Las Vegas, Sin City, the Gambling Capital of the World – whatever you want to call it, you have to go at least once in your life. While movies and TV shows make it appear as a rich person’s playground, it’s far from it. Vegas now exists to entertain the masses, no matter how much is sitting in your bank account.
Even with hotels like Circus Circus, Vegas is definitely not a place where you want to take your kids. There’s a reason booze, boobs, and blackjack are some of the most prevalent themes you’ll see there. So leave the kids at home when you’re planning your trip and use some of the tips I’ve learned below.
Start with Travel
Most people will likely have to fly into McCarran International Airport unless you live within a distance you don’t mind driving. You’ll find the cheapest fares during the week. Last year I was able to find a direct, round-trip flight out of St. Louis for $43.00.
Good flights are out there, and Vegas tends to fall on the cheaper end of the spectrum. Just sign up for alerts and watch some of the budget airlines like Frontier, Allegiant, and Spirit.
If you’re planning far in advance and plan on having some big purchases coming up, consider a premium credit card.
For example, I have the American Express Platinum Credit Card. I applied for this card just before Christmas when I planned on buying some gifts and had to have work done on my car. Once I hit the minimum spend, I was able to get enough bonus points that would more than cover a few tickets to Vegas.
Plus, you’d get access to the American Express Lounge, which has free booze and gourmet food at McCarran. To say it was delicious would an understatement.
Avoid Busy Season
Find dates that aren’t during the busy season. Christmas, New Year’s, January, Spring Break, and October/November time frames are when you’ll want to avoid Vegas.
New Year’s is a big party, January is when there are several of the largest shows in town, Spring Break is well… Spring Break, and then October and November are busy because of comfortable weather and late vacations.
Like any other entertainment venue or destination, avoid the weekend if you can. You’ll almost always get cheaper rates during the week.
Limit the Gambling
While you can win a lot quickly, you can lose a lot quickly. There’s plenty of fun and exciting activities to do outside of gambling. Or, at the very least, allow you to get a better bang for your buck while gambling.
In February and March, you have the Super Bowl and March Madness college basketball. The sportsbooks are buzzing, and excitement is in the air for two of the most significant sporting events of the year.
Any summer months are great to sit by the pool, hit up the golf course in the morning, hit up the outlet malls, or watch any of the shows that are in town.
Heck, you can spend an entire day just walking around and looking at all the sights. The Bellagio fountain show, the Flamingo Wildlife Habitat, or the Bellagio Botanical Garden are just a few of the free things that are pretty cool to see.
A quick Google search will bring tons of activities outside of what I can write here.
Walk, Uber, or Ride
The best value to get around the Strip is to walk. So pack your athletic shoes and deodorant; you’ll save time, money, and it’s good for you.
Uber’s are cheaper than taxis, however, getting an Uber is a PITA (Pain in the A**!). Because of traffic on The Strip or Fremont (Downtown), your app will say your driver is only 2 minutes away, which is true if there was no traffic. You’ll spend more time walking to your Uber and then waiting in traffic to get to your destination.
If you plan on bouncing around to different areas on the Strip and don’t want to walk a whole lot, the monorail is the way to go. The Las Vegas Monorail is an above-ground subway train that runs from one end of the Strip to the other.
Whenever I’ve been in town for shows, most notably CES and KBIS, shows that bring in up to 200,000 people to the area, the monorail still had pretty reasonable wait times. Plus, it’s not expensive for a 3-day pass, about $30, and runs well into the night.
Buy Groceries or Eat Smart
Unlike the old days, food is ridiculously expensive in Vegas. You can eat cheaply if you know where to go, but forget places like Gordon Ramsey’s Hell’s Kitchen if you’re on a budget. Restaurants like that will set you back about $150-$300 per person. Again, a quick google search for cheap places to eat in Vegas will bring you more results than I can show you here.
If you are staying somewhere you can cook, groceries are a good idea. Eggs and bread are always a cheap breakfast, and you can make just about anything for lunch and go out for dinner. Not to mention, it won’t be covered in butter, grease, and salt.
I’ve had the opportunity to stay on the Strip and to stay on Fremont Street, aka Downtown Vegas. Don’t let the ride to Fremont scare you. Sure it’s not the best-looking part of town, but what do you expect when there are drive-thru chapels on every other block?
Don’t get me wrong, it’s a perfectly safe tourist destination, and they have other cool activities like the Mob Museum down there. Not to mention it’s a covered area, so if it’s raining, you can still dance the night away to live music.
Fremont Street is significantly cheaper than the Strip, and if you want to go to the Strip, an Uber is quicker there and might cost you maybe $15 to $20. Personally, I like Downtown Vegas better because it is less touristy, and it’s easier to walk around.
I stayed at the Golden Nugget and had a great experience. My only recommendation is to stay on the side of the hotel farthest from the Fremont if you plan on going to bed earlier than midnight. The music from the street can still be heard even on the higher floors. While they provide earplugs, I still would have liked to stay in a different wing.
Gamble on a Budget
Okay, let’s be honest, you have to gamble a little bit while you’re in Vegas. Apart from obvious tips like:
- Don’t bet more than you can lose
- Only bring cash, no debit cards
- Don’t go back to the ATM after losing all your cash
Here are some tips to make even $20 or $40 last longer and have more fun with.
Head Downtown, the minimums are cheaper, and the odds are better on most table games. Unless slots are your thing, your odds are better playing craps or blackjack. Don’t know how to play craps or blackjack? Don’t worry, try going to the casino in the morning where there aren’t many people.
Find a dealer that has few or no people at the table. Ask them how to play, and they’ll show you optimal strategy. They’re not there to take your money, they’re there to move the cards or dice. They don’t get paid any more or any less if you lose or win. In fact, they want you to win, since that’ll give them a better chance of getting a tip.
Some casinos even have classes to teach you how to play blackjack or craps in the morning, where you don’t even need any money. Look for the signs or ask a pit boss or dealer.
Don’t Fall for Obvious Scams.
In any tourist-heavy area, there’s plenty of folks trying to take advantage of unsuspecting victims. While some of these are scams, others are just shady practices meant to suck money out of you. Batman or the showgirls might seem very inviting for a photo, but they expect a tip after taking one. You don’t have to give them anything, but more often than not they’ll guilt you into it.
The same goes for the shady folks handing out cards for free VIP rides to the strip club. Avoid those too.
Just remember, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is – especially in Vegas.