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.
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.
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.
You should also keep in mind that 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. Occasionally, Vegas plays host to several large conventions all at once, which 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.
Things to Do
Many of the best things in Las Vegas (as in life) are free. And while it's clear that those free things are really engineered to keep you in Las Vegas longer with the goal of getting you to spend money, you really can indulge without parting with (that much) of your hard-earned cash.
Explore Attractions Inside and Around the Bellagio
You won't want to miss the tried-and-true iconic draws of the Las Vegas Strip, such as the Bellagio Fountains, whose 400-plus-foot-high water jets are choreographed to the stylings of Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, Lady Gaga, Andrea Bocelli, and many more. And the best place to see them is right from the street, completely for free.
Go inside the Bellagio Conservatory & Botanical Garden for its rotating, seasonal display of tens of thousands of flowers and animatronic animals (there's never been the same display twice).
Marvel at Wynn's Lake of Dreams
Wynn's Lake of Dreams recently got a $14 million overhaul. The lake, which you can only see from inside the resort, can be accessed via the curving escalator that leads down to SW Steakhouse and Lakeside restaurant, and you'll see such wild new sights as a trio of giant, animatronic exotic birds gyrating to Lady Gaga's "Born This Way," as well as a mysterious spacewoman floating over the lake to David Bowie's "Space Oddity."
And if you haven't had your fill of wow-worthy shows, just a 15-minute walk away is the volcano at Mirage, which erupts nightly in a pyrotechnic display that might scare the kids, but you'll remember it forever.
Check Out Public Art Displays
Art lovers will find plenty to love in the city, from the incredible public art collection on the 67-acre CityCenter campus (look for Henry Moore, Claes Oldenburg, and Nancy Rubin, among many others). And although you'll have to book well in advance through Louis Vuitton in The Shops at Crystals, its 20-minute, hidden, immersive art room by light artist James Turrell—Akhob—is totally free.
Get a Selfie with a Vegas Landmark
Looking for the best selfie spots? Bookend your trip with the "Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas" sign, on the Strip's south end, and the new "Downtown Las Vegas Gateway Arches," the new, 80-foot-high neon arches that now welcome visitors to the city's wild and fun Downtown area. Or, take a picture with someone you love standing in the "O" of the ruby red "LOVE" sculpture in the waterfall atrium in Palazzo.
Where to Eat
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 cafés 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.
Tips for Booking a Hotel
Las Vegas hotels are tiered; it's a basic truth that some are just more expensive than others. Budget hotels on the Las Vegas Strip are aplenty, but you can also deals and save costs on even the most luxurious resort—here's how.
- 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.
- It's not uncommon to stumble on an outstanding hotel deal, like, say, a room advertised for $29 a night, but a word of caution: Once you add a resort fee (hotels are now charging between $35 and $45 per night) and parking, and the 12 to 13 percent hotel room tax on the Strip and Downtown, those prices start to look a little less like a bargain.
- There’s a downward trend in parking fees, but mostly for self-parking. Check the rates before you book.
- 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 a lot 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, though, since a few hotel casinos bury them within the site.
Apologies to the hardworking taxi drivers of Las Vegas, but there’s no reason to take a cab anymore. Here's how to get around Vegas on a budget.
- 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 pass 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.