Using FoundersCard Elite Status Benefits in Las Vegas
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Paying several hundred dollars for access to FoundersCard travel benefits may seem steep, but as TPG Contributor Peter Rothbart discovered, membership can come in handy during a trip to Vegas, helping you waive resort fees, enjoy lounge access and more.
As a poker enthusiast, I've become fond of Las Vegas for its bounty of card rooms, and have been visiting regularly over the last few years. My award travel skills have helped me get there cheaply, and have even helped me land a few good hotel deals. However, until recently I hadn't found a convenient way to avoid the annoying hotel resort fees charged by most properties on The Strip. Often topping $30 per night, those fees add up quickly and eat into my poker winnings (or compound my losses, as the case may be).
Escaping these extra charges was one reason I decided to sign up for the membership-based FoundersCard earlier this year. Along with a diverse assortment of other benefits, FoundersCard members get complimentary Diamond status with Total Rewards (the loyalty program of Caesars Entertainment), which offers waived resort fees. Since I often stay at Caesars properties like Bally's and The Cromwell, it seemed like a FoundersCard membership could save me a substantial amount in fees each year.
I had the chance to try out my newly acquired benefits during my most recent trip to Vegas in March, and while I did save on resort fees, Diamond status turned out to be valuable in a number of other ways, too.
Getting My Elite Benefits
Once I had signed up for FoundersCard, activating my elite benefits was easy. I simply logged in to my online account, scrolled through the available benefits and clicked through two screens to register; it took less than a minute. There's a bit of processing time, but you shouldn't have to wait long — my Total Rewards status was updated after a few days. If you need access to benefits more quickly, the FoundersCard staff may be able to expedite your request.
Escaping Resort Fees
I spent four nights in March at The Flamingo with a pretty good rate (under $30 per night) that I booked directly through Total Rewards a few months prior. Along with most other hotels near the center of The Strip, The Flamingo recently raised its resort fee — you'll now be charged an extra $29 plus tax ($32.48 total) per night. Ostensibly, this is to cover internet, local phone calls and access to the fitness center, but in reality you pay regardless of whether you use those services.
Resort fees would have more than doubled the cost of my room, but FoundersCard came through. The agent I spoke with at checkout noted my Total Rewards Diamond status and simply removed the charges from my folio, saving me around $130 in the process.
I'm never fond of waiting in line, but I particularly loathe it when I'm on vacation. Given that hotels on The Strip have notoriously long check-in lines, I looked forward to testing out the priority access granted to Total Rewards Diamond and Seven Stars members.
I arrived at The Flamingo in the late afternoon (prime check-in time), and the general check-in line was about 50-60 people deep. I've seen worse, and there were a reasonable number of agents working the desk, but I'm confident the wait would have been at least 30 minutes. Contrarily, there were only a half dozen people in the Diamond check-in line, and I was on the way to my room in under 10 minutes.
Priority access extends beyond check-in, as you can use Diamond status to bypass lines at restaurants, casino cages and more. I cut another 30-minute wait in the breakfast line at one of my favorite restaurants on The Strip, and saved 5-10 minutes here and there (when my room key didn't work, for example). All told, Diamond status spared me from about 90 minutes spent in line, and that's over the course of just four days.
Another nice perk is the $100 dining credit given to Diamond members annually. You can use that credit at a pretty wide selection of outlets in the Caesars empire, including some of the finer establishments like Giada and Nobu. A friend and I put my credit to good use on an 8-oz filet and a 24-oz rib-eye at Gordon Ramsay Steak.
Total Rewards Diamond status gives you access to the Diamond lounges at Caesars Palace, Paris, Planet Hollywood, The Flamingo, Harrah's and Rio. These lounges are open from 4-9 pm Sunday-Thursday, and 12-9 pm on Friday and Saturday. They're not quite on the level of Amex Centurion lounges, but they're nicer than the average airport lounge, and offer a relaxing spot to celebrate or commiserate with fellow Vegas visitors.
I checked out the Flamingo lounge as it opened on a weekday afternoon, and found a very respectable spread of drinks, pastries, fruits, cheeses and even a few hot dishes. The space itself was on the small side, but perfectly comfortable. There was a line to get in (and of course Diamond status won't help you there), so I advise either showing up a few minutes early or waiting for the opening rush to subside.
My friend and I also visited the lounge at Caesars Palace one evening before heading to a show. The decor was a bit fresher there, and while the hot food had already been carted off, there were plenty of appetizing snacks and desserts to sample as we took in some March Madness. Drinks are also complimentary, and seem to be poured liberally (like the nearly half-full glass of Macallan 12 that was presented to me at the bar).
Other Total Rewards Benefits
There are other published perks, such as 15% off the best advertised rate on rooms and suites, and a modest discount at restautants in Caesars properties. However, I think one of the most valuable benefits of Diamond status is the general uptick in the quality of service you receive.
For example, my friend brought leftovers back to his room at Caesars Palace, only to discover that his refrigerator was full of snacks for sale. I was able to call the front desk and request a mini-fridge be sent up at no charge, even though it wasn't my room (or even my hotel). While there are no guarantees that every request will be met, I do get the sense that Caesars gives special consideration to its elite members, and that level of accommodation means a lot to me.
Other Elite Status
FoundersCard offers a number of elite benefits beyond Total Rewards. Members receive complimentary Hilton HHonors Gold status, which is pretty valuable for mid-tier hotel status. The registration process is similar, so signing up takes minimal effort. That said, you can get Gold status as a standard benefit on the Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve Card and the Hilton Honors Surpass Card from American Express. Those cards also offer a path to Diamond status and they have much lower annual fees, so FoundersCard isn't the best option if Hilton status is your primary interest.
Other complimentary elite benefits include Silver status in the Cathay Pacific Marco Polo Club (which qualifies you for Oneworld Ruby status) and status with several rental car agencies (such as Hertz and Avis). You can also get shortcuts to low-level status with Virgin American and Virgin Atlantic. FoundersCard updates its benefits routinely, so other opportunities may appear. For example, a free American Airlines status challenge was available to members as recently as last year.
After my most recent trip to Las Vegas, I feel good about my decision to enroll in FoundersCard. While some of the benefits I received are hard to quantify, I'll come out ahead by virtue of the waived resort fees alone. That means I can essentially freeroll perks like Hilton HHonors Gold status, discounts with Apple and Namecheap, and FoundersCard hotel benefits.
TPG readers can apply for FoundersCard at a preferred annual rate of $395, which also includes a waived initiation fee (normally $95). That discounted rate is offered for the lifetime of your account, so the optimal value isn't limited to your first year.
Of course, not everyone is going to get the same value out of a membership. If I didn't routinely spend time at Caesars properties, I'm not sure I would still find it worthwhile. That said, there are tons of other benefits that are probably useful to others even though they don't interest me personally. Ultimately, I think FoundersCard is worth a look to see whether it suits your needs.