Sunday, June 1, 2014

Low-Rolling Winning in Vegas for Not Quite Free: Part 1

Our first trip without the kidz in 2 years - Memorial Day Weekend in Vegas.

A lot has happened since my last blog post: most significantly, relocating to San Diego.  And, of slightly lesser significance, I obtained 2 Chase Southwest credit cards in order to get a Companion Pass, which allows one other designated person to travel with me anytime I travel on Southwest, even on a rapid reward ticket. The Sister in Law and her husband racked up a bunch of credits with us for bringing their family out for their early summer vacation and staying here, and offering to keep our kids with her while we do some mostly-childlike stuff for grownups.


The Flight

With the companion pass we were able to get a round-trip flight from San Diego to Las Vegas for 12,837 points (equivalent to $183.38 using the 70:1 exchange rate), plus $5 TSA charge, and a second companion ticket for only the $5 TSA charge.  At that price it isn't really worth driving, especially on a heavy-traffic holiday weekend.

The flight was late, as seems to be Southwest custom.  Nancy bought a hamburger at the airport and I bought the world's most expensive yogurt cup for $6.  The last Friday Night flight from San Diego to Las Vegas was the usual party bus: a bachelor party right behind us, a bachelorette party a few rows behind them, everyone getting in the zone.  Used my Southwest coupons for the kickoff special: Bailey's and coffee, to get the buzz going while needing desperately to not fall asleep.

Ground Transportation

Arrived at McCarran airport on time, around 11pm, and hobbled to the rental car terminal as fast as possible, given my foot still slightly sore from a recent flareup of gout, the Disease of Kings, in fact, as it was once known, or the disease of Fat Old People as it might be known today.

Getting to the rental car terminal, we observed this at the Thrifty/Dollar counter:
(This actually wasn't my picture, it is posted on yelp.  But it looked the same.)
Each person waiting will spend about 10 minutes at the desk giving a reservation number, being upsold for a higher level car, a tank of gas they won't use, and all kinds of bizarre insurance products they don't understand, and giving a credit card number.  For 30 groups being handled by 4 clerks, that's about a 60 minute wait, maybe more.

I  love seeing this line.  Why?  Because I am a Thrifty BlueChip member so I can walk right past it to the garage and get a car from the Blue Chip booth instead, meanwhile getting a bargain basement rental rate and skipping the upselling.  (The Dollar Express club is the same thing.  There is no difference between Dollar and Thrifty; I'm not sure why they are separate brands.)   All of my paperwork, drivers license, and credit card information are taken care of on the website before booking my reservation.  Instead of waiting an hour,  I waited about 30 seconds for the clerk to finish a conversation.  I never quite understood why other people don't do this, but they don't, even people I know who are pretty savvy frequent travelers.  Whatever.  Their loss is my gain.

As a bonus, when I got downstairs to the booth, apparently Thrifty was running out of sedans.  Seeing that it was just two of us, the clerk offered us a no-cost upgrade to a Mustang convertible, which we gladly accepted, given the unseasonably mild weather forecast for the weekend.

We chose one of 5 mustangs, a grey one.  Total rental cost was $67, of which $31 was taxes, for our 3-day rental.  Renting at Vegas has a lot of taxes, but the total is still pretty cheap, probably due in part to the fact that a lot of the cost (facility, shuttle service, etc) that would be borne by the rental car company in other places is borne by the airport in Las Vegas.  It's a loss leader; they make their profit on the gas and insurance.

I have noticed that Thrifty cars seem to have more miles than they used to.  I suspect that since Hertz bought Dollar/Thrifty Group a couple years ago, Hertz gives Dollar and Thrifty their older cars after Hertz is done with them.  I don't really care as long as they run fine, and I'd gladly take a Mustang convertible with 50k miles if it is half the rental rate of a Dodge Avenger with 25k miles.

We put down the ragtop and exited the rental car garage, and realized it was raining, so we put the top back up and continued to our first stop.

South Point

From the airport, we headed down to the South Point but were held up at a DUI checkpoint on South Las Vegas Blvd.  After our civil rights were unceremoniously encroached upon, we made it to the South Point just as their 12:30 free comedy show, The Dirty at 12:30, was starting.  This is supposedly a showcase where a lot of well-known comics come by.  We watched for about 10 minutes and it was terrible.  I love dirty jokes as much as the next guy, maybe more, as long as they are jokes.  These comics were just dirty and seemed to leave out the funny part.  Although, maybe I was reading too much into the title of the show, which does not in fact claim that humor is involved.

I was starving, having only eaten yogurt and granola for dinner, so we walked over to the Coronado Cafe in the South Point.  Again, a long line of people outside, as they have some well-known late night specials.  Instead of waiting in line, we seated ourselves immediately at the counter, as another couple left.  Enjoyed a complete and well-balanced breakfast of 2 eggs, sausage, toast, and hash browns for $3.95, plus an iced tea for $2.95.  It was delicious.  My stomach was very happy, and my foot would just have to deal.  With tax and tip it set me back around $10.  Nancy had dinner earlier and just enjoyed her glass of water.

Hyatt House

By this time it was 2 am and rain had stopped, so we put down the top.  After stopping at CVS for supplies, we got to our hotel, the Hyatt House near the airport, around 2 am.  I had called ahead and let them know we would be so late.  We stayed there because we had more points than cash and at 8000 points per night, it was a good deal for a holiday weekend.  Also they don't add any taxes or resort fees, and included breakfast, so it was in fact a bona fide free room.  

They were running their end-of-business-day audit when we arrived, so we had to wait about 10 minutes to check in.  I was offered and gladly accepted a chocolate chip cookie (retail price $4, although I would never pay that) for my inconvenience.  It was big and lasted me a couple of days.

Room was perfectly nice, the standard Hyatt place king room with a comfortable bed and large sofa, and a wet bar and refrigerator, with free Internet access.  If you google a Hyatt place king room, I'm sure you will find hundreds of pictures of rooms that looked identical to ours.

Hit the hay.

Continue to Day 2

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