Sunday, April 22, 2012

Taking the Kids to Vegas? Really? Part 5: Deals and Finagles


This is the fifth in the series "Taking the Kids to Vegas?  Really?"

Part 1:  Intro and Helpful Hints
Part 2:  What to Do
Part 3:  Where to Stay
Part 4:  Where to Eat
Part 5:  This Page
Part 6:  Slot Clubs and Positive-Expectation Promotions

How to be a Savvy Consumer in Las Vegas

There are a number of things you can do to save money during your Vegas vacation. Perhaps more than my other posts, you can use these approaches whether or not you are coming with kids.




Las Vegas Advisor (LVA)


If you don't already know about the Advisor, check it out at www.lasvegasadvisor.com.   LVA's founder and publisher, renowned Vegas and gaming expert Anthony Curtis, is one of us.  If you have ever seen "Vegas Week" that the Travel Channel used to feature, he was the guy doing coupon runs, going from casino to casino cashing in coupons for both food and gambling.  He also writes a syndicated newspaper column.

The Las Vegas Advisor web site has a lot of useful free content.  It has a guide with just about every casino in Las Vegas, with contact information, and a complete list of restaurants, with reviews from both staff and users.  They are vigilant about keeping it up to date, with minutiae including buffet prices, etc., in an easy-to-use filterable database.  They have a news feed covering Las Vegas and the gambling/entertainment industry, and several features, including the Top 10 Vegas Values.  It is also a book publishing company that specializes in gambling-related topics.  Also, importantly, they sell a monthly newsletter of deals, reviews, and calculations of expected (theoretical) value of games and promotions.  They also offer what is probably the best coupon book available, described below.

Coupons

The coupons I recommend are aimed at value-seeking, price-sensitive customers.  Usually, these are not the coupons you will find in the free tourist magazines at the airport and around casinos and the strip.  The free tourist magazines for the most part are aimed at a relatively un-savvy demographic; compared to the coupons I will describe below, they don’t contain a lot of value.  However, since they are free and easy to find, it doesn’t hurt to peruse them to see if anything interests you.  Occasionally I have seen show discounts listed.

The high-value coupons tend to come in four different categories:
Slot club signup bonuses:  If you aren’t already a member of a slot club, you should sign up, and take any promo coupons that you have with you. This will also be covered in a later post. Many of the casino and restaurant promos also require that you become a slot club member before you can use a coupon.
Food: Typically discounts for buffets, such as 2-for-1’s, etc.  Many of the off-strip buffets are very good.  I especially value coupons for buffets at the Silverton,  Orleans,  South Point, and Station casinos (the latter should be used at their better buffets such as the Sunset Station).  As I just noted, these often require that you join the slot club before you can use the coupon.
Match plays:  These are gambling coupons with positive expected value.  This will be discussed in the next in the series.
Hotel/amenity/show/non-casino coupons:  These can be for anything such as a free room, a spa credit, an hour at a kids’ club, two-for-one show tickets, and various other buy-one-get-one free or discount offers for all kinds of things.  They usually may be exclusive of other promotions but not always.

Coupon Books for Sale

There are many coupon books available to Las Vegas residents and visitors alike.  They cost money, but usually pay for themselves with one or two uses of a coupon from each book.  The two most well-known are the Las Vegas Advisor’s “Member Rewards” (about $40), and the American Casino Guide (about $16).  The websites clearly list the coupons available, and when I’ve wanted clarification, I’ve found them to be responsive to questions in their online forums and/or by email.  If you are open to the general approach of not sticking to the Strip, you can probably get your money’s worth with either book the first day you use it.  The coupons don’t overlap much so if you plan to be in Vegas for more than a few days you can get your money’s worth even if you buy both.  It’s worth spending some time thinking through where you plan to be most of the time and if you can at least break even with a few coupons in the book.  If so, it’s worth buying, and then you can decide in real time once you are there if you want to use others.

To get the recommended coupon books, you will need to order the books on the Internet ahead of time from home using the links above, or possibly on a mobile device if you are somewhere with internet access.  I believe you can also walk into the Huntington Press/LVA office and buy their book and possibly also ACG over the counter, although you should verify with them to be sure.

You will find few coupons for center-Strip casinos.  Most of the best deals (such as 2-for-1 buffets) are redeemable at non-strip casinos, some of which we never otherwise would have tried, and most of the time we have been glad we did.  Of the coupons for strip properties that do exist, they tend to be relatively small discounts (10% off, etc) on things you probably weren’t looking for.  For example, I never in my 20 years of looking have seen discounts to the Bellagio buffet or a top headliner.  (However, lately some of the older Cirque du Soleil shows have been offering discounts off-season on weekday nights, through LVA and a few other channels.)

LVA Member Rewards

The LVA Member Rewards book comes with a subscription to their newsletter.  They offer a discounted price if you pick it up in their office, because they save on postage.  They now also have some downloadable coupons as well.  They have several coupons for discounts on shows, buffets, restaurants, primarily at some of the larger off-strip casinos and downtown casinos.  There is also a $50 coupon off many casino-operated restaurants and services at the Palms (can be used at spa or toward hotel bill; cannot be used for casino gambling or the independently operated Nine Steakhouse).

ACG

The ACG mostly has coupons for more outlying casinos, plus a few downtown and for a few restaurants on the Strip that are too expensive for me.  It does have some interesting coupons for close-in casinos, such as a 2-for-1 showroom ticket at the Orleans.  They often have well-known standup comics.  We used this coupon last year to get a pair of tickets for Norm MacDonald for under $30 total and had a great time.


Las Vegas also has an Entertainment Book, which is similar to one you may have purchased in your area.  Entertainment also is pretty good about explaining the coupons in the book on their website.  I have found that the value of the Entertainment book has degraded in the last few years, since prices have risen considerably but coupon values have stayed more or less fixed.  Many of their coupons still say things like “Free dinner with another purchase of equal or greater value, up to $7.95” when the price of a dinner nowadays may be closer to $11 or $12.  However, the Entertainment Book may have some useful coupons for attractions.  They expire each year in November, and you can often pick them up mid-year at a substantial discount.

Online Subscription Offers

If you have a dedicated email address for commercial email, or if you don’t mind it in your regular email account, it’s a good idea to sign up for the free offers that you might already get at home, such as:
Groupon
Living Social
Goldstar, for discounted show tickets

Some businesses also occasionally post promos for showing affinity(liking) on Facebook.

Nowadays, you can use these almost anywhere you travel.  We recently used a Groupon in Paris and it worked out very well.  The more due diligence you are willing to perform (by crowdsourcing opinions through Yelp, etc) the less likely you are to suffer buyer’s remorse.

Keep in mind that if you buy an online offer, you will have wasted your money if you don’t use it.  Also, while it can be intrinsically satisfying for some of us, my wife often reminds me that there is more to traveling than just running around town redeeming offers.  So think carefully about how many online coupons you buy for a short trip.  Consider the location relative to where you are staying, and whether it is a priority given your limited time in Vegas.  Last year, I bought a Living Social promo for a frozen yogurt shop around the corner from our timeshare, but we never got around to using it.  Fortunately I was able to give it to a friend of mine who goes to Vegas regularly to visit family and was able to use it.

Pay-for-Discount Offers


The most common example of this is Restaurant.com where the coupon is pretty much always available, and you buy a coupon for a nominal amount of money that you can use whenever you want.  The coupon requires a minimum spend.  This can be a good deal, but again do your due diligence on Yelp, etc.

Restaurant.com

I’ve found many participating restaurants to be pretty mediocre, although others are good, so research before buying.  Their website is somewhat unintuitive, does not have a good map-based geographic search, and has not been significantly updated in years.  They do now have an iphone app, which could be useful when on the road, although they have been showing that their Android app is “coming soon” for about a year now.  Other considerations:

  • Sign up for Restaurant.com emails because the coupons go on sale weekly, with deeper discount promo codes later in the month as the most desirable coupons’ inventory is depleted.  The last week of the month you can usually buy a restaurant.com coupon for $2 if there is something that is still available that you want.  On the first of the month, inventory is restored and there are no coupons until the following week.
  • They are good about exchanging coupons you buy and can’t use, or choose not to.
  • I believe you can sometimes get an un-discounted coupon by buying a discounted coupon, returning it, and using the credit toward an un-discounted coupon.  You may need to wait until inventory is restored on the first of the month.  However, the returns are through their “gift card” website which is separate (theidealmeal.com).
  • When using Restaurant.com, be sure to buy an appropriately sized discount, so you aren't required to spend way more than you otherwise would.  When my family goes to an inexpensive restaurant, as we often do, the appropriate coupon is the $10 coupon, which usually requires a minimum $25 spent.  Most participants exclude beverages, tax, and tip when calculating whether you met the threshold, but will add them to the bill.
  • Alternatively, buy and bring two coupons if you aren’t sure how much you will spend, and exchange the other one later.
  • Since they add 18% tip, you don’t need to add another tip when paying.
  • I would never give a restaurant.com “gift card” because I would never want to receive one as a gift, even though I appreciate restaurant.com as much as anyone.  As I understand it, it is not really a gift card.  It is a restaurant.com coupon.  Anyone who uses it still needs to spend a significant amount of money, and then gets the aforementioned discount.
  • Keep in mind that when you use a restaurant.com coupon, or any offer, the restaurant almost certainly loses money on you.  For this reason I tend not to use them at independent restaurants I would go to anyway and pay full price, because I want to support them.  I feel fine about trying a new place with a coupon.

There are a few Restaurant.com offers in Vegas that I think may be worth going out of your way for –cheap enough to evoke memories of the loss leader dinners that Vegas was built on:

  • Rampart Casino Promenade coffee shop (in Summerlin, if you don’t mind going there).  When we went there last year, we were able to get the weekday special dinner, a 3-course meal, and use the coupon, even though the menu said we couldn’t.  This is a restaurant that caters primarily to retirees, and they seemed very welcoming to a family with young children.  With a coupon, the four of us ate dinner for just under $20, with dessert and soft drinks, including tax and tip.  I think that is the least-expensive dinner at a full-service restaurant we have had in years.   See my review on Yelp here.
  • Flame Steakhouse at the El Cortez.  If you hire a sitter and want a fun night out for not too much money, this is a good bet.  This coupon is also available in the coupon books.  We used one a couple years back; the two of us, sharing an excellent 20 ounce rib steak with two salads, a variety of sides and a cocktail for each of us, were out of there for $36 including tax and tip.  It’s not the Wynn, but it’s nice and it’s fun.  Former owner Jackie Gaughan said hello to us on his way into the kitchen.  Plus, the Cortez usually has $1 or $2 craps, $3 blackjack with decent rules, and an unthreatening $1-$3 holdem table.
  • Restaurant.com has coupons for several other steakhouses around town that I haven't tried, including some on the strip.  None of them are quite marquee steak houses, but many sell prime beef, and you can probably get a perfectly good, well-prepared slice of cow at most of them.  If you are reading this, chances are marquee isn’t your priority in any case.
  • I’ve also heard that the Rampart Casino Buffet is a good deal, although we did not try it.  We know people who frequently use the coupon for the New York Deli night on Thursdays.


The Radio Shopping Show

For folks willing to jump through a few hoops.  This is somewhat complicated, and kind of odd, but not at all difficult, and there are some good deals available that I haven’t seen anywhere else, including for miniature golf, bowling, and several restaurants.  They also have some coupons for shows which are cheaper than any others I have seen.  You will need to start the process a couple weeks in advance of your trip to Vegas.  Like Living Social, you pay them for the coupon and you need to use it or lose it.  Unlike Living Social, it is a physical coupon that you can’t receive in email.

Here is what you need to do:
1. Go to kshp.com and click on “Shop Now”.
2. Browse for items.  If there is anything you like, most things can be ordered online for a $2 total shipping charge with a $20 minimum order.  They will be sent to you by US Mail, not email.
3. If you are going to be in Vegas within a week, you should pick it up in person at their office on Jones Blvd. in northwest Las Vegas as described here.  If so, it needs to be picked up within a week.

If you want something that can’t be purchased online:
4. Click on “Get your money saver key tag”.
5. Fill in the blanks.
6. They will send you a keychain tag in the mail in about a week.  Put it on your keychain and bring it with you to Vegas.
7. Once in Vegas, dial (702) 221-SAVE Monday through Friday 7am – 9am or 1pm-6pm, or Saturday and Sunday 9am-noon.  Your order will be taken live on the radio (AM 1400).

Then you will need to go to the office to pick it up.   I ordered the key tag and would opt to pick up in person so that I can delay the decision as late as possible, in order to avoid buyer’s remorse.

Note: if something seems too good to be true, it may be.  On the other hand, it may be too good to last.  Check it out, read and understand the fine print, and go with your gut.  If it seems legitimate and you have recourse options (such as through a credit card dispute), try it and dispute later if necessary.

Local Newspapers’ Web Sites

The Las Vegas Review-Journal makes a lot of their print coupons available online at http://www.lvrj.com/marketplace.  Click on “View All” under “Coupons/Deals” and filter for casinos, restaurants or whatever interests you.

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