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Doing Vegas - what will it cost?

The Vegas Strip ... it's all about money.
The Vegas Strip ... it's all about money.
Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

What will that exciting, over-the-top trip to Las Vegas cost? Prospective Vegas travelers, particularly first-timers, want to know. Vegas trip costs vary due to vast differences in visitor likes, dislikes, budgets, trip duration, trip timing, and trip origins among other factors. Cost elements include airfare, lodging, meals, in-town transportation, entertainment, gratuities, shopping, gambling, and other Vegas things.

In a 2009 LVE article ( linked below), we outlined some basic trip costs for average Vegas visitors. Most of those 'median' costs have of course increased (skyrocketed, in some cases) over that 5 year span. Below we've listed a range of current costs for transportation, rooms, dining, entertainment, and other factors. Cost range info was derived from specific travel and/or hotel websites, Vegas guide books, online forum group info, LVCVA visitor stats, government stats, and our own recent Vegas travel experiences. We include some trip tips all geared to reduce Vegas trip costs and/or provide for increased visitor convenience.

CHEAPEST TIMES TO GO: The least expensive times to visit seasonally are during the hot summer months (June - August) or immediately after the National Finals Rodeo (mid - December up until a few days before Christmas). Airfare and hotels are always less expensive with mid-week arrivals ( avoid Fridays and Saturdays if the option is available). For lower costs, avoid major events / holidays. Book everything in advance as far ahead as practical ( at least 6 - 8 weeks ahead of travel). Vegas trip costs are heavily influenced by supply and demand, so crowd avoidance is a key factor.

GETTING THERE :

Airfare - Forty-two percent of all Vegas visitors arrive by air. According to the most recently available (2013, 4th quarter) Bureau of Transportation stats, the average domestic airfare to/from Las Vegas was $254.97. Those stats show that Vegas airfares are among the least expensive for US destinations (nationwide average fare was $381.05). Average domestic fare figures do not include all the annoying ancillary fees ( baggage fees, etc.) that most airlines now tack on to base fares. Average round-trip fares to Vegas under current conditions ( with consideration of different carriers, add-on fees, and origins) will likely hover around $300 per person with all factors considered. *TIP - Fly Southwest to Vegas, who still aren't charging fees for the first two bags per passenger. Sign up for their DING service for short-term discount deals. Fly on Wednesdays, Tuesdays, or Saturdays for cheapest fares from most airlines.

Ground transportation to Vegas - Fifty-eight percent of all visitors arrive by ground transportation. Many visitors drive to Vegas from California (particularly from the Los Angeles area). Average current fuel costs in the western Pacific region are $4.11 per gallon according to AAA. Roundtrip fuel costs to Las Vegas from LA (280 miles roundtrip) will tally between $75 and $100 for most vehicles. Average costs per mile for fuel only for most vehicles will average 11 - 14 cents per mile in the US. That figure excludes all other expense considerations for a vehicle including taxes, insurance, maintenance, and depreciation. Most people won't be thinking about those longer-term costs on drives to town, but they're quite real. Check this AAA fuel cost calculator for fuel costs to Vegas from specific US cities. Visitors should obviously include other costs incurred on multi-day drives to Vegas such as lodging and meals.

IN TOWN TRANSPORTATION: - Check out some current average costs for assorted means of getting around in Vegas.

  • Car average daily rental = $35 - $40 (economy car including fees and taxes); *TIP - This option provides for the greatest amount of freedom / flexibility for in-town transportation. You're in Vegas and free parking is abundant...might as well see more options and add some spontaneity to the spectacle.
  • Taxis - From airport to the Strip = $15 - $25 (without tips); *TIP - Avoid long-hauls by telling drivers to take Swenson from the airport to Strip hotels (demand they avoid the 'tunnel' route).
  • Taxis - From airport to Downtown = $18 - $28 (without tips)
  • Taxi base fares = $3.30 initial drop fee, $2.60 per mile, $1.80 McCarran pickup surcharge
  • Airport ride-share shuttles = $7 - $9 per person to Strip or Downtown hotels one way ; $13 - $17 roundtrip per person
  • Monorail = $5 single ride ticket ; $12 for 24-hour pass ; $56 for 7-day pass. *TIP - The monorail is a decent transportation option for the east-side Strip hotels, running from MGM Grand on the south end to the LVH / SLS areas on the north end. It's a hike to access the west-side Strip locales from the monorail stations. There are free inter-property trams between several west-side Strip resorts (Mirage - Treasure Island tram; Mandalay Bay - Luxor - Excalibur tram ; Bellagio - City Center - Monte Carlo tram).
  • Deuce / SDX bus fares = $8 for a 24-hr pass; $20 for a 3-day pass
  • Limos - the least expensive limo charges for a base sedan from the airport is about $50 per hour (not including tips).
  • Walking = Free ? ; Vegas visitors walk a lot just getting around their hotels of choice or crossing the street. First-time or so-inclined visitors should walk a portion of the Strip just to say they've done it (or always do it), as this provides for a unique way to experience the most visited tourist attraction in the world. Vegas Strip hotels are massive, and in practice they're a lot further away than they appear. Visitors to the Downtown area hotels have to walk to visit multiple locales. Visitors who elect to walk should wear comfy shoes, stay hydrated, and take care as a pedestrian crossing Las Vegas Blvd.

LODGING : According to LVCVA, the city-wide average daily room rate (ADR) for the first three months of 2014 was $122.34. Strip hotel ADR was $132.52, while the Downtown hotel ADR was $71.75. These figures include both mid-week and weekend room rate data. Below are 10 Vegas hotel (Strip, Downtown, and others) standard room rates for July 14 (Monday) and July 19 (Saturday), 2014 stays as quoted on their online reservation sites.

  • MGM Grand (Strip) - $75 / $175
  • Bellagio (Strip) - $189 / $269
  • Circus Circus (Strip) - $36 / $96
  • Wynn / Encore (Strip) - $219 / $499
  • Excalibur (Strip) - $37.14 / $100.28
  • Golden Nugget (Downtown) - $36.99 / $69.99
  • The D (Downtown) - $22 / $79
  • Palms ( off-Strip) - $59 / $159
  • Boulder Station (off-Strip) - $34.99 / $89.99
  • Hard Rock (off-Strip) - $61 / $159
  • *TIPS - Book early, book Sunday through Thursdays, book directly with hotels online to obtain promotional discounts (many are now charging for phone reservations), and use coupons and promo codes from consolidator / travel sites.

Daily resort fees (RF) are add-on costs above and beyond room rates. Currently, these fees range from $5 - $28 per day in Vegas. Most Strip hotels average $25 daily RF. There are a few Vegas hotels left that don't charge these aggravating fees, but most do. Even a few of the Downtown resorts have implemented resort fees. Check our resort fee mini guide for specifics.

DINING : Vegas has developed a stellar reputation as a world class dining destination, but there are still methods and locations available to dine frugally. Buffets, fancy themed restaurants with celebrity chefs, specialty cuisine locales, coffee shops, quick-bite venues, graveyard specials, burger joints, hot-dog stands, food trucks...they're all here. What do some of these options cost?

  • Buffets - Dinner buffet costs range from $7.99 ( with players club card) at one of the Station Casino buffets up to the $65 Brunch at Wynn. Check out our top ten Vegas buffets and refer to this Las Vegas Advisor link for a complete rundown of Vegas buffet options, hours, and pricing. *TIP - Present players club cards for buffet discounts at many off-Strip buffets and several Strip properties (e.g. Caesars Entertainment buffets).
  • Dinner for two at Picasso, prix fixe = $226
  • Double animal style burger and fries at In N Out Burger = under $6
  • Twenty cheap eats on and off the Strip
  • Three course, dinner for two at Craftsteak = $300
  • Dinner for two, Austin's Steakhouse = $80
  • Steak dinners under $20 per person
  • Hot dog at South Point ( cart near sports book) = 75 cents
  • Food trucks - most menu items are well under $10 per person
  • Many dinner entrees at Ellis Island cafe under $10 per person
  • Late-night graveyard specials
  • Pizza slice at Secret Pizza Place at Cosmopolitan = under $10
  • *Tips - Use players club cards, coupons, eat a late lunch as opposed to dinner, and dine off-Strip to save bucks.

ENTERTAINMENT / THINGS TO DO : Vegas is the entertainment capital of the world, and show/attraction options abound. Check out the list below for a cross-section of some options and pricing. All show/ attraction prices exclude additional taxes and fees.

  • Top free attractions
  • VIP meet-and-greet Donny and Marie, Flamingo = $306
  • Rock Star for a Day, Rock N Roll Fantasy camp, MGM Grand = $299 and up
  • Cirque du Soleil's O at Bellagio = $109 - $198
  • Cirque du Soleil's Michael Jackson ONE, Mandalay Bay = $109 - $198
  • Terry Fator, Mirage = $59.99 - $149.99
  • Legends In Concert at Flamingo = $32.45 - $91.45
  • B - A Tribute to the Beatles, Saxe Theater = $59.99 - $69.99
  • Vegas! The Show, Saxe Theater = $79.99 - $99.99
  • Mac King Comedy Magic at Harrah's = $9.95 and up
  • Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art = $16
  • Big Apple Roller Coaster at New York, New York = $14
  • High Roller observation wheel, LINQ = $24.95 (adult day) to $59.95 (express pass)
  • Slotzilla zip line, Downtown = $20
  • Neon Museum, North Las Vegas = $18 (day) - $25 ( night) guided tours
  • Shark Reef, Mandalay Bay = $18 (adults)
  • Madame Tussaud's wax museum = $23.96 (adult online ticket purchase)
  • Gondola rides, Venetian / Palazzo = $18.95 per person
  • Eiffel Tower Experience, Paris = $11.50 (adult day) and $16.50 (adult night)
  • Mob Museum, Downtown = $19.95 (adult)
  • Vegas Strip night helicopter tour = $90 - $100
  • Grand Canyon bus tours = from $74.99
  • Hoover Dam bus tours = from $52.99
  • *TIPS - Use free or buyable coupons, check individual show / attraction sites for promotional discounts, and check with general show ticket discount resources such as Half Price Shows , Goldstar, and Tix4Tonight.

OTHER COSTS :

  • Spas usually charge between $90 and $175 for basic massage treatments, depending on the tier of the property ( guests should add on facility use fees of $20 - $40 plus tips and taxes). Specialty treatments can cost $350 and up. Check this link for details.
  • Nightlife / bar scene - Cover charges for guys at many upper - tier clubs range within $20 - $75 on weekends. Bottle service costs (which usually waive cover charges) start at around $600 per bottle at most clubs with typical gratuity charges ( often includes a 20% auto-gratuity charge). Individual drinks at bars and clubs easily average between $10 and $14 each, depending on the property and drink complexity. Liquor shots at popular Strip clubs and bars average $9 - $10 each. Beers (domestic and most imports) will average between $7 and $9 each at most clubs. Even sodas and bottled waters are in the $7 range at the popular Strip nightlife options. Suffice it to say that alcohol costs on the Strip are pricey. *TIP - Start drinking by gambling ( gamblers drink for free, so they say) before hitting the Strip nightclubs, and / or head to the Downtown or off-Strip areas for less expensive drinking options.
  • Golf course green fees - Green fees range from $10 (North Las Vegas 9-hole, walk-only course) to $500 (Shadow Creek and Wynn courses) in Las Vegas, depending on tier and property. Fees during the week (Mondays through Thursdays) are cheaper at many courses, some of which offer late afternoon (twilight) reduced fees. Check this link for more info.
  • Gratuities - Tip assorted service workers appropriately for decent service and attitude. Some standard guidelines include $1 per drink for cocktail waitresses, $1 - $2 per bag for baggage handlers, 15% - 20% of total fares for taxi / limo drivers, $2 for valet parking services, and 15% - 20% for restaurant waiters. Check our Vegas tipping guide for more info.
  • Gambling - According to the most recently available Las Vegas Visitor Profile study ( 2013 data), visitors budgeted about $530 for gambling during an average three-night stay ( claiming they spent an average of 2.9 hrs. gambling per day). There's no way to arrive at a real estimate for this highly individualized cost factor for obvious reasons. *TIPS - Learn at least the basics of any casino game played ; play the lower house edge games ( 3:2 blackjack, full-pay video poker) ; don't chase losses ; use gaming coupons (free play, match plays, free aces); accrue comps (use players cards at every gaming activity); and know when to get up and leave. Gamblers should only play with money they can afford to lose ( we realize you've heard that before). Table minimums are generally less and comp programs are typically more player-friendly at Downtown and other off-Strip properties. On the Strip, the MGM Resorts comp programs / givebacks are generally superior to the other options in our experience.
  • Shopping - Data from the visitor profile study indicate average visitors spent just over $140 for shopping during an average three-night stay in Vegas. This is another cost factor that is highly individualized and difficult to assign a cost estimate for. Costs that might be included here include room snacks, drinks (sodas, water, alcohol), and sundries...all of which can often be purchased at off-Strip retail stores such as the local Wal-Mart or grocery stores at less cost.

PACKAGE DEALS : Sometimes, a package deal (airfare + hotel + car) can compare favorably with individual bookings. Travelers who are truly concerned about cost savings should devote the time to compare both options before final trip decisions. Since we recommended Southwest Airlines for air travel to Vegas ( for overall real cost considerations), we ran a hypothetical package trip for 7-day, 6-night stays at five disparate Vegas hotels through Southwest Vacations. The dates were for July 14 arrival (a Monday) and July 20 (Sunday) departure. These package prices all included airfare, hotel, and car rental (did not include all taxes and fees for the car). We included the least and most expensive hotel packages along with three other mid-tier Vegas hotels that were offered through this booking option from our home airport. The results were...

  • Palace Station $1021.92
  • Golden Nugget $1261.04
  • MGM Grand $1468.57
  • Cosmopolitan $1968.86
  • Four Seasons $3656.16

Cheers...