Many traditional hotel loyalty programs have been linking up with casino loyalty programs in recent years. This has provided them a foothold in Las Vegas, a city where mainstream brands have not had a strong presence. I think it’s been a good move because those mainstream properties that did exist tended to be in off-strip locations that don’t compare to the mega resorts bringing in all the tourists. (I had to look up the Westin Las Vegas to figure out where it is — and it’s only one block away from Caesars.)
Caesars’ Total Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest were last to the altar but managed to create a partnership that I would place near the top of the pack. It’s one notch below the Hyatt/MGM relationship for two main reasons: (1) It doesn’t include an extensive status matching scheme, and (2) there is a cap of 10 on the number of elite-qualifying nights you can earn each year by staying at Caesars properties. To its credit, there are also many non-Vegas locations that participate, including Harrah’s and Harvey’s in Lake Tahoe with great access to the Heavenly ski resort. I’m more likely to spend a week there than in the desert.
Elite Status and Tier Credits
Total Rewards has four elite tiers that you can gain access to through accumulation of Tier Credits (TC). All members start out at Gold status and will earn Platinum status with 5,000 TC, Diamond status with 15,000 TC, and Seven Stars status with 150,000 TC. Let’s assume you aren’t going to earn Seven Stars, just as you probably wouldn’t earn NOIR with M life.
Tier Credits are earned through gaming and other resort spend. You’ll get 1 TC for each $5 played at a slot machine or $10 played at a video poker machine. TC awarded for table games depends on your length of play and average bet — but a good player probably will lose less money if it’s a game of skill rather than chance.
Earning TC through resort purchases appear to be greatly accelerated as some of the resources I read suggested it had been 1 TC per $5 as early as January this year. But now Caesars is advertising the opportunity to earn 1 TC for every $1 spent at its hotels and at participating restaurants and shops.
Total Rewards members with Platinum, Diamond, and Seven Stars status (i.e., anyone but entry-level Gold members) can earn 100 TC for every stay — up to 2,500 TC per year — at a Starwood hotel after linking their SPG and Total Rewards accounts. By requiring some status up front it essentially prevents you from stumbling into status by accident through Starwood stays alone. It does help existing Total Rewards elites keep their status, but it’s an interesting sign of how far the two programs go to prevent any semblance of a status match. Fortunately the earning process for eligible members is pretty automatic and easy to set up. Once you log in to your Total Rewards account, visit the alliance page and enter your SPG number.
Finally, Total Rewards offers bonus TC when you earn a certain number in one “day,” measured from 5 AM to 4:59 AM the following morning. This has lead to what is called “Diamond in a Day” whereby if you earn 5,000 TC you can get 10,000 bonus TC and achieve the 15,000 TC necessary for Diamond status. I think the major issue here is exhaustion: one person reported success playing $10 hands at video poker for four hours, with a rather numb behind at the end of the ordeal. But we’re all used to sitting in a plane for four hours or more, right? 😉
Similar to the difference between elite qualifying miles and award miles in airline programs, Total Rewards differentiates between Tier Credits that contribute to elite status and Rewards Credits that can be used for free play and comps. Rewards Credits (RC) are earned at the same rates as TC: 1 for every $5 on slots; $10 on poker; or $1 spent on rooms, shopping, and dining. Table games are variable. You can also get 1 RC for each $1 spent on various activities like a round of golf.
Redeeming RC is more complicated and less lucrative than earning them. There are also loads of other partners include fuel rewards, a Total Rewards Visa, and an online marketplace. If I were to do the Diamond in a Day challenge, I would earn 5,000 RC plus about 1,250 more for my hotel and dining expenses during the rest of the trip. 6,250 RC is only enough for a $25 gift card — a valuation close to 0.4 cents.
If you want to stick to travel, Total Rewards partners with Hawaiian Airlines, and you can exchange 2 RC for 1 HawaiianMile. Or, not surprisingly, they partner with SPG. I did a random search for hotels in Bali. A $140 room at the Westin Nusa Dua (also available for 10,000 Starpoints) was 22,500 Rewards Credits — a valuation close to 0.6 cents.
The “best” deal is free play — assuming you want to gamble with your rewards and think you stand a chance at winning them back. You can’t cash out if you lose it all. The amount of free play is proportional to your elite status, but works out to $1 per 200 RC for Gold members up to a maximum of $1 per 125 RC for Seven Stars.
Total Rewards Elite Benefits
You can find a complete list of elite benefits on the Total Rewards website, so I will not discuss them at length. The most consequential are those that concern discounts, priority service, and upgrades. Along the way you’ll get spammed with special offers.
Everyone gets a 10-25% discount at casino gift shops and special pricing at select restaurants. Platinum members get a chance at room discounts based on play history as well as the option to transfer Rewards Credits to a friend. But the cap of 5,000 RC per year is worth at most $40 in free play to a Seven Stars member. It’s my opinion that these benefits aren’t worth much.
Diamond members who reach 15,000 TC start to get more meaningful perks like Diamond Lounges with free drinks and snacks as well as priority lines at restaurants, check-in, and other service areas. You’ll get a $100 credit for a “Celebration Dinner,” and additional benefits are awarded as you make your way to Seven Stars status.
Seven Stars members get many of the same Level 2 benefits but on every stay (and minus the airfare credit).
Get a Status Match
As I said earlier, there is no extensive status matching scheme, but there is one match available and a few other suggestions.
If you are a Seven Stars member of Total Rewards, you have achieved an invitation-only tier comparable to M life NOIR status and you probably don’t need to read this post. But you do benefit from the only status match available, from Seven Stars to SPG Gold elite. There are no matches from any SPG tier to Total Rewards, nor are any other Total Rewards tiers able to match to SPG.
It’s possible to buy your way into status with either program. Anyone can get the SPG Gold status as a benefit of the American Express Platinum Card for about $400-450. And those who apply for the semi-exclusive Founder’s Card for a net cost of $295 can get Total Rewards Diamond status.
I think the whole Total Rewards program makes more sense than M life. Rather than talking about confusing terms like “theoretical win” it’s a more straightforward “play this much and you’ll get this many points.” On the other hand, all the bonus offers and improved earn rates on resort spend suggest a hint a desperation. (Caesars has been having financial issues for a while, partly since it lacks a major presence in Macau.)
But desperation is great as long as the benefits are still worthwhile and these seem to be okay. Most of the rewards, as always, will go to those who gamble a lot. I view elite status as a way to make the trip more enjoyable by cutting through all the crowds. Blowing loads of money at the blackjack table to earn status doesn’t make sense to me. It might make sense if I could focus my expenses in certain areas, such as choosing to dine at participating restaurants and concentration my (limited) gambling at certain casinos.
To be cost-effective, the Founder’s Card is the best approach to earning status with Total Rewards, though I’m not convinced the benefits are worth it. Platinum status with M life is an easier sell because it’s included with my Gold Passport Diamond status.
That said, the “Diamond in a Day” offer is appealing for less rational reasons. Playing video poker with perfect strategy is reported to offer odds of greater than 99%. It would take $50,000 of coin-in to earn 5,000 TC, and a 1% loss would be $500. The value of the Rewards Credits would be negligible: $33 of free play if I meet my goal. My guess is I won’t play perfectly, and I haven’t yet managed to sit at a machine for longer than 30 minutes. But if I can sip free drinks while I hold a little cheat sheet in front of me the whole time, maybe I can do it and at least have a story to share.