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Harrah’s Total Rewards
One Card, 30 + Casinos, Countless Benefits
by Jeffrey Compton

The numbers of Total Rewards III, the third generation of Harrah’s customer loyalty programs, are simply overwhelming. They are either very small (as in one card) or extremely large (30+ casinos, 40 million members plus a menu of benefits too numerous to count!). It boggles the mind!

Or to put it another way, when you insert your Total Rewards card into your favorite machine at your favorite (or most conveniently located) Harrah’s-operated casino, you are not only earning Reward Credits that can be spent on local rooms, meals, entertainment, gifts or special events at that casino, but at six casinos in Las Vegas (three of which, including the legendary Caesars Palace, are located on the corner of Las Vegas Boulevard & Flamingo Road), four casinos in Atlantic City, three in Tunica (Grand, Sheraton and Horseshoe), two casinos in Lake Tahoe, not to mention casinos in Kansas City, or San Diego or Reno!

A Little History
With the explosion of players clubs in the late 1990s, Harrah’s Entertainment was the first to realize the potential of multi-casino benefits. They were the first multi-casino club company to standardize the look of all their players club cards at their various properties. And for a long time they were the only company that encouraged members from other Harrah’s properties to show their existing Harrah’s Card when signing up for a card at a Harrah’s they were visiting for the first time by offering either a two-for-one buffet or free tickets to the in-house show.

In January 2000, Harrah’s debuted Total Rewards¬, introducing the Platinum and Diamond tiers—the first national casino players club with a joint database we had the joint database in 1997. For the first time, Total Rewards members were able to earn rewards at one Harrah’s and within limitations, redeem them at any other. Several years later, Total Reward II debuted, introducing a point system (called Reward Credits) that took much of the mystery out of both the earning and especially the redemption process.

After you insert your Harrah’s Total Rewards card into the card reader, you earn one (Tier) Reward Credit for every $5 coin-in on slots and $10 coin-in on video poker. Besides being used for redemption, Tier Credits determine your overall card status (see below).

Plus, as you play, you also earn Bonus Reward Credits which are based on a variety of factors including which Harrah’s property you are playing at, what game you play, how much money you are playing, and even how long you have played on that day or trip. Based on past player experience, the majority of Reward Credits earned come through as bonus credits—and when it is time to redeem your Reward Credits, it does not matter how you got your points (tier or bonus) but what the total number of credits are in your account. (Note: Harrah’s website www.harrahs.com (specifically totalrewards.com) is an excellent tool in keeping track of your unredeemed credits as well as how many overall tier credits you have earned and how many more you need to go to the next level. They also feature complete redemption menus for all the properties.)

What’s New with Total Rewards
The primary news from the third generation of Total Rewards is the addition of several casinos that Harrah’s acquired through its recent purchases of Caesars Entertainment and Jack Binion’s three-casino Horseshoe empire. Although some industry experts may question the different management styles of Harrah’s vs. Caesars vs. Horseshoe—almost all agree that geographically, the property’s inventories complement each other very well. Harrah’s already has casinos throughout the United States, but they did not have a large multi-property presence on the Strip, and for whatever reason they have never been a big hit (comparably) in the South. Conversely, Caesars Entertainment had the second largest inventory on the Strip, and both they and the Horseshoe have excellent properties in Mississippi and Louisiana. (Note: Several properties have been sold off due to the merger including the Las Vegas, Reno and Atlantic City Hilton, as well as the Grand Casino Gulfport. Also, Binion’s in downtown Las Vegas was not part of the Horseshoe acquisition.)

This expansion creates advantages for both Harrah’s and its Total Rewards members. Now, no matter where you earn your Reward Credits (Las Vegas, Atlantic City, Kansas City or Cherokee North Carolina), they are valid at over 30 casinos around the county—including destination resorts like Las Vegas and Lake Tahoe. More importantly, Reward Credits can be redeemed at casinos that are very different in look and feel from the traditional Harrah’s property. As one Total Rewards member put it, “While Harrah’s does a wonderful job at many things, especially customer service, they do not create the fantasies you find at Caesars Palace, or Paris, or the down-home atmosphere of the Horseshoe—so now we get the best of all.”

And what’s in it for Harrah’s? Try a 40-million person database, or approximately 75 percent of all United States gamblers. Among all the big casino companies, Harrah’s is the master of database management (even before the mergers) so one can only imagine what they will be able to do with all their new friends.

Connection Club vs. Total Rewards
According to David Norton, senior vice president Relationship Marketing, all Caesars Connection Club accounts were carefully converted to Total Rewards over the past several months on a casino-by-casino basis. Connection Club comp dollars became Reward Credits based on a “one Connection Club Comp Dollar equals 100 Reward Credits” formula. Because we did our conversions property by property, members who earned the Connection Club Comp Dollars at different Caesars Entertainment properties did not receive them all at once, but in different bundles based on their play. For example, all points earned at Paris converted in January, while those earned at Caesars Palace converted in February.”

As of now, the Strip properties formerly owned by Caesars Entertainment, including Caesars Palace, will no longer be offering same-day cashback, but like the Rio and Harrah’s, will mail players deferred cash vouchers based on their last trip. Any unclaimed Connection Club cashback can be redeemed via Total Rewards kiosks, as long as it was earned within the same jurisdiction (Las Vegas, Mississippi). How long it will be available can also vary based on market.

Does that mean the end of same-day cashback at these properties—which for many years was a major come-on to join their clubs? If Harrah’s had its way, it would be, but the company did not become the major industry player by killing popular benefits and driving away the existing player base. Due to competition, Total Rewards Players in Iowa and Missouri are now offered same-day cashback, plus according to Norton, the company will not change the same-day cashback structure currently offered at the three Horseshoe properties.

Banked Vs. Discretionary
Another area of the conversation where Harrah’s appears to be treading very carefully is the handling of discretionary comps at their newly acquired properties. For the most part, Total Rewards is an open “bank” system—with the great majority of the benefits coming through Reward Credit redemption. Players know how many Reward Credits they have and according to most members, Harrah’s hosts avoid writing an extra discretionary comp unless a member had totally depleted their Reward Credit account. At Caesars and Horseshoe however, the total opposite is true. Especially at the higher levels, Caesars/Horseshoe players tended to redeem all their points for immediate cash, and then got their room/meal/entertainment freebies through their hosts. To put it bluntly, the name Caesars and Horseshoe are synonymous with the host process.

According to Norton, Harrah’s is very aware of this situation and have no interest in trying to drastically changing customer habits (especially the habit of visiting a Caesars Entertainment or Horseshoe property). So at those casinos a higher percentage of the customers’ total benefit package will be delivered via a discretionary account administered by the property’s hosts. Some benefits will be more skewed toward an open comp account than they were previously (especially at Horseshoe), but Harrah’s realizes that hosts are a vital part of the casinos they have acquired and they are not going to change that.

What about Total Rewards at existing Harrah’s properties? Other than the expanded choices, a steady Harrah’s customer will notice few operational changes to in their favorite players club.

Benefits
So what are the rewards in Total Rewards? According to Aubyn Thomas, vice-president Total Rewards Brand, Harrah’s players now have access to “an integrated set of experiences tailored to the customers’ individual preferences, including meals merchandise rewards and premium rewards.” Customers have the freedom to choose when, where and for what they redeem their Reward Credits.

Let’s first explain the merchandise rewards. Harrah’s has partnered with Cascade Promotions, a well-regarded gift company that specializes in casinos, to offer an entire array of high-quality gift choices, including household items, clothes, golf and camping equipment, entertainment apparatus—you name it. According to Thomas, Harrah’s will even be opening their first Total Rewards store located in the new “Pier” project at Caesars Atlantic City, which will immerse the consumer in all things Total Rewards offers—(According to recent reports, the Pier project will be modeled after the Forum Shops in Las Vegas).

Of course most Reward Credits will be used for food. This may include a free buffet meal all the way to a comped dinner for two at the casino’s best restaurant, or a room upgrade,. Premium rewards are truly unique experiences that Harrah’s can offer based on its range of properties. For example, in Atlantic City a customer can purchase (for 200,000 Reward Credits) a Philly Sports Night Out which includes dinner at a popular Philadelphia restaurant. San Diego players can get a Premium Annual Pass to Disneyland and California Adventure, including parking, for 43,500 points, while Cherokee North Carolina guests can get a full day guided tour by CCS Fly Fishing Outfitters for 27,500 Reward Credits.

Most importantly, these benefits are available to any Total Reward member—in other words, someone (who has at least 27,500 Reward Credits in his account) who is visiting Harrah’s Cherokee for the first time, can go to the Total Rewards booth and sign up for the fly fishing tour—even before they have deposited one dime.

Beside benefits that are available through Rewards Credits, Total Reward members receive an extensive amount of direct mail (Harrah’s has always been an innovator in this area), primarily cash rewards and room offers. According to both Total Reward members and Harrah’s management, very few hotel rooms are paid for via Reward Credits; the vast majority of comped rooms come through direct mail offers.

Tiers
One feature left unchanged by Total Rewards III is the program’s four well-designed (and well-defined) tiers that offer both national and local benefits. All new members receive a Gold Card which entitles them to earn and redeem basic and bonus Reward Credits. Members earning 4,000 Tier Credits in one year ($20,000 coin-in on slots, $40,000 for video poker) receive Platinum cards and a special birthday gift, a 30 percent discount on merchandise specials and a special invitation (including a free hotel stay) to an exclusive Platinum tournament. Every Harrah’s property also offers specific benefits to Platinum players.

Next level up at 10,000 Tier Credits, ($50,000 slots, $100,000 video poker) is Diamond.. Among its many benefits are priority service (including special lines at the Total Reward booths, check-in counters and buffets) and access to special Diamond Lounges located in most Harrah’s casinos (and coming to many more) including Harrah’s Atlantic City and Harrah’s Las Vegas, as well as the Rio. These lounges feature an open bar and well-prepared snacks. Diamond members also received invitations to many special events held throughout the year at whatever property they visit the most. (Note: As with Platinum players, each Harrah’s property offers special Diamond benefits—and to learn more about each one, check out www.totalrewards.com.

Although it has been in existence for over a year, Harrah’s does not publicize its highest level—known as Seven Stars. Members earning 100,000 Tier Credits in one year (as in $500,000 coin-in on slots and $1,000,000 coin-in on video poker or approximately 60-70 hours of play on a $5 machine) receive exclusive and ever-changing benefits. According to several Seven Stars level members, benefits include guaranteed room and restaurant reservations, one free trip a year (including $600 airfare) to a Harrah’s destination property, a special Reward Credits catalog and one free birthday meal for yourself and your friends. Because of the exclusivity and flexibility of the program, Harrah’s management will not discuss specific benefits, but as Norton puts it, “The motto for this program is ‘The answer is yes, now what is the question’?”

$3 Million Sendoff
To give the third generation of Total Rewards a proper launch, Harrah’s is running a four-month-long promotion entitled “3 Million on the House”, which is named for its prize structure: one player will win $1 million, another player will win one million Total Rewards credits and a third player will win one million American Airlines miles.

Beginning May 7 through July 8, players can visit any Total Rewards casinos on promotional days (minimum one per week) and swipe their cards to see if they have won cash (up to $100,00), Reward Credits, trips to other Harrah’s properties, or American Airlines miles. According to Harrah’s, members have a one-in-10 chance to hit a prize, plus they are also entered for a chance to be selected for the “3 Million on the House” drawing.

On July 9 (continuing through promotion’s end on September 9), players can win up to $200,000 and receive double the chances to be selected as a finalist in the “3 Million on the House” drawing.

The culmination event to determine the winners of the $1 million ($1 million will be paid out in a discounted lump sum or a $40,000-for-25 years annuity), one million Total Rewards credits and one million American Airlines miles, will be simulcast to all participating casinos on September 10 from Harrah’s New Orleans (Subject to change).

Since its inception, Total Rewards has had its critics (including the article’s author) but any intelligent observer will agree that the company is continuing improving and fine-tuning the product. With Total Rewards III, Harrah’s is taking a giant (and somewhat risky) step in integrating some of the industry’s legendary properties under a unified banner—and all Total Reward members wish them the best of luck.

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