This is a mental health lifestyle blog, but one of the things that I love to do the most is plan trips on a budget. Consider this my own personal form of therapy that you get to enjoy, too. This post does include referral links; however, I do not recommend anything to you that I do not use myself, and no companies have sponsored me to write this

I love Las Vegas so much, but I don’t love spending lots of money. That may seem like an oxymoron, because Vegas is a tourist town and the WHOLE POINT of Vegas is for you to spend all your money there. You don’t have to break the bank in Sin City to have a great time, though.  I’m passing on my personal tips for doing Vegas on a reasonable budget so you can enjoy a vacation there, too. This is meant to be a beginners’ guide to give you a starting point.

Starting out, there are a few sites I recommend you sign up for before you plan your Las Vegas trip

1. MyVegas – You can earn free, really awesome comps at MGM properties by playing games on the MyVegas free apps. I’ve earned free nights on the strip, free buffets, and free drinks. On Facebook, you can play MyVegas Slots and earn free chips by checking the MyVegas and MGM properties Facebook pages. On mobile, you can download MyVegas Slots, MyVegas Blackjack, POP! Slots and Konami Slots. I’ll pull up MyVegas Slots on Facebook and have it autoplay in the background to earn coins, which you use to “buy” comps.
2. Ebates – Before you buy anything on any website, go to Ebates first and click on their referral links to earn cash back on each purchase. I’ve earned cash back on show tickets and groupons by using Ebates. It’s usually not a *ton* of money you’ll get back, but if you can earn some money by just going to a website, why not? Click here for$25 when you sign up with Ebates and spend $25
3. Groupon – You have probably used Groupon before, but if you haven’t, sign up. I won’t say that *all* Vegas deals on here are worth it, but you can get some buffet passes and last-minute show tickets for cheaper than you’d regularly pay. ALWAYS be sure to read the fine print, though, and use Ebates to get to get a cash back bonus with your Groupon purchases. Click here for $10 in Groupon bucks for signing up and purchasing a deal

When should I go to Vegas?

Generally speaking, it’s cheaper to fly and stay in Vegas in the middle of the week. You’ll want to pay attention to when major events are happening – major sports events that people bet on, fight nights, large conventions – and try to avoid those, as well. Holidays tend to be busy, but the time immediately after the holidays tend to bring a big dropoff in prices.

The downside to going in the middle of the week or right after the holidays is some of the popular shows aren’t happening then, but those tend to be the pricier shows, anyway, and I’ve still found plenty of entertainment.

When should I schedule my flight?

CheapAir.com has done several studies on when flights should be booked, so you’ll definitely want to take a look at it. Practically speaking, I start tracking flight prices about 90 days before I want to travel to Vegas. I set flight tracking on Google Flights and Kayak, and I’ll check Hopper. If several airports are accessible to you, set your tracking for all of those airports to compare. That being said, take into account travel costs, parking costs, etc before deciding to book with an airport not as close to you.

Keep in mind that Southwest is not trackable on these websites, so you’ll have to check Southwest.com separately for their prices. I recommend checking Southwest because they’re one of the most affordable airlines and they are good quality. Southwest runs sales throughout the year, so keeping track of their sales can work in your favor.

Southwest does offer flight/hotel combo deals, but I prefer to have the flexibility of booking everything myself.

Where should I book?

Generally speaking, I recommend staying near where you want to hang out. Makes sense, right? If you’re wanting to hang out on The Strip, you should probably stay on or near The Strip. If there’s a big show you’re going to see, maybe stay at or near that resort. If you brought a car to Vegas, you have options to stay wherever you want, but keep in mind that free parking isn’t as easy to find as it used to be. That being said:

1. Check for MyVegas comps first – You signed up for MyVegas, right? Depending on how many chips you’ve earned, you may be able to get a comped room or a room at a discount. A “comped” room at an MGM property still includes resort fees and taxes, so keep that in mind when budgeting. A comped night on The Strip is going to run about $40 per night. I’ve cashed in nights at MGM Grand and Mirage using MyVegas rewards

2. Consider a night or two downtown – Downtown Las Vegas is generally cheaper than The Strip. Rooms are cheaper. Resort fees are cheaper. Meals are cheaper. Slots are looser. It’s old school Vegas, and I love it. Keep in mind that there isn’t as much to do Downtown, and there aren’t as many shows, but the Fremont Street experience is so much fun, and I don’t think anyone should miss it. I am very partial to staying at El Cortez, especially with their free steak and free bottle of wine offers, but there are several affordable options.

3. Check for rates on Vegas.com – But go to Vegas.com through Ebates because you’ll get cash back if you book through Vegas.com! You can check rooms based on price and location. You’ll want to compare these prices to prices on the hotels’ websites, because sometimes you can get special deals booking through a hotel website.

4. If you want to gamble on a room, go to Hotwire or Hotels.com – You can book rooms at “secret” rates, BUT, you do not  usually get to choose your hotel. The key to Hotwire and Hotels.com is to only check for rooms ONCE. They jack up the prices each time someone searches the same location and same date (supply and demand, y’all). And always go to Hotwire and Hotels.com through Ebates!

5. Before you book directly with a hotel, join their rewards program if possible – The hotels and casinos in Vegas all have rewards programs because they want you to keep coming back and spending money. Several of these rewards programs offer room discounts. Sign up before you book, because you might get a discounted room or a meal comp.

6. Airbnb is a good option in LIMITED CIRCUMSTANCES – The Airbnbs I’ve stayed at in Vegas have all been clean and cozy, but there is only one circumstance which I recommend Vegas Airbnbs – if the hotel prices are expensive when you’re going AND you can get an Airbnb that’s a really short Uber drive away from where you’re wanting to hang out. Otherwise, you’re going to be spending so much money in transportation fare that it’s not going to make a difference, plus, the travel time will eat up into your entertainment time. If you’re going to be spending a lot of time on The Strip, I recommend searching for rooms near UNLV – it’s convenient and about a $10 Uber away. Click here for $40 credit when you sign up and book with Airbnb

What should I do for transportation?

Unless you are traveling to the outskirts or are planning on doing a lot of traveling back and forth, you probably don’t need to rent a car. If you choose not to rent a car:

Transportation from and to the airport:

The Las Vegas airport has a very convenient cab system, so if ease is what you’re going for, you can hop on a cab. However, you can pick from several shuttle services at the Las Vegas Airport.  My preference these days if I’m leaving the airport is to use SuperShuttle. There is a flat fee for every ride – I think I paid $12 the last time I went. It takes a little longer to get from point A to point B since the shuttle is dropping off people at multiple locations, but it’s super convenient. I sign up online ahead of time, and all I have to do is check in at the SuperShuttle station.

As far as trips back, check with your hotel to see if they offer free shuttles. I usually stay at the El Cortez my last night in Vegas and take advantage of their airport shuttle, which runs every half hour.

Other travel:

If you are traveling from one place on The Strip to another, you can usually walk so long as you’re in decent physical shape. I only recommend the monorail if you’re in a hurry or you’re just hot and tired (and that’s a real possibility!).  Unless you’re going from one end of The Strip to the other, you probably won’t want to use a cab or rideshare.

If you’re wanting to travel back and forth between Downtown and The Strip, there is a shuttle that runs between the two for $8 a day. Keep in mind that it doesn’t run 24 hours a day, so if you’ve had a wild night and need a ride at 3AM, you’re gonna need an alternative.

For other traveling around town, Uber is the way to go. Cabs cost quite a bit of money, and many hotels have designated rideshare stops that are sponsored by Uber. Uber prices can vary wildly throughout the day, and to save money, try to avoid taking rides immediately before and after major events (fight nights, special concerts, sporting events). Lyft also has a presence in Vegas.

Dining:

Oh my goodness, the food in Vegas. It’s so delicious… and SO EXPENSIVE. Even cheap chains jack up their prices in the touristy areas. And the buffets… oh, goodness the buffets. They’re really good, but they’re gonna cost you some dough. That being said… you can have an awesome dining experience in Vegas without paying top dollar

Guide to buffets:

I feel like everyone should have at least one buffet experience while they are in Las Vegas. You may be doing Vegas on a budget, but if possible, you should budget in a trip to a buffet!

Breakfast and lunch buffets are generally cheaper than dinner buffets, and midweek buffets are generally cheaper than weekend buffets. I like to go late morning because there are usually both breakfast and lunch options, and I’m usually full enough that I can eat dinner late and get away with only two meals a day why I’m there.

Most (but not all) buffets Downtown are cheaper than the buffets on The Strip. The Fremont Casino has a $9.99 breakfast buffet that I have not tried but intend to next time I’m in Vegas.

Never, ever pay full price for a buffet on The Strip. There are too many ways to get discounted meals.

One way to get discounted meals is by using the MyVegas rewards app (do you keep seeing a theme here)? They usually have 2-for-1 buffet or one free buffet deals available. BE SURE to read the fine print because there are usually blackout dates where you cannot use your comp.

Another place to look for discounted buffets is on Groupon. BE SURE to check Groupon’s prices compared to the “regular” prices, because sometimes I find that there isn’t actually a discount.

Guide for other meals:

If I’m eating at a sit-down restaurant in Vegas, my general approach has been to split an entree and a salad with someone. I’ve never left hungry, especially if I’ve taken advantage of a mid-morning buffet earlier in the day. Two of my favorite Vegas meals are entree/salad splits – splitting small Trash Can Nachos and a salad at Guy Fieri’s in Rio and splitting a Margherita pizza and salad at Wolfgang Puck’s at MGM Grand.

Ellis Island, which is just off The Strip behind Bally’s, has some great meal deals. On Tuesdays, you can get two street tacos and a shot of tequila for $5. On Wednesdays, you can get five wings and a shot of whiskey for $5.

Per one of my buddies on twitter – “If you’re in the mood for sushi and don’t want to pay for the ambiance of a Nobu or Sake Rok, take a $10 Uber to Flamingo and Maryland (4 minutes by car east of Bally’s) and enjoy quality, $25, AYCE sushi at Sakana.”

Yelp is really big in Vegas, and if you check in at certain locations, you can get discounts on meals and drinks.

Restaurants downtown are generally cheaper than on The Strip, and if you’re willing to wander toward the Arts District, which is within walking distance, there are some great finds.

El Cortez downtown has a $12.95 prime rib special available 24 hours a day, and I think it’s the best deal in Vegas. The bars at El Cortez also have $5 Patron margaritas!

If you’re okay with not eating at a restaurant, there are Walgreens and CVS pharmacies all over Las Vegas. You can grab some provisions there and dine in your room.

Entertainment:

Unless there is a show that you MUST SEE, you should never pay full price to see a show in Las Vegas.

So, I hear that show tickets are given away for free or very heavily discounted to shows that haven’t filled their seats. I can’t give you advice on how to snag those tickets, because I have to plan ahead (after all, this is a blog about anxiety, and the thought of having to wait until the last minute to figure out tickets stresses me the eff out), so if anyone has guidance on how to snag these, I’d appreciate the input.

I usually search for show tickets on BestOfVegas.com (after going to the site through Ebates, of course) to find deals. Most recently, I found tickets for Lionel Richie for $40(!!!) apiece. Be sure to check BestOfVegas’s prices against the prices the venue offers, though, to make sure you’re actually getting a good deal.

Groupon has tickets to lots of attractions, and check Groupon’s prices against the prices the venue offers.

If you want to go to any of the museums (like Madame Tussaud’s  or The Mob Museum), go online first. You can likely pre-purchase tickets at a discount or get a coupon.

There are so many free things to do in Vegas, too! Two of my favorites are the fountains at the Bellagio and the light show at the Fremont Street Experience, and you can find a great list of free attractions here.

And if you’re wanting to know about night clubs, I am not your gal.

Gambling:

Look, if you’re going to Vegas on a budget, gambling probably isn’t your best bet (I didn’t realize I typed a pun until after I typed the sentence, but I will not say “pun not intended” because everyone who uses that phrase is a big fat liar).  I know people talk about all the free drinks you get while you play, the comps you can earn… but you’re paying for those drinks and comps through the money you’re losing.

THAT BEING SAID… you can gamble with cheaper buy ins Downtown than on The Strip, and the slots tend to be looser Downtown than on The Strip. Furthermore, casinos seem to be more generous with the free drinks downtown. Doesn’t matter if I’m playing the penny slots, someone offers me a drink (BUT BE SURE TO TIP YOUR WAITRESSES!). Rio just off The Strip also has been generous with free drinks at the penny slots.

Every casino has penny slots. I’m not talking about those “1 cent per play but you have to play 75 lines” machines. I’m talking about the machines where you can play 5 lines or less for a penny for each line. At the casinos on The Strip, they’re usually in a lesser-traveled part of the casino, but you can find them.

Finally – sign up for the rewards programs at the casinos! You’ll usually get something free out of the deal.

Final thoughts:

Vegas on a budget can be summed up as follows: Don’t spend money you don’t need to spend, and prioritize what you spend money on. Good advice in general, right?


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