Las Vegas on a BudgetSeptember 25, 2011 No Comments
I’ve always wanted to see Las Vegas. Like many people, however, my preconceived notions were based on media hype. I imagined a city full of beautiful people, many of them celebrities, negotiating their Porsches and Jaguars down the Strip before entering a glamorous casino to win or lose thousands of dollars on a single hand of poker. I pictured luxury restaurants owned by Michelin-starred chefs and shops to rival those found in Paris, with price tags to match. I think Dad may have imagined all those same things, which might explain his initial reluctance to make the trip. But when we found ourselves just a couple of hours away, we agreed to give it a try.
What we discovered was frankly amazing. Las Vegas is indeed all of those things. But it’s also a middle-class escape, a family-friendly vacation destination, and a surprisingly easy place to survive on a budget. Las Vegas truly is all things to all people. Here are a few tips to stretch your dollars, regardless of what your vacation budget may be.
It is perfectly possible to drop hundreds of dollars a night on a hotel room in Las Vegas…but you really have to try hard to make that happen. Though Vegas in general is not quite as cheap as it was a decade ago, hotel prices have not kept pace with the national market. The key to cheap sleeps in Las Vegas is timing. Mid-week rates are often 50-75 percent cheaper than Friday and Saturday nights. If you can tolerate the desert heat, summer rates are generally rock-bottom.
In addition, the hotels run frequent specials–perhaps a room plus show tickets for only a few dollars more than just a room, or breakfast buffets may be included in the price. Senior rates and military rates are often heavily discounted as well. Promo codes are prevalent all over the internet, so run a Google search for “promo code” and the name of your chosen hotel.
Using the above methods, we’ve found rooms at the Luxor for as little as $30 per night, the Excalibur for $22 per night and the Stratosphere for under $20 per night. Even the traditionally pricier Strip hotels can often be had for $50-$75 per night. A bit of legwork can save you hundreds or even thousands of dollars over a two-week stay.
After checking into your hotel, make your first order of business a stop by the concierge desk. Free coupon books are there for the taking, and some of the deals are quite impressive. Two-for-one dining deals, half-price helicopter tours and major shopping discounts are just some of the possible offers. The discounts change frequently, so no matter how many times you have been to Vegas, it’s worth looking carefully to see what might have changed.
Pick up a copy of the American Casino Guide online or at a local bookstore before your trip. As of 2011, the book costs $12.75 on their website, or $18.75 in stores, and is packed with coupons and special deals at casinos around Las Vegas and across the United States.
Dad and I are not big gamblers at all. When we do play, we can usually be found on the nickel video poker machines. But the players clubs offer major benefits for even the most stalwart non-gamblers. Every time we walked through the doors of a hotel with a casino attached, Dad and I headed for the players club desk. Some hotels are owned by the same conglomerate and share a players club. For example, the Luxor and MGM Grand both fall under M Life, while Planet Hollywood and Harrah’s are both Total Rewards. The deals vary by club, but may include restaurant and merchandise discounts or entries in special promotional contests. Many clubs offer a few dollars in free slot play (also valid on video poker!) when you enroll.
Las Vegas is filled with free opportunities to have a good time. From the world-famous Bellagio Fountains to the Sirens of TI at Treasure Island, many of the Strip hotels offer major, high-budget production shows absolutely free of charge. Make sure you get off the Strip as well. Our absolute favorite free show was at Sam’s Town, off the Strip on Boulder Highway. The laser light projections reminded us of the nighttime show at Atlanta’s Stone Mountain, while the water effects were reminiscent of Disney’s Fantasmic. Downtown Las Vegas offers the Fremont Street Experience, a stunning overhead LED show that must be seen to be believed.
The hotels of the Las Vegas Strip are attractions in their own right. From the cobblestone streets of Paris to the big city flair of New York, New York, it would be easy to spend a long weekend doing nothing but exploring the hotels. Many of the hotels offer free or low-priced attractions, from the lion habitat at MGM Grand to the aerial circus performers at Circus Circus. The Eiffel Tower at Paris and the Tower at the Stratosphere provide amazing low-cost views of the Strip. We were lucky enough to find ourselves at the top of the Eiffel Tower during the Bellagio Fountains show, giving us a unique birds-eye view of the proceedings.
Las Vegas is filled with Tix4Tonight booths, which offer same-day discounted tickets to virtually every show in town, along with various restaurant discounts. We were able to find better deals on our own for the particular shows we wanted to see, but many people are highly successful at finding great bargains at the ticket booths.
As a general rule, food costs significantly less off-Strip. But all along the Strip we found fantastic deals on extremely good food. Look for the smaller cafes and walk-up stands inside the hotels, rather than automatically heading for the buffet or the table-service restaurants.
Buffets can be a fabulous deal if you pick and choose. Our absolute favorite was the Sunday Champagne Brunch at the Rio. As of 2011, the price is $24.99 for adults and $17.99 for kids aged 4-8. Children under 4 are free. Our second favorite was at Main Street Station, in older Downtown Las Vegas near Fremont Street. Though not gourmet, the food is wonderfully prepared and the buffet surprisingly extensive. We found a two-for-one coupon online, bringing the price of a prime rib dinner down to just $7 per person!
Many hotel restaurants offer late-night breakfast options at sizeable discounts, such as $3.99 steak and egg plates. The Sugar Factory, at the Paris Hotel and Casino on the Strip, is not cheap. But gigantic portions and discounted late-night pricing make sharing a reasonable option. We actually ate there twice. The first night we ordered separately and ended up with a $50 bill and several meals worth of leftovers. The next time we ordered more sensibly, shared a smaller dish, and paid around $20 total.
If you have the time to spare, consider signing up for time share tours. In exchange for two hours or so of your time, you can get free or heavily discounted tickets to major shows, meal vouchers or gaming credits. Negotiate a bit at the signup desk for the best rewards. Dad and I are actually in the market for a time share, and we were in Las Vegas for five weeks, so we took multiple tours. One gave us $25 per person tickets to Criss Angel Believe (or any other Cirque show) and $150 in dining vouchers. Another gave us a free 4 day/3 night Carnival cruise (available only to legal residents of Florida or California). The offers are generally set up for two adults, but you can often negotiate kids’ tickets as part of the package. Just be sure to take a look at my article on Timeshare presentations and what to expect, as some places have a catch that can be a deal-breaker. Knowing when to walk away is crucial.