Las Vegas can be incredibly expensive. Trips can cost a fortune. It is the epitome of extravagance and overindulgence. You could conceivably spend $1000 a day without gambling! However, Las Vegas can also be one of the most affordable vacations in the USA. Below I’ll discuss how you can enjoy every bit of Vegas and pinch your pennies at the same time!
Where to Stay
To get the full experience of Las Vegas it is highly recommended that you stay in a hotel directly on the strip. The cheapest hotels on the strip include: Harrah’s, Monte Carlo, the Flamingo, Treasure Island and The Quad. Monte Carlo, Flamingo and Treasure Island are all very nice, modern and clean and you will have no complaints about the rooms. The rooms at Harrah's are a little outdated, however they are still clean and offer wonderful service. The Quad is a whole different beast altogether. If you are truly trying to save money, The Quad will gladly give you a room for less than any Motel 6 and you get the added bonus of nightly visits from Fergie, Michael Jackson and more… we’ll talk about that more later. There is also The Rio, which is a four star hotel just off of the strip and often offers rooms for less than $30/night! There is a free shuttle service that runs throughout the day and you can get a taxi back to the hotel for around $6 if you are near Caesars. In order to save the most money, it is ideal to go during the week. The rates will skyrocket on the weekend. What might cost you $20 during the week will suddenly be well over $100. I can’t think of many other places in the USA where you can get a four star hotel for under $100/night let along under $50.
When your wallet is light, is there really a better place than Denny’s. There is a Denny’s located just outside of Casino Royal (which is between Harrah’s and the Venetian). Just like all Denny’s, you can go there 24/7. If you are in that area you can also find a McDonalds, Panda Express and Chipotle. Aside from the normal fast food that you will find, I highly recommend getting a hot sandwich for $5 from Earl of Sandwich located inside Planet Hollywood. The first time I had this sandwich I loved it so much I went back and got a second about 5 hours later.
Having lived in San Diego, I love my Mexican food. The less English they speak the better the food. There is a great, authentic Mexican joint just outside of the Wynn hotel called Tacos El Gordo. It is finger food and you will find most people eating while standing. It is quick, cheap and extremely delicious, guaranteed to hit the spot. Another Mexican restaurant I recommend is Isla in Treasure Island. You’ll probably spend closer to $20-30 going to this restaurant, but if you just want a strong margarita, this is the place to go.
If you are a pizza lover, check out Grimaldi’s pizza in the Shoppes at Palazzo. They specialize in thin crust NY style pizza. Very affordable and casual, and my mouth is watering just thinking about it.
There are countless places to eat In Vegas for under $20 and I have not tried them all, so hunt around and try something new! But sometimes I find that I’m hungry and do not know where to go, especially in a larger group of people. If that is the case pick one from above and enjoy!
Gambling and Free Drinks
This might sound strange, but to save money in Vegas, you should gamble! The obvious reason for this is that you get free drinks while gambling. Considering bars in the casino will charge around $10-15 per cocktail, if you want to drink, gambling is the way to go. The best way to get a free drink without risking your money is by sitting down at the penny slots. Put $5 in the machine and you don’t really even have to bet. Waitresses typically come around every 15 minutes to take orders. Make sure to tip $1 and you should have no problem getting another one quickly. If you don’t tip, you might find she skips you in the next round.
My favorite place to enjoy free drinks is at the poker table. I will sit down to play $2/$4 limit poker, to ensure I don’t lose all of my money on one hand, and play for hours. I am not a serious player and enjoy chatting with everyone around the table. The drink service in poker rooms is probably the best, easily getting 4-5 drinks an hour. If you did not play a single hand you would lose about $12/hour through the ‘blinds’. Not a bad deal for a comfy chair, good company and free drinks!
Pai-gow is another great game to play. In the majority of hands, the player and the dealer ‘push’ (this is when neither the player nor the dealer wins… no money changes hands). Because of this, it’s common for $100 to entertain you the entire night playing this game! Even the dealers in the casinos will call it a drinking game.
I find that the service in the different hotels is all very good, no matter how big or extravagant they are. However, some of the smaller hotels will use cheaper spirits or water down the drinks. If you feel like your drink was weak you can always order a bottle of beer so you know exactly what you are getting.
Pools offer an entire day of entertainment, especially if you’re deprived of the sun where you live, like me (London). The Rio has five pools, one of them with a manmade beach. The Flamingo has a slide and is very tropical and often has volleyball and other water sports. If you find yourself there and you are remotely hungry, get a hotdog. You’re welcome in advance. Mirage’s pool is tropical as well and covers 5 acres and offers over 1000 lawn chairs for sun bathing. Most hotels will check room keys to enter the pools, so if you want to visit a pool at a different hotel ask for a day pass. These typically run for around $15 - $20. Pools to avoid: Harrah’s, The Quad, Statosphere, Hooters. Monte Carlo and Planet Hollywood pools are nothing to write home about either. Having a great pool can make a great vacation.
The Best of Vegas
Free entertainment is all around you on the strip. The Bellagio has the fountain show every 30 minutes in the afternoon and every 15 minutes after 8pm. The Mirage has a volcano eruption every hour on the hour. Treasure Island has a ridiculous show called ‘Sirens’ with some incredibly catchy songs. I still find myself humming them from time to time. Try to get there 15 minutes before the show to get a good view as it attracts a big crowd. There are street performers, karaoke, live music and break dancing. If you go inside the Flamingo there is a wildlife habitat with real flamingos and other animals, all free.
Head to the Quad to see the best-worst impersonators. This show thrives on being so bad, it’s good. They don’t just perform, they will also deal you a hand of blackjack. You may not want to go inside the Quad, but if you do, make sure you catch this.
There is the M&M world next to MGM Grand. At the Rio there is the Show in the Sky where dancers parade across the ceiling on floats and throw beads to the people below. You can also find flair bartenders after the Show in the Sky. Every casino has its own theme and entertainment and you do not have to spend a dime. Challenge: travel to every casino and get a free drink.
My favorite nightclubs include: Rockhouse, Voodoo at Rio, Hyde at Bellagio and Pure at Caesars. Some clubs can cost $75-$100 just for entry, never mind the overpriced drinks! If you are truly on a budget and want to shake what your padres gave you, then you will want to plan ahead. If you go online, you can buy tickets to clubs before your trip and save a good amount of money. There are also promoters on the strip who will give you discounted entry, usually for around $20. If you are an attractive woman, you probably don’t have much to worry about when it comes to spending money to get into clubs… or on drinks. You can spend hours trying to get into some of these clubs, so it is worth it to go a little earlier than you’d like. You can get in cheaper and faster, but you’ll just have to wait for the other people to arrive! Rockhouse has relocated, but not only do they have great progressive drink price (the later into the night it is, the cheaper the drinks get!) but entry is typically around $5-$10 depending on the night. And it’s the type of place that might just let you in for free. Voodoo at the Rio is an amazing sight, and you can get in for free if you go early. Just ask to go up and have a look at the view of the strip from there. It was an older crowd, but they weren’t afraid to get jiggy to the youngsters’ music.
If you are going to gamble, it is worth spending a few minutes to get a Players Card. Virtually every casino will offer these and they are free and easy to get. Show it when you sit down to play a table game or insert it into a slot machine before you start gambling and you will rack up ‘comps’. Comps are 'points' that you accumulate through gambling and purchasing items in the hotel. When gambling they will take into account how long you are playing and how much you are betting (and tipping) and will give you comps accordingly. These comps can be used toward buying merchandise in the gift shops and they can get you free buffets and meals. If you gamble at all they will typically give you reduced room rates for your next stay and if you gamble more than that, you can actually earn free nights. I have found that Caesars has the best rewards program and I rarely pay for rooms when I travel to Vegas!
Shows are always going to be expensive, and there isn’t much we can do to get around that. The best way to get cheaper tickets is to speak to the concierge at your hotel and ask for discounted tickets for shows that day. If there are shows that are not selling out you can sometimes get them half price! However, this strategy tends to work with the less popular shows, so if you have your heart set on seeing La Reve (which you really should…) then book in advance or risk not seeing it at all. I think seeing a show in Vegas is a must. Skimp as much as you can everywhere else and swallow the $100 ticket price for a good show. You’ll be glad you did!