Las Vegas is like the Bermuda Triangle of travel hacking. The basic rules of the game just don’t seem to work the way they do elsewhere, though that doesn’t mean there aren’t still ways to get a good deal. Sometimes it’s as simple (and important) as knowing the right person. If you’re a celebrity, if you know a guy, or if they think you’ll spend lots in their casino, then a comped hotel stay is not only possible but even expected.
But the major hotel brands including Hilton, Hyatt, Marriott, and Starwood don’t have strong presences at the most popular tourist locations along the Las Vegas Strip and Fremont Street. So what’s a points, miles, and status guy to do if you aren’t one of the chosen few who get special treatment?
Some loyalty programs have in recent years made a bigger push to build relationships with the top hotels. Hyatt is the best example, which announced a new partnership with MGM Resorts the day after I originally published this post. You can earn points and status with Hyatt’s Gold Passport program and MGM’s M life program at the same time, and Hyatt elites will have their status matched by M life.
Priority Club made Venetian and Palazzo “InterContinental Alliance Resorts” where you can earn and redeem points and expect recognition of your status with Priority Club (soon to be IHG Rewards). Last summer I took advantage of a promotion to book two nights at Venetian for 50% of the usual number of points — only 25,000 per night instead of 50,000. My InterContinental Ambassador status was recognized and earned me a small upgrade, but Royal Ambassador members can expect other perks like a $100 minibar credit.
More recently, Marriott Rewards partnered with Cosmopolitan and The Tropicana has been renovated and is now managed by DoubleTree, one of Hilton’s brands. I think this is kind of an odd choice because Tropicana is sort of a party scene and I think of DoubleTree as a family and convention brand (we stayed there a lot when I was a kid because of the cookies, and some hotels are sprawling). But maybe I’m wrong. In any case, it gives you a chance to earn and redeem Hilton HHonors points ever since the Las Vegas Hilton lost its affiliation and rebranded as the LVH (“Las Vegas Hotel”). Plus Tropicana is far closer to the Strip.
Unlike the hotels above that participate in the same program but still act and feel like a true Vegas resort, several of the major chains do have standard hotels in the city. There is a Hyatt Place near the airport, for example, that I think is a wonderful budget option. I’m looking for a deal somewhere else right now, but it might even be a good choice for a bachelor party given it’s next door to the Hofbrauhaus, across the street from the Hard Rock Hotel, and two blocks from the Strip, passing by Hooters Casino Hotel.
Westin has a hotel just off-strip (formerly the Westin Casuarina) behind The Flamingo. Unlike the Hyatt Place it has its own casino, but the reviews I’ve read make it sound like a pretty standard Westin. Don’t expect any fancy pools or ornate furnishings in the room. It’s a good choice to earn some Starpoints and still be close to the convention centers. Further away is the Westin Lake Las Vegas Resort and Spa. It’s also affordable, but you will need a car or similar transportation to reach the Strip, and it has no casino. In my opinion, it doesn’t match my reasons for flying to Las Vegas.
Update: I meant for this section to be exemplary, not exhaustive, but several people have pointed out hotels I missed. So I’ll give you some more hotels near the strip (still not all of the ones in the city). In addition to those mentioned above, Marriott and Priority Club both have several budget brands near Mandalay Bay across the freeway and another string of properties along Paradise Road near the Las Vegas Convention Center. Marriott also has the Grand Chateau Vacation Club near Planet Hollywood while Hilton has the Elara Grand Vacations Club in collaboration on the Planet Hollywood property and a similar arrangement at the Flamingo a block north.
PointsHound and Rocketmiles both offer you the opportunity to earn miles in your existing airline loyalty program when booking hotels through their portals. You’ll probably get more miles than you would if you booked with the airline, and in some cases (like with PointsHound’s Double Up rates) you can book one of the above choices and still get stay credit and points.
Remember that Vegas is all about who you know and what kind of deal you can negotiate. You should compare both sites to see what kinds of offers you’ll get because I found that they varied widely. In general, Rocketmiles will give you more miles but might also charge a slightly higher rate in some cases (I’ll leave it up to you to decide if the higher rate is worth the extra miles). But Rocketmiles also does some screening and only shows a limited selection to book from — I’ve found that their choices are usually good even though I personally like having all the options presented by PointsHound.
Casino Loyalty Programs
MGM Resorts (Mirage, Aria, Bellagio, etc.) operates M Life, Sands (Venetian and Palazzo) operates Grazi, and Caesars Entertainment (Caesars, Harrah’s, Paris, etc.) operates Total Rewards. Each of these programs evolved from the casinos’ desire to standardize comps and other rewards for their most prolific gamblers. You can earn credits based on how much you bet and redeem them for free or discounted rooms, but you can also earn credits for hotel stays and other purchases and redeem them for all kinds of things.
It’s possible to become one of their elite members without gambling at all, and casinos have become wise to this opportunity to diversify their income stream and find more ways to send you home with an empty wallet. However, I’ve never found myself in a situation where I got remotely close to earning a useful number of credits, so I don’t recommend most people pursue this path.
Finally, there is a new deal I received by email yesterday between Southwest Airlines and MGM are teaming up to let you earn Rapid Rewards points with Southwest when you book through MGM on the phone or using the M Life online portal. It’s very similar to the Starwood-Delta Crossover Rewards program in that you still earn M Life tier credits as well as 600 Rapid Rewards points with every stay.
For a limited time, the partners are promoting this new opportunity with a chance to earn 1,200 Rapid Rewards points per stay for reservations booked through June 30. Existing reservations do not qualify for the bonus, but they will earn the standard 600 points. Mommy Points has a good write up of the new program if you want to learn more details.
Terms and Conditions for the M Life/Rapid Rewards program:
Room reservations made through mlife.com, MGM Resorts’ property websites or call centers will earn both M life Tier Credits and Rapid Rewards Points simultaneously. Room reservations made through southwest.com, Southwest Jackpot, and Southwest Vacations will receive Rapid Rewards Points for their hotel stay and can earn M life Tier Credits through their Las Vegas spend at participating MGM Resorts’ restaurants, spas, shows and more. To earn Rapid Rewards Points, a member must present both their Southwest and M life loyalty cards upon check-in or check-out at one of the participating MGM Resorts’ properties: Bellagio, ARIA, Vdara, MGM Grand, The Signature at MGM Grand, Mandalay Bay, THEhotel at Mandalay Bay, The Mirage, Monte Carlo, New York-New York, Luxor and Excalibur. All new and existing reservations with stays beginning today, May 31, 2013 or after are eligible for Rapid Rewards Points. Southwest’s Rapid Rewards Members enjoy unlimited reward seats, no blackout dates, and points that don’t expire, as long as member has flight or partner earning activity every 24 months.