Broke but raving in Las Vegas: A Backpackers’ Guide to Sin City on a budget

Las Vegas isn’t a place many people visit on a budget. But when we crash landed in the desert after an eight hour Greyhound bus journey from San Diego, we knew we wouldn’t be spending our days sipping Cristal and gambling away our life savings.

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But it IS possible to have an amazing time and not break the bank. Here’s how we did it.

HOTELS

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Las Vegas hotels rely on the fact that you’ve bought a package deal including your flights and accommodation, many months in advance.

You might have got a pretty good deal on the face of it, but most hotels offer staggeringly high discounts if you book within a few days of arriving.

Granted, this won’t be possible if you’re doing Vegas as a big holiday, but if you’re traveling around the States and can be flexible on dates, we strongly advise waiting until the last minute to get the best deals.

Here’s how we did it…

Get a short list of top hotels you’re willing to stay in. Tip: the rooms really don’t vary that much unless you’re paying top dollar, and once you’ve seen one casino, you’ve seen them all.  So you don’t need to be picky.

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A mid-range budget backpacker should be looking at: The MGM Grand, Mirage, Luxor, New York New York, Bally’s, Linq, Flamingoes, Hard Rock Hotel and Paris hotels for the best deals. They’ll typically offer rooms for between £50-100 a night, sometimes cheaper. Circus Circus and Excalibur are perennially dirt cheap, perhaps £20-30 a night, but appear to be the most tired.

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Start checking Trivago like a boss: The hotel comparison website will list all the Vegas Strip hotels in a neat list for you, with the biggest discounts available. But we found that the algorithms were changing daily, or even hourly, so you MUST check prices a few times a day to grab a bargain.

For example, the MGM Grand rarely went below £100 a night, but suddenly they offered a deal for £65. Bingo! Snap up the good deals there and then. We got similarly good deals for the Luxor and Mirage (the best hotel we stayed in, hands down).There doesn’t seem to be a pattern as to when to book; sometimes two or three days before was cheaper than the day before. Just keep checking.

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Prepare to move around: We stayed in three separate hotels over a few days. They’re all relatively close together, they all allow you to use their pools on checkout day, and it gives you the chance not only to benefit from the best deals, but to experience what the different hotels have to offer.

Quick tip; the hotels are so lax with their key cards that you can easily keep one after check out and use it to access the pool. We did it after moving from the Mirage to the Luxor; the Mirage’s pool was far superior!

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Ask and ye shall receive! Despite paying the lowest prices possible for our rooms, we always asked for the best views or for any upgrades, and always got given something. We got an amazing strip view in the MGM Grand, and got upgraded to a suite in the Luxor. These places have thousands of rooms each; there’s always a better one to be had.

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Do you need to be there at the weekend? Friday to Sunday is the most expensive time to stay in Vegas. You’ll usually get much cheaper deals during the week. And every day is like the weekend in Vegas anyway, unless you want to cram like sardines Into a pretentious club to dance to another EDM DJ who’s sold his soul surrounded by vacuous millennials paying $20 a drink.

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Beware the “Resort Fee” You may think you’ve got a great deal, but almost all of the big hotels charge $30-40 a night on top, calling this pointless tax a “resort fee”.  All it realistically provides is pool access. So make sure you adjust your budget accordingly. You’re still getting an amazing hotel for a great price, just don’t get stung at the check in desk.

SHOWS

Vegas is the entertainment capital of the world, and there’ll be dozens of shows to choose from. You’ll also be bombarded with supposedly cheap deals, half price offers and the like.

In reality, you’ll never really get much of a discount and the best price you can expect for a half decent ticket is $80-90 per person for the various Cirque du Soleil shows; Celine Dion et al are always more.

There are in-person discount kiosks all over town but their discounts didn’t seem great.

Keep an eye on the adverts on top of taxis and on the sides of buses; they offered 10% discounts on vegas.com where we got a pretty good discount for our Cirque du Soleil tickets. NEVER pay full price!

Aside from the performances, there is nothing that screams Vegas more than the stunning water fountain show outside the Bellagio, or the Volcano erupting outside the Mirage Hotel.

The fountains work their magic every half an hour all day everyday, the volcano only erupts twice a night Monday to Thursday, and 8pm, 9pm and 10pm Friday – Sunday.

MUSEUMS

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Now when you think Vegas you probably don’t think museums. But one incredible place worth every penny is the Neon Museum.

It’s essentially a scrapyard of all the old Vegas strip signage from the famous casinos which are gone but not forgotten.

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It was fascinating to learn about the history and back stories to the former gambling halls, and see how the technology and graphic design has changed through the decades.

The hour long guided tours book up in advance so you have to pre-plan, but they are well worth the 19 bucks.

COCKTAILS

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Never pay full price for cocktails either, unless you’re in a sky bar somewhere and want the view. If you gamble even the smallest amounts in a Casino, waitresses will serve you free drinks for a small tip.

If you want to be one of THOSE people who carries around a refillable cocktail beaker, you’ll get some pretty good deals across the strip as well.

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Buying cocktails from hotel pool bars will be at a premium; we paid $24 for a large margarita that basically tasted like a slush puppy. Where’s the booze?!

The best deal in town we found was at Ocean Grille in the Miracle Mile shopping centre; $10 for three proper, well made cocktails, not the frozen rubbish in a revolving washing machine style contraption you see everywhere. They also had an amazing $4.99 lunch menu with strip steak included. Highly recommended.

FOOD DEALS

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See above for that amazing lunch deal. If you love an all you can eat buffet, there are plenty of places where you can fill your boots for a fixed price. We didn’t have time to check any of the bottomless brunches out, but this handy link summarises your best buffet deals.

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Our other tip is to head downtown. Fremont Street is not only a slice of old-time Vegas (although it has been given an on-steroids makeover to compete with the strip). Plenty of the old Casinos have your classic surf-and-turf special offers at off-peak times.

We got a great steak and lobster deal for $11.99 between 9-11pm at Tony Roma’s in the Fremont Hotel & Casino, but be prepared to wait for up to an hour so arrive early!

READ MORE: 73 Insanely Easy Ways to Save Money in Vegas

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