Diva Las Vegas -- (on a budget)

Last updated November 18, 2008

I'm writing this to a twofold audience, first to those on a tight budget who need some leverage to make the trip affordable, and second to those of any means who want to get more bang for their buck at Diva Las Vegas.

Can We Talk?

The number one reason or excuse (pick one) given by those who said they could not attend Diva Las Vegas was money.

If you want or need an excuse to not go, you've got it! Just say you can't afford it. Very few people will press you for details, and even fewer will offer to give you or loan you the money.

However, if you do want to go, and think you might not be able to afford it, keep reading.

Over the past few years, the people attending have included someone on disability who was living entirely on public assistance, a self-described destitute college student, an unemployed computer tech with no immediate prospects, a single parent, parents with kids in diapers, and parents with kids in college. If these people can afford it, almost anybody can!

I think it's safe to say that if you can afford the computer you're using to read this, the ISP account to connect to the net, and the phone line or cable modem to get you here, you can afford to attend DLV if it is a priority for you, and you have the self-discipline to budget for it.

So, if you think this may be beyond your means, keep reading, do the math, put away a few bucks each payday, and we'll see you next April!

The good news is that Las Vegas can be the most affordable of the popular vacation spots in the US. Lodging, food, and even plane and bus fares to an extent, are subsidized by the gaming industry.

The bad news is that incentives to spend money at the tables and machines are everywhere. Those who visit Las Vegas regularly almost always consider the cost of gaming to be one of the major expenses of the trip.

The single most important factor toward making this trip affordable is to limit the amount you spend on gaming. Take advantage of the subsidized food, accommodations, and entertainment, and don't pay for it at the tables or machines! The WORST thing you can do is to plan to subsidize the trip on winnings. Ain't gonna happen !!
You will find that the expenses for this trip fall into the following categories:

  • Transportation (air/bus fare, local transportation)
  • Lodging
  • Food and drink
  • Gaming
  • Entertainment (non-gaming)
  • Shopping
  • Incidentals

Let's look at each of these and discuss the options that can save without sacrificing.

Transportation (air/bus fare, local transportation)

Many of our people will fly to Las Vegas. Air fares to Las Vegas from most major US airports can be very reasonable, but it may take some legwork to find the best fare.

Air fares vary significantly, often without obvious reason.

If you look around at the coach section of any flight from one major airport to another, all seats look the same, and all seats arrive at the destination at the same time. (Well, ok, a few milliseconds, maybe. :) The difference is that some passengers typically paid $200 or less for that round-trip seat, and some paid well over $500 for an identical seat. You want to be the one who gets that $200 seat!

Airfare prices have remained very stable over the history of DLV.

The key to getting affordable and convenient air transportation is to BOOK EARLY !!         DO NOT PROCRASTINATE !!

Please read that last paragraph again, noting the emphasis.

Air fares very seldom go down as the flight date approaches, and usually go up, very sharply, in the last few weeks!! Don't just phone one airline, but consult an independent travel agent and/or use one of the online services such as Travelocity.

HINT ==> Check fares from all major airports in your area. For example, if you are flying from the New York City area, check prices from LaGuardia (LGA), JFK, Newark (EWR), and maybe even Islip (ISP), as prices from different airports to the same destination can vary significantly. The largest airport is not always the cheapest. Look around!

CAUTION ==> If you think you can wait until the last minute and get a bargain, such as an unsold seat from a travel broker, or a super deal from priceline.com, think again. If you're traveling from Poughkeepsie to Fargo, maybe this will work, but seats to popular leisure spots such as Las Vegas from most airports are not frequently available at the last minute at super discounts.

Taking a bus instead of a plane to Las Vegas may be cheaper but not always. Check prices. You may be surprised to find that bus fare is on the same level with plane fare. Same goes for train fare. (Update: Since Las Vegas no longer has commercial passenger rail service, this point is kind of moot.)

If you're within driving distance, and you don't mind the driving time, taking your own car may be a cheaper alternative to air, plus, it will give you convenient ground transportation once you're there.

As far as local transportation, you have the following options:

  • Private car
  • Rental car
  • Taxi or limo
  • Shuttle bus
  • City bus
  • Monorail

With rare exception, there will be willing participants who will pick you up at the airport, drive you to the major activities, etc., so a car of your own is not really necessary except for your own convenience.

Rental cars are available in Las Vegas starting in the $20-$25-ish range per day. There are significant nuisance taxes and fees on rental cars picked up at the airport or via an airport shuttle.

Rental car rates have remained amazingly consistent throughout the history of DLV.

CAUTION ==> Most rental agencies in Las Vegas insist on a major credit card in the name of the primary driver. Some will accept a debit card as well, but not all agencies will. A few will accept a cash deposit, but these will typically be at higher rates. Almost all require all drivers to be age 25 or over, some will let those who are 21 rent and drive.

CAUTION ==> Most Las Vegas car rental agencies will place a "HOLD" of several hundred dollars against your credit card, although that amount will not actually be charged. Watch out if you plan to use one card for car rental and other expenses on your trip. The hold will be released when the car is returned with no damage, etc.

Taxis are almost always available, either by hailing at the popular spots, or by phone. They ain't cheap, and just a couple taxi rides per day will easily cost the same as a rental car.

Shuttle buses and limos make circuits between the airport and all major hotels and resorts. They cost a few bucks, but are reasonable, and cheaper in most cases than a taxi.

Some hotels and casinos offer free shuttle service between their property and others, almost always properties of the same management. These vary as to conditions and punctuality.

City buses run frequently along the length of the Strip, to and from Downtown, as well as along other major streets. These can be very congested, however.

As of early 2006, newer double-decker buses have been traveling the Strip and these are reported to be much nicer than the regular city buses. They are not faster, however.

The Las Vegas Monorail runs on the east side of the main portion of the Strip from the Sahara at the north end to the MGM at the south end. This has been used by quite a few DLV attendees with no difficulty. These travel from end to end in about 15 minutes.

HINT ==> Your travel agent may be able to find a package deal that includes air, hotel, and maybe even a rental car. These vary widely, and sometimes do not save you anything, but often they do.


The cost of decent hotel rooms in Las Vegas varies significantly by many factors, many of them nonobvious to the visitor.

Unlike air fares and rental car rates, hotel rates have been creeping upward, significantly, over the past few years. However, they have recently leveled off and in some cases actually decreased for the DLV 2009 dates.

Special Hotel Rates for Diva Las Vegas

This is offered for DLV 2008 attendees by the St Tropez Hotel, which is one of our suggested hotels.

You must phone the St Tropez directly to obtain the special rate. It is not available on the web or via a travel agent. Contact information appears HERE.

Good hotel rates ARE still available if you look around, but they are not as obvious as they were a few years ago and they are, literally, here today, gone tomorrow.

As of this time, the key to getting that bargain hotel rate is to do your homework, a lot of homework, checking prices daily, even hourly. When you see a good rate, even a semi-good rate, BOOK IT, NOW! It probably will not be there tomorrow!

If you're careful about checking cancellation policies, you can safely re-book and cancel should a lower rate appear later.

That Best Rate Guarantee

Many Las Vegas hotels and even some travel sites now offer various "Best Rate Guarantees."

Some of these are deceptive, but many of them, particularly those offered directly from the hotels, are fair and legitimate.

There are variations on the theme, but in general, the hotel or travel site will meet or beat any lower real and bookable published hotel rate for the same dates, type of room, etc. Even the hotels which do not advertise this will often times do this to save the cost of the commission to a third party.

Very frequently, a hotel's reservation desk will meet a travel site's price but with better terms and conditions such as lower up-front deposit and better cancellation terms.

As you're doing your homework, if you see a rate published on a travel site that's lower than what the hotel's site is showing, phone the hotel's reservation desk and see if they will honor the lower rate. Often times they will.

One rather deceptive variation of the lowest price guarantee has been reported. This is where a travel site will prominently display a best rate guarantee banner, but all they will do is allow you to cancel without penalty if there is a lower rate available elsewhere. Again do your homework!

Another recently-reported deceptive variation on this theme is where the hotel advertising the best rate guarantee will never have the same exact "type" of room as offered by the travel sites, thus will never have to honor this guarantee. This has been reported on some of the major hotel chains.

WARNING ===> Many of you will be checking in on a Friday and staying at least through Sunday night. Room rates in any class are almost always higher on Friday and Saturday nights, and some hotels and agencies have been known to charge the weekend rate for all nights if the check-in is on a Friday or Saturday. If you are quoted the same rate for Friday night and Sunday/Monday night, ask about this.

This has been recently reported at the Monte Carlo, which was one of our suggested hotels for DLV 2006.

HINT ==> Share a room. Two to a room cuts this expense by half, three to a room cuts it by two thirds. Info on room sharing appears in the Diva Las Vegas mailing list.

HINT ==> When checking in, ask the person at the desk if what you were quoted is the best rate they have. In 1998, one person who booked weeks in advance was quoted a rate $20 higher per night than was charged to another who walked in off the street. She mentioned this to the desk clerk, who without hesitation, re-wrote the room at the lower rate.

HINT ==> The property offering the lowest prices on the weekends may not be the one with the lowest on weekdays. You may be able to save tens of dollars if you stay one place Friday and Saturday nights, and don't mind checking out/in and schlepping your stuff to another hotel on Sunday.

WARNING ==> RTFFP!! (Read The Fine Print!) You will often see ads for Las Vegas accommodations at prices that seem too good to be true. They often are simply not true. Watch for phrases such as "and up"," "Per person, double occupancy", "Subject to availability", "Not available weekends", "Guests must also purchase ...", etc.

WARNING ===> Over the years, several people have reported exorbitant walk-in (with no prior reservation) hotel rates on the weekends. Make a reservation in advance!

What about those special Air And Hotel deals?

Yes, yes, we've all seen that stupid dancing gnome on TV who swears that you will save scads of cash by booking special air and hotel deals on a major travel site.

Yes, if you pull up their special air and hotel deals and then price the same air and hotel separately on the same site, the special deal will be less than the same exact air and hotel booked separately.

However, very seldom if ever will you be able to combine an already-low "super saver" air fare with a bottom-dollar hotel rate for additional savings beyond the two already-discounted rates.

Another detail about combined air and hotel deals is that they are very often priced per person based on double occupancy, and are not available to the unaccompanied traveler for the posted price.

Food and drink:

For the DLV-sponsored meals, care has been taken to make sure that options that are reasonable in price are available.

Although the bottom-dollar meal deals are not as abundant as they were during the early years of DLV, they are still around, and you can find them if you just keep your eyes open and ask around.

Almost every hotel-casino will have an AYCE buffet. These are priced anywhere from a few bucks to many bucks. Don't expect haute cuisine from the cheaper buffets! The food will be edible (well, kinda ... usually) but without frills. If you need food as fuel, yes, you can bulk-load quite reasonably on the cheaper buffets. (Think back to your high school cafeteria, but usually without hundreds of kids yelling and throwing things.) The more expensive buffets can be quite lavish, including steak to order, lobster, shrimp, etc., but that's outside the scope of this page. :)

Most hotels will have a reasonably-priced coffee shop, and yes, every chain place known to humanity is in Las Vegas.


This is where you can save big time or splurge big time! If you're on a very tight budget, stay away from the machines and the tables, period! Yes, you can have a very good time in Las Vegas without gaming.

Those attending DLV over the past several years have frequently reported that they really did not have that much time for gaming, with all the group activities.

If you want to try out the various machine and table games, you can do so without spending a fortune IFF you exercise very strong self-discipline and do not gamble any more than you can afford to lose. (See all those fancy hotels and casinos, with all the glitz and amenities. They were not paid for by the winners, they were paid for by the losers.)

Almost every casino will have nickel and penny slots. No, the big jackpot will not be in the megabuck range, but you can play for a long time for a few bucks on these machines.

Table games are more expensive. $5 is often the minimum bet you can make at any table in the major casinos. Many have a higher minimum. If you want to try table games, look for "Match Play" coupons that the casinos hand out. These can limit your risk, for a few hands, at least.

HINT ==> When you go to the casino, take only as much cash as you are willing to lose in one session. Leave credit cards, checkbook, etc. in your room. When you lose it, do NOT go back for more!

HINT ==> Stay away from the game of Keno! It's incredibly biased toward the house, the worst odds for the player of any casino game! The chances of any generous payout are astronomical. "Keno is the game for those who do not know math."

HINT ==> Likewise, avoid the Big Six (Big Wheel). It's a sucker game!


The production shows that are popular with the Diva Las Vegas crowd are very reasonable, compared to those featuring the major headliners. I'm not suggesting you skip these simply to save $$$, I'm suggesting that you plan to save in other areas so you will be able to take in one of these! Tickets are in the $35-ish range per person.

HINT ==> It is usually well worth the few bucks to either get VIP seating with a reserved-seat show, or to tip (bribe) the Maitre'd for a front-center seat for a show without reserved seats.


Again, this is where you can either spend big time, or save big time! If money is tight, don't spend it on anything you don't absolutely need. If the group goes shopping, consider an alternative, such as a walking/driving tour of the strip.

Shops along the Strip tend to be pricey.

There are two large mainline malls in Las Vegas, the Boulevard Mall, and the Meadows Mall. Both have a few large anchor stores, and many smaller shops. There are two large discount outlet malls on the south edge of the city, and there is a third at Stateline, about a half hour drive away.

HINT ==> Stay away from the Fashion Show Mall and the Forum Shops, both on the Strip. These cater exclusively to tourists, and are the highest priced shops in town!

In general, most items cost about the same in the mainline stores in Las Vegas as they cost anywhere else in the US. Same is to be said about the discount shops and malls.


If you need to phone long distance, use a calling card. Direct-dial long distance from Las Vegas hotel rooms is, with rare exception, somewhere between extortive and confiscatory! This will typically save you several dollars per call. No, I am not kidding or exaggerating on this!

Avoid hotel gift shops for such things as toothpaste, cosmetics, novelties, etc. Shops with "civilian" prices are usually within walking distance.

In-room pay-per-view movies are typically priced far greater than admission to a local theater.

If your room comes with a stocked "Handi-Bar" consider it to be a blind spot in your field of vision. You will pay many times list price for items from these. Come to think of it, I haven't seen one of these for several trips now. Maybe the hotel management types are finally getting the hint. :)

Need film? Bring it along or buy it anywhere but where there are tourists!

What about "Comps" ?

Comps (complimentaries) are what is given to a player as an incentive to play in a particular casino. They range from a free keychain, just to get you in the place, to a free drink (or many of them) while playing, to free meals, reduced or free hotel rooms, even to picking up your air fare!

Keep in mind that casinos do this to maximize their profit, and that must come from you, the player.

If you're on a budget, do not play for comps, period. If all you want is a drink, and don't really want to gamble, just step up to the bar and order a drink and pay for it. With rare exception, you will pay more for that drink if you sit down at a nickel slot machine and play until you get served.

You will see advertising come-ons for all kinds of "FREE" stuff. These are all ploys to get you in the door, in hopes you will spend $$$ at the tables or machines. Most of these are simply not worth the effort to collect, and many ads are deceptive.

Another resource for Vegas $$$-saving ideas is Lucky Ned's site. Although this is humorous in nature, the money-saving hints are valid and helpful.