Point Redemption Adventures: Harrah’s Total Rewards

I don’t claim to be an expert on airline and hotel programs, but I certainly know enough to be dangerous. But, when it comes to gaming loyalty programs, I am a complete newbie, and find it actually a bit exciting to learn and participate in these programs. This weekend was a fun (albeit a bit frustrating) adventure in the art of redeeming Harrah’s Total Rewards Points.

After participating in the “Great Getaways” promotion last fall, I had over 15,000 Total Rewards points sitting in my account, which are about to expire in May (points expire after 6 months). I looked up ways to redeem these points on the TR website, and I discovered two very annoying elements of the program. First, in order to redeem your points for gift cards or merchandise you actually have to go to a physical TR counter and order the item. Second, the redemption value for most items is horrible – just about a half a cent per point. Therefore, I decided the best way to use my points was to go to a casino and have a nice dinner at one of their restaurants.

We chose to have dinner at the Jack Binion’s Steakhouse at the Hammond Horseshoe Casino, in Hammond, IA. When we arrived, I asked our server to verify how many points I had and whether I could use them for our dinner. She politely took my card and came back with a piece of paper saying that I could either get $10 off or 10% off with my card. I was shocked! From what I read, these points should be worth at minimum $150, not a measly $10!! We had dinner there anyway and it was actually much better than I expected. The “cowboy ribeye” was a huge 24 oz cut and delicious, and our salad and french onion soup were both very good as well. Their wine list is quite respectable, and features a few reasonable values like a Stag’s Leap Artemis for $85.

When I got the bill, I handed my TR card and credit card to the server and asked if she could at least apply the 10% discount, since our bill was over $100. When she returned, she seemed very surprised and said, “I don’t know how it happend, but when I swiped your card, it took all of your food off! All that is left is your wine.” In the end, I was right and indeed the $70 of food was paid for with 70,000 points, or 1 point = 1 cent of redemption value. Unfortunately, I expected the wine to be comped too, but it appears that you can’t redeem points for alcohol.

Not wanted to lose my remaining 80,000 points, I found out that they have a humidor near the bar full of expensive cigars! I ended up enjoying a cigar in the lounge, and then walking out with $60 worth of Romeo & Julietta cigars gratis!

Apparently, the staff didn’t know much about the TR program, in fact our server seemed to have a lot of experience at the restaurant, but didn’t know much if anything about point redemption, our bartender was a bit more knowledgable, but said “don’t quote me on this, but I think the points are worth about 100 for a dollar, or 200 for a dollar, something like that.” He was extremely helpful and we gave him a rather generous tip, but I find it odd that the staff would be so clueless about the point redemption.

Of course, it wouldn’t be right if we hadn’t gambled a little on our visit, so we spent a couple of hours at the black jack tables. Due to a lack of competition, the casino was totally packed, and most of the tables were completely full. The lowest minimum bet we could find was either $15 or $25, which I suppose isn’t too bad, but they don’t even serve comped drinks at the table!  Chadsey and I ended up being down $50 by the end of the night, but in all it was a very fun evening that cost about $100 for a steak dinner, bottle of wine, after dinner cigar, and several hours of entertainment. You can’t beat that!

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