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Lyn writes about flying nearly free on Southwest Airlines on her GotoTravelGal.com blog and has written a free guide called, “The Step-by-Step Guide to Earning the Southwest Companion Pass and Flying Free Around the U.S.”
Her family flies almost free on Southwest all over the country, so I’ve asked her to share tips on how to enjoy Big Travel with Small Money on a family trip to Las Vegas.
Lyn: We recently spent time in Las Vegas on our way to and from Utah, where we hiked Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks. Plus Grand Staircase National Monument, and 2 amazing state parks, Kodachrome Basin, and Coral Pink Sand Dunes.
We flew Southwest to Las Vegas entirely on points. And saved money by taking advantage of free or discounted activities.
I’ll share the family side of Vegas and show you how to save when traveling to Sin City.
How to Save Money on a Family Trip to Las Vegas
Our 2 boys are in elementary school and middle school. So we wanted to experience Las Vegas in as family-friendly a way as possible (and it’s not entirely possible in Las Vegas, unfortunately – be ready to have kids cover their eyes!).
It’s easy to drop plenty of cash in Las Vegas if you’re not careful, but you can have a ton of fun simply enjoying the sites – at no cost – in what I like to call “adult Disney World.”
From airfare to hotels to activities, it is possible to enjoy Big Travel with Small Money in Las Vegas!
1. Flying Southwest
My family loves Southwest and we fly with them almost everywhere nearly free. To get to Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks in Utah, you can fly into either Salt Lake City and drive south or Las Vegas and drive Northeast.
It cost the fewest amount of points for us to fly into Las Vegas, so we booked all 4 of us tickets, using our Southwest points in combination with the Southwest Companion Pass.
So 1 person flew free, aside from the ~$11 (round-trip, per person) government security fees. We spent a total of ~60,000 Southwest points for 4 of us to fly from Indianapolis to Las Vegas.
2. Where to Stay in Las Vegas
There are lots of cheap accommodations in Las Vegas. But beware the “resort fee,” which is typically NOT included in the price and can be as high as the rate itself.
Gone are the days of free parking and free buffets in Vegas. Everything costs, so make sure to budget for it!
You can use loyalty points to stay at hotels in Las Vegas, including Marriott, Ritz-Carlton, and Starwood locations.
You can also book a stay through the Citi Prestige concierge and get your 4th night free. Beginning July 23, 2017, however, Citi Prestige will no longer refund the actual cost of the 4th night but the average nightly cost of your stay instead. They also will no longer refund taxes.
Delano was the perfect choice for us, because it was quiet, upscale, and convenient to Mandalay Bay. Mandalay Bay is noisier and busier, but has more activities. I loved having this peaceful respite from the craziness of Vegas, and it kept my kids from having to witness more craziness than I would prefer. 🙂
Delano is connected to Mandalay Bay, which has one of the best pools in the city with a full wave pool and lazy river that my kids loved! And there are tons of restaurants, like the hip Libertine Social (try the award-winning Caviar Fried Egg and have them mix you a Bardstown Sling), the Shark Reef Aquarium (wonderfully themed as the ruins of an ancient temple), and shows.
Other options for families include New York, New York, which has a giant arcade, as well as The Big Apple Coaster that adventurous kids will love. Or check out Excalibur (what kid wouldn’t want to stay in a giant castle!?) also with a huge arcade just below the casino, or Treasure Island with a pirate / Caribbean theme.
3. MGM Resorts International M life
You can then redeem these points, which are worth 1 cent each, to play games free and for hotel stays, dining, entertainment, and special perks. The program offers varying tier levels, which offer different benefits and which you climb up as you collect points.
World of Hyatt, Hyatt’s loyalty program, partners with M life, allowing you to earn 5 Hyatt points for every $1 spent at M life resorts. You can also redeem Hyatt points for stays at M life Rewards destinations, and Hyatt will match your Hyatt tier level to an M life tier level.
Pearl status grants you complimentary self parking and a buffet line pass at M life Las Vegas resorts, as well as a 10% bonus on points earned through gaming.
A good strategy in Las Vegas, or any place you travel, is to use a credit card, such as Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, Chase Sapphire Reserve, or Citi Prestige Card, that earns bonus points for travel, dining, and entertainment expenses. You can then use those points toward future travel.
4. Affordable Activities
You could spend a boatload on activities in Las Vegas or you could just focus on all the free stuff there is to do. That will keep you plenty busy!
If you want to see and do some of the attractions, I suggest multi-attraction passes like the Go Las Vegas Card, which saves you tons by purchasing tickets all at once instead of individually. These passes, which you show at each attraction via your mobile device instead of paper tickets, also let you bypass long ticket lines and go straight into the attraction.
The Go Las Vegas Card lets you choose from 27 attractions, including Madame Tussauds, numerous shows, Stratosphere Observation Deck, Eiffel Tower Experience at Paris Las Vegas (we did this and it offered a great 360-degree view of the city), Hoover Dam Tour, and more. You can select a 2 to 5-day pass, which increase in price the more days you add.
There is so much you can do for free in Las Vegas, including simply wandering through all the amazingly-themed hotels! We enjoyed seeing New York, New York, the canal and St. Mark’s Square at The Venetian, Paris Las Vegas, and Caesar’s Palace.
Opened in spring 2016, The Park Las Vegas, which is right next to New York, New York, is an open space with greenery, shops, and restaurants. For an inexpensive and fun lunch, try Beerhaus at The Park, which offers crazy brews like the Banger Morning Joe with coffee, yummy pretzels, as well as games like Connect Four and Battleship, which you can play at your table.
5. Getting Around Town
One of the more confusing parts of Las Vegas is getting around. Trust me, your feet can’t handle walking from one end of the strip to the other with all the stops in between.
Resorts on the other side of Las Vegas Boulevard (“The Strip”) from the Monorail also have free trams that run between them. Mandalay Bay has a tram to Luxor and Excalibur. You can take a tram between The Mirage and Treasure Island Hotel and Casino, and also between Bellagio and Monte Carlo Resort and Casino with a stop at The Shops at Crystals between the two.
Of course, Uber or Lyft drivers are also in abundance, but you’ll need to find the designated areas at each hotel where they are allowed to collect you (keep a look out for these signs). Because they cannot just stop and pick you up right on Las Vegas Boulevard (that would be a traffic nightmare)!
Las Vegas is a bucket list destination for many folks, and can be a kid-friendly option for families. Skip the gambling and enjoy PG-rated activities like roller coasters, arcades, and amazing pools.
Use hotel loyalty points to book a stay Las Vegas hotels, and earn more points by paying for expenses with a credit card that earns extra for hotels, travel, and entertainment!
Note: Some accommodations, meals, and activities were provided to us at no cost in exchange for a fair and honest review.