For decades, Las Vegas has been known as an inexpensive travel option subsidized by lavish casinos that draw the gambling public in with cheap rooms, cheap dining, and plenty of comps.
Lately, however, much of the conversation among Vegas regulars has focused on expenses that visitors of yesteryear didn’t have to worry about such as parking and resort fees. Even dining and drink options have earned a reputation of becoming more expensive over time. It seems we hear more about $700 bottles of vodka or $100 meals at celebrity chef restaurants than we do about budget, high quality options. Increasingly, travelers are feeling “priced out” of the destination and visitation trends demonstrate that.
Since peaking in 2016 at 42 million visitors, visitation has been on a slow decline since (Per the LVCVA) . Seeing as we’re in the midst of an economic expansion, that news is troubling to say the least.
But do we as regulars get lost in the small details/changes that over time are irritating, but may not be so bad when compared to other travel destinations? Maybe we’re so dead set in our outrage that we are missing the forest through the trees?
Got us to thinking. Is Las Vegas still cheap compared to other destinations?
We think that despite the perception, Vegas still delivers strong value. Here’s why:
Hotel Rates are Cheaper vs. Other Destinations
The most common complaint espoused about Vegas hotel rates is how much resort fees have driven up prices. I also have been guilty of making that same argument. After all, is there anything worse than having to fork over $20-$50 per night at check in? You’re starting your trip in the hole!
We were curious how Las Vegas hotel rates stacked up against other popular travel destinations and ran some numbers. Specifically, we wanted to compare rates in Vegas to New York, Miami, Los Angeles, and Chicago side by side.
We pulled rates for 3 separate “mock trips” (2 weekends and a mid-week option) and found the average nightly rate for the 5 cheapest, 5 star hotel options in each city ensuring to add resort fees in when applicable.
Below are the average nightly rates we derived per destination:
- Las Vegas: $199.53
- Miami: $271
- Chicago: $323.47
- New York: $331.60
- Los Angeles: $362.40
Keep in mind, the rates above are from 5 star accommodations like Aria, Vdara, Bellagio, etc. There are less expensive options available and the price savings in Vegas compared to other destinations stays consistent at other quality tiers.
Obviously, hotel rates fluctuate based on a number of seasonal and event driven factors, but we’re confident in our findings that Las Vegas hotels are cheaper than comparable rooms in other major cities.
The Las Vegas rates used for our comparison are also face value. If you have a players card and use it when gambling, your rates will likely be discounted or free based on your play. Even if you have never been to Vegas you can sign up for rewards programs like Caesars Rewards or Mlife online and score a small discount when booking direct.
We should also point out that resort fees are prevalent in other markets as well. Yes, they are a nuisance, but they are an unfortunate reality of the hotel business nowadays.
Cheap Food Options are Still Abundant
I feel we tend to cling too strongly to previous incarnations of Las Vegas. You guys, (and I’m addressing myself here too) the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s are gone and gone along with it are the 40 cent hot dogs, buck shrimp cocktails, and $1.99 steak deals. Those deals are dead. Over. Not coming back.
There is no arguing that Las Vegas has evolved since then. Celebrity chefs like Gordon Ramsey and Giada can charge top dollar for meals inspired by their culinary expertise. Yet the influx of high end dining options that seem to steal the spotlight don’t necessarily mean value options no longer exist.
Some of our favorite inexpensive food options include:
- Ellis Island’s (steps off the Strip) $7.99 Sirloin Steak Special.
- Ocean One’s $5 lunch special which rock solid for the price point, located in the Miracle Mile Shops.
- Peppermill, across the street from Resorts World serves up generous portion sizes at a high level of quality. Snag an omelette for around $15 and you won’t want lunch.
- Studio B Buffet at M delivers similar (if not better) quality than high end strip buffets that typically cost upwards of $50 for under $25.
- Numerous fast/quick serve dining options line the Strip and Fremont to include cheap hot dogs, pizza, Chinese, etc. Check out our favorite pizza by the slice spots.
Eating cheap isn’t for everyone and you certainly get what you pay for in Vegas. While many frequently spend up for a great meal, the notion that everything is out of reach for folks on a budget is misguided.
Yes, You can still find a cheap drink
Most of us gamble, and while you’re playing the cocktails still flow for free (excluding tip). Even if you are not a big gambler, a cheap beer/drink can still be found if you know where to look!
Some of our favorite cheap drink options include:
- Craft Beers at Ellis Island for $2.50.
- Stage Door Casino’s $1 bottled Michelob.
- Happy hour at 107 SkyLounge at Strat which includes half price drinks ($3.50 beers) and free observation deck access.
- $3 bottled beer at Casino Royale
- 3 for $10 cocktails at Flights in the Miracle Mile Shops.
- $2 vodka cocktails at Cromwell (weekdays 9am – 11pm).
- Grab a cocktail at CVS and walk the Strip!
Few places have as many Free/Inexpensive Attractions
Is there any better value than “free”? Nope, and with attractions like the Fountains of Bellagio, The Bellagio Conservatory, Flamingo Wildlife Habitat, Fremont Street Experience/light show, Mirage’s volcano, and the iconic Welcome to Las Vegas sign there is plenty to do, even if your gambling budget is blown.
Aside from activities, the properties that comprise the Strip and Fremont Street are attractions in their own right. Walk the streets of Paris, Venice, and visit Egypt, all in one day. Walk through and enjoy the unmatched decadence of properties like Cosmopolitan and Wynn. Nothing, though, beats the neon canyon that is Fremont Street. You can see it all, and for free.
In addition to free activities, there are plenty of non-gambling itinerary items that won’t cost an arm and a leg. Ride the thrill attractions on top of Strat’s Skypod, take in the view of Vegas from the High Roller Observation Wheel, check out the Neon Museum, or ride the Big Apple Roller Coaster at NYNY.
Transportation can be CHEAP
The cost of getting around in Vegas is often overblown due to stories of taxi drivers taking the scenic route to drive up fares. Skip taxis. There are a number other options to get around Vegas inexpensively to include public transportation. The Deuce/SDX bus runs from the south end of the Strip all the way to Fremont Street. A 24 hour pass can be had for $8 and the system is very easy to use.
Uber and Lyft can also be used to get around Vegas, are quicker than the bus, and are cheaper than cabs.
Did you know you can even travel between the airport to Downtown Las Vegas for a measly $2 via bus?
Ultimately, I get it. Fees and additional expenses that may not have existed in the past are annoying. Is Vegas still a value though? Is Vegas still an inexpensive travel destination? Absolutely.
Let us know your favorite way to squeeze value out of your Vegas vacation in the comments!