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!

 

 

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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.

Hidden gems in Las Vegas for the non-smoking, non-gambling visitors

Welcome to rsts11 travel, my new effort to share discoveries and recommendations from my travels. Today we’re visiting the Signature at MGM Grand, Delano at Mandalay Bay, Vdara at Aria, and Mandarin Oriental in City Center, checking out coffee-friendly, non-smoking, non-casino options in the heart of the Las Vegas Strip.

Be sure to visit our welcome post, and watch for more Las Vegas-themed posts in the next week to start things with a pop. On the board to round out January 2017 are a mobile power post and a mobile caffeine post.

Also, we’re on Twitter as @rsts11travel and Facebook as facebook.com/rsts11travel – feel free to join the conversation on those forums as well.

Full of sound and fury…

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When you think of Las Vegas you probably think of casinos. Noisy, smoky, smelly, crowded, unpleasant. Not most people’s idea of a great environment to enjoy a vacation in, unless you smoke, smell, make lots of noise, and, well, gamble? Continue reading “Hidden gems in Las Vegas for the non-smoking, non-gambling visitors”