THE BUDGET TRAVEL CHALLENGE

Luxury for Less in Las Vegas

We sent intrepid writer Andrew Lincoln on a mission to see just how low some of the world's most over-the-top hotels would go. Turns out that, with a little ingenuity, these days you can get it all for the price of taking your family to the movies.

After picking up my ticket, it's back to the Palazzo for my free day at Canyon Ranch. I do everything—the steam room, the Finnish sauna, some kind of herbal hot room that has a rock crystal fixed to the ceiling—and then I fall asleep in one of the relaxing chairs next to a naked guy reading a Martha Stewart magazine.

At dinner the night before—the $60 prix fixe at Craftsteak in the MGM Grand—I met a man who told me he works as a pit boss at the Bellagio. The pit boss is the guy who oversees blackjack dealers and the like, making sure everything is kosher and identifying high rollers in order to give them perks to keep them in the casino. We were both eating at the bar, having the winter tasting menu, which is a beautifully obscene amount of food: four appetizers, two kinds of steak, scallops, three side dishes (including a copper pot filled with Yukon gold potatoes pureed with at least 17 sticks of butter) and a cranberry crisp with vanilla ice cream. The pit boss told me that the best time to get a deal on rooms is at 8 p.m. At that point, all the rooms the pit bosses haven't doled out to high rollers are turned back over to the salespeople, who are deputized to sell them cheap.

I make the rounds of all my target hotels, step up to the front desks, and ask for deals. It's Friday night, so the prices have soared. The Encore is $750 online, and the staff won't go below $279 at the front desk. The Bellagio's best walk-up rate is $199 (about $50 less than the phone rate), but the woman at the front desk says there's no chance for an upgrade. At the Trump, though, the man on duty quotes me $169.

I pause and see if he'll take the bait.

"Sir, we can go to $129 if you want the best possible rate," he says, poker-faced. "Or we can do our 900-square-foot suite for $169."

"Sir," I say, taking out my credit card, "I am a 900-square-foot kind of guy."

I go to my room—a view of the pool and the Strip beyond, high-thread-count white sheets, and a kitchen with a Sub-Zero refrigerator. Then it's off to Kà, which basically blows my mind. I sit in my seat and mouth "holy crap" over and over (I am not exaggerating, sadly). Before the show, the couple next to me tell me they paid $150 each for their tickets. I give them the card for Tix4Tonight. Then I start boring them with all the ways I have learned to get luxury on the cheap. The man is polite for a while, but there's an exciting explosion on the stage that indicates showtime is approaching.

"Fireball!" he says, meaning "let's not talk any more." "Fireball!" I say. I refrain from telling him how much I'm paying for my hotel room.

LODGING
Wynn Las Vegas
3131 Las Vegas Blvd. S., 702/770-7000, wynnlasvegas.com

The Palazzo Resort-Hotel-Casino
3325 Las Vegas Blvd. S., 702/607-7777, palazzolasvegas.com

Trump Hotel Las Vegas
2000 Fashion Show Dr., 702/982-0000, trumplasvegashotel.com

FOOD
Daniel Boulud Brasserie
Wynn Las Vegas, 702/248-3463, wynnlasvegas.com

Craftsteak
MGM Grand, 3799 Las Vegas Blvd. S., 702/891-1111, mgmgrand.com

ACTIVITIES
Canyon Ranch SpaClub
3355 Las Vegas Blvd. S., 702/414-3600, canyonranch.com

Tix4Tonight
Six locations, 877/849-4868, tix4tonight.com

LET'S MAKE A DEAL

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Note:This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.
 

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