You ever have one of those moments where you are forced to seriously re-evaluate your life and choices? Or at least the amount of champagne you had the night before?
I woke up at 6:44 a.m. the Sunday before President’s Day in my luxurious bed in Las Vegas, bleary-eyed, curls bedraggled and makeup horrifically smeared. I was still wearing contact lenses and my (very) little black dress, and I had a faded stamp of a comet on the inside of my wrist. It only took a moment to figure out where I was. But it took a full hour of mental pep-talking to walk myself across the room for a bottle of purple vitamin water (best hangover prevention ever, in case you didn’t know) and yet another 15 minutes to work up the skills to take my contacts out before falling back into bed.
Needless to say this was not my proudest moment. I felt like I had recreated a Katy Perry song except for two key factors – I didn’t get hitched last night and I wasn’t broke. Waking up unmarried was easy. When it comes to marriage, on a scale from Charlotte to Samantha my readiness level is at Carrie and a half. But waking up in Vegas without having spent a fortune takes just a little bit more preparation.
Thankfully, as a Los Angeles city girl, I’ve done Vegas many times before. And I’ve picked up great money saving tips that I am happy to pass on to you.
Go in groups – This is simple math. The more people in your group, the more people there are to split the hotel/taxi/restaurant bill. Besides, the more the merrier. Bonus tip: if you go to Vegas with a huge group of girls and not a Y chromosome in sight, people just throw free things at you. It’s wonderful.
Transportation – I know these Vegas trips can be last minute. But if you’re going to fly, try to book your ticket well in advance to avoid paying a small fortune before you even hit the casino floor. If you are in the surrounding area and prefer to drive, carpool whenever possible and take the most gas efficient car. My girlfriends and I decided to drive, in spite of the fact that we would be leaving during rush hour on a three-day weekend. Sure, it took 5x as long as it would have if we flew. But with the four of us in my fuel-efficient 2004 Honda Civic, the total cost of round trip transportation was less than $15 a person. And the memories you make during a 5 hour drive to Vegas are priceless.
Lodging – When it comes to hotels, you get what you pay for in terms of both quality and location. Where you want to stay, how far away you want to be from the action and how much you want to pay for it is really up to you. Again, it helps to go in groups. Book far in advance and try not to go during a Holiday weekend if you can help it. Sunday-Thursdays are cheaper if you can spare the time off. Also, keep your eye out for deals on travel sites. Vegas was hit hard during the recession, but still managed to build new hotels and renovate old ones. Both these factors work in your favor and discounts are fairly plentiful right now.
My personal favorite is the MGM Signature. It’s a lovely all-suite property right behind the MGM, connected to it by a moving, indoor walkway. The rooms come with at least a kitchenette (the larger ones have a full kitchen) and all the dishes you need, which is perfect if you heeded my advice about bringing food. More importantly, if you find a privately-owned room on VRBO or HomeAway, you can secure a room at 30-40% off the MGM’s current rates.
Gambling– I am not a gambler, neither in Vegas nor in life. The way I see it, if I am going to drop $50 on something in 5 minutes, I better be able to eat it, drink it or wear it. But if you enjoy gambling, decide your gambling budget in advance, stay within that and be prepared to part with that money. The odds are that you will lose it. You should accept that now rather than spend even more money trying to get your original money back or letting your gambling losses ruin your good time.
Food and Libation – Brown bag it. Vegas caters to tourists so food and drinks are marked up accordingly. Even the McDonald’s is more expensive (and I am only slightly ashamed to admit that I’ve memorized the cost of a Big Mac Combo). Splurge on one meal, but then pack simple things like snacks, water and alcohol. If you are flying in and packing drinks is too much trouble, purchase your beverages at the grocery stores at the end of the strip. Or order from the Vons grocery store – delivery is for free for first-time purchasers. Either option is more cost-efficient than the hotel gift shop.
Entertainment– When people think of Vegas, they often think of Cirque de Soleil, high-profile concerts (apparently Celine’s back) and strip clubs. These are all very pricey options. That champagne room is how they get you, FYI.
There are plenty of inexpensive ways to entertain yourself. Check out the free presentations at Caesar’s Palace, Circus Circus, the Bellagio, T.I. and the Rio. There’s a super cool and inexpensive aquarium at Mandalay Bay. If you’re heading down there in the summer, hang out by the pool. And you always have the option of walking around and sightseeing. If you are determined to watch a show, check out Goldstar or other discount event site to see if you can save on tickets.
Nightlife – Bring as many girls as you can. If that’s not possible, walk around the Strip during the day and see if anyone offers you bar/nightclub passes. If you intend to have one of those nights where you just want to get schwasted (I’m clearly in no place to judge), drink in your hotel before you go out. It’s worth reiterating that girls get all kinds of free things in Sin City. If you keep your eyes akimbo, you are bound to find a “ladies drink free until whatever ungodly hour” wristband somewhere. And if you’re lucky, maybe someone will make it rain!
I can’t promise that you won’t wake up hungover or that the lights won’t be too bright. But if you heed my advice, I can guarantee you will have at least enough money for that taxi and maybe even enough to process an annulment. A final word of advice – you would do well to keep your fake ID, motel key and any and all class rings close at hand. Otherwise…well I guess that’s what you get for waking up in Vegas.
If you’ve got a few money-saving tips of your own, shut up and put your money where your mouth is. Or leave them in the comments because I would love to hear them.