The end of credit card rewards, robbery at the Rio Las Vegas and currency exchange scams (Saturday Selection)


Guests at the Rio Las Vegas robbed while they slept, hotel currency exchange scams go beast mode and is the new Visa/Mastercard settlement the beginning of the end for credit card rewards? All that and more in this week’s Saturday Selection, our weekly round-up of interesting tidbits from around the interwebs (links to each article are embedded in the titles).

Multiple guests robbed during the night at the Rio Las Vegas

There’s been a a lot of renewed interest in the Rio Las Vegas due to a combination of it joining World of Hyatt and having rock-bottom midweek rates, making it a fine choice for a mattress run. That said, folks seem less interested in actually staying at the Rio, primarily because it’s been a run down shell of a property for years. Want torn carpets, stained furniture and the unique feeling of leaving your car in an abandoned mall parking lot? Then, I’ve got some rooms in Vegas to rent you! Hyatt has been throwing money at a long-needed renovation of the Rio, in the hopes that it can eventually become somewhere that people can feel comfortable sleeping without leaving their clothes on. The renovated suites look nice, but recent headlines aren’t helping Hyatt’s quest. Recently, there was a string of burglaries at the hotel, where thieves snuck into guests’ rooms while they slept, relieving them of the burden of the their wallets, cellphones, jewelry and credit cards. The burglaries appeared to affect multiple rooms, with one guest saying that he lost $10K overnight while he slept (quick note: if you have $10K in cash, don’t leave it ungaurded in your hotel room, unless you’re staying at the White House). Everyone’s heard the tagline, “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.” Evidently, that applies to the worldly possessions that you bring to Vegas as well.

Is this sign of the apocalypse for credit card rewards?

The US credit card industry is what some folks might call a “goldmine.” So much so, that pretty much every major international travel program is looking to cash in through becoming a transfer or co-branded partner with American credit card issuers. At least some of this is due to elevated “interchange” fees, effectively the charges that a retailer pays when you use your credit card to make a purchase. These fees are much higher in the US than in, say, Europe, and the resulting income allows US credit card companies to go to much greater lengths to incentivize consumers to use their credit cards everywhere they can. Over the last 20 or so years, there’s been a series of lawsuits and threatened congressional action, all meant to limit what Visa, Mastercard and their associated partners can charge retailers for the privilege of accepting cards (it should be noted that much of the impetus behind these efforts is via giant retailers like Walmart and Costco). Many folks in the points and miles world have watched these skirmishes with a distinct level of apprehension, the fear being that limiting interchange fees will put us on a road to destruction when it comes to our beloved rewards. After a couple decades of combat, it looks like Visa and Mastercard have finally cried a half-hearted “uncle,” and have agreed to lower their rates by 0.04 percentage points for three years, reaching an average of a 0.07% reduction over the next five years. It sounds pretty tepid, but the agreement is estimated to be worth $30 billion in total interchange fees over the next five years.

Hotels are getting more brazen with currency conversion games

When staying at an international hotel, a fairly common question to hear at checkout is some variation of, “would you like to pay in US Dollars or xyz currency?” It doesn’t take many times choosing to pay in USD to learn that you’re never, ever given a favorable exchange rate, or one that’s competitive to what your (hopefully foreign transaction fee-free) credit card will provide when paying in local currency. It’s been longstanding practice for many hotels to add an extra 2-5% for the priviledge of paying in USD, as a way to squeeze a little more juice out of the weary traveller. Recently, things seem to have gotten a bit worse…but in the other direction. On a recent stay at the Waldorf Astoria Los Cabos, I was told that, in order to process my charges in pesos, I would have to accept the property conversion rate from dollars to pesos, which was well below the official exchange rate (I’m told that posting and billing guests in USD is illegal under Mexican law). Effectively, my bill was priced at substandard exchange rate, but then I’d be charged an additional conversion penalty if I wanted to settle my bill in pesos…the local currency. Now, OMAAT details the story of a Reddit user who recently found the Aloft Hotel in Playa del Carmen doing a similar, if somewhat more brazen trick: advertising prices in dollars, then saying that they can’t process the charge in USD and adding a ~15% conversion charge to convert to MXP…even though the property is in Mexico.

Alaska wants you to pay them…to see their ads?

a woman with blonde hair and arms crossed
Umm…maybe it’s a joke?

As a Seattle resident and frequent flyer, I’m an unabashed Alaska Airlines homer. I find great value in the program and, unlike some folks, think that this year’s award chart changes and acquisition of Hawaiian Airlines will be broadly positive for consumers. However, someone in Alaska’s marketing department cooked up what to me seems like a bizarre add-on subscription service. They’re calling it “Alaska Access” and, near as I can tell, you’re paying $5 to allow the airline to send you personalized ads based on your search history and its weekly fare sales, then get one use-it-or-lose-it WiFi flight pass per month (which alone would pay for the $5, assuming that you can use it). So, Alaska is effectively charging you five bucks a month to send you fare alerts (which are usually free) and get a WiFi pass that expires in 30 days. I don’t quite get why they thought that would sound tempting…let alone tempting to enough to put a (tepid) marketing campaign behind it. Gary Leff makes a different, more sensible, pitch: “…maybe you subscribe and get 100 miles, then each month that you open their fare sale email you get another 100 miles? Or they could take a page from Delta, which offers wifi free to loyalty program members, and just trade accepting ads for wifi.

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Daniel A

Mexico is a wonderful country. But sadly scams/hustles are common place. Ask anyone that’s tried to rent a car! Not surprised to see a hotels using the forex exchange rate scam. There are ATMs in Mexico that will ONLY allow you to withdraw with their unfavorable exchange rate (often losing 5% or more) and just about every ATM tries to get you to agree to the exchange rate scam. It’s generally very affordable coming from the US, but you should budget in additional costs from things like bogus rental car insurance and heavily marked up taxi prices ordered by your hotel.

Big Ern Mckracken PBA

AlaskaAir has become too Woke for me. For years and years they were my airline of choice but the last few years service has been disappointing at best. Safety wise, I’ll leave that for others to (bash) comment on.


Hey, at least they’re not United


Let’s just take this at face value. Interchange fees, which are the source of card rewards, are going to become smaller. Of necessity, card rewards will follow. That being said, something in the game is always changing and perhaps card issuers will find alternative incentives . . . whatever those might be.


The problem with the Visa / Mastercard settlement is that Visa + MC will no longer prohibit merchants from 3% add-on CC surcharges. That would make the CC game mostly pointless aside from churning and cards where the benefits fully pay the annual fee.


I don’t think retailers were prohibited from adding a surcharge. There were some rules they had to follow.


Credit card (not debit card) surcharges are already allowed under most merchant agreements and under most state’s law. This settlement will have little impact on that.

Ike M

Please let us know when the rio will be back up and running for mobile check in.