Las Vegas on a Budget

Las Vegas strip attracts budget travelers from around the world.
Mitch Diamond/Photodisc/Getty Images

Vegas devotees know that there are many, many cheap and free things to do in Las Vegas—but this city wasn’t meant to be a bargain. Remember that its very raison d’être is to separate you from your money. All the distractions are lures. And the house always wins.

At least that’s why most of the freebies were introduced—as perks for those who accompanied their gaming partners to Las Vegas and needed something to do while their other half was at the tables. Those early days gave rise to spas, gift shops, and the city’s burgeoning retail scene.

But in the last nearly two decades, the revenue the city takes in from non-gaming entertainment—shows, dining, nightclubs, and now, pro sports and major concert tours and residencies—has eclipsed gaming revenue by a decent margin. The casino hotels still rely on gaming for a big chunk of their revenue, but Vegas has become an entertainment town. And all that great entertainment has become increasingly expensive—to supplement the gaming floor.

That said, Vegas’ job is to appeal both to the budget traveler and the traveler for whom budget is no object. For those who want to make smart use of their travel budget and still make room for a few splurges, here are some planning tips:

The Best Time to Visit Las Vegas

Las Vegas is seasonal

While it is true that there are plenty of things to do year-round in Las Vegas, it’s also true that there’s a high season and knowing when to travel can save you a lot. The best time to visit is generally the shoulder seasons of March to May and September to November. These months offer the most moderate weather and, generally, the most moderate prices. Although Las Vegas does get cold in the winter, it also gets lots of visitors, especially around New Year’s Eve. As you might imagine, hotel prices reflect the popularity.

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And it's also event-driven

The convention business is Las Vegas’ lifeblood. Come during the MAGIC fashion trade show or the Consumer Electronics Show and you’re virtually guaranteed a hotel shakedown; that is, if you can find a room at all. But those biggies aren’t the only conventions on and around the Strip: at times, there are several large conventions at one time that can affect nearly all the prices in the city. If your trip dates are flexible, start your research on the city’s official convention and trade show site. Avoiding the major conventions will help you search out the less busy (and less expensive) travel times.

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Hotel hacks

Las Vegas hotels are tiered; it’s a basic truth that some are just more expensive than others. But there are a lot of hotels that have outstanding deals, particularly when you travel during less busy times. Signing up for hotel loyalty programs, such as Venetian’s Grazie, Wynn’s Red Card, Caesars Rewards, and MGM’s MLife, will reward you with comp points, food and beverage credits, show tickets, and lots of other deals that will soften prices.

No matter when you decide to visit Las Vegas, planning a mid-week trip can make a difference of hundreds of dollars. You’ll find rooms at their lowest rates between Tuesday and Thursday. (Logic would tell you that Sunday night stays would be a great idea, but this often doesn’t hold true. Weeklong conventions often start on Monday mornings, which is why the airport can be a nightmare on a Sunday.)

Many people don’t know that many of the hotel casinos actually publish their own rate calendars well in advance. There’s often no need to look up random dates and hope for the best; it’s all there on the calendar. MGM’s hotels have always done this (a recent search showed a difference in rates of $49 on a weekday and $159 on a weekend night for the same room at MGM Grand). You might have to do a little digging, since they a few hotel casinos bury them within the site, but here’s what they look like at MGM Grand, for instance, and Palms, which is easy to find.

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Attention to extras

It’s a revelation when you find a hotel advertised for $29 a night, isn’t it? It’s not uncommon to stumble on crazy deals like this in Las Vegas. But once you add a resort fee (hotels are now charging between $35 and $45 per night) and parking, and the 12-13% hotel room tax on the Strip and Downtown, those prices start to look a little less like a bargain.

The good news is that, starting in 2020, there’s a downward trend in parking fees. MGM Resorts, which has 13 properties including Bellagio, MGM Grand, and New York-New York, began charging visitors for parking in 2016, starting a nearly Strip-wide trend. Prior to that, even valet parking was free (you were expected to tip, of course). Though prices started an upward climb, they’re reversing for now—but mostly for self-parking. Check the rates before you book.

Getting around

Apologies to the hardworking taxi drivers of Las Vegas, but there’s no reason to take a cab anymore. In fact, depending on all the same factors above (season, conventions, and special events), an entire day’s rental car can cost less than a taxicab from McCarran International Airport to the Strip.

Rideshare services like Uber and Lyft run about half the price of a taxi, and all the hotels have dedicated rideshare lanes.

The Las Vegas Monorail runs from the Sahara (all the way at the north end of the Strip) south to MGM Grand, stopping at the Las Vegas Convention Center, on the Strip’s east side. Six of the Strip hotels have monorail stations, so if you’re planning to go the length of the Strip, it’s a good option. Single ride tickets cost $5, an unlimited 24-hour pass is $13, and a three-day pass is $29.

The Deuce, a double-decker transit bus, stops every 15 to 20 minutes on the Strip. You can buy a two-hour Strip pas for $6 or a 24-hour pass with unlimited rides for $8.

A free tram on the south end of the Strip connects Mandalay Bay, Luxor and Excalibur on the south end of the Strip; another free tram connects Treasure Island and Mirage; and there’s a Bellagio/CityCenter/Park MGM Tram, also free, that runs about every seven minutes.

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Dining tips

You might be on a budget, but you’re going to want to splurge a little while you’re here. Know when you want to save and when to splurge.

Breakfast and lunch can add up (especially in-room dining, where surcharges can be steep). If you’re here to save a bit of money so you can have a few blowout dining experiences, choose hotels that have lower-priced options attached to them or within close proximity.

For instance, the Venetian has some of the most top-notch restaurants in the city, but it also has the food court at Grand Canal Shoppes. Likewise, you could blow all your money on restaurants at Caesars or eat a bit more frugally at Forum Shops at Caesars and save your pennies. New cafes at Wynn, such as Urth Caffé, are more gently priced than most of its restaurants, but it’s also a short walk across the street to Fashion Show Mall, where you’ll find a Starbucks and plenty of cheap eats.

If you’ve rented a car or are one of the many tourists who come by car, look into hotel suites such as those at Aria, Vdara, and slightly off-Strip at Platinum Hotel Las Vegas, which come with kitchenettes or full-size kitchens. Considering how much you can spend on food (and drinks) here, you can actually offset the price of your stay in a fancier room if you eat some meals in.

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