How to do Vegas on a budget

When you think of Vegas, you probably don’t think of it as a money saving destination. And sure, popping to Blackpool is a hell of a lot cheap than flying halfway across the world. And yeah, the place does know how to bleed money from you if you’re not clever – but it really can be a savvy place to go if you know what you’re doing (and you have some self-control).

Vegas is set up to get you to gamble. We all know this. You can’t walk from A to B without passing a thousand slot machines. It wants your cash. But because of this, the hotels do a lot to get you in the door. That said, I’m back from a holiday there and have a lot of thoughts and tips.

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Pre-holiday prep

Up until this holiday, I’ve been a bit stuck in my ways about travel money. When my partner and I generally travel, I’ll save up in advance, and take a big chunk of cash away with me (using MoneySavingExpert’s Travel Money Max tool), while he gets a little bit out and uses his credit card.

He wasn’t around this time, and I didn’t want to get a credit card especially for the trip – and I also didn’t want to only take cash, so I used my Starling Bank card. It’s a bit like Monzo, where you load cash you already have onto it and when you’re there, it’s free to use (at cashpoints – although beware of the charge from the machine, it’s Starling that doesn’t charge). I absolutely loved it and am now converted.

A tip about cashpoints at Vegas – they are obscenely expensive. Personally, I don’t get this. If I were a casino owner, I’d want people to get at their money as easily as possible – don’t want them dithering over whether they should take out money or not. But – sure they’ve thought it through!

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So whatever you do, don’t use a cashpoint in the casino – it will set you back around £5 a time. You can try and find a bank to get money out, but there aren’t any on the strip (not that I could find – and I asked!). Your best bet if you need cash is to use the ATMs at McDonald’s, which costs around £1 in fees. Not ideal, but no eye-watering either.

Of course, I needed insurance. There’s nothing like booking when it’s snowing outside to make you panic about potential delayed flights. I used a comparison site, and paid a bit extra (it’s only typically a few extra quid) to make sure that the excess was as low as possible.

Get your insurance AS SOON AS YOU BOOK, not a couple of days before you travel. That way you’re covered straight away.

It’s come in handy actually, as my sister’s wallet got nicked with a load of her money in a casino on New Year’s Eve. First off, I’d stupidly been carrying all my money around with me, and although I think I’m pretty careful, thieves are pros. So that was a wake-up call.

Here’s what happens when you’re robbed in Vegas btw – sod all. The casino staff couldn’t have been less helpful to be honest. My sister, super upset was being passed on and on by staff and we were eventually told they wouldn’t look at cameras. All we could do was keep ringing the lost and found department to see if anyone had handed it in. Surprise – it hadn’t.

It’s one of those things though where I feel like you should try and get over it as quickly as possible. We spent a couple of hours in panic, sort-it-out mode then had to remember that we had insurance, and there was no point spoiling the rest of the day/holiday. The damage was done.

Flights

Ok, going to split this into two parts because I didn’t actually get a particularly money savvy flight to Vegas.

I wanted to go on holiday and get a bit of sun for my birthday – the 6th of January, and I also wanted to bring my sister along. I was Googling flights for around then and they were coming up at around £400 return which I thought was a proper bargain.

HOWEVER, my sister works in a school so couldn’t take any time off that was in term time. So when I rejigged the flights, the price seriously soared.

With a bit of reworking, I saw I could get flights for the £500 – £550 price range but they involved long layovers – 23 hours one way for the cheapest flights.

Now, in the past, I’d have got those. However (and it hurt a bit doing it), because we weren’t going to be in Vegas that long (five days), I didn’t want to lose time, so deciding to cough up and buy a fancy direct flight with Virgin.

They cost me a whopping £700 each. Look, I could have got flights nearly half the price, but I figured that on this occasion, my time was more important to me that the price. I’m fully aware that this isn’t the case for a lot of people – and I certainly won’t be doing it for all my flights, but sometimes I think that money is there to be spent and enjoyed if you have the funds.

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Paying for seats with Virgin

Something I realised quickly is that if I wanted to reserve seats, it was going to cost £30 each way. So for me and my sister to guarantee the seats we wanted, while being sat together, I was going to have to fork out £120.

You book the seats you want 24 hours in advance as a general rule, which is fine for most people. However, I have anxiety about where I sit on flights. It makes no sense, I fully know, but the thought of sitting in the middle of two strangers genuinely makes me want to cry (I also bet families don’t want to risk sitting apart either!). So seriously thought about paying up so I could relax.

But I found out about a little trick. If you sign up to Virgin’s Flight Club, which is completely free to do you get to pick your seats 72hr in advance for free – which gives you a bit of a head start. I kept checking the seat situation over the weeks leading up to trip to see if there were still lots available and managed to get some brill seats before everyone else. Obviously, it depends on the flight you’re on but right at the back of the plane I was on, were just two seats sat together, so managed to bag them. It was *almost* like we were in premium economy.

So where should you find your flights? If you have the luxury of being quite flexible, I very much recommend the website Holiday Pirates for super cheap flights and holidays. You may not get what you want, but it’s always a really good place to start.

That said, my favourite thing to do (and I’m yet to find a cheaper – consistent way – to find flights), is to use the Skyscanner flight tool. I’ve written a whole blog post here on how you can find some incredibly cheap flights – it’s a game changer. 

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Hotels

This wasn’t my first time in Vegas. I went about six years ago when I had no money and was in a completely different life stage.

If I remember correctly, we stayed at the Excalibur hotel on the strip which cost £19 a night. I remember thinking the location was good and it being a medieval hotel was hilarious.

When we got there, it was dark and dingy and STUNK of smoke – because you can still smoke inside casinos in Nevada. The fancier hotels manage not to smell because they have super expensive air conditioning systems, but Excalibur was not one of those.

It became less funny when we went around the other, nicer hotels on the strip that were a bit more money but SO much nicer.

So my advice when picking a hotel on the strip (and very much stay on the strip) is to pay more. Lots of people choose the Stratosphere hotel because it’s incredibly cheap and a nice hotel. On the maps you get, it’s the end hotel to the north. But those maps don’t tell you it’s about 30 mins away from the centre of the strip where you want to be and in the dodgiest area.

We went there and planned to visit ‘the biggest souvenir shop in the world’ which is next door to it. Everything you can buy in the middle of the strip is there, but half the price. But seriously, it’s not worth it. That whole area is grim and I felt incredibly unsafe. We left as soon as we could.

This time we stayed in Mirage (the one with the exploding volcano out the front). It was mid-range, though not particularly cheap when we went as it was New Year’s Eve/Day – but you can get rooms for around £60 – £70 a night.

The hotel was lovely, relatively quiet and small for a hotel in Vegas but the location is spot on. What people don’t realise that even though the strip is only a few miles long it takes FOREVER to get from one side of a hotel to another.

The size of these hotels is, of course, an issue (they are likely to be bigger than anything you’ve ever seen before), but what makes it hard is that the pathways are confusing on purpose. The casino doesn’t want you leaving because the longer you stay in the casino, the more likely you are to spend money.

So you’ll go all around the houses trying to get out or into the next hotel and it is honestly exhausting. Just wandering around, my Fitbit was telling me I was doing 30k – 40k steps a day.

I don’t really know how people manage to get about all day and then go clubbing all night because I just wanted to crawl into bed at 9pm!

 

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Something to be aware of when booking a hotel is that even though it may seem super cheap – when you’re checking in, you have to pay resort tax. The price of the tax depends on the hotel, but we were looking at $30 a night, which obviously ramps up the price. If you have a car, you’re looking at a similar amount a night to park your car – so I don’t recommend hiring one when you’re out there.  

When I was moaning about this tax on Twitter, an account called Kill Resort Fees got in touch with tips on how you can get out of it. Now, I didn’t do it. It was New Year’s Eve and there were lots of places sold out, so didn’t want to risk angering the manager – but here’s the info if you do want to try your luck.

If you’re going to Vegas during the off-peak season, bear in mind that the swimming pools may be closed. The main one in our hotel was closed for renovation (it was frankly a building site), and being a Welsh girl, I was more than happy to take a dip as the weather was hot enough for me! They did have a smaller pool available – but don’t assume all the facilities are available during the colder months.

A trick I used to use a lot (and don’t go judging me!) is that I’d book a cheap hotel, and then sneak into the local 5* hotel and use their pool for the day, pretending I’m a guest. Well, there’s no doing that in Vegas – there are people sat at the door making sure you have guest pasts if you want to use the pools etc!

Gambling

So let’s talk about the elephant in the room here – gambling is pretty much the opposite of money saving. I’m not going to sit here and lecture you on how it’s a waste of money or a bad way to spend your money – because frankly, I think spending your money on football matches is a bad call. We all like to do what we like to do, and AS LONG AS YOU CAN AFFORD IT and you are in control of how you spend it (if not, please check out GambleAware), lose your cash however you like.

Something you can’t deny is that billions of dollars are spent on making you gamble here. It’s constantly in your face and it is very tempting. If you’re someone who is likely to be sucked in and come away from your holiday upset and angry because you lost money you can’t afford – don’t come to Vegas. Really don’t.

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That said, gambling can be fun. God – this is an odd thing to say in a money-saving blog, and I may get a load of flack for this – but I do enjoy it. I NEVER do it in the UK because it’s just not a way I want to spend my money, but I personally put aside £100 to gamble in Vegas, and yeah, didn’t win a thing. I spent it all. I decided on the amount in advance and I stuck to it.

I used to play poker a lot at university. I don’t think I was particularly good at it, but my money was never on the line so it was fun. Here, I found the table games super intimidating. I’m sure there are cheap tables around, but I didn’t spot any that was less than $5 a hand, which for me was a no-no – I’d get through my £100 in no time, and it had to spread out over five days.

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At the start of the holiday, I put a few quid in the slot machines. The plan was to visit every hotel on the strip, look around and gamble $2 in each one (small fry right!? ha). This my friends is not a tactic that works. I won NOTHING. You also have literally about 20 seconds of gameplay with that so it’s not value for money when it comes to entertainment.

I was initially putting money in the 1c machines thinking I’d get more goes, but it just doesn’t work like that. Maybe I was being thick – but you’d only get three pulls per $1. I prefer the 25c ones because at least you got four attempts.

For a minute I thought maybe that if I actually wanted to win big on the slots, I needed to try a $1 dollar machine. I put $5 in (which actually made me feel a bit sick) and 40 seconds later, walked away without a penny.

I was over the slots.

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Then I found my game. The big wheel (I have no idea what it’s proper name is), but it’s a giant wheel with numbers on. A woman stands there and spins it. You put your money on the number you think it will land on and if it lands on your number, you win. There are a load of twos on there, so you’d get 2/1 back, a couple of 50’s, so you’d get 50/1 back etc etc.

I liked that game because you could play with $1 at a time, and you could be there a while playing with a small amount because there would be the wait where everyone decides what to bet on, and then the long spin. That said, won $20 and gambled it away…

Something I would also suggest is getting a bus or a taxi up to the Vegas old town. The journey itself is the absolute worst. Frankly, the bus was filled with scary people and the area around the old town did not make me feel safe. That said, the little area was really good and gambling is cheaper and apparently, the odds are more in your favour. Can’t imagine they are *that* in your favour, but again, for me – it’s all about the amount of time gambling with as little money as possible which makes the experience good.

So to sum up. You’re probably going to lose your money, so only do it if you can afford to lose it and will be able to stick to your budget. Also, slots are the devil.

Shopping and food

My favourite things to do in life are shopping and eating (complicated gal ain’t I?!), and America knows what it’s doing when it comes to that. I was particularly excited about the shopping there and put away $200 to shop with (although didn’t spend it all!). I just want to say, I hope you don’t think I’m bragging or think I don’t understand that I know I’m lucky to have money to waste on shopping/gambling etc. I share this with you, because you follow me and I think you deserve to have me be honest with you, and I also think it’s helpful to know what people spend, so you know what you may need. I get everyone is different though, and to be fair, I work very hard with two (frankly full-time jobs) to afford what I do. Anyway…

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My favourite things in America are the outlet stores. We have a couple of decent ones in the UK, such as Bicester Village (check out my review), but the ones in America are just bigger and better. In Vegas, there’s a North and South outlet store. After asking about, the North one is a lot better than the south one.

There are hundreds of outlet stores, but in my experience, the best ones are Kate Spade (where I’ve got a £400 bag for £60), Michael Kors, The Disney Outlet (everything is SUPER cheap – I got an Iron Man doll for $3) and Marc Jacobs.

My sister bought me a Marc Jacobs bag there that was originally £600, in the outlet at £300, then in the sale at £150 AND THEN there was a 40% off coupon. I was pretty chuffed!

It’s worth downloading the app before you go as you’ll get extra personalised offers and discounts you can use when you’re there.

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There are of course a million shops and shopping centres on the strip – with everyone particularly getting excited about Sephora (don’t get it) and Bath and Body Works (again, don’t get it). What I will say is, that if you’re someone who is into reselling on eBay, you can get coupons everywhere for Bath and Body Works, meaning you can get items for £1 or so, which sell for SO much more on eBay. The same goes for Yankee candle… so up to you if you want to pay for an extra bag on the plane to make some money when you’re home.

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I’m sure you’re not surprised that Vegas has some seriously good food. I know this might sound odd, but I did find it quite stressful. A lot of the really good restaurants are tucked away in the hotels, and you need to do your research and book ahead to get a table.

On this holiday, we didn’t really do fine dining – though ate at some brilliant places. I recommend In N Out burger, which was about $9 – $12 dollars for a meal and Hash House a Go Go for the most obscenely big meals (seriously, share one dish).

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My favourite thing was definitely the Bacchinal buffet at Ceasers Palace. I’m not really a fan of buffets in general. I can’t help but feel like the food quality is pretty low, I eat too much and probably don’t get my moneys worth.

This buffet is different.

I think we paid about £30 for the buffet for brunch/lunch and I’ve never been more excited about anything in my life! There’s incredible food as far as the eye can see, and drinks are included.

The lunch turns into dinner at 3pm, so if you were to go at 2:30pm, let’s say, then you’d pay the lunch price, rather than the dinner price, saving you $20.

But beware, the queues. We went about 11:30 in the morning. There was a pretty big queue, but it really wasn’t too bad. You go during the peak times and the queue is so bad you have to take a ticket and come back to queue – we’re talking 1.5 – 3 hours.

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I know £30 sounds pretty steep for a lunch, but we didn’t eat for the rest of the day – or the next morning! ha. We did need to go straight back to the hotel to lay down for a bit though… so factor in your-body-is-trying-not-to-die time.

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As I’m sure you can imagine, you could literally spend thousands of pounds eating and shopping in Vegas, or you could get cheap (but yummy) burgers and sandwiches for a few quid. You really can tailor it to your price range.

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Trips

I love going on excersions when I’m on holiday. Maybe it’s the old lady in me, but I’m not one to go clubbing until four in the morning and then sit by a pool, I’m more the kind of gal who gets coaches at 5:30 in the morning to go on day trips – and it was the same with Vegas.

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If you really aren’t into all the gambling and the nightlife, Vegas is still actually a great place to stay to visit all the amazing things Nevada and California have to offer. You literally have the Grand Canyon a couple of hours away in one direction, and Los Angeles in the other.

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Maybe I’m being unnecessarily cautious, but I don’t like to book trips at the hotels because in my head not only do the staff have targets but they take a cut too. I also don’t trust those booths you get up and down in the strip. I like to know exactly what I’m paying for, and what seats I’m getting. I’m also a big fan of checking reviews to make sure I’m going to get value for money and a good time.

I personally always use the site Viator. I’ve used it for nearly 10 years and have never been let down – plus you can usually find a discount code out there, or if you sign up to its newsletter. You can see what you’re getting, you can see reviews and you can pay for it in advance – you know what you’re doing. I find the pricing pretty competitive too, but again, I’m sure you can haggle and get last minute deals in booths when you are there – but I like to pay for what I can in advance so I have no debt/bills to pay when I’m home from my holiday.

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We went to the Hoover Dam and the Grand Canyon on one day, which was incredible. Somewhat annoyingly though, the Hoover Dam bridge was closed when we got there, so we didn’t get the best view, but there was really nothing the tour guide could do about it.

Off we then went to the Grand Canyon. We did the West Rim, where you get left at a point, and then catch a shuttle to three different parts of the canyon. It’s mind-blowingly beautiful. It’s also really stressful because I hate heights. Like, drop to the floor and cause a scene – hate heights.

Now I’m cool with being at the rim – and I know its obvious, but there are no barriers or anything. There’s you, and cliffs everywhere. It is 100% dangerous. But I kept a safe distance and was pretty happy. That said – people are idiots. They were letting their kids run around, leaning over the edge, SITTING on the edge. That was stressing me out more than anything else. I was sure I was going to see someone fall into the canyon.

I went white water rafting in the grand canyon about six years ago up in the north end of the canyon, and it was a completely different experience. The river/rapids were awesome, but you didn’t get the same feelings/or that iconic view you’ve probably seen in films being at the bottom.

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In regards to the cost, the trip cost around £100 and food was included (though don’t forget about tips). I definitely felt like it was worth the money. There was the opportunity to upgrade to go on the glass platform over the Grand Canyon, but frankly, you couldn’t pay ME to do that.

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The trip to LA was awesome too (around the same price-point, with food, snacks and drinks) and there was just six of us with a tour guide the whole day. We went to Long Beach, Beverly Hills where we nosed at celebrities houses, The Chinese Theatre (the bit where the celebrity stars are) as well as the Hollywood sign.

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The best bit about this trip was we were with this young woman who was the rudest person I have ever met in my life. Like – SO rude, it was amusing. The ATTITUDE on her, and the way she was talking to the tour guide and the other passengers was incredible. I’ve never seen anything like it. But I do love someone to hate now and then, so it made my trip all the more special! haha.

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The Blue Man Group

Vegas is known for its nightly shows. You can do anything from seeing naked cowboys to Celine Dion (I can’t decide which is better).

But oh my god – THE MONEY THEY COST. We’re talking hundreds of pounds for a show. I remember paying £300 for tickets for Le Reve all those years ago, and although it was without a doubt one of the best things I’ve ever seen in my life – and yeah, worth the money – It’s eye-wateringly expensive.

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Because we had already shelled out for a couple of trips, I couldn’t justify forking out for a big show – and to be honest, just hanging around Vegas with all it’s free ‘mini shows’ such as the Bellagio fountain, Mirage volcano and street entertainers is super fun in itself.

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That said, I did want my sister to experience a show, so decided on a slightly cheaper one – The Blue Man Group. Now, I’m a massive musical theatre nerd. I’ve pretty much been to them all in the West End, and even though The Blue Man group is there, I have never booked tickets. I don’t know what it is – well actually – I think the problem is that I didn’t really know what is it.

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The Blue Man group in Vegas is in the Luxor hotel and tickets start from around $60 (but remember, there are discounts out there!). It’s a small theatre, so you really don’t need to be at the front – in fact, don’t be at the front because you may get covered in paint and/or get called up on stage!

It’s honestly one of the most fun things I’ve ever seen. I was constantly laughing or gasping the whole time. It’s a bit like a percussion/comedy/magic show. The entertainers are impossibly talented and basically – go and see it. I HIGHLY recommend it. It’s also perfect for kids!

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So there we have it, my trip to Vegas and the money tips I discovered. Am I missing any out? How much did you spend when you went? Let me know in the comments and we can swap holiday stories!

3 Comments

  1. Carl Feb 11 2018
    • Lottyburns Feb 11 2018
      • Carl Feb 11 2018

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