Visiting Las Vegas on a budget

Bellagio fountains, Las Vegas Strip, Nevada USA

Las Vegas probably isn’t most people’s idea of a budget destination. Even if you’re not blowing your cash gambling on the casino floor, you could easily spend up a fortune in the city’s five-star hotels, A-list nightclubs, Michelin-starred restaurants and designer boutiques. But you don’t need to rob a casino – Ocean’s Eleven style – to enjoy a trip to Las Vegas. Sin City is still doable if you’re on a budget. I spent ten days in the city last spring so had to maximise the fun without spending too much. So here are my top tips for saving money in Las Vegas on everything from entertainment and transport to food and nightlife.

New York New York casino, Las Vegas Nevada USA

Las Vegas meets NYC at New York New York

Things to see and do

You can easily keep yourself entertained just wandering the Strip – watch gondoliers on the canals at Venice, walk across the Brooklyn Bridge at New York New York, see the pyramids at the Luxor, visit the indoor botanical gardens at the Bellagio, check out the vintage neon on Fremont Street or pose by the Las Vegas sign (south of Mandalay Bay on the Strip). There are also free attractions inside the casinos, like the Flamingo’s Wildlife Habitat, with exotic birds and fish in 15 acres of gardens, the huge tropical aquarium at the Silverton Casino (complete with mermaids) and the P3 art studio at the Cosmopolitan.

Away from the casinos, the Pinball Hall of Fame is free to enter and you just pay 25–50¢ per game. Or if you’re in the city on the first Friday of the month, Downtown Las Vegas’ art district hosts a First Friday event. Local artists display and sell their work on the streets and there’s also live music, street performers, food carts and art lessons for kids. The event runs from 5pm–11pm and there’s parking nearby plus a shuttle bus service which connects it with Fremont Street.

If you plan to do a lot of the paid attractions, it might be worth investing in a Power Pass. They cost $85 for one day up to $136 for five days and cover 25 attractions, including Siegfried & Roy’s Secret Garden, the Mob Museum, Stratosphere observation deck, Bellagio art gallery and Madame Tussauds. It also includes trips out of Vegas to the Hoover Dam, Grand Canyon West and a Lake Mead cruise.

The Venetian casino, Las Vegas, Nevada USA

Gondoliers outside the Venetian

Entertainment

Vegas is famous for its shows, whether that’s Cirque du Soleil or big-name music performers like Britney Spears. Advance tickets can set you back hundreds of dollars, but you can pick up discounted tickets from one of the eleven Tix4Tonight outlets spread along the Strip and downtown. They only sell tickets for performances that day, so you don’t know what will be available, but you can save up to half price. Get there when they open at 10am for the biggest selection of tickets.

If that’s still too pricey, then check out some of the free shows at the casinos. The most famous is the Bellagio Fountains, with over a thousand fountains choreographed to music every 15 mins from 8pm–midnight and every 30 mins in the afternoons. There is also the volcano outside the Mirage which erupts every half hour from 6pm–11pm and a free circus show featuring acrobats and clowns every half hour from 11am–midnight at Circus Circus. Downtown at the Fremont Street Experience there’s a free light show on the hour from duck until midnight and you’ll often find live bands playing. There’s also live dueling piano shows every night in bars at Harrah’s, Paris and New York New York.

When it comes to saving money on club entry, it’s easier if you’re a woman. You’ll often be handed discount flyers on the street or approached by club promoters who can get your name on the guest list. You need to get there by 9pm though, but can often get your hand stamped so you can go out and come back in again later. Otherwise you can skip the queue and sometimes get a discount if you’re staying at the resort or get free entry when you eat at an attached restaurant, like Tao at the Venetian.

Neon signs in Old Las Vegas, Fremont Street

The nightly free light show at Old Vegas’ Fremont Street

Top city views

The city’s tallest point is the Stratosphere tower’s observation deck – entry costs $20 per person, with discount packages available if you want to do any of the crazy rides at the top while you’re up there. For a more central viewpoint head up to the top of Paris Las Vegas’ Eiffel Tower. It costs $11.50 during the daytime (which includes up to 7.15pm so you can still get up there in the dark) or $16.50 at night, with a discount for children and over 60s, and free admission if it’s your birthday (bring photo ID).

The are also great views for the price of a drink at Las Vegas’ high-rise bars. There are bars at the top of the Stratosphere and Eiffel Tower, or try the Mix Lounge at THEhotel Mandalay Bay (open from 5pm, with free entry until 10pm), the Ghostbar at the Palms (open from 8pm, entry costs from $10) and the VooDoo rooftop nightclub at the Rio (open from 9pm, entry costs from $20).

There’s also a new city viewpoint which has just opened – the High Roller wheel. It’s part of the LINQ – a new shopping and entertainment district between the Flamingo and The Quad. At 550 feet tall it’s the world’s tallest ferris wheel, taking 30 minutes to do a full rotation. It’s not cheap but you can save by booking for a timed slot, with tickets costing $24.95 up until 7pm or $34.95 at night.

The Las Vegas Strip from the top of The Stratosphere

The view over Las Vegas from the top of the Stratosphere tower

Eating and drinking

For cheaper dining head off the Strip or downtown. You can also find good-value pre-theatre menus if you’re happy to eat early. Pick up restaurant discount coupons in the booklets you get in hotel rooms or cabs, or you can buy meal deals from places like Tix4Tonight (see above) or Groupon.

If you’re hungry, a casino buffet is good value. They’re usually cheaper for brunch or lunch rather than dinner and you can often upgrade for unlimited drinks. Or if you’re seriously hungry, try the Buffet of Buffets, where $49.99 gets you 24 hours unlimited access to the buffets at seven casinos (including Paris, Caesars Palace and the Rio). You can also save a few dollars by signing up to Caesars Entertainment’s free Total Rewards programme, which also gets you a discount in some of their other restaurants.

Bottled water and snacks from the casino shops can be expensive, so head to a supermarket to stock up – there’s a Walgreens near Planet Hollywood and a CVS near Monte Carlo on the Strip. They also sell alcohol so you can have a few drinks before going out (or even drink on the street with Las Vegas’ liberal liquor laws). You get free drinks on the casino floor if you’re gambling – though stick to low-value games if you want to actually save money doing this and make sure to tip your waitress. Also check out this list for details of happy hours across town with discounted food and drinks.

Caesars Palace casino, Las Vegas Nevada USA

Italian restaurant next to the ‘Trevi fountain’ at Caesar’s Palace

Travelling around

The Strip is surprisingly close to Las Vegas’ McCarran International Airport, but the heavy traffic means taxis can be pricey. The cheaper option is an airport shuttle minibus which will drop you at your hotel. There are several companies but all leave from outside baggage reclaim and charge $7.50–10 each way.

It’s easy to get around the Strip on foot, but distances are bigger than they look, so if you need a rest hop on the Deuce bus. These double-decker buses run the length of the Strip and up to Fremont Street 24 hours a day, up to every 15 mins. A 24-hour unlimited pass costs $8. There’s also the Las Vegas Monorail which runs between the former Sahara and the MGM Grand. Tickets cost $5 per ride or better value is the 24-hour pass for $12. There are also three smaller monorail trams which are free and run from the Mirage to Treasure Island, Bellagio to Monte Carlo and Mandalay Bay to Excalibur.

Monorail outside the Luxor casino, Las Vegas Nevada USA

The Mandalay Bay–Excalibur monorail passing by the Luxor

So those are my tips for seeing Las Vegas on a budget – do you know of any more Vegas bargains or have any money-saving tips?

Comments

  1. says

    Great tips Lucy. I’m really looking forward to hopefully hitting up Vegas next year so these will all come in very handy. While doing some research on hotels in Vegas recently I came across some really good deals. The best i found was for the MIrage in May @ $59 per night mid week. I checked out all the big name hotels direct on their websites and while didn’t find anything else this cheap I did find that most of them offered reasonable prices.

    • says

      Hope the tips come in handy on your trip. I have a post coming up later this week with some accommodation recommendations too, with some good budget options. There are some great deals to be had!

  2. says

    I usually stay at Planet Hollywood, which is generally pretty cheap! If I stay for longer than a couple days (I used to live in San Diego and it was a relatively short-ish drive there – which meant many weekends going to Vegas!), I would stay at Harrah’s for a night or 2. It’s right in the middle of the strip and can be as low as $20/night for a 2 queen bed room!

    You’re definitely right about clubs being easy to get into if you’re a female – you’ll get approached by dozens of promoters offering bottle service for free! It’s good to get on good terms with them (i.e. going to one of the not-so-popular clubs first like they might ask) and then you’ll be able to get hooked up for more nights after that! Great post :)

  3. says

    We spent a short time in Las Vegas a couple of years ago and found plenty to amuse us by just wandering along the Strip and going into hotels, taking a cup of coffee for a rest and a sit in air-conditioning when we were tired.
    We stayed at the Mirage with a good deal found online but really noticed they want you to go on the floor and play. You don’t have to. The day we left I thought I ought not to leave without playing something so I put a quarter in a machine. I didn’t win. We had watched some of the high stake poker playing which was fascinating, though we weren’t allowed very close. I believe Las Vegas is despairing over people like us who just go for free entertainment, so grab the chances before they charge!
    We did pay for Cirque de Soleil which was stunning, but saw a free show by them in Montreal which was also superb.
    Bridget

    • says

      I was another annoying non-gambler too! But even without it there was more than enough to do and see to keep me occupied, and as you say watching the high stakes stuff is really interesting, there can be crazy amounts of money involved!

  4. says

    This is brilliant Lucy! It’s a couple of years off yet but I’m planning on taking Alex there as a surprise for his 30th birthday so I’ll be coming back then and making a proper note of all of this! Did you do the ride at the top of the Stratosphere? I think I would probably chicken out of that one it looks terrifying!

    Great tips and pics :)

    • says

      Thanks, hope it comes in useful and you have a great trip, it’d be a fab place for a 30th! We stayed at the Stratosphere for a couple of nights so went up to watch people on the rides but no chance of getting me on there!

  5. says

    Great post! I lived there one summer during my legal clerkship and learned how to enjoy Vegas on a very tight budget. I had a blast because there are a lot of free things you can do there!

  6. says

    Reblogged this on Gracefully Global Blog and commented:
    As a Southern California native and a frequent visitor to Las Vegas, I have a love/hate relationship with the city. Expensive, commercial, hot, and crowded, it is also a destination laden with treasures and beauty that you don’t find everyday. A fellow blogger put together this fabulous Vegas guide, and I am reblogging this post because it is so rich with information regarding finding those treasures in Vegas but not spending a fortune. Hope you’ll also find it useful!

  7. says

    Wow, you made it 10 days in Vegas? That is impressive! It is definitely an interesting place. I really enjoyed my time there and found a lot that did not just involve gambling and drinking. Looks like you did the same – what an extensive list. I will definitely refer to this when I return. I love a good rooftop bar, especially in Vegas, there is so much to look at!

    • says

      Yes 10 days is quite a long time! My husband had to be out there for work so it was longer than I’d have done otherwise – didn’t have too much trouble finding things to keep me busy.

  8. says

    I don’t know when I’ll be in Vegas – but your advice is definitely useful for those who will be going there. It does seem like an expensive place, so many temptations to spend your money on! Thanks Lucy for the handy tips!

    • says

      Thanks Aggy, it’s an easy place to spend a lot of money, but if you steer clear of the gambling floors and expensive clubs it’s possible to have a great time there without blowing the budget!

    • says

      I think small doses is probably the best way to do it! I did mix up my 10 days with a bit of working by the pool and a couple of trips out so I didn’t get over-Vegas’d.

  9. says

    I enjoy a getaway to Vegas every once in a while and it’s easy to spend a lot of money there before you know it. Great ideas here. The Bellagio fountains are one of my favorite free things to do. Also fun to get off the Strip and take a hike at Red Rock Canyon.

  10. says

    Whenever I talk about Vegas people always say comment how expensive it must be, they nearly fall on the floor when I tell them that we’ve never paid more than $40 a night for hotel rooms. Aside from the flights, if you’re visiting from Europe, you really needn’t spend much money. I always say that the best part of Vegas is just the spectacle of it all and just gawking at everything costs nothing. Great post Lucy :-)

  11. says

    This may sound silly, but to save money, my husband and I brought a few bottles of booze. Every afternoon, we’d head up to our room and have a few drinks while getting ready. We knew we wouldn’t be driving, so we got a little bit of a buzz feeling before heading out — we probably saved $500 on drinks alone!!

    Alexa — http://www.newlywednotdead.com

    • says

      That’s a great idea – it’s a lot cheaper to have a few drinks before going out, though that does remind me of being at university as we used to do that then too!

  12. says

    Getting married is only like 40 Bucks – just saying.. Also if you drive around a littel further off the strip you can find small food places like the “Viva las Arepas”. They serve awesome tasting Venezualian food.

    • Lucy says

      Haha, funnily enough when I visited I was in the midst of wedding planning so it was quite tempting to just do it there and then and save the cost of a big wedding!

  13. says

    Cool post.Las Vegas is not just about Gambles and casinos.There are lots of other things to do in Vegas so that is dam true that if you not going to spend your money on casinos then you can surely able to make an awesome trip to Vegas in a budget.People always just think about the gamble and casinos when they heard the name of Las vegas.So when people will read your post they will get to know that there are so many things they can enjoy in Vegas.

    • Lucy says

      Thanks, yes there is so much more to do than just gambling – even with almost 10 days there I didn’t get bored!

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