February 26, 2013 / By NomadicMatt
I love Las Vegas. I avoided going for years because I like to gamble, but when I finally went, I found the city offered a lot more than just ways to lose money. Many people think Vegas is expensive, but it doesn’t have to be. There are plenty of ways to experience Vegas without breaking the bank. Today, I’ve enlisted my friend Abby Tegnelia. editor of Vegas Magazine and all-around Vegas guru to show us how to have a first-class Vegas vacation without going home broke.
In recent years, the Las Vegas Strip has exploded with five-star dining, A-list shows, and world-famous nightclubs. But not everyone can afford to pay top dollar for a Hangover -worthy weekend or a food fest that belongs in the pages of Gourmet. While it’s easy to blow the bank the second you land in Vegas, the gambling mecca has also made it easier to experience its newly diversified entertainment offerings at a fraction of full price.
First and foremost, to be treated like a VIP, you must act like a VIP. Don’t drink out of a yardstick. Don’t slam that last cocktail after dinner, on the way out of the club, or even at brunch, as your group is waiting to leave. Leave half-empty glasses; it means you’re not worried about where the next drink is coming from. Acting like you own the place will help you get treated as such.
How to Eat Five-Star Food on a One-Star Budget
Prime-time seating at the Strip’s five-star restaurants is between 8 and 10pm, but these hot spots like to be full all the time, so most have both happy hour and pre-show menus to kick off their evenings between 4 and 7pm. (Details can vary between restaurants, so be sure to call first.) Belly up to the bar if you don’t want to commit to a full table seating but are still hungry to try some famous food at low prices. Or sit down in the early evening for a pre-theater meal. (You don’t have to produce a theater ticket to keep the reservation.)
Here are just a few of Vegas’s gourmet restaurants where the cost of a meal under normal conditions could reach into the hundreds of dollars, but you can use this tip to enjoy a five-star meal for between $40 and $80 (wine pairings might be more):
- L’Atelier Joel Robuchon, MGM Grand
- Milos, Cosmopolitan
- Jean-Georges Steakhouse, Aria
- Carnevino, Palazzo
- Michael Mina, Bellagio
- Eiffel Tower, Paris
- American Fish, Aria
Reverse Happy Hour
Most Vegas restaurants stop serving food by 10:30pm, but there are so many performers finishing up about that time that the Strip has a tradition of the post-10 (or 11, depending on the place) “reverse happy hour” with food and drinks starting as low as $3.
Best reverse happy hours:
- Firefly (two blocks off-Strip)
- Bootlegger Bistro (old-school Italian, five minutes from Mandalay Bay, “graveyard specials”)
- Holstein’s, Cosmopolitan
- Blue Ribbon Sushi, Cosmopolitan
- Red Square, Mandalay Bay
- Stripburger, Fashion Show Mall
- Ra Sushi, Fashion Show Mall
Whether you’re pulling off a hair of the dog or are simply looking for a daytime gossip fest with the girls, a boozy brunch is a Sin City staple. And in Vegas, the best ones come with unlimited food and drinks on the weekends. (I order my mimosas bottomless and tell them to “hold the juice.”)
- Simon, Palms Place: most popular with the nightlife crowd. It boasts an all-you-can-eat sushi and bagel bar, plus a full a la carte menu, in addition to an all-you-can-eat menu for $40. Don’t forget to check out the $21 all-you-can-drink champagne or mimosas or $17 Bloody Marys.
- Border Grill, Mandalay Bay: enjoy all-you-can-eat five-star Mexican small plates, both sweet and savory, for $30, plus $6 bottomless mimosas or $10 bottomless Bloody Marys. (Locals can ask for a frequent diner card for 15 percent off.)
- La Cave, Wynn: On Sundays only, one of the Strip’s fanciest resorts offers a $40 all-you-can-eat brunch with mouth-watering dishes such as truffled grits, Canadian bacon and French toast, plus $20 all-you-can-drink mimosas, caipirinhas, or mojitos.
How to Enjoy the Nightlife like a Celebrity
To many, the holy grail of a weekend in Vegas seems to be getting into the Strip’s world-famous nightclubs. The good news? Unlike other club-centric destinations such as South Beach and LA, Vegas is somewhat of a democracy. If you patiently stand in line and follow the dress code, you will eventually get in.
If you don’t have an expensive table reservation or know someone at the door, you are committed to arriving early if it’s a busy night. I recommend being there by 10pm.
Being a group of guys is hard, so be prepared to shell out full price for entry. Clubs prefer a 2:1 girl-guy ratio. If at all possible, guys should try to meet some girls earlier in the evening and go to the line with them. There is a good chance that you won’t go to the end of the line; instead, you could be put in one of the “half-way” lines. You still might have to pay full price, but there’s a chance you won’t, and at least you won’t have to stand in line as long.
If you meet one of the VIP hosts and aren’t sure if you’ll go to the club, know that the lists close at 9pm. Try to call or text by about 7 or 8 to confirm your place on the list to beat the rush. Know your assets: if you’re a group of young, pretty girls, ask your host to let you know if any of his tables of guys are looking for girls to hang out with them. Tip. Many of the nightclub workers also have drink tickets for free cocktails, so it never hurts to ask them to share!
Girls, do stop and talk to the promoters handing out flyers. Their job is to get as many ladies into the club as possible, so you can easily get free entry with those flyers. Sorry, guys, but you’re out of luck there.
There’s a separate line at every club for hotel guests, so make sure to bring your room key. Depending on the night, you may also get a discounted rate.
If you’re not staying at the hotel whose club you’re trying to get into, you can also make a dinner reservation at the associated restaurant if it has one. Dining at Tao or Lavo will get you into their clubs that night, and noshing at Andrea’s at Encore will garner a hand stamp for Surrender.
If a local puts you on a list through someone high-level at the club, make sure to mention that name at the door. Otherwise, you might be stuck in a longer line than you need to be.
All bets are off after about 2am, when the hosts have seated most of their big clients, and the lines of people trying to get in have waned. If you manage to reach your VIP host via text, he’ll probably be finished with those paying customers. He can, therefore, run down to get you outside to let you in and might be more generous with his drink tickets or finding you a place to sit. That said, if he’s partying too hard, he might not get your text to begin with.
Matt’s tip: To cut down on expensive drinks at the clubs, drink on the casino floor. The drinks are free as long as you’re playing one of the games. Sit down at a penny slot machine, play slow, and drink fast. You can have 10 drinks for the price of one at the club! Just make sure you tip the waitress.
Vegas Shows without the Vegas Price
My favorite part about living near the Strip is getting to see so many shows. Similar to the discount booths in Manhattan for Broadway shows, Tix 4 Tonight has booths at Fashion Show Mall, Circus Circus, Town Square, Four Queens downtown, and various other locations around town. There you can find tickets for shows that night for 50 percent off. The booths open at 10am and accept both major credit cards and cash. Get there early! The location in front of the giant Coke bottle and M&M store is notorious for having the longest line, so try to avoid it.
Also make sure to grab a Vegas2Go. which is a coupon and listings book for shows and some food specials. They’re in kiosks all over the Strip, or ask the concierge at your hotel. Also check Vegas.com daily. It offers rotating deals on various shows.
Car Rentals: A Final Note
Here’s where I would save your money. Unless you’re planning on some off-Strip activities on your own, there’s no need to rent a car. The airport is 10 minutes from any hotel, so a cab is easiest. And even if you do decide to go off-roading or to the Hoover Dam, there are plenty of shuttle options when you make your reservations.
Many people tell me they arrive in Vegas feeling overwhelmed by everything there is to do. Las Vegas can cause sensory overload and leave you unsure where to begin. By knowing a few tips and tricks, your trip to Vegas can be a wonderful time where you’re treated like a VIP without having to spend VIP money.
For more on visiting Vegas and saving money, read these other articles on the blog:
Abby Tegnelia started a travel blog, Day Dream Away. while living in Costa Rica. She has since moved back to Las Vegas, where she tears it up on the Strip as editor-in-chief of Vegas Magazine .
These are all great tips! If you’re a group of girls, it is extremely cheap to go to Vegas. People will be begging you to go to their clubs. Whenever we go, we are always offered free cover, free tables, free drinks and bottle service and so on. We’ve even been offered free dinners at certain restaurants. It’s wonderful to be a girl in Vegas!
Yay for equal rights! Females like you make me sick. Hooray we get a whole bunch of free stuff because we have boobies! Let me guess, it’s ok for a guy to buy you a drink but same guy is probably a creep for wanting to dance? Your a very sick a twisted person who distorts reality. Please don’t procreate. Thanks.
The Miles Professor
Haha, Michelle, you typed exactly what I was thinking reading this! Being a girl is definitely a major plus. We got free room upgrades to penthouse at Mandalay Bay, got escorted to the front of the line with no cover at club XS when the line was 2 hours long… we could hit 3 or 4 clubs in a single night and not have to wait a minute in line.
Actually, I think being a girl traveling anywhere is a plus, but it’s particularly true in Vegas.
Being a reasonable poker player compared to most tourists, I don’t think I ever left Vegas with less money than when I arrived!
I’m a Las Vegas native
and I’ve got to say, a lot of this advice just plain sucks. If you’re spending $40-$80 for food in Vegas, you are doing it wrong. There are much cheaper 5-star options downtown (Golden Nugget, Plaza). Likewise, it’s true that you can get around on the Strip with just the Deuce and the other tourist busses, which run very frequently, but if you don’t rent a car you won’t see the “real” Las Vegas, such as the neighborhoods where people live, the off-strip casinos (many of which offer great dining options, like the Rio and Sunset Station), Hoover Dam, Red Rock.
In short, Las Vegas is much more than the Strip, and this article does anyone visiting the city a disservice. I guess it’s a great guide for trashy lower middle class people who want to pretend they’re Kardashians, though.
Michael – I have to disagree… I am also a Las Vegas native and took a job in the Midwest. When I went back to Vegas this past Christmas, I went back like a tourist and enjoyed the food/drinks/nightclubs/hotels. People head to Vegas for the Strip, not necessarily to stroll through the neighborhoods. $40-$80 for dining at one of the major hotels in the Strip is definitely reasonable and even still on the low side. I also think it’s unnecessary to rent a car. Unless you are making plans ahead of time to head to Red Rock or Hoover Dam – both of which are amazing places – but for someone who is just heading to Vegas for a few days to get away, it’s not really going to be on anyone’s list.
This guide makes me want to go back asap!
you say you really don’t need to rent a car, if your just staying on the strip,…….does that also includes down town
You can easily ride the deuce downtown. I’ve done it before. No car necessary.
This article is about the Vegas Strip. You’re right – there is a lot more to Vegas but this article is about the strip. Writing about downtown or the other activities is another (upcoming article).
Great Tips! Looking forward to my next trip to Vegas.
Useful for my April trip. Especially like Matt’s tip, which I’ve been give by my, uh…vegas-perienced friends. Always tip the waitress!
Thanks for your comment, Michael! I have to say, however, that I totally disagree that the Strip is only for “trashy” people. It has evolved to include an amazing array of five-star restaurants and fabulous shows. I wanted to share some tips for saving money on these experiences. Downtown and off-Strip activities would be a different series entirely. In fact, I cover a lot of that on my own blog.
Wow! I definitely disagree with Michael as well. I, too, am a Las Vegas local, and while many locals don’t visit the Strip, I think they’re missing out. There are so many fabulous shows, restaurants and experiences, and I don’t think they’re trashy at all. I think it’s time for Michael to revisit the Strip!
D.J. - The World of Deej
Great tips…I can speak from experience that the dining tabs can add up quickly. Hadn’t heard of the reverse happy hour…need to keep that one in mind!
I’ve been meaning to get half-price fried chicken at Blue Ribbon for months. If you’re a night owl, reverse happy hours are the best deal!
Great advice! If only it was posted a few days ago, when I was actually visiting the Strip for the first time! We stayed at a Hilton Grand Vacations, and for the price of abt 2hrs of listening to someone sell a time share plus $100 we had pretty nice accommodations for 2 nights.
I’ll be in Vegas in March, so good timing! The hotel is free, so I’m good with not spending anything for a 4 star hotel for 3 days! I’m working on finding places to eat for the 3 days that offer a free dessert, appetizer or a free meal the month of your birthday. I will keep your tips in mind! I’ve signed up for about a half a dozen from this website:
Agree with Matt on the drinking on Casino Floors ….
Plus point if you are a first timer in vegas. … Walk up to the casino sign up booth for members ( its free ) and ask if they give you cash for signing up.
They usually give credits worth about 5 bucks which can only be played on slots and must be played … usually you earn back about 5 buck or more depending on luck and can thus cash out your winnings… continue on to next casino and sign up again …
I remember i did this for almost 5 casinos … not bad for free games while getting drinks
Your advice on nightclubs is pretty bad and just plain wrong in many instances. Calling a host at 2am will not get you in, they are off work and either finishing paperwork or drinking by then. Also most clubs do not have separate lines for hotel guests since they aren’t owned by the hotels. The only legit tip you had is to dine at affiliated restaurants, that’s one that most people don’t know about. I’m guessing you aren’t a big club guy and just found these tips different places online.
Great article! But why pretend you have much money when you don’t? Why pretend to be someone you’re not?
Cause when you work hard, it’s great to be rewarded with luxury without paying top dollar. At least that’s my rationale
@Linda I don’t really see it as pretending you’re someone you’re not. But if you’re a big foodie for example, and you really want to try a certain restaurant… if budgets are tight, I think it’s great that you can still get a taste without blowing your bank account!
@Paul YES. There is so much to do in Vegas besides gambling. Check out my blog for adventure activities, too, that are off the Strip.
@Jim I am not a “club girl,” but if you know your host and he is still out, he will be much more relaxed at two am than at the rush at midnight. And the lines may not be divided with a big sign for “club guests,” but most will put hotel guests in the shorter halfway point of the line.
Great tips! I’m going back to vegas this summer. Although, I’ve been there than 10 times, I never knew about those restaurants. Got to check them out too.
Quick question: planning on going out west this summer, and have considered stopping by Las Vegas for a few nights. As someone who hardly gambles, would a trip be worth it, just for the experience of seeing Vegas?
@ Paul, I don’t drink and I rarely gamble. But, I always have a good time in Las vegas. So, the answer is yes. Go for it.
@Paul Vegas is a sight to see for anyone, however, if you like to drink it’s a plus because without alcohol it is definitely all smoke n mirrors. With 38 million visitors per year it’s definitely an interesting mix of revelers and gamblers. Don’t expect reality and you won’t be disappointed.
Great article, thanks for sharing. I’m going back to vegas in a couple months for my buddies bachelor party. (should be a crazy time lol). I’ve been trying to find a cheap hotel for us to get 15 rooms. The best i’ve found is 18 a night from latesthotelsdeals.com. Is there another website you can recommend to find cheap hotels?
Budget Travel Blog
Great post Abby! I’ve always wanted to go to Vegas to see what all the fuss was about, but I was concerned it wasn’t really a “budget” destination. I think that Michael has a point about seeing the neighbourhoods – if I head to Vegas I definitely want to see things outside of the strip!
Like Matt I’m liable to gamble, so I’ll have to be very strict when I go – otherwise I’ll only see the inside of a casino!
I just published a Las Vegas guide with Indie Travel Media & I have more dining tips for great food:
Estiatorio Milos at the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas – this upscale Greek restaurant has a $20 fixed-price, three-course lunch.
The secret (and delicious!) $7.77 flat-iron steak special at Hard Rock Hotel and Casino’s Mr. Lucky 24/7 restaurant. Not on the menu, ask for it.
Want to bottom feed?
The Skyline Casino’s $1.49 shrimp cocktail.
The Casino Royale’s $1 beers.
The Silverton’s 99-cent biscuits and
Visit http://LasVegasAdvisor.com. which lists limited-time offers of free or discounted meals.
Free meals are common currency while gambling as well. Ask the pit boss
to “rate” you. After a few hours of gambling, ask him for a “meal comp” – you may score a free buffet coupon.
The lunch menu at Milos is a great value. I’ve ate there on a few occasions since I lived here. Great recommendations! Although I’m not sure how I’m reading into “acting like you own the place.” There seems to be a sense of entitlement as a lot of tourists leave their manners at the airport. The movies may influenced a carefree attitude, but you can still accomplish a lot without being a douche-bag.
The Milos deal is one of the best on the Strip — especially since most nice restaurants on the Strip aren’t even open for lunch. Good one!
Abby is dead on with the club tips, @Jim! I was just a guest at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas and was able to bypass the majority of the “general admission line” because I was staying on property. People would be wise to read helpful blogger tips like this – Makes the visit all the better!
Great article. Thanks for sharing.
A Montrealer Abroad (@amontrealer)
That is potent bookmarking goodness. Anyone who’s planning a trip to Vegas has everything they need right here – thanks for writing such an informative post, Abby!
Aw thanks, girl. It took a lot of prodding on Matt’s part lol. I hope it’s useful!
I wish I read this post 2 years ago when I went to Vegas for a week. Anyway I still believe that Vegas has its own personality and character to satisfy many travellers from various background.
You’ll just have to go back now!
Fabulously written and great information for those travellers who haven’t yet made the pilgrimage to the Mecca of Vegas. Great read. cheers
I visited Vegas when I was under 21 and had a bad impression of it. Probably because I wasn’t allowed in most places. Now that I’m (more than) legal, I might return and test out my girl power…