I once read in The Frugal Tightwad Gazette that if you wanted to save money going out west, the cheapest way to do it was to book a flight to Las Vegas and then transfer to another airline flight to your desired final destination. When it came time for us to go out west, that advice I got from The Frugal Gazette turned out to be true.
DH and I wanted to vacation at The Grand Canyon. Our choice was either fly to Phoenix, Arizona or Las Vegas, Nevada. Both cities were a five-hour drive to The Grand Canyon and would require several nights in a local hotel plus rent a vehicle. Flights to Las Vegas as well as their respective hotel rooms are subsidized by the casinos, making it way cheaper than Arizona. You can get a subsidized hotel room for as little as $29 a night. A round trip airline ticket from New York (where we live) can be had for as little as $250, depending on when you fly.
DH and I used our airline points (15,000 each) to catch a free round trip flight to Las Vegas, complete with 7 nights at a top hotel for only $401 out-of-pocket cash expense. That’s $57 a night for the hotel. All Las Vegas hotel charge an extra fee for their pool, lounge, gyms and spa areas upon arrival. Once we check in, DH and I have to cough up an additional $240 but well worth it.
I calculated what a car rental would be, provided DH or I wanted to drive the 5 hour trip to The Grand Canyon. If we did, we’d have to book another hotel for one night ($151 was the cheapest) in addition to the $185 rental fee (a few days, since we wanted to see Hoover Dam and Valley Of Fire State Park. Throw in the cost of gas ($120 estimated) and this option was starting to get expensive ($456 estimated total).
Luckily, Las Vegas offers several bus tours (14 hours) taking you to either the west or south rim for only $165 per person. Cost includes breakfast, a boxed lunch and unlimited water (which comes in handy in the desert). The guided tour also includes a stop at The Hoover Dam and a stop over on Route 66 (a photographers dream). Plus neither hubby nor I had to drive, nor stay at yet another hotel. Total cost was $330 including tax and fees).
The last time DH and I went on an actual vacation, and by that I mean, we hopped on a plane and stayed in a hotel was in 2007. We toured Italy for 15 glorious days (Milan, Florence, Venice, Rome, Bologna etc.) Want to know what I remember most about that vacation? It was trekking to the infamous Harry’s Bar in Venice and ordering Italy’s most famous and internationally well-known cocktail, made famous at Harry’s Bar, called the ‘Bellini’ (click here). Before my order was placed however, my husband asked the waiter how much the drink cost. When he was told the drink was $18, hubby cancelled my expensive order and I NEVER got to taste the real thing! To a foodie, such as myself, I was furious. How often does one get to indulge in the real thing?
In other words, I don’t recall what we did do on that vacation. I only remember what we didn’t do! Ever since then, whenever I travel to someplace exotic and wonderful, I make sure I get the whole experience. Sometimes it’s wise to be frugal on a vacation. And sometimes it’s wise to spend your money and thoroughly enjoy yourself! Within reason, of course. We had the money to splurge on that $18 drink! Hubby was just being stupid. Which brings me to Las Vegas.
I want the full, 100% Las Vegas feel. That means calculating and including at least one meal out at one of their infamous restaurants (A Wolfgang Puck steak dinner comes to mind, click here and guard your eyes!), gambling at a few slot machines, having a few drinks at a night club and seeing an actual Las Vegas show. There’s plenty of free things to do in Vegas (45 free things, in fact. Click here) and there’s more than enough paying experiences also. I prioritized my choices and chose to see “O’ by Cirque Du Soleil (click here).
Trailer for “O”:
Granted I got two tix at $98 each BUT by the time they finsihed adding in all the entertainment fees, the total for the two of us came to $250. Ugh. But it will certainly be a unique experience because of all the water acrobotics.
One of the major complaints most vacationers have about Las Vegas are the hidden fees and the extra, mandatory add-ons. I get it. But hey! It’s Las Vegas and what happens in Las Vegas stays in Las Vegas. Many of the hotels do NOT have coffee machines in their rooms (It cost $17 for room service to bring you up a smallish box of hot coffee). The hotel rooms do not have microwaves nor refrigerators and when you come to the realization that you have to eat ALL your 3 meals a day out in a restaurant, you can understand then why not having these things in your hotel room is a very bad thing. Good news: there are tons of fast food joints, many of which are in the hotel’s food courts, as well as other inexpensive take-out options. Denny’s offers it’s infamous Grand Slam breakfasts as well as some other popular food chains. Burger joints galore dot the strip as well as authentic Jewish deli sandwich shops. Gone at the all-you-can-eat $2.99 specials. No worries. We can still stick to our diets. We’ll be just fine!
Here’s a rundown of our expenses for the week. Unless we win the lottery.
Round trip airfare for two from NYC to Las Vegas: $0 FREE
Hotel room for 7 nights (2 queen, non-smoking), at top hotel: $401
Spa/Pool add on fee: $240
Long Term Parking at airport: $126 (used a coupon for a discount)
Transfers to & from Las Vegas Hotel & airport: $32
Grand Canyon Tour for two: $330
Two “O” Tix for Cirque Du Soleil: $252
Three Meals Daily, for two plus 1 expensive $100 dinner out: $15 breakfast, $20 lunch $40 dinner: $585
Gambling, 3 days on a slot machine @$40 a day: $120
Misc spending @$10 a day: $70
Dog Sitter: $400 (first time hiring a professional to care for our dog)
GRAND ANTICIPATED TOTAL: $2,556
This is a lot of money for just one week in Vegas and one day at The Grand Canyon. Especially coming off from spending $756 three weeks ago for my Florida winter vacation. I consider DH and I officially retired and this is what retired people do: we vacation. In fact, that’s about all I’ve been thinking about. I’ve already booked next years 2.5 months on the beaches along Florida’s east coast shoreline as well as a week long stint on the Outerbanks, NC and a week in Kennebunkport, Maine. Those trips, however, are in our little RV and we’ll be staying at state and national parks. Not one night will cost over $34.
Las Vegas is a splurge. As was Italy. As was Paris the year prior.
Next year, thanks to our frequent flyer miles, we’ll be heading out to Bermuda. Maybe St. Croix or St. Thomas.
Hey! We’re retired. This is what we do.