High rollers head to Las Vegas to drop hundreds of thousand on gaming, food, drinks and entertainment—but not everyone has the means or desires to go for broke when visiting Sin City. When done properly, a visit to Vegas can be an exciting and inexpensive vacation experience. Those without deep pockets and extra cash to burn can use this guide to find an affordable alternative for everything from lodging and meals to transportation and recreational activities.
Doing Vegas on a budget begins with booking the right hotel room at the right price. Off-Strip hotels will usually be the cheapest; The Orleans, Rio and Gold Coast are just a short cab ride away and can sometimes save more than half the cost of a room on the Strip. When it’s a priority to stay on the Strip to be in the center of the action, however, no-frills hotels like Excalibur and Luxor offer basic accommodations that start at double-digit rates. Though the in-room extras are limited—shower stalls, rather than Jacuzzi-style bathtubs, older furniture and dated technology—guests can still take advantage of other amenities like sprawling pools, restaurants and entertainment.
Gamblers who insist that Vegas must be enjoyed in the lap of luxury, but would rather save their money for the slots or tables should join a players club at one of the major hotel groups like MGM. These “VIP” programs provide room discounts and complimentary nights, even for low levels of play, in addition to other rewards that include food and beverage credits and free tickets to shows.
A new Vegas visitor’s first mistake is to pay for overpriced drinks at the bar. Watered down, packed with ice and poured using house spirits, these drinks typically never taste great and can really make a dent in a budget. Ask for a call drink using a “specialty” ingredient like Red Bull, and the bill could be upwards of $20. Instead, take a moment to observe the casino floor’s cocktail waitresses as they make their rounds—once an established pattern emerges, take a seat at a penny slot machine directly in their path, put a dollar or two into the machine and order a call drink with your alcohol of choice. Order everything from a mimosa to a Jack and Coke to a blended margarita and it’s on the house. Be sure to tip the waitress when she returns—usually $1 will suffice—and savor the cocktail obtained at a fraction of what it would cost at the bar.
The easiest way to cut back on food costs is to eat off the Strip. Those signs advertising $5.99 all-you-can-eat buffets and $3.99 steak and egg breakfasts are the real deal—while not the healthiest options, going off the Strip for In-N-Out burgers, McDonald’s, buffets and other specials can save travelers, especially families, a significant amount of money as long as they aren’t picky about what they eat.
For those trying to savor the best of Vegas cuisine on a dime, there are a few options to consider. When booking a room, take advantage of deals that include free food and beverage credits to use on hotel restaurants. This is a great way to sample some of the fine dining offerings without handing over additional cash. Also, even the most high-end casinos, like the Venetian and Palazzo, will sometimes offer complimentary coupon books packed with great discounts. These are full of freebies and percentage discounts for restaurants in the hotel, but be sure to look at the fine print for minimum spending amounts. If a full meal isn’t in the cards, sit at the bar and order an appetizer before heading off the Strip for the main course.
On the Vegas nightlife scene, it’s all about who you know—and promoters on the Strip want to know you, so half the battle is already won. Nightclub promoters are stationed at strategic points around hotels—near the elevators, front doors and pool areas—to distribute free passes, open bar for ladies and discounted entry vouchers to well-dressed visitors. Rather than brushing past these individuals, put on a suit and tie or little black dress and accept their offers to add you to the guest list. Admission for the Strip’s best clubs can be $50 and up for men at peak times, so it’s well worth the few minutes it takes to chat up the promoters.
If paying for a club and waiting in line doesn’t sound appealing, Vegas also has a few lounges and bars that offer a nightlife ambience without the cost. Check out Eye Candy at Mandalay Bay or Bond at The Cosmopolitan for popular, no-cover hot spots.
For those driving to Vegas, one word of advice is to avoid gas stations off the beaten path. As the only gas stations in sight for miles, these outposts can charge more than $5 per gallon; instead, fill up before leaving home and refuel at major rest stops like Barstow, California. If traveling by air, FareCompare suggests booking tickets on a Tuesday afternoon—most airlines start sales on Monday, so by the next day competitors will have posted similar deals to offer passengers a variety of options.
Once in town, skip the taxi and take advantage of free or low-cost trams to navigate the Strip. From McCarran International Airport, shuttles will take travelers to the Strip for as little as $1, saving them the $15 cab ride, plus tip. Free trams are offered between various hotels, including Mirage to Treasure Island, Bellagio to City Center to Monte Carlo, and Mandalay Bay to Luxor to Excalibur. There’s also a way to go from one end of the Strip to the other. The Las Vegas Monorail has seven stations and runs nearly 24 hours on weekends, with options for inexpensive, unlimited day passes or single rides.
In Vegas, paying full price for anything, entertainment included, should never be an option. With 10 locations throughout the city, Tix4Tonight offers huge discounts on major shows on (and off) the Strip. As an official outlet for discounted tickets, tickets are guaranteed to be legitimate. Taxi drivers are also known to offer low-cost tickets, but purchase at your own risk.
While no vacation is free, it’s possible to take a low-cost vacation to one of the world’s most exciting entertainment capitals. With smart planning, budget travelers can take advantage of discounts and deals to enjoy the best that Las Vegas has to offer.
- Fare Compare