After my stay in Salt Lake City, I headed not home, but on to Las Vegas. It seems like every time I head out west, whether to Salt Lake, Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles or elsewhere, I somehow find a way to convince myself that spending a few days in Vegas would actually be cheaper than directly flying home.
That was the case this time around, too. I couldn’t lock down a good award flight home from Salt Lake City, but I could easily book a short hop to Vegas on Southwest for about $40. I ended up actually booking the fare using less than 3,000 Southwest miles, transferred into their Rapid Rewards program from my Ultimate Rewards account. Because Southwest prices their award flights at a fixed rate when compared with cash prices, expensive or cheap cash prices mean more or less points for the same seat.
I found a fairly affordable cash flight home on US Air a few days later. It was a redeye, but I actually prefer that on a Vegas trip, given that your options when heading back to the east coast are either to leave pretty early in the morning and stay a night without getting to enjoy another day or to have a full day on the ground and not get much sleep on the flight home.
I managed to find a different Southwest flight from Jacksonville out to Las Vegas so that my girlfriend could join me, arriving about two hours after I did. In the meantime, I stopped at my favorite place in Las Vegas – The Centurion Lounge – and enjoyed a free, healthy lunch before meeting her at her gate.
Booking the Stay
I booked this trip on Christmas evening and called in to make my reservation. I have Mlife Platinum status with MGM Resorts thanks to a status match from Hyatt. The benefits of Platinum status typically make a stay in Vegas far more enjoyable, with the ability to skip taxi and buffet lines, turndown service and room upgrades. (Want to learn more about how to get this high roller status? Check out Chapter 26 of PointsAway: 2015 Edition!)
I was thrilled when the phone agent let me know she could confirm me into an Executive Suite at booking since I called in. Normally, I’d been led to believe any Platinum level upgrades would only be offered at check-in. Unfortunately, this turned out to be the case, after all.
The Check-In Surprise
We arrived at the MGM Grand late in the afternoon and the check-in attendant informed me she had us booked for a Grand King – a nice name for standard – room. My booking receipt clearly stated I should have the Executive Suite the phone agent had mentioned several months prior, and so I tried to negotiate my way back into the suite I’d expected. She insisted they’d all been given away for the day, and that upgrades aren’t actually guaranteed. She moved us to one of MGM’s “StayWell” rooms instead.
MGM has hyped its StayWell rooms since their debut a few years ago and, now suffering a sinus infection at full blast, I was hopeful it would prove beneficial. There’s a special air filtration unit in the room, Vitamin C-infused showerheads, a special dimming wake/sleep light by the bedside meant to simulate sunsets and sunrises and other features.
All of this makes for good copy on a webpage or in a brochure, but in reality, it felt like a pretty clear gimmick. I’ve stayed in Grand King rooms at MGM many times in the past, and this was clearly nothing more. The air didn’t seem any fresher than the oxygen-infused environment found elsewhere in the hotel. The showerhead’s vitamin sprayer didn’t do anything to cure my ills. The sleep/wake light was difficult to operate. The scent infusion matching located at the desk appeared to have no actual effect.
In fact, the only actual distinguishing feature I appreciated about the room was that fruit-infused water was available from a few dispensers by the elevator on our floor for the weekend, which quickly ran dry and weren’t replenished.
Perhaps that’s unfair: residing on the StayWell floor also provided us with free access to the MGM Grand Spa, which normally charges $25 per day for other guests. The spa includes gender-separated areas with steam rooms, saunas, hot tubs and showers. We were able to take advantage of the spa one morning and it did help to alleviate some of the sinus issues I was dealing with. The showers were also really nice, easily outclassing the one found in our room.
Making It Right
It’s rare for me to get angry about room issues when traveling; I’m normally pretty easygoing. That said, I’d booked the trip as a present and felt like my girlfriend had been slighted more than me when the trip I’d booked months before turned out to be less luxurious than I’d been led to believe.
I sent an email to the hotel manager explaining the situation and my disappointment and, to MGM’s credit, he quickly apologized, explained that upgrades are always subject to availability at check-in and offered to waive the resort fees for our stay. That resulted in a savings of about $140; given that we were only paying about $40 per night prior to resort fees thanks to my discounted rate, he almost cut the cost of our stay in half.
This certainly helped to make up for the misunderstanding. I was honestly surprised I was offered the upgrade in the first place. My gambling patterns certainly don’t justify much in the way of freebies, and even Mlife Platinum status won’t get you much more than the published benefits if you don’t put up high enough stakes at the tables. All in all, it was hard to not feel like we came out a bit ahead saving enough for a couple nice meals given how little time we actually spent in the room.
I love Vegas, but this was a tough trip. I was really sick the whole time with the worst sinus infection I’ve had in years; that’s saying something, since I get one every few months, it feels like. The room downgrade was frustrating, and the hope that maybe the shift to a StayWell room would improve the situation was a bust. That said, I still like staying at MGM, get access to exceptional rates, earn a pile of Hyatt points on my stays there and was pleased that the hotel manager did what he could to set things straight. I’d stay at MGM Grand again, and definitely continue to do business with MGM Resorts overall.
That said, I can’t think of anyone who would benefit from the supposed amenities found on the StayWell level, given the extra charge associated with it. You’re much better off simply reserving a Grand King room and buying a day pass to the spa if you’d like rather than spending much more for a StayWell room that includes access. Here’s to hoping you’re dealt a better hand on your next Vegas trip than I was this time!