So it seems the groundhog saw his shadow and there’s going to be a few more weeks of winter. Why not seek out some heat while waiting for your tulips to sprout? With temperatures in the mid- to high 60s, Las Vegas is likely warmer right now than where you’re located (northerners take note). But more importantly, Sin City sizzles with hot new hotels, as well as radically cheap airfares, making a trip exciting for just about anyone in the U.S.
Head to the desert to find one of those rare vacation spots that allows you to go a bit upscale and still fit your big-ticket items under $500.
Finding airfare to Las Vegas
A few weeks ago, I took a helicopter ride from Las Vegas to the Grand Canyon. While hovering above Vegas’ McCarran International Airport, I noticed the traffic jam on the runway and thought, “Wow, there’s an absurd amount of planes here.” Aside from air traffic control delays, this can only mean one thing for travelers: plenty of flight options.
Because so many different airlines offer Las Vegas routes, people from just about any U.S. city can find low fares. Even somewhat obscure airlines like Sun Country are represented. I searched for travel in February, March, and April, and found a slew of fares for under $300. A few came in under $200.
- San Francisco to Las Vegas: $134 (United)
- Tucson to Las Vegas: $139 (US Airways)
- Oklahoma City to Las Vegas: $195 (Continental)
- Seattle to Las Vegas: $199 (Alaska)
- Indianapolis to Las Vegas: $209 (AirTran)
- Minneapolis to Las Vegas: $219 (Sun Country)
- Portland, OR, to Las Vegas: $219 (Alaska)
- Philadelphia to Las Vegas: $220 (AirTran)
- Boise to Las Vegas: $254 (multiple airlines)
- New Orleans to Las Vegas: $255 (American)
- San Antonio to Las Vegas: $277 (Frontier)
- New York to Las Vegas: $290 (Frontier)
- Atlanta to Las Vegas: $299 (AirTran)
- Boston to Las Vegas: $299 (US Airways)
All listed prices include taxes and fees. East Coasters, beware that some of the cheapest fares have red-eyes for the return flight. If you don’t see your departure city listed, try searching on a site like Farecast, which predicts when fares will drop. Chances are you’ll find something affordable to Las Vegas for travel in the next couple of months.
Finding a hotel in Las Vegas
What’s hot in Las Vegas is often what’s new. While there are a few brand-new luxury hotel properties on the Strip like the Palazzo or Palms Place, the corresponding prices are a bit too luxurious for our scanty budget. However, you can still experience the latest glitz and glam for under $500.
Your best bet is likely the mid-priced Flamingo, which began renovations last August. Room updates are ongoing, but you have a choice between the old rooms starting at around $100 per night and the new “Flamingo Go” rooms—all decked out with pillow-top mattresses, iPod docking stations, and 42″ flat-panel televisions—for about $50 more. Those with cheaper airfare will luck out.
If you know where to look, you can beat the average rates. On Hotels.com, for example, I found a set of three consecutive dates in April with “Go” rates starting at $136 per night for two. The total for three nights, including $55.29 in taxes and fees, comes to $463.29. Divide that number by two to get $231.65 per person. If you’re departing from one of the first 10 cities I’ve listed, you can easily fit the trip under $500 and enjoy the posh accommodations. For instance, a departure from New Orleans (the most expensive of the cheapest 10 cities) priced at $255 equals $486.65 when you add in the “Go” room total.
Unfortunately, those from the remaining four cities will likely have to settle for the non-renovated rooms to keep within the $500 budget. But either way, you’ll be located right on the Strip and can have the classic Vegas experience the way those who built the hotel in 1946 would have liked it.
And depending when you travel, you may be able to get $20 back on a three-night stay with a Hotels.com rebate coupon, an offer regularly available on the site. Also, with a destination like Las Vegas, don’t just check one hotel site. Be sure to compare rates across multiple sites using a tool like BookingBuddy.com, SmarterTravel.com’s sister site.
Another affordable option is the new Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino, which took over the Aladdin about six months ago. The rooms have been refurbished “Planet Hollywood style,” with more modern amenities, decor done up in leather and suede, and a piece of movie memorabilia in every room. Most of the time, rates range from $120 to $190 per night for deluxe rooms. However, on the hotel’s own website, I discovered a four-night string of last-minute midweek rates for $89 per night in February. Divide the four-night total of $388.04 (including taxes) by two to get $194.02 per person. Since these rates aren’t the norm, I recommend checking back often.
But if you can snag such deals, even those in the East can rejoice. For example, add in the $299 departure from Atlanta or Boston, and your total comes to $493.02. Those with cheaper airfare will have plenty of money left over for the slots. Or, if you’re not feeling lucky, maybe put the extra cash towards dining instead.
What to eat in Las Vegas
While I was in Las Vegas back in January, I tried a couple of affordable eateries that I’ve added to my list of favorites. While not “new” by Vegas standards, they definitely appeal to the budget-conscious.
Nowadays, the Las Vegas dining scene is often associated with top celebrity chefs like Joël Robuchon and Guy Savoy. But meals priced at $250 per person are unattainable for most of us. Thankfully, many of these cuisine gods have created “second-tiered” restaurants. Even Robuchon has L’Atelier for half the cost. Tops on my list is Thomas Keller’s Bouchon, a French bistro without French Laundry prices. Try the mussels with saffron and mustard for just $27.50. I found the food and setting to be quite elegant for less than you’d expect.
If dirt cheap is what you want, mainstream restaurants can offer good value. Plus, you can get a break from the buffets. At Diablo’s Cantina, for example, basically everything on the menu—from tacos to tequila baby back ribs—costs under $20. Plus, the tequila flights are impressive, in which you pick the brand and they give you a sample of blanco (white), reposado (aged two months to a year), and añejo (aged one to three years).
When it comes to finding Las Vegas deals, Lady Luck is on your side. Do some research before you book, and you’ll be heating things up on the Strip in high style, no matter what your budget is.
For more new and affordable things to do, read our latest Las Vegas Trip du Jour.
Email me your favorite money-saving tips for Las Vegas, and I might publish them in a future article. Or, feel free to comment or suggest a new Escapes Under $500 destination.
(Editor’s Note: SmarterTravel.com is a member of the TripAdvisor Media Network, an operating company of Expedia, Inc., which owns Hotels.com.)
All prices, dates, and booking details listed here were valid at the time of publication. Some information may have changed since that time.