Tony Curtis once said, “If you know how to live in Las Vegas, you can have the best time.” Say what you want about the gaudiest light show on earth, but there’s something truly captivating about a city where everyone is hoping to get lucky. The fast pace. The bombastic shows. The glamorous nightlife. The never-ending neon. There are so many reasons why my husband and I drawn to the Strip. And the fact that we continually take this trip so inexpensively doesn’t hurt, either.
It’s often said that anything goes in Vegas. And that goes for vacation price tag as well. This past trip, we managed to clock in at $250 out-of-pocket. Here’s how we did it with some help from our credit cards, MyVegas Rewards, and some other clever tricks:
The Hotel & Flights – $0 – Credit Card Rewards
If I were a really savvy travel hacker with the ability to travel any week of the year, we probably could have found an even better deal. However, given the fact that I’m side hustling away my summer meant that we only had a small window of opportunity to travel. And it turns out, no one was going to Vegas after Memorial Day. Or that’s what I assume because they were practically giving the place away. A vacation package from Southwest that included two roundtrip, nonstop flights and a two-night stay at MGM was $500. Our Discover credit card cash back rewards footed that bill entirely.
Originally, we had planned to stay for three nights, but I had to tackle a day of meetings that I couldn’t reschedule. Still, considering we landed at 8 AM Tuesday and didn’t fly out until 6PM on Thursday, we really had three full days to explore the Strip and beyond. Even if you don’t have credit card rewards or miles, $500 for three days for two people isn’t a bad deal.
The takeaway: My affinity for the Southwest Low Fare Calendar knows no bounds. Explore different options. Check different seasons. And if you’re headed to Vegas, definitely consider going midweek. The only drawback to scheduling anything in Vegas is the fact that shows and nightclubs have different days on which they are dark. Timing really is everything.
Bonus tip: Virtually every hotel — no matter the number of stars or bedbugs — now charges a resort fee. It covers the cost of the pools, the workout centers, wifi, and other amenities. It also allows hotels to advertise much cheaper rates than what you’re really paying. Brace yourself for an extra $25-$35 a night. And bring a swimsuit. You’re paying for the pools. You might as well use them!
The Food – Tips Only – MyVegas Rewards & Gift Cards
How we dine out in Vegas isn’t for everyone. I get that. There are no $200 caviar appetizers or $100 steak dinners here. That’s not our speed. In fact, I could have easily picked up gift cards to numerous steakhouses or other fine dining restaurants on the Strip, but that’s too much red meat and white tablecloths for my taste.
To start, we actually pack breakfast in our suitcase. For me, that usually involves some kind of snack bar or fruit squeeze. For Mr. P, bagels. Because he can never have too many carbs. I’m also a big fan of using my Starbucks gift cards to pop down for some tea in the morning. Since most hotels in Vegas will charge you extra for a mini-fridge, if you plan on packing or buying any kind of snack foods on the Strip, you’ll have to plan accordingly. Or get creative with your ice bucket.
For our lunches, we used My Vegas Rewards for two buffet comps: one at the Mirage and one at Aria. And man, did Mr. P eat the prime rib and crab legs. Though there were many people who did not tip at all, we tipped about $20 total for both lunch buffets. We wanted to take care of the table attendant who cleared the many, many plates at Aria. But we also wanted to tip the bartender who poured Mr. P’s beer, which flows limitlessly at the Mirage.
Since we only had two nights, we did not really plan to get too crazy or elaborate with our meals. I used a combination of Bing rewards and Amazon gift cards to order a PF Chang gift card and a Brinker gift card. The closest PF Chang is a good 45 minutes away from us at home, and Mr. P’s love for their lettuce wraps knows no bounds. So I knew this would be on his list. Plus, they have a fantastic outdoor patio dead center to all the action on the Strip.
As for the Brinker card, we had originally intended to eat at Maggiano’s, but then we stumbled across a Chili’s that had some amazing happy hour specials and a second-story patio with glorious misters and fans. Plus, we wanted to be able to eat over the Strip. You truly can’t put a price on people watching. Since both restaurants had happy hour specials, we actually were able to put the cost of the food, the drinks, and the tip on the $50 gift cards. In fact, we actually tipped about $12 at each restaurant simply because we didn’t want gift cards with $2 on them since we virtually never go out to eat at home.
The takeaway: Dine however you want and in whatever way fits your budget. Remember that there are plenty of different options at a variety of price points. If you’re looking for a deal, scour the signage for happy hour specials. We noticed that most restaurants and bars had some sort of early evening happy hour or late-night reverse happy hour specials. You can also get creative with comps if you gamble with real money at casinos or from My Vegas if you gamble with imaginary money online. And pack snacks.
In the next installment, I’ll talk about how our day trip to the Hoover Dam and Lake Mead, the nightlight, parking, and even gambling clocked in at under $250. No luck involved, I promise! In the final installment, I’ll share some of the specifics for how I score all of these gift cards throughout the year in case you’d like to copy our Sin City style. Stay tuned!
So Tell Me…What are your money-saving vacation secrets? Would you ever put bagels in your suitcase?
Thanks for letting us know we are not the only ones who pack breakfast in our suitcase! We are not ones to eat out at all at home (not necessarily for the cost, but for the salt/grease, and some food allergies, OK – and the cost too!) We much prefer to pick out food we want and like in a store. We have the Southwest Companion pass too and want to head to Vegas next fall. Luckily we will be able to go when school is in session now that I have left my full-time job. Hopefully that will help! Looking forward to Part 2!
Andrew @ Debt Freedom Journey
This is great! My wife and I went to Vegas for our first anniversary, and our biggest regret was not being able to spend money on doing fun things because we had to spend all of our money on airfare, hotel, and food. Sounds like you’ve found some good ways to make the trip more about having fun versus spending a whole bunch of money.
What a fun anniversary! Where did you stay? I have no idea why I love Vegas so much…but I really do!
Oooh, I’m going to try the MyVegas Rewards next time we go to Vegas. We go once in a while. We can drive there in about 5-6 hours, so we don’t have to worry about credit card points for getting there.
The last time, we did pay for our hotel with points. That said, not all of them charge it. Most of them on the strip. If you don’t mind going a little off the main drag, the Stratosphere didn’t have one (99% sure anyway, it’s been a few years). I think some of the others not on the main drag probably do too. But they’re a skosh rundown.
We do lose money on gambling. It’s our thing, and we go in with the assumption that the money is gone. (And it comes from our vacation fund, so the money is meant to be spent in ways that tickle us while away from home.) The first time, though, Tim had beginner’s luck. We actually ended up paying almost nothing thanks to his winnings.
One tip if you do gamble at slots: Keep $10 or $20 bills only. Each time you double whichever bill you put in, cash out the ticket and put a new one in. It keeps you from going too far up and then chasing it as your balance goes back down. Most of the time, thinking goes like this: “I was at $60, now I’m at 45… I’ll keep going til I get up to $60 again. Oops, all gone!”
That’s exactly what we do with slots. I still lose, but it keeps me in check. I’ll share my gambling budget next week. It’s a doozy 😉 Kidding! Stratosphere does have a resort fee now. Even many of the downtown hotels do. Mlife properties are now also charging for parking. Eppp! We don’t drive, but I know lots of people who do!
Gary @ Super Saving Tips
I would definitely pack bagels in my luggage! Sounds like you had a great trip for a song. I’m looking forward to hearing more about how you got some of these great deals. I haven’t been to Vegas yet, but would love to go.