How AMEX & The $20 Trick Saved Us $2,795 in Vegas

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The following is a guest post from “PAS,” one of my readers who graduated my Ultimate Military Credit Cards Course.

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Last month my military spouse and I enjoyed a relaxing, kid-free Monday through Friday in Vegas.

We incorporated strategies we’ve learned here at Military Money Manual toward maximizing our AMEX SCRA military benefits, directly and indirectly. We also used some other tactics I will describe below. It worked out pretty good!

This is our second consecutive year executing this strategy, and after refining it, we’d like to share it with you.

Step 1: Decide to take a week’ leave and treat your spouse to a stay at Ceasars Palace in Las Vegas. They deserve it.

Step 2: (optional) Find a military sponsored sleep-away camp for your kids, and arrange for friends to drop-off and/or pickup.

In our area, the Child & Youth program runs two sleep-away camps a year. As soon as our three kids aged into them, we started planning kid-free get-aways in conjunction with camp week, and will continue to do so until I separate/the kids age out (<11x years).

Check with your Child & Youth Program/ Child & Youth Services office and be the first in line to register, then schedule ordinary leave over the same period. “The average cost of a week-long, ACA-accredited overnight camp is $768:” SAVED $2,304, THANKS DoD.

Get Those Platinum Cards!

Gradually build up your AMEX Platinum stable using this strategy here, to where it will cover all your Uber rides. We’re at 5 separate AMEX Platinum accounts right now (credit scores 800+ and climbing); that’s $75/mo. in Uber Cash that we ordinarily use for an big Uber Eats delivery once a month.

Status Match Ceasar's Diamond to Hilton Diamond

Status-match to Caesar’s Diamond: obtain either Hilton Diamond or Marriott Gold status with either the AMEX Hilton Honors Aspire or the AMEX Marriot Bonvoy, both excellent cards.

Status match to Wyndham Diamond from either Hilton Diamond or Marriott Gold status, then from Wyndham Diamond to Caesar’s Diamond Status for both you and your spouse.

Don’t pay $39/night resort fee when booking at caesers.com, because you’re now a Diamond member. SAVED $156 ($39×4 nights), THANKS AMEX!

Validate your active duty status with id.me for a stacking 10% (or more) off at Caesers.com military discount.

Book the Cheapest Caesar's Palace Room

Book the very cheapest room you can at caesers.com, as soon as you can, for the maximum potential vacation period, and cancel/rebook as sales (e.g. Memorial Day) occur.

This is not the room you will keep (keep reading)! I cancelled and rebooked several times. Our original reservation, made at D-60, was for five nights (M-F), averaging of $114.66/night, in the Forum tower.

Our final reservation, made during the Memorial Day sale, after the id.me 10% off, was four nights (M-R), at an average of $69.14/night.

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After (or before) you book, keep an eye out for AMEX card offers on Caesars properties – I spotted a $40 off $200 offer from AMEX a week before our trip, registered for it, then called the hotel to make a $200 pre-payment on our reservation, in order to trigger the credit.

If our room hadn’t been so cheap, we could have repeated this offer on my spouse’s card. SAVED $40

PHL to LAS Centurion Lounges

We booked 2 American Airlines (AA) round trip flights for ~$1000 out of PHL.

We chose not to use these VGCs for this particular booking, but will be using them in lieu of cash for another trip.

It was June, so we stopped at a brick & mortar Saks Fifth Avenue en route to PHL to get our biannual $250 worth of $50 Saks Fifth Avenue gift cards with our AMEX Platinum cards, 5x transactions, before the benefit reset on 01JUL. SAVED $250

We ate an early dinner with drinks for two at PHL Centurion Lounge on way out. Pls. tip your bartender and the table staff. SAVED ~$100, thanks AMEX!

We arrived at LAS and took an Uber to Caesar’s. We eventually used our entire $75 Uber credit for the month in Vegas; back & forth from airport, out to Grand Canyon Tour Company by 0730 so we didn’t have to catch a 0600 Bellagio shuttle, from Caesar’s down to to Welcome to Las Vegas sign for pics and a slow walk back, and back & forth from Fremont Street. SAVED $75

We picked up our two Diamond Total Rewards cards at the Total Rewards desk before check-in. This must be done in-person. Request your two (each) show vouchers at the desk while you’re there, they’re good for 72x hours, pickup tickets directly at shows’ box offices. SAVED ~$200, THANKS AMEX! 

Using the “$20 Trick” to Get a Free Room Upgrade at Ceasars Palace

I used the now-famous ‘$20 trick’ to get a room upgrade at Caesars Palace.

It was a little harder than last year, maybe because the hotel was sold out for that weekend. There is a special “VIP registration” desk Diamond members can use for check-in, at the side entrance.

I instead used the Platinum line at the main check-in, because it was open. The desk clerk originally told me no upgrades were available in the Augustus tower with a fountain view (my ask), but after a little grimacing/stalling on my part, and while the $40 (2x $20s) she set to the side was still visible, she then ‘found’ a room.

Caesar’s has an abundance of nice rooms to put you in during the week before the high-rollers come in on Friday, so it’s in both their and your best interests to upgrade you, because you’re more likely to come back – a win-win!

We ended up upgraded from the cheapest room in the back of Caesar’s to a high-floor Augustus Premium room overlooking the Bellagio fountains – the non-smoking version of our room was indeed sold out during our stay (!), and the smoking room was an average of $210/night before taxes and after all available discounts: SAVED $439.44 {[($840 x .9) – 276.56] – $40}, thanks front desk clerk!

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You’ll receive an annual $100 ‘Celebration Dinner’ credit as a Diamond member – the benefit resets 01FEB.

We did a dinner and a breakfast Bacchanal Buffet back to back to maximize value. This was poor idea because we were still stuffed at a late breakfast after the previous afternoon’s dinner.

Brunch buffet is the best value; everything for dinner minus some seafood and wagyu beef, and comes in right around $100 for two.

You don’t wait in the long line because you’re Diamond; just like at Starbucks and elsewhere on the Caesar’s property, there’s a special line (pictured below, at right) for you. Soft drinks and juices are free, pls. don’t forget to tip your server. SAVED $200, THANKS AMEX!

For $10/person (you and two guests), get all you can drink/eat at Laurel Lounge (the Diamond members’ lounge). Beats $17 import drafts and $22 cocktails anywhere else on the Caesar’s property. We found out about this benefit too late but will definitely use it next time.

Diamond members receive a complimentary 1400 late checkout – I requested a 1600 checkout  (ordinarily for Seven Stars members only) from our Diamond ‘Casino Host,’ but the hotel was ‘at capacity.’

Check your luggage with the bellhop (tip $5 + $1/bag) after checkout for another full day in Vegas. Keep a room key for fitness center (free bottles of water) and/or pool access.

Ordinarily a late checkout will cost you ½ the daily room rate, and the Friday we checked out, the Augustus Premium room rate was $468.75. SAVED $234.38, THANKS AMEX!

Ate a late dinner with drinks at LAS Centurion lounge on way back; took a red-eye home, in order to get that last full (Fri)day, landed early Saturday morning at PHL and went home to three happy campers. SAVED $100, THANKS AMEX!

Note that we did not use any AMEX Membership Rewards points for this trip –  we are redeeming all AMEX MR points we’ve earned, past and future, into our fee-free Schwab One account(s) at the 1.25x multiplier, through “Invest with Rewards” – goes right into Schwab’s SWVXX fund and we forget about it.

Thanks “PAS” for a great trip report to Las Vegas!

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