stopping very briefly in the lounge, we were taken to gate B23 in JFK's terminal 4. From there, we boarded buses, which drove us to the remote stand where the chartered Boeing 767 was parked.
One of the benefits of a chartered aircraft is that it can be configured for exactly what the client needs.Advertisement
Each seat — which could recline far back and had foot and leg rests — had a large pillow, warm blanket, and custom in-flight menu waiting on it.
Here's the menu. I ordered the chicken, which was tasty, but I only had a few bites in the end — I slept through most of the flight.Advertisement
There was a bit of a wait after we got on board, as we waited for another busload of passengers and the flight crew finished their preparations.
After a quick and comfortable flight, we landed at Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport in San Juan, and taxied to the private and charter area. We walked down from the plane ...Advertisement
... And straight onto two buses waiting on the tarmac to take us to the hotel.
A short ride later, we arrived at the hotel, the Condado Vanderbilt. A luxury hotel that first opened in 1919, the beachfront property is included in the AmEx Fine Hotels and Resorts program.Advertisement
We arrived and bypassed the normal front desk. Instead, there was a private check-in area in one of the hotel's event spaces. This was a smart idea — it sped up the check-in process for us, and it meant that the people from the AmEx event didn't get in the way of other guests checking in. There was a casual reception on the balcony outside, overlooking the ocean, but I forgot to take a photo.
After a drink and chat with other reporters in San Juan for the opening weekend, I went upstairs to check out my room.Advertisement
The suite had two large sitting areas, essentially dividing the non-bedroom into living and dining areas.
Here's another view from the sitting area.Advertisement
The bedroom was big, with a king-sized bed, a dresser, television, and closet.
Here's a closer look at the bed.Advertisement
The rest of the day was free time for cardholders on the trip.
After dinner, we went to the Luis A Ferré Performing Arts Center, where Hamilton's opening-night performance was underway.Advertisement
Breakfast at the hotel was included as part of the event, so the next day started with views of the Atlantic Ocean in the hotel's sunlit breakfast room.
Since the event was centered around AmEx's "Shop Small" initiative in Puerto Rico, there were shuttle buses made available between the hotel and the Old San Juan shopping district.Advertisement
A café and chocolate shop called Chocobar was a definite highlight.
At around 3:30, all of the event attendees met in the hotel lobby for a big, multi-course "Dine Small" reception.Advertisement
The reception was held outdoors at La Arcada, an event space.
Cardholders were greeted with a piña colada as they walked in.Advertisement
There was a social cocktail event to start, featuring passed appetizers, and a full bar in the back of the space.
As the cocktail hour (it was actually more like a half hour) wound down, we all made our way to the tables and found our places.Advertisement
After a few presentations ...
... It was time for dinner.Advertisement
The first course was a thick celery soup with foie gras and black truffle butter, prepared by Wilo Benet.
Next came a delicious beet salad, also featuring goat cheese, toasted almonds, mandarin orange peel, and a honey vinaigrette. The salad was created by chefs (and sisters) Yareli and Xoimar Manning.Advertisement
Next came a fantastic smoked swordfish crudo by chef Jose Enrique.
The fourth course was a fantastic pork dish, followed by a chocolate coconut rum cake, both by chef Mario Págan.Advertisement
Hamilton's curtain time was fast approaching, so we hopped onto the charter buses and took a short ride to the theater. The bus stopped a couple of blocks away, and we walked up the rest of the way.
It looked like there wasn't a bad seat in the house — but the AmEx attendee seats were undoubtedly fantastic. They were about a third of the way back from the stage in the orchestra level.Advertisement
The production was fantastic, and seeing Lin Manuel Miranda in the show's titular role was something special.
After the show, there was a private reception outside of the theater for the AmEx attendees, which included a meet and greet with Miranda and other cast members. Miranda was only there briefly, but still took the time to take photos with any attendee who wanted.Advertisement
The next morning, attendees had breakfast at the hotel, before heading back to New York's JFK airport. I took a separate flight, as I had prior work commitments elsewhere, but I was told that it was the same exact type of plane and flight experience as it was on the way down. Before they left, attendees were given a special souvenir package from the show.
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