I’m old enough to remember when Las Vegas was as much about cheap as it was about sin. The sin itself might cost you, but everything else was a bargain. Cheap room rates. Cheap all-you-can-eat prime rib buffets. Free cocktails. Penny slots. And free parking.
Those were the days when gambling profits subsidized everything else. The good ol’ days.
As interest in, and profits from, gambling waned, Sin City reinvented itself as Fun City. And in Fun City, there were few bargains to be had. Those $19 room rates, gone. Cheapo buffets have been displaced by pricey eateries helmed by the culinary world’s super stars. Onerous resort fees. But at least until recently, free hotel parking remained the standard.
That vestige of the city’s previous era began its disappearing act this summer, when MGM Resorts International started charging as much as $10 for self-parking, and up to $18 for valet parking, at its 14 Las Vegas hotels (ARIA, Bellagio, Circus Circus, Excalibur, Luxor, MGM Grand, Mandalay Bay, The Mirage, New York-New York, and several others).
At the time, the official company line was that the fees would be used to upgrade the hotels’ “outdated and inefficient facilities.” The real reason, of course, was almost certainly simple business economics. Parking was one of the hotels’ few remaining untapped revenue sources. Why give it away for free when there are millions to be made from parking fees?
MGM wasn’t the only Vegas hotelier that found the ancillary revenue argument compelling.
Caesars Entertainment this week announced its plans to charge fees for valet and self-parking at eight of its nine Las Vegas properties (Caesars Palace, Harrah’s, Bally’s, Flamingo, The Cromwell, The LINQ, Paris Las Vegas, Planet Hollywood).
The fees will be phased in beginning later this month, and will cost visitors as much as $18 per day for valet parking at Caesars’ more expensive hotels. Local residents and high-value members of Caesars’ Total Rewards program can still park for free.
Here’s the company’s rationale for the new fees:
Our priority is to ensure that our hotel guests, local residents and Total Rewards loyalty members have an improved parking experience. Guests who stay, game and shop at our resorts have said that parking spaces and valet services have become increasingly scarce, so we believe that implementing a paid parking program while also investing in LED parking guidance systems will help address these issues.
Living in Los Angeles, I make the four-hour drive to Las Vegas on a semi-regular basis, most recently in January of this year. And I have not found the parking spaces to be “increasingly scarce,” as Caesars contends. Nor have I heard any such complaints from other Vegas visitors. The new fees, in short, are a money grab.
And as such grabs tend to be, this one is contagious. The Las Vegas Review-Journal this week reported that Wynn Resorts will also begin charging for valet parking, at its Wynn and Encore properties in mid-December. Self-parking will remain free, but with a qualifier: “at this time.”
Parking fees won’t be a deal-breaker for most prospective Vegas visitors. But they’re yet another reason to think of Fun City as Expensive City.
Reader Reality Check
Have you had difficulty parking at Las Vegas hotels, as MGM and Caesars claim?
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After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.