A second look at Amex Fine Hotels and Resorts at Delano Las Vegas

It took a couple of weeks, but the rsts11travel review of Aria Las Vegas’s Aria Sky Suites property finally came out this week. One of the prods to stop editing and just post it was that we were booking another stay for this summer that was somewhat related. Not everyone will celebrate a birthday and aim for MLife Gold in one weekend, but about anyone with the right charge card can take advantage of these benefits.

Delano’s all-suite plan makes it a very comfortable place for longer-term stays on the Las Vegas strip

We’ve written briefly about Delano Las Vegas in our Hidden Gems piece earlier this year. It’s one of our favorite properties on the strip, especially when attending an event being held in Mandalay Bay Convention Center. With its small lounge and bar, coffee shop with pastries and snacks, and Della’s Kitchen breakfast/lunch venue, you can get a lot done without passing Michael Jackson, and with Delano itself being a non-smoking, non-casino hotel with a separate entrance, those with sensitivity to noise or smoke can escape those discomforts in their “home” hotel. But you’re a few hundred feet from Cirque du Soleil, the Mandalay Bay casino, their dining options from fast counter service to posh sit-down service, and of course the rest of the strip.

Looking at Fine Hotels and Resorts

As you may recall, American Express offers its Platinum charge card members the Fine Hotels and Resorts program (FHR), in addition to the Hotel Collection program that some other charge cards from Amex also offer. When you book a FHR stay with American Express Travel, and pay for your entire stay with an American Express card (not necessarily your Platinum card), you get certain benefits.

amexfhr-benefits

Note that cards like the Delta American Express Platinum Card (a credit card) do not count for this benefit. If you have both that card and a Platinum charge card, though, you’re ready to go.

Also note that with these bookings, you’re eligible for MLife rewards points as well as World of Hyatt points; the former may appear before you check out and the latter may take 30+ calendar days to post to your Hyatt account. Be sure to join both programs and provide both member numbers when you check in (or at the MLife desk or front desk during your stay) to get these points in addition to your American Express Membership Rewards points.

Your author will be in Las Vegas this summer for Cisco’s annual user convention, Cisco Live US. For the days I’m there to speak and participate, I have to book through corporate travel. It is American Express Global Business Travel, but I don’t get the option to take advantage of booking options linked to my personal cards with Amex.

However, for the obligatory getaway with my partner before the event begins, I had the choice of booking the extra days through work and simply paying for them myself, which I did last year for this event, or booking separately. This year I had reserved the days before the event but then thought to check FHR.

Sure enough, Delano Las Vegas, a part of the Mandalay Bay complex, was available for the days we would be on our own in the city. We chose a Deluxe Queen Suite, with a total estimated cost of $497. That’s $166/night, actually MUCH less than the corporate rate I get for the following week, before adding the $35ish mandatory MGM resort fee. Not too bad, right? Makes me wish I could book the whole stay like that.

But what’s the real value here?

Early check-in and late check-out don’t have a substantial cash value to us on this trip. The Wifi benefit comes in the form of a $5 (plus tax) credit against the resort fee, so that’s $16.80 for the stay. Room upgrade could have a hypothetical value of $100/night but it could also not happen at all, so we won’t count that. But there are two more details left where the real value comes in.

Breakfast, which we’d probably eat (eventually), comes to $60/day or $180 for the stay. Admittedly at Delano that’s a more limited benefit, as it only applies to room service or Della’s Kitchen. At Aria we were able to use room service, the Buffet at Aria, or one of the table service restaurants there. Still, I’ve had some hearty and tasty breakfasts at Della’s before, and $30 is quite reasonable.

The “property amenity” tends to be a $100 credit, and most of the FHR listings I’ve seen limit the credit to the property’s spa. In this case it is a $100 credit toward one of a long list of Delano or Mandalay Bay owned and operated venues. This means that, in addition to the option to use this credit at the Bathhouse Spa at Delano (which may well be worth it–the spa is very enjoyable even if they don’t particularly cater to couples), there are over 30 dining options from Starbucks to Fleur that apparently count. So if you want that Fleurburger 5000, you’ll only have to pay $4,900 for it with this credit.

For both the breakfast credit and the property amenity, you charge the expense to your room account, and you will see the non-tip amount (up to $60 for daily breakfast and up to $100 per stay amenity) disappear from the charges. For example, if your breakfast with tax is $59 and you tip $10, you should see a $10 charge on your folio. If your breakfast was $89 and you tip $15, you’ll see $44 charged.

So with $180 in breakfast, $100 in property amenity, and $16.80 in wifi credits, that’s $296.80 in total credits against $497 in charges. The room itself is down to $200.20 for three nights, or just under $67/night.

It’s true that if you don’t eat on property at all or use the spa, it’s not as great a deal. Getting just $100 of spa services may be a challenge, so you might even “suffer” a bit by going over that amount. But even if you ignore the credits altogether, the $167 rate for a fairly busy weekend (think 30,000 people coming into town for the conference) is still a great deal.

So where do we go from here?

There’s one inconvenience of taking the FHR offer in lieu of an extended company-booked stay, namely that I’ll probably have to check out and check back in. On the upside, with the 4pm checkout, I can check in at the beginning of my work stay and then check out and move to the new room, in theory. And if we don’t get an upgrade, there’s also a chance they could connect the reservations and leave me in the same room.

We’ll post an update after the summer stay at Delano, but for now, have you used FHR in Las Vegas? Any great deals or helpful tips to share for the Amex promotions? Mention it in the comments, or join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter.

 

 

 

Changes in Amex Platinum – and 3 reasons to keep the card

Over the last couple of weeks American Express has revealed tweaks to their personal Platinum charge cards. Most of the finance and travel bloggers I read agree that, while Amex has been under pressure to improve their offerings in response to the Chase Sapphire Reserve card, they’ve made changes that were not as much of an improvement as many cardmembers had hoped.

Imagine Bart Simpson pointing at a cake right about here.

In return for a $100/year increase in annual fee (now $550/year), the personal Platinum card offers up to $200/year in Uber credits, 5x Membership Rewards (MR) points on prepaid hotels booked through amextravel.com, and… that’s about it for tangible enhancements.  Continue reading “Changes in Amex Platinum – and 3 reasons to keep the card”

A golden weekend at Aria Sky Suites in Las Vegas

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. Continue reading “A golden weekend at Aria Sky Suites in Las Vegas”

Travel quickie: Marriott and Starwood Q1 promos

This will be a short treat for the Marriott Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest fans in the audience.

Marriott has announced their first quarter 2017 promos. Register now, and even one stay with either chain will get you more points than if you hadn’t.

starwood-2017q1-openerStarwood Preferred Guest has their SPG Double Take promo out. Register before March 15, 2017, and earn double Starpoints on your first three paid stays at any SPG program property with check-in between January 16 and April 15, 2017. Registration opened in December, but it’s worth checking to see that you registered. And surprisingly, stays prior to registration (during the qualifying period) will count toward the bonuses. Award stays will not count.

marriott-2017q1Marriott fans aren’t left out, as their Q1 Megabonus promotion will give you double points on your first three stays. Register by March 15, 2017, and stay between January 16 and April 15, 2017, with your earning option set to points (not miles), and you’ll get double Marriott Rewards points for your first three paid stays in that time period. The Ritz-Carlton is included in this promo, but third party bookings appear to not be included. Also note that the T&Cs say this is a targeted offer, but you may be automatically targeted if you register for Starwood’s program. Worth a click either way.

Hope you’re having a great weekend. For more info on hotel loyalty programs, including where you may be able to take advantage of these promos, check out our “Loyalty has its advantages” post from this past week.

Loyalty has its advantages – Hotel program overview

Welcome back to rsts11travel. In our first full-content post, we suggested that you be a joiner. We were focused on Las Vegas at the time, but the same advice applies worldwide. Today we’ll look at getting you set up for the best advantages when staying with major and minor hotel chains, even if you’re not exclusive or a frequent stayer.

Mix and match your hotel programs

In the United States and across the planet, you’ll find a couple of chains just about everywhere. They can be a bit confusing, as some of them have as many as 40 brands under one frequent traveler program and family brand. Some examples for you:

  • Starwood Preferred Guest (Sheraton, Four Points, Westin, W, Aloft, etc, plus all of Marriott)
  • Marriott Rewards (Marriott, Residence Inn, Firfield Inn, Ritz-Carlton, plus all of the Starwood brands)
  • Hilton HHonors (Hilton, Waldorf Astoria, Doubletree, Embassy Suites, Hampton Inn, etc)
  • Wyndham Rewards (Wyndham, Days Inn, Howard Johnson’s, Ramada, Super 8, etc)
  • Hyatt Gold Passport/World of Hyatt (Hyatt, Park Hyatt, Grand Hyatt, Hyatt Regency, Andaz, etc)
  • Choice Privileges (Choice, Comfort Inn, Quality Inn, Sleep Inn, Econo Lodge, etc)
  • IHG Rewards Club (Intercontinental, Holiday Inn, Hotel Indigo, Crowne Plaza, etc)

These are the largest chains with a substantial US presence and multiple brands; Accor of France is merging with the Fairmont group, but isn’t as common otherwise over here. Best Western is probably the largest single brand chain with just over 4000 locations.

There are also regional chains that may be worth looking into. On the West Coast, I’m fond of Coast Hotels and Kimpton. Even though Kimpton was acquired by IHG in 2014, they are still operating separately and have their own loyalty program. Coast Hotels operates from California to Alaska, including British Columbia, and while they don’t offer points for third party bookings (including corporate travel), their levels are based on annual nights, not dollars or points.

So to cover all the business hotels you might stay in, there’s at least eight programs to join. You may find you don’t use some chains (I’ve never stayed at an Accor property, and it’s been probably 20 years since I stayed at a Choice property), and if you do find yourself planning a stay with one, you can always join later.

A word about Starwood and Marriott

If you get Starwood and/or Marriott, and Hilton, most of your likely options will be covered. Starwood was acquired by Marriott in fall of 2016, but both programs are still intact and can easily be linked, along with the Ritz-Carlton Rewards program (although you must choose Ritz-Carlton or Marriott, not both). There’s still uncertainty about how Starwood Preferred Guest and Marriott Rewards will shake out, but for now, you can move points between them and match status between them.

We would recommend Starwood if you have to choose, as with the 3:1 point exchange rate, you can probably come out ahead with or without the credit cards. But keep reading for more ideas.

Why bother with loyalty programs if I don’t stay often?

The first two times I used loyalty programs, they were immediately upon joining the program. One was Wyndham, when they owned the Reach Resort in Key West, and by joining five minutes before making my reservation, I got a $900 room somewhat off-season for $129/night with every 4th night free. The other was Starwood, whereby two stays at a Four Points in Canada got me two free weekends at properties in Concord, California and the Westin Peachtree in Atlanta.

Speaking of Atlanta, this graphic of the Westin Peachtree from an email I received as I was writing this post illustrates the next point.

spg-benefits-mailer

You may not be quite as lucky as I was many years ago, but these days it’s not uncommon to get several benefits even at the entry-level rewards level, including partner point options (frequent flyer miles in lieu of hotel points, or in addition), and/or free Internet access in your room (could be worth $12.95 or more per night). After just a few stays you may get additional perks like welcome gifts, free breakfast, free upgrades, late checkout, and more.

Ain’t nobody got time for that

It’s worth remembering that you may get accelerated status through memberships, work affiliations or perk programs, or co-branded credit cards. These rewards may vary and may change at any time, but as of this writing, some of your acceleration options include:

Other chains may have card offers as well, but these are the ones I hear about most. (Links other than Founderscard are general public info/app links, not affiliate links; see below for disclosure.)

Quite a few people will get all of them, but if you’re optimizing your credit card applications, I’d recommend either the SPG Amex or the Chase Marriott card (for crossover benefits) and either FoundersCard if eligible, or the Hilton card of your choice. Amex Platinum is a good shortcut to hotel benefits as well, although the $450 annual fee can be a bit daunting.

How do I use my benefits?

Generally you’ll register with the hotel’s website, creating an account and including your member number. After that, any reservations you make with the hotel directly should automatically apply your existing benefits and earn you points when you stay.

If you book travel through a travel agent, corporate travel, third party site like Travelocity or Expedia, or the like, you can usually add your membership numbers to your profiles with those services, or provide them when booking travel. If your status may affect your check-in process (i.e. earning early-check-in), you can call the hotel or chain directly if you weren’t able to include it with your reservation.

It never hurts to ask when checking in, if the clerk doesn’t acknowledge your status on check-in (and they often do, even at the basic levels). Have your numbers available in contacts on your phone, or in a notes app like Evernote; you should never need your actual plastic hotel member card.

Any other quick tips and tricks?

Yes, now that you mention it… be social!

Sometimes you can get quick answers and advice from your travel destination via social media, whether it’s the chain or the rewards program accounts on Facebook and Twitter, or the individual property. If you’ve caught up on rsts11travel, you’ll know I’m serious about my coffee, and I’ll often ask a new property via Twitter what their coffee situation is, if it’s not clear from recent reviews. You can also ask about airport transportation, dining hours (for late arrivals), and with Kimpton, probably request a goldfish for the duration of the stay.

One hotel I stayed in while visiting Texas took note of my coffeemaker inquiry and left a sampling of truffles in my room on arrival. They forgot the coffeemaker I’d requested, but I tweeted my social media contact and she fixed the situation within an hour despite already having left for the day.

This won’t always work, and some hotels are more social than others, but it doesn’t hurt to be friendly and reach out.

Where do we go from here?

Check out your options, consider your hotel preferences and what’s convenient to where you travel. It doesn’t hurt, or cost any money, to join the programs at the basic level, but look into accelerating your status if you plan to stay at one chain frequently or for a small number of long stays.

We’ll look at airline and car rental loyalty programs in a future posting, as well as the travel benefits of the higher tier (but still achievable) American Express offerings. We’ll also look into linkable programs to make the most of stays with affiliated entities (you’ll see some hints on those in our Vegas coverage, but wait, there’s more).

Which hotel loyalty programs do you find most rewarding? Did we miss anything? Comment below, or join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter.

 

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Disclosure and footnotes:

We do not get any consideration from credit cards mentioned above, although we hold several of them ourselves.

Trellis graphic via Pixabay.

¹ FoundersCard is usually $595/year, but with our link or promo code FCROBERT190, you can join at $395/year. Sometimes they offer other promotions as well; if you join through our code or link, we get referral points that can be used toward our membership renewal or gift cards. We don’t recommend joining just for one benefit, as benefits may change from year to year, but we’ve found it to be an excellent value over the past year and a half.

² We do not currently have public referral links for credit cards. If you’d like a personal referral to a footnoted card (or Chase Sapphire Preferred) to help support our travel adventures with some bonus points/miles, send a note to rsts11travel at gmail.com and note which card(s) you’re interested in, as well as your full name and email address. We will use this info only to either directly send a link, or to send a referral through the credit card issuer’s referer system. All emails are archived indefinitely but will not be used for any other purposes than the application referral.