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    The Fairmont, my main squeeze

    Nicky Ackland-Snow for the boston globe

    SAN FRANCISCO — It was, for four decades, unrequited love. I was smitten with her from a distance — her gorgeous lines, her regal bearing, her inviting warmth, the way she drew attention away from everything else around her. She’s had so many admirers, all of them more worthy than me, that I’d convinced myself she was unapproachable.

    Finally, all these years later, I screwed up my courage, and made a polite and deferential overture to her. And discovered, to my shock, that she longed for me too. As I reached for her hand, she embraced me. And she so quickly and effortlessly seduced me that I’m still giddy from the nights we’ve spent together, and fantasizing about nights to come.

    She is The Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco. And somehow, for fairly short money, she’s now mine to play with. When I’m in her company, I’m treated like a fairy tale prince.


    Book a regular room, and she gives me a 21st-floor room with a dramatic view of the Golden Gate Bridge. Come back a week later for three nights, and two of them are free. A round of golf? Here, she says, use my clubs. A weekend stay at her companion property in Washington? But of course, have a suite on the club floor with your own concierge.

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    Mixing with royalty like this is not something I’m accustomed to. I’m so cheap — ask my friends — that I think nothing of offering $49 for a $59 room at the Comfort Inn. Who else do they know who’s offered a lower price for an entrée at an expensive restaurant? And let me tell you where to find the Red Roof Inn coupon.

    So it wasn’t just love that drew me to the Fairmont Hotels rewards program. It was my penchant for penny-pinching. My wife, Barbara, and I decided to start our May vacation to Mendocino County with two nights in San Francisco. The Fairmont, I announced, would be that special place, though at $389 a night, my fidelity was quickly tested.

    For that, you’d think, the Wi-Fi would be included. It is at the Comfort Inn. But many high-end hotels still charge for it. How could this be, I asked the reservation agent? Just join our President’s Club, she said, and the Wi-Fi is free.

    With just a few clicks, without ever having spent a night in a Fairmont Hotel, I was a member of the President’s Club. A coddled member. And for a trifling $79 a night, I’d be upgraded to a room — an enormous room, as it turned out — in the Fairmont’s just renovated 25-story tower. With a view so splendid, who needs to ride a cable car or lunch in Sausalito? We do, Barb insisted.

    At the world-famous luxury Fairmont San Francisco, a deck looks out over the city and to the bay.
    © Matthew Millman
    At the world-famous luxury Fairmont San Francisco, a deck looks out over the city and to the bay.

    The Fairmont’s affection for me knew no bounds. I qualified for the Fairmont Visa card. And after spending $4,000 with the card, and weeks before our first check-in, I had earned two free nights, and a dizzying array of other perks — meal certificates, suite upgrades, third night free with a two-night stay.

    She wanted me badly. Who knew?

    To be sure, this is a two-way relationship. I’ve left good money in Fairmont’s coffers. Oh, how I wanted this relationship. But oh how they took advantage of my longing. I longed to be wanted, to be told I was special, that someone cares about me enough to cater to my needs.

    Which, of course, is what hotel loyalty programs are all about. Fairmont wants my repeat business. And even if I’m not so special, they’ve made me feel so. (Though it’s hard to feel that special when your President’s Club membership number is 10 digits.)

    Still, they’ve hooked me. The hotels are very nice. The service is grand. The prices are not that bad.

    The iconic face of the hotel reflects its status on the National Register of Historic Places.
    © Matthew Millman
    The iconic face of the hotel reflects its status on the National Register of Historic Places.

    And nowadays, hotel loyalty programs have advantages over airline frequent flier programs: For 50,000 miles, you can fly from Boston to San Francisco. But only on the fifth Sunday in February. And with stops in Newark, Houston, and Denver.

    “Airlines make it much harder to redeem points,’’ says Anne Banas, the executive editor of “With hotel loyalty programs, there are more of them, you can use your points pretty much anywhere. Hotel points are much easier to redeem, and they have more perks too.’’

    Oh, yes, perks. Did I mention complimentary use of the health club at Fairmont hotels? And workout clothes delivered to your room!

    Be still my heart!

    Alas, as special as this assignation has become, we both knew it was destined to be an open marriage: Neither of us said it would be wrong to troll for other Friends With Benefits. Which, I confess, I’ve done.

    Though not indiscriminately. Not yet. But I recently began a mutual flirtation with someone of slightly lesser stature. A commoner, if you will: Hyatt Hotels and the Hyatt Gold Passport program. Not many benefits at first, but I’ve scored a free two-night stay after spending just $1,000 with Hyatt’s branded Visa card.

    For now at least, Hyatt, you are a dalliance. Fairmont, you are my main squeeze.

    Walter Robinson can be reached at