Top 10 ways to visit Las Vegas on the cheap

29 October 2018

A staggering 42 million people visit Las Vegas each year, according to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.

While the LVCVA doesn't have official numbers on this, my best guess is that a large majority of those that come to Sin City for business or pleasure (or both!) aren't "whales" or "high rollers" and need to be mindful of their expenses, whether it be airfare, hotel, spending money or gambling bankroll.

This column is for those people.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am by no means suggesting that you try and visit on a shoestring budget. This is Las Vegas we're talking about — one of the greatest and most entertaining cities on the planet. You want to experience it to the fullest. Don't cheat yourself.

But there are ways to be economical and smart about it. Follow the tips below, and we'll guarantee your visit won't be cheapened and may even be enhanced. And with the money you save by utilizing these strategies, you have our full permission to go ahead and splurge one night on that dinner at your favorite restaurant, or that spa treatment you've been dreaming about.

See you on the Strip!

10. Go off-peak times/midweek
Like any other popular destination, Las Vegas has peak times in which your trip is going to cost much, much more than if you go during off-peak times. Even though there are nearly 150,000 hotel rooms in Las Vegas, the inventory runs short during popular times of the year, and that means prices skyrocket.

Some of the more expensive times to visit Sin City include New Year's Eve, Super Bowl weekend and March Madness — and just about any other long weekend, such as Memorial Day. There are also more than 21,000 conventions held in Las Vegas each year, and some of them you simply need to avoid unless you want to break the bank on flights and hotels, most notably the Consumer Electronic Show (CES) in early January, which brings in as many as 200,000 visitors.

You also want to avoid weekends if at all possible, since midweek hotel occupancy rates are usually around 80% or so, compared to weekends when it's more like 90%. But if you must travel on a weekend, avoid the ones when there is a big single standing event going on, like a UFC fight; a major concert or festival; or a big boxing match, which very often takes place the first weekend of May, the same time as the Kentucky Derby.

So, what are the times to visit that will go easiest on the budget? You can usually find great deals during the summer months, because it's so hot, but as I wrote a few years back, it's not so bad if you plan accordingly. Also, a great time to plan a trip is in between Thanksgiving and New Year's Eve, a time when travel is slow and prices are low. For instance, you could book a room at a Caesars Entertainment property on the Strip, such as Flamingo Las Vegas or Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino, which we had a great stay at last summer, for under $60 a night in mid-December. At peak times, these same rooms will be five times that amount.

9. Stay at an off-Strip hotel

When you tell someone you're going the Las Vegas, most times the first question you'll be asked is, "Where are you staying?.

And while it would be great to boast that you're staying in a luxurious place like Wynn Las Vegas or Bellagio, unfortunately, those resorts aren't even the ballpark for a lot of people's budgets.

But have no fear — you can still experience all that Las Vegas has to offer without booking a hotel right on center Strip. There are plenty of off-Strip properties with decent rooms and amenities close enough to the action that you won't feel like a second-class citizen. Two of my favorites are:

- Palace Station Hotel and Casino: Sitting just west of the Strip in between Encore Resort and Stratosphere Casino, Hotel & Tower, Palace Station, which is owned and operated by Station Casinos, just finished a $192 million "modernization" that began in 2016. Newly renovated rooms, an amazing buffet, expanded casino floor, and new poker room and sportsbook were all part of the project. Room rates are more than reasonable, and if you don't want to opt for the free shuttle to the Strip, an Uber or Lyft ride is under $10. Oh, and Palace Station is also home to the legendary Oyster Bar, a definite Las Vegas "bucket list" restaurant for foodies and seafood lovers.

- Tuscany Suites and Casino: The Tuscany has become home for Casino City when we travel to Las Vegas for the annual Global Gaming Expo (G2E), and there's good reason why we come back every year. In addition to being cost-efficient, the property is conveniently located, about a half mile from the Strip behind Bally's - Las Vegas. The rooms are newly renovated and spacious, with a sitting area, couch, large work and desk area, a sink, a refrigerator and a coffee machine — the kind of in-room amenities that are becoming scarcer. While the casino mostly draws locals, the food options are very good (PUB 365 has become a favorite), and the outdoor seating area around the pool is a great spot to meet for a drink before dinner or for a nightcap.

8. Use public transportation
Unless you plan on making a road trip to Hoover Dam or Lake Mead, there's really no reason to rent a car in Las Vegas and pay for parking at your hotel. And if you're still taking taxis in Las Vegas, I'm guessing you have a flip phone and use dial-up internet service.

By far, the best and most economical way to get around Las Vegas these days is with Uber or Lyft. There are thousands of drivers, so you'll never have to wait long. Just be mindful that there are certain pick-up spots at each hotel and at the airport for ride share customers, so make sure you know where you need to be before ordering the ride.

Also, when I was in Las Vegas this past spring, whenever I was traveling the Bally's/Harrah's Las Vegas Casino & Hotel/MGM Grand Hotel & Casino Las Vegas side of the Strip, I took advantage of the monorail system, since we were staying at Westgate Las Vegas Resort & Casino, which has a stop right outside the main entrance. The monorail is clean, timely and typically uncrowded, and the price is right, as long as you're not trying to get to locations on the other side of the Strip. If that's the case, it's much more convenient to take Uber or Lyft.

One more thing: If you are traveling with someone who has never used a ride share, have them open an account and download the app using a promotional code, which will earn you a few free trips.

7. Make use of convenience stores
OK, now that you've booked your stay at an optimal time of year, have an affordable hotel to stay in and skipped the rental car process, let's dig into the trip itself and what you can do to save money. On top of the list is taking advantage of the many local grocery or convenience stores to load up on snacks, grab-and-go eats and drinks for your room, instead of going to the stores in the hotel, which are way overpriced for these types of items. If you are lucky enough to have a fridge and coffee maker in your room, you can save a good portion of your budget by eating breakfast and making coffee in your room each morning.

Also, remember that open containers are legal when on the Strip, so if you're going to take a "roadie" when walking around, there's no need to do so at a hotel bar. Hit one of the grocery stores and buy a six pack for your room, or a single to carry-and-go, and you can even carry it into a casino. You'll save big and you won't feel the need to leave a tip.

6. Don't gamble
(Gulp) Did I really just type those two words?

While at one time this would have been an unfathomable suggestion, the truth is that over the last few years the Las Vegas Strip has generated more revenue on nongaming amenities than gaming activities. So, yes, it's possible to go to Las Vegas, abstain from gambling, and still have a great time, thanks to a plethora of restaurants, activities, attractions, spas, nightclubs, concert venues, sporting events and an amazing pool scene. And, since the Las Vegas Conventions and Visitors Authority estimates the average gambling budget for a visitor is $541, there's a half grand you'll be able to put toward other items on the trip.

But since I realize that not gambling in Sin City may be considered a mortal sin to some of you, there are ways you can stretch your bankroll and make it last longer. First off, be aware of where you are gambling. Unless you want to play $25 or more per hand, don’t expect to stroll into Bellagio on a Saturday night and find an open table with a $5 minimum. For those tables, you'll need to go off-Strip or check out The Cromwell, which has become well known for its player-friendly gaming options.

Better yet, learn how to play pai gow, a relatively easy game that's fun and more of a social activity. You'll most likely manage to play for multiple hours, get a bunch of free drinks, and not go bust. Or for you sports fans out there, go to a sportsbook, settle in for a few hours and place a few bets for $10 or $25 on a game — or take a shot at a three-team parlay, just for fun.

5. Take advantage of free attractions

So, let's say you take the above advice and decide not to pull an all-nighter in the poker room or at the craps table. What should you do with all this free time? The good news is that there are a ton of free activities up and down the Las Vegas Strip and beyond.

The most obvious is the Fountains of Bellagio, which groove to the choreographed music every 15 to 30 minutes while using 22 million gallons of water over 8.5 acres. No matter how many times you've seen it, it never gets old. My favorite place to view the water show is at the bar at the Eiffel Tower Restaurant at Paris Las Vegas, where I promise you'll get exceptional service from ace bartender Ridge.

You could also go to the very far south end of the Strip and take a picture of yourself in front of the world-famous "Welcome to Las Vegas" sign, visit the Las Vegas Pinball Hall of Fame, check out the Wildlife Habitat at Flamingo or the amazing art collections at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas and CityCenter, or hit up the eye-popping Bellagio Conservatory, a 14,000 square-foot "floral playground" that changes with the season. If you’re into mob history, you can visit the Bugsy Siegel Memorial at Flamingo, or hit up the very cool speakeasy at the Mob Museum in Downtown Las Vegas for a few drinks. There is an admission fee to the actual museum, but not if you just go downstairs to the bar, which is loaded with very cool artifacts and historical items.

My favorite "free activity" in Las Vegas? Simply grabbing an adult beverage and walking the Strip. You won't find a better people-watching spot anywhere in the world and along the way there are plenty of pit stops to make for food, drink, music and gambling.

4. Activities for under $50

There are also plenty of unique and worthwhile activities in Las Vegas that, while not free, are more than reasonably priced.

The best view of the city is from the epic High Roller, which at 550 feet high and 520 feet in diameter is the tallest observation wheel in the world, outdoing the Singapore Flyer by nine feet. While it’s cheapest ($22 if you buy tickets online) to ride it during the day, I strongly recommend a ride at night ($32 online) — and to splurge for the open bar option for $47, which gets you unlimited drinks during the 30-minute ride. Trust me, you won't feel cheated.

Another fairly new option is the world's largest Topgolf, which opened behind MGM Grand Hotel & Casino Las Vegas in 2016. With three pools, multiple bars and a comfortable, outdoor atmosphere no matter what time of year or day you visit, Topgolf is a great way to spend a few hours away from the casino, and you most certainly do not need to be a golfer in order to enjoy it.

Other suggestions include the roller coasters at New York-New York Hotel & Casino and Stratosphere; gondoliers at The Venetian Las Vegas; the Neon Museum and Boneyard, which serves as a final resting stop for some classic Las Vegas signs; the Shark Reef at Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino; and coming soon to The LINQ Hotel & Casino Promenade will be a new zip line.

3. Make use of rewards programs
This is a classic win-win situation, so take advantage. The casinos really, really want you to sign up, and as a result, they try their best to make it as easy and seamless as possible to register. It's worth taking the 10 minutes or so to do it at any casino you frequent on any kind of semi-regular basis. And once you sign up once, you're in for life, so even if you don’t have your card from the last trip to Las Vegas, you can get another one very quickly. I keep a stack of all my cards at home in an elastic and take it with me whenever I visit Las Vegas, pulling out the ones I think I will need when leaving my room for the day or night.

And remember, rewards programs aren't just for gambling. You can earn points for something as little as buying a coffee and donut in the morning. It all adds up and results in receiving discounts all over the casino, and you'll also get e-mailed special offers throughout the year.

2. Put Downtown Las Vegas on your itinerary

If you're a regular reader of this space, you know I'm a big fan of Downtown Las Vegas. I always try to make it to the Fremont Street area at least once during every jaunt to Las Vegas, and if time permits, I like to spend a night or two there. This past summer, I spent a weekend at one of the Cabana Suites at El Cortez Hotel & Casino, and it was affordable and convenient.

Drink prices are more affordable here than compared to the Strip, as well as the limits at the gaming tables. There are a ton of great bars and restaurants, and if you like an "old school" Las Vegas feel, you'll be right at home.

As for free attractions, there's the very cool Container Park, free concerts and live music on a regular basis, the 200,000 gallon shark tank aquarium at Golden Nugget - Las Vegas, and the Fremont Street Experience, which is an absolute must if you've never seen it. Just the like the Strip, the people-watching here is off the charts. Simply put, you never know what you’re going to witness when you go to Downtown Las Vegas.

1. Happy Hours

Back in May, we presented our very first Top 10 Las Vegas Happy Hours, and trust me, we were just barely scratching the surface with this impressive list of deals. While our favorite happy hours remain on this list, especially the one at Oscar's Steakhouse at Plaza Hotel and Casino, the half-price meals at Herbs & Rye, and the $1 martinis at The Cromwell, there are literally hundreds of others that can be found all over the city.

We’re not just talking about ordinary "2-for-1" drink specials and free appetizers. Some of these happy hours are robust enough that you may not even need to go out and spend the money on a big dinner, because the portion size and quality of food are tremendous.

Let's face it. If you are like me, you're going to eat, drink and be merry on every day of your trip to Las Vegas. Why not save some coin in the process and take advantage of these value-laden deals?

Related Links
Horseshoe Las Vegas Details
The Cromwell Details
Global Gaming Expo (G2E) 2018
El Cortez Hotel & Casino Details
Flamingo Las Vegas Details
Golden Nugget - Las Vegas Details
Harrah's Las Vegas Casino & Hotel Details
The LINQ Hotel + Experience Details
Westgate Las Vegas Resort & Casino Details
Palace Station Hotel and Casino Details
The STRAT Hotel, Casino and SkyPod Details
New York-New York Hotel & Casino Details
Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority Gaming Vendor Information
Plaza Hotel and Casino Details
Bellagio Details
The Venetian Las Vegas Details
Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino Details
Planet Hollywood Las Vegas Details
Wynn Las Vegas Details
Tuscany Suites and Casino Details
The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas Details
Encore Resort Details