Play your cards right to find true bargains on Las Vegas' ritzy Strip.
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For a Monday, the place is surprisingly hopping. Then again, it’s happy hour at the Stratosphere’s Level 107 Lounge, a swanky cocktail spot 800 feet above the Las Vegas Strip with gasp-inducing views from the floor-to-ceiling windows. Every few minutes, a sky jumper from the thrill ride one floor above whooshes by.
Chris and Mechelle Kwader of San Antonio, Texas, are sharing Vietnamese duck sliders, roasted tomatoes with cheese fondue, and pork belly with chimichurri—three generously sized half-price appetizers standing in, quite nicely, for dinner. The bill comes to $32, including drinks. Not bad in a town where you can drop half a mortgage payment on dinner for two.
“You’ve got to look for the deals,” Mechelle says. “It’s all about strategizing.”
This thrifty Texan may be on to something, especially now that prices in what is surely the glitziest travel destination in the United States have been rising again.
It used to be that even folks of average means could vacation like high rollers here without a big credit-card hangover. Casino hotels lured you in with loss leaders (remember El Rancho Las Vegas’s $1 Buckaroo Buffet?), knowing they’d make up for it on the one-armed bandits and table games. Then gambling revenues started shrinking. Nevada resorts used to earn more than half of their money from the gambling floor. By 2011, nearly one in four polled adult visitors wagered no money; those who did spent less.
The Strip looked for other ways to turn a profit. Celebrity chefs such as Mario Batali, Bobby Flay, and Thomas Keller opened restaurants; spas became famously extravagant and notoriously expensive; and high-end retailers made Vegas a shopper’s fever dream. A round of golf at Wynn Las Vegas is $500 per person; a single bottle of liquor at places such as the Hyde Bellagio lounge can cost even more.
Do loss leaders even exist anymore? Not many—the light and music show at the Fountains of Bellagio, Mirage’s exploding volcano, and trapeze artists swinging overhead at Circus Circus. But there are other ways to live it up in Vegas without breaking the bank. As Mechelle knows, you need a few tactics. A little bit of effort can turn up jackpot deals on indulgent perks. Here’s how.
1 Get junk “In Vegas, you want to do the opposite of what common sense tells you everywhere else,” says Anthony Curtis, publisher of the Las Vegas Advisor, a Sin City deals newsletter. “You want junk mail. That’s where the deals really, really come from.”
Sign up for online loyalty programs and email deals pour in: Aria Resort & Casino recently offered a $99 room plus $100 toward anything on its property—say a facial at the spa, followed by a relaxing stretch on a heated-stone bed. Facebook, Twitter, websites: It’s easy to find discounts, especially for entertainment, even on top-drawer experiences like Cirque du Soleil’s seven shows.
2 Embrace the workweek However much “Hey, honey, let’s do Vegas this weekend!” rings with romantic spontaneity, a lot of things are cheaper Sunday through Thursday. A room can cost half as much on a Tuesday as it does on a Saturday. Spas offer midweek discounts; so do buffets.
One of the best is the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas’s Wicked Spoon, which offers small scrumptious servings—a shot of ceviche, a crème brûlée—in cute mini pots and baskets. The weekend brunch costs $30, but weekdays it’s a steal at $22.
You can even save on one of the latest living-large trends: a reserved poolside chaise in a section apart from the hoi polloi. At the Bellagio’s Cypress Pool, a “premium” chaise—complete with Evian misters, chilled towels, mini smoothies, and attendants adjusting umbrellas—costs $50 midweek, half its Saturday rate.
Pocketbook considerations aside, there are other advantages to midweek. A late checkout or last-minute table at that hot new restaurant is easier to get. The lines are shorter, the happy hours happier, and the Strip’s infamously gnarly traffic lighter.
3 Be an early bird The secret to eating well—really well—on a budget, even at celebrity-chef restaurants, is to eat earlier. At the white-tablecloth Greek restaurant Estiatorio Milos, you can lunch on meze, grilled bass flown in daily from the Mediterranean, and a yogurt martini dessert for $20.12. (Hurry: Next year the price goes up to $20.13.)
David Myers’s Comme Ça, a French brasserie with a stunning terrace view of the half-scale Eiffel Tower, offers a $17.50, three-course lunch special featuring delights such as steamed mussels and pot de crème. The best part: Lunch runs late. Grab a table at 4:15 p.m. and linger through evening.
Las Vegas is thick with happy hour menus. Some appetizers are barely there tongue teasers; others, including those at the Level 107, can fill you up. At the trendy Lavo lounge overlooking Treasure Island Hotel & Casino’s pirate ship show, a glass of happy hour bubbly is $7, as are two big Kobe beef meatballs with garlic bread and spicy tomato sauce.
4 Just ask If you’re looking to save, don’t be shy about it, even at high-end establishments. Sirio Ristorante, with its 1950s dolce vita vibe, charges $47 for roasted veal chops. Mention you’re hunting for a deal and you’ll learn about the Caffe menu with veal scaloppine for $32.
Asking for a deal won’t work everywhere, but Mechelle Kwader took her strategic bargaining to a boutique at the Stratosphere, where an embroidered lime-green blouse caught her eye. No way was she going to pay the tag price of $150, and she didn’t mind saying so. The clerk gave it to her for $119. Instead of losing her shirt in Vegas, she came home with a stylish new one—at a discount.
Photography by David H. Collier (Wicked Spoon, Comme Ca); courtesy Las Vegas News Bureau (the Strip); courtesy John Davis/Costumes by Alan Hranitelj/Cirque du Soleil (Zarkana)
This article was first published in January 2013. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.
Request the Nevada TourBook and Las Vegas Vicinity map at AAA.com or any AAA branch. To find places to stay, visit AAA.com/hotels. Call AAA Travel at (888) 589-4222 or visit AAA.com/travel. For more information, contact the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority: (877) 847-4858, lvcva.com. Area code is 702 unless noted.
TO DO Cirque du Soleil Seven shows, various deals. Multiple locations, (866) 540-0767, cirquedusoleil.com. Cypress Pool Half-price reserved poolside chaise Mon.–Fri. Bellagio, 3600 Las Vegas Blvd. S., 693-7111, bellagio.com.
EATS AND DRINKS Comme Ça Lunch special Fri.–Sun. noon–5 p.m. Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, 3708 Las Vegas Blvd. S., 698-7910, cosmopolitanlasvegas.com. Estiatorio Milos Lunch special daily noon–2:30 p.m. Cosmopolitan, 3708 Las Vegas Blvd. S., 698-7930, cosmopolitanlasvegas.com. Lavo Happy hour daily 4:30–7 p.m. Palazzo Las Vegas, 3325 Las Vegas Blvd S., 791-1800, lavolv.com. Level 107 Lounge Happy hour daily 4–7p.m. Stratosphere Casino, Hotel & Tower, 2000 Las Vegas Blvd. S., (800) 998-6937, stratospherehotel.com. Sirio Ristorante Aria Resort & Casino, 3730 Las Vegas Blvd. S., 590-8540, arialasvegas.com. Wicked Spoon Buffet brunch Mon.–Fri. 8 a.m.–2 p.m., Sat.–Sun. 8 a.m.–3 p.m., Cosmopolitan, 3708 Las Vegas Blvd. S., 698-7870, cosmopolitanlasvegas.com.