JR Swift’s Blog

What I’m Thinking About Today

How to find those Vegas hotel deals

Posted by jrswift on March 28, 2007

I promised in the last posting that I would talk some more about where to find great rates for Las Vegas hotels so I’ll spend some time discussing the places I look and have had good luck with.

First off, it never hurts to join the casinos’ slot clubs. These clubs typically issue a “credit card” like card that can be used when you gamble. They help track how many dollars you are wagering and can potentially earn you cash back or free meals or even free or discounted hotel rooms if you play enough. Even if you aren’t a big gambler, being a member can sometimes get you a few dollars off the hotel’s rack rate and can lead to mailings or emails that contain special room offers for particular dates. I probably have a collection of over 100 slot cards, some from casinos that no longer exist and many of which are no longer valid, but a few have generated some pretty interesting offers for such a low roller as myself. The most bizarre of which appeared a couple summers ago when I received a mailing from the new Wynn Las Vegas offering two free nights and a $50 food credit. What? I had never even visited the place before but some signup somewhere put me on a list that generated that rather impressive deal. Truthfully, those kinds of offers are the exception rather than the rule unless you gamble a great deal at a particular establishment but signing up for a card doesn’t take long and it can save you cash. Even if you haven’t been to Las Vegas before, many hotel web sites will allow you to sign up online. Do it. If they ask you about wanting to receive email about special offers, do it. If you don’t want to wade through so much mail all the time, you might set up a special email account just for your travel needs so that, when you are looking for deals, you can find them.

That brings us to option #2 and that is the hotel’s website. In order to compete with the big travel booking agencies, many hotels now offer their best rates online and some will even match prices that you find elsewhere. The great thing about booking through the hotel itself is that you are not typically required to pay for everything up front but need only put down a deposit for the first night of your stay. The other great thing is that there is rarely any kind of penalty if you need to cancel though make sure to read the fine print. Also, many hotels will adjust their rate down if you call them later and inform them about a lower rate that you’ve found. No guarantees but it is worth a try.

Another choice that can be worth it for some people is to look at air-hotel packages. Most any airline or travel web site and even some hotels themselves are more than happy to sell you one of these packages, complete with other goodies like a rental car, show tickets and even travel insurance. Sometimes you will find a good deal. Many times it only seems to be a good deal. To know for sure you have to figure out what the hotel and flight would cost separately and then compare. Also travel packages are typically nonrefundable so if something comes up and you can’t make the trip, you may have to eat most, if not all, of the cost. Travel insurance can alleviate that concern but will also drive the cost of the package up to the point where it may no longer be worth it. Just remember that there’s a reason all these websites, travel agents and airlines push package deals. It is because they make money on them and because they are easy for them and presumably easy for you. If you are the sort of person who wants to do things the easy way, you probably wouldn’t be reading this blog. So, while you should never rule out a package deal, you should look at it very carefully before you commit.

One side note on sites that sell packages. They can occasionally be the source of a really good deal if you are patient and can afford to wait and pounce. Many sites buy and resell blocks of rooms they are allotted by the casino. At a certain point, they have to either sell the rooms or potentially eat the cost. Even if they are allowed to release the rooms back to the hotel with no penalty, not selling their allotted rooms may very well limit their future ability to deal with that hotel. So they need to get rid of them and, if they aren’t selling and it’s getting late, the only way to move them is to discount them, sometimes dramatically. I once ended up with two nights at the Plaza for about $25 including tax by using this strategy and booking at the last minute through Funjet. (One might argue that that is about most you should pay to stay at the Plaza but we won’t quibble.) There is no guarantee that this will work, particularly if you are visiting at a busy time, but it is something to consider.

The same sort of economics that can sometimes get you a good deal through a package provider can also work for you on one of the many hotel discount sites out there, many of which specialize in Las Vegas. They are almost always reselling blocks of rooms and are often more aggressive about discounting earlier on because they need to move the merchandise. These sites won’t normally have a bunch of great last minute deals but a month or so out, they can be a great resource. The discounts may not be as deep but a drop of 25-30% on some hotels is pretty common. I am not sure I can even begin to list all these sites but I’ll hit a few of the ones I check out the most. I’m not going to post their web addresses. That’s what google is for so use it.

Travelworm, Hotels.com, Vegas.com, i4vegas and TripReservations.com are, I think, the best ones and I’ve actually used Travelworm before and can recommend their service. Most other sites that offer to sell you Las Vegas rooms end up linking to one of these pages anyway so just check them out yourself. Again, there is no guarantee that these sites will always offer the cheapest rooms but it should be part of your room-rate arsenal.

I have had mixed success using the what I’ll call the “mega-search travel” sites. Kayak and Sidestep are a couple of examples but there are others and you can look them up if you’d like. I think many of these sites are more helpful finding hotels in other cities than in Las Vegas. If you are using one of these sites, keep in mind that not every search will include all the travel sites that you might use and might omit some of the best deals. Try them if you like…they are kind of fun to watch as they churn away and might find you the room you want.

Another strategy that I am not fond of is the one employed by the travel site Hotwire. They will sell you a (supposedly) discounted room at a mystery hotel which is described only by its general location and a star rating they provide. I’m here to tell you that most of the deals aren’t. It isn’t too difficult for a Vegas veteran to figure out which hotels are which on their website and they are rarely giving you a rate you couldn’t get otherwise and rarely offer much more than 10% off at best. I look at their site every time I travel to Vegas and I’ve yet to find a deal that impresses me much.

If all this sounds too daunting, there are resources available to make it a bit easier. One which I really like is a site called Travelzoo. In addition to sending out a weekly email with their picks for great travel deals, they also have a website that lists the current hotel specials they’ve found for any particular city. They look at a lot of the same sites I’ve mentioned above and can be a great shortcut if you are trying to get an idea of what might be out there. Again, there are other sites that will do the same thing but this is the best one and I’d recommend subscribing to their email.

I’m not going to talk much about sites like Priceline where you bid on mystery hotels by area and star rating. There is a site out there called “Bidding for Travel” and these people are a much better resource than I for beating the system this way. It can work but it is a gamble and I’d rather save my gambling for Las Vegas. I think this is another case where the deals you might get tend to be better in other cities where business travel predominates and not so good in resort areas.

Perhaps the best (and maybe worst) resource online is other Vegas travellers. There are a lot of bulletin boards out there dedicated just to Las Vegas and most of them have a number of helpful people who might know something you don’t. They’ll often post room offers or deals they’ve received or stumbled on somewhere online and you might be able to take advantage of some of them. Remember that using an offer or promotional code that wasn’t originally intended for you may not work. You might discover upon checking in that you will end up paying full price for the room you thought would be a great deal. That’s not how you want your trip to start. So use caution when using this resource.

So that’s it…that’s what I do. And I do it over and over again week after week until I find what I want or decide that I never will find what I want. For a lot of people, all that legwork just isn’t going to be worth it but I find it enjoyable and it has rarely failed to find me a good room at a great price.

We’ll probably take a bit of break from blogging the next few days but there will be more Vegas information here from time to time so be sure to check in. I think maybe next time we’ll talk about one of my favorite things: The Infamous Las Vegas Buffet. So stay tuned.

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