Welcome back to rsts11travel. With obvious constraints in place, we haven’t been traveling or keeping too close an eye on the travel world the last two years. Unlike some bigger named sites, we make a few bucks here from referral links, but generally it’s a labor of love, and labor has outweighed love for two and a half years for the most part.
That being said, we have a couple of posts in the queue and some probable Vegas travel coming up, so stick around and we’ll bring rsts11travel back to life.
For now, we’ll share a promotion or two during July (check back or watch our Twitter for updates
Hyatt and MGM – Double World of Hyatt points through October 15, 2022
World of Hyatt had been partnered with MLife Rewards for quite a while. Our Hyatt status some years came purely from Delano Las Vegas stays, in fact.
For the next three months, though, you get double Hyatt points with Las Vegas MGM stays.
You will receive five (5) World of Hyatt Base Points and five (5) World of Hyatt Bonus Points per eligible USD for each eligible stay at participating MGM Rewards Las Vegas destinations during the Offer Period.
For the purpose of this offer, an “eligible stay” is defined as any stay where a member is paying an Eligible Rate or redeems a free night award for at least one night of their stay.
You must provide your World of Hyatt membership number at the time of check-in and choose World of Hyatt Points for each stay.
In terms of the linking for normal benefits, you can match MGM status to World of Hyatt (Pearl to Discoverist, Gold and above to Explorist), earn World of Hyatt points at MGM properties, earn MGM Tier Credits at Hyatt properties, and other benefits of status on either side. (We’re pretty sure they used to let you get both programs, but that is not the case now with the revised MGM Rewards program.)
Having gone thirteen months away from Vegas, we’ll be looking into the reward program updates since then and sharing details with you (and drilling them into our own memory) in an upcoming post. This is the first year since 2014 that we haven’t had status, with mostly Gold and one year of Platinum in there. So it’s likely to be a learning opportunity.
Are there any new benefits at Las Vegas hotels you’d like to know about or dig into? Share in the comments and we’ll see what we can do.
You read that right. With some creatively wasted time and a Fine Hotels & Resorts reservation, Three nights at Delano on our December visit to Las Vegas came to a negative $167 net cost, including the dreaded resort fees. The next three nights at Wynn Las Vegas were about $45 total. Let me tell you how.
Setting up the trip
We went 16 months without a visit to Las Vegas in 2019-2020, but with some vacation time to burn off, we made a return visit to the Strip in December 2020. While there were some pricey meals involved, the core six days of the trip were free thanks to the Wynn Slots mobile game, MyVEGAS games, and American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts (which we’ve written about a few times here on rsts11travel).
If you’re not the type to use Facebook at all, or to play mobile games, these options won’t apply. But for many of you, they’re worth considering. Fine Hotels and Resorts is worth a look either way.
MyVEGAS (MGM Resorts partnership)
There are now six (6) MyVEGAS games you can play to earn rewards from MGM Resorts properties and partners: MyVEGAS Slots on Facebook, MyVEGAS Slots on mobile, MyVEGAS Blackjack on mobile, MyKONAMI Slots (mobile and Facebook, same game), PopSlots, and MyVEGAS Bingo. Reward are based on Loyalty Points, which are earned by playing the free games or buying in-game currency.
At certain levels of spend, more reward slots are available, and higher level rewards open up, including longer and higher grade hotel comps and Free Play rewards. We’ve played the games for over 9 years, and spent around $600 over that time, so we get six reward slots and pretty much all of the non-host rewards (including occasional 3 night free stays, 2 night Aria and Bellagio stays, and the $100 freeplay reward). We’re not going into full details here; there are Facebook groups and forums about MyVEGAS games that will cover way more than you ever wanted to know.
We’ve ended up with over $1000 in value so far, including about $675 of freeplay, four show tickets including Blue Man Group and Cirque du Soleil, and two free nights at Mirage over the years. And the slots and reward levels are still valid indefinitely, as long as we earn Loyalty Points.
Wynn Slots (Wynn Las Vegas partnership)
For Wynn Slots, it’s a bit more limited and complicated. They have gems as the reward currency, and VIP level statuses that are required to redeem gems for rewards (a free room with no resort fee; they used to offer buffet rewards before the pandemic). In game purchases of at least $200 are required to redeem rewards, over a 91-180 day period. With comp stays at Wynn, the resort fee is not required, but you have to pay for wifi or gym access a la carte (about $20/day) if you don’t add the resort fee.
The game has VIP level periods of 90 days. You buy up to a VIP level, and get that status for the remainder of the current 90 day period and the entire following 90 day period. So if you buy up to VIP level 3 (VIP3), you can redeem for 2-night stays for at least 90 days (and up to 180 days). Buy up on the first day of your personal VIP status period and you get over 179 days to redeem at that level, with a one day gap required between reservations. At $400 and $750, you can earn VIP4 and VIP5 respectively, which entitles you to 3-night and 4-night stays respectively. Once you have the level, you’re only limited by your gems, which are earned with in game play.
As I said, it’s a bit more complicated, but if you can make more than one trip in six months, and if you play mobile games anyway, it’s worth it.
Fine Hotels and Rewards (American Express)
As we’ve explained before on rsts11travel, American Express offers the Fine Hotels and Rewards program to Platinum and Centurion charge card holders (not Platinum *credit* card holders, like the Delta Platinum charge card, and not the Gold or Green charge cards of course). They are not always the best base rates available, but the FHR benefits can definitely turn the balance in your favor.
Any FHR stay includes early check-in (Noon local time) when available, a room upgrade when available, guaranteed 4pm check-out, daily breakfast for two (usually a $30/person/day credit for our stays), an “experience credit” or “property amenity credit” of at least $100 (often a spa or dining credit), and complimentary wireless service (usually applied as a credit toward resort fees when those are applicable). You get Amex Membership Rewards points for paid stays, or can redeem MR points toward them. And you get all the usual property/chain loyalty rewards either way.
Lining out our stay
We booked our FHR stay at Delano through American Express Travel. By paying with the American Express Platinum card, we got 5 MR points per dollar (effectively a 5% value) on the room and tax charge. The resort fee wasn’t included as it was charged on-site.
The MyVEGAS FREEPLAY rewards were obtained in two batches, which is how we were able to get twice the usual amount. Prior to December 2020, rewards tended to have a batch period of about 90 days, after which they would expire if not used. We were lucky in that the expiration date for the first batch we used was after our check-out date, and we were able to book a second batch closer to check-in date. And with a three day paid stay, we were able to meet the more stringent requirements for the $100 FREEPLAY rewards as well as merging FREEPLAY rewards. This would not have been possible with a MyVEGAS room reward stay.
The Delano / Mandalay Bay stay had a room and fees/taxes cost of about $480. The FHR rewards (wifi credit, dining credit, and breakfast) came to about $297 in real value, bringing the stay to $183.
After the $350 of MyVEGAS FREEPLAY, we effectively got paid $167 for our visit. All of that and more went back to MGM Resorts in the form of other dining and a massage and pedicure visit to Spa Mandalay, but those would have happened anyway.
We also netted almost 40,000 Tier Credits toward MLife status, which would have kept us at Pearl or taken us more than halfway to renewing Gold status if MGM had not already extended status through 2021.
The Wynn reward stay, like the game, was a bit more complicated. Due to the hotel closure in March-May 2020, certain rewards were extended and could be rebooked in August regardless of VIP level at the time. So since we had a three-night stay booked from before some VIP program changes, we were able to rebook that in late August for the December stay. We did pay the $20 for wifi for a day or two while there. So not including dining and gambling at Wynn, we had three nights in a corner room on the 35th floor facing the golf course, for under $50.
About the pandemic part
This was our first trip during the pandemic, and it was unlike any other visit before or since. The airports were almost bare, crowds were lighter than usual even for mid-week, and the casinos were not very crowded either.
Unlike our June 2021 visit, the staffing shortages were not as evident. Restaurants and shops seemed about 50% open, some with limited hours, but we were still able to find excellent food without too much advance planning (which was definitely not the case in June 2021). Casino cocktail service was actually better at almost every property we went to in December compared to just six months later.
We are definitely looking forward to the latest mask round to end, shows to open, and restaurant staffing to recover. We’ve come to expect reservations to be necessary for high end locations (Gordon Ramsay Steak, BLT Steak, and so forth), but we’re not sure which was less satisfying, half-open or half-staffed.
In any event, we’ll be back this December if not sooner, and we’ll see how things change between last month and then.
Credit card links in this post are not referrals, and we don’t get a cent if you use these links. See below if you’re looking to support us with a credit card referral.
As you may recall, several premium cards made adjustments to their bonus and promotional offers in 2020 since travel rewards were harder to earn and redeem. American Express offered $20 each toward streaming services and mobile phone services per month on their personal Platinum card, and $20 each toward shipping and mobile phone services on the business Platinum card, from May through December. They also added bonus travel and Dell credits. Chase expanded their points earning and travel credit redemption categories on the Chase Sapphire Reserve among other cards. And some cards offered a partial credit toward the $400+ annual fees.
We’ll track the new (or renewed) offerings here, for those of you who can’t travel yet, and for those who can. Where possible, we’ll share primary sources as well, so you can review the full details. And we’ll also include quarterly bonus cash back categories as we see them.
American Express is offering a $30/month Paypal rebate on the personal Platinum charge card for the first six months of the year. This looks to be useful for any online retailers accepting Paypal, as well as eBay purchases paying with Paypal.
It looks like the Business Platinum charge card. has 4 bonus Membership Rewards (MR) points per dollar spent on each of several categories, up to 80,000 bonus MR points each. Your bonus categories include:
Shipping services (i.e. Fedex, USPS, UPS)
Check your Amex Offers section to add these to your card if you’re eligible. Not everyone will be able to max these categories (at $20,000 spend per category), but every little bit helps.
Many people are seeing a $15/month rebate on wireless phone services on one of their business cards as of February 1. Check your Amex Offers in the app or on the website. This may be on Business Platinum or another Business charge or credit card; ours appeared on the Amex Delta Skymiles business credit card. This is available through the end of the year, for a total benefit of $165. Takes a nice bite out of the $195 annual fee on this card.
Also fresh on February 1 are the Amex Gold Uber benefits, which will replace the airline fee credit after this year. This may be a bit complicated:
Current cardmembers still get the $100 airline fee credit; it goes away on December 31, 2021.
The $120 dining credit ($10/mo) is still there for Grubhub, Seamless, Boxed, Cheesecake Factory, Ruth’s Chris, and Shake Shack.
A new $120 Uber Cash offer begins February 1. You get $10 in Uber Cash (usable for Uber rides or Uber Eats) on the first of each month. Like the Platinum $15/mo benefit, it comes around each month and must be used that month. Unlike the Platinum benefit, there’s no December bonus.
You can also get a 12 month subscription to Eats Pass for free by adding your Gold card to your Uber Eats wallet. If you already have another Eats Pass promo, it will be interesting to see if this offer will replace it when it expires.
Not pandemic-related, but the Saks Fifth Avenue $50 credit resets for January-June 2021 on personal Platinum cards, and the Dell $100 credit for the same period on business Platinum cards also resets. Check for Amex Offers with either brand to get even more out of these purchases, and make sure you’re signed up for Dell Rewards to get a few extra bucks on top of it all.
There may be other benefits that pop up in the Amex Offers section of their website and mobile app. Be sure to check these from time to time, as they may come and go, and vary from card to card and member to member.
Juicy Amex Offers seen on January 4 include $50 back on $50 or more spent at Home Depot, Best Buy, and Home Chef meal service, the former two being available for two uses each. There is also a $50 back on $250 for Instacart, again usable twice–and it can be multiple transactions, so you don’t need to buy a new fridge to qualify, although Home Depot and Best Buy could help you with that expense too. These were on our personal Platinum, but your mileage may vary of course.
Chase Freedom has 5% cash back on wholesale clubs, internet/cable/phone, and streaming services, up to $1500 in spend for January-March (up to $75 in cash back for these categories). This is the traditional cash back offer, not a pandemic special offer.
Chase Sapphire Preferred and Reserve continue to offer pandemic bonus points on grocery store purchases through April 30, 2021 (2x for CSP, 3x for CSR). There are other benefits for Doordash, Peloton, and Lyft, as well as expanded “Pay Yourself Back” options to redeem your Ultimate Rewards points. See this link for the current offerings and terms.
The Chase promotion on Lyft can be particularly profitable. With the Chase Sapphire Reserve card, you get 10 points per dollar spent, as well as the Lyft Pink benefits including 15% off, and rebates from the $300 annual travel credit while it lasts. Spending $100 in Lyft rides would come to $85 charged to your card, 850 points (which are worth $12.75 or more), and the $85 can be rebated if you have remaining travel credit. So you get paid over $12 for those rides.
Discover has 5% cash back on grocery stores, Walgreens, and CVS, up to $1500 in spend for January -March(up to $75 in cash back for these categories). This is the traditional cash back offer, not a pandemic special offer.
If you redeem for gift cards, be sure to check the bonus cash on those. You get at least 5% “bonus cash” for any gift card from the Discover cashback redemption program, but some cards offer 20-30% extra.
That’s all for now
Found anything we missed? Need a referral for any of the cards mentioned? Contact us through the form below or put a comment at the bottom and we’ll see what we can do.
Welcome back to rsts11travel. Four years ago we split this blog off of rsts11.com, to keep a travel and rewards focus and host trip reports as well as loyalty program news that affects our readers.
An aside regarding travel in general
During the pandemic, it’s become rather in vogue to attack people on online forums if they dream of travel or, even worse, actually plan to travel. We believe this is counterproductive and doesn’t change anyone’s mind.
If you are able to travel, can analyze and accept the risks, and still want to go somewhere, that’s your choice. Be careful, take precautions, be aware of local laws and ordinances at home and at your destination(s), and make the most of it.
If you are not able to travel, not willing to accept the risks, or otherwise not ready to get away, don’t.
We’ve minimized our travel since the second week of March. The convertible has been out, sometimes even with the top down, but social distancing and conscientious mask-wearing has been the way of the world whether in cars or just doing daily work.
Looking ahead into 2021
As you’re aware, the last year has not been great for travel, and we feel lucky to have made it out of our region twice before the pandemic virtually eliminated travel. But in late December, we were able to make it out for another adventure, and trip reports will be coming soon.
In the coming months we’ll track the return of leisure travel (if and as it happens), adjustments for loyalty programs and travel credit cards we’re familiar with, and hopefully get some more trip reports on the books as we escape the confines of our zip code more. There may also be a backlog of travel gadget reviews that we’re hoping to start flushing out this month as well.
Toss us a coffee? (not literally)
If rsts11travel has helped you out over the years, we’d welcome your support. The support link at the top of the page has a lot of options, many of which don’t cost you anything extra, and we’ll be updating it in January.
Our Amazon links are great for this. Looking for a travel router for your next trip? We like the gl.inet slate router and the RAVPower WD009 router. Looking for something else? This link will help us fund our travel gadget acquisitions without affecting your price at all.
You can also send “cash” tips to us through Ko-Fi or Venmo. These usually go toward our Nespresso station expenses, freeing up money to go to travel and research.
If there are any topics you’d like to see addressed, feel free to leave a comment below. We probably won’t ever have a black tie awards ceremony, but we hope to provide useful and accessible travel advice to our readers without pushing credit cards or asking our readers to write our content for us (although if we know you and you’d like to write a guest post, get in touch).
Here’s hoping all our readers made it through 2020 relatively unscathed, and that we’ll all be on the road safely and sanely very soon.
We’ve been pretty quiet on rsts11travel this year, as we haven’t gotten very far outside our own area code since mid-March. But with some things getting better and others not getting as much worse as they could, we’ll likely have some new posts coming including our first travel in 9 months.
As we start queueing up some new posts, here are a couple of things to think about as you reach the end of the year and maybe ponder some travel on your own.
Check your points and status expiration
With the pandemic, lockdowns, and decreased travel, many if not most travel networks are extending status, points expiration, and even status earning conditions into the next year.
Some examples (check the links or the provider’s website; we don’t guarantee that this list will be updated after publication):
MGM Resorts MLife:
Current earned status extended through 2021
Reduced tier credit requirements for upgraded levels (Pearl at 20k, Gold at 60k, Platinum at 160k) through December 31, 2020
Tier credits still expire December 31 (the tier year is now calendar year, rather than October-September)
Current earned status extended through January 31, 2022
Reduced tier credit requirements (Platinum at 4k, Diamond at 12k, Diamond Plus at 20k, Diamond Elite at 60k)
Reward credit expiration extended to September 30 (6 month expiration if no activity)
In person interviews are available again as of September 8, 2020.
From the CBP FAQ: “You become eligible to renew your membership one year prior to program expiration. If you submit a renewal application before your membership expires, you will be able to continue to use benefits up to 6 months after your membership expiration date, if your renewal does not get processed in time.”
Remember that several premium credit and charge cards (including American Express Platinum and Citi AAdvantage Executive Mastercard) offer a credit for TSA PreCheck or Global Entry every 4-5 years. If you’re up for renewal, or need to sign up, check any card with a higher annual fee to see if you can use this benefit.
Check your premium credit and charge cards for special benefits
Several cards with heavy travel benefits added non-travel benefits this year to make up for not being able to use the regular travel offerings.
Some examples include American Express Platinum:
$100 Dell credit through 1/31/2021
$20 monthly streaming service credit through 12/31/2020
$20 monthly wireless phone service credit through 12/31/2020
Travel bonus: $100 additional travel credit (which is reported to not be instantly applied, unlike the regular airline fee credits, Dell credits, and so forth).
American Express Business Platinum:
Additional $100 Dell credit (you already got $100 for each half-calendar year, so this could add up to $400 this year)
$20 monthly wireless phone service credit through 12/31/2020
$20 monthly shipping service credit through 12/31/2020 (includes shipping supplies bought at UPS and Fedex stores, in our experience, as well as traditional shipping services)
Some members get a $200 statement credit after renewal, to offset reduced value of the annual fee
Marriott branded credit cards from American Express and Chase have expanded point earning in gas station and restaurant purchases, as well as Marriott purchases. And certain Chase and Amex cards have newish offers for dining delivery services and car services, which could be worth $120 a year.
Top-line travel cards like Chase Sapphire Reserve and Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Amex have added categories to qualify for the $300 statement credit benefit. Check your card issuer site or portal to see if this applies to you.
Aside from these benefits, be sure to check your Amex Offers and Benefits on their website or mobile app to see if there are travel or other benefits that might add value (or at least reduce the annual fee pain). Since we’re very Vegas oriented, it’s worth noting that several Amex cards have current offers for MGM Resorts, Caesars Entertainment, and possibly even Wynn and Venetian resorts. Check the terms carefully, as the MGM offers are distinct but look similar (the lower value one is for the lower value resorts).
Have you found an interesting pandemic-era loyalty or card promotion you think our other readers would appreciate? Share it in the comments, or join the conversation on Twitter or Facebook.
This is a very strange time for travelers and Las Vegas aficionados. Everyone on the Internet has turned into an infectious disease expert, it seems, and a lot of people expect those random “experts” to know more than the companies involved about where the future is going.
For now, what we know is that Las Vegas is pretty much on pause through April 17 at the earliest, due to emergency directives from Governor Sisolak and the state health department. Seven such directives have been issued in a two week period in March already.
All casinos in Nevada were ordered closed by the end of the day on March 17. All hotels and motels were ordered closed by noon on March 18 for 30 days. All non-essential businesses were ordered closed as well, and on March 24 all gatherings of ten (10) or more (excluding people who live together, are patronizing an essential business, or are providing essential services) were forbidden .
Airlines have drastically reduced service as well, so expect some ramp-up time for them as well when it’s over.
It’s too early to know what this will all mean to Las Vegas. Some businesses will not reopen after the mandatory shutdowns. Others may open in different forms or at different rates. Even if everything starts up on April 17, you don’t turn a star back on instantly.
Common questions, and common sense answers
Some commonly asked questions I’ve seen on the forums and Facebook groups and so forth:
Will the hotels, resorts, casinos, and restaurants open before April 17? No, almost certainly not.
Will they open after then? At least most of them, yes.
What exact date will they all be open so I can go to Vegas? Nobody knows.
Will your rewards, promotions, offers, and reservations be honored? Mostly yes. All the brands we have seen have committed to making their best effort to compensate for a month (or more) of downtime. Most of them are not committing to exact time frames since nobody knows when they will be open and back to normal.
Do we have 100% permanent and final details on how those things will be honored? Absolutely not.
Will this pandemic cause all resort fees and parking fees and minibar rates and number of steps from the elevator to my room to go to zero immediately and forever? No. Many brands will probably make changes, adjustments, and offers to entice business back to Nevada when it’s safe to go, but even if you see “experts” on the Internet saying that this will totally be what ends resort fees, don’t believe it until you see it.
So what should I do now?
Be patient. your vacation or getaway being postponed or cancelled should be the least of your worries. Focus on your health and well-being.
Keep an eye out for the brands in Vegas that commit to their employees. Patronize them if you can when you go back. While some brands have decided to provide health coverage during the closure, others have gone beyond that.
Wynn and Encore are a great example of this; the CEO has committed to paying salaried and hourly employees, including estimated tips, through the closure. Yes, I’m a bit of a Wynn fan, but if you find any other brands going that far, give them some of your vacation budget as well.
Be patient with customer service people. Consider waiting to deal with reservation or ticket changes, if your plans are farther down the road, so that they can take care of people with the most immediate needs. If you do communicate with reservations or customer service in the near future, be patient with them. It’s 100% certain that nobody you talk to on the phone invented the virus behind this pandemic; none of them are happy about this situation; and taking out your frustration on them helps nobody, and will hopefully get you trespassed from any properties whose staff you abuse.
Help out Las Vegas if you wish to. If you want to support those in need in Las Vegas. There are a number of places to find relevant charities.
Help out in your own community if you can. Some of us have day jobs that will survive and even continue through the pandemic. Others are not so lucky. If you are healthy and able to do so, patronize local restaurants that are providing carryout/delivery (go directly to the restaurant if you can, as opposed to delivery services that may take up to 30% of the money off the top). Donate to local food banks, homeless service organizations, and the like. Donate blood, plasma, platelets if you are healthy and eligible. Spread the word on ways people can help. Check your local community forums (on Facebook or Nextdoor) and see if you can help seniors or other people in your neighborhood not able to fully help themselves.
Fact-check things before sharing them. Thirty seconds on google may keep you from spreading dubious or outright false items, or causing more harm than good.
Las Vegas will still be there when this pandemic subsides. As much as you might despise some of the brands and companies, the people of Las Vegas will need our help when we’re able to return. And so will our own communities.
Stay safe out there. Keep an eye out for national, state, and local orders and regulations, follow them, and take care of yourselves and each other.
There are a couple of news items that have come out of Las Vegas in the last week (and one that’s floating around from a couple of weeks ago) that have inspired a lot of misinformation on travel forums. Since we’re here to provide valid information and guidance, we figured we’d give you a quick rundown on four such sources of dismay.
Eldorado Resorts hasn’t bought Caesars Entertainment yet; that transaction won’t close until next year.
The Rio All-Suites Hotel and Casino has been sold through a lease-back deal, and nothing will change for patrons for at least two years as a result of this transaction.
The Hard Rock Hotel in Las Vegas is still open and operating; the closure to convert to a Virgin Hotels venue won’t be until early 2020
The Hooters Hotel and Casino has already cut over to its new branding under the India-based On Your Own (OYO) brand.
What this means is that, for now, Caesars remains Caesars. Anything you like or don’t like about the property, the casinos, the brand, the Caesars Rewards loyalty program, or anything of the sort has absolutely nothing to do with this future transaction.
It’s expected that the combined company will operate under the Caesars name next year after the transaction closes. This means we expect Caesars Rewards to continue, most of the Strip hotels currently operated by Caesars to continue to do so, but other changes are likely to happen.
There are a lot of rumors about Caesars selling off properties on the Strip or elsewhere. Aside from the next story, which is almost under that category, there’s nothing firm and lots of speculation.
Rio Sale to Imperial Companies with Leaseback Deal
Caesars Entertainment is selling the Rio All Suites Hotel to Imperial Companies for $516 million. They will rent the property back and continue to operate it for two years, with the developers having an option to extend the agreement for a year beyond that.
Based on this and related news (like the World Series Of Poker returning to Rio in 2020), we don’t expect it to be torn down or turned into a sports stadium, as had been rumored. It also means that your Caesars Rewards program will still apply there for at least another two years.
Hopefully the cash infusion from Imperial will give Caesars some money to refresh the Rio, but for now you should be able to expect at least what you’ve experienced there. That means 2-3 more years of the Penn & Teller Theatre (and “Fool Us”) as well as other regular attractions including comedy, World Series of Poker, and more.
Hard Rock Hotel Converting To Virgin
Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Hotels brand has purchased the Hard Rock Hotel in Las Vegas. Renovation and rebranding will begin in February 2020, with the hotel closing for about 8 months to complete the changes.
Until February, though, the Hard Rock Hotel remains open as it has been for years. A new exhibition of memorabilia is opening tomorrow (September 27) even, so they’re not fading away, and you still have four months or so to make a final visit before the metamorphosis.
And the Hard Rock Cafe and Hard Rock Live on the Strip should be unaffected by this transition, other than fewer tourists showing up at the restaurant hoping to get a room.
Hooters Hotel Converted To OYO
India’s On Your Own hotel company recently acquired the Las Vegas Hooters Hotel and Casino, as predicted by Vital Vegas a couple of months ago.
They showed the signage changes on September 16th on Twitter, and word is that Hooters Restaurant will move to the Strip, probably with a branded section of an existing casino.
Wrapping it up
Remember that, as Abraham Lincoln said, you can’t believe everything you see on the Internet. Before taking anyone’s word on changes in Vegas (including ours), put 30 seconds into Google and make sure what you’re hearing is correct.
Welcome to rsts11travel. Today we’re looking briefly at an underrated benefit on several premium charge and credit cards, and a recent change that has been causing confusion and misplaced expertise on travel forums this week.
tl;dr: American Express announced in May that they would no longer offer the restaurant benefit on Priority Pass memberships through their cards. Priority Pass reminded customers of this earlier this week. US Bank, Citi, and Chase benefits are unchanged.
We’ve also looked at Priority Pass in the following posts:
Priority Pass is a company that provides a subscription service of sorts for airport lounges around the world. They began offering this “club” program in 1992.
You can subscribe through their website for an annual plan that gives you access to over 1000 lounges and airport facilities around the world; depending on your needs, you can choose to pay as little as $99 up front for a year’s membership (with a $32 per person visit fee) or select their Prestige membership at $429/year which provides you unlimited free visits and a $32/person guest visit fee.
Most people using their service, however, do not pay them directly. Several premium credit and charge cards from American Express, US Bank, Chase, and Citi offer a version of Priority Pass (usually Priority Pass Select) which gives you either an “unlimited” number of visits with a specified number of guests included, or a fixed number of visits included.
In addition to over a thousand lounges in the program, Priority Pass also offers access to Minute Suites relaxation bays at certain airports, as well as a generous restaurant credit at about 30 airport restaurants in the US. These options have different values than a regular lounge access benefit, but many travelers (your hosts included) have found them to be good options when available.
So what’s changed?
In late May, American Express announced that they would discontinue the restaurant benefit on Priority Pass memberships granted through an American Express charge or credit card. This caused some ire, but very few cardmembers chose the premium cards from Amex because of the $28 restaurant credit.
Earlier this week, Priority Pass themselves sent out a notice (right), co-branded with the American Express Global Lounge Collection, specifying that the membership noted in the email would no longer offer the “non-lounge airport experiences” and offering a link to the frequently asked questions (FAQ) for this change.
Both the email and the FAQ state that this change only applies to the membership account specified in the email. And as confirmed by numerous travel bloggers, there has been no announcement by Chase, Citi, or US Bank that they are changing this benefit (in fact, at least The Points Guy has actively confirmed with each that they are not changing at this time).
But still, the link to the FAQ spread like wildfire, without the “qualification” of the email source, and mild panic ensued.
Should I panic and spread rumors on the Internet?
In a word, no.
The change to Amex benefits has been known for a while, and the email sent this week clearly applies to the American Express provided Priority Pass membership whose number is in your email.
No changes have been announced or even credibly intimated regarding changes to the other cards offering Priority Pass. All three banks issuing the cards have publicly confirmed that they are not changing the non-lounge benefit.
Does this mean they will never change anything until the inevitable heat death of the universe? Of course not. But it’s obvious to recognize that the Priority Pass benefit from Citi, Chase, and US Bank premium cards is still valid and will continue to be so for the foreseeable future.
What should I do?
If you don’t use Priority Pass at all, or if you only use it for airport lounges, nothing changes for you.
If you have your Priority Pass through a card not issued by American Express, nothing changes for you.
If you have your Priority Pass through a card that is issued by American Express and you want to use the restaurant benefits after July 31, 2019, you will want to check to see if any of your non-Amex cards offer the benefit.
The US Bank Altitude Reserve and Chase Sapphire Reserve (not Preferred) are popular choices still available for application. If you have the Citi Prestige card (no longer offered to new cardmembers), your benefit remains available and unchanged as well.
You can usually activate your Priority Pass benefit through your card issuer’s website/account portal, or by calling their customer service phone number. When we activated the Chase Sapphire Reserve Priority Pass, it took about two weeks to get the card and member number, but others have reported getting it sooner.
Once you get your card, activate your online account at the Priority Pass website or in their mobile app. Most participating locations will accept the “digital card” in the app, so you don’t need to carry the plastic version, but if you have room in your wallet or purse, you may want to do so anyway.
Wrapping it up
We hope the details in this post will help you quash any confusion about the changes and notifications around Priority Pass benefits for American Express and other cards.
The Priority Pass app, available for IOS and Android, is going to be useful going forward if you do have an Amex-offered Priority Pass benefit. It was already good for tracking down details of available lounges, as well as offering the digital membership card, but as of August 1, 2019, it will also help you avoid Priority Pass properties that are not included in your benefit.
We also expect that the “Find an Airport Lounge” feature of the Amex mobile app will be updated as well; it’s a good resource for finding eligible lounges across several networks offered by Amex (including Centurion Lounge, Delta SkyClub, and others).
We recommend checking the respective apps or websites before traveling, so that you are not disappointed upon arrival to find certain properties have left the program (as we saw with Campanile at LAX last fall). Also check participating lounge hours and availability to Priority Pass members, and remember that they are subject to capacity limits even during available hours (laws of physics and all).
This post is the companion to a quick video blog we recorded on the topic. The video will appear here:
Welcome back to rsts11travel.
We were out traveling (surprising, huh?) and missed the live June 23, 2019, Ace of Vegas #VEGAS podcast a week or so ago. Catching up on the recording, the crew mentioned Waldorf Astoria Las Vegas, a property we’re familiar with and had some thoughts on.
Waldorf Astoria in Las Vegas started its life as the Mandarin Oriental, a part of City Center (along with Aria, Vdara, Crystals, and Veer). It was one of the least expensive MO properties, and remains quite affordable for its class, especially if you take advantage of American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts.
You’ll get most of this content if you watch the video, but for folks using translators or just wanting to read rather than watch or listen, we got you covered.
A Hilton Hotel on the Las Vegas Strip?
Well, it wasn’t always that way. The Mandarin Oriental Las Vegas opened in City Center in 2009. It was LEED Gold Certified, sort of an oddball in that it was a premium worldwide brand known for expensive rooms, the perhaps-obvious Asian theming, and a luxury experience that could easily go unnoticed on the strip (we didn’t know it was there until we were booked there in 2014 by corporate travel).
Mandarin Oriental Las Vegas was a non-casino, non-smoking resort with 392 hotel rooms (and about 225 condo-type residential units selling for about $2 million). This is a familiar model, as Vdara and Signature at MGM started with similar split models. It was not an MGM Resorts property, although guests of MGM resorts could charge restaurant and bar tabs at MO back to their MGM property room folio. You could not do the other direction (charge MGM venues back to MO).
The dining options were luxurious as well, from MOzen on the third floor providing American and European breakfast and lunch, to the tea lounge and Sky Bar on the 23rd floor (next to the main lobby), to Twist by Pierre Gagnaire.
Yes, you read right, the lobby is on the 23rd floor. You’d drop your car with the included valet service on the ground level (behind Bobby Flay’s “Bobby’s Burger Palace” and the CVS drugstore), head up to the 23rd floor, check in, and then head up or down in separate elevator banks to your guest room.
But something changed
That’s right. In 2018, the property changed owners and management. The co-founders of Panda Express bought the property, and it was converted to a Waldorf Astoria. The MO era ended at the end of August, 2018, and $50 million or so later, it reopened as Waldorf Astoria.
MOzen was renamed to Zen Kitchen (the MO for Mandarin Oriental no longer making sense). Twist, the Tea Lounge, and Sky Bar all remained intact.
We haven’t been back since the transition, but we’re hoping to do so soon.
This isn’t going to be cheap, is it?
We mentioned that Mandarin Oriental properties can be expensive. A room at the Mandarin Oriental Boston, for example, starts at $595/night or so. But by 2014 at least, rooms could readily be found at the MO Las Vegas for around $200-300/night. Sure, Excalibur is cheaper, but they’re not comparable. And for an upscale room and experience, $200 is quite reasonable (compare with Aria or Wynn for example).
When we started working on this post and video, we looked at a couple of reservation choices, ranging from 1-2 weeks out to 6 months out.
A room July 2-5 (about 8 days advance reservation) ran $287/night.
A month later for August 2-5, we found $225/night, and August 3-6 was $198/night.
A December 6-9 stay showed up at $205/night.
But what’s with the Hilton bit?
We’re glad you asked. Since you’re staying at a Hilton property, you can earn Hilton Honors points on your folio, or you can redeem them. Quick checks of the options above came to about 330-360 points per dollar, or 0.2-0.3 cents per point. Not a great redemption compared to TPG’s estimate of 0.6 cents per point, but if you have points to burn (or if you can get a points + cash redemption), it’s worth considering.
You may do better to watch the promotions Hilton offers. Our last paid stay at a Hilton rewarded us with about 45 points per dollar spent, between a couple of promos, Hilton Honors Gold status, and the green housekeeping option. That’s between 9-27 cents on the dollar, and can be used toward future stays (maybe even a return to the Waldorf Astoria). Promos come and go, of course.
There has to be an even better way
We mentioned the American Express Fine Hotels and Resorts program (FHR) in the intro. Platinum charge card members can take advantage of this program to add some extra benefits to a stay at some of the most impressive properties in the world.
These benefits start with early check-in, late check-out, a room upgrade when available, daily breakfast or breakfast credit (usually $30/person/day for up to two people), free wifi access (usually about $5+tax/day), and a property amenity chosen by the hotel. Most of the time we’ve seen the property amenity be a $100 spa credit to be used during your stay, but a stay at Delano Las Vegas at Mandalay Bay had a dining credit to be used at almost any Mandalay Bay restaurant property.
The rates for FHR reservations are not always the lowest available, but with up to $165/day plus the chance of an upgrade, they are often still a good deal.
Beyond that, though, you may find a free third, fourth, or fifth day for your stay. Our visit to the Aria Sky Suites had the third night free, and looking at the Waldorf Astoria, we found that the dates we chose effectively gave the fourth night free.
On top of that, you can use your qualifying Amex card to earn 5x Membership Rewards (MR) points for prepaid stays, or you can use your MR points at 1 cent per point for a prepaid stay.
It is worth noting that properties are not guaranteed to stay in the FHR program; we’ve seen Aria Sky Suites come in and out a few times over the years. If you have a qualifying Amex Platinum charge card (not the credit cards like Amex Delta Platinum Credit Card), it’s worth looking for any upscale stay in Las Vegas including the Waldorf Astoria.
So bring it home for us
You probably wouldn’t think of the Waldorf Astoria as an economy hotel. It’s not, but the Las Vegas location may be one of the most affordable ways to try the brand out, whether you’re paying “cash,” redeeming Hilton Honors points, or taking advantage of several American Express options with the property.
Have you stayed at the Waldorf Astoria since Hilton took over management? Share your thoughts in the comments below, and we’ll see you in Vegas soon!
We had a Valentine’s Day date at the Ritz-Carlton San Francisco a couple years ago. In addition to the club level treatment, excellent housekeeping, wonderful bed, and courteous staff throughout the property, we were particularly impressed with the Nespresso coffeemaker in the room.
Seems like a small detail, but it’s a consistent luxury experience that was like a touch of home away from home. And we usually can’t fit a Nespresso brewer in our carryon suitcases and still have room for anything else.
Well, today we’ll look at two options that we’ve tried this year for brewing Nespresso Originaline capsules on the go.
In this post (it’s a lungo!):
Getting into hot water
Carrying your capsules
Wacaco Minipresso NS
Barsetto Tripresso ES
Barsetto brew experience review
Expanding the Brew-off to include the Minipresso
Bring it home for us?
Getting into hot water
Note that neither of these options heats water, and while both include a cup, you may still want a regular cup (or two, for a travel companion).
You can use an in-room hotel coffeemaker (or hot water at a conference or event), or you can bring along something like the Bodum Bistro 17oz (0.5l) kettle we use on trips. As for cups, any travel-friendly (i.e. relatively unbreakable) mug should work; you’ll brew into the included cup and then make your Americano or double shot by pouring the espresso into the cup of your choice.
One other caveat is that neither of these devices is licensed by, sold by, or authorized by Nespresso. In reality this doesn’t matter too much, but if you buy one and expect Nespresso to support it, you’ll be rightly disappointed.
I have used them with official Nespresso capsules as well as the recent Peets Coffee line of compatible capsules. Other third parties should work as well.
Carrying your capsules
As far as stocking and stashing your actual coffee, you have two options unless you want to buy the capsules upon arrival. Many major cities have a Nespresso boutique; the one in San Francisco was walking distance from our hotel, and for Silicon Valley visitors, there’s a convenient boutique in Macy’s Men’s Store at Valley Fair in Santa Clara/San Jose. Many other stores including Peets Coffee shops and many grocery-carrying stores (including Target) will sell compatible capsules as well. However, you might be too far from a convenient location.
One option is to buy the boxes or sleeves from your usual home source and toss them in your suitcase. If you have a subscription through Nespresso’s website, you can just grab a sleeve or five from your shelf at home. However, they may get damaged depending on handling (and your suitcase’s structure). Your suitcase will smell nice but it won’t help with making your morning cup.
The other option (which I’ve chosen) is to get a specially-designed hard case to carry an assortment of capsules. For $20 at Amazon you can get a carrier for 8 capsules along with a carrier for 4 capsules plus sugar or tea bags. The foam inserts are removable, so you might be able to cram another 3 capsules in the larger one, or put more sugar or even mini-moo creamer in one.
But on with the brewers themselves.
Wacaco Minipresso NS
This device has been on Amazon for a while, and we found a deal through MassGenie to get a few bucks off. The Minipresso NS is currently about $41 at Amazon, and Wacaco sells travel cases for it for about $20.
The Minipresso is designed exclusively for Nespresso capsules, and uses a hand press on the front (that round disk pops out when you’re ready to brew). There’s a 70ml (2.35oz) water reservoir on one end, and the espresso cup on the other. A cleaning brush and travel pouch are included.
Barsetto Tripresso ES
The Barsetto Tripresso has been listed on Amazon for a while, but they did a crowdfunded “ES” revision of it earlier this year which allegedly improved the design. They’ve upgraded the base and pumping system, and while they say it now supports Nespresso capsules, a number of people report that (as advertised) the previous version does too. The previous version isavailable for $50-60 depending on color, and the manufacturer also sells a travel case for it for about $13.
Barsetto pumps from the top (like an Aeropress or MyJo device). This brewer includes both a Nespresso capsule adapter and a ground coffee “capsule,” so you can use fine ground coffee as well as the Nespresso capsules. The cup has a lid on the bottom, in case you’re drinking outside and don’t want leaves in your coffee. It also leaves room for sugar or milk. The brewer itself is designed to handle a regular espresso or a lungo (up to 80ml/2.7oz) with water reservoir marks for two cup sizes.
Note: The version reviewed in this post is allegedly different from the one available on Amazon. I’ve reached out to the manufacturer to see if the ES model is available for sale to the general public yet.
Barsetto brew experience review
Since I was in the backers group for the latest version of the Barsetto brewer, I wrote up a review for them based on my experience. I’ll put it here as originally posted.
WARNINGS: Remember that there are sharp blades inside the capsule container/brewer base (pictured above) to pierce the capsule. Don’t put your fingers in there. Also note that the metal brewer shaft that pushes the water through will get very hot (as you’d expect metal in contact with boiling water to do). Let it cool before cleaning.
I ran a tank of 212F water through the system to make sure it was clean and clear. Then I put a Nespresso Kazaar capsule into the brewer base, with 212F water midway between the first and second lines.
The instructions say to pump every 2-5 seconds. I went with 3 seconds, and the first drops came out after five pumps. Very nice and early crema. Kept pumping until I ran out of water. You’ll see the result in one of the photos, with AA batteries for scale.
I brewed a cup of Kazaar in my Kitchenaid Nespresso machine, fourth setting (pictured in the glass cappuccino mug above) which ended up being a bit more espresso than I got from the Tripresso). The strength was very similar and very strong as you would expect from a strength 12 Robusta coffee. The capsules were pierced and abraded in pretty much the same way between machines. The result was tasty espresso from both machines.
You will want to experiment with the amount of water and the strength of your coffee capsules. If I were doing this again with Kazaar, I’d almost certainly fill the water tank up, but with a lighter or flavored coffee (this past winter’s praline, or Cioccatino, or last winter’s orange or snowball), halfway between the level marks would be just about perfect.
One thing I discovered is that the “Cup lid” seemed to be missing, but it turned out it was on the bottom of the cup. The instructions were unclear to me (“The cup lid is placed at the back of the cup”). Note that it is not a spillproof lid; it’s more to keep bugs and leaves and stuff out of the cup, rather than to protect your espresso from spills.
Expanding the Brew-off to include the Minipresso
As the Wacaco purchase was more of a retail one rather than a social one, I did not document it quite as thoroughly, but I conducted a side-by-side comparison with the Kitchenaid Originaline and the same capsule in the Minipresso. However, I wasn’t sure that would be enough, so I got both devices out recently and did a brew-off between all three devices.
Above you’ll see comparison photos for the two devices. I don’t expect anyone will travel with the heavy metal Kitchenaid device.
For this test, I brewed a size “2” water (1.35oz espresso, about 40ml) from the Kitchenaid Nespresso brewer into a glass measure, right before testing each device, to get (presumably) the same volume and temperature of water to brew in all three devices. The capsule used was a Peets Espresso #9 “Scura,” purchased from Peets (although you can also find them on Amazon for about the same price).
With the Barsetto, I got crema at 5 pumps and it settled out and finished brewing after 20ish pumps.
With the Minipresso, the crema was thicker and lasted longer, but the first drops came through at about 10 pumps. The taste was very similar, and very strong.
Then I brewed the same capsule with the same water setting on the kitchenaid, and ended up with twice as much espresso. That was a bit of a surprise, and explains the strength of the other two.
My guess is that, while the hand-operated machines claim “up to” espresso pressure (15 bar for Barsetto, 8 bar for Minipresso NS), it’s not as consistent and depends on the amount of water and speed of pressing. The Kitchenaid, having a bit more machinery behind it, pushed the water through at higher pressure and less was absorbed by the grounds in the capsule.
Based on this, for travel use I would definitely use more water, but as with the original comparison test, I found the beverage to be predictable and consistent from both machines.
A word of warning for either machine: Be sure to rinse, cool, and dry all the parts before putting them away. Below is a photo of a full batch of 200F water run through the machine after brewing one capsule. I got the same sort of result from the Kitchenaid, but it’s not packed in a suitcase for several hours after use, so I’m not quite as worried.
Bring it home for us?
Both the Barsetto and the Minipresso NS espresso brewers will produce a drinkable, enjoyable espresso or lungo, and provide the basis for a respectable short Americano, when you’re on the road and don’t feel like venturing out of your hotel or conference for a real coffee shop. Neither is likely to replace an electric Nespresso brewer at home, but you could use it at home of course.
Your choice will likely be based on price (they’re close, and will vary over time, but the Minipresso is usually a few bucks cheaper), size (the Minipresso is a bit smaller, with a smaller built-in cup), and preference for pumping style (the Barsetto pumps vertically like an Aeropress, while the Minipresso pumps horizontally).
I’m inclined toward the Barsetto, partly because the cup has room for cream (or alcohol), and partly because I prefer the vertical pump style. Of course I don’t necessarily have to choose, and you could easily purchase and travel with both for about the cost of a dozen drinks at a hotel or airport coffee shop.
If you’ve used one of these devices, or found a convenient way to travel with an electric Nespresso machine, chime in on the comments below.