The Bellagio's famous fountain is a show-stopping (and no-cost) Las Vegas attraction

Affordable Las Vegas

By Sheila Hansen

Planning a trip to the city that never sleeps? While it’s easy to let loose among the lights, glitz and glam of Las Vegas, you don’t want to let loose of your hard-earned vacation dollars. Fortunately it’s easier than you might think to spend some time on the Strip: These days, a three-day Las Vegas vacation package could cost you less than $500. And once you’ve arrived, take advantage of these tips to help you have a fantastic—and affordable—time.

First and foremost, the iconic “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign is a must-stop for Instagram bragging rights; take a snap at the beginning of your trip before you forget. If you’re here for the shows, one of the best in town just happens to be free – grab a patch of grass and sit back for the aquatic music and light display that is the Fountains of Bellagio. Step it up and take in fountain as well as valley views from the Eiffel Tower Experience’s glass elevators and 46-storey observation deck (tickets start at $14.25 U.S.*). Or soar over downtown’s Fremont Street Experience on SlotZilla, a double zipline that launches from a 12-storey slot-machine-themed tower (tickets $25-$45; fly before 6 p.m. and save $5). Then step off the Strip for a tour of massive Hoover Dam with its spillways, intake towers and views of Lake Mead.

Affordable Las Vegas Donny Osmond Marie Osmond
See Donny and Marie for less (photo: Erik Kabik)

Scoring a great deal on a Las Vegas show calls for a little pre-trip planning. Many popular acts let you buy tickets months in advance, so take advantage and book online before you arrive. Expect to pay more for the big headliners and less for offbeat productions. You could wind up saving up to $42.50 on main-floor seats to see Donny and Marie Osmond (regular rates start at $92), or $31.50 on tickets to Zombie Burlesque (regularly $60 and up). Of course, you can always take your chances at the box office—or discount brokerage Tix4Tonight—on the morning of a show. This is a gambling town after all.

Affordable Las Vegas Giada restaurant pasta
Giada offers $20 lunchtime pastas

Elvis might be king around these parts, but when it comes to dining on the cheap, happy hour reigns supreme. In the early evening and late at night, you can sit down to discounted food and drinks at a plethora of places on and off the Strip. Among the myriad options are half-price steaks and “well drinks” at the black leather-furnished Herbs & Rye, $7 cocktails and $9 plates of barbecued shrimp—or fried frog legs for the adventurous—at Emeril’s New Orleans Fish House, and $4 draft beers and $4 dressed-up dogs at Beerhaus at the Park. And no matter the hour, you can always smack down a fiver at Du-par’s Restaurant & Bakery for their fully loaded original Las Vegas shrimp cocktail served in a tulip glass.

Other noshing notes: brunch buffets generally cost less than dinner buffets, while lunch is the time to visit fine-dining hot spots (check out celebrity chef Giada De Laurentiis’s first restaurant, Giada at the Cromwell, which serves under-$20 pastas and pizzas at midday).

Affordable Las Vegas Venetian Gondola
Seeing the Venetian by gondola is a unique treat

The best way to see the seven-kilometre-long Las Vegas Strip is on foot. Just be sure to wear comfortable walking shoes and pack a water bottle—you’re in the desert, after all! Don’t feel like hoofing it? More fun than a cab (and cheaper too) are the Deuce on the Strip double-decker busses, which run 24/7 between Mandalay Bay and the Fremont Street Experience with stops in between at most hotels. Fares start at $6 for two hours of unlimited rides. Or hop on the Las Vegas Monorail for a zippy ride between six stations, from the MGM Grand in the south to the SLS Las Vegas at the north end of the strip ($5 for a single ride; unlimited day passes start at $12). A European twist to your travels comes by way of a gondola ride past the Venetian’s cafés, shops, bridges and balconies. Your gondolier will serenade you with such Italian classics as “O Sole Mio” ($29 per person sharing a four-seat gondola). And for ultimate flexibility, consider the Big Bus Las Vegas Hop-On Hop-Off Tour, which operates three routes with 20 stops. You can board and disembark (and board again) all day to see much of what the city has to offer.

*All prices are in U.S. dollars and subject to change.

AMA can get you to Las Vegas for less with a variety of three-day vacation packages, including flights and accommodations at top hotels, starting at less than $500 per person. Search for packages online or contact an AMA Travel counsellor for more advice on Las Vegas’s best values.