How to save money in Las Vegas

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(From an article written in 2009)

The city of Las Vegas is synonymous with gambling, neon, and ostentatious excess. Just being that close to so much money makes you want to spend yours. It isn’t nicknamed “Lost Wages” for nothing. Remember, all those flashy buildings were built on losers’ money. Despite the reputation, Vegas has much to do and see outside of gambling and many of its attractions are completely free. Despite its reputation, I’ve found it a good city for a low cost get away. And it is perfect for someone’s first solo travel experience.

Keeping costs low

Timing is everything, especially if you are booking airfare and hotels. To get the best rates, think off season. I’ve found the best prices on both flights and lodging in late summer and early fall, just after the kids have gone back to school. Because Vegas depends heavily on weekend gamblers, you will tend to find the best deals on hotels and flights by booking during the week, as long as there isn’t a large convention already booked into your hotel.

Also check out hotels just off the strip. I stayed at the Orleans, located just 4 miles off the strip on Tropicana Avenue, and got a deluxe suite for $65 (includes taxes) per night. Since they provide a free shuttle to there sister casino on the strip, it was almost as convenient as being located there. I’ve taken advantage of late flights, which are often very cheap. Taking a midnight flight home can mean that you get another full day at your destination without the additional cost of a hotel room. And most hotels will let you check out early and hold your luggage the last day for free. Flying the “red eye” is particularly worthwhile if you are able to sleep on the plane, so bring a pillow, blanket and ear plugs.

When shopping for a Vegas vacation, keep your eyes open for advertised flight and hotel packages, particularly last minute deals. I’ve found the biggest savings by booking them together most of the time, but you have to run the numbers to be sure. Regardless of the advertised price, you don’t know what the real price to you is until you’ve checked what the cost is from your city and determined what taxes, fuel charges and other extras will be added. If you are traveling alone, make sure the quoted price is for a single traveler. Often rates are “per person”, assuming a shared the hotel room. One hotel I booked through Priceline even added a daily $5 “entertainment” fee when I checked out. I protested, but found the charge vaguely stated in the details of the package. Spirit Airlines charges to check luggage and their beverage service is not complimentary. I find the internet to be a great way to book travel, but prepare to spend a lot of time reading the fine print to avoid hidden fees.

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Entertainment that is free:

  • · Lion habitat at MGM Grand
  • · Entrance ceiling to Beligio has blown glass sculptures by Dale Chihuly. Beautiful and totally unique. While you are there continue on through the lobby and see the courtyard.
  • · Water show at Beligio, only at night
  • · Waterfall/Volcano at the Mirage.
  • · Pirates on the water show at Treasure Island
  • · Grand Canal and St. Mark’s Piazza where there are often free shows at the Venetian
  • · Pretend you are going from around the world:  New York’s Statue of Liberty; Paris’ Eiffel Tower; the Spinx as the Luxor; see Rome at Caesar’s Palace
  • · Light show at the Freemont Experience. The stage has free entertainment most nights.
  • · There are acrobats working above the gamblers at Circus Circus.
  • · Flamingos and other birds at the Flamingo Hotel.. Also has a plaque to Bugsy Siegel
  • · Bahaman Shrine at Circus Circus

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Entertainment on a budget

  • · Set a gambling budget of $10 and see how long you can make it last on the penny slots. My personal record is just over an hour!
  • · Half price ticket booth for shows that day
  • · Food is cheap in Vegas, but beware of scams. One restaurant in the Freemont Downtown area had various advertising for a buffet at $9.99. There were restrictions like Tuesday and Wednesday evening only, but I was there during the specified time so I went in. Inside the cost was over $17. The cashier explained that they had “just raised their prices” and had not had time to change the advertising. Likely story. Another restaurant featured a special low price on prime rib which was pictured outside the restaurant to entice the public. Once you stepped inside, the prime rib wasn’t listed on the menu. To be fair, it was available, but you had to ask specifically for it.
  • · Las Vegas is located in a desert, so you must stay hydrated. I went in August and had to drink water constantly but bottled water and iced drinks add up. Carry a water bottle and fill it up every time you visit the restroom or pass a water fountain.
  • · Another way to keep within your budget is to drink water at meals. Iced tea can cost $2 a glass and alcohol is much steeper. Both add to dehydration.
  • · Always carry small bills, particularly to cover transportation costs. Most busses require exact change so if you only have a $5 bill you’ll have to hand that over even if the fare is only $2. And taxis never seem to be able to make change when you have a $20 but the fare is only $10. Even on a budget, don’t forget to leave a tip, however. If a waiter or driver gave you good service, you should reward them. These folks are typically underpaid and certainly under appreciated. I will tip up to 20% for excellent service, but I don’t feel obligated to tip for bad service at all. That’s just throwing money away. Save it for those who earn it.

Saving on Transportation

  • · Before you leave home, call your hotel and arrange a shuttle from the airport. These are usually much less expensive than a cab. A cab between the airport and my hotel off the south end of the strip cost $20 plus tip. The shuttle was only $7. Bus service would have cost less but would drop me off 5 blocks from my hotel in an area I wasn’t familiar with. Since I would arrive alone and at night, I felt safer taking the shuttle. Money isn’t everything.
  • · Most hotels and casino are inter-connected and have several free shuttles a day to other casinos. Take advantage of the free ride. This is especially important if you find a good deal on a hotel that is off the strip. You can use the shuttle to get there. Just make sure that you are clear on the return times, or you may end up having to take a cab back.
  • · Wear comfortable shoes and plan to walk. It is the best way to see the strip. The casinos are huge. To save your feet, make use of all the moving walkways and escalators. Also, there are free trams on the south end of the strip between Excalibur, Luxor, and Mandalay. Use the numerous pedestrian bridges to cross the street safely.
  • · For transportation from one end of the strip to the other, try the buses. The Duece is a double-decker and costs just $2 one way or $5 for 24 hours. You can jump on and off, but it is great to ride from one end to the other to get yourself oriented. I particularly like to see the lights at night this way. Try to sit on top near the front where the view is best. Some of the drivers even give impromptu audio tours.
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Beth

I'm a professional vagabond. I quit my cubical job in January 2014. Since then, I've hiked the Appalachian Trail, The Camino, and taught English in Vietnam, Turkey, Russia, Spain and Mexico. I'm exploring the world.

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