You only turn 29 so many times, I often say. Two years ago for my birthday we went to Las Vegas for a weekend at the Mandarin Oriental. This year we went a bit upscale and spent a weekend at Aria’s Sky Suites in the City Center complex. In the process we had some great experiences and re-qualified for MLife Rewards Gold status for next year in one (pricey) stay.
This is a long read, but we try to cover a packed weekend in an unusual property, so you should find it worth the journey.
Givens and Druthers
The owner of a model train shop I used to frequent in Indianapolis started every railroad design workshop with “givens and druthers.” The givens are your limitations. For a train layout it might be a 6×8 closet/garage, or having to fold up at night so the dog doesn’t eat it. The druthers are the “I’ll settle for this, but I’druther have that” wish list items. These are good categories to take into account when planning travel excursions as well.
Given #1: I travel a fair bit for my day job, and in that role I have to choose approved hotels and lowest cost options at those hotels. So the first given on this trip was something upscale from what work would normally pay for.
Given #2: A spa visit. Last summer we visited the Bathhouse at Delano (in the Mandalay Bay complex) and we wanted to refill our spa experience on this trip.
Given #3: An affordable (for an admittedly stretched value of “affordable”) rate, taking advantage of any special rates, promos, or other considerations we could find to optimize the expenditure and the experience.
Druther #1: Having just seen a video about the Aria penthouse suites, something like that was intriguing but likely out of our price range, but it was the first druther.
Druther #2: A private spa suite; Bathhouse had couples massages, but when we weren’t waiting for or having our massage, we were in the segregated spa facilities. Not as romantic as you might think.
So with these guidelines, the American Express Platinum card, and MLife Gold, we started looking at the options.
Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts
One of the benefits of the American Express Platinum card is their Fine Hotels & Resorts program (FHR). This program includes a number of upscale hotels chosen by Amex to offer special packages and considerations to members. Properties, promos, and amenities may change over time, of course.
Above you’ll see the general offerings for a FHR reservation. The breakfast is often a specified credit applied against room charges (including room service), and most of the properties I’ve seen have a $100 spa credit as the “Unique Property Amenity.” In addition to these benefits, select properties offer a third night free on a three night or longer stay. So for a long weekend, this effectively cuts the rate dramatically.
Having seen the Aria Sky Suites Penthouses (with private butlers and more space than many dotcom CEO houses), we looked at Sky Suites offerings from FHR. Turned out they had the smaller luxury suites available with the third night free, the spa credit, but alas no room upgrades as we were already out of the regular room space eligible for upgrades. So we booked a one bedroom penthouse for three nights.
Promo ax fhr21162 – comp 3rd nt once per stay one bedroom penthouse – panoramic view king 1465 sq living-dining vip lounge
A deluxe apartment in the sky (suites)
The Sky Suites stay includes a concierge service, although bookings through American Express may not provide your contact info to the concierge. You can call directly though, to schedule the complimentary airport limousine service, book shows or spa or dining, or ask any questions you have. We booked a spa package with private suite for a couple of hours, and scheduled our airport pickup.
On arrival, our limo driver was waiting at baggage claim, collected our bags for us, and drove us directly to the private Sky Suites entrance. Reception is split on either side of the VIP lounge, and we were able to check in quickly and quietly, with information on our FHR benefits ($60 per day breakfast credit, $100 spa credit) as well as the concierge and lounge service details.
The room itself, a corner room on the fifty-something floor, was rather magnificent. A huge bathroom with deep soak tub, shower sauna, and toilet with bidet was waiting for us, as well as a large living/sitting/dining area with minibar, sink, and fridge. The views from the corner suite were impressive as well.
We took advantage of the VIP lounge several times during our stay; soda, water, coffee, and juice were available every time we went through, and during evening hours they offered wine and beer and light snacks.
While the Sky Suites are away from it all in a sense, you’re just a few steps from the rest of Aria, where most of the on-property dining options are. The breakfast credit could be applied to room service (which we did once) or to the Aria Buffet or select other restaurants (which we did one of each during our stay). The Aria concierge helped us book show tickets on short notice with our MLife discount; I’m sure the Sky Suites concierge could have done the same, but we were already out in the main hotel.
A morning at the Spa at Aria
We booked a couples package and a couple hours in a private suite for the Saturday of our stay. We had a spa host who took care of our needs and coordinated the three treatments in our package (massage, body wrap, and facial) as well as our “room service” in-suite lunch.
Snacks, water, juices, soda, coffee, tea, and a bottle of Champagne with chocolate covered strawberries were waiting for us in the suite, which would easily accommodate 4-6 people comfortably. There was a steam shower, restroom with lavatory and typical hygiene amenities, a treatment room, a seating area, and the Jacuzzi-style tub.
I’ll admit I don’t have a lot of spa experiences to compare this to, but the private suite made it a more impressive and expressive experience for my partner and I, with room to move around and fewer strangers coming and going. The providers were professional, courteous, and very thorough in their work. The spa credit was applied automatically.
The rest of the stay, outside Aria
It would probably have been easy to stay within the confines of the Aria property the whole weekend, but we went outside a few times. We weren’t able to make it to the Sterling Brunch Buffet at BLT Steak in Ballys, but we did have dinner at BLT one night. It was another excellent dining experience.
We also visited Gordon Ramsay Pub & Grill at Caesars, as well as the new Gordon Ramsay Fish & Chips at the LINQ promenade, opened just a few days earlier. Fish & Chips is worth a visit even if you don’t eat fish–they offer shrimp, chicken, and sausage options, as well as various styles of chips (fries), Gordon’s signature sticky toffee pudding in shake form, and the Pepsi version of Coke Freestyle in addition to beer selections.
We usually take full advantage of the Total Rewards Diamond benefits, and while we were able to use my partner’s celebration certificate at one of the meals, the show selection close to the Christmas holiday was a bit stark (Penn & Teller were dark for a few days, and Million Dollar Quartet had just closed a couple of weeks earlier), so we just took a ride on the High Roller.
A slight kink in the road
We did have one small issue with our stay, and it’s worth mentioning because of how it was handled when discovered.
As mentioned above, the Aria Sky Suites stay included luxury limousine transportation to and from the airport. We scheduled our pickup a couple of weeks before arrival, and our return trip to the airport the day before departure. However, we decided to move up our departure by an hour or so (to visit the Centurion Lounge at LAS), and that apparently confused things.
Five weeks after check-out (!!), we got an Amex notification of a $92 charge from Aria. Once it posted, we were able to determine (by requesting a copy of our folio) that it was a billing for a limo.
It took a couple of calls to discover that the Aria Sky Suites front desk could handle this inquiry, and after checking with a manager they confirmed that we should not have been responsible for this charge, and it was refunded promptly.
On the upside, we now know what it would cost to book the limo outside of a Sky Suites stay, and while it was very comfortable, we’d probably choose the $15 (or less) Uber or Lyft ride if we were paying for it ourselves. But the Sky Suites customer service was prompt and courteous once we got to the right place in the system.
How’d you get gold?
As we mentioned earlier, this was a bit of a splurge. It only takes $3,000 in spend to earn MLife Gold, and we spent a little bit more than that between room, resort fees, taxes, spa visit with tips, non-breakfast and breakfast overruns, and the Cirque du Soleil tickets charged to our room. At 25 MLife Rewards tier credits per dollar spent, that $3,000 figure means 75,000 tier credits, which earned us MLife Gold for the following year, and got us almost halfway to MLife Platinum.
As a further bonus, by providing a Hyatt Gold Passport number, we earned 5 Gold Passport points per dollar. Unfortunately this did not count toward Gold Passport status levels, but the points will qualify for a free night (or close to it). Be aware that the Hyatt benefit will probably not post for at least 30 days after you check out of the MGM property, and you may have to call once (or more) to have the request resubmitted.
On an outing like this, while it is a splurge, you do get tangible benefits as a result of the FHR program. In this case, we got early check-in and late check-out at no extra cost, $60 per day in dining credit, $100 in spa credit, practically unlimited water, soda, juice, coffee, and tea (2 bottles of water a day would easily be $12 or more), and complimentary wireless Internet throughout the property (in the form of a $5 credit against the resort fee). Then there’s the limo transportation to and from the airport which is apparently valued at $92 each way. Even if you value it at the $15 or so Uber/Lyft rate, that’s $30 value, and you don’t have to carry your own luggage. With these benefits and the third night free, the room rate netted lower than a remarkably less luxurious stay in midtown New York.
So where do we go from here?
Even though we just paid the credit card bill, we’re looking forward to another visit (especially if they return to the FHR program by then). Next time we’re likely to take a slightly smaller room (and hope for an upgrade), and go easier on the spa stay, but the upscale experience of Aria Sky Suites combined with the benefits of Amex FHR definitely made for a luxurious and memorable stay.
We’ll be spending some quality time in Las Vegas between now and the end of the year (five visits already on the calendar for work, leisure, and Interop ITX), so next time we’ll likely be checking in with MLife Platinum status.
Have you enjoyed any luxury suites or other upscale experiences in Las Vegas lately? Feel free to share your suggestions and recommendations in the comments, or join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter.
Disclosure: This is a first-hand trip report on our recent visit to the Aria Sky Suites property in Las Vegas. All expenses were covered out of our own pockets; this review is based on our experience with no prior review or input from the property; and no special consideration was given by the property beyond what would be available to anyone holding a MLife Rewards Gold membership and an American Express Platinum charge card. As of February 15, 2017, Aria Sky Suites does not appear in the FHR property listing, but it may be back someday. Other Las Vegas properties are listed, though.