Three Questions Before You Book a Room in Las Vegas

Where Should I Stay?
Your two main choices for location are the Strip and Downtown. The Strip, home to many of the most dazzling hotels and casinos in Vegas, is undeniably the winner -- especially for first-timers -- if only because of the sheer, overwhelming force of its "Vegas-ness." On the other hand, it is expensive, crowded, confining, and strangely claustrophobic. We say "strangely claustrophobic" because the hotels only look close together: In reality, they are situated on large properties, and it's a long (and often very hot or very cold) walk from one place to the next.
Contrast that with Downtown, which is nowhere near as striking but is more easily navigated on foot. Within 5 minutes, you can reach more than a dozen different casinos. The Fremont Street upgrade has turned a declining area into a very pleasant place to be, and the crowds reflect that: They seem nicer and more relaxed, and a calmer atmosphere pervades. Hotels certainly aren't state-of-the-art down there, but the rooms at many are not just clean and acceptable but rather pleasant. The establishments' smaller sizes often mean friendlier, faster service than at the big 'uns uptown, and you often can't beat the rates. There are also several other development plans afoot that might add even more aesthetic and entertainment appeal to the area. Because it's only a 5-minute ride by car between Downtown and Strip hotels (the Convention Center is more or less in between), there's no such thing as a bad location, if you have access to a car. Main Street Station even provides a free shuttle to the Strip.
For those of you without a car and who don't want to spend the $10 to $15 on a cab ride between Downtown and the Strip: Although the bus ride between Downtown and the Strip is short in distance, it can be long in time, if you get stuck in traffic. You should also be aware that the buses become quite crowded once they reach the Strip and may bypass a bus stop if no one signals to get out and the driver does not want to take on more passengers. Without a car, your ease of movement between different areas of town is limited.
Frankly, for first-timers, there probably isn't any point to staying anywhere but the Strip -- you're going to spend most (if not all) of your time there anyway. For future visits, however, we'd strongly advise you to consider Downtown.
But the Strip vs. Downtown location isn't the end of the debate; there is also the issue of where to stay on the Strip. Staying on the South Strip end means an easy trip (sometimes in the air-conditioned comfort of covered walkways or monorail) to Mandalay Bay, MGM Grand, New York-New York, Tropicana, Luxor, and Excalibur -- all virtually on one corner. Mid-Strip has CityCenter, Caesars, The Mirage, Bellagio, Treasure Island, Paris, The Venetian, The Palazzo, Bally's, the Flamingo, Harrah's, and so forth. The North Strip gets you Wynn Las Vegas, Encore, the Riviera, Sahara, and Circus Circus, though with a bit more of a walk between them. For this reason, if mobility is a problem and you want to see more than just your own hotel casino, the South and Mid-Strip locations are probably the best bets.
Reservations Service -- The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority runs a room-reservations hotline (tel. 877/847-4858 or 702/892-0711; that can be helpful. They can apprise you of room availability, quote rates, contact a hotel for you, and tell you when major conventions will be in town.
A couple words of warning: Make sure they don't try to book you into a hotel you've never heard of. Try to stick with the hotels listed in this guide. Always get your information in writing, and then make some phone calls just to confirm that you really have the reservations that they say they've made for you.
What Am I Looking for in A Hotel?
If gambling is not your priority, what are you doing in Vegas? Just kidding. But not 100% kidding. Vegas's current identity as a luxury, and very adult, resort destination means there are several hotels that promise to offer you all sorts of alternatives to gambling -- lush pool areas, fabulous spas, incredible restaurants, lavish shopping. But if you look closely, much of this is Vegas bait-and-switch; the pools are often chilly (and often partially closed during nonsummer months), and it will be years before there is more foliage than concrete in these newly landscaped environments. The spas cost extra (sometimes a whole lot extra), the best restaurants can require a small bank loan, and the stores are often the kinds of places where average mortals can't even afford the oxygen. So what does that leave you with? Why, that's right -- gambling.
The other problem with these self-proclaimed luxury hotels is their size. True luxury hotels do not have 3,000 rooms -- they have a couple of hundred, at best, because you simply can't provide first-class service and Egyptian-cotton sheets in mass quantity. But while Wynn, Encore, Bellagio, The Venetian, The Palazzo and, to a lesser extent, Mandalay Bay have done their best to offer sterling service and to make their rooms more attractive and luxurious than those at other Vegas hotels, there's only so much that any place that big can do. Don't get us wrong -- these places are absolutely several steps up in quality from other large hotels, and compared to them, even the better older hotels really look shabby. But they are still sprawling, frequently noisy complexes.
Having said that, there is an additional trend in Vegas; many of the big hotels have put up new towers or additions that function as virtually separate hotels. This began with the Four Seasons, which occupies the top floors of Mandalay Bay and has its own separate entrance. Mandalay Bay has the sterling THEhotel, while The Venetian and Bellagio have separate towers. And The Venetian added The Palazzo, which is more or less The Venetian without the overt Venice elements. Each has its own check-in area and functions like a separate hotel entity. You gain some quiet (with the exception of The Palazzo, there are no casinos in these venues); in the case of THEhotel, considerable style; and, overall, at least the illusion of better service (and probably some reality of it, too, as there are fewer rooms under the special monikers). Classier grown-ups, or well-heeled families, should make these new additions first on their list.
Sadly, it's relatively easy for both you and us to make a mistake about a hotel; either of us may experience a particular room or two in a 1,000-plus-room hotel and, from there, conclude that a place is nicer than it is or more of a dump than it is. Maintenance, even in the best of hotels, can sometimes be running a bit behind, so if there is something wrong with your room, don't hesitate to ask for another. Of course, if it's one of those busy weekends, there may not be another room to be had, but at least this way you've registered a complaint, perhaps letting a busy hotel know that a certain room needs attention. And who knows? If you are gracious and persistent enough, you may be rewarded with a deal for some future stay.
If you want a true luxury-resort hotel, there are only two options: On the Strip it's the Four Seasons, and off, way off, in nearby Henderson, it's the Ritz-Carlton. In addition to that same service and level of comfort only found at a smaller hotel, both offer those extra goodies that pile on the hidden charges at other hotels -- health club, poolside cabanas, and so on -- as part of the total package, meaning that their slightly higher prices may be more of a bargain than you'd think. Actually, there is a third option: The Red Rock Resort is attracting well-heeled and high-profile tabloid types, who, presumably, know luxury. However, Red Rock charges for all the extras you get as a regular part of your stay at the Four Seasons and the Ritz.
Still, if you want peace and quiet and don't land in the tax bracket that Four Seasons/Ritz caters to, there are other, less high-profile hotels without casinos. Make certain the hotel has a pool, however, especially if you need some recreation. There is nothing as boring as a noncasino, nonpool Vegas hotel -- particularly if you have kids. For a more detailed analysis of these types of hotels, we refer you to Frommer's Portable Las Vegas for Non-Gamblers.
Casino hotels, by the way, are not always a nice place for children. It used to be that the casino was a separate section in the hotel, and children were not allowed inside. (We have fond memories of standing just outside the casino line, watching Dad put quarters in a slot machine "for us.") But in almost all the new hotels, you have to walk through the casino to get anywhere -- the lobby, the restaurants, the outside world. This makes sense from the hotel's point of view; it gives you many opportunities to stop and drop $1 or $10 into a slot. But this often long, crowded trek gets wearying for adults -- and it's far worse for kids. The rule is that kids can walk through the casinos, but they can't stop, even to gawk for a second at someone hitting a jackpot nearby. The casino officials who will immediately hustle the child away are just doing their job, but, boy, it's annoying.
So, take this (and what a hotel offers that kids might like) into consideration when booking a room. Again, please note that those gorgeous hotel pools are often cold (and again, sometimes closed altogether) and not very deep. They look like places you would want to linger, but often (from a kid's point of view) they are not. Plus, the pools close early. Hotels want you inside gambling, not outside swimming.
Finally, the thing that bothers us the most about this latest Vegas phase -- it used to be that we could differentiate between rooms, but that's becoming harder and harder. Nearly every major hotel has changed to more or less the same effect; gone is any thematic detailing and in its place is a series of disappointingly similar (if handsome and appealing) looks. Expect clean-lined wood furniture, plump white beds, and monochromes everywhere you go. All that may distinguish one from another would be size of the room or quality of furnishings.
Ultimately, though, if it's a busy time, you'll have to nab any room you can, especially if you get a price you like. How much time are you going to spend in the room anyway?
What Will I Have to Pay?
The rack rate is the maximum rate that a hotel charges for a room. It's the rate you'd get if you walked in off the street and asked for a room for the night. Hardly anybody pays these prices, however, especially in Vegas, where prices fluctuate wildly with demand and there are many ways around rack rates. Here are some tips for landing a low rate.
  • Don't be afraid to bargain. Get in the habit of asking for a lower price than the first one quoted. Always ask politely whether a less-expensive room is available than the first one mentioned or whether any special rates apply to you. If you belong to the players' clubs at the hotel casino, you may be able to secure a better deal on a hotel room there. Of course, you will also be expected to spend a certain amount of time, and money, gambling there.
  • Rely on a qualified professional. Certain hotels give travel agents discounts in exchange for steering business their way, so if you're shy about bargaining, an agent may be better equipped to negotiate discounts for you.
  • Dial direct. When booking a room in a chain hotel (Courtyard by Marriott, for example), call the hotel's local line, as well as the toll-free number, and see where you get the best deal. A hotel makes nothing on a room that stays empty. The clerk who runs the place is more likely to know about vacancies and will often grant deep discounts in order to fill up.
  • Remember the law of supply and demand. Las Vegas hotels are most crowded and therefore most expensive on weekends. So the best deals are offered midweek, when prices can drop dramatically. If possible, go then. You can also call the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (tel. 877/847-4858) to find out whether an important convention is scheduled at the time of your planned visit; if so, you might want to change your date. Remember also that planning your vacation just a week before or after official peak season can mean big savings.
  • Look into group or long-stay discounts. If you come as part of a large group, you should be able to negotiate a bargain, because the hotel can then guarantee occupancy in a number of rooms. Likewise, when you're planning a long stay in town (usually from 5 days to a week), you'll usually qualify for a discount.
  • Avoid excess phone charges. We can't stress this enough. Virtually every hotel in Vegas charges like crazy for phone calls. At best, it will be $1 for a local call, and sky-high prices for long distance (a 7-min. call to California set us back $35). At worst, it's all that plus an additional charge -- as much as 30¢ a minute -- for all local calls lasting more than 30 minutes.
  • Beware of hidden extras. Almost all the major hotels (Four Seasons is one notable exception) charge extra for things that are always free in other destinations, such as health-club privileges. Expect to pay anywhere from $15 to $35 to use almost any hotel spa/health club. Wi-Fi also doesn't come free; usually there is a $12 to $15 charge per 24-hour period. (We've noted these charges in the listings that follow so that you won't be taken by surprise.) Some hotels even audaciously charge an additional mandatory "resort fee," which covers amenities that are commonly free elsewhere, such as pool use.
  • Watch for coupons and advertised discounts. Scan ads in your local Sunday travel section, an excellent source for up-to-the-minute hotel deals. The Fun Book, available from the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority , offers some discounts on lodging.
  • Consider a suite. If you are traveling with your family or another couple, you can pack more people into a suite (which usually comes with a sofa bed) and thereby reduce your per-person rate. Remember that some places charge for extra guests and some don't.
  • Investigate reservations services. These outfits usually work as consolidators, buying up or reserving rooms in bulk and then dealing them out to customers at a profit. Most of them offer online reservations services as well.
As far as prices go, keep in mind that our price categories are rough guidelines, at best. If you see a hotel that appeals to you, even if it seems out of your price range, give them a call anyway. They might be having a special, a slow week, or some kind of promotion, or they may just like the sound of your voice (we have no other explanation for it). You could end up with a hotel in the "expensive" category offering you a room for $60 a night. It's a toll-free call, so it's worth a try.
Consider also, even if you think from the outset that this is your one and only trip to Vegas, joining a hotel's players' club -- or possibly every hotel's players' club. This costs you nothing, and players/members often get nifty offers in the mail for heavily discounted, and occasionally even free, rooms (plus meals, shows, and so on). Players' clubs reward you with freebies and discounts when you play in their casinos, regardless of whether you win. Recently, ridiculous bargains were showing up in e-mail boxes -- such as the Bellagio for $59 a night. How much you have to play to get these deals varies, but if you are going to gamble anyway, why not make it work more to your advantage? You can sign up online, which will get you e-mail-only offers. You can do this on almost every hotel's website, and it's worth it, though it does mean scheduling your Vegas vacation to take advantage of the times the offers are valid.
We've classified all our hotel recommendations based on the average rack rate that you can expect to be quoted for a double room on an average night (not when the Consumer Electronics Show is in town, and not on New Year's Eve). Expect to pay a little less than this if you stay only Sunday to Thursday, and a little more than this if you stay Friday and Saturday. And on any given night when business is slow, you might be able to stay at a "very expensive" hotel for a "moderate" price. For that matter, if the economy continues to slow, prices are very likely to fall considerably.
Surfing for Hotels -- In addition to the online travel-booking sites Travelocity, Expedia, Orbitz, Priceline, and Hotwire, you can book hotels through; Quikbook (; and Travelaxe ( is a daily webzine offering smart coverage and critiques of hotels worldwide. Go to or for helpful independent consumer reviews of hotels and resort properties.
It's a good idea to get a confirmation number and make a printout of any online booking transaction.