Las Vegas on a Budget: Tips From a Local
All About Resort Fees in Vegas
It may be obvious, but I stay at my home and not in the local hotels. I assume, however, that you will, and I'll fill you in on the notorious Resort fees you may encounter.
Resort fees range from about $5–$25. Some hotels in Vegas do not have resort fees but most do. Almost all hotel room comparing websites will not include the resort fee so you need to find out what it is (by going to the hotel's website) and factor that into the room you are getting. Just because you have already paid for the room ahead of time doesn't mean you won't get charged the resort fee when you check in or check out (that's the part that really ticks off the uninformed visitor).
Generally, Resort Fees include free wifi and other free amenities like fitness center access or breakfast and even things like spa credits and shoe shines. If you pick a hotel with no resort fee you could save money but make sure you don't want to use wifi or any other amenity because that's going to cost you a la carte.
Getting to the Strip From the Airport
Most, but not all, of Las Vegas' visitors come by airplane. If you take a taxi, make sure you tell the taxi driver "NO Tunnel." No matter what the taxi driver tells you, insist on "NO Tunnel." You will always save cash. It may take a few minutes more, but it's always cheaper, and most of the time it's faster as well. Taking the tunnel to the highway is called "Long Hauling" and is a way the taxi driver can get more money from you and it is not legal unless you request to go that way but it happens every time.
If you paid a resort fee, see if it included a shuttle from the airport at no charge. Even if you avoided the resort fee, check your hotel's website they still may offer a free shuttle. Paying for a shuttle is an unpleasant experience if you ask me. It is a few dollars cheaper (unless you have a large group of friends, then its more money) than a taxi but you may have to wait a half hour or more for the shuttle to fill up and they often smell much worse than a taxi. As of right now, a taxi should cost you $15–$25 to the strip depending on where your hotel is.
You may also choose a car service. If so, order one ahead of time to get the cheapest rate. This option is not really for the budget minded. But if you want to arrive in class it should cost around $60 if you order ahead.
To be honest, I have never rented a car in Las Vegas and have no tips for it. Parking is free everywhere and even free valet in most places. So if you like to drive this may be an option for you but even when I drive from my house to the strip and park, I do not get back in my car and drive to the next place I walk around to get from place to place and only get back in my car to go home again.
Tipping in Las Vegas: The $20 Trick
You should not save money by skimping on tips in Las Vegas. You should tip anyone who serves you satisfactorily and tip well anyone who serves you exceptionally.
So you have never tipped the guy or gal at the front registration desk before... I don't blame you but in Las Vegas, you should consider it. Why? If you give the front desk $20 when you hand them your credit card for incidentals at check-in and ask the question "Do you have any complimentary room upgrades available?" something magical will happen. You will be upgraded to a very nice room that would have cost much more if you upgraded before you arrived. Most of the time with an awesome view on a much higher floor. What if it doesn't work you ask? If the desk clerk has no upgrades available they will return your $20. Trust me on this one. If you are staying a week this can be an awesome upgrade for just a one time $20 tip. Don't care where your room is? Don't tip.
Cash and Las Vegas
You do not need to carry tons of cash with you on the airplane to Las Vegas. Instead set up an account with the hotel you are staying at. They will withdraw the money from your account just like you are at your bank and as long as you are staying at the Hotel they almost never charge you for this. You may want to notify your bank of your intentions to go to Las Vegas so they won't put a hold on your money. You may also want to up your daily withdrawal limit if you think it will be too low. The cashier at the hotel where you are staying will also cash your personal check as well, again, most of the time with no charge to you.
Is it safe to carry around a couple thousand dollars in Vegas? YES! Safer than most any place else. Remember everyone else around is probably doing the same, not trying to rob you. There are SOOOOOO many police on the strip and most of the time they are out of sight but as soon as ANYTHING at all happens you will see them arrive in seconds. Of course, you should be smart as well. Don't flash your cash all around and don't stand around counting it in plain sight. I recommend counting in a bathroom stall for privacy. And don't wander off the strip. If there is no one down a street do not go down there. The strip is crowded at almost every hour of the day and there are literally thousands of surveillance cameras in every casino making Las Vegas Strip one of the safest places to be at any hour.
Bonus for Bank of America Customers: There is a Bank of America ATM on the top floor (4) of M&Ms World. This will save the crazy high ATM fees you would pay on the casino floor.
Bonus for Chase Bank Customers: Check out CVS for your ATM, although there is often a long line. No fees are always a good thing.
Casinos and Their Membership Cards
If you intend on gambling in Las Vegas, you must be 21. Before you gamble a penny though, check at the "Player's Club" (Every Casino calls it something different). You can often get free play if you are joining the club today. Anywhere from $5–$10 to a spin of a wheel where I have seen up to $1000 for free before you have even gambled at all. Say you get your free $5, you can go to the slot machine of your choice and gamble $5 as fast or slow as you want. As soon as the $5 has gone through the machine (the call this coin-in), you can cash out the rest if you want as free money. For example, you found a slot machine you like that cost $1 per play. On play 1 you lose on play 2 you win $5 and then plays 3-5 you loose. You would have $5 left but $5 would have already went through the machine and you could cash out if you want.
Do this at as many of the casinos as you want to some free fun. You could even play 1 cent on your $5 and that would give you 500 free plays before your free credits run out and could be a few hours of free fun. Sometime there is no free play going on. If you are searching for the free play just don't sign up for that "Player's Club" and move on to the next one.
Get Paid at Test America in Planet Hollywood
Test America is a tiny little place inside Miracle Mile mall at Planet Hollywood where tourists (and locals) can test out products and TV shows and get some free money. I find this one fun and do it almost every time I am down at the strip. You generally get $10 to watch a TV show that isn't out yet and give your opinion. It takes about an hour and it isn't that much money but I find it fun and if you find this sorts of things fun then you get paid to have fun and what can be better than that. Test America is right in front for Blondie's (A bar with a giant girl statue out front). If there isn't anyone stand out front recruiting people just walk right in the door that says Test America and up the stairs and they'll tell you what they are testing at the moment. They give you a check right after you are done. I just have a cellphone app for depositing checks but if your bank doesn't do this you will, of course, have to deposit your check before you can access your payment.
There is a place called Television City inside MGM which also shows new shows and has surveys. They don't pay you, but ask if they have the Starbucks coupon that day. Its $5 free at Starbucks. If they have this coupon I normally do it and grab my free drink afterward. You don't have to use up the whole $5 either. You can get a drink for $4.50 and just give them the coupon, you don't have to find another something to bump you over $5.
One more place on the Las Vegas strip to watch and give opinions on new shows is in Bally's. It is not for locals so I have not been there but they pay you just like Test America.
Drink Deals in Las Vegas
If you are gambling, don't buy any drinks beforehand. A waitress will come around shortly and you can order anything, water, soda, juice, beer, liquor, wine whatever (pineapple juice with a lime wedge—seriously anything). When the waitress comes back with your drink tip her $1 per drink or more if you are feeling generous but $1 is the social norm. So basically drinks are $1 each cause of the tip. This is the case for basically any Casino on the Las Vegas Strip. What about deals for those who don't want to gamble? There are still plenty of options, such as:
Water: The best deal on some bottled water is at Grand Canyon tours (right by Hard Rock Cafe) The cooler out front has .5 liter bottles 2/$1. No tax on grocery items so just grab 2, go in and hand the cashier your $1. I normally grab 4 if I am thirsty (which can happen when its over 100 and you are walking around a lot).
Beer: Try any of the Walgreens, CVS, 7-11 or ABC stores on the strip. You can buy 1 or a whole case for basically grocery store price and not theme park price. You don't need a paper bag or whatever, just grab and go. You must be 21 of course. Feel free to take a six pack right into your favorite casino, really it isn't weird. They don't care at all, they just want you in there.
Soda: Same places as where you get beer.
Liquor: Same places again but don't walk around carrying a liquor bottle on the strip you will likely be asked to put it away. So if you are buying a bottle of liquor and a 2 liter of coke for your own cocktails bring a backpack to put it in when you are not pouring it. You can still have it just not carrying it around openly like you can beer or the already mixed drinks.
Slushy Alcohol Drinks: Basically where ever they are sold it's about the same price. I am not a fan (the brain freeze is not awesome in 100-degree weather). Hold on to your cup for 1/2 price refills at just about anywhere that sells them.
Las Vegas' Food Deals
First off, let's discuss Buffets. The good ones are expensive the cheap ones aren't good. I don't really go to buffets but if you have a free coupon go for it. Without one they generally aren't saving you money or your waistline.
Next, there is Secret Pizza. It's not called that, but that's what everyone calls it since it has no name. It is down an unmarked hallway on the second floor of the Cosmopolitan. Just look for a hallway with a bunch of records on the wall. The pizza is just like NY pizza by the slice on cheesy paper plates and not sitting room. $5 and your stomach should be good for hours. Not good for you but delicious. I also enjoy that their menu says "No you can't have ranch."
Most of the casinos also have a regular old fast food court like an old school mall. With Subways and McDonalds and stuff like that. And the prices are pretty normal unlike when you find a food court in a theme park where every meal is twice as much as the same restaurant on the outside. The classier the casino the less likely they have on though so keep that in mind.
If you have gambled and accumulated any comps you can use them for food. This can normally get you best bang for your comp buck as well.
This suggestion is out of the box but you could always pack some food and drinks and take them with you. Seriously, no one cares what you are doing in Las Vegas as long as it is not criminal. if you sit at a slot machine and bust out a bag of Lays not a person in the world cares.
You can also buy cheap food at the same stores I recommended for buying cheap drinks.
If you want a good deal on more expensive or fancier foods, check out their happy hour times. Some of them even have happy hour all day as long as you sit at the bar and not at a table. If you are going to a nice restaurant check OpenTable to see if you can get a reservation that way you won't have to wait and you'll get points on OpenTable for free restaurant dollars in the future. For example, Mon Ami Gabi often had over a 1-hour wait but you can slide right in making a reservation an hour ahead of time and then just showing up on time.
Cheap Ways to Get From Here to There in Las Vegas
Walk! It isn't that hard, and it's free. Do remember that places are further than they look but I always recommend walking. You can exercise all that excess you've been consuming all day. Bring comfortable walking shoes since everything is cement.
Take "The Deuce." This two-dollar bus goes up and down the strip. Prepay at the bus stop. They won't let you on if you haven't prepaid.
Take the monorail. $7 gets you from one end to the other. Not a great deal but still cheaper than a taxi. Only $1 for locals so its a much better deal for us. If you know a local, have them buy you some tickets. Locals can buy up to two tickets each day. There is also a free monorail that goes from Luxor to NY NY. And a free tram from the Mirage to TI.
Take a taxi. Taxis are expensive, but if you need to get somewhere in a hurry, it's the only way to go.
Las Vegas' Free Attractions
These may be obvious but the article would not be complete without them. First off the Bellagio Fountain show. It is free, its pretty cool. Watch it once then it gets old in my opinion. Then there is the pirate show at Treasure Island (TI). Also, cool one time then something else to do. And third the volcano at the Mirage. Again, cool once then the same old story.
There is a bird aviary in the Flamingo with live flamingos and other birds. Its free but not very large. 10 minutes of free entertainment and a little bit of a breath of fresh air so to speak.
The Main entrance to the Bellagio has a ceiling covered in Chihuly Glass. In my opinion, it looks amazing. In the space between the Wynn and Encore is a giant metal sculpture of Tulips that is also amazing and free to view. The sculpture cost Wynn millions. Also in the Wynn is what I call flower sculptures that are different every week. All made of fresh flowers and they look as awesome as they smell. In the Aria, there is an ever-changing art "table" display that is always fresh and looks awesome. It's down a longish hallway with copper-colored walls that ends at some fancy restaurants.
The free entertainment that never gets old is all the intoxicated people having the time of their life and saying the most entertaining things as well as carrying on as if no one was watching. People watching is a staple of entertainment for me in Las Vegas but it may not be your thing.
Show Deals in Las Vegas
There aren't any really amazing secret ways to get a great deal on tickets to shows in Las Vegas. Shows are really awesome and not cheap but totally worth it. However, you should never pay full price for a ticket. Order them online ahead of time to get a good deal and a good seat or get them the same day as the show at those half-price ticket booths for about the same deal but your seats may or may not be good. The one Half price tickets place that easily comes to mind is the one right by the M&Ms world. Somewhere around half price of the full price is about what you should expect to pay for a show ticket.
Tip: DO NOT buy tickets from a random solicitor on the strip. It won't be a better deal and it may straight up be fraudulent. I do not trust strip solicitors. I recommend you do not either.
A Cool, Cheap Las Vegas Souvenir
If you like souvenirs, like me, I have a great way to get one in Las Vegas for very cheap. Grab yourself $1 and go up to any table game at any casino. Put the dollar down on the table and ask for a $1 souvenir chip. Most of the time the dealer will look at their $1 chips and find a nice new one and hand it to you. Now you have a $1 souvenir! And if you change your mind just bring it to that casino's cashier and trade it back for your $1. You can get just one or you could get one at each casino you visit.