Visiting Las Vegas on a budget
Las Vegas probably isn’t most people’s idea of a budget destination. Even if you’re not blowing your cash gambling on the casino floor, you could easily spend up a fortune in the city’s five-star hotels, A-list nightclubs, Michelin-starred restaurants and designer boutiques. But you don’t need to rob a casino – Ocean’s Eleven style – to enjoy a trip to Las Vegas. Sin City is still doable if you’re on a budget. I spent ten days in the city last spring so had to maximise the fun without spending too much. So here are my top tips for saving money in Las Vegas on everything from entertainment and transport to food and nightlife.
Things to see and do
You can easily keep yourself entertained just wandering the Strip – watch gondoliers on the canals at Venice, walk across the Brooklyn Bridge at New York New York, see the pyramids at the Luxor, visit the indoor botanical gardens at the Bellagio, check out the vintage neon on Fremont Street or pose by the Las Vegas sign (south of Mandalay Bay on the Strip). There are also free attractions inside the casinos, like the Flamingo’s Wildlife Habitat, with exotic birds and fish in 15 acres of gardens, the huge tropical aquarium at the Silverton Casino (complete with mermaids) and the P3 art studio at the Cosmopolitan.
Away from the casinos, the Pinball Hall of Fame is free to enter and you just pay 25–50¢ per game. Or if you’re in the city on the first Friday of the month, Downtown Las Vegas’ art district hosts a First Friday event. Local artists display and sell their work on the streets and there’s also live music, street performers, food carts and art lessons for kids. The event runs from 5pm–11pm and there’s parking nearby plus a shuttle bus service which connects it with Fremont Street.
If you plan to do a lot of the paid attractions, it might be worth investing in a Power Pass. They cost $85 for one day up to $136 for five days and cover 25 attractions, including Siegfried & Roy’s Secret Garden, the Mob Museum, Stratosphere observation deck, Bellagio art gallery and Madame Tussauds. It also includes trips out of Vegas to the Hoover Dam, Grand Canyon West and a Lake Mead cruise.
Vegas is famous for its shows, whether that’s Cirque du Soleil or big-name music performers like Britney Spears. Advance tickets can set you back hundreds of dollars, but you can pick up discounted tickets from one of the eleven Tix4Tonight outlets spread along the Strip and downtown. They only sell tickets for performances that day, so you don’t know what will be available, but you can save up to half price. Get there when they open at 10am for the biggest selection of tickets.
If that’s still too pricey, then check out some of the free shows at the casinos. The most famous is the Bellagio Fountains, with over a thousand fountains choreographed to music every 15 mins from 7pm–midnight and every 30 mins in the afternoons. There is also the volcano outside the Mirage which erupts each hour from 6pm–11pm and a free circus show featuring acrobats and clowns every half hour from 11am–midnight at Circus Circus. Downtown at the Fremont Street Experience there’s a free light show on the hour from 6pm–midnight and you’ll often find live bands playing. There’s also live dueling piano shows every night in bars at Harrah’s, Paris and New York New York.
When it comes to saving money on club entry, it’s easier if you’re a woman. You’ll often be handed discount flyers on the street or approached by club promoters who can get your name on the guest list. You need to get there by 9pm though, but can often get your hand stamped so you can go out and come back in again later. Otherwise you can skip the queue and sometimes get a discount if you’re staying at the resort or get free entry when you eat at an attached restaurant, like Tao at the Venetian.
Top city views
The city’s tallest point is the Stratosphere tower’s observation deck – entry costs $18 per person, with discount packages available if you want to do any of the crazy rides at the top while you’re up there. For a more central viewpoint head up to the top of Paris Las Vegas’ Eiffel Tower. It costs $11.50 during the daytime (which includes up to 7.15pm so you can still get up there in the dark) or $16.50 at night, with a discount for children and over 60s, and free admission if it’s your birthday (bring photo ID).
The are also great views for the price of a drink at Las Vegas’ high-rise bars. There are bars at the top of the Stratosphere and Eiffel Tower, or try the Mix Lounge at THEhotel Mandalay Bay (open from 5pm, with free entry until 10pm), the Ghostbar at the Palms (open from 8pm, entry costs from $10) and the VooDoo rooftop nightclub at the Rio (open from 9pm, entry costs from $20).
There’s also a new city viewpoint which has just opened – the High Roller wheel. It’s part of the LINQ – a new shopping and entertainment district between the Flamingo and The Quad. At 550 feet tall it’s the world’s tallest ferris wheel, taking 30 minutes to do a full rotation. It’s not cheap but you can save by booking for a timed slot, with tickets costing $24.95 up until 5.50pm or an extra $10 at night.
Eating and drinking
For cheaper dining head off the Strip or downtown. You can also find good-value pre-theatre menus if you’re happy to eat early. Pick up restaurant discount coupons in the booklets you get in hotel rooms or cabs, or you can buy meal deals from places like Tix4Tonight (see above) or Groupon.
If you’re hungry, a casino buffet is good value. They’re usually cheaper for brunch or lunch rather than dinner and you can often upgrade for unlimited drinks. Or if you’re seriously hungry, try the Buffet of Buffets, where $50 gets you 24 hours unlimited access to the buffets at seven casinos (including Paris, Caesars Palace and the Rio). You can also save a few dollars by signing up to Caesars Entertainment’s free Total Rewards programme, which also gets you a discount in some of their other restaurants.
Bottled water and snacks from the casino shops can be expensive, so head to a supermarket to stock up – there’s a Walgreens near Planet Hollywood and a CVS near Monte Carlo on the Strip. They also sell alcohol so you can have a few drinks before going out (or even drink on the street with Las Vegas’ liberal liquor laws). You get free drinks on the casino floor if you’re gambling – though stick to low-value games if you want to actually save money doing this and make sure to tip your waitress. Also check out this list for details of happy hours across town with discounted food and drinks.
The Strip is surprisingly close to Las Vegas’ McCarran International Airport, but the heavy traffic means taxis can be pricey. The cheaper option is an airport shuttle minibus which will drop you at your hotel. There are several companies but all leave from outside baggage reclaim and charge $7–9 each way.
It’s easy to get around the Strip on foot, but distances are bigger than they look, so if you need a rest hop on the Deuce bus. These double-decker buses run the length of the Strip and up to Fremont Street 24 hours a day, up to every 15 mins. A 24-hour unlimited pass costs $8. There’s also the Las Vegas Monorail which runs between the former Sahara and the MGM Grand. Tickets cost $5 per ride or better value is the 24-hour pass for $12. There are also three smaller monorail trams which are free and run from the Mirage to Treasure Island, Bellagio to Monte Carlo and Mandalay Bay to Excalibur.
So those are my tips for seeing Las Vegas on a budget – do you know of any more Vegas bargains or have any money-saving tips?