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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Lin-Manuel Miranda held up a Puerto Rican flag during curtain call at the opening night of

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Lin-Manuel Miranda held up a Puerto Rican flag during curtain call at the opening night of “Hamilton” in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
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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.

Of the various perks that credit card companies offer to cardholders, one of the easier to forget, but most expansive, is exclusive access to events.

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.

Read more: 5 exclusive travel benefits and events you can only access as an AmEx Platinum cardholder

In January, AmEx hosted an extremely limited, three-day event in San Juan, Puerto Rico, for about 100 cardholders – anyone with any AmEx card was eligible. This contrasted with By 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 – who works with AmEx as a global brand ambassador – as a way to raise funds for and awareness of the island’s continued recovery from 2017’s Hurricane Maria.

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.

Read more: I got more than $2,000 worth of value from the American Express Platinum credit card in my first year – despite its $550 annual fee

The event, which was a collaboration among several AmEx divisions and initiatives, ultimately centered around its “Shop Small” campaign promoting spending at small businesses. According to a 2018 study by American Express, $0.67 of every dollar spent at small businesses stays within the local economy – as Puerto Rico continues to rebuild from the storm, tourism dollars can have a direct impact.

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.

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:


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.

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One of the benefits of a chartered aircraft is that it can be configured for exactly what the client needs.

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Of course, there’s also the convenience, air of exclusivity, and possibly even cost savings for a group event or team journey. In this case, that meant a low-density configuration of about 100 business-class seats arranged in a 2-2-2 layout. Check out this video walkthrough of the exact plane (tail N767MW) in a similar configuration in 2012.


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.

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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.

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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.

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There was a breakfast buffet arranged in the middle of the cabin – passengers could help themselves while waiting to depart.


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 …

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… And straight onto two buses waiting on the tarmac to take us to the hotel.

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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.

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Condado Vanderbilt

AmEx Fine Hotels and Resorts, or “FHR,” is a program exclusively available to cardholders with the Platinum and invite-only Centurion cards. When you book an FHR property through AmEx Travel, you’ll get perks like a room upgrade, complimentary breakfast for two each day, late check-out and early check-in, an on-property credit to use, and more.

This didn’t count as an FHR stay, since it was part of a group event, but you can read more about a more typical FHR and AmEx Travel experience here.


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.

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After a drink and chat with other reporters in San Juan for the opening weekend, I went upstairs to check out my room.

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The Condado Vanderbilt, which was recently renovated, has queen and king guestrooms, one- and two-bedroom suites, and three-bedroom presidential suites. My room was a one-bedroom suite.


The suite had two large sitting areas, essentially dividing the non-bedroom into living and dining areas.

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Here’s another view from the sitting area.

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The bedroom was big, with a king-sized bed, a dresser, television, and closet.

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Here’s a closer look at the bed.

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The rest of the day was free time for cardholders on the trip.

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I spent some time working in my room, before heading to dinner with a few of the other media folks and AmEx representatives attending the trip. We went to Mario Págan Restaurant, a sublime restaurant run by the eponymous chef. The restaurant’s menu is described as “fusing international dishes with local ingredients.” We ordered a range of the small bites to start, which – like our mains – were delicious.


After dinner, we went to the Luis A Ferré Performing Arts Center, where Hamilton’s opening-night performance was underway.

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Lin-Manuel Miranda speaks with reporters following the opening night of “Hamilton” in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
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The cardholder event attendees would be going to the following night’s performance, but we stopped by for a post-show press conference.


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.

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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.

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AmEx provided a list of shops, cafes, and restaurants that participated in Shop Small. Each guest also got a $25 AmEx gift card to spend during the day.


A café and chocolate shop called Chocobar was a definite highlight.

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At around 3:30, all of the event attendees met in the hotel lobby for a big, multi-course “Dine Small” reception.

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Chef José Andrés and chef Wilo Benet speak at an AmEx card-member event in San Juan, Puerto Rico, January 12, 2019.
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AmEx partnered with chef José Andrés and his organization, World Central Kitchen, for the dinner. World Central Kitchen helped provide nearly 4 million meals across Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. Several other chefs who were involved with World Central Kitchen after the storm collaborated on the dinner, including Wilo Benet, Yareli and Xoimar Manning, and Jose Enrique.


The reception was held outdoors at La Arcada, an event space.

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Cardholders were greeted with a piña colada as they walked in.

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There was a social cocktail event to start, featuring passed appetizers, and a full bar in the back of the space.

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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.

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After a few presentations …

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… It was time for dinner.

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The first course was a thick celery soup with foie gras and black truffle butter, prepared by Wilo Benet.

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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.

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Next came a fantastic smoked swordfish crudo by chef Jose Enrique.

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The fourth course was a fantastic pork dish, followed by a chocolate coconut rum cake, both by chef Mario Págan.

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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.

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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.

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The house filled up quickly, and soon enough, the lights went down and the show started.


The production was fantastic, and seeing Lin Manuel Miranda in the show’s titular role was something special.

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The cast of Hamilton in San Juan, Puerto Rico, January 12, 2019
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As soon as Miranda stepped on stage, the audience rose into a standing ovation that lasted about 35 seconds before Miranda continued the song and broke the spell.

Although the musical is about and named for Alexander Hamilton, there’s a case to be made that Aaron Burr, who serves as an emcee-type character, actually runs the show. Fortunately, the production featured a brilliant and energetic performance from Donald Webber, Jr. as Burr, easily comparable to Leslie Odom, Jr.’s rendition in the original Broadway cast.

Miranda may have stolen the show, but strong casting throughout the entire company made it an unforgettable production for the entire audience. Brandon L. Armstrong brought a cheeky humor and power to Hercules Mulligan, while Simon Longnight performed flawlessly as both Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson. Meanwhile, Julia K. Harriman stole the show as Eliza Schuyler.


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.

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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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$6,800 is undeniably a lot of money to spend on a weekend. If someone tried to do a similar weekend – buying tickets to the show, coach airfare, lodging at the same hotel, and food – it could be done for a lot less money.

But the real value of the package was access. Tickets for the limited three-week production of Hamilton – let alone during the opening weekend – were scarce, with demand far outpacing availability.

The AmEx travel package not only offered early access to prime seats for the show, but also featured incomparable, impossible-to-recreate events like the meet and greet with Lin-Manuel Miranda and the rest of the cast, an intimate cocktail and dining reception with some of Puerto Rico’s top chefs, and a unique business-class flight experience.

AmEx frequently offers unique packages like this, and they vary in price, so it’s worth keeping an eye out – you never know if you’ll find an event that’s worth it to you.

Some of these packages are open to anyone with any AmEx card, but the Platinum Card (and the invite-only Centurion Card) offers the most extensive access, since it includes access to By Invitation Only events.

These events usually aren’t free – and often aren’t cheap – but the access can be unrivaled, and sometimes it can be worth splurging on a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

If you’re interested in the Platinum Card and want to make sure that you can get enough value from it to justify its annual fee, check out my recap of how I got more than $2,000 in value during my first year with the card.

Click here to learn more about the AmEx Platinum Card from Insider Picks’ partner: The Points Guy.