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There are plenty of ways to maximize your travel even if it isn’t free. Today, TPG Points & Miles Editor Peter Rothbart discusses the Visa Signature Luxury Hotel Collection, and describes his recent experience with the program’s benefits.
I use points to cover hotel stays whenever I can. That said, sometimes award availability is scarce, and in many destinations, redeeming points either isn’t an option or offers poor value. Fortunately, many travel cards offer ways to make your stay more rewarding even if it isn’t free. In this post, I’ll explain how I used one of the lesser-known perks of Visa Signature cards to get some unexpected premium benefits and maximize my recent trip to Las Vegas.
About the Luxury Hotel Collection
The Visa Signature Luxury Hotel Collection features over 900 high-end properties around the world, including the Park Hyatt Paris-Vendôme, the St. Regis Princeville Resort on Kauai, the Conrad Maldives and plenty more. Similar to the Fine Hotels & Resorts program from American Express, the Luxury Hotel Collection (with its attendant benefits) is curated to offer an “unparalleled” experience in some of the world’s most prestigious properties.
Compared to its Amex counterpart (which is only available to Amex Platinum and Centurion cardholders), the Luxury Hotel Collection is pretty accessible. Anyone with a Visa Signature card is eligible to receive benefits, and you might be surprised how prevalent these cards are — there’s a decent chance you already have one and don’t know it. Here are a few of the Visa Signature cards that are popular among award travelers:
- Chase Sapphire Preferred Card
- Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve Card
- Club Carlson Premier Rewards Visa Signature Card
- Alaska Airlines Visa Signature credit card
- Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
The list goes on. If you’re wondering whether any of your cards qualify, look for the Visa Signature logo at the bottom right corner of the card’s face.
Visa Signature cardholders get an array of premium benefits for booking through the Luxury Hotel Collection:
- Best available rate guarantee
- Automatic room upgrade upon arrival (when available)
- Complimentary in-room Wi-Fi (when available)
- Complimentary daily continental breakfast
- $25 food and beverage credit (per stay)
- VIP Guest status
- 3pm checkout upon request (when available)
There are also special offers that pop up from time to time. Some of these appear on the main page of the Luxury Hotel Collection website (like the current 3rd night free offer at the Park Hyatt New York), while others are specific to certain cards, and may not show up at all online.
These benefits look good on paper, but that doesn’t always translate to good value in practice. The best available rate benefit is subject to the same inane terms and conditions typical of most best rate guarantees, and several of the benefits have qualifiers pertaining to “availability.” In short, it’s hard to assess how useful they are without testing them, which is why I decided to experiment with the Luxury Hotel Collection firsthand.
In late June, a friend and I went to Vegas to play poker and unwind. While the city boasts the highest concentration of hotel rooms in the US — many of which offer partnerships with major hotel loyalty programs — quality award options remain pretty thin. Considering how inexpensively rooms can be had during off-peak times, redeeming points in Vegas is generally a bad bet.
Thankfully, the Luxury Hotel Collection features 12 properties in Sin City, most of which are close to the Center Strip. To try out my Visa Signature benefits, I decided to book consecutive nights at three of those properties (Vdara, Aria, and The Cromwell) and see if the experience lived up to the hype. While my results were mixed, overall I was impressed.
You can book Luxury Hotel Collection stays either through the Visa Signature Hotels website or by phone with a Visa Signature agent. Because I had questions about the program benefits, I decided to book by phone, and wow did I end up regretting it. I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that booking my three hotel stays required multiple phone calls that totaled an agonizing 90 minutes, which doesn’t include the time I spent petitioning for a best rate guarantee. Please save yourself the hassle and book online.
One of my primary concerns was how Luxury Hotel Collection prices would compare to direct reservations and third-party bookings. After all, the Visa Signature benefits are a lot less shiny if you have to pay more to get them. Before booking, I checked rates on Priceline and the respective hotel websites for any discrepancies. Here’s what I found (amounts below include room rates and taxes, but not resort fees):
|Hotel||Visa Signature||Priceline||Hotel website|
Visa Signature offered a comparable rate at Vdara, a significantly lower rate at Aria and a significantly higher rate at The Cromwell. I was happy to see there was no systematic price increase through the Luxury Hotel Collection, and the higher price at Cromwell gave me a chance to try out the best rate guarantee.
You’ll need to use a valid US-issued Visa Signature card to complete a booking. All reservations, modifications and cancellations are subject to hotel policy, so you may be charged a partial deposit, the full amount or nothing at all depending on the property.
My bookings at Vdara and Aria were slow, but fairly straightforward; after I provided my United MileagePlus Explorer Card, the agent lined up the dates and hotels I requested, and emailed me a confirmation. However, my reservation at The Cromwell was complicated by two factors. First, I requested a rate match (more on that later); second, the agent I spoke with pointed out a special $100 dining credit available to anyone with a Visa Signature card issued by U.S. Bank. I happily swapped my MileagePlus Explorer out for my Club Carlson Premier Rewards Card, and with my reservations in place, I was ready to see whether the Lxury Hotel Collection lived up to its billing.
I continued to check rates up to my arrival in Las Vegas, but the price at Vdara remained steady, and the difference between Visa Signature and other booking options was too small to bother invoking a best rate guarantee.
Upon arrival, I encountered a fairly short check-in line. I could have gone to the separate VIP Guest line, but there was no need. As advertised, I was upgraded to the next highest room class. However, in Vegas that often doesn’t mean much. Instead of the Deluxe Suite with a view of Aria and the South Strip, I was upgraded to a Lakeview Suite on a higher floor, which offered a similar layout and amenities, but looked north toward Bellagio. It’s not much of an upgrade in my opinion, but I had no complaints about the room.
Like most Vegas Strip hotels, Vdara bundles high-speed Wi-Fi into its mandatory daily resort fee, so the free Wi-Fi benefit was effectively useless. However, the dining benefits paid off handsomely. Vdara doesn’t offer a continental breakfast, but the Luxury Hotel Collection benefits specify that properties can substitute another benefit. Vdara’s solution is an extra $20 food and beverage credit per person. This benefit is supposed to be granted daily to you and a guest for the duration of your stay, and the Visa Signature rep must have made my reservation for two, since I was issued an extra $40 on top of the original $25.
The front desk agent I spoke with also said that the original $25 was a resort credit (rather than a dining credit), so it could be used toward spa treatments or other hotel services. While food at Vdara is a bit overpriced, the $65 total I received in credits was enough to cover two full meals plus some snacks and drinks from the Market Café.
Finally, I was granted a 3pm checkout upon request, which came in handy when it was time to switch hotels. Note that you must ask for a late checkout; it won’t be given to you automatically.
My experience at Aria was mostly similar. Since the rate was amenable to begin with, there was no use for the best rate guarantee. Aria also includes high-speed Wi-Fi in its daily resort fee, so the free internet wasn’t worth much.
This time I was able to use the VIP Guest Line to bypass a substantial wait at check-in, saving myself about 20-30 minutes in the process. I was once again upgraded to a nominally superior City View Room, and was granted a 3pm late checkout.
Like Vdara, Aria doesn’t offer a continental breakfast. Instead, I received a breakfast dining credit for The Buffet, which seemed like a pretty great alternative. Unfortunately, while I explicitly confirmed with the front desk that the benefit was valid for two people, I ended up being charged for my guest. Once again, the $25 dining credit was actually a resort credit, so it could be applied toward other on-property amenities.
For my third stay, I decided to test the best rate guarantee. Priceline was offering an identical room for $15 less, so I filled out the claim form on the Luxury Hotel Collection website. An agent responded to me within 48 hours, and pointed out that the rate had subsequently dropped even further (below the guaranteed amount). After confirming that Visa Signature’s new price was in line with other’s available online, I went ahead and re-booked at that lower rate. So, while I didn’t really take advantage of the best rate guarantee, I was able to confirm that it works as advertised.
The Cromwell is a boutique hotel with fewer than 200 rooms, so there’s rarely a line at the front desk. My VIP Guest designation had no other tangible benefit so far as I could tell. Unfortunately, because the hotel is relatively small, there’s less flexibility for late checkout. They gave me an extra hour (until noon), but couldn’t accommodate my 3pm request. I was once again upgraded to a slightly “better” room, and Wi-Fi was already included in the resort fee.
In lieu of a continental breakfast, The Cromwell offered me a $25 room service credit. In-room dining is provided by Giada (one of the sure-bet Vegas restaurants I wrote about recently). The food is good, but expensive, so that $25 won’t get you much.
As I mentioned previously, the Visa Signature agent I spoke with had enrolled me for a special $100 food and beverage credit. However, there was subsequent confusion about whether I was eligible, and it took several phone calls and emails to clarify. I was eventually awarded the better offer, though it was never made clear whether I got it because I legitimately qualified or as compensation for my time. Either way, that $100 was much appreciated during my dinner at Giada.
While some of the Visa Signature benefits fell flat during my stays, I was surprised by how much value I was able to get out of them cumulatively. Even if I discount the extra $75 dining credit from The Cromwell and the second Buffet credit that didn’t come through at Aria, I still received over $150 worth of value between the breakfast benefit and dining credit alone — that’s like nearly getting one of my nights for free.
Most people aren’t going to hop hotels every night like I did (though, with the late checkout and VIP line access, it’s not a terrible option). That means the return on the food and beverage credit generally won’t be as high. However, since you can match any publicly available price, there’s little reason not to take advantage of these perks if you’re eligible.
The other benefits will probably come in handy sometimes. Free Wi-Fi is becoming more prevalent, but VIP Guest treatment can’t hurt, and the upgrade and late checkout are great when you don’t have elite status. My test was limited to just a few hotels in a single city, and since several of these benefits vary between properties, I bet there’s solid value to be had elsewhere.
If nothing else, I’m happy to have discovered a way to get more out of my travel rewards cards. I’m looking forward to hearing what experiences readers have had with the Luxury Hotel Collection, so please share your thoughts in the comments below!
Have you booked hotel stays with Visa Signature benefits?
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