Getting paid $167 to stay 3 nights at Delano Las Vegas: Revisiting FHR and game rewards in December 2020

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).

Earning the rewards

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 view from Wynn’s 35th floor corner room.

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.

McCarran ride share was empty.

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.

On the road again? Back to Vegas with rsts11travel

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)

Caesars Rewards:

  • 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)

American:

  • Miles will not expire through June 30, 2021; current miles will expire in July 2021 if you don’t have activity before then
  • Elite status due to expire 1/31/2021 is good through 1/31/2022, with lower qualifying metric requirements
  • Award travel fees are gone effective November 11, 2020
  • Some elite benefits apply to Basic Economy

United:

  • Premier status extended through January 2022
  • Adjusted qualifying metric requirements to earn Premier status
  • (Miles already didn’t expire)

Southwest:

  • Bonus metrics “boost” (no cow require
  • d) for A-List and Companion Pass status if you were a Rapid Rewards member by April 1, 2020 (already applied and visible in your account).
  • Existing Companion Passes extended through June 30, 2021
  • A-List and A-List Preferred status extended through December 31, 2021
  • You can convert travel funds to Rapid Rewards points (which don’t expire)

Marriott:

  • Points expiration delayed until August 1, 2021.
  • Free nights from credit cards or other programs, with an expiration date between 1/1/2020 and 7/31/2021, are extended through August 1, 2021 (look for updated dates on December 11).
  • Earned 2019 status will be extended through 2/1/2022

Hilton:

  • Points expiration deferred until December 31, 2021
  • Status extended through March 31, 2022 if you had status in 2020 (even if you didn’t maintain)
  • All 2020 nights roll over to 2021 qualification, with half the qualifying metric requirement in 2021

Check your TSA PreCheck or Global Entry status for upcoming renewals

TSA PreCheck:

No special concessions. Expect modified hours and some closures, but delays should be minimal for the most part.

Global Entry:

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.

FUD-busting in Las Vegas this week

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.

  1. Eldorado Resorts hasn’t bought Caesars Entertainment yet; that transaction won’t close until next year.
  2. 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. 
  3. 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
  4. The Hooters Hotel and Casino has already cut over to its new branding under the India-based On Your Own (OYO) brand. 

Now for some details.

Eldorado Resorts Acquiring Caesars Entertainment

Eldorado Resorts has announced that they plan to acquire Caesars Entertainment for over $17 billion, with the deal closing in early 2020 (closer to January 1 than June 30 according to Eldorado’s CEO in the August earnings call).

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.

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!

 

 

Quick take: Las Vegas Benefits for Military/Veterans? Yes!

A question came up last week on a travel forum we participate in–it started out as a general status question, but the poster dropped mention of being a military person. In digging for answers, we remembered seeing the Caesars Rewards “Salute” card offer, so we’re sharing a couple of options here.

Some of these offers may apply outside Las Vegas, and there may be others we don’t know about. You will likely need military or veteran ID or a DD214 as proof of military/veteran status, and as with the non-military programs, you will need to sign up in person at a loyalty desk at one of the properties in the program you are interested in.

Feel free to share in the comments if you know of any other veteran or military options in Vegas, and we’ll update the post. And of course, thank you for your service to the United States of America. Continue reading “Quick take: Las Vegas Benefits for Military/Veterans? Yes!”

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?

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”

Trip Report: The Ritz-Carlton Hotel at Marina Del Rey, Southern California

We recently had the opportunity to try a second Ritz-Carlton hotel during a visit to the Los Angeles area. The Ritz-Carlton Marina Del Rey is directly on the waterfront, with available rooms featuring a partial or full marina view.

This would not normally be a likely choice for a work trip, but redeeming Marriott Rewards points made the stay competitive with typical “moderate” hotels in the area.

See also:

Quick Take: Who needs a phone in a hotel bathroom?

Trip Report: Learning Experiences with LAX lounges and Southwest Airlines

A look at the redemption

The Ritz-Carlton is a part of the Marriott family. The Points Guy values Marriott Rewards points at 0.9 cents per point. Nightly rates for a basic room at this property come up in the $400-500/night range, with an option to apply 25,000 points per night to reduce the price by half. The redemption value is pretty close to TPG’s estimate (25,000 points being about $225). While it’s not necessarily the best case for using a redemption, we wanted the experience in between work activities.

We could have spent 50,000 points plus $400-500 a night to get a Club Level room. Having stayed on the Club Level at the Ritz-Carlton San Francisco, we can say that if you’re going to spend time around the hotel, this can be a very luxurious experience–we’re already looking for an excuse for a mid-week mini-vacation to try the Marina Del Rey Club Level. However, traveling solo for work didn’t justify the expense or the experience.

We were lucky to get a points + cash rate under $200/night, which falls within most corporate travel guidelines. With Marriott Platinum Elite status, we received a 50% Platinum bonus , plus 1,000 bonus points as a welcome gift. There may also be a 2,000 point bonus coming from the current Megabonus program.

Continue reading “Trip Report: The Ritz-Carlton Hotel at Marina Del Rey, Southern California”

Quick Take: Who needs a phone in a hotel bathroom?

A recent business trip brought to mind one of the most baffling concepts we’ve had to consider while traveling:

Why do so many hotels have telephones in their bathrooms?

Update: We got an answer to the question! See the end of this post.

The hotel we stayed in this week had a washroom in the entryway and the full bath, and both toilets had handy wall-mounted corded telephones. This was in addition to the bedside phone and the desk phone.

We can understand a television or a music player, especially with a luxurious bathtub to relax in after a long day of work or sightseeing.

We can almost understand a charging port for a phone or tablet, although we wouldn’t necessarily want an expensive mobile device connected to power in close proximity to a toilet or shower.

We could even accept a speakerphone, for those romantic nights whispering “no, you hang up” when you’re apart from your beloved, or when you need to learn what your children have done with the dog in your absence.

But the thought of the toilet phone is just downright disturbing. Is it just us?

Even if the phone is cleaned regularly, you never know who’s done what in there, and if it’s not sanitized between every guest, do you really want that appliance that’s 2-3 feet from the toilet touching your face?

And while our last hotel did not have this anachronistic feature, we’ve seen some hotel toilet-phones with modem jacks. We’ll admit to taking a cell phone in to keep those social games going or read Twitter or our blog comments, but we’ve never thought “hey, I need to dial into Compuserve while I’m on the toilet.”

This one we really want to hear from you about. Have you seen phones in the hotel washrooms you’ve been in recently? And when was the last time you used one of them?

As an aside, we could see the need to get help if one had an incident in the bath… but in those cases, having the phone as far from the tub or shower as possible, while good for protection from water damage, seems counterproductive. Maybe retrofit the phones with intercom functionality or a simple call button?

Whoa, an answer?

Update: Shortly after posting this, we heard from our friend Howard Marks of Deep Storage who had a logical and accurate answer. Here it is (expanded a bit; any details and links are not his fault).

The American Automobile Association and affiliated clubs have a well-known Diamond Rating system that has been operational since 1976. Until recently, the standard for a 4-Diamond or 5-Diamond rating included a specification that there would be a telephone in the bathroom. We found this in a version of the guidelines posted on the Canadian Auto Association Quebec website.

aaabathroom

This requirement is a qualification for 4-Diamond status, and 4-Diamond criteria are a prerequisite for 5-Diamond.

A newer version of the guidelines was posted in April 2018 and appears to adapt for the changes in technology. There is no mention of a phone in the bathroom section at all. In fact, even the guest room descriptions no longer mention telephones (but they do mention USB charging ports from the 3-Diamond level up).

It’s unlikely that hotels will rip out the phones even if they are no longer required for this status, but I would guess that new properties being built to these aspirations will be less likely to be littered with telephones.

 

 

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”