With the iffy economy, high fuel costs and tight travel budgets, Las Vegas is dropping prices and betting again on bargain hunters. You can find an under-$40 room on the Strip and book luxury lodgings like the Bellagio and Trump International for less than $200. USA TODAY's Kitty Bean Yancey scoped out the odds of scoring a value weekend.
Hotel deals abound. Best time is midweek if no big conventions are in town, when you'll find under-$40 rooms on the Strip. Hooters Casino Hotel, just off the Strip, has $29 specials. I cruised sites including Expedia.com, VEGAS.com and visitlasvegas.com (the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority site) and looked at individual hotels' monthly rates-at-a-glance charts online. (I love that most Vegas lodgings have these.) For my dates, I did best by calling the Sahara Hotel & Casino directly and snagging $65 nightly, better than its Web rate. The former Rat Pack haunt is on the Strip (a plus), but has seen better days. No tuxes, just T-shirts for sale that read: "I swear to drunk, I'm not God." My bare-bones room had a stained carpet, no safe or minibar and an ominous sign warning you to look through the peephole before admitting anyone. But the mattress was OK, and it passed a bedbug check.
• Sahara Hotel & Casino, 866-382-8884, saharavegas.com
I lucked out on a great Avis rate ($41 for two days, what round-trip airport cab fare can cost). Casinos have free self-parking; a car makes it easy to cruise for bargains. Other options include airport/hotel shuttles, Las Vegas monorail or $5-a-day "the Deuce" bus pass.
Cheap food is bait to get you to gamble. But if you eat and run, you're the winner. In two days, I spent what I normally would on a nice Strip joint dinner, thanks to a tutorial from lasvegasadvisor.com president Anthony Curtis. (His members get a coupon book that pays for itself in deals.) He piloted me to off-the-Strip Ellis Island Casino & Brewery, where the draw is a decent $6.99 sirloin dinner with big salad, green beans, potato and home-brewed suds or root beer. All you do is join the players' club. (Like those at other casinos, it's free.) I used a coupon on the placemat to double my winnings on a hand of blackjack. That $10 "dessert" paid for my meal.
Other cheap eats: a 99-cent half-pound hot dog at the Slots A Fun arcade on the Strip; $3.50 ham-and-white bean stew with cornbread and seven pats of butter served in a Styrofoam container at a diner-style counter at Binion's Gambling Hall & Hotel downtown.
And after a price leap to $1.99, Vegas' most famous snack (20-plus shrimp in a sundae glass at the Golden Gate Hotel & Casino downtown) is still 99 cents with a players' club card. Though dished out at a charmless cafeteria counter, they've been upgraded and are quite good. Thrown in for free: go-go dancers in sequined bras and feathered headdresses undulating on platforms alongside the gaming tables. They're a recent addition, Curtis says.
My splurge: the well-reviewed Cravings buffet at The Mirage, at lunch when it's $19.34, with tax and beverage. Fill your plate at a dozen-plus food stations, including all-you-can-eat shrimp. For the first time in years, Vegas buffet prices are holding steady or inching downward, Curtis says.
Nix $100 shows at Tx 4 Tonight booths, where you can get half off (usually not for big draws such as Cher, Bette Midler, Barry Manilow and Cirque du Soleil extravaganzas).