People often don’t associate Las Vegas with frugality. It’s true that huge blinking neon light signs, Ferraris everywhere you turn, and $10,000 casino chips don’t lend themselves to marketing a destination to money-conscious tourists. It’s been my experience though, that as long as you are not a big gambler, Vegas can be a very cost-efficient trip for a group of students looking to have some fun. In the middle of winter Vegas often hovers between 10-20 degrees Celsius. For those desert dwellers that’s toque-and-mitten-weather, but for a bunch of frozen Canucks, that’s downright tropical!
When looking at trips there are a few main factors that traditionally impact the overall cost. Usually these are airfare, accommodations, food, tours/activities, and possibly transportation at your new destination. All of these common expenses can be had in Vegas at ultra-low bargain prices.
A Cheap Trip For University Students Starts With Cheap Flights
Flights to Vegas are notoriously cheap. This is mainly because they are subsidized by the hotels and casinos. When you consider that people will routinely shop around to save $30 on a plane ticket, and then drop hundreds in a casino without thinking, this is probably a good investment. Regardless of the source, you can benefit! If you keep your eyes open there are always deals waiting to be had. Personally, I like dealing with small city (<100,000) airports, so a great strategy for me is to drive a couple hours to the border and look for a flight from the States. I have saved a ton of money like this before. By driving a couple hours from Winnipeg to Grand Forks, North Dakota we saved a bundle of money. The best part is how stress-free the airport is there. The main airline out of a lot of those small cities is Allegiant Air. They specialize in only running a few well-travelled routes that they can make a dependable profit on. Because of this barebones philosophy they can cut costs and prices to the bone. With only a few flights per day the airport is super relaxed relative to others. It is important to save your energy at this stage of your trip because to do Vegas right you’ll need to conserve your stamina!
Most people I know that go to Vegas grab a flight-hotel combo deal. These have never been cheaper due to the recent economic downturn in the States. I have personally went and stayed 3 nights/4 days at Planet Hollywood (which is a mid-level hotel located right in the middle of ‘The Strip’) for just over $300. That is flights and hotel included! If you want to get really thrifty, most hotels will offer a large book of coupons which can also save you mega bucks. Next time we go we thought we might look at staying at the legendary Bellagio. We priced it out, and for the same 3 night + flight combo it would be under $500! If you can show me another place in the world you can get a flight and stay at a hotel anything like the Bellagio for $500 then count me in.
The hotels will also provide you with ‘free’ gambling coupons for their establishment. This is a great way to try new games out. I learned how to play craps at the expense of Planet Hollywood. One night/morning we were making our way back to our rooms when we decided we NEEDED to learn how to play craps. So we pooled our little vouchers and played for an hour or so. The workers loved it because as morning approaches it’s usually pretty boring for them, so they genuinely enjoyed chatting with us and showing us the game. It’s free, so why not?
Food and drink prices in Vegas can run very high, but if you’re a ‘blue collar traveller’ like myself, they can also be had very cheap. The all you can eat buffets in Vegas are famous for a reason! Most days I only wanted a couple meals because I ate so much each time. Chances are that your hotel will ‘comp’ you some meals, or percentages of meals if you eat in their restaurant. I personally loved the quantity, variety, and quality of the food.
Drinks and the Patented “My University Money Vegas Drinking Strategy”
As far as drinks go, you can be an idiot and pay $10+ for drinks at the bar, or you can use the “My University Money Vegas Drinking Strategy.” This strategy is meant to provide maximum entertainment and maximum cheap alcohol consumption. The first part of our strategy consists of buying an adult beverage of your choice at a gas station, or store of any kind and then proceeding to walk around the mall with it. This has nothing to do with saving much money, it’s just a lot of fun! Cops have so much to worry about in Vegas they NEVER enforce alcohol laws, so everyone can just walk around with a drink in their hand and no one cares. It can be pretty surreal. You can keep the bevies up in your room and if your gambling in the same hotel your staying at you can just keep bringing them down with you if you like. We developed a far more nuanced system however.
My friends and I like poker, and we like to think we know how to play it fairly well. To be honest, we are probably slightly better than average, and definitely not good enough to win on big tables in Vegas (nor do we want to risk the money). What we are good enough to do it sit at low-limit tables and just play basic odds poker against tourists who are way too jazzed up about bright lights to realize they are playing about 80% more hands than they should be. Whether you win or lose a little at these low level games is actually irrelevant to our overall strategy. This is because win or lose, these cheery waitresses will keep bring you complimentary doubles of whatever your drink is. You can keep them coming every 20 minutes or so for the price of a dollar tip every time. I became quite the ‘celebrity’ at many tables I was at by introducing double rye (in Vegas it’s “Canadian rye whiskey”) and sevens to Americans whose only experience with whiskey had been bourbons. I usually won a little at the table (it’s pretty tough to win or lose a lot in $1-$2 limit poker), but I won a lot in saved bar tabs. Plus, the entertainment at Vegas poker tables alone is worth it. The dealers love it when someone will talk with them, and they have as many crazy stories as you might guess. The people you are playing with have flown in from all over the world, and the pure oxygen/”Canadian rye whiskey” combination is enough to get everyone feeling pretty good.
Going out to clubs in Vegas can be expensive if you don’t watch how many twenties you are throwing out. Drinks are pricey, but those complimentary doubles you were ordering en masse at the poker tables should tide you over nicely for the evening if you just focus on maintaining.
Tours and Other ‘Mature” Activities
Finally, if casinos and “Canadian rye whiskey” are not your thing, there are a ton of other activities to do in and around Vegas. Simply walking ‘The Strip’ and seeing Sin City is pretty neat, and costs nothing. I couldn’t help but think that humans are so weird. We build this crazy city right in the middle of a desert! As part of our hotel/flight package you could also schedule in cheap tours to see the Grand Canyon and Hoover Dam. I don’t think you could save much by booking the tours down there, because again, they are subsidized by the casinos to get you down there in the first place. There are also two different discount outlet shopping centers with bus access for you people that want to take advantage of low American prices and a strong Canadian dollar. You can check out groupon for vacation getaways as well.
If you can stay away from the roulette wheel trap of putting your student loan on your old hockey number, you can do Vegas for a fraction of what other trips cost. For everything, start-to-finish I was in under $1000. If you stayed at a slightly cheaper hotel and didn’t gamble much (I definitely finished under for the trip) You could easily do 4 days in Vegas, including all your accommodations, flight, and meals for under $700. In my case, I’m a big guy and I only slept about 8 hours combined over the 3 nights, so whatever I lost at the tables, I made up for in double shots and buffets.
I always like to hear Vegas stories. Have any of you done the cheap ‘group-to-Vegas’ trip before? Remember, your comments are posted anonymously ;)