My friends and I love to gamble. We went to college 30 minutes away from a casino, and some of my best memories from school took place at one of its tables. After most of us graduated, we tossed around the idea of flying to Las Vegas to do some serious gambling at the casinos we grew up dreaming about. The only thing stopping us? We were broke kids fresh out of school.
The Vegas you see in the movies is ritzy and expensive, so for years, we convinced ourselves we weren’t in the appropriate tax bracket. Finally, after months of saving, we ripped off the bandaid and booked our plane tickets and hotel. During our time in Vegas, we found that if you know your way around the city, Vegas doesn’t have to break the bank. So if you’re like my friends and me, here are 7 tips to going to Vegas on a budget.
1. Book Flights in Advance
One of the significant expenses while traveling is airfare. To make sure you’re saving money, try to remember a few things before booking a flight. Flexibility is the key to saving on travel, which means you have to be open to flying on different airlines, flying into different airports, and being flexible about arrival and departure times.
I monitored prices for three weeks before booking a flight and found that flights are cheapest during the week. Additionally, we flew coach on an airline that wasn’t necessarily the highest-rated. You need to remind yourself that the airplane is simply a means to an end, and the quality won’t make the trip of the flight.
The standard rules for saving money on air travel apply here. Try to fit all of your belongings into one carry on bag and avoid the temptation to fly first class. Finally, be open to scheduling a trip during the week rather than a weekend, which we will get into later.
2. Don’t Break the Bank on Hotels
One of the biggest draws of Las Vegas is the hotels made famous by popular movies over the years. While it’s understandable why you would want to stay at these iconic locations, it’s more cost-effective to stay at one of the more affordable, low-profile spots.
Together with flights, lodging can be one of the more expensive aspects of any vacation, and individual hotels in Vegas can eat into your budget. While planning your vacation, keep in mind that you can always visit the most expensive spots in Vegas without having to stay there. At the end of the day, avid gamblers aren’t going to be spending a lot of time in their rooms anyway.
3. Stock Up on Basic Necessities
Like most tourist destinations, individual establishments in Vegas charge a premium on goods like food, water, and alcohol. Buying something as simple as a bottle of water at stores and casinos on the Strip can cost you as much as a 24 pack back at home. Immediately upon arrival, consider heading to a supermarket or even the well-known CVS in the middle of the Strip.
By stocking up on water and your alcohol of choice, you’re immediately saving yourself money down the road. Considering that Vegas is brutally hot in the summers, it’s always smart to carry a bottle of water with you, and you don’t want to shell out $8 for a single bottle. Alcohol can be expensive at the casino bars and restaurants, but drinks are free if you’re gambling, as if you needed an excuse to gamble.
4. Find a $5 Table
One of the reasons most of you want to travel to Vegas is to gamble at one of the many casinos. If you’re like me, the image of a high roller throwing down a stack of bills at one of the fancier casinos has been seared into your brain. I didn’t expect to find affordable gambling in Vegas but was pleasantly surprised to find out I was dead wrong.
Several casinos on the Strip, like New York, New York, and Hooters, offer $5 table games like Blackjack and Craps. These tables are hard to come by, and even if you find one, it can be tough to grab a seat.
Don’t be concerned if your party gets split up. Some might not want to wait around for a seat at a table on the Strip or travel downtown. Some of my best experiences in Vegas came when I was gambling with strangers.
5. Attend a Free Show
Besides gambling, Vegas boasts a thriving performance arts industry, including comedy acts, music acts, and magic shows. Some shows are relatively inexpensive, but if you are looking for free entertainment, the city has several sites to see.
Arguably the most iconic must-see is the Bellagio Water Show. Every 30 minutes from 3-7 p.m. and every 15 minutes from 8 p.m. to midnight, the fountains and lights outside the Bellagio go off in rhythm and music. Our second night in Vegas, we walked down the Strip to see what all the hype was about and caught two shows back-to-back.
Other free attractions in Las Vegas include the volcano show at the Mirage, a circus show at Circus Circus, and the Fall of Atlantis at Caesars Palace. All of these attractions make for a good time, but merely walking up and down the Strip with your beverage of choice while taking in the Vegas skyline is entertaining in itself.
6. Hit the Buffet
Sin City is full of world-class restaurants worth dining at, and if you want to spend some money on a good meal, opportunities abound. But, if you’re trying to allocate most of your budget to gambling and entertainment, buffets provide an incredible value. A variety of buffets are scattered around the city at different price points, offering different styles of cuisine.
My group stayed at Mandalay Bay and went to the Bayside Buffet every day for brunch. The breakfast buffet was affordably priced at $20 and allowed us to gorge on a wide range of foods before heading to the tables. We chose the Bayside Buffet for its convenience, but most casinos offer a buffet of their own, up and down the Strip and downtown.
Once again, it’s up to you how much money you want to spend, and the idea of spending a fair amount of money on one meal is a bit polarizing. The morning buffet provides an opportunity to discuss plans for the day and revisit the debauchery from the night before while hitting your daily calorie count in one sitting.
7. Go During the Week
This might be the most important tip if you’re trying to save money on your trip. Virtually everything is cheaper in Las Vegas during the week. Lower stakes table games are easier to come by, flights are less expensive, and even hotels are more reasonable. My group landed in Vegas on a Tuesday morning and departed on Friday. Not only did we avoid the higher prices, but the city itself was also less busy.
An underrated aspect of this is that you’ll be able to recover from your vacation if you fly home on Friday or even Saturday morning. Sleep is hard to come by in Vegas, so give yourself plenty of time to rest before returning to your regular routine.
If the price of vacationing to Vegas has forced you to put a hold on plans, reconsider your decision. It’s perfectly understandable why potential first-time Vegas-goers are cautious about pulling the trigger on a trip, but the city is affordable if you plan effectively.
Affordable gambling is located all around the city, providing you with an opportunity to spend the most time possible playing your game of choice. Even if you lose your bankroll, the town itself is full of cheap activities to entertain people from all walks of life. If you follow the tips above, you won’t have to dip into your 401k to afford a trip to Sin City.