In Las Vegas, you never have to go far to find what you're looking for — interconnected hotels, 4,000-seat theaters, retail shops, and celebrity chef restaurants can be found around every corner. And when it comes to cocktails, well, let's just say you've got options, too.
But this abundance of choice is also what makes figuring out what to do while visiting so intimidating. There are plenty of ways to have fun here — and just as many ways to blow through your spending money. That's why it's important to be strategic in Sin City, says Anthony Curtis, founder of Las Vegas Advisor.
"Vegas is such a competitive landscape," he says. "There are 70-plus casinos all vying for the same money." As a result, he says, businesses are always offering incentives to get you in the door — you just have to know where to find them. "Be a consumer," he urges. "Look around. If you see a magazine, open it up, and see what's inside. Don't just do the first thing you see; look around a little bit until you find the best deal."
Some would argue that financial prudence has no place in Vegas. But in a town full of suckers, it pays to use your head. Read on for 12 rookie mistakes to avoid on your next Las Vegas vacation.
1. Not Having a Plan
Spontaneity is part of the fun of any Vegas trip, but planning ahead goes a long way, says Derek Stevens, owner of downtown's new Circa Resort & Casino. "If you're going to be here on a Friday or Saturday, make sure you book a reservation." This is particularly crucial if you're here for a special occasion, like Valentine's Day or spring break, when dozens of other people could be vying for the same table as you. "People show up on a Saturday afternoon and say, 'Can you get me into the steakhouse at 4 p.m.?' I say, 'Are you kidding? That reservation has been booked up for a month!'"
2. Overlooking the Limo
Vegas is a cinch to get around. Between the monorail, trams, taxis, and rideshares, travelers are bombarded with transportation options. But if your crew has an ambitious day of sightseeing planned, consider hiring a driver. At around $50 an hour, it may sound extravagant, but compare that cost — not to mention convenience — to hiring 10 consecutive Lyft rides on a hot summer day. Suddenly, the thought of a single, air-conditioned sedan waiting to pick you up doesn't seem so bad. In serious party mode? There's always a stretch limo.
3. Waiting on the Airport Car Rental Line
Then again, some travelers prefer to be in the driver's seat. And that's a sensible option, especially if you plan on taking advantage of the hiking trails at Red Rock Canyon, or driving on Nevada's Extraterrestrial Highway. But don't waste your time renting a car at the airport. Not only is it a hassle to wait in line, but you'll also be vulnerable to exorbitant concession recovery fees. The same goes for on-site rentals at hotels, too. Your best bet is to check into your hotel first, then find a car rental location that's nearby. Your wallet will thank you.
4. Betting on Games You’ve Never Played
It's tempting to pull up a chair at the poker table and try to coast on beginner's luck. But odds are, you won't get far. "The best game to play is the one you already understand," says Stevens. "But also pick the one you're going to have the most fun with." Stevens recommends slot machines for beginners, since they're less intimidating and allow you to experience the fun of winning and losing. And since this is Vegas, you will lose. But then again, you might win.
5. Not Tipping
Tipping goes without saying, but being a generous tipper in Vegas could be the key to a memorable night out. "If there's a show you're dying to see, and it's sold out, there's always someone who can get you in," explains Stevens. After all, Vegas is a relatively small place, and its 300,000 hospitality workers tend to keep their ears to the ground. "Make sure you're tipping the valets, bartenders, and cocktail servers. They always have a pretty good idea of [what's out there.] If you need tickets to a Celine Dion show or something, they might be able to point you in the right direction."
6. Forgetting to Check the Events Calendar
Avoiding crowds in Vegas is almost impossible, but at certain times of the year, the city becomes uncomfortably crammed. For example, the International Consumer Electronics Show, which takes place every January, draws over 180,000 attendees every year (2021 being an obvious exception). That's a whole lot of dinner reservations and taxi lines to compete with. The same goes for March Madness and the Super Bowl, when the wait at mega-screen bars like Sportsbook can exceed three hours. If you prefer a less-congested experience, you're better off avoiding those weeks entirely.
7. Not Asking If the Pool Is Heated
Sure, Vegas is in the desert, but don't expect bikini weather in January and February, when temperatures can dip to the low 30s at night. If lounging by the pool is a top priority, you've got two options: Come in the warmer months, or pick a hotel that heats its pool year-round. A decade ago, resorts didn't bother keeping their pools warm during the winter because of maintenance costs, but that's changing now. At Circa, for example, the Stadium Swim pool is kept at a toasty 94 degrees Fahrenheit during the winter, though most of the big resorts, including the Bellagio, Caesars Palace, and MGM Grand, settle for a pleasant 80 degrees. If it's a cabana you're after, make sure to book early.
A good goal on any Vegas trip is getting in and out of McCarran International Airport as quickly as possible, and limiting your luggage to a carry-on will certainly help with that. If you're worried about not having enough clothes, don't be. Remember where you are, after all. "Vegas has a lot of retail stores and gift shops, so don't worry about forgetting something," says Stevens."
9. Not Scoping Out Deals
If you're a frequent traveler, you already know about aggregator sites like Kayak and Hotels.com. But there are other ways to save on your Vegas accommodations, too. According to Curtis, "bundled deals" are having a moment right now. The way these rates work is by including incentives like a $100 spa credit or free daily breakfast in the cost of the room. So, in the end, it gives budget travelers access to high-end properties like the Wynn, Aria, Four Seasons, and Bellagio — and with decent perks, too. It's not bad when you consider breakfast alone is typically $30 a head. "These credits are not easy to come by," says Curtis. "That's why [deals like this] are exciting for us."
10. Sleeping on Downtown
One major rookie mistake? Assuming that Vegas is synonymous with the Strip. In fact, that's taking a rather narrow view of the city, says Curtis. "This has been going on since the '90s," he says. "Everything you read is always about the flash of the Strip, but downtown Vegas is a place unto itself." Wits its complex of 12 casinos, the pedestrian-friendly downtown area is not only ripe for exploration, but it's also a better value. "Downtown, a steak dinner will cost you half of what it does on the Strip. Maybe the chef won't be a celebrity name, but the food is just as good."
11. Not Saving Room for a Fourth Meal
Speaking of food, your wild night on the town isn't complete until you've stopped in to feast at one of Vegas' iconic late-night restaurants. Though the number of these places has dwindled since the pandemic, there are still some fantastic options for after-hours noshing. At Tacos Mexico, you can score chiles rellenos at 4 a.m., and if you show up at Ellis Island Casino for chicken fried steak as the sun's coming up, no one will bat an eye. Feeling more adventurous? Izakaya Go offers Japanese tapas and sashimi until 3 a.m. Just don't get too cozy in that booth — you've still got to make it back to your hotel bed.
12. Not Signing Up for a Players Club Card
If you're planning to spend significant time in the casino, signing up for a players club card is a wise move, says Curtis. The card — available at every casino — won't cost you a thing, but it can earn you discounts at the buffet, as well as cash vouchers on your next visit to the casino. Sometimes, there are even free hotel nights to be had. "You should never put a nickel into a slot machine without a players club card," says Curtis. "It's an absolute necessity."
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