Ask the Readers: How to Have a Frugal Vegas Vacation?

Here at Generation X Finance, I’m typically the one dispensing advice, but this time, I’m asking you. During the last week of October, my wife and I will be heading to Vegas for about 4 or 5 days. For her, this is her first time out there, and while I’ve been there before, the last time I was there, I was about 16 years old. Obviously, a lot has changed, and while I was there, I couldn’t even enjoy many of the Vegas attractions.

So, we need advice on how to make the most of our time there without breaking the bank. What is a must see, and what should be avoided? Is there a way to save on shows, get free meals, or otherwise make out like a bandit?

Where We Can and Can’t Save

That being said, there are a few areas where additional savings won’t be possible. First, is airfare. I’m attending a conference on Saturday morning, yet I have to work here at the office for a mandatory event until 5 pm on Friday. That means our flight window for flying out of our regional airport narrows us down to only 2 possible flights. Because of this, we will miss out on getting a low price on a budget airline or anything, so saving money on that airfare is out of the question.

The second area is the hotel. Since I’m primarily headed there to attend a conference, we are getting a pretty good group rate at the Mirage, which is right where the conference will be located. I’m sure we could head down the strip and find a little better deal, but for the rate, the qualify of the resort, and the convenience of being right there, it probably isn’t worth the savings.

So, beyond that, how can we have a good time without breaking the bank? And also, what else is there to do there besides stuff yourself with buffets and gamble your money away? I’m sure that will get old after just a couple nights.

We’ve budgeted about $2,500 for the trip. Airfare and the hotel related expenses will eat up around $1,400, leaving roughly $1,100 for food, entertainment, and gambling.

Share Your Thoughts

So, have you been to Vegas recently? Have any tips on how to save big money? Any hot spots that you just have to see while you’re there, or have any bad experiences to report? I’m pretty clueless when it comes to Vegas, so any helpful advice would be great.

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Filed Under: Odds and Ends

About the Author: Jeremy Vohwinkle is a Chartered Retirement Planning Counselor® and spent a few years working as a financial planner. Today, he helps people make the most of their money by writing about personal finance here and elsewhere on the web. Jeremy is also Coach at Adaptu and a regular contributor for other publications such as Intuit, and American Express. Be sure to follow Jeremy on Twitter or Google+.

20 comments
Alka
Alka

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Las Vegas Managing Editor
Las Vegas Managing Editor

I just found this post, and ironically today one of my readers (to our Las Vegas newsletter/blog) wrote about their recent visit with their 16 year old:

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My husband and I get to Vegas at least once a year. Generally we see a show and gamble and relax. My son graduated high school this past June and instead of a party, he wanted to come to Vegas and see Kevin James. So, we were there the beginning of October. Although I always have a good - no make that great - time while I am there, this time proved to be even better. Since my son is older but not of gambling or drinking age, we found other things to do. While my husband likes to stay in the casino - which is ok with me since he won 2 progressive jackpots on the draw poker machine within 24 hours - my son and I went around the strip. We went to the wax musuem. Had an absolutely fantastic time. I never would have thought I could have so much fun there. Another site we took in was the Secret Garden at Mirage. The animals are beautiful and fun to watch. Fortuneatly for us, some of the trainers were out there with the dolphins and the lion cubs. We went to the Stratosphere where my son went on all 3 rides at the top. I was in a slot tournament. Although I have been invited numerous times to participate, this is the first time I was able to join. Of course, the reason we came was to see Kevin James who happened to be with Ray Romano. It was non stop laughter from the time the opener started. After the show, we were hanging around the Mirage and happened to see Martin Lawrence. My son approached him and asked if he could have a picture with him and autograph. Martin was very accomodating, and talked to my son for a couple minutes. I wouldn't normally bother a celebrity while they are out in public, but we did. Martin was the nicest person. Very friendly. It was good to see a celebrity who will still act like a human being and remember who their fans are. Now, my son is figuring out when he can get back there!! Some of the other letters you received recently showed some negativity of Vegas. I still saw the brilliant city, service and great attractions that make us come back every year.

Thanks

Donna - Melrose Park IL

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Hope this helps,

Ted Newkirk
Managing Editor
http://www.accessvegas.com

Dreamybee
Dreamybee

If you think you can make it through the Tahiti Village sales pitch without caving, it might be worth checking out. When my husband and I were there in August, there was a kiosk set up in front of the Fashion Show Mall where they were trying to hook people into the Tahiti Village presentations, and they were offering some pretty good deals for shows in exchange for your time. Of course, the more reluctant you are to see the presentation, the better the deals get! That said, be prepared to lose 90 minutes (or more) of your life that you will never get back. We sat through a Hilton Grand Vacations Club time share presentation that lasted for 3 hours (not the stated two), so make sure you have an exit strategy.

If you have a military ID, you can get some pretty good rates on tickets for shows as well. We bought tickets at the Bellagio box office for that evening's showing of "Mystere," the seats were good, and we got a really good military discount. "Mystere" was good, but there were several outside factors at play that kept us from enjoying it fully, so I can't really give a good, objective review of it.

Also, there is a free shuttle bus that runs between the Wynn and the Hilton Grand Vacations Club on the Las Vegas Strip every half hour or so. The HGVC is nothing special, but it's on the end of the strip closer to the Stratosphere, so if you wanted to check that out, you could catch the bus to the HGVC and then walk from there.

Have fun!

Eric
Eric

If you like comedy the "The Comedy Stop at the Trop" (Tropicana), which is South strip, across from the MGM Grand is a must. The have two shows nightly and the admission (approx. $20 ea.) includes two drinks. The show is top rate.

The Mirage is home to Sigfreid and Roy's secret garden, which is out back by the pool. It includes a bunch of African animals and the dolphin habitat. It is a nice way to spend the afternoon. You'll probably get a special rate since you are at the Mirage anyway.

Shark Reef at the Mandalay Bay is a nice aquarium admission is also about $20 and it is another good afternoon excursion. Mandalay Bay is across the way from the MGM Grand and the Tropicana so Shark Reef, the Lion's at the MGM, and the Comedy club would make one long afternoon into the evening.

Mizuno's at the Tropicana is a Benihana-style cook at your table Japanese restaurant and well worth the time. They have an early bird special, which is under $12 for the meal.

Someone had suggested a drive to Hoover Dam. If you want an unforgettable memory take the rafting trip that departs from the base of the dam. The rafting company will pick you up at your hotel and take you out to the dam. It is about $100 per person but you go on a two-three hour float trip (no rapids) from the base of the dam through the gorges of the Colorado river and end up at the pickup point in Arizona. The trip is truly unforgettable and well worth the money.

Jake
Jake

I just got back from 4 days @ vegas.

Couple recommendations: Zumanity is quite good, definitely an adult show (nudity...) but very tasteful as well. The tickets I got to the Blue man group were worth it just to get a picture with one of them at the end.

I would also recommend skipping the buffets. We went to the spice market and it wasn't that great. It's better to just ask around for a good restaurant (most sales people have good recommendations). Joe's at the Caesar's Forum Shop is excellent, had a good sandwich at Trader Vic's as well.

The easiest way to save money is to just curtail or reduce the gambling (or drinking). The MGM Grand, O Shea's, Monte Carlo and the Tropicana were the easiest place to get drinks while gambling. Had the best luck at the Monte Carlo with the slots (doubled my money), but O Shea's had the best luck for playing blackjack.

Above all, remember it's a vacation and that spending a bit of money hopefully won't kill you. It's easiest to remember this way: everything is going to be either 1 1/2 times or twice the money as what you are used to where you live. I would also suggest getting used to skipping coffee, the average starbucks drink there is 4-7 bucks.

Enjoy your trip :)

Froogirl
Froogirl

Jeremy, I'm there now for a conference and my husband is joining me later in the week. I'll keep you posted with what we learn.

Bill
Bill

One route you can take is listen to AM talk radio and you'll no doubt hear about "Tahiti Village." It's a timeshare and they're "giving away" accommodations along with a discount coupon for airfare...you have to sit thought a 90 minute presentation, but the stay is free.

That's the cheap way to go. Also, as many have mentioned, there are TONS of free entertainment choices and the food is really good most everywhere you go (I'm not a fan of buffets, but the seafood buffet at the Rio is supposedly very good).

Finally, I suggest you rent a car, not necessarily for the full stay but for those days you want to venture out of the city. Hoover Dam is very cool to see and the Grand Canyon is spectacular, though about 5 hours away if memory serves.

Vegas has truly become a family destination. You don't have to like gambling to have fun there any more.

PartialExponent
PartialExponent

I would suggest renting a car... parking in Vegas is plentiful and free, and if you are staying for 4-5 days you will probably want to venture off the Strip, so the car will come in very handy.

Just walking up and down the Strip and checking out each hotel is very fun, and free (Don't miss the Bellagio fountain shows, especially at night! Though I would pass on the Treasure Island Sirens show - always crowded and nothing much to see.)

For show tickets, if you are flexible about what you want to see, check out the discount "day-of" ticket places (tickets2nite & tix4tonight)... you will have to go to the booths in person on the morning of, and selection varies widely of course (popular shows like Cirque also go quickly of course), but you can get some nice discounts this way.

BTW, we saw KA and LOVED it, well worth every penny of the (full-price) tickets we bought.

For buffets, the Wynn dinner buffet is top notch. When we went in March, you could earn 2 free buffets by signing up for a Player's Card and doing a little bit of slot play, but not sure if that deal is still running. We also tried the Bellagio (weekend brunch) and didn't like it at all - mediocre food constantly stampeded by hordes of people.

There is LOTS of great food in Vegas, so personally I would splurge a little bit rather than chance it on the questionable $5.99 steak specials and the like, but that is a personal preference. My 2 favorite places (off-Strip) are Lotus of Siam (Thai, considered by many to be the best Thai in America - get the Nam Kao Tod appetizer if you come here!) and Rosemary's (fine dining - great food and impeccable service here, plus you can use Restaurant.com GC or specials to cut down the cost)

If you like hiking, the Red Rock Canyons are nearby and beautiful, and even have a not-so-secret secret Vegas overlook or two - quite a spectacular view.

Jeremy
Jeremy

Thanks for the tips, everyone. Yeah, a trip to the Hoover Dam and/or the grand canyon is in order for sure. Again, I was there as a teen, but wife has never been, so it is worth the time and money. Still debating over taking a tour or renting a car. Renting is obviously cheaper and a more free schedule, but paying to have someone drive you around and feed you without any hassles doesn't sound too bad either.

Jimmy
Jimmy

I lived in vegas for two years. You actually dont need to spend alot of money to have fun. There are free shows and entertainment abound along the strip. Couple of my favorites. New york, New york hotel piano bar, MGM lion display, Harrah's always has good shows. Circus, Circus, just walk into this place and you will be amazed. There are actually free shows throughout the strip if u know where to look. Another fave of mine is the Sahara hotel also.

Just walk up and down the strip and u will find something. oh yeah please go to old vegas at fremont st. A must see show at night are the light show above the street. Very nice. And these are all for free. Actually going to vegas is a pretty frugal vacation if u don not gamble TOO much. lol

liv
liv

don't worry about where you stay. my first time to vegas, i decided to splurge on a room at the venetian. it's best to get the most out of your vegas experience because it's always so expensive to come back. when you come back for other things, you can decide if you want to stay at another casino/hotel or just a normal inexpensive hotel/motel. one easy inexpensive thing to do is tour ALL the casinos. they all have a different theme. you practically spend a day or 2 touring all the casinos. you can always catch a cirque du soleil show like the other posters said, and nothing says inexpensive relaxation like if your hotel has a pool! just beware of expensive alcoholic beverages.

enjoy your trip!

Drew
Drew

I have been to Vegas several times, and here are my hints. Stay during the middle of the week if you can swing it. Weekends they quintuple the charges. If you stay in old Vegas (Freemont Street) usually it is pretty cheap. Last time I went, I stayed at a hotel, free parking, free morning buffet, double room for $35 a night. The bus pass previously mentioned took you from freemont to las vegas boulevard and I was able to see the "newer" hotels and casinos for cheap. I rented a car and drove to the grand canyon (5 hours away) and saw the hoover dam as well. It was a long day - but not too bad.

Beyond that. Stratosphere tower at sunset/night is unbeatable view. Well worth the 20 bucks to get to the top. Beware of the "$5 prime rib buffets" as all the good ones are gone and you will be paying with pepto and ammodium AD later.

Have a good trip .. it is a lot of fun and you can see and do a lot of things. Don't be afraid to eat at a subway or someplace instead of one of the big casinos - $5 footlongs may not be the most exciting, but better than $25 a head buffets, and that saves $40 for gambling :)

Gretchen
Gretchen

My boyfriend and I traveled to Vegas this Spring and stayed at Treasure Island (which I wouldn't recommend). Unfortunately, the days of low cost Vegas seem to be gone. One free thing that we enjoyed was visiting the various hotels. They are spectacles in themselves. We particularly liked seeking the Luxor and Excalibur for their eighties cheesiness. The Luxor has an IMAX theatre, which is a fun escape on a hot day.

The greatest bargain in Vegas, if you're staying on the Strip, is the one-day bus pass, which is $5.00. You get unlimited rides in a 24 hour period. You can buy them on the bus, but you should have exact change.

Amy
Amy

My husband and I were in the same situation last year in September. I had a conference to attend and took him along with me for the week so we could see the sights. I highly recommend visiting the MGM Grand. I'm not sure if you smoke or not but that was the only hotel which didn't reek of cigarette smoke on the casino floor. I know that I thoroughly appreciated that. They also have the MGM lion exhibit which I really enjoyed. There are a couple of live lions inside the hotel and you can walk through this clear tunnel so it feels like you're in there with the lions. When I was there, there was one sleeping on the top of the tunnel so you could really get a feel for how huge these animals are. I also suggest seeing all of the free exhibits. That's all my husband and I had money for but it filled up our whole week nicely. There is the volcano, the pirates at Treasure Island (now the sirens of T.I.), The fountain (and shopping)at Caesars, The fountains at the Bellagio, etc. I think my other favorite hotel was the Bellagio because of the huge garden inside. It was amazing.

I mention the shopping at Caesars because my husband and I had fun laughing at the ridiculous prices people pay for _(insert any item here)__. Plus, it's a good place to spot celebrities. While we were there my husband spotted Jewel and I saw Pete Rose signing autographs. All in all there is plenty to do. We did have a hard time finding cheap places to eat though. Have fun and if you want more details feel free to email me!

DSTAN
DSTAN

Oh, and one last thing, in response to Cat's previous post:

The free "pirate" show at Treasure Island is pretty ludicrous, featuring scantily clad "sirens" duking it out with pirates. It's good for a laugh but not much more. The fountain show at Caesars is free and worth what you pay for it; it's first-generation 1970s animatronics and electronically synthesized cheesy voices. If you happen to walk by when the siren show is on, you can stop for a few minutes...

Sean
Sean

If you plan to do any buffets, first try the Wynn. You will have less room for food the rest of the trip. :-)

Dunno... by the end of the week, it is less about finding something frugal, and more about finding something different. For me, Hoover Dam was a nice change of pace.

DSTAN
DSTAN

I have visited Vegas twice in the past few months. Here are a few recommendations :

- Mystère from Cirque du Soleil at Treasure Island is excellent and you can grab decent tickets for around $60 each. The best seats for O go for a whopping $165 each, but I found it exceptional, and still rave about it. Definitely worth the money if you feel like splurging. Avoid Kà! LOVE is OK, but less acrobatic than the others. Make sure to catch one show at least... The Phantom at Venetian is also excellent. There are half-price ticket booths - you may want to give them a try.
- Take a day off from the bling bling, rent a car and drive to the Hoover Dam if you haven't been before. It's nice to get out of town. On the way back, you can stop at Red Rock Canyon, which has hiking trails and a 13-mile scenic loop.
- Food-wise, the buffets at Bellagio, Wynn and Paris are excellent. Pig out at lunch for $25 and have a late, light dinner.
- Unless you're a fan of decrepitude, avoid at all costs Circus Circus, Riviera, Sahara... there are nicer places. The tower at Stratosphere offers a nice view, but the neighbourhood is dodgy. Take a cab.

That being said, $200 a day for two seems a bit on the low side, but it's certainly feasible if you don't plan on blowing most of your money at the tables.

Cat
Cat

There are a lot of free things that you can see. For example, cesar's has a show at the fountain inside. There is a giant pirate ship with pyrotechnics at the hotel next door to it. And of course the Bellagio fountains are always beautiful.

Jennifer
Jennifer

If it works out with where you are planning to visit, buying a pass for the monorail can save you aching feet and cab fare.

I think you can manage to have a pretty good time with $1000. I went out for a conference last fall for 4 days with about $400-450 available to me, came home with some money left over and had a great time.

Geoff
Geoff

First, if you buy tickets to a show, be careful of where you buy them since some people on the street and some websites are known for being scams. We used Vegas.com and it worked out pretty well.

The shows are generally expensive, but Stomp Out Loud at Planet Hollywood was our favorite show by far (although we expected it to be only ok). O (cirque du soleil) is overhyped. The magician at the Monte Carlo (forget his name) wasn't worth the money either. I'm not sure about others.

As for food, I'd just say stay away from the simple/fast food stuff at the casinos. I ended up paying $8 for a 6-inch subway sub in one casino, and I would have had better food and cheaper if I just went to one of the restaurants in the same casino.

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