Top 5 Tips for Traveling to Las Vegas
Today we are joined with special guest Michael Trager with Trazelzork to discuss the top 5 tips for traveling to Las Vegas.
Heather: We are joined with our special guest Michael today on Vegas Aces. Michael do you want to introduce yourself real quick?
Michael: Sure. Basically I am a travel loyalty person. It is my true love. Travel loyalty and casino loyalty. But of course I love talking specifically about Vegas travel and this topic especially. Tips on booking your travel. Some of it is targeted towards Vegas but some of it is just targeted to how you approach things. One of the things I have tried to do over the years at TravelZork and on the TravelZork Facebook group and also at LVAtravel – which is a travel section of Las Vegas Advisor – is we try to talk about broad concepts to educate you. If you learn this, this is going to help you. I always find that that’s the best technique to get people to learn how to book travel properly, and also how to use miles and points properly, is to point them to the tools that are going to help them. Also give a broad understanding of what’s going on.
I hate to say it but most of it is not black and white at all. Sorta similar to the way – I mean I would say a lot of your audience is very familiar with casino loyalty and casino comps. A lot of that is not black and white all the time. So you need to understand the nuance of a lot of that.
Heather: So if people are interested in more information, what website can they go to? What are your social media links? Where can they find you?
Michael: It’s really easy! Almost everything is at TravelZork. I am on twitter quite a bit. We also have a Facebook group. I have a podcast called ZorkCast. We also have a YouTube channel which is also TravelZork. So everything is basically TravelZork. I am pretty easy to get in contact with. We tend to be pretty responsive. We do a lot of these kind of conversations in the Facebook group. Part of it is when you were at ZorkFest, when we did our conference in Vegas. A lot of it is trying to bring together the casino people and the travel people. Sorta have those worlds collide. Those are my favorite worlds to collide. The travel people and the Vegas people. You know, learning from each other.
Heather: Thank you so much for being on and for doing this and for sharing your expertise. What is tip NO. 1 for people traveling to Las Vegas? Does it have something to do with airfare?
Michael: Yes. It always does, right? A lot of conversation always comes down to airfare and finding the best airfare. And that is never an easy question to answer, especially when you are talking about revenue airfares. That is when you are buying your airline ticket, and also potentially using your miles and points for an airline ticket.
Broadstroke, one thing you really want to learn how to use is Google Flights, because you can set up alerts. And you can sorta see the entire big picture of what the airfares are between the markets that you are interested in.
I believe you will be listing some of the links. Gilbert of God Save the Points has a great article on Google Flights. You really want to start to understand what the airline pricing looks like for your market. Now the positive end of that kind of thing is that usually most people live in only one or two places. So you become very familiar with what it costs to fly from New York to Vegas or from Minneapolis to Vegas. You become familiar with the airlines. You also become familiar with the historical prices, because there are a lot of things people will say sometimes, like, buying your airline ticket 11 months in advance is the best thing to do. And that is not always true. There actually tends to be a sweet spot on buying tickets. Unfortunately this is more pre-Covid advice. Now the world is upside down with Covid so a lot of these rules are sorta shifted a little bit because the airlines are in distress.
Heather: Will you talk about some of the shifts too before we move on?
Michael: Sure! Absolutely! But basically there is usually buying to early or to late is not good. There is almost a sweet spot in which the airlines start to promote the airfares. Just so people understand, all airlines have what we call fare bucket, and they have multiple pricing throughout the flight. They only assign so many seats to every price bucket. They can also lower the prices within the buckets.
The biggest shift now with Covid is that airlines are trying to do whatever they can possibly do to fill airplanes. Just because the demand is not there because of Covid for understandable reasons. A lot of people feel you should not be traveling for leisure right now. That is a topic that has been covered by many people. So setting aside personal opinions on that there happens to be fewer flights. But the flights are still – even when they are full we would traditionally have a plane that was 60 - 70% full where they would start raising the airfares. A lot of times they aren’t, because they just want to keep selling the seats. Now is a great time to look for airfares, especially frequent flier award tickets. And especially because most airlines have extremely generous policies now with canceling or changing your flights. I will caveat that with all of this changing.
Now historically the airlines have never been as flexible and generous as they are when you want to cancel a trip. And usually the worst case scenario is that you wind up with a credit for that airline that you can use at a later date. Whereas before you used to have non refundable tickets. If you canceled them it was a $150 penalty per ticket or things like that. I do think forward thinking travel is really smart now. Start looking at when you are going to feel comfortable to travel and booking those reservations paying careful attention to the terms and conditions. But you know what? In most cases you are going to be able to change them. Now remember an airline will always tell you you can change. Even though they will say there is no fee to change a ticket, remember there might be a fair class difference. So if you paid $200 for a ticket and you want to change it, then on the date you want to change it to, the flight’s now gone up to $280 you are going to have to pay the fair differential.
The other thinking, airlines change their schedules or they cancel flights. Especially now because they have been shifting things. Usually when an action in which an airline does something like change the schedule, or cancel the flight, then you usually can get your money back. So that is a good thing to consider.
This is a tip I haven’t even put on your list, one of the most amazing things that can happen with an airline is sometimes you will find the cheapest airfare as a connection. And you will take it because you can save the money. And you know that flying Newark to Huston to Vegas. If it’s going to save you a $100 a ticket it is a good value proposition. It might take you a couple more hours. Well if you’ve booked that ticket far in advance, there does become a change that the schedule will change. If the schedule changes enough, in most cases, this is a broad stroke comment, airlines will allow you to change to a different flight for no charge. It has nothing to do with the price. So there are certain circumstances if you live in a hub, and I am making up this example on the fly. Where you live and fly out of Newark, and you are on a connection through Huston or Cleveland to Las Vegas and they significantly change the schedule where now the connection is going to cause you to be in Huston for 6 hours, they will often let you change to a better connection. Or they might let you take the Newark to Las Vegas non stop flight. Which you originally wanted to buy but was more expensive. So that is also something. It never hurts to ask. I always tell people, when you book tickets far out in advance, these schedule changes can really help you, because you can wind up with the more expensive ticket that you didn’t want to buy. But now airfare is fantastic. I really think people should look forward to 2020-2021.
I also don’t encourage people to book tons of trips that you have to change or might not take. But I also think philosophically it’s such a happy thing to plan a vacation to Vegas. So even if you are not comfortable now and you think you are not going to be comfortable for six months, well then go plan one for next October. Find a good fare and do it. Because you know what? You are probably never going to have airfares as good as they are now. Or the ability to use your miles and points.
Heather: And you know YouTube is YouTube. So a lot of people might be watching this five years later saying Covid? What are you guys talking about? It’s so old school. Get with the times.
Michael: Right! Exactly. But, learning to use things like Google Flights are great because you get a really good overview. You have to realize a couple of things. Sometimes all the low cost carriers and Southwest are not always listed in Google Flight. You are going to want to check those. Another thing that I always tell people, and this is really rushing into the subject, is you gotta add up all your fees when you buy an airline ticket. So how Southwest always includes check bags. It depends how you travel. Whereas Spirit charges for larger carry-on bags. Spirit charges for checked bags. You really gotta be careful, because the fare might be lower but by the time you add a checked bag or a carry-on bag, or other things. It might actually be more expensive.
That’s also an interesting thing to look at. I am assuming a lot of people that watch this don’t travel that much, that they have airline status. If you don’t have airline status, that stuff becomes very important to pay attention to. What will my bag fees be?
Another tip – I didn’t put this on the chart either – is discounted first class fares. Which they can be really really good. Say the regular fare is $150 each way, or $110 – I mean it depends on what the differential is. Sometimes you will pick up a first class fare that is $200 each way or $250 each way. But the first class fare will include two bags. Things like that. And priority security. And stuff like that. If you don’t have status, sometimes finding a really good first class fare will allow you to get some of the other perks. It also get’s you drinks in flight and alcohol.
You can’t put everything in one bucket. For some people if you don’t have status, those additional perks are very valuable. Where as if you have status with an airline you might get free check bags already.
Heather: So if I have status I can bring on my snake Sheva and have her sit in the middle chair?
Michael: Yeah sure.
Heather: I am sure the person next to her would love that.
Michael: Yeah I know.
Heather: She is my emotional support snake. You know. I cuddle with the snake. I need her. So she has to be on that trip with me.
Michael: Okay. Well, we need to do what we need to do. You know another interesting thing as a side note, which I was looking at recently – I don’t know where you came with –
Heather: I saw someone do that with a peacock. It was so ridiculous animal or something. They said, “I need it because it is my emotional support animal. So I had to say that with my snake.
Michael: No, that is awesome. You know another thing I actually – I don’t know how much you have discussed this much – like people bringing your dogs to Vegas hotels. I know this is a little bit of a side track but I was recently investigating that because when we come to California for a couple months and I have my dog. I was like, is it worth it to bring the dog when I go to Vegas? I was finding interesting differentials in the hotel policies. Where some hotels would charge for your entire stay for the dog. Some would charge on a daily basis. I think that is a really interesting thing when you start to compare. Is it worth it to bring your dog? Or how can you do it cost effectively? Have you looked into that at all? Or discussed that at all? You seem like someone who might touch into that.
Heather: So when I worked at the Westin Casuarina which is right behind the Cromwell on the Flamingo. I was a dealer there and one of the NYPD Blue actors, Richard Belfasar I think his name was. But he would come in there and he would bring his dog. Because they allow dogs. Because he was such a big actor, they actually allowed the dog to run around the casino floor. So the dog was running in between my legs, running in between the tables, running under the craps table. “What are you doing under the craps table?” I would say.
So I know some casinos allow dogs. I don’t know what the prices are or anything because that is one of the perks of living here.
Michael: What is interesting and just as a side note, if you do want to bring your dog with you, it is very important to pay attention to the rules. Off the top of my head, I was looking at – Oh I can get comped a pet stay room at Paris. I can get comped a pet stay at Caesars. But Paris charges $50 a day and Cesars charges $75 a stay. So I was like we would be much better at – well this is so strange because they are both Caesars properties. I am pretty sure I am correct about this, but my main point was, if you were staying five or six nights it might make a huge difference which hotel you stay at, because if the pet fee is for the entire stay as opposed to a per night basis you know. So I started – I have never looked at that before, but I thought that was sorta interesting to pay attention to. When I stayed at Caesars in June for the reopening of the casinos I noticed a lot of dogs at Caesars. And they are really cute. I happen to love dogs. It totally doesn’t bother me at all. I am just always laughing when I see the dogs with people in the lobby and stuff like that.
Anyway it just made me start to think about what fees are, that they charging. I was thinking this is probably really smart for the hotels. It could take actually – if I have a comp room it’s a nice extra fee for them to get. I don’t think it is really costing them that much.
Heather: Yeah. So part two. Hotels. I am looking forward to Hotels.
Michael: Well the No. 1 big thing that always comes up when talking about hotels is resort fees. Right? Especially in the Las Vegas market. They have creeped out of Las Vegas a little bit. It is something that you have to be aware of when you are doing the price comparisons. And especially when you are doing price comparisons on a lot of travel websites. Sometimes the resort fee is included in the final price, in the taxes and fees. Sometimes it isn’t and there is a little asterisk which says the property will be adding this fee. So that is super important that you are aware of it because obviously some of these resort fees are quite high. You might think you got an incredible deal for a hotel but at that rate they quoted you, the final quote where they didn’t take into account the resort fee, whereas another website has. So you need to be super cautious about that.
Heather: Real quick with Covid, some of the casinos dropped the resort fees and then some of them added the resort fees back on. So it really just depends on the casino you go to at the moment right now too.
Michael: Right! And I would say – You are made aware of the resort fees and I know there are some people that refuse to pay it. Or I complain about it. It is something to bring up if you don’t get the services. Or there are ways for them to be discounted. For casino players, it’s pretty decent, because anybody with status at Caesars properties as a tier benefit, get waived resort fees. This is one reason why I am a very positive person about caesars rewards for people who can figure out a way to get diamond status. Diamond status as a tier benefit waves resort fees. Where as if you want to look in comparison to MLife Gold or Platinum, they do not wave resort fees as a tier benefit. Now of course a host can waive the resort fees, or you can get a casino offer with waived resort fees. But I really like what Caesars does with making it a benefit. Just like the benefit where you can use the diamond line for check in, or use the lounge. They have codified it as a benefit. If you get that tier, you don’t get a resort fee. It’s transparent, and it’s easy, and I think that is quite an advantage of their program.
Heather: Some of the other diamond tier perks you get is you get free parking, one free dinner every year. You can have a $100 dinner and everything. Free show ticket once a month. I think they might have changed that. You might have to double check that due to Covid.
Michael: I can give you the free show ticket update right now. I just checked two weeks ago. What they are doing now is they are giving you free tickets for the High Roller. They give you two free tickets for the High Roller which I believe you can use any time. They print a voucher for you at the Caesars rewards desk. And they are letting you go to the show Bodies exhibit at Ballys.
Heather: Have you ever been there? Have you ever done that?
Michael: I haven’t and I want to. That is now a diamond – so they are giving diamond Bodies, and they are giving you two tickets to Bodies and they are giving you the High Roller. It’s not – to the best of my knowledge, it’s not a buy one get one for the High Roller. You actually get two High Roller tickets. So that is what they are doing in lue of the shows for right now. I think that is pretty cool.
Heather: It is. If you get a chance, definitely check out Bodies. It is worth seeing. I really enjoy going through that. Also, if you go on the High Roller, my advice is go when the sun is setting because you see the sunset and you also see the Las Vegas lights turn on. So you get the beautiful Las Vegas lights with the sun setting and you are up there on the High Roller and you are up on the top so you can see everything. It’s the perfect time to go.
Michael: Yeah I definitely want to try that. I am amazed all the time, no matter how often I come to Vegas, there is always something I don’t get to, or multiple things. Part of it is I also enjoy recreational gambling, and there is usually someone to meet up with. It always seems like there’s never enough time.
Michael: And even now, I know these are such tricky times with Covid. And the number one question I get asked is, “Should I go to Vegas? Or “Shouldn’t I?” And I usually say that is a personal choice. If you set your expectations right. I think now is the best time to do solo trips to Las Vegas. We are not meeting up with people. You are just spending time with yourself. Like a “Me” trip. Where you can just gamble by yourself, go to the spa, take really nice walks, and have a nice dinner. I really enjoy that kind of thing. If you enjoy that or have ever considered that, I think now is a really good time to go to Vegas because it is pretty quiet. So as long as you don’t want hustle and bustle and it doesn’t bother you to be mostly with yourself. Which I happen to really enjoy. I think it is an okay time to go. That is what I have said to a lot of people. I don’t know about your opinion on that. I do think mixing with people is really difficult right now. One of the things that I think is amazing in Vegas is you can go to a bar or go somewhere and people would start talking to you. Now you are very uncomfortable, even wearing your mask properly and all of that. It is uncomfortable being around people who you don’t know. I think if you are willing to be by yourself you can have a really good time.
Heather: One thing to point out is this is Covid. So things are a little crazy right now. Our governor (This might be old news) but right now he just announced last night that what they are doing is they lowered the occupancy rate of casinos to 25%. This is going to go on for about three weeks. What a lot of casinos are doing is they are closing Monday through Thursday and then only open Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.
Another thing is we have a mask mandate that has gotten stronger. They want you to wear your mask at all times. If you are indoors or outdoors, any time you are not at your home or in your room they want you to wear a mask. Also, things are changing quickly because of Covid. Before you travel here it is always good to double check the Las Vegas Convention Center or the Las Vegas Visitor Center to see what new mandates may have been put into place. See what is going on with casino closures and what is going on with that, because things are changing constantly over here.
Michael: Yeah that is one of the things why one of my suggestions to people is that possibly it makes sense to look further into the future to travel. That is fine. You have something to look forward to. There are a lot of really good travel deals to have.
Heather: And it gives you time to save up. So that way you have more shopping money and gambling money. Even with Covid I am surprised we still have things opening. The Venetian just opened up an experience that looks really fun. Area 15 just opened up as well.
Michael: Yeah I know that is fine. I have always been a bit of a less is more kind of person. So many of my friends travel so much more than I do. But I actually like fewer trips where – especially on the recreational gambling aspect where I can have a larger bankroll. I would rather do half the number of trips, with a larger bankroll, than more frequency of trips. I also happen to like being at home and cooking and doing all of those kinds of things. That is part of what –
Heather: Wait! Did you make sourdough bread?
Heather: Everyone was doing sourdough bread!
Michael: No but we have done a decent amount of baking and cocktail making and things like that. I am such a lemon aid out of lemons kind of person. I like, even now, I say, “Hey the governor just announced 25% capacity, but if you go and you are by yourself and you are not by a lot of people it’s not going to be not crowded.”
Heather: Yeah definitely not crowded.
Michael: I was at the SW Steakhouse with 50% occupancy. It is such a different experience than it used to be. The bustle is not there. There is so much social distancing. I try to be positive for the circumstances. I think there are some people it just bothers them more. If they wanted to be the way it was before. I am just like, it will be eventually. We just have to accept where we are right now. If that’s your mindset then just plan a trip for Q3 of next year.
Back to the hotel stuff. Casino status can be important. I am setting aside – I think it is always import that you review what your players card – what the portals will allow you. So you should always be logging into your Cesars account or your MLife account. You should be comparing your hotel rates. Even if you don’t have a Cesars offer you might have a highly discounted room rate baring that you are part of Caesars rewards.
I also think that you should understand some of the reciprocal benefits between programs. So say you are not a casino loyalty person and you have highest status that can transfer over over to MLife status. If you have Windom hotel status that can transfer over to Cesar’s status. As we know many of the hotel casino companies are doing status matches between programs. You know way beyond the scope. We could do an entire episode on status matching. These are all things to keep an eye on. These are things that definitely will answer in Facebook if you have any questions.
Obviously in a casino standpoint I am very much a fan of targeting your casino programs. Like not splitting half of your play between MLife and Cesars but deciding which company you want to go for and putting most of your play there. I just think strategically it makes a lot of sense. It’s almost the same way I would say to you, if you were looking at Hilton, or Marriott, and Hyatt and you stayed at hotels 150 nights a year, I would say you really should focus on one program. You shouldn't split it between the programs because in most cases – one thing that is totally true, airline loyalty, hotel loyalty, casino loyalty top tier or close to top tier is always where you want to be.
Now when I say that with regard to Caesars – diamond but not necessarily seven star. You know like Caesar's you want to be diamond. Hyatt you want to be globalist. That kind of thing. Hilton you want to be diamond. You know if you can – Delta you want to be diamond, because usually there is a perk differential between the top tier and the one below that makes it advantageous enough to want to do that. That is the reason why unless you travel extreme amounts which you can’t right now but you want to focus on an individual program.
Heather: Okay cool!
Michael: The other thing is a lot of people don’t realize that Vegas is an extremely interesting market with regard to luxury hotels. A great example I give is Four Seasons. You can stay in the Four Seasons in Vegas as low as $150 - $180 a night. A Four Seasons in New York will set you back $400 - $500 a night. In London –
Heather: If you stay at Four Seasons landscaping that’s $25 a night.
Michael: Yes that is true I forgot about that one.
Heather: Okay let’s talk Luxury Hotels. I am looking forward to that.
Michael: There are a number of luxury hotel programs. One of the most popular programs is called FHR, which is Fine Hotels and Resorts. That is a product offered only by American Express. The catch is you have to have an American Express Platinum Card, which costs $500 a year. Now you can actually get a lot of benefits of having an American Express Platinum Card, but a lot of people don’t want a credit card that has such a high annual fee. For whatever reason, rational or not. You know part of the problem is – I am sure you have spoken with casino people with casino loyalty – like some people will come hustle and take advantage to the nth degree. And other people just don’t want to bother. That is the same way it is with credit cards. There are many credit cards out there where the annual fees sound outrageous. But the benefits you get back, if you travel a certain amount throughout the year, you can get those benefits back. Sometimes two fold. It’s not really costing you that much per year. You also have to work at it. You have to work at it harder if you don’t travel that much.
These hotel programs are really nifty, because they include – if you book the hotels under these luxury hotel programs, they include a benefit. It is usually $100 food and beverage credit for the stay. And they include in Vegas a $60 benefit for breakfast per day, which is quite generous! Now the thing about it that is very interesting, on short stays, this is extremely optimizable because that $100 credit is for the stay. So if you stay for one night at one of these properties you still get the $100 credit, and you still get the breakfast credit. So in a market like Vegas where the hotels are not $300 - $600 a night, BINGO! You’ve got some amazing opportunities. Especially if you wanted to hop between hotels. Something I don’t love doing, but if you stayed at multiple of these properties you would get the $100 benefit at each property and the breakfast benefit at each property.
I will tell you the most extreme example - and again an example off the top of my head has been the Delano. At the Delano the room rates under these programs have been $130 - $140 a night. So stick with me here, that includes the resort fee. So let’s call it $150 a night. You pay $150 a night with resort fees and you get $100 benefit for breakfast. So basically it is a wash. It’s absolutely crazy. Some of them have been better than that. So there is a program called Virtuoso, which is just fine hotels and resorts, which can be booked by any Virtuoso travel agent. There are a lot of good Virtuoso travel agents. It has to be booked by the travel agents. TravelZork actually is now doing those types of bookings and I am going to be doing them along with a Las Vegas advisor. We are setting up a program for them. You can put the link but I have a booking request on TravelZork where we can quote you on some of those.
What’s really cool about these Virtuoso hotel bookings is that most of them have no deposit, and most of them can be canceled the day before. So it’s awesome! Basically it's the traditional way when a travel agent books a hotel for you, it is you pay at checkout. That’s the traditional way for it to be. Now Vegas is varied a little bit. Vegas has sometimes done one night hotel deposits and stuff. But most of the rates seem to not have that. Which is also really nice. Now once again you can change and rearrange. But these programs can be very beneficial. Then it gets better, because you get additional amenities. I tested this in June. I just needed to see if I could get the stars to align. I did. You get an upgrade benefit, you get early check-in and late check-in benefit, which is really nice. I did it at – once again this is all off the tip of my head. I did one of these deals for Wynn and certain times of the year, not only do you get all of these benefits, but they have, buy two nights get one free. So I managed to do a Wynn stay midweek with a, buy two get one free, and I got really lucky. I am going to say this again, I got really lucky and they upgraded me to a parlor suite as my upgrade. My actual cost per night if you took into account the breakfast benefit and all that kind of stuff turned out to be $85 a night. It was crazy. But, part of this is what you value.
I really like the $60 benefit a day, that is amazing at Wynn because you can use it for breakfast at Tableau which is so nice. I mean if you like that. It depends on who you speak to. I love those beautiful hotel breakfasts in Vegas. Other people to them that’s not a priority. They would rather grab a dunkin and that’s not important. But for me it’s a really nice perk. I guess it depends on who you speak to on that.
Also the rates are pretty good. That’s another thing to look at. It’s very unique to the Vegas market. These programs are available in other cities, except for Asia you can do very well in Asian cities. Like European cities and major US cities. I don’t want to call it a disaster but sure the Four Seasons in London is $700 a night or $800 a night. So even if there is a, buy two get one, it’s so expensive. In comparison to, if you stay at the Hilton for $150 a night. So there’s such a big spread, whereas in Vegas there are these luxury hotels that have great deals. These programs, these Virtuoso and FHR programs they include the Billagio, they include Delano, they include Wynn, they include Aria. It’s pretty cool.
They mislabel – they say it’s all supposed to all be five star hotels. I would argue that Delano isn’t really a five star hotel. Hotel ratings mean nothing. Truly to me a five star hotel is something like a Four Season, or Mandarin Oriental, or maybe Wynn Las Vegas but I’m not sure. To me Bellagio is probably a four star. The Waldorf in Vegas is probably a four star hotel at this point. That doesn’t make them bad. I think you need to be careful when you are booking a hotel and someone says, “Oh I have this five star hotel for you, the Delano.” Well it’s not really a five star hotel but it’s a really nice hotel.
Heather: You can still have really nice hotels and have them be two stars, three stars. You could say this place is pretty nice.
Michael: Yeah! Vegas is really special that way. That is why foreign travelers like Vegas so much. You get so much bang for your buck. What you get in Vegas, you can’t get anywhere else in the World.
Heather: We are spoiled. That’s why I can’t travel anywhere, I have to stay in Las Vegas. I travel somewhere and I am like, “This is a hotel? You guys call this a Hotel? Okay, If you say so! I mean it has rooms, sure.”
Michael: But it’s true, it’s really amazing. Also, the ability in Vegas now that so many hotels have – you know they used to talk about the $20 trick and the $50 trick. Most hotels now have a buy up program. Suites, and things like that, because they realize that this is a good thing to monetize. Vegas hotels tend to have way more suites than most hotels. But Vegas hotels are way larger than most hotels. A lot of times for an extra $50 or $75 a day you can upgrade to a suite that you can never imagine upgrading to in another city. Which is amazing. And you need to ask about that. Even on comp rooms, because almost every hotel has possibilities to do those upgrades. Like Paris Las Vegas, even on Comp rooms, if a host won’t authorize a complimentary upgrade to Suite – Suite upgrades start at $50 there. That is a really good deal. If you are like a Diamond and you have a comp room, or a heavily discounted room, and you are not paying the resort fee. To pay another $50 to have a nice suite with your girlfriend or your wife, you're not getting this kind of value anywhere! So this is one of the things that people really like.
Also, just stepping back to the airfare for one second, our airfare was very much for people living in the U.S. For people outside of the U.S. especially in the UK, lots of people from the United Kingdom like to come to Vegas. It shifts a little bit. But you also have to be aware of the pricing in the markets. But their biggest difference is the premium airfares. Like today, for Black Friday, Cyber Monday – which will still be going on. Virgin is like selling business class seats for slightly more than economy class seats to the states in these Black Friday sales. So that stuff is amazing. So there are different opportunities.
This is one of the things that I pride myself in, because I understand the European traveling to Vegas market as well as the US domestic. It is different. When you should use points or not use points is different and also the way you look at airfares. Also a lot of people will buy up to first class. It’s only $200 more. Just like the conversation about breakfast, well that’s $200 I could gamble, it’s not worth it for me. The flights are only three hours. But a flight from London nonstop is 10.5 hours. So an overnight flight back, one is 11, and one is 10.5 hours. So now the equation of being in an economy class as opposed to premium or business is a lot different than a flight from Minneapolis. So that goes back to what it depends on where you are flying from and all that kind of stuff. It’s great stuff to look at.
Heather: That’s awesome! That’s really cool. Ok I think we are on to car rentals.
Michael: I hate car rentals!
Heather: Car rentals are tough.
Michael: They really are. And they have so many fees, and so many – I think everybody you speak to in the travel world always hates car rentals. There is nobody that likes car rentals. My biggest advice on car rentals is you gotta do your comparisons. There is a website called autoslash.com that compares and keeps comparing the car rentals. One of the advantages with car rentals, is that most of them can be canceled for free. There isn't an issue with canceling car rentals.
Car rentals becomes one of these exceptions. You do not want to leave your car rental to the last minute. Because car rental prices can skyrocket right before a trip! This is of course done by me when I realize at the last minute I need a car rental. But it’s really good even if there is a 50% chance that you might need a car and you are booking something 8 months from now, it’s really good to book a car rental and use something like autoslash to keep comparing it. Just have your alert set up to cancel things if you are not going to use them.
The other big thing is car rental insurance. You want to have a credit card that allows you to decline all of those yucky charges. That’s really important. That can save you a lot. Even the No. 1 entry card for miles and points I send people to Chase Sapphire Preferred. Mostly because it has a nice bonus. Right now it is 60,000 points. But it has a nice bonus, and it includes car rental insurance and the annual fee is super low. It’s only $95 a year. The Chase Sapphire Preferred is a great card but what is especially great about it is, not only does it include car rental insurance, it includes primary car rental insurance. While I am not a car rental insurance expert, what that means is you do not have to submit it to your own car rental insurance company if you have car rental insurance first they can cover it outside of that. That is a really good benefit. You should definitely have a car with car rental insurance. If you do have a credit card with car rental insurance, please make sure that the booking for the car rental is made with that credit card, and you use that credit card when you swipe and pick up the car. Just to make sure everything is kosher.
To me that insurance can be $10, $20, $30 a day. That's significant. Also be aware – no problem at all with waving the stuff for Vegas with regard to car rental insurance. Globally you need to understand the market. There are certain markets if you rent cars that you can’t waive car rental insurance. I think Italy is one of those markets. So just be aware that it’s not the same everywhere. For domestic travel it is really good to have a credit card that saves you the car rental insurance fees. That’s something to keep in mind.
Heather: Cool. Sounds good.
Michael: That brings us probably to the topic that we could spend a couple of hours on, which is using miles and points. Understanding miles and points. Getting free tickets. Everybody always hears all of their friends who get free tickets. They get very jealous of that and they want to know how they get free tickets too. I am sure you hear when you fly in an airline they say, “Get our credit and you will immediately get free tickets.” It’s really not true. It’s not that seamless. So the biggest thing that I like to discuss with people is, if they are not miles and points people, is understanding the difference between having a points in one program, or having what I have an award currency. If you have a Delta Credit Card and fly on Delta, both the Delta Credit Card and flying on Delta earn you Delta Sky Miles. You then can use Delta Sky Miles for flights. That’s great. But what if you don’t want to fly on Delta and you have accumulated 300,000 sky miles? That can be problematic if you want to take a flight on United. So one of the things I suggest to people – the reason why you are loyal to a specific airline is because you fly on that airline often. Or you live in a city that requires you to fly on that airline often. So if you live in a city like Minneapolis that’s a Delta city and you travel a bunch for business and you want to fly nonstop, chances are 90% you will be flying nonstop on Delta. If you live in Dallas you are probably going to be flying in America a lot.
So a lot of those decisions will be made depending on how much you travel. If you are 100% leisure traveler it tends to be better to be a free agent and just fly with the airline that is the least expensive. So the way to make miles and points really work for you is to accumulate them in a miles and points currency. Like Ultimate Rewards, which is Chases currency or Membership Rewards for example, which is American Express's Currency. Capital One also has their own currency. I tend to favor membership rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards because they are the most flexible and they also tend to have bonuses. So what happens is, sticking with the Chase example, you accumulate these Chase Ultimate Rewards points, and then you can use those Chase Ultimate Rewards points to buy things. Often a bad idea. Or you can use them to pay for travel, sometimes an ok idea and sometimes a not good idea.
Heather: Can’t you do cash too?
Michael: Often not that great of a value. You know what the problem is? What you are trying to do is you are trying to get outsized value. So if they will give you 1.25 cents to do it – what you want to do is you want to redeem and use it for something where you are getting three or four cents per mile. You can sometimes do that and sometimes you can’t. Or at least you want two or three cents. So one of the best ways you can do that is you can transfer to other programs. So like the Chase Program allows you to transfer to United, allows you to transfer you to British Airways, allows you to transfer to Virgin. The American Express program allows you to transfer to Delta. So here’s the amazing thing, you have these membership rewards point, if you decide you want to fly on Delta, that’s fine, you can just transfer them to Delta and then redeem your reward. Or you can use them for something else.
It’s also brilliant for topping off accounts. Say you need a few more Hilton points for an award. Or a few more Marriott for a reward. That’s where these transfer programs can become very valuable. But in most cases, and I hate to talk generally, airfare and premium airfare can be the most valuable use of points. Sadly or not sadly depending on how you travel, the best use of points is for international premium airfares. Just because they are so expensive. So using 70,000 points for business class airfare would cost $3000 is a great use of points. The only problem is, if you got really interested in a business class ticket to Thailand it’s not going to be very helpful for you.
Points can be amazing. To give you an example, I was recently looking at awards from Palmsprings back to Boston for the kids and American Airlines has tickets as low as 12,000 miles. All of the airlines have all of these low awards available, which was never the case before. It’s a really good thing to look at. Part of the game is also credit card bonuses with that kind of thing. So remember before I was saying if you sign up for a Chase Sapphire Prefered, you get a bonus of 60,000 points. Well that is 60,000 points that can be transferred to an airline. Well that airline has tickets for 10,000 or 15,000. And also the transfer ratios do sometimes vary, and sometimes they don’t. A lot of times they are 1 to 1 sometimes they are not 1 to 1 depending on what the program is. You need to pay close attention to that.
In most cases, transfering to airlines is a better deal than hotels. For hotels, some of the hotels are a better deal than other hotels. I always feel bad saying this because people want to hear simplicity. But transfering from Chase to Hyatt can be really good. Transferring from Chase to IHG or Holiday Inn is really really bad. And I know you are like man this is like – but there is that nuance. There are so many Facebook groups and ways you can learn about it. Take it one step at a time. There are not a lot of hard and fast rules. But what you need to look at is should I use points? Well that’s a good question. How do you think about that. Just convert it in your head like you would anything else. So if I’m about to get an airline ticket from Palmsprings to Boston and they want 12,000 miles on American to do that. I have to say okay what does it cost me to buy an airline ticket in that market? If it cost me $50 then that’s probably not a good use of the 10,000 miles. If the airline tickets cost $600 it is a really good use. You need to sorta compair what would this cost me and what are my points worth? For most points I think they are worth a cent a point. I use that in general. So that is how you compare if you have 60,000 points, what are they worth? And if you use a cent a point you come up with a value and if the value you are getting for the award is way higher than that. There are actually different values that people have done, but I usually have – for more airlines a cent or a 1.25 a point is fine. It doesn’t have to be so mysterious if you just turn it into math. Like everything else. What is the 60,000 points worth? Should I buy the airline tickets or use the points?
The other issue is of course cash flow can be part of the issue. There are people that accumulate points. The best way to accumulate points is what I call OPM. Other Peoples Money. I fly on business, your company pays for the flights and you accumulate points. That’s perfect! It’s not costing your own money to do that. So in that case, somebody might have a lot of points for business travel and they might not use them. Always optimized because they have got so many points and from a cash flow standpoint they would rather use their points then pay cash. But for a lot of people who are leisure travelers or doing credit card bonuses, they want to be very cautious how they use those points. You want to use them the best way they possibly can because you are not replenishing as much like a road warrior business traveler if that makes sense.
Heather: Totally! Awesome! So if people are interested in more information please tell us your website and where they can find you on YouTube and social media because you guys have so much information.
Michael: Sure! TravelZork and TravelZork.com Also join the TravelZork Facebook group. I would love it if you join our YouTube Channel. We actually need to do some educational videos. Also the miles and points person that I feel educates everyone really well is Gilbert of God Save the Points. He is a buddy of mine, he does a phenomenal job educating people on these things. Also there is another guy Dave of Miles Talk. He does a really good job on that stuff. These guys go really deep. And there are a lot of other miles and points sites. But those are two that are very popular. I also really like Gary from A View From the Wing and Ben from One Mile at at Time. But they are a little bit deeper and a little bit more a niche.
I have to mention this because it is in my notes. I don’t want to forget. Sometimes you need to think outside of the box with miles and points. So a lot of people will say I have got these Chase points and I can’t transfer them to the airline that I have and it’s like, yes you can. Chase doesn’t transfer to Delta but Chase transfers to Virgin. On Virgin you can book Delta. So once again – it’s the same with British Airways. Chase transferred to British Airways. And right now if you have Chase points they have a 30% bonus when you transfer. So if you transfer 100,000 Chase points you get 100,030 Ovios. Ovios on British Airways are great to use for American Airlines US domestic. Like Philly to Vegas nonstop and stuff like that. Really good reward redemptions.
So there are just so many interesting things, there are so many interesting tricks and nuances there. You would regularly say what would I have any use for British Airways Ovios or Virgin Atlantic? Because they are some of the best ways to book US domestic rewards. People don’t think about that. So definitely – just dance into it slowly. If you don’t already have one credit card that is miles and point credit card. We talk about this stuff on LVATravel. I am sure Heather will put a link into an article that we have about the Chase Saphire Prefered. That’s a good place to start. Start to think about your strategies to see if it is worth it for you to fly on one airline. Things like that. Learn the airfare for your market. All of that stuff. Of course ask questions. That’s how you learn. I love answering those questions.
What’s really good, like even in the TravelZork Facebook group, there are so many people that jump on and answer questions. Don’t be embarrassed, everyone has to start somewhere. Like I am often embarrassed to say I was obsessed with this since I was 12 years old. And since I am semi old. That was in 1982 I was like obsessed with booking airfares and travel and miles and points. I have been doing this for so long and looking at it. There are so many people in all of these facebook groups. Miles Talk also has a really good Facebook group. There are so many people in all of these facebook groups that want to be helpful to you on this. Just take it slowly. Find a time next year that you can book a trip for. Sometime to look forward to. We all need things to look forward to. I think it’s really good. Just find a time when you are comfortable and book that special vacation and start dreaming about it.
Heather: Thank you so much for being on and sharing your wisdom.