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.

Travel and credit card promos for 2021

We’re starting to see information dribbling out about new promotions from the credit card issuers for COVID-19 part 2.

Updated 2021-02-01 9:20am – Amex Business cell phone reward, Uber Cash/Eats Pass for Amex Gold active
Updated 2021-01-04 1:30pm – BizPlat bonus Membership Rewards points, incoming Uber benefit for Gold

If rsts11travel helps you out, consider helping us out. See our support page for referrals, or send us a virtual coffee.

Credit card links in this post are not referrals, and we don’t get a cent if you use these links. See below if you’re looking to support us with a credit card referral.

As you may recall, several premium cards made adjustments to their bonus and promotional offers in 2020 since travel rewards were harder to earn and redeem. American Express offered $20 each toward streaming services and mobile phone services per month on their personal Platinum card, and $20 each toward shipping and mobile phone services on the business Platinum card, from May through December. They also added bonus travel and Dell credits. Chase expanded their points earning and travel credit redemption categories on the Chase Sapphire Reserve among other cards. And some cards offered a partial credit toward the $400+ annual fees.

We’ll track the new (or renewed) offerings here, for those of you who can’t travel yet, and for those who can. Where possible, we’ll share primary sources as well, so you can review the full details. And we’ll also include quarterly bonus cash back categories as we see them.

American Express

American Express is offering a $30/month Paypal rebate on the personal Platinum charge card for the first six months of the year. This looks to be useful for any online retailers accepting Paypal, as well as eBay purchases paying with Paypal.

It looks like the Business Platinum charge card. has 4 bonus Membership Rewards (MR) points per dollar spent on each of several categories, up to 80,000 bonus MR points each. Your bonus categories include:

  • Shipping services (i.e. Fedex, USPS, UPS)
  • Gas
  • Advertising
  • Wireless services
  • Office supplies

Check your Amex Offers section to add these to your card if you’re eligible. Not everyone will be able to max these categories (at $20,000 spend per category), but every little bit helps.

Many people are seeing a $15/month rebate on wireless phone services on one of their business cards as of February 1. Check your Amex Offers in the app or on the website. This may be on Business Platinum or another Business charge or credit card; ours appeared on the Amex Delta Skymiles business credit card. This is available through the end of the year, for a total benefit of $165. Takes a nice bite out of the $195 annual fee on this card.

Also fresh on February 1 are the Amex Gold Uber benefits, which will replace the airline fee credit after this year. This may be a bit complicated:

  • Current cardmembers still get the $100 airline fee credit; it goes away on December 31, 2021.
  • The $120 dining credit ($10/mo) is still there for Grubhub, Seamless, Boxed, Cheesecake Factory, Ruth’s Chris, and Shake Shack.
  • A new $120 Uber Cash offer begins February 1. You get $10 in Uber Cash (usable for Uber rides or Uber Eats) on the first of each month. Like the Platinum $15/mo benefit, it comes around each month and must be used that month. Unlike the Platinum benefit, there’s no December bonus.
  • You can also get a 12 month subscription to Eats Pass for free by adding your Gold card to your Uber Eats wallet. If you already have another Eats Pass promo, it will be interesting to see if this offer will replace it when it expires.

Not pandemic-related, but the Saks Fifth Avenue $50 credit resets for January-June 2021 on personal Platinum cards, and the Dell $100 credit for the same period on business Platinum cards also resets. Check for Amex Offers with either brand to get even more out of these purchases, and make sure you’re signed up for Dell Rewards to get a few extra bucks on top of it all.

There may be other benefits that pop up in the Amex Offers section of their website and mobile app. Be sure to check these from time to time, as they may come and go, and vary from card to card and member to member.

Juicy Amex Offers seen on January 4 include $50 back on $50 or more spent at Home Depot, Best Buy, and Home Chef meal service, the former two being available for two uses each. There is also a $50 back on $250 for Instacart, again usable twice–and it can be multiple transactions, so you don’t need to buy a new fridge to qualify, although Home Depot and Best Buy could help you with that expense too. These were on our personal Platinum, but your mileage may vary of course.

Chase

Chase Freedom has 5% cash back on wholesale clubs, internet/cable/phone, and streaming services, up to $1500 in spend for January-March (up to $75 in cash back for these categories). This is the traditional cash back offer, not a pandemic special offer.

Chase Sapphire Preferred and Reserve continue to offer pandemic bonus points on grocery store purchases through April 30, 2021 (2x for CSP, 3x for CSR). There are other benefits for Doordash, Peloton, and Lyft, as well as expanded “Pay Yourself Back” options to redeem your Ultimate Rewards points. See this link for the current offerings and terms.

The Chase promotion on Lyft can be particularly profitable. With the Chase Sapphire Reserve card, you get 10 points per dollar spent, as well as the Lyft Pink benefits including 15% off, and rebates from the $300 annual travel credit while it lasts. Spending $100 in Lyft rides would come to $85 charged to your card, 850 points (which are worth $12.75 or more), and the $85 can be rebated if you have remaining travel credit. So you get paid over $12 for those rides.

Discover

Discover has 5% cash back on grocery stores, Walgreens, and CVS, up to $1500 in spend for January -March(up to $75 in cash back for these categories). This is the traditional cash back offer, not a pandemic special offer.

If you redeem for gift cards, be sure to check the bonus cash on those. You get at least 5% “bonus cash” for any gift card from the Discover cashback redemption program, but some cards offer 20-30% extra.

That’s all for now

Found anything we missed? Need a referral for any of the cards mentioned? Contact us through the form below or put a comment at the bottom and we’ll see what we can do.

Last updated February 1, 2021

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.

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).

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!

 

 

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: 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”

Mini-trip-report: Campanile, a new Priority Pass “lounge” at LAX

Update: The logistics of Priority Pass remain the same, but as of November 2018, Priority Pass has removed Campanile and Barney’s Beanery from the program at LAX, and added the Rock & Brews sports bar in Terminal 1 (not the one in Terminal 5).  You can also still use PF Chang’s in the International Terminal, as well as Korean Air, Virgin Atlantic, and Alaska Airlines lounges. Always check the Priority Pass app or the website before traveling, and remember that properties can change without notice.

Welcome back to rsts11travel.

Those of you who have premium credit cards (like American Express Platinum, Chase Sapphire Reserve, and others) probably know about Priority Pass, a network of lounges around the world that you can get access to, either free or at a nominal fee of $27 per guest depending on your membership and number of guests.

See also: The Points Guy’s “All About Priority Pass

For the few years I’ve been traveling heavily, I have not used Priority Pass benefits, since most airports I visit have either a Centurion Lounge (access via Amex Platinum) or an Admirals Club lounge (access via Citi AA Executive). The Priority Pass lounges have often been reported as crowded, less impressive than Centurion/AA/Delta options, and more likely to restrict Priority Pass access.

Well, Priority Pass noticed, apparently, and started to partner with non-lounges in some busy destinations. In addition to a few Minute Suite options at smaller airports, there are almost 30 restaurant partners in the US as of this writing, and you can use your lounge visit privilege in the form of a $28 credit at any of these restaurants simply by showing your Priority Pass card (or mobile app).

A bit over a week ago, Priority Pass added Campanile, a self-described “fine dining” establishment in Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) Terminal 4. We had the opportunity to try it twice this past weekend, once for breakfast and once for dinner. LAX also has PF Chang and Barney’s Beanery under Priority Pass, and three Admirals Club lounges (including a small one in the Regional Terminal for people connecting within California), and a Centurion Lounge is coming in 2019.  Continue reading “Mini-trip-report: Campanile, a new Priority Pass “lounge” at LAX”

Newsflash: American Airlines status buy-up for 2018

Welcome back to rsts11travel. We’re here today to let you know that if you’re running short on qualification for next year’s AAdvantage status, you may be able to buy up to retain status.

We did a status challenge last year at this time (through FoundersCard) to get Platinum status through January 2018. Alas, travel slowed down at work and in our personal lives this year, and we’re way short of the qualification to keep status through January 2019. And American has a policy of only allowing “quick qualification” once every five years, so while FoundersCard had another status challenge offer recently, we’re not eligible.

This morning, the buy-up offer came into our email. The price to upgrade will vary based on how close you are to qualifying; your travel plans for 2018 will definitely tie into whether it’s worth spending cash to regain status.

For us, it’s probably not going to be worth paying to upgrade. Since our American mileage and spend was lower this year than the previous year, we’re looking at about $750 for Gold and $1500 for Platinum. If we win the lottery, then we’ll probably re-up (or just fly for a week and enjoy organic status). Otherwise, we’ll probably slip down for a year and consider status challenges or matches elsewhere.

There are two possible side benefits (beyond the status) of buying-up to a status level.

The first side benefit is that if you use a travel card (especially American Airlines cards, but possibly other travel rewards cards), this spend should qualify for the bonus points and other benefits. For example, the AAdvantage Executive World Elite MasterCard from Citibank has two benefits for spend:

So that $1500 for Platinum would give us 3000 miles and almost 4% of the spend to get 10k EQMs (although doing it now wouldn’t help much, as it’s per-calendar-year).

You might be able to use travel-eraser cards to credit back the cost of your upgrade, or use travel credits from a premium card like Chase Sapphire Reserve or certain American Express cards, depending on your card and how the charge is classified/posted.

The second side benefit is noted in the buy-up offer:

Plus, your purchase price will count toward your Rolling Elite Qualifying Dollars, helping improve your upgrade priority.

So that Platinum buy-up would give 1500 EQDs toward the next year’s status, and help with ranking for upgrades.

Have you considered buying your status upgrade for 2018? Have you found any other ways to take advantage of travel card benefits with this upgrade? Share in the comments!

Quick take: Admirals Club at SFO, and a minor reroute on the way to DCA

We’re back from nearly a week in the nation’s capital, Washington, D.C., for a little bit of sightseeing and a lot of the Splunk annual user conference, .conf2017. Trip report on that coming soon, so watch this space. But for now…

Sit a spell, for a bit about lounges

As our regular readers  know, I’m rather fond of the Centurion Lounge at the Las Vegas McCarran (LAS) airport, and I had hoped to try out the San Francisco International Airport (SFO) Centurion Lounge on this trip, as well as spending a couple of hours at the Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) Centurion Lounge. American Express Platinum charge card holders get free access to these lounges. I’d also scored an upgrade with my often-useless 500-mile certificates, for the DFW-DCA segment.

[Side note: Amex has changed how access to the Centurion Lounges is handled for non-Platinum Card holders; see our post on this change for more details.]

I got to the airport early, PRE and CLEAR, and got through security at my gate’s concourse before realizing I’d have to go out and around to get to the Centurion Lounge. Even with TSA PRE and CLEAR, I didn’t relish two more security adventures, and may not have been awake enough to be sure I could find my way.

Luckily, there was an American Airlines Admirals Club lounge just inside security, and with the Citi AA Executive Master Card, I get “free” access. So I went in, and the agent inside checked me in, looked at my AA itinerary to DCA, and then made a face.

It seemed that the plane I was scheduled to fly out to DFW on was on maintenance still, with less than two hours till scheduled takeoff. The agent said he’d seen a similar situation recently where the flight finally left 10-12 hours behind schedule, so he poked around for a few minutes to rebook me through Chicago O’Hare (ORD). He also got my checked bag rerouted to the new plane. I was disappointed to have a shorter layover, no upgrade, and no Centurion Lounges at all, but I’d get into DCA three hours earlier and have time for dinner at my destination.

When I got to my departure gate, the flight I had originally booked was at the next gate over, reporting boarding in 8 minutes, with no plane in sight. By the time I was boarded, they’d moved departure on the other flight from 8:00am to 8:30, and when I checked in Chicago, they’d finally departed a bit before 10am. Not as bad as the lounge agent had feared, but still….

My flight to ORD gave me time to get a pair of sleep socks from the Project Fi Travel Trolley, spend about an hour in the Admirals Club above the H/K concourses, and get onto my flight (with business class upgrade after all) to DCA.

When I checked in, the agent at priority check-in didn’t tell me about the maintenance situation. If I had gone to the Centurion Lounge across the airport, they probably wouldn’t have had access to that information either. So while I do still want to try the SFO Centurion Lounge, and will still visit the LAS lounge whenever I’m in town, there was a definite upside to using my traveling airline’s lounge instead.

Have you had any interesting lounge experiences lately? Share them in the comments, or join the conversation on Facebook.