Vegas 101: Tips for scoring a winning stay

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Your chances of hitting a jackpot in Las Vegas are, sadly, slim. But scoring a stay without hassles or breaking the bank isn't hard, once you know which plays to make. USA TODAY's Kitty Bean Yancey , with the help of Vegas insiders, shares 10 strategies for a winning getaway.

1. Know when to go.

Rates generally are lowest Sunday to Thursday when big conventions aren't in town. If dates are flexible, resort websites make planning easy, with monthly calendars showing the lowest rates for each day. For instance, rooms at the upscale Bellagio are running $149-$399 in coming months, depending on the date. July and mid-December often are slow.

2. Deal yourself the right resort.

Strip hotels tend to be pricier than those downtown. But downtown is revitalizing, and gamers like its lower betting minimums. Websites such as track and obtain deals (learn about many for free or pay $37 to join for coupons and newsletters). The Advisor is finding nightly specials as low as "the teens and twenties," it says. and other sites also negotiate discounts, and the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority's posts promotions. Check air/hotel packages and resort Web specials. But factor resort fees into the bottom line. Now $25 at some places, they usually include Internet but can turn a $60 hotel steal into a $90-plus proposition, with tax. Caesars Entertainment resorts (Caesars Palace, Paris, Rio and others) don't charge resort fees, though you pay extra for Internet. That can mean $14.99 in-room daily/$24.99 property-wide at Caesars Palace if you want to use it. Ask: "Do I want to save money on a room and go to great shows and restaurants, or have a five-star (resort) experience?" marketing director Paul Mello advises.

3. Get a deal on wheels.

Taxis aren't cheap when Strip traffic is gridlocked on weekends. You often wait in line at the airport or resorts for one. But taxis are a boon for imbibers and those who don't know Vegas. A key phrase to use when going between the Strip and airport: "Don't take the tunnel," which usually runs up the fare. Rental cars are a winning option, with rates as low as less than $10 a day and free self-parking at casino resorts. Learn routes to avoid Las Vegas Boulevard, such as Paradise Road, Harmon Avenue or Dean Martin Drive. The Las Vegas Monorail goes to many spots on the Strip ($28 for three days), and the gold-colored Deuce buses ($7 a day) cruise the Strip and go downtown.

4. Be a player.

Yes, the house usually wins. (You're better off at table games than slots, former pro gambler and Las Vegas Advisor president Anthony Curtis says.) Always join the players club at casinos or resorts where you'll spend time. Membership is free and brings sign-up bonuses such as free gaming. Also rack up points for dining and at shops to get buffet discounts and cheaper lodging (comped rooms now rarely go to the average gambler). Curtis likes the Tropicana's lure for new members: up to $200 in free slot play if you lose. He's also a fan of the $7.99 steak meal for members at Ellis Island Casino & Brewery: sirloin, soup or salad, potato, vegetable and a beer.

5. Slurp at happy hours, shovel in restaurant deals.

Want to eat cheap? How about $1 happy-hour oysters at P.J. Clarke's or $1 frozen margaritas and Michelobs 24/7 at the Casino Royale's bar on the Strip. Eat where locals do — off the Strip — such as at Le Thai downtown, where copious, well-prepared dishes that can serve two are less than $10. But high-end resorts host meal deals: Estiatorio Milos in The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas sells a three-course weekday lunch for $20.12. Buffets on the Strip often are in the $20 range for lunch, $30 for dinner, but if you like pigging out, snap up the $32 all-day pass for both the Luxor and Excalibur buffets or the "Buffet of Buffets" pass, offering 24 hours of non-stop eating at six resorts (Rio, Paris, Planet Hollywood, Harrah's, Flamingo, Imperial Palace). It's $44.99 for players clubbers; $49.99 for others.

6. See a show below the going rate.

Head to Tix4Tonight outlets (locations at and see what's heavily discounted that day. Cirque du Soleil shows run in the $100 range, but Vegas websites including offer discounts. Caesars Entertainment has a deal: a $99 All Stage Pass, which lets you see as many shows and attractions as you can in 48 hours for $99 plus tax for Total Rewards members ($119 for others). Choose from 22, including afternoon offerings.

7. Don't forget Vegas' free attractions.

They include Bellagio's dancing fountains; nightly "battles" between pirates and the Sirens of TI in front of the Treasure Island resort; the seasonally decorated Conservatory at Bellagio; the spewing volcano at The Mirage; Carnival-themed "Show in the Sky" at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino; and the light and music shows at the Fremont Street Experience downtown. The lion habitat at the MGM Grand has closed, by the way.

8. Skip the velvet rope.

Gaining entrance to hot clubs or party pools needn't require a wait. "The safest way is to call directly" to get on the all-important "list," says Nick Cope, VIP marketing host at PURE nightclub and the Venus Pool Club at Caesars Palace. "Do not be swindled out of dollars" by touts on the Strip, he adds. Services such as or can whisk you in. Tour multiple clubs via the "VIP Club Crawl" at Hotel guests and high rollers have a better chance of a table — talk to a concierge or casino host. Curtis strolls in near opening, gets stamped and confirms he can cruise past lines when the party heats up. Before you go, know that table service at a hot club can easily cost $500 and up for a single bottle and mixers, not including tips.

9. Pack like a Vegas pro.

You can get away with most anything in Vegas. Grannies wear plunging tops and sequins. T-shirts and jeans are seen in upscale casinos. But if you want the best treatment, dress the part. Advice for women: Pack comfy shoes. Too many tourists totter in blister-inducing spike heels in a town where getting from a resort door to a club or eatery can mean a 10-minute walk.

10. Don't be late at the gate.

Frequently at McCarran airport, passengers are called to board flights or lose their seats. Lots do. A good bet is to be at the airport two hours early, maybe earlier on busy Sundays. Security lines can be scarily long; hungover fliers are less adept at checkpoints. And if you get to the gate early, you can pass time playing the airport slots.

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