Is Las Vegas Still A Budget Friendly Destination?
If money was no object, boy, would we all have some fun in Las Vegas! Sin City has enough temptation to bust any budget. Slot machines, fine restaurants, spectacular shows, and gorgeous suites all cast a coquettish glance at your wallet, but memorable trips await the savvy budget traveler as well. We've put together a $200 Challenge itinerary so your time on the ground is equally budget friendly. With gambling and go-go girls galore, can 2 people travel for 2 days and spend just $200?
Coupons, Clubs, and Fun Funds
Absolutely nobody in Vegas pays full price for anything! Embrace you inner coupon queen or king and do not book a hotel room, head out for a meal, or visit an attraction without first searching for online coupons and scouring the visitor magazines.
Want even more coupons and discounts? Join the complimentary player's club at every casino you visit. You'd have to gamble a small fortune before they'd comp you a suite but players' clubs are your ticket to deeply discounted casino meals and attractions.
Think the $200 Challenge excludes a gambling budget? Think again! The $200 Challenge prices listed below are pre-coupon prices. Every time you use a coupon, pocket that savings and re-direct it to your fun fund!
Budget Vegas Accommodations
Not a day goes by that we don't get a "special email offer" from a Las Vegas hotel. Competition is stiff and you will find deals galore by signing up for hotel emails. If you are flexible on your dates and hotel location you can find some real deals when you book well in advance.
While writing this post, I played around with different travel dates on a third party booker to check on hotel prices for the next 6 months. I found the Golden Gate and the Riviera Hotels for $18 a night, Arizona Charlies and the Stratosphere Hotels for $28 a night, and the Four Queens, Flamingo, and Excalibur Hotels for $32 a night. These hotels are all pretty basic, but they are certainly a step up from the usual campgrounds and hostels of other $200 Challenges! (Update from Vanessa: It's been about a year since we wrote this post, so we double checked on the prices and we're happy to report that they hold firm. You can easily get a 3 star hotel for around $30 a night and, with some stealthy searching, there are some that are available for around $20 a night).
Prices in Las Vegas rise considerably on the weekends and on holidays - a midweek stay is by far the best bargain. "Resort fees" - charged in the most un-resort like of places - can sometimes cost more than the room itself! Remember to consider the final cost of your stay, not simply the advertised room cost. (PS : Be sure to budget for tips. This is important at any location, be especially in service-driven Vegas)
Cost: Let's say for the sake of argument you can get one night at a real deal ($20 and no resort fee) and the second night is a bit more at $40 (including resort fee.) $60 TOTAL.
If you are very careful and a bit lucky, you might manage accommodations for $40.
Forget free coffee in the morning - many Las Vegas hotels don't include coffee makers! But do read the fine print carefully when you book your room. Many properties have the option of upgrading to a business floor which includes a deluxe continental breakfast and extensive happy hour nibbles. I've heard from several people who have done this and declared it an excellent deal.
If you're an early riser, getting up as the last gamblers and party animals are going to bed, you can take advantage of the late night/early morning specials at the off-strip casinos. Ellis Island offers scrambled eggs with biscuits, gravy, and choice of meat for $4.
Tiffany's: Little more than a counter in an old pharmacy, this 24 hour diner is one of my favourite places to eat in the city. (Note: It's now rebranded as Vicki's) 3 eggs with home fries and toast is $5.40, while a pork chop, eggs, potatoes, and toast will set you back just $7.50
Einstein Bros Bagels: There's nothing like proper carbs in the morning and over a dozen bagel varieties will make you very, very happy. (Onion bagel with jalapeno cream cheese would be my first pick!) Only a few dollars a pop!
If you're a late riser and looking for brunch or if you simply love breakfast and want to make it the main meal of your day, consider Le Village Buffet in the Paris hotel. Organized according to different regions of France, this buffet is a mix of sweet and savory options, including homemade Breton crepes, French cheeses and cold meats, pears stewed in red wine sauce, and pastries galore, along with the usual eggs, potatoes, fruits, and breakfast meats. At $21, it's a splurge but a late breakfast here means no need for lunch.
COST: If you average about $8 per person, per day for breakfast, the cost is: $32.
If you are very careful, you could manage breakfast for $16.
Capriotti's Sandwich Shop: It would be a shame to visit Vegas and not devour a Bobbie sandwich -turkey, cranberry sauce, homemade stuffing, and mayo. We are big eaters but a large (20 inch) sandwich was more than enough for both of us to share for less than $14. If sharing isn't your thing , a still-generous single size roast beef or tuna sandwich will only set you back about $5.
Lotus of Siam: In a east end strip mall sits a restaurant that Gourmet Magazine declared the best Thai food in North America. You would be crazy not to go for the $10 lunch buffet and it would make the idea location to return for dinner with a group of friends in tow so you can order endless dishes to share and swap.
Dona Maria Tamales: Huge portions, plenty of cheese, and tacos starting at about $3 - this downtown location is justifiably busy at lunch, where main dishes are $9-$12.
Main Street Station Garden Court Buffet: Packed with locals, several of whom heartily recommended the homemade garlic bread to me, Main Street has wood oven pizzas, homemade salsa, rotisserie chicken, and a great carving station -and it's all for $8 per person. Frommer's guidebook calls this one of the best buffets in town and it's one of our favourite value picks as well.
Costs: If you average $10 per person, per day, the cost is $40.
If you were very careful (and willing to share with your partner!) you could manage lunch for $30.
If you didn't make it to Tiffany's for breakfast, considering heading here for dinner or a late night snack. A 16oz round steak with potatoes, veggies, soup or salad is $9.95, as is spaghetti and meatballs or a massive 4-piece fried chicken platter.
Cheap dinner specials abound at the off-strip casinos, offering late night patrons cut-rate prices and hearty portions (search for 'dining bargains' at Vegas.com to learn more). At Ellis Island, you can enjoy half a BBQ chicken with beans, corn on the cob, coleslaw, and garlic bread for about $9. At Du-Par's, Ryan had a massive portion of chicken fried steak with all the fixings for about $10 and he's still raving about it months later!
Fellini's serves old fashioned Italian-American classics. The steak and main courses might challenge your budget, but the pasta dishes represent great value. Penne primavera, cheese ravioli, lasagna, spaghetti with sausage or meatballs, or Cappellini alla Checca are all $13.95. Pasta dishes featuring shrimp and seafood start at $17.95
Las Vegas Hilton Buffet: Come evening, the price of buffets rises sharply compared to the lunch time offerings. The Hilton Buffet wins the value war by offering complimentary draft beer and California wine and great desserts. (Why are homemade desserts such a rarity on the Vegas buffet scene?) Military members save an additional 25% off the $22 per person price.
Cost: If you average $14 per person, per day, the cost is $56.
If you were very careful (and really loved diners), you could manage dinner for $40.
Las Vegas is the perfect destination for my favourite phrase: "If it's free, I go and see. If I pay, I stay away." There's tons of free sights and attractions to fill two days of travel! Many of the hotels feature free shows, including the erupting volcanoes of the Mirage, the "Fall of Atlantis" at Caesar's Forum shops, and my personal favourite, the Bellagio Fountains.
Off the Strip, there are still plenty of free attractions. Silver and Gold Pawn Shop, home of the "Pawn Stars" reality show, welcomes the curious and the browsers, while the Fremont Street Experience is a mesmerizing display. And the best kind of entertainment of all in Vegas is to people watch - there are some interesting characters that pass by!
Things are deceptively far apart in Las Vegas and it's hard to cover everything by walking - especially the $200 Challenge, which includes a lot of off-Strip restaurants. Public transportation passes cost $8 for 24 hours, which would add a cost of $32 to your budget for two days. If you were super organized and lumped all off-Strip amenities into one day of travel, you could probably manage on just one day of passes for $16. If your trip includes other people and you're willing to do some serious searching, it may be more economical to rent a car and share the cost.
The very careful and very lucky might be able to squeak in under budget at $158 for the lowest price options, but the higher price point options are a much more realistic $220. Overall, I think it's safe to declare the Las Vegas $200 Challenge a success!
I think the $200 Challenge would be an ideal scenario for someone who is visiting Vegas for work, a conference, or a wedding and wants to extend their trip, spend more time exploring the city, and wants to do it all at minimal cost. While I'm thrilled to demonstrate that a fun filled, delicious, comfortable trip to Vegas needn't break the bank, I have to admit that the $200 Challenge lifestyle is hard to sustain for more than 2 days or so. By day 3, I'd be ready to slightly increase my budget and enjoy some of Vegas' most special attractions, including a few great meals, a show, and maybe a bit of gambling or shopping.
Believe it or not, there is a community of Vegas bargain hunters who would consider the $200 Challenge to be an extravagance. They stay in the cheapest of the cheap motels, bed bugs be damned, know about every single $2.99 diner special in town, and can easily spend a weekend in Vegas for under $100. I applaud their ingenuity (and their resistance to scurvy) but I prefer to focus on value, not cheapness.
I'd love to hear from you! What's your favourite Las Vegas restaurant deal? What's the lowest price you've paid for a hotel room?
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