Planning Your First Trip to Las Vegas
Las Vegas can be intimidating for first-timers, but it doesn't have to be. This page offers an overview of all the topics that will concern most people visiting Las Vegas for the first time. This advice will help you to save money, and also make your trip a much more enjoyable one.
We've included information on getting to the city, where to stay once you've gotten there, and how to get around. There's also information about what to do for entertainment while you're there, including both gambling and non-gambling activities.
Vegas is one of the most exciting destinations in the world, so you won't lack for stuff to do or see. The hardest part is deciding upon the best of the many options, and finding the time to fit it all in.
Travelling to Vegas
If you're flying into Vegas, it's usually cheaper to book your flight and hotel separately.
When you travel has a lot to do with how much you will need to spend on your flights. You should try to fly into the city Sunday through Thursday, as this will work out cheaper. Sunday is the cheapest day to fly to Vegas. Fridays and Saturdays are the most expensive days to buy tickets to fly to Las Vegas, because those are the days when demand is highest.
You should also plan your return flight on a Sunday through Thursday, for the same reasons. Tuesday is the cheapest day to fly back. The best months to travel to Las Vegas, in terms of cheap airfare, are August and October.
You should book your airfare at least two weeks prior to your trip to get the best price.
Of course, if you live nearby, you can just drive there. If you've seen the movie Swingers, you probably already know that Las Vegas is driving distance from Los Angeles, for example. In fact, it's only a four hour drive.
When you're planning your trip, don't just look at the cost of your airfare. Do some shopping for hotel rates, too. Your overall budget is what's important—not just the cost of your flight.
Accommodation in Las Vegas
You can get the best lodging prices by scheduling your trip at the right times.
Hotels cost less during the week (Sunday through Thursday) and cost more on Friday and Saturday nights. Prices can triple or even quadruple on Friday and Saturday nights. Hotels in Las Vegas are masters of "revenue management"- they analyze supply and demand carefully in order to maximize the amount of revenue they make per room per night.
Conventions also make hotel prices skyrocket. Avoid visiting Las Vegas during a major convention. Even in the middle of the week, conventions can cause room rates to soar.
Any kind of holiday or special event, like New Year's Eve or the 4th of July, will be reflected in your hotel room's price too. People love to visit Vegas for special occasions. If you want to spend a holiday in Vegas, get ready to pay for the privilege.
The cheapest time to go to Las Vegas is after Thanksgiving and before Christmas. Some hotels offer comp rooms just in hopes of picking up extra gambling revenue-- demand is just that low. Las Vegas is fun, but people enjoy spending their holidays with family doing traditional stuff.
Traditional stuff isn't what Vegas is all about. If you're flexible and can travel during those time periods, you can save a lot of money on your airfare and your hotel stay.
Most people stay on the Strip, but Downtown has its charms. The Strip is where the newer, more luxurious properties can be found. Downtown features older hotels, but the prices are much lower. The atmosphere in Downtown is entirely different.
Spend a couple of days on the Strip and also a couple of days at one of the Downtown hotels. Experiencing both atmospheres will add nuance to your visit. And you'll have some interesting stories to share about your experiences in both spots, I promise.
If you're on a budget, The Boulder Strip hotels are affordable, too. You're far from some of the action, but you can find plenty of low roller gambling at these properties. We've spent many an entertaining evening playing low stakes Texas hold'em at Boulder Station.
When you're shopping for hotels, they'll be categorized as economy, first class, or luxury. They'll be subcategorized, too. You have low end economy hotels and slightly higher end economy hotels. Luxury hotels can be divided into luxury and super-luxury. Even mid-range hotels can vary in terms of quality and amenities.
If you're on a budget and want to stay on the Strip, consider the Tropicana or the Stratosphere. The prices are higher than at some of the Downtown and Boulder Highway properties, but you'll be more central to the action, especially at the Tropicana. Unless you love circus arts, avoid Circus Circus. It's on the lower end of the economy scale. Depending on when you travel, you can stay at either property for between $40 and $80 per night.
If you're not tied to the Strip, consider Golden Gate or the Plaza, both located Downtown. You can usually get clean comfortable rooms at either of those properties for between $30 and $40 per night. If you're willing to go a little higher end, good choices on the Strip include the Monte Carlo, the Luxor, and Excalibur. These are all first class properties with prices nearer the $100 per night range, although you can often find deals at any of these properties.
Even luxury hotels in Las Vegas can be had for less than $200 per night—again, it all depends on when you're traveling. Properties to consider in this price range include the Bellagio and the Wynn. If you're a poker fan, the poker room at the Bellagio is one of the more famous in town. We saw David Sklansky playing there once, but we have friends who've seen more famous poker celebs than Sklansky playing in the high limit rooms there.
Gambling in Las Vegas
If you're going to gamble, you MUST set aside a bankroll strictly for gambling.
Don't get into your transportation, sight-seeing, entertainment, or food budget in order to get more action. You'll always have future trips to the casino. We knew a man who gambled away all the money he had and wasn't able to afford transportation to the airport to return home. You don't want to be that guy.
You can gamble on almost anything in Vegas. The following gaming and betting activities are all available.
Most people don't go to Vegas to play bingo, but it's there if you want it. You'll find over 20 different bingo halls to choose from, and they're available in every size. Most of the bingo halls offer free donuts during their morning games, so if you want to combine your gambling with a free breakfast, this is one way to do it. Bingo is cheap, too. The minimum buy-in at almost all of the parlors is $4 or $5.
Do you like being part of a crowd? Try the bingo hall at the Gold Coast, which seats over 800 players at once.
Do you prefer a more intimate bingo experience? Try Jerry's Nugget or Silver Sevens. Both have fewer than 200 seats.
These are games you play against the house, as opposed to games where you play against the other players. Casino games can be categorized by type—table games or gaming machines.
The most popular table games are blackjack, craps, and roulette. Various house-banked poker games are also popular in Vegas, too. A good general rule to remember is that the easier the game is to play, the more the math favors the house.
For example, roulette requires no skill at all. You pick a number, a color, or one of the other betting options. Then you collect your winnings (or watch your losses get taken off the table) after the ball drops into its slot on the wheel. The house edge on this game is 5.26%.
Blackjack, on the other hand, is a game where you make decisions on every hand. The quality of those decisions affects how likely you are to win or lose. Someone with no skill--who's just playing her hunches--faces a house edge of about 4%. But if you take the time to learn basic strategy, you can cut the house edge to between 0.5% and 1%.
Craps also features some of the lowest house edge bets in the casino. It has some of the worst bets, too. Knowing the difference between the good bets and the bad bets is the extent of legitimate craps strategy. The pass/don't pass bets and the come/don't come bets offer the best odds on the table. Stick with them, and the optional odds bet, and you'll have a lot of fun without risking much of your bankroll.
You can learn the basics of any of these table games at the free classes held at most casinos during the day. Or practice online to get an idea of how the betting and action work.
The most popular gaming machines are the slots, but video poker is also popular. Slot machines require no skill. You insert your money, spin the reels, and hope for the best. A bewildering number of choices are available, but the slot machines with the best odds are the ones with the simplest layouts. Casinos know that players are attracted to the new fancy games with lots of bells and whistles, so they attract players to the more basic 3 reel games by offering a higher payout percentage.
Video poker, like blackjack, is a game where your decisions matter. Since the games have a well-defined payout table and fixed odds of getting certain hands based on a 52 card deck, you can calculate the house edge and the correct strategy for each game. Some Jacks or Better games have a house edge of less than 1%, as do some Deuces Wild games. You can find a wealth of information about video poker online with a simple Bing or Google search, or visit the tutorial on our site.
Most varieties of poker in most limits can be found in Las Vegas. In fact, it's one of the premier poker destinations in the world. There's a reason the World Series of Poker is held here every year.
Most of the casinos have poker rooms, but the sizes and games vary. The stakes that are available vary, too. For the most part, luxury hotels offer higher stakes games, and vice-versa. If you want to play for big money, the Bellagio is a good bet. But if you're just playing for fun and don't have a big bankroll, check out some of the action at the card rooms on the Boulder Strip.
You might be used to betting on sports with a local bookie or even with an offshore book. But if you're not, here are the basics of betting at a Las Vegas sportsbook.
The first thing to keep in mind is that you should keep it simple to start. Don't be afraid to ask for help from the people running the book. That's why they're there.
The most important place to start is with the types of bets.
A moneyline bet is one of the best bets for beginners. It's a straightforward bet on who's going to win a game. If you pick the winning team, you win.
But the sportsbook adjusts how much you have to bet compared to how much you can win based on who's the favorite. For example, you might have to risk $500 to win $100 if you're betting on a huge favorite. On the other hand, if you're betting a big underdog, you might only risk $50 to win $300.
A point spread bet is an even-money wager where a team has to win by a certain amount in order for your bet to win. These point spreads are calculated by the handicappers working for the book to offer a bettor a roughly 50% chance of winning – regardless of which team they bet.
The book makes its money by charging a vig. With a point spread bet, you'll usually risk $110 to win $100, regardless of which team you choose.
The team that is favored to win will have a negative number posted next to their name. For example, if the Dallas Cowboys are expected to win by 3 points, you'll see "Dallas Cowboys -3" posted on the board. If the Cowboys win by exactly 3, the bet is a "push". Your bet is returned, but you don't get any winnings.
An over/under bet is a bet on the total number of points that are going to be scored by both sides during the game. In fact, this bet is also sometimes called a "total" bet.
For example, you might place a bet that the combined score for the Cowboys Redskins game will be over or under 21. If the total of both teams' scores at the end of the game is less than 21, and you bet the under, then you win, and vice-versa.
For beginners, those bets are a good place to start. You can also get involved in parlays, teasers, futures, and proposition bets, but those aren't as beginner-friendly as these other bets.
What Else to Do In Vegas
Vegas is obviously best known as a gambling destination, but there's plenty more to do here too. The following are just some of the more popular non-gambling activities.
- Concerts & Shows
- People Watching
- Adult Activities
Las Vegas is known for shows of varying quality and ticket prices. Comedy, magic, and celebrity impersonators are classic examples of Vegas shows. You can usually save 50% on the price of tickets; just ask your concierge at your hotel for help.
David Copperfield is one of the best magic acts to see in Las Vegas, but Penn and Teller are also terrific. The Blue Man Group and Cirque du Soleil are also worth seeing.
And concerts are going on constantly—check who's in town before your trip if you want to catch a big name act.
One of my favorite shows in Las Vegas is the Legends in Concert show at the Flamingo. It features dozens of incredible celebrity impersonators, from Michael Jackson to Elvis to Dolly Parton. It's also surprisingly affordable.
People-watching is a free, fun activity in Las Vegas. You can often spot celebrities there. The best places for people watching in Las Vegas are in the bars or by the swimming pools at some of the higher-end resort properties.
For example, The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas features one of the best pool experiences in town. There's almost always live music going on there, too. And if you love rock and roll, you never know who you'll bump into at the Hard Rock Hotel. But Wynn Las Vegas might have both of those locations beat. Wynn's Country Club is well-known as a lunch spot for celebrities, especially politicians.
You don't have to spend a lot of money at fine restaurants and fancy hotels to see plenty of interesting people, though. Just hang out anywhere on the Strip or Downtown. Las Vegas attracts all kinds of people who are interesting to look at, not just celebs.
Las Vegas has strip clubs aplenty. Cheetah Lounge, the Palomino Club, Crazy Horse III, and Spearmint Rhino are all famous and popular. The Palomino Club is the only all-nude club in town. Spearmint Rhino has some of the best looking entertainers in town. Crazy Horse III is known as a celebrity hangout; you might even run into Snoop Dogg. Cheetah Lounge is cool because Showgirls was filmed there.
Plenty more strip clubs are available. You can find detailed guides online to which clubs are best for which preferences.
Prostitution is illegal in the city limits. You can still find plenty of solicitation going on, especially on the Strip, but it's not legal. If you're looking for the legalized brothels, get ready for a short trip outside the city. The closest legal cathouses are located about 60 miles north of the city. The Chicken Ranch and Sheri's Ranch are the two most famous of these.
Eating Out In Vegas
Las Vegas is famous for its sumptuous buffets. Like most everything else in Las Vegas, you can find buffets on either end of the spectrum—cheap and barely adequate, or expensive and gourmet. Most hotel casinos have buffets.
You can also find lots of famously cheap meals in Sin City. Gamble a lot, and you can get comped meals. But even if you don't, you can find lots of famous meals perfect for a diner on a budget. One of your best options for eating on a budget is to look for graveyard deals. These are meals you can eat during the off hours at huge discounts.
For example, you can get biscuits and gravy at the Orleans hotel for less than $3. You can even get ham and eggs or steak and eggs for $5, but you have to eat there in the middle of the night. Multiple other restaurants offer meals for less than $5 if you eat there after midnight.
No one wants to be boorish. So tip. Here's a guide to whom you should tip and how much:
Getting Around In Vegas
Taking the bus isn't glamorous, but it's cheap and efficient. You can get a 24 hour pass for just $7. If you just want to go to and from the airport on the bus, you can do that for just $2.
You can't catch a cab from the Strip unless you're in the taxi cab area of a hotel or casino. You'll often have to wait in line to catch a cab, but you can't flag one down from the street like you could in New York City, so don't even try.
Renting a car might be an option. So much of Vegas is available within walking distance that it almost seems like more of a hassle than it's worth, though—especially since you're going to have to pay to park it.
The Vegas Strip is only 4 miles long. Most people in good shape can get where they need to go on foot. Even if you're planning to visit some of Las Vegas's other hot spots, like Downtown, you can catch a cab there for next to nothing. The tourist part of Vegas just isn't that big.
Las Vegas is a town built on the tourism industry, so newcomers needn't feel intimidated. Quite the opposite in fact, as there will always be plenty of people willing to help you figure out what to do and where to go.
This page has covered all the basics we feel you really should know before you visit Vegas for the first time, but to be honest we've barely scratched the surface of everything there is to see and to do. Part of the fun of Vegas, though, is in exploring the place for yourself. You may also find the following pages useful.
Recommended Hotels in Vegas
We can help you to find the best places to stay regardless of your budget. We've recommended a number of hotels in a variety of different categories, and provided detailed information about each one.
Las Vegas Casino Directory
There are obviously plenty of places to gamble in Las Vegas, and this directory will help you find the best ones. We've listed some of our favorite venues, and included details about what they have to offer.
Non-Gambling Activities in Las Vegas
Here you will find a list of activities in Las Vegas that don't involve gambling. There's plenty to do outside of the casinos, and even if you love gambling you'll probably want to spend some time doing other things.
I should finish this article with a final word of warning for you. Once you've experienced Vegas, you'll want to experience it again and again for the rest of your life. It truly is a fabulous destination, with so very much to offer.
Author: Brad Johnson
Updated: September 2015
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