THE BUDGET TRAVEL CHALLENGE

Luxury for Less in Las Vegas

We sent intrepid writer Andrew Lincoln on a mission to see just how low some of the world's most over-the-top hotels would go. Turns out that, with a little ingenuity, these days you can get it all for the price of taking your family to the movies.

Besides the high-end hotel room glut, there's another high-end glut in the food scene. Ever since the Bellagio opened its doors and introduced America to Le Cirque, casinos have been all about signing up name-brand chefs to open name-brand restaurants. In the Venetian alone, you will find Mario Batali's B&B Ristorante, David Burke's eponymous restaurant, Emeril Lagasse's Delmonico Steakhouse, and Wolfgang Puck's Postrio—and that's not counting the seven other fine-dining outposts whose chefs I do not immediately recognize. So what happens during a downturn? You get the tasting menu at Daniel Boulud Brasserie, in the Wynn, for $48 if you eat before 7 p.m.

It's actually not so bad eating at 6:50, which is when I'm seated on my first night and served a tasty glass of viognier. The meal starts with an amuse-bouche (a lobster knuckle on a cracker, topped with green-tea cream) and ends with a plate of petits fours. There's also a very fine piece of skate served with a brown-butter sauce over pureed potatoes and roasted cauliflower. I take a not insignificant pleasure in knowing how much money I'm saving on all of these delicious things—in this case, about $20.

Method two: The walk-up

It's Thursday. Tomorrow is the weekend, when Las Vegas will get more expensive, but for now the dream of the Scarface suite for $14 lives on. Today I'm going to test out the cash-in-hand theory. You may be able to negotiate on the phone from your hometown. But, logically, you should have more pull when you're standing there with your bills.

My strategy is to start with the Expedia rates so I know what I've got to beat. Then I'll go to all the hotels and see if I can do better at the front desk. First stop is the Encore, twin sister to the Wynn, which I want bad. There's no real reason, except that it's newer than the 4-year-old Wynn (it opened last year)—and the prices are generally higher online. Today, the rate is $239 on Expedia, and the woman at the front desk says she can give me a room for $219. Upgrading to a Tower suite is an additional $100.

"But I got the identical thing at the Wynn last night for $90!" I toss back.

Still, I am denied.

I'm quoted a great deal at The Palazzo Resort—$179 for the basic room, and the upgrade to the Siena Suite is only $100. That's $279 for a 1,283-square-foot room with a Jacuzzi, two bathrooms, and a living room that could very well be sunken, the agent says, if I am lucky. I try the Bellagio last. But when the deal isn't as good, I call the Palazzo from the Bellagio's lobby on my cell phone.

"That'll be $469 for the Siena Suite," the woman on the phone says.

"I was just there," I say. "The guy at the front desk told me to be sure to say I wanted the walk-up rate. It was $179 plus $100 for the upgrade."

"It's $469," she says flatly.

The "walk-up" rate seems to require just that. Because once I'm back at the front desk at the Palazzo in person, I'm quoted the $179 rate again—or $279 for the whole-shebang suite, which I go for, naturally. Having checked in, I seek out the fourth floor of the hotel, where, spanning the expanse between the Palazzo and the Venetian, is Canyon Ranch SpaClub, one of the largest known spas in the universe. I got nowhere bargaining with the folks at the Wynn's spa or the one at the Bellagio. Some of them are doing 20-percent-off deals for locals, but I think getting a counterfeit driver's license stretches the journalistic boundaries of this story. But Canyon Ranch is running an online special: $280 for a 50-minute massage, a 50-minute facial, access to the gym for the day, and a $20 gift certificate for lunch at Canyon Ranch's grill or café. All told, you're saving about $60. And, since I was able to convince the staff to tack on gym and spa access for the next day (normally it runs $40), it's closer to $100 I'm not paying. After three hours of hands-on services and pan-flute music, I emerge from Canyon Ranch in as relaxed a state as I've ever been in Las Vegas. Which lasts about 17 minutes.

Method three: The gamble

And that brings us to what is perhaps the craziest glut in Las Vegas: four separate shows of Cirque du Soleil. There is O, Love, and Zumanity, and the act I get tickets for, Kà. How are there that many people on earth who can put their own foot in their ear while bungee jumping through a flaming hoop?

Saving money in Vegas involves an awful lot of taxiing. A concierge at the Wynn tipped me off that the best ticket prices in town are found at the discounter Tix4Tonight, which has an outpost across from my hotel in the Fashion Show mall. I end up paying $100 for a voucher good for a seat that usually costs up to $150. To be issued the actual ticket, I have to haul myself back to the MGM, where Kà is performed, but the payoff, a 10th-row-center seat, makes the extra effort worth it.

LET'S MAKE A DEAL

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Note:This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.
 

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