Spend a Weekend in Vegas for Free

Spend a Weekend in Vegas for Free

Vegas, baby, Vegas.  Sin City is a frequent destination for gamblers, convention attendees, and even families year-round, creating a demand to save money in a place that has 62,000 hotel rooms on the Strip alone.  Over my years attending college in California and graduate school in Arizona, I've made my fair share of weekend Vegas trips on a serious budget.  You don't have to gamble away your home to get a free room, either.  Here are my tips on saving money in Las Vegas!

Getting There

As of this writing, you have two choices: fly or drive.  The closest Amtrak train is in Kingman, Arizona, and that requires a 3 hour and 20 minute bus ride to finally make it into Vegas.  If you're within about a 5-hour drive from Las Vegas, which includes Los Angeles, San Diego, and Phoenix, and have a big group you can cram into your car, this would be the most economical option.  You also have the added benefit of bringing your own provisions with you to Las Vegas, saving you money on the overpriced liquor stores near the Strip.  The downside of driving is that it does take more effort to drive rather than to fly, and the threat of traffic always looms over your trip home.

For flights, I recommend a few options.  Southwest Vacations often has great deals on Las Vegas (like our current deal featuring the Aria Resort), and those include flight and hotels.  JetBlue Getaways are a similar story, especially when JetBlue is running a fare sale.  Flights from West Coast cities to Las Vegas are the most frequently discounted, that I've seen.  If you'd rather book just a flight, Southwest and JetBlue are still great options, especially if you can catch them on a sale day, which happens several times a year.

If budget airlines aren't your thing, you can fly over 30 other airlines to Las Vegas direct.  If you have some miles to redeem, Delta, United, and American fly direct to Las Vegas from their major hubs.  Most domestic carriers require 25,000 miles for a domestic award ticket, so 50,000 miles will get a couple to Las Vegas for a romantic weekend away.  United currently offers 50,000 miles with its Chase United MileagePlus Explorer card, which could get you all the miles required quickly.

Airports that fly to Las Vegas

 

All domestic airports with service to Las Vegas

Another option would be to use British Airways miles.  Since both British Airways and American Airlines are in the oneworld alliance together, you can redeem British Airways miles on American Airlines (or US Airways) flights.  The advantage here is that British Airways does not price award flight by region, but rather, by distance.  This means that if you live less than 2,000 miles away from Las Vegas, you will be paying less miles on an American flight with British Airways miles, than if you flew the same exact flight but with American miles instead.  Use MileCalc.com to see how long your itinerary would be.  Just type in the airport codes of your journey, and a one-way and roundtrip distance will appear.

The Distance-based Award Chart

Distance-based Awards Chart

Hotels

This is my favorite subject of all.  Since most of my Las Vegas trips have been one or two-night excursions, I've developed a few tools that I like to use to find the cheapest room possible.  There are several ways to do this: Blind-buy Websites, Points, and Directly with the Hotel.

Blind-buy Websites

There are two major websites in this category: Hotwire and Priceline.  They each operate a bit differently from each other, but the principles are the same: pay less for a hotel's excess capacity in exchange for not knowing what the name of the hotel is when you book.  You'll still get a hotel in the area of town that you want, but you may not have the choice of view or bed selection that you wanted.

Now, this may freak many of you out.  Why would you ever leave that to chance, especially on vacation?  Well, there are tools available for you out there that lets you see exactly what hotel you're bidding on.  BetterBidding.com is an online forum that people like us can post what hotel we received when we bought on Hotwire or Priceline.  You can search by city, and then look through the forum for hotels that match your potential hotel's attributes.  I've used this tool with supreme accuracy in Las Vegas, since many of the Strip hotels are easy to guess.

For example, you're able to choose between North Strip, Mid-Strip, and South Strip hotels in your search on Hotwire.  Since room rates are usually very low to begin with, I like to choose a 5-star hotel when I travel to Vegas.  When looking at some of the attributes of your particular hotel, pay close attention.  Do you see mention of a casino?  If not, there aren't many hotels that don't have one in Las Vegas.  Exceptions include the Vdara (next to the Aria) and the Trump (technically off-strip, but a short walk through the Fashion Show Mall to the Wynn).  Little tricks like this you can pick up on at BetterBidding, so if this is an option you're thinking about for your Vegas trip, check them out.

Points

It used to be that the only free room you got in Vegas was through the casino, usually because you just threw down the title of your home on red.  Not any longer.  "Comps" as they are called are few and far between these days unless you're a heavy gambler, and those systems favor the slot machines, which have worse odds than the gaming tables like blackjack.  We won't be focusing on the points-earning aspect of any of those programs, but we will show you how to get status with them without gambling a dime!

Hotels that had partnered with loyalty programs used to be few and far between in Vegas as recently as two years ago.  WhenI was in college, the only options were the Planet Hollywood, which was partnered with SPG, and the Las Vegas Hilton, which was so far north on the Strip it wasn't worth looking at.  Not so anymore!  Several of the major hotel loyalty programs have joined forces with the casino companies to offer reciprocal benefits, and most importantly, points redemption options.

Hyatt was the first to do so about a year ago.  They partnered with MGM Resorts, which owns nearly every hotel on the southern end of the Strip (Mandalay Bay, MGM Grand, Aria, Bellagio), as well as some on the north end like the Mirage and Circus Circus.  Basically, you'll receive reciprocal status within MGM's "m life" loyalty program if you have status in Hyatt's "Gold Passport" program.  Complete details are here, but we'll detail a few key benefits of this partnership.  For one, you'll be able to redeem Hyatt points at most of MGM's resorts (including the Bellagio and Aria).  You can redeem 12,000 Hyatt points for the Luxor on the low end, or 25,000 points on the high end for the Mandalay Bay or the Bellagio.

And, as an added bonus, if you're staying on a paid rate at Hyatt hotels through the end of the year, you can earn bonus points for every three nights stayed at the hotels.  The Luxor and the Hyatt Place Las Vegas will earn you 1,000 points for every 3rd night, the MGM Grand, Mandalay Bay, Mirage, THEhotel, The Signature, Vdara, Monte Carlo, or New York New York will earn you 2,000 points for every third night, and the Aria or the Bellagio will earn you 3,000 points for every third night!  The stays do not need to be consecutive.  3 one-night stays will count for this promotion.

Furthermore, if you have Platinum Status with Hyatt (which is what you get automatically just for holding the Chase Hyatt Credit Card), you'll receive a room upgrade (with availability) and access to the express hotel check-in and buffet lines (an actual benefit in Vegas, trust me).  If you're a regular Hyatt customer and have top-tier Diamond status, you'll be granted even more benefits, like guaranteed show and dining reservations, priority taxi line access, and guaranteed hotel reservations.

Starwood was once a bit more difficult, since they have only three branded hotels in the Las Vegas, and only one near the strip. The Westin Las Vegas is located a few blocks off the Strip, but isn't anything special like the mega-hotels close by.  Plus, at a Category 5 Starwood property, it will cost you between 12,000 and 16,000 points, depending on the season.  With the reasonable rates available at other hotels on the Strip, I don't see much value in redeeming for this property (though it could offer reasonable rates itself).  Recently, though, Starwood and Caesars Palace have teamed up to allow reciprocal earning and redeeming in the same vein as Hyatt.  Properties like Caesars Palace and the Paris hotels are now redeemable with Starpoints.

Hilton has one option currently on the Strip: the Tropicana.  That costs you 35,000 Hilton HHonors points per night to redeem (Hilton points are easier to earn, hence the higher redemption rates).  Later this year, though, Hilton is launching its Curio Brand, which will include the brand-new SLS Las Vegas (formerly the Sands).  The Elara (formerly the Planet Hollywood timeshares), is also available, but it is off-strip and often not a great redemption value for Las Vegas.

Marriott has one of the best hotels on the strip in its portfolio: The Cosmopolitan.  At 45,000 points a night, it is expensive, but you do have prime Strip location and one of the most popular hotels in the city.

Direct Hotel Rates

Often, since Vegas has so many hotel rooms, room rates at the resorts on the Strip are reasonable enough not to use points on.  I've seen $99 rates at the Wynn in the off-season at times.  It's best to check all of the options in this post before booking hotels in Las Vegas!

 

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