My playbook for Doing Vegas on a budget.
Las Vegas Resorts have made the decision to gouge travelers and locals alike and then gouge some more. They have done this through the introduction of, and increases in resort, parking, and now CNF fees. Just this week it was announced that MGM Resorts will increase resort fees. While we were whining about that, Caesars Entertainment ratcheted up what they are charging for parking.
For those unfamiliar with CNF Fees, it is essentially a percentage that is added to your dining bill at a growing number of restaurants that go straight to the establishment’s bottom line. It’s usually listed in small print on the menu and you likely wouldn’t notice it unless you looked closely at your receipt.
The added expense has many mid-range travelers wondering if it’s even possible to do Las Vegas frugally anymore. Is Las Vegas still a value destination?
To say I am cheap or frugal is a dramatic understatement. I am the epitome of thrift and I thought I would jot down some things to do in Vegas on a budget. from dining to gaming and everything in between. You likely won’t love every money-saving idea below but take all, or some, to make your money last in Vegas.
Booking Vegas Hotels on a Budget
If staying at a Caesars or MGM Resorts property you must acquire, use, and abuse the player’s card. I’m a low roller but am still able to book mid-range Caesars properties like Harrah’s, Flamingo, Bally’s, etc. for free nearly any time of the year. I still get stuck with the $30+ dollar per night resort fee upon arrival but still pretty budget-friendly.
You can also choose one of the few hotels that have not yet adopted resort fees while they still exist. Hotels that are relatively inexpensive like Four Queens and Casino Royale are a couple of the lone rangers not to charge the additional fee.
We put together a complete list of current Las Vegas Resort Fees – Check it out!
If you are looking to book a room in Vegas on a budget, you will want to avoid large conventions, like CES, and peak travel weekends such as the super bowl or the opening weekend of the NCAA Basketball tournament– View Convention Calendar.
Also, I suggest booking when Vegas is the slowest to get the best deal (July/August/December/January are good bets) and stay on less popular days. Flying in on a Sunday and staying through mid-late week is your best bet. Vegas hotels are obviously more expensive on weekends than weeknights.
Lastly, ALWAYS book a cancelable room and be checking back for price drops. I can’t tell you how many times I have booked a room through Total Rewards and then the price drops significantly. I’m able to save money on my Vegas trip immediately by canceling my reservation and re-booking.
Booking Flights to Vegas on a Budget
Getting to Vegas on a budget is easier than you would think. As with hotels, travel on off-peak days. When people are flying out of Vegas on Sunday, you want to be flying in. Conversely, you want to be flying home on a Thursday or Friday when most vacationers are flying in for the weekend. Plan yourself a nice Sunday – Thursday getaway!
If you want to be in Vegas over the weekend, fly into town on Wednesday or Saturday. The masses arrive on Thursday and Friday – Don’t be Everyone and save some cash. Also, add a day to the end of your trip and fly home on Monday to save compared to a Sunday departure. Your room shouldn’t cost much either for that extra Sunday night.
Like hotels, Vegas flights are often cheapest in the heat of summer and the dead of winter (barring conventions or large events).
Lastly, don’t get cute. Take that dreadful, but inexpensive, Spirit (or another discount airline) flight. How will you survive without legroom? Easy, just get drunk before the flight. I’m 6 foot 5 inches tall, if I can cram my lanky ass into that seat for 3 hours then you can too. It’s going to suck, but you can do it for the $100 or more you will save round trip.
I like saving money. My last 2 flights round trip from Minneapolis have cost $101 and $122 – not bad!
I also only bring a backpack, which is free, instead of checking a bag. Unless you are going to the clubs (why the hell would you?), there is no need for a larger suitcase.
Parking on a Budget in Las Vegas
Honestly, skip the car and take an UBER/Lyft as Strip casinos charge for parking whether you are staying at their hotel or not. If you must drive through, save some money by skipping the parking fees at Venetian, Palazzo, Stratosphere, Tropicana, Treasure Island, Sahara, and Circus Circus.
You will be able to park for free at MGM properties if you have the MLife Mastercard or have obtained Pearl, Gold, Platinum, or Noir status on their player’s card. Similarly, at Caesars properties, you can park for free if you have obtained Platinum, Diamond, or Seven Stars. A recurring theme – Doing Vegas on a budget requires you to obtain and use a player’s card.
You can also obtain M life Pearl / Total Rewards Platinum status (and the perk of free parking) quickly by applying for that loyalty program’s credit card.
Parking at Fremont Street properties is generally free for hotel guests and many casinos offer free parking for patrons that either gamble or dine on-site.
Booking Shows on a Budget
Check out the Tix4Tonite stands up and down the strip to save on Vegas shows. You won’t always find great deals on the most popular options, however, there is usually a good variety and you can save some money.
Plan your show for a less-trafficked night to save even more on your ticket. It goes without saying, but a Tuesday is generally cheaper than a Saturday night show.
Dining on a Budget in Vegas
My money-saving game plan in Las Vegas is to eat lunch somewhere quick, easy, and cheap. I will generally go to Chipotle, McDonalds, or Panda Express on the strip between Harrah’s and Casino Royale and then do something nicer for dinner. Most hotels also have a “food court” with cheaper options as well.
You can also find great meal values by venturing off the strip. My personal favorite place to stop in for a cheap meal is Ellis Island behind Bally’s. This tends to be my go-to breakfast spot as you can get a great meal for under $10.
You can find solid deals to save money on meals in Las Vegas at any of the numerous Tix4Tonight locations located up and down the strip. Generally, you pay a couple of bucks for a coupon entitling you to a decent chunk off of a meal at a decent restaurant – Often up to 50%. They have menus available to view and will even set up the reservation for you. It’s not a scam and there’s no catch, just another way to do Vegas on a budget.
Additionally, look for deals on Groupon. I was able to score $40 of food and drink for $18 dollars on Groupon for the Beer Park at Paris overlooking the Bellagio Fountains. I’d never go without a deal though as they are one of the many restaurants now charging the new, bullshit, CNF fee.
On that note, never eat, drink, or even think about doing so at an establishment charging this CNF fee. This “Concessions and Franchise Fee” is an additional % that goes straight to the establishment (at Beer Park its 4.7%). The worst part is, it’s sneaky as hell and nobody, except for the menu, in really F-ing small print, will tell you. I want you to save money in Las Vegas. I don’t want you to blow your money on this BS.
As frugality is a main tennent of this blog, we also put together a guide to eating cheap on the Las Vegas Strip which lists every spot to score a cheap meal by property.
If visiting downtown, check out our guide to eating cheap on Fremont Street!
Drinking on a Budget in Vegas
The obvious solution is to score as many free drinks as you can as you are playing in the casino. Absolutely. But what about when you aren’t gambling? If there is one thing I hate, it’s paying $5 for a bottle of beer. Hell, 4 beers cost more than a whole case at that rate.
I generally stay away from the casino bars (unless there is a good deal) and buy my drinks at the Walgreens, ABC Stores, or CVS locations that litter the strip. You can buy a 24 oz. Beer or canned cocktail for under $3 but I would encourage you to splurge and buy a 3 pack. You can walk right out of the store and crack it open. It’s cheap, not particularly classy, but what Las Vegas is all about.
Finding and planning for great happy hours is one of the best ways to save money while in Vegas. One of my favorites is the “Bottomless Mondays” promotion at Ellis Island from 10 am – 2 pm featuring all you can drink bloodies and mimosas. The more you drink, the more you save.
Also, make sure you make it over to Bird Bar at Flamingo early for their 50 cent tap beer featured daily from 5-6 pm.
Gambling on a Budget in Las Vegas
The key here is to get off the beaten path. Hotel/Casinos off the strip generally offer slightly more generous slot payouts as well as blackjack that hasn’t gone to 6-5. As tempting as it is, to save money and stretch your gambling budget, you want to play table games, but avoid the side bets as they give the house a tremendous edge.
Check out our recent piece on where the loosest slots are in Vegas as well as the best and worst table games to play.
Additionally, properties off the beaten path will allow you to play less expensive, more manageable limits. I like playing cheap table game limits at El Cortez, Tropicana, Strat, and any of the Station Casinos off the strip. As for gaming cheap in Vegas, you are more likely to find low limits on weeknights and during the day.
If you want to rack up free drinks while exposing yourself to minimal gambling risk, try one of the dealerless roulette wheels. Most will allow you to play between $3-$5 per roll. I like to play $2 on 2 of the 3 “dozens” bets and then 1 dollar on a number in the “dozens” block you don’t have a $2 dollar bet on. A good way to tread water while sucking down free drinks. You won’t get rich, but you can grind this strategy out for hours.
Things to do On a Budget in Vegas
One of the cool things about Las Vegas is that there are so many FREE attractions that will allow you to have fun, but also keep your trip inexpensive. Make time for things like the Mirage Volcano, Fremont Street Experience, the Bellagio Fountains, and conservatory and walking up and down the Strip and Fremont.
I’m also a sucker for good, entertaining, live music. Check out the dueling piano bar at Harrah’s or the Times Square bar at New York New York. For the price of drinks, you can sit and listen to classics all night.
Also, check out our complete list of FREE things to do in Vegas. These 78 freebies will certainly assist in doing Vegas on a budget.
Getting Around Las Vegas on a Budget
Cab drivers hate me. I don’t care. Don’t take a cab in Las Vegas. Uber and Lyft are convenient and often 20-30% cheaper. Their drivers also use their respective company’s app, which nearly guarantees you won’t be long hauled, or taken for a longer ride to drive up the fare.
For even more savings getting around Vegas, use Uber Pool. You get a better rate but may have to share the car with another group. In my experience, the majority of the time I got the car to myself and saved some money. Even when the driver did have to pick up/drop off another party it wasn’t overly inconveniencing. I recently got from the airport to Excalibur for $8.60 using Uber Pool, and also from the airport to Paris for $11.96. Rates fluctuate, but generally, significantly cheaper Las Vegas transportation than a cab can provide.
Also, if taking a cab, you had better have cash. Although Vegas cabs often accept credit cards, they will add a percentage to your fare in exchange for the convenience of using it. Charging a fee to use the most common form of payment is absurd – don’t pay it.
If you are moving up and down the east side of the strip or looking to get to either SLS Las Vegas or the Westgate, the Monorail can be a great option as well. You can buy a single ride, day or multi-day tickets.
The cheapest way, by far, to get around Vegas is the Deuce, a bus that runs up and down the strip all the way to Fremont Street. You can buy a 24-hour pass for $8. In my opinion, the Deuce is a bit too crowded and slow to make much sense but it remains a very valid option for those looking to save money getting around in Vegas.
Prepare to Save Money Upon Arrival
One of the first things I do when I get into Las Vegas is stock my room. What I mean is, I walk to the nearest Walgreens/CVS/ABC Store and stock up on snacks, drinks, light meal components so that I have the option to save money by eating a light lunch or doing a little pre-gaming in the room for cheap before hitting the town.
Casino Coupon Books
You can purchase coupon books like the American Casino Guide or Las Vegas Advisor for meal deals, activity savings, free / match play coupons at casinos, and deals on shows. You can browse their websites to view the Las Vegas Deals prior to purchasing.
New fees are popping up left and right in Las Vegas. Is it even possible to do it on the cheap anymore? Absolutely. Hopefully, our playbook on doing Vegas on a budget was helpful! Leave your suggestions for doing Las Vegas inexpensively below in the comments!