Focusing on location, location, and location will keep room, food, and entertainment costs low
Once again, we bring you good news from Sin City: Vegas remains a steal for the budget traveler in 2003 And here's why. Although the events of September 11 had a negative impact on the travel business across the nation, Las Vegas was shaken with particular force. In fact, the ensuing slowdown ended what had been an unfathomable 18-year roll of year-to-year visitation gains. When occupancy levels in the hotels plummeted, the resorts had to react. Not surprisingly, they returned to the same safe harbor that they have in the past: unbridled, unmitigated value. Room rates were slashed, meal specials were installed, and juicy promotions popped up all over town. The strategy was effective enough, and things began moving back toward normalcy in 2002. But the numbers aren't back yet, so the bargain strategy continues. At this moment, in early 2003, casinos are still fighting for market share, which means that opportunities for savvy vacationers in Bargain City are boundless.
Bargain rooms-and how to get them Why should you work so hard to find a low-cost hotel room in Vegas? It's because resorts with low room rates also tend to offer bargains in dining and entertainment. Hence, finding the best room bargain leads to savings right down the line.
So how do you get a comfortable but budget-priced room? You keep three tactics in your subconscious- avoid peak times, be flexible in your choices, research like crazy-and then you make a savvy choice from the three Vegas areas where the bargains could have been lifted from your dreams.
The subconscious, first. The ability to avoid busy times in Las Vegas has always marked the difference between getting a good room rate and a great one. Visiting Sunday through Thursday is the fundamental strategy, but it's never been as powerful as it i s now. Why? Because although weekend crowds have returned to just about pre-September 11 levels, weekday visitation continues to lag significantly. So casinos discount during these times. Searching thoroughly should turn up at least one room with a per-night tab of less than $30, and finding several options below $40 is almost a given. True bargain mavens should schedule for either December or July/August, when rates all over town plummet into the $20 to $40 range. And there are plenty to choose from-last July saw an astounding 51 casinos with rates of $50 or less. In December, a stunning 52 casinos had rates under $40!
The second rule, being flexible in terms of location, is paramount. In a macro sense, it means bypassing the Strip megaresorts to concentrate on the location categories that we've identified below. In its micro-application, flexibility means being willing to go where the deals materialize, whether it's one of the newer "off-Strip" hotels a mile from the center of all action, or one of the older joints downtown.
The third rule is research. When you find a rate you like, confirm that you are protected by a penalty-free cancellation period, then book it and search some more. Why is it important to lock it in? Today's casinos use sophisticated computer programs to move rates at the drop of a hat, which means a price you decide you want may not exist when you call back ten minutes later.
But of all the strategies for finding a well-priced room, the single most important relates to geographic location. For best value, look to casino hotels in the downtown area of Las Vegas (Fremont Street and nearby); casino hotels off-Strip in the outlying locations; and older resorts on the north Strip.
1. Downtown Las Vegas
Las Vegas's new bargain mecca is downtown. This was the area hit hardest by the fallout from September 11, and this is where the value is. Low-rate champs Las Vegas Club and Lady Luck are virtual sure bets for below-$40 (and of ten below-$30) rates year-round. Right behind them for consistency are Four Queens, Fitzgeralds, Golden Gate, and Plaza in the heart of the downtown enclave. Although slightly aging, these are full-service resorts, and many have upgraded their rooms in recent years in concert with the ongoing overhaul of downtown itself. Ask the reservations agent if there's an area in the hotel with recently renovated rooms and request placement there. If you don't mind stepping up to about $60 per night midweek, opt for the four-diamond Golden Nugget, older but classy through and through.
Downtown's big draw is the Fremont Street Experience, where free, impressive light-and-music shows run after dark on a huge overhead canopy. On weekends, free concert events often featuring name performers are held in the Fremont Street commons. Location is not really a problem, as it's a mere four-minute drive via freeway to the Strip.
Downtown's budget-dining standbys are plentiful (for instance, the 99 > shrimp cocktail at the Golden Gate or the under-$5 old-time snack-bar specialties at Binion's Horseshoe). Super supper joints (with specials under $11) include Plaza (Center Stage), California (Pasta Pirate), and El Cortez (Roberta's). Roberta's runs ridiculously low-priced midweek specials, including a two-for-one prime rib dinner on Wednesdays for $11.50. There's also a passel of new restaurants in the just-opened Neonopolis movie theater/entertainment complex, most within budget range.
2. Nearby Off-Strip hotels
For several years now, the roster of "locals' casinos"-resorts built in key population pockets around town that survive by marketing to those close-by denizens-has been expanding at a fever pitch. An interesting phenomenon, however, is that these places are now being built closer to the Strip. The outliers have always been tops for dining and certain forms of entertainment (lounges, concerts, sports events) value; plus they easily sit atop the pack for offering best gambling odds. Their prime negative has been location: They're just too far away. This is no longer the case.
There are now two developed communities of nearby outliers. Both are on Flamingo Road-one about a mile east of the Strip and the other a mile west. To the east is Terrible's, Tuscany, Key Largo, Ellis Island (Koval Super 8), and Hard Rock. To the west is Gold Coast, Rio, and Palms. Expand the west area slightly to add the bargain-minded Wild Wild West and Orleans to the south and Palace Station to the north. Though Hard Rock, Rio, Palms, and Tuscany command higher rates, the others in this list are solid bets for rooms in the $30 to $60 range.
When it comes to dining deals, the undisputed value kings remain these neighborhood operations. Meal deals are how these places market to the locals, and the competition is fierce. The single corner housing the Rio, Palms, and Gold Coast may offer the most prolific concentration of cheap eats in the universe.
Five of the city's best buffets reside here. The Rio boasts two, including Las Vegas's only daily seafood spread (lavish-but expensive at $29.99) and the city's original superbuffet, the Carnival World ($9.99 to $16.99). The Palms also has two buffets: The Fantasy Market is close to the Rio in quality and better priced at $5.99 to $9.99. The second Palms buffet is a little-known lunch spread for $7.95 in Gardu-o's, the casino's pride-and-joy Mexican restaurant that the owners imported from New Mexico. The Gold Coast has only one buffet, but it's one of the city's best and most affordable at $4.95 for breakfast, $6.95 for lunch, and $9.95 for dinner or Sunday brunch. The Gold Coast, in fact, stands out as the premier casino for dining deals across the board. For dinner, the Italian Arriva, Chinese Ping Pang Pong, and venerable Cortez Room are all excellent feeding grounds for as little as $10 a head. The Cortez Room somehow manages to hold the line on a fabulous $7.95 prime rib special, wh ich is about as good as it gets for these stakes.
3. Hotels on the North Strip
No matter what other options may exist, there will always be those who will settle for nothing less than staying directly on the Strip. That's okay, there's a bargain play here, too. The move is to concentrate on the north end of the boulevard, where the casinos are older. In a few years, the north end will be the place to be, as Steve Wynn's Le Reve is sure to launch a whole new wave of development. For now, though, the north is the Strip's low-rent district.
Look to the three S's-as in Stratosphere, Sahara, and Stardust-where rooms tend to be priced in two-figureland, even on (nonprime) weekends. Also check Circus Circus, Riviera, and New Frontier, as well as the Imperial Palace, which is really more Strip central than north, and the Las Vegas Hilton, which could almost be classified as a nearby outlier given its location just east of the Strip (behind the Riviera). If you're a frequent visitor , Stratosphere and Imperial Palace are good hotels to get involved with, given their proclivity to market back to former customers (a good room rate today often leads to an even better one tomorrow).