I recently returned from a trip to Sin City. The weather was great and the people were friendly, but wow can it be expensive. Lucky for you, I have some ways you can save money on the Vegas strip. I was a Vegas virgin (so to speak), so these are the low hanging fruit - the hard core Vegas visitors will likely have more money saving tips. [Editor's Note: This post is supplements my previous post Don't Lose Your Shirt in Las Vegas.]
Get someone else to pay for the trip
I went to Vegas for a conference, so my employer picked up the bulk of the cost. Airfare out and back, a suite at the Venetian, and even meals (including a fantastic steak dinner at Bouchon). Sounds like the perfect gig, right? Well, sort of. In exchange for picking up the tab, my employer expected me to actually attend the conference sessions and also make an effort to keep up on my regular work. This meant some mandatory night activities and a couple of 7 AM conference calls, along with doing some testing during breaks in the conference sessions.
Downgrade your room
The suite at the Venetian was great, and it was convenient to have a roomy desk area to get actual work done. However, many travelers to Vegas are rarely in their room. If you're never in your room, why spend a lot of money on it? Check over lower-priced options, including hotels off the strip (use TripAdvisor to make sure the place isn't a complete dump).
Limit your gambling
Multibillion dollar casinos pop up on the strip every couple of years. Older casinos that are in good shape, are imploded to make room for the new ones. The casinos must have a solid business plan get someone to finance such incredible costs. Yep - they have a business model that ensures a profit. Over time, the casino will win at every single game or machine. You can use skill to improve your odds at some of the table games, but inevitably gambler's ruin will run its course. If you're on a losing streak, you might think you are "due" for a hot streak - but this is a logical fallacy.
Set amounts your are willing to lose during your entire trip and during each specific session - and stick to it. My plan was to put $20 on the Colorado Rockies to win the World Series and to lose no more than $50 on the slots, with a per-session limit of $5. How well did I stick to this? I lost a total of $13 to the one armed bandits (most of which no longer have arms). Most people are probably going to gamble more than me - it's not particularly entertaining to me.
Keep your winnings
You should also set a ceiling for each session. Once you are up $5, $10, $100 - whatever the amount is - just walk away from the table and lock in the profit. Sure, you could turn that money into ten times that amount - but it's more likely that you'll gamble it away to nothing.
If you do win, keep the money. The stores on the strip are just as overpriced after a winning streak as they are after a losing streak. If you win $500 and immediately give it back by buying a bunch of overpriced crap in the hotel mall, did you really come out ahead? My boss made the comment that a t-shirt comparable to what he'd see at T.J. Maxx could be found for about $100, but a shirt he could actually want to buy went for about $500 in one of the shops. So the question is whether that $500 shirt will be worth $500 to you when you arrive home, or whether the Vegas value will fade away on the flight home.
[Editor's Note: I can't imagine what a $500 shirt looks like. I also can't imagine T.J. Maxx having an article of clothing that costs $100.]
Lower cost food options
There are cheaper food option off the strip, but you can keep prices down even on the strip. I expensed two meals from McDonalds, and there's also a Denny's on the strip, as well as a variety of food courts squirreled away in the hotels (intentionally hidden in an effort to get you to eat at a higher priced place). A Big Mac will cost you more on the strip, but it will still be inexpensive.
There are also a large number of buffets to take advantage of. I particularly enjoyed the buffet at Mirage, but I also hit some others. The Treasure Island buffet has cotton candy. Price can change by several dollars during the shift from breakfast to lunch and lunch to dinner. You can take advantage of this by getting there in time for the tail end of the breakfast hours and taking advantage of lunch when they reset the buffet a few minutes later.
Public transportation is easily accessible. Bus, monorail, taxi, limo - you name it, you can get it. However, if you're in decent shape, the strip is pretty walkable. You can save a few bucks and also burn off a few buffet calories at the same time - all while soaking in the sights and sounds. Other than a shuttle to and from the airport ($7), I spent $0 on transportation. I got a good workout, walking from Venetian to Excalibur in 30 minutes one night. I also took the stairs whenever possible, even when escalators were in plain site. I'm too lazy to go out of my way for exercise, but if you put the opportunity right in front of me, I'll take it.
There are a couple of Walgreens stores on the strip. You can buy everything from liquor and soft drinks to Vegas souvenirs. Pricier than your local Walgreens, but setting up a bar in your own room will cost you a tiny fraction of the cost of the same booze at a casino bar. I bought a couple two liter bottles of pop, pretzels, and french onion dip. Yep. I'm a wild man.
Freebies and two for ones
If you sign up for a player's club card, you can get freebies - from a free buffet for the low rollers to free rooms for the high rollers. This does, of course, mean that the casino will be tracking your habits. The more money you lose, the better the benefits. You'll still end up in the hole if you lose money, but at least you'll get some consolation prizes. I knew I wouldn't be gambling very much, and also wanted to hop around a lot in the limited free time I had, so I didn't sign up for a card.
There are also a lot of two for one coupons - for buffets and for various attractions on the trip. My wife wasn't with me on this trip, and I have a tendency to be a bit of a loner. I wanted to wander on my own without being tied to my co-workers, so I didn't take advantage of two for one coupons.
As I often mention in my articles, the key is moderation. You don't want to go the Vegas and spend all your time in your 0.5 star hotel room because you refuse to spend money. There's a difference between spending a few bucks and going completely overboard. On my last night in Vegas, I splurged and went to see David Copperfield. This was not cheap - $70. However, it was probably a once in a lifetime opportunity. The money I saved by being frugal in other areas freed up some cash for Copperfield. Ten or twenty years from now, which memory would I get more enjoyment from - losing $70 at blackjack or spending time watching one of the great showmen of our time?
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