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.

Advertisements

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

Magic Kingdom For Sale? Making the most of your Disney adventure from a rewards perspective

As we head into the weekend, rsts11travel’s Robert Novak is here with an apology to Terry Brooks and a tip sheet for finding great deals or saving money in general with your trips to the Disney theme parks and facilities.

I (Robert) worked for the Walt Disney Company for three years, and in that time I had the best deal you can get without being on the board or executive staff of TWDC: a magical device formerly (and generally) known as the Silver Pass.

Given to full-time salaried employees after two weeks, and hourly staff after a substantially longer time, the Silver Main Entrance Pass gave cast members (inside and outside the parks) free entrance for themselves and their registered/benefitted dependents, or for a fixed number of guests if one didn’t have spouse or dependents to report. The pass was valid for something in the neighborhood of 300+ days per year.

This made me pretty popular when I was at events near the parks, and I also got some free passes every six months to give to friends or family. But since I didn’t live near the parks, I didn’t use these benefits very often.

People would often ask me to get them discounts, but the discounts for outright purchase of tickets were pretty light (similar to the discounts Apple gives on current products to employee purchase programs–not very much at all). So I surprised friends by telling them to go outside the company. Now that I don’t have the pass anymore, I too go outside the company, and I’ll share some guidelines that will help you make the most of your efforts and funds. Continue reading “Magic Kingdom For Sale? Making the most of your Disney adventure from a rewards perspective”

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

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

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

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

Continue reading “A second look at Amex Fine Hotels and Resorts at Delano Las Vegas”

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

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

Imagine Bart Simpson pointing at a cake right about here.

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

A golden weekend at Aria Sky Suites in Las Vegas

You only turn 29 so many times, I often say. Two years ago for my birthday we went to Las Vegas for a weekend at the Mandarin Oriental. This year we went a bit upscale and spent a weekend at Aria’s Sky Suites in the City Center complex. In the process we had some great experiences and re-qualified for MLife Rewards Gold status for next year in one (pricey) stay.

This is a long read, but we try to cover a packed weekend in an unusual property, so you should find it worth the journey.

Givens and Druthers

The owner of a model train shop I used to frequent in Indianapolis started every railroad design workshop with “givens and druthers.” The givens are your limitations. For a train layout it might be a 6×8 closet/garage, or having to fold up at night so the dog doesn’t eat it. The druthers are the “I’ll settle for this, but I’druther have that” wish list items. These are good categories to take into account when planning travel excursions as well.

Given #1: I travel a fair bit for my day job, and in that role I have to choose approved hotels and lowest cost options at those hotels. So the first given on this trip was something upscale from what work would normally pay for.

Given #2: A spa visit. Last summer we visited the Bathhouse at Delano (in the Mandalay Bay complex) and we wanted to refill our spa experience on this trip.

Given #3: An affordable (for an admittedly stretched value of “affordable”) rate, taking advantage of any special rates, promos, or other considerations we could find to optimize the expenditure and the experience.

Druther #1: Having just seen a video about the Aria penthouse suites, something like that was intriguing but likely out of our price range, but it was the first druther.

Druther #2: A private spa suite; Bathhouse had couples massages, but when we weren’t waiting for or having our massage, we were in the segregated spa facilities. Not as romantic as you might think.

So with these guidelines, the American Express Platinum card, and MLife Gold, we started looking at the options. Continue reading “A golden weekend at Aria Sky Suites in Las Vegas”

Loyalty has its advantages – Hotel program overview

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

Mix and match your hotel programs

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

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

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

Continue reading “Loyalty has its advantages – Hotel program overview”