Quick take: Priority Pass changes and confusion cleared up for you

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).

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rsts11travel quick take: Waldorf Astoria Las Vegas and Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts Program

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!

 

 

Newsflash: Caesars Rewards adds extra tier credit benefit for direct bookings

Caesars Entertainment rebranded Total Rewards as Caesars Rewards as of February 1, 2019. They added free nights at their Dubai location and a free night in Las Vegas or Atlantic City for every 5000 tier credits (TC) earned.

Now, as of March 1, 2019, they’ve enhanced the program a little bit more. With any paid stay booked directly with Caesars (online at their website, through the app, or through their call center), visitors will earn 5 tier credits per dollar spent on room rate and resort fees. (Facebook, Twitter)

Based on the email they sent to members on February 27, this applies to any direct-booked stay with a check-out date of March 1, 2019, or later. This shouldn’t require rebooking, if you have an existing reservation booked directly with Caesars.

This is a good enhancement for Caesars Rewards members who pay for their rooms, and will help people attain higher status levels without (as much, if any) gambling spend. Specifically, you can now earn Platinum status with $1,000 in room rate and resort fees, or Diamond status with $3,000 in room rate and resort fees, in a given calendar year, not including any other spend that earns tier credits.

The emperor confirms, no rebooking needed.

You still earn 1 TC per dollar on eligible room charges as before (including dining and entertainment), and you still earn 1 reward credit (RC) per dollar on all of that spend.

And if you have the Caesars Rewards VISA credit card, you will still be earning a total of 5 RC per dollar on your charges at Caesars properties.

Obviously, if you get comps, you won’t really earn 5x TC on the $0 you spend on those, and if your resort fees are waived due to existing Caesars Rewards status, you won’t earn 5x TC on those. But you weren’t earning 1x TC on those $0 amounts before, so it’s not a loss. (Not that keeps people from whining on social media that they’re not getting bonuses on top of free rooms, of course.)

What do you think of this change to Caesars Rewards? Will it make you more likely to stay at Caesars Resorts?

How much do I have to spend to make a premium card break even?

A few months ago, we looked at up-front justification (or at least softening the blow) of the annual fees on some premium credit and charge cards. This was mainly intended to show that most of these cards have up-front benefits that compensate for the $450+ annual fees.

Several conversations on online travel and rewards forums have shown that the distinction between the annual fee and the potential value of the card are not as clear as they could be. And some people are looking solely at the sign-up bonus vs the annual fee.

So today we’ll take a deeper look at how to determine if one or more of these cards is for you.

Spoiler: If you don’t travel in a way that you can use your own cards, odds are none of these cards will be of much use to you beyond the first year, if that. 

Recap

We reviewed the American Express Platinum charge cards (both personal and business), the Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card, and the Citi AAdvantage Executive credit card.

Continue reading “How much do I have to spend to make a premium card break even?”

Newsflash: Updates to Caesars Rewards (formerly known as Total Rewards) effective TODAY

Welcome back to rsts11travel. Today we’re going to look at changes in the Caesars Entertainment rewards program, which many of you traveling to Las Vegas take advantage of.

The program, known for years as Total Rewards, is officially rebranded as Caesars Rewards as of today, February 1, 2019. No re-registration or member interaction is required for the change, and your number and point balances will remain intact. You can pick up a rebranded card at any Caesars Rewards desk in a Caesars property though. Mobile app, Comenity’s Total Rewards VISA, and other collateral will be updated in the coming months.

If you’re not a member of Total Rewards/Caesars Rewards yet, join through this link for 500 bonus Tier Credits to get you started (we also get 500 bonus TCs). You don’t get a card in the mail, but you can pick them up at any Caesars Rewards desk on property when you visit next.

Changes to Tier Benefits for 2019

What does this mean for you as a Caesars customer, other than one fewer word to name the program? Let’s take a quick look.

Continue reading “Newsflash: Updates to Caesars Rewards (formerly known as Total Rewards) effective TODAY”

Quick Take: Amex Centurion Lounge temporary closures coming soon to LAS, MIA, SEA

For our lounging hour, the American Express Centurion Lounge is the place to be while waiting for a flight at any airport that has such a lounge. It’s even worth an extra security screening at SFO, if you can believe it.

Last year, the DFW lounge closed for a few months and relocated. You can read a review of the new lounge here at The Points Guy.

Well, in an effort to modernize and expand offerings in more locations, American Express will be closing their locations at Las Vegas (our most frequent Centurion Lounge) and Miami.

What are the closures?

American Express announced that their Miami location will close on January 14, 2019, for “a short period” to “upgrade and expand the space.” They remind that you can use the Delta Sky Club if flying Delta, or use Priority Pass otherwise (enrollment required, of course).

They will also be closing Las Vegas as of the same date for a “short period” to “renovate and improve the space.”

A short closure with the same phrasing as Las Vegas is also announced for Seattle, coming in March.

How can I get my lounge fix?

The American Express Lounge Collection includes several other networks not operated by Amex, so you won’t be lost or gatebound if you have a layover or an extra hour or two at these airports.

Continue reading “Quick Take: Amex Centurion Lounge temporary closures coming soon to LAS, MIA, SEA”

Newsflash: Amex Business Platinum adds new features, $145 annual fee hike

The American Express Business Platinum Card, formerly a $450 annual fee offering with a 35% points back benefit on pay-with-points travel bookings, announced a few changes coming between now and February 2019.

Read about the personal Platinum increase here: Changes in Amex Platinum – and 3 reasons to keep the card (March 2017)

See our guide to Justifying a premium credit or charge card for your traveling pleasure here (September 2018)

Dell benefit description updated February 1, 2019. You can register for this benefit now.

During 2018, the main noticeable change was that they started issuing cards in metal rather than plastic, matching the personal card option. In return for the satisfying clink or clunk on a table, you give up the ability to have your card run on one of the old kerchunk machines (we’re sure there’s an official name for the impression-based devices, but we don’t know it offhand).

But 2019 brings a few new benefits, at a cost. As with the personal card, if you can use the new benefits, you’ll end up better off than before, even with the annual fee hike.

Continue reading “Newsflash: Amex Business Platinum adds new features, $145 annual fee hike”

Newsflash: American Express relaunches Premier Rewards Gold as the Gold Card

Last week at rsts11travel, we looked at some of the premier credit and charge cards and how to make them worth the high annual fees. You may have noticed we hinted at the Premier Rewards Gold card, a mid-range benefit-bearing charge card in the personal lineup. Eagle-eyed consumers also may have noticed that the American Express Gold Card disappeared from the Amex website earlier this year (leaving a gap between the classic green charge card and the Platinum card). 

Well, there were rumors and screenshots suggesting that the Premier Rewards Gold card would be changing, and last Thursday they became more than rumor. 

Promotional image from American Express customer email

Before October 4th, 2018, the Premier Rewards Gold card offered 3x Membership Rewards points on flights booked directly with airlines, 2x on gas stations and supermarkets, and 1x on all other purchases. It also provided a $100 airline fee rebate for a selected airline each year. It was a pretty good card for the $195 annual fee, if you could take advantage of the bonus categories. 

With the updates, the Premier Rewards Card is now the American Express Gold Card. The bonus on gas stations is gone, the flight bonus remains, but restaurants and supermarkets are now earning 4x Membership Rewards points (with a cap of $25,000 in supermarket purchases per year, after which the rate returns to 1x). 

The airline fee rebate is joined with an opt-in offer of up to $10/mo in statement credits on select dining partners. Those partners are Grubhub, Seamless, The Cheesecake Factory, Shake Shack, and Ruth’s Chris Steak House. If you choose to use this benefit, log into your Amex account and activate the benefit on the “benefits” tab of the site. 

Alas, as we saw with the American Express Platinum card last year, the annual fee is expanding along with the benefits, to a new rate of $250 effective your next renewal date on or after April 1, 2019. You’ll have anywhere from 6 to 18 months to decide if the new annual fee is worth the benefits. 

In the rewards blogosphere, a lot of people are seeing this as a viable competitor to the Chase Sapphire Reserve card, and depending on your travel and dining preferences, as well as your redemption options, it could supplement or replace the CSR in your wallet in 2019. 

One other benefit that may seal the deal for some cardmembers is the metal card offering, including a limited edition rose gold metal card only available for three months. While you can order the new yellow gold metal card through the Amex website, you’ll have to either call the number on the back of your card or use Amex website chat to request the Rose Gold card. 

It sounds like the new card request is effectively a product change, although the benefits have already changed so it’s not a big difference. 

How do you feel about the new American Express Gold Card? Will it change what you carry and use? What will take its place as a gas rewards card? Let us know in the comments below. 

Newsflash: National Car Rental promo with American Express

Most of you who have American Express Platinum cards know that you can get Executive Aisle status as a benefit of those cards. This means you get a wider selection of vehicles when renting, and earn free rentals faster (a free day every 6 rentals, rather than 7 with basic Emerald Aisle membership). 

A National Car Rental car selection at Orlando International Airport. Orlando International Airport – Photo: Rusty Clark ~ 100K Photos via Flickr, used under Creative Commons License (By 2.0)
Photo: Rusty Clark ~ 100K Photos via Flickr, used under Creative Commons License (By 2.0)

Well, apparently National really wants American Express cardmembers to rent with them. There’s a new promo today that gets you Executive Elite status just by having an American Express card. Executive Elite sets the free rental day bar at 5 rentals, and has guaranteed availability if you reserve 24 hours in advance. 

Follow this link, log in if you have a current account with National, and you should be upgraded. It took about 30 seconds for us, and an email confirmation of the profile change was in our inbox within a minute or two. 

If you rent after accepting the offer, and pay with an American Express card by the end of January 2019, you are eligible for a free rental day in addition to whatever your rental credits earn you. 

Not a National fan? With this status you may be able to match to Avis and Hertz higher tiers… your mileage may vary, so to speak. 

Justifying a premium credit or charge card for your traveling pleasure

This post was updated several times since original publication. See changes listed at the end.

We’ve posted a sequel covering how much you have to spend on each card to make a worst-case break-even reward. Check out How much do I have to spend to make a premium card break even?

Something that comes up on many travel and credit forums is the topic of seemingly-obscene annual fees on certain premium credit cards. The Citi AAdvantage Executive Mastercard and Chase Sapphire Reserve VISA come with a $450* annual fee, and the gold standard (erm, platinum standard) American Express Platinum went to $550 a year last year for personal, and $595 a year for the business version as of February 2019.

Once upon a time, annual fees were a given in much of the credit card landscape, and rarely came with enough benefits to counter the fees. Today, many of these cards have features that compensate for, or even exceed the value of, the annual fee. In today’s post we’ll take a look at some of the most common benefits (especially with regard to the four cards listed above), and when you might find them worth the fee. Continue reading “Justifying a premium credit or charge card for your traveling pleasure”