Now that Hyatt Gold Passport elite members can receive matching status and benefits with M life, the rewards program for MGM Resorts, I thought it would be interesting to learn more about how it actually works. First, casino rewards generally confuse the hell out of me, so it’s a fun challenge. Second, it’s still a loyalty program! What am I missing out on? Third, I plan to spend a lot of money at their resorts due to a bachelor party and another trip coming up, so I want to know if that loyalty is worthwhile.
Background on M life
Most casino programs are extremely complicated. It doesn’t help that the earnings and redemption options are poorly publicized or that the terms and conditions are covered with layers of fine print. MGM’s own T&Cs stretch on for pages and are contained in collapsible tabs that don’t allow easy searching. I had a difficult time figuring out what an “M life-eligible stay” was until I re-read the FAQs provided by Hyatt for their new partnership. They include:
- Stays booked through M life (either online or over the phone).
- Stays booked through the hotel’s own web site.
- Other stays where you still make payment directly to the hotel.
- Stays booked through Hyatt.com or through a Hyatt Global Contact Center.
I’ve learned in the past week that booking through M life can earn you a good 10-20% discount over the lowest rate on the hotel’s own website. I saved several hundred dollars on three rooms for my bachelor party, and I just opened a fresh account online with no prior activity! There’s also a thread on FlyerTalk with some particularly good discounts and resort credits through the end of July.
You can’t book more than one room online, but it’s easy enough to go through the process again or get the discount extended if you book over the phone. That’s another thing: book online and you pay a one night’s deposit (still refundable), but using the phone avoids the deposit requirement.
Earning Tier Points with Hyatt and M life
You will earn 5 Gold Passport points per dollar spent at participating MGM Resorts (essentially the 12 on the Las Vegas Strip), including any elite bonus for Gold Passport Platinum or Diamond status. You also earn 25 Tier Points per dollar in M life. You will earn Gold Passport stay and night credit only for your own room, though you still earn Gold Passport and M life points for all rooms in your reservation.
This is much like how you earn stay and night credit when staying at a Hyatt hotel. However, there’s one catch. Many people (including me) have commented that you can get cheap mattress runs by staying at some of the less expensive MGM Resorts. This is true, but they will not count for a Hyatt Diamond trial. Qualifying nights for a Diamond trial must be completed at a Hyatt hotel.
Over the two upcoming stays, I expect to spend about $3,000. This will be worth 19,500 Gold Passport points including my 30% Diamond elite bonus and also 75,000 M life tier points. That’s enough tier points right there to earn M life Gold status, although my Gold Passport Diamond status will be matched to M life Platinum (200,000 tier points).
Since I touched on elite status, it’s worth noting the window for accumulating tier points and benefitting from elite status is different with M life than with many traditional hotel programs. Hyatt Gold Passport counts the number of nights or stays you accumulate between January 1 and December 31 in 2013 (for example). Your status is then valid until February 28 of 2015 — this includes the remainder of 2013, all of 2014, and a short period at the beginning of 2015.
M life doesn’t count nights or stays. That’s what tier points are for. The terms and conditions explain that the earning period is from October 1 through September 31. Your status is then valid for the remainder of the current earning period and all of the next earning period. So if you earned 75,000 tier points by September 1 in 2013, you would have Gold status through September 30, 2014. If you earned all 75,000 tier points on or after October 1, 2013, then you would keep your status through September 30, 2015.
I’m not sure how this difference in calendars will affect the status match program. My guess is that if you have a particular M life status in March, the corresponding Gold Passport status will carry over to February the next year. If you have a particular Gold Passport status in October, the corresponding M life status will carry over to September the next year.
Tier Points vs. Base Points vs. Comps
Tier points are how M life keeps track of status, but base points are what determine FreePlay and Express Comps. As far as I can tell, you don’t earn any base points from hotels, restaurants, or other non-gaming purchases. Base points are only earned by gambling. But these base points do contribute to your tier points. For every 1 base point, you get 10 tier points. You also earn 1 cent in Express Comps and 1 cent in FreePlay.
So if you plan to set foot on the casino floor at all, you’d want to know how to earn the most base points, but this is where things get complicated. The way you earn points is sometimes based on complex mathematical formulas. Venetian and Palazzo’s Grazie program uses a calculation called “theoretical win,” which is another way of saying “theoretical loss.” Except these numbers aren’t published on the side of every machine, so it’s not the most predictable system. (M life itself does the best job I’ve seen so far of comparing all these different casino rewards programs.)
Fortunately, the number of base points you earn with M life is not quite so opaque as Grazie, even if it remains complicated: Expect to earn 1 base point for every $3 gambled on slot machines or every $10 gambled on video poker. Base points awarded for table games are determined by the pit boss based on how long you gamble and your betting pattern, but one number I’ve heard is 300 base points per hour when betting $25 a hand at blackjack. Because blackjack has some of the worst odds for a casino, I imagine other table games pay even higher rewards.
Your M life elite status also affects the base points earned. You get a 10% bonus for Pearl status, 20% bonus for Gold, 30% bonus for Platinum, and 40% bonus for NOIR (invitation only, or is it?). As a Gold Passport Diamond member, I will be matched to M life platinum and get a 30% bonus. So for every $3 I bet on a slot machine, I will earn 1.3 cents in Express Comps and 1.3 cents in FreePlay.
Practical Example of Earning Points
Let’s assume I gamble $300 on a slot machine. It doesn’t really mean I lose $300, just that I bet a total of $300 over time. Assuming a 10% average loss, I still walk away with $270. With $300 coin-in, I would earn 100 base points plus an additional 30 base points for my Platinum elite bonus. Those 130 base points are worth 1,300 tier points, $1.30 in FreePlay, and $1.30 in Express Comps. You can accumulate up to $5,000 in Express Comps for things like retail purchases, meals, and show tickets. NOIR members can accumulate up to $10,000 in Express Comps.
So lets ramp this up. If I gamble $3,000 every day during a three-day trip, I will have a total of $9,000 coin-in. Assuming a loss of 10%, I still walk away with $8,100 — I’ve only lost $900 out-of-pocket for all money I’ve cycled through the machine. (Those of you who do manufactured spend should understand the concept pretty well.) Keep in mind this is gambling. I’m talking about averages only, and it’s possible to lose all your money or even walk away with a win.
For the $9,000 total coin-in, losing an estimated $900, I would earn:
- 3,300 base points
- 33,000 tier points
- $39 in FreePlay
- $39 in Express Comps
I haven’t made my money back with comps, nor would I expect to since this is a casino. But maybe I’ve entertained myself for several hours on a penny slot machine, had a few free drinks, and gotten myself significantly closer to the next elite tier (not relevant here because I’m already Platinum, but maybe this is helpful for the rest of you). Is that enough for you travel hackers?
I did get $78 in credits, but only the $39 in Express Comps can be cashed out in any meaningful way. FreePlay just counts against any money I gamble in the future, so it’s worthless unless I actually win something on those bets. If I assume a 10% loss again, then maybe I’ll get $35 in winnings that can be cashed out. That’s $74 back against the $900 I lost. Not a great deal.
Note: Primary comps are separate from Express Comps and are provided at the discretion of the casino management. They include traditional freebies like rooms, shows, and meals. You can’t determine your primary comps without talking to a casino representative, whereas Express Comps are tied to your M life card so you can redeem them at your leisure. Sometimes you will see special offers in your M life account profile online. Watch for both general offers (any MGM Resort) and property-specific offers.
I hope I’ve explained the program a little better. For those who already have Gold Passport Diamond status and a match to M life Platinum status, I’m not sure that earning tier points by gambling is really worthwhile. You would need to gamble (and lose) quite a bit to attract an invitation to NOIR status. The rumor I’ve heard is 2,000,000 tier points.
Those of you who have no status or something in between might be tempted. If you visit Las Vegas often enough, status could be helpful with upgrades and priority in the queues, and I’ve shown how much you would need to gamble and expect to lose to earn the necessary tier points. For example, starting from zero to earn all 200,000 tier points would require betting $60,000 on a slot machine — and a loss of $6,000 if it pays out at 90%. Or you could just spend $8,000 on hotel and room charges.
Clearly, you shouldn’t gamble to win money unless you’re some MIT poker genius. Or you pick something better than a slot machine. They have the worst odds in the house, but they’re mindless fun and I’m easily amused. Maybe some day I’ll learn to play cards better.