A few days in Sin City can be a vacation value if you play your cards right. For the budget conscious, it's a great idea to shop around and plan ahead.
Stay and play
Let's face it, a trip to Las Vegas doesn't mean a lot of time in your hotel room. A decent place to crash is all many of us need. Anthony Curtis, publisher of the Las Vegas Advisor and lasvegasadvisor.com, recommends looking beyond the Strip to find high-quality hotel casinos that won't break the bank.
“If lowest rates are all that matters, you should look downtown or at the outliers, local casinos well off the Strip. But the best overall deals tend to come from the places that are near, but not on, the Strip,” he said. “Examples are the Gold Coast, Orleans, and Palace Station. They are big like Strip casinos, but can't charge as much even though they are just a few minutes away.”
Even a few Strip casinos can be lower cost options, depending on the time of year. Hotels in the middle of renovation might offer lower rates if you can stand a little construction. For example, the Quad (formerly known as Imperial Palace) is undergoing renovation with some nice changes already completed. A recent search found a five-night stay for $106 through an online site. But act quickly when you find a deal; this price doubled within a day (but still a nice deal). Another option is to book a hotel in conjunction with airfare. These bundling options offer considerable savings. When booking airfare, check out all air options and consider Monday or Tuesday flights to save. When in Vegas, use the commuter bus systems and free shuttles offered by many hotels to save on costly taxi rides.
For a budget vacation, the two best months for low rates are July and December. Weekdays will obviously offer better values than weekends. There are a plethora of budget stays in Las Vegas (Curtis's newsletter reported 59 casinos offering stays at $50 and under in June), and those can improve when casinos add on drink and food credits and other promotions.
From magicians and circus acts to comedians and big-name singing acts, Vegas has something for everyone. But not everyone may be able to pay top-dollar for a top-notch show.
“Unless you want the highest-end shows, you should never pay retail,” Curtis said. “Use promo codes or go to the half-price ticket booths on the Strip. Look for afternoon shows and comedy clubs for lower base prices. The lounges still have lots of free entertainment, and you can check out things like the Bellagio fountains, the Treasure Island Pirate Show, and the Fremont Street Experience light show.”
Afternoon shows have been a longtime bargain hunter's delight in Vegas. For example, comedian magician Mac King has long been a favorite afternoon show at Harrahs, and admission is just $9.95 when you snag a coupon in the casino and present it at the box office. Other casinos offer similar coupons and promotions, offering an entertaining night out. For fine dining, there are numerous food and drink specials throughout Las Vegas and even on the Strip. From burgers and beer to steaks and seafood, you can find a deal to satisfy any desire. A mainstay in the Las Vegas Advisor's Top 10 Deals is the $7.99 steak dinner at Ellis Island Casino — complete with salad, green beans, choice of potato, and a beer. Similar deals can be found downtown and at small casinos on the Strip — eat up!
Off the beaten Strip
Tired of the Strip and the casino atmosphere? There are some other options. Red Rock Canyon offers up scenic views of the desert and surrounding mountains. Enjoy the scenic drive, or for the adventurous, lace up your boots and hike and climb through the dessert terrain. Access to the park is cheap — only $7 per vehicle.
A visit to Hoover Dam is another option to get away from the Strip's hustle and bustle. Prices range from $9 to $30 for a tour of this engineering marvel. Tourists may also be interested in the Grand Canyon, and bus tours start around $50. And one interesting free spot in Vegas is the World Famous Gold and Silver Pawn Shop — home to the hit show Pawn Stars. Snag a bus on the Strip and get off on the pawnshop's stop as it heads downtown. There will be a line out the door, but it moves quickly. The store is a popular destination for many and it is fun to check out some of the items seen on the show.
When looking to save some cash on your Vegas trip, the best advice is to do some research. Think about your expectations for lodging and entertainment in advance. Hopefully, you'll have plenty of fun — and still have some money in your wallet when you leave!
Sean Chaffin is a freelance writer in Crandall, Texas. His new book, RAISING THE STAKES: True Tales of Gambling, Wagering and Poker Faces, is available as an eBook and in paperback at www.RaisingtheStakesbook.com. He is also editor of www.PokerTraditions.com, all about poker history, lore, and people. If you have a gambling or poker story idea, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @PokerTraditions.