Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports Pictured: Exterior view of the MGM Grand hotel and casino
- Planning a trip to Las Vegas can be overwhelming, especially for first-time visitors trying to vacation on a budget.
- By knowing when to visit, where to stay and how to score cheap food and drinks, Vegas vacations can remain incredibly affordable.
- The Action Network Staff offers their best tips, tricks and advice for ensuring your Las Vegas vacations don't break the bank.
While it’s glamorous to imagine flying first class, checking in to a penthouse suite on the Strip, enjoying free adult beverages while making loads of high-limit (and winning) wagers, the dream of a dazzling Las Vegas vacation can come crashing down quickly after simply researching airfare and hotel prices.
And that doesn’t even include food, drinks and gambling.
The bottom line is that not everyone has the means (or desire) to spend what it takes to hit Vegas like a high roller. In fact, many of us have done Vegas vacations on strict budgets and still had a blast. That’s the beauty of this town.
My first trip occurred during a college spring break after I, and three fraternity brothers, turned 21 years old. We had no money, no idea how to gamble and knew nothing about Las Vegas, but still had the vacation of a lifetime.
Now at 37 years old with many trips to the desert under my belt, friends and family — especially those visiting for the first time — constantly ask me for tips and tricks regarding the best ways to enjoy Las Vegas on a budget.
With this in mind, I reached out to a handful of fellow Vegas-lovers at The Action Network to compile our best advice for making sure you money stays where it should — your sports betting bankroll — when vacationing in Vegas. — PJ Walsh
- PJ Walsh (Betting editor)
- BlackJack Fletcher (Host of the “Live From The Strip” podcast)
- Matt Perrault (Host of “Pushing the Odds” on SB Nation Radio/Las Vegas resident)
- Lauren Joffe (Sports bettor)
- Stuckey (Betting editor)
When to visit
Walsh: “The weekend before the MLB All-Star break is extremely affordable and a trip I’ve made multiple times. I know, it’s hot but you’re not going there to run a marathon. Fly out early Friday and you still get three days of MLB betting, plus the Home Run Derby, which is a very underrated event to throw a few bucks on. I’m a big NASCAR bettor as well, so I still get a full weekend of XFINITY and Cup Series action as well.”
Perrault: “The one website you will want to check when planning a trip is the business website of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. Their calendar of events is going to tell you about the major events that are coming to swallow up thousands of hotel rooms, driving prices up and availability down in Vegas.
For instance, during CES, which takes place in January of 2019, a room at the Flamingo is $599. That same room during the last week of December is $49. The best room prices are going to be found when the city is the quietest. The week after Christmas is always extremely cheap. July is good, but not the last week of the month, when the AAU tournaments take over the city. I think an underrated month is the beginning part of October after the football buzz dies down, but stay away from the end of the month, which is Halloween.”
BlackJack: “Any time. Come here anytime. There’s always something happening. It’s hot in the summer, but you’ll survive.”
Stuckey: “If you want to come to Vegas for March Madness (which I’m sure you do) — after you’ve done the wild first weekend once — go for conference tourney weekend. More games means more action, and less volume of people means smaller lines and better deals.”
Where to stay
Walsh: “I’ve had plenty of luck getting great rates at Westgate and MGM Grand through JetBlue vacation packages. If you’re looking to stay closer to center Strip, Bally’s also has solid rates for a really good location.”
Perrault: “A question that has to be asked when you book any room in Vegas now is about the resort fees. There are hotels now in Vegas that have higher resort fees than the rate to stay per night. The idea of an inexpensive room rate in Vegas is now very tricky. As far as options, two hotels are undergoing major renovations, and you might be able to get a great room at a decent price during construction.
The Palms and Hard Rock, both just off the Strip, are being totally redone (Hard Rock will also be renamed Virgin Hotels Las Vegas) and might be worth checking out if you don’t care about all the dust being kicked up. I’m also a big fan of Planet Hollywood and The Linq for inexpensive rooms with central locations, close to all the action. Paris can also have occupancy opportunities that can save you a lot of money.”
BlackJack: “I’m a big fan of staying off-Strip because you can save a ton on resort fees. Parking, if you rent a car, is usually free off-Strip, and incidentals like food and alcohol are much cheaper. South Point and Rampart are favorites because of their great sportsbooks and $4 cocktails. Also, the rooms are bigger and they’re only a few minutes from the Strip. If you are dead set on staying on-Strip, look at Bally’s, the Flamingo and the Linq.”
Stuckey: “I like to stay on the Strip, but look for a really good deal on a room at one of the hotels not currently ‘in vogue’. I value location over everything as a bettor, so being in a central location is where I start my search.”
Where to eat
Perrault: “Food courts are your best friend when you are going to Vegas on a budget. Most of the major shopping centers on the Strip have huge food courts with many affordable meal options you will recognize. You will find great ones in The Canal Shops inside the Palazzo and the Miracle Mile Shops next to Planet Hollywood. Plus, you will find inexpensive restaurants inside The Shops at Crystals next to Aria.”
BlackJack: “Take a trip back to the days of the Rat Pack and Elvis and make a stop at the North end of the Strip at the Peppermill. It still looks the same as it did back in those days, and the food is excellent and served in enormous portions. After your meal, head to their lounge, where they have actual fire pits to gather around. If a buffet is more your speed, I love the Wicked Spoon at The Cosmopolitan. Speaking of The Cosmopolitan, if you go after midnight, Momofuku is a hibachi restaurant popular with Strip entertainers, and their menu is half price from midnight on.”
Stuckey: “An old trick: go into the buffet right before the transition from lunch to dinner. Get dinner buffet for the lunch price.”
BlackJack: “Double Down Saloon. It’s near Tropicana and Swenson by the Thomas and Mack Center. It is a legendary local bar known for its bacon martinis and Bloody Marys. They also have the best happy hour in town. Every day from 12-6 p.m. each drink in the bar is $3. Even top-shelf liquor, it’s all $3.”
Walsh: “During my most recent trip, my wife and I ended up at Gordon Ramsay Pub and Grill inside Caesars Palace. Their happy hour includes food (yes, that’s a thing) and I can highly recommend the $7 nachos. It’s enough to satiate a day drinker’s hunger without weighing you down for the day.”
Stuckey: “Look for reverse/late-night happy hours. Also, if you’re stocking up on in-room booze, make the quick trip off the Strip. Much cheaper prices.”
Walsh: “Learn how to play Pai Gow Poker for a myriad of reasons. For starters, it’s extremely easy and you end up pushing around 40% of all hands. Therefore, you can play for a very long time with very little investment, meaning free drinks galore.
Because you play against the dealer and there’s no advantage to knowing the hands of other players, it’s a very social game where you can talk about your hands with your buddies at the table and even ask for advice from each other. Bottom line, it’s a very cheap way to have a good time, play some poker and put away a bunch of complimentary beverages.”
BlackJack: “Again, gambling is also cheaper off-Strip. Often there are lower limit tables with higher payouts. Having said that, one thing I highly recommend is going down to Harrah’s and playing Buster BlackJack. It is regular blackjack with a side bet that pays out if the dealer busts. The more cards it takes for the dealer to bust, the higher your payout. You can make some serious money in a short time.”
Stuckey: “Always ask for a player’s card when you’re gambling. If you’re looking for a game to pass the time while you get drinks, there’s always Keno.”
Joffe: “Pai Gow is by far the best game in a casino as PJ said, for a number of reasons. It’s easy to learn, plus you can show your cards and ask the dealer or anyone else at the table for help. Pushing is common, and you can drink the whole time for free (definitely tip though). If the idea of simply doubling your bet is too tame for you, there are always all sorts of bonuses and payouts. And sometimes you can even bet that your hand will suck. By far my favorite casino game.”
Walsh: “It’s becoming more and more difficult to score free drinks in the sportsbook, especially for recreational bettors. It wasn’t long ago when simply sitting at the book earned complimentary booze, but those times have changed. Most books on the Strip now require $50 to $100 wagers per drink ticket, but like everything else, that’s negotiable. Tip your ticket writers a couple of bucks and simply ask and you’ll often get a couple extra drinks out of each trip to the counter.
If not at the sportsbook, visit a video poker machine at any bar and ask your bartender the rules for free drinks. Video poker has one of the smallest house edges in the casino and can therefore make a little money go a long way, especially while knocking back complimentary beverages.
And finally, Joffe and I already mentioned this above, but learn how to play Pai Gow Poker. Your money goes a long way, and since you’re actively gambling, that means free booze.”
BlackJack: “Again the South Point and Rampart have inexpensive drinks all the time. If you’re elsewhere, you need to be at a table or at a video poker machine. If you go the video-poker route, play slowly. Every few hands you’ll be eligible for a free drink, just slow-play it.”
Joffe: “Sit at a table and play card games or even slot machines. The waitresses will bring you alcohol and all you have to do is tip them. The casinos just want you to get drunk so you spend more money, and this is a good way for that to happen.”
Perrault: “I’ve addressed this before, but if you like the outdoors, the region around Las Vegas offers so many free activities. Red Rock National Park is about 30 minutes off the Strip and has a $10 per car fee to get into the Scenic Drive, but you don’t have to do that. You can take an Uber to hiking trails that are free and see some of the most amazing landscapes in America. Plan accordingly, bring lots of water and watch the weather closely, but being active outside in Vegas is as cheap as it comes — free.”
Walsh: “Stay at a hotel with a great pool. It may cost a little bit extra, but it’s very worth it in the long run. After a late night of drinking and gambling, nothing beats floating away your hangover. And for those who don’t enjoy swimming, it’s a great opportunity go over lines and determine your bets for the day.
If you’re heading to Vegas with wives or girlfriends, be sure to check the cost of using your hotel’s spa. Some hotels, like Paris, include free spa access for guests while others charge daily fees to enter.
Even if you have to pay, it’s well worth it. While I’m pretty clueless when it comes to spas, the Venetian’s plunge pools, hot tubs, steam rooms, etc. single-handedly cured a wicked Memorial Day weekend hangover of mine two years ago, so I’m a believer. Plus, your significant other will truly enjoy it as well.”
BlackJack: “Rent a car. I know it sounds crazy, but after a day or two of drinking you’ll want to get out of town for a little bit, and the surrounding parts of Nevada are beautiful. It’s incredibly cheap to rent a car here and I highly advise it. I also seriously recommend seeing ‘INFERNO’ at Paris, ‘All Shook Up’ at Planet Hollywood or ‘The Bronx Wanderers’ at Bally’s. All are fun, entertaining shows.”
Joffe: “Wait, there’s other stuff to do in Vegas? Like outside?”
Stuckey: “What Joffe said.”
Walsh: “Use the Monorail. This is the number one tip I give to friends visiting Vegas for the first time. It’s air-conditioned, allows open containers and is a much easier and cheaper way to travel the Strip than walking or taking cabs/Uber.”
Perrault: “Yes, the Monorail is great if you are staying on one end of the Strip, like Westgate, and want to get to the complete other end, like MGM or Luxor. Multi-day passes aren’t very expensive either. However, do NOT get in a cab in Las Vegas. There is a minimum charge for just sitting down and $3 charge if you don’t have cash and want to charge your ride. That’s basically $6 before you move an inch. Ride sharing is the best way to travel if you want on-demand transportation. This is especially true for trips to and from the airport.”
BlackJack: “Force yourself to move around. Every place in Vegas has something great to see and offer. There’s a tendency to go to a place and like it and keep going back. If you’re only here for a few days, make sure you hit as many spots as possible. Also the advice on the taxis and Monorail are spot on. The Monorail is fantastic. Also download the Vegas.com app on your phone. They sometimes run sales on tickets for shows.”
Stuckey: “Pick winners while you’re there. It’s a lot more fun.”