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!

 

 

Advertisements

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”

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”

Celebrating two years of rsts11travel

Two years ago, on December 31, 2016, we launched rsts11travel. For a couple of days the posts were a category on rsts11.com, before the new domain and blog were set up.

Two years and almost 50 posts later, the blog is chugging along and drawing pretty good readership. Some posts strike more of an immediate chord, but others keep drawing your eyes two years later. We definitely appreciate you sharing our posts and tweets wherever they show up, whether you follow us here, on Twitter, on Facebook, or by following our primary writer Robert.

Note that sometimes we throw quick notes up on Twitter or Facebook that never turn into posts here. Sometimes there’s a quick social media promotion from a travel provider, or a blog post from one of the bigger travel bloggers that we want to point you at. So it’s not just post updates, and we try to keep those channels high value/low noise.

Since this is an entirely self-funded blog (except for the occasional work trip that inspires a post), we use affiliate programs to help with the costs of items and events we review. Using the links in our posts and sidebars, like this generic travel search or a more specific like the Anker Powerstrip Pad for travel power extension (including USB-C Power Delivery!) that we just got in this past weekend, brings us a few bucks a month without costing you any more.


Speaking of affiliate programs and shameless plugs, we kept acquiring new carry-on style luggage this year. You may find the Solo Duane 15.6 hybrid bag useful, even though we haven’t reviewed it on the site yet.

Solo Duane 15.6 Inch Laptop Hybrid Briefcase, Converts to Backpack

It holds a chunky 15.6″ laptop (like the Lenovo Thinkpad P50) and an iPad Pro plus the chargers and accessories. Of course you can put a smaller laptop in, like an XPS 13 or XPS 15, or a Macbook of any size made in the last 9 years. Additionally, it works as a messenger/crossbody style bag, a standard laptop “briefcase” bag with handles, or even–get this–a backpack.

Buy it through our Amazon link and we get a little bit of a commission to help with the next item to review. And at $30, or $25 with a current Solo holiday coupon on Amazon, it’s an impressive value.


A couple of weeks ago, we reviewed 2018’s most viewed posts on Twitter. Not surprisingly, three of the top five were from our first week. Somewhat surprisingly, the most viewed post in 2018 was a “quick” update on Caesars Entertainment changes to their Total Rewards program.

(Follow @rsts11travel on Twitter or rsts11 travel on Facebook to get the latest updates, or just follow this blog on WordPress.com.)

Some of our goals for this year are to try out the Waldorf Astoria Las Vegas (which replaced the Mandarin Oriental through a management change in late August 2018), cover some more local travel (parks and beaches in California, for example), provide some more newbie help on credit card and travel rewards optimization, and of course keep up with the latest changes in loyalty programs and benefits.

Restaurant surcharges and hotel resort fees – disingenuity in action

[Your author Robert here… I was pondering whether this was more soft topics for my tech blog, or travel. I’ll crosspost, since I think it applies to both. And it sat around in my draft folder for about six months, but it’s still valid today.]

I recently dined with my honey at a local chain steakhouse. I’ve been going there as often as weekly for over a decade. We’ve gone less frequently in the last couple of years thanks to Nom Burger, but still once a month give or take.

Their prices have been sneaking up over the years. The dinner for two combo they have has gone from under $40 to $65 as I recall, although coupons still bring it down. Some of the choices have become added-cost items, so if you want a wedge salad, that’s an extra buck, and if you’re lucky it won’t be smaller than it was last month.

But the thing that annoyed me was the 3% “minimum wage surcharge” that was stickered onto the menu and was slapped on the bill.

Slapping customers with your cost of doing business?

The surcharge was annoying. The Chocolate-Orange Layer Cake was pretty good.

When I see a “minimum wage surcharge” or a “health insurance surcharge” on a restaurant bill, it rubs me the wrong way in a big way. It tells me the restaurant would really rather not pay a reasonable (legal) wage, or would rather not provide health insurance (maybe they’d rather have sick employees serving and cooking for customers?).

And a separate item could lead to lower tips as well. If you look at the subtotal to calculate the bill, 3% of that amount which is actually part of the cost of business is not included, so you may not think to tip for it. I didn’t think to look at whether the surcharge was taxed… is tax avoidance part of the consideration as well?

It wouldn’t be too hard to add 3% to the menu items themselves. If you were able to reprint the menus for the 5-10% price hike on certain items, you could easily add the 3% in rather than adding a sticker.

You’d also see a bit more money going to the employees you are hesitant to pay fairly or insure too. Sure, 20% of 3% isn’t a lot per cover, but over time it adds up.

It can’t just be surcharges bugging you…

As I pondered this particular sticker, I thought about parallels with fuel surcharges (for shipping and airline tickets) and resort fees (for hotels and, well, resorts).

The fuel surcharges seem similar; given the dynamic nature of pricing for airline tickets, it should be easy to adjust in a close-to-realtime fashion based on actual costs of fuel (or even to buy fuel more than a gallon at a time to absorb market shifts, which I think they do anyway). Shipping costs could be more complicated due to contracts with shippers and agencies.

Resort fees make them all look friendly and nice, of course; $30+/night for wifi and printing boarding passes is a bargain if you’re printing a thousand boarding passes, but more often it’s a great way to fleece customers and get away with false advertising. (Read some thoughts from The Points Guy and KillResortFees.com here.)

If you travel a lot, especially to Las Vegas, you’re accustomed to the resort fees, which as TPG above notes can be more than the room rate itself at cheaper hotels. But first-time travelers, especially those not on company expense accounts, may be disappointed and/or inconvenienced when their $30/night hotel room turns out to be $65+tax. Make it $100 if you have to park a car.

If you as a hotel operator believe that the resort fees reflect anything of actual value, why not either include them in the room rate, or make them optional? Surely all the people who find those services valuable will be happy to pay for them. Myself, I haven’t needed a notary or fax receiving at a Las Vegas hotel, well, ever… and based on Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts credits at several hotels, I know the wifi is worth $5 a day, and I’d pay that happily.

There’s a good read at the Federal Trade Commission’s website on their investigation into resort fees. The tl;dr summary (emphasis added):

 The analysis in the paper finds that separating mandatory resort fees from posted room rates without first disclosing the total price is likely to harm consumers by increasing the search costs and cognitive costs of finding and choosing hotel accommodations. The analysis finds that separating resort fees from the room rate without first disclosing the total price is unlikely to result in benefits that offset the likely harm to consumers.

However, to date not much has been done to address this, and resort fees continue to go up.

There are ways to get around some resort fees, of course. Caesars Entertainment does not automatically charge resort fees for Diamond and Seven Stars Total Rewards members, for example, and if you’re a high roller/have a host at other resorts and chains in Las Vegas, you might be able to get special treatment. But most visitors to Las Vegas will get slapped with a resort fee (and parking fees too!) that they get little or no benefit out of and no option to decline.

How do you feel about surcharges and fees? Do they affect your choice of destination? Or do you just consider them “part and parcel” of traveling and dining out? Share your feedback in the comments.

 

Breaking even on Founders Card in one week

We’ve written a bit here on rsts11travel about FoundersCard, a membership program for entrepreneurs and small/medium business operators that provides lots of travel, business, and lifestyle benefits for an annual fee of $295-595 (usually $395). We’ve also answered questions on various travel forums about it. But we haven’t really given a detailed review.

The short summary I’d give would be that, if you run a business or work for a small business where you manage your own travel, or if you find yourself in Las Vegas or Lake Tahoe or Atlantic City more than once a year, it’s pretty easy to make up the value of the membership fee without too much effort. If you travel more, use business and lifestyle services (more on that shortly), or buy technology for your business, it truly becomes a no-brainer. If you are limited to corporate travel or no travel and don’t use business services, it’s probably not for you.

We’ve been members for about three years now, with Robert (the site owner) having the annual membership and his partner having the spouse membership (which is a one-time fee for life). The first year we saw about $1,000 in value, and the second year at least half that (which exceeded the total cost of membership). The third year was looking a bit light due to less travel, but in one week in Las Vegas we recouped this year’s cost and then some.

A caveat for anyone considering membership: If you are choosing to apply because of one benefit, keep in mind that there’s no guarantee that any particular benefit will be renewed from year to year, or will remain the same from year to year. Think about a range of benefits that may be of use to you before putting the money down, to minimize the disappointment if your one sacred benefit goes away in a few months or a year.

The Roman Emperor In The Room

Many FoundersCard fans consider the Caesars Entertainment benefit, Total Rewards Diamond status, to be worth the price of membership on its own. Continue reading “Breaking even on Founders Card in one week”

Newsflash: Caesars Total Rewards Diamond changes and devaluations for 2018

Update 2018-02-01: The FoundersCard/Total Rewards partnership has been renewed. See below for details.

It looks like the news has been filtering out for two months, but somehow we just learned of this today. Caesars Entertainment has made some notable adjustments to the Total Rewards tier benefits for 2018.

For many Diamond members, and most Seven Stars members, this won’t be a severe downgrade. If you stay at Caesars properties regularly and leave a lot of money in the casino, you’ll probably be okay. But for people barely squeaking in to Diamond (or getting in through tier matching or FoundersCard), you’re going to notice some differences.

Links: Current (2017) benefits, New (2018) benefits

See also: Happy holidays from rsts11travel, and a quick offer from FoundersCard

What’s changing?

Continue reading “Newsflash: Caesars Total Rewards Diamond changes and devaluations for 2018”

Quick Take: Amex Locks Down Centurion Lounge Access For Some Cardmembers

[Note: This is slightly older news; the announcement was a couple of weeks ago and the changes took effect a week before this posting.]

American Express offers a number of proprietary lounges in about a dozen airports around the world under the Centurion Lounge brand. With complimentary buffet-style dining, a premium bar, facilities for business travelers as well as families, and usually-better-than-general-airport-WiFi, the Centurion Lounges can be a welcome respite before hopping on a plane.

Platinum charge card cardmembers (but not platinum credit card holders, like those with the Delta American Express Platinum cards) have long had access and the ability to bring family and friends along with them. Other American Express cardholders could purchase a day pass for $50, much as some airline-specific lounges also allow.

Unfortunately, this has led to crowding in some of the lounges, and dissatisfied customers (many of whom now pay an additional premium in the form of a $550 annual fee, vs the former $450 fee), and Amex believes they have found a way to attempt to address this.

As of October 2, 2017, American Express has eliminated the option for other American Express cardmembers to purchase guest passes.

Platinum cardmember access remains unchanged, with members allowed up to two guests, and additional guest passes being $50 per day per guest. Centurion Card holders can bring two guests or their immediate family along, with the same guest pass option. This is actually unchanged from the previous policy.

Guest passes are valid all day, so if you’re bringing extra guests along through multiple airports with Centurion Lounges, you only need to buy one pass per day.

What does it all really mean?

If you are a Platinum charge cardmember, there’s no change. Personal Platinum cardmembers will see the $550 annual fee take effect in the next cycle, if your fee hasn’t come up since May 2017, along with the other benefits we covered when the fee hike was announced.

If you are an American Express cardmember who had used the $50 day pass option, you lose that option, but of course you could apply for (or upgrade to) a Platinum card if you use the lounges enough.

With free food and alcohol available in the lounge, as well as a relatively quiet place (until the super-important business person has a shouting match on speakerphone by the window, of course), I find it easy to consider the lounge worth $50 a visit if I have more than an hour to wait, or if I’m traveling with my family. Two premium drinks and a modest meal would easily come to that much outside the lounge, even for a solo traveler.

So you’d have to do the math, considering how often you travel through a Centurion Lounge airport. Today that includes DFW, LAS, LGA, SFO, MIA, SEA, HOU, and soon Hong Kong and PHL. You’d also take into account which other benefits of the card you use, such as Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts and the $200/year Uber credit, if travel is your primary benefit from Platinum.

Amex does have Priority Pass Select, Airspace, Delta Club (when flying on Delta), and Escape Lounges in addition to the Centurion and Amex International Lounges. However, some of those options are available through other means, including airline fee rebates or other cards offering Priority Pass variants.

My math has worked out the last couple of years, in that I can use Uber for personal transport during business trips, and I visited Las Vegas about 8 times in the past year. I can’t be sure if that will be the case in the next year, but we’ll see.

We wrote about changes to the American Express personal platinum card in March.

Photo credit: Featured photo from American Express