Save your cash for the slots

Stephanie Scarmo

Glitz and glamour, show-tunes and showgirls, clubs and casinos, Wayne Newton and wedding chapels – all trademarks of the gambling capitol of America – Las Vegas. A city sometimes known as the ultimate expression of capitalism, Vegas has developed into one of the hottest vacation spots in the country. While gamblers dream of winning a fortune in Las Vegas, there are several tricks tourists should learn to keep from over spending once there.

Last winter, with our senior year spring break only a few months away, my two closest friends and I convened in my college apartment to determine a place to visit. After watching other students spend a $1,000 on a five-day cruise or a trip to Acapulco, we knew we could devise a plan to travel somewhere just as enjoyable for a lot less. Although we were simply poor college kids seeking an exciting spring break, anyone planning a trip to Sin City can benefit from our money-saving techniques. For a five-day visit including hotel and airfare, we each ended up spending only $550. Here’s how.

Numerous inexpensive flights are constantly available to Las Vegas, a popular travel destination. Websites such as Expedia or Orbitz offer several cheap flights; however, customers should be aware of the departure times. Often times, the less expensive flights occur at odd hours of the day, which causes you to spend too much time traveling and not enough time vacationing. My friends and I decided to book a round-trip flight on JetBlue Airlines for $211 each, leaving from JFK Airport in New York City early on Monday morning and returning very late on Friday night, maximizing the time we spent in Vegas. In addition, airfare during the weekdays is significantly less expensive than on the weekends, so we saved even more.

Selecting the perfect hotel can seem overwhelming at first due to the vast lodging possibilities in Las Vegas. Again, surfing travel websites can help you weigh your options, but individual hotel websites, another useful place to check, can also reveal monthly or weekly deals. When web searching, you should keep location in mind. Some hotels may offer inexpensive rooms or travel deals, but many of these lodges sit several miles off “The Strip” (a.k.a. Las Vegas Boulevard, containing the local tourist attractions). If you are not planning to rent a vehicle during your trip, these hotels may not be worth the few dollars you will save on a room.

My friends and I were very pleased with our own selection – the Boardwalk Hotel and Casino situated right on The Strip next to the Monte Carlo and Bellagio, and across from the MGM Grand. Great location! The affordable Holiday Inn hotel chain owns the Boardwalk, so we knew our rooms would be clean and the service would be decent. Splitting the cost of the room between three people came out to $100 for four nights, not bad! Other inexpensive hotels include the Aladdin, Stardust and Treasure Island Hotels and Casinos, which offer a variety of rooms priced according to their amenities. All of these hotels are in prime locations within walking distance of the attractions.

So what are the “must see and do” attractions in Las Vegas, and how can you do them inexpensively? First of all, walk – everywhere. You will not only save more, but you will see more. On your stroll down The Strip, make sure to stop at the numerous free attractions that have popularized Vegas. Do not miss the gondolas at the Venetian, the Eiffel Tower at the Paris, conservatory and dancing water fountains at the Bellagio, replica of the Coliseum at Caesar’s Palace, outdoor pirate show at Treasure Island, or the giant volcano. In addition, monthly guides found at the front desk of each hotel will list upcoming events specific to your week of travel. Many of these attractions, such as jugglers at Excalibur or a comedy show at Bourbon Street, are extremely entertaining and completely free. If walking to these attractions is not feasible, there is a trolley that circulates up and down The Strip for $1.75 a person and stops at most hotels.

Seeking inexpensive eateries enables vacationers to save a significant amount of money. There are plenty of healthy alternatives to an expensive meal in one of the city’s numerous restaurants – you just have to know where to look. All-you-can-eat buffets are a great value, and Las Vegas is full of them! Serving everything from steaks to seafood, check restaurant reviews to find the perfect buffet for you and your family. In addition, several quaint restaurants, such as the Peppermill Restaurant, famous for its traditional Las Vegas atmosphere, offer exceptional service and inexpensive selection of diverse cuisine. With the money you save by dining cheaply throughout the week, you can splurge for a dinner at one of the expensive restaurants at the end of your visit.

Finally, for the younger tourists closer to the 21 end of the age spectrum, Las Vegas is “one of the best places to party,” according to the Tommy Hilfiger underwear model I bumped into at a nightclub one night. Yes, you will see famous people in Vegas and even party with them at some of the hottest night-spots in the country. A word of caution though: these venues can be slightly pricey, which makes it all the more necessary to watch your spending during the day. Still, there are ways to enjoy the nightlife cheaply. Luckily if you are a female, there are plenty of cover charge discounts and plenty of men to buy you drinks. Several clubs and lounges also have specials on certain days, making it important to check an events calendar before you head out for the night. Some of my favorite places to include Studio 54 in MGM Grand, Rum Jungle in Mandalay Bay and Ghostbar and Rain in the Desert both located at the Palms Hotel and Casino.

Even when abiding by all of these money-saving rules, the ultimate financial downfall for most Las Vegas visitors is gambling. The trick here is to know when to stop, which is not always easy. It is important to know your limit and step outside of the casino once in a while – Vegas has so much more to offer. Stick to these tips and you’ll leave Vegas a winner no matter what. Who says that the house always wins?