There are some serious mistakes that people can make when booking hotels in Las Vegas. Since hotels have hundreds (and sometimes thousands) of rooms which fill up on weekends and go empty during the week, some awesome deals can be found the closer to Wednesday you travel. However, if you are looking for a weekend getaway, Vegas still has some of the best deals around, you just have to know in advance what you are booking. Hotels (particularly on cheap-o websites) are advertised as being in better areas than they are, prices are quoted pre-hotel tax, and even the dingiest casino looks like a luxury suite online. Here are a few tips to help out a Vegas-bound tourist:

Location, Location, Location:

If you are planning on partying on the Strip, location is key in Vegas. Avoid The Saraha, Circus Circus, The Stratosphere, and anything downtown or on Fremont Street. You’ll be spending a fortune on cabs, and they are generally not nice hotels. (Especially Circus Circus. That place is hell on Earth). Also know that Rio and The Palm’s are not on the Strip (although they are nice places to stay). The best hotels are Bellagio, Aria/Vdara, Caesar’s Palace, Planet Hollywood, MGM, New York-New York, Paris, Treasure Island, The Mirage, The Venetian/Plazzo, and The Wynn/Encore. Luxor and Mandalay Bay are at the far end of the Strip, but still good options.  If you are looking for a cheap hotel that is still in the middle of all the action, check out Harrah’s, Imperial Palace, Tropicana, and Excalibur. They aren’t fancy hotels, but you can’t beat the right-on-the-Strip convience. Flamingo’s also has a nice location, but it’s generally a little pricer. Hooter’s is often the cheapest hotel in Vegas (especially on weekdays, wherein $19 room rates are common on Expedia), and it’s just one block off the Strip. It’s a great budget choice, but you may be taking some cabs. Anywhere else, double check a map first. Even if a hotel is one block off the Strip, be aware that blocks are LOOOONG in Las Vegas. Particularly if you are wearing stilettos. It’s not worth saving five or ten dollars to stay one block of the Strip. You’ll spend that in cab fares. Or last minute flip-flops.

There are several hotels in Las Vegas that are not on the Strip at all. The M resort south of town in nice, as are the JW Marriott and the Suncoast out in Summerlin. Red Rock Casino is the most famous non-Strip hotel, but a word of caution: It’s often billed as a “canyon getaway” on the edge of gorgeous scenery. In reality, it’s off a freeway and next to a strip mall. It’s a fancy hotel, but it’s not exactly in the middle of Red Rock Canyon.

Pools:

For families traveling with children of any age, Mandalay Bay has the best setup. With a sandy beach, wave pool, lazy river, and several different palm-tree lined pools, this one is a sure hit for kids. If it’s a nice summer day get to the pool early to claim the best seats. Pool side lounge chairs are hard to come by if it’s past 11am on a Saturday. Cabana rentals are a pricy option (they usually start at over $100 a day), but nice if you want a shady reserved spot all day long. Even if you don’t have a cabana, be prepared to shell out tons of money if you are planning on renting inner tubes for lazy river floating. Flamingo’s has a great pool too, and room rates that are cheaper than Mandalay Bay. No wave pool, sandy beach or lazy river though.  

For the 21 and over crowd, the best pool is MGM. I LOVE this place is the summertime. I used to be able to sneak in with an old room card, but last summer they started scanning cards to make sure they are still active. Bummer. At MGM there is a pretty good party vibe, but you don’t have to feel as though you are the only person around that doesn’t have fake boobs, a million dollar bikini, and an impecable hard-to-tell-it’s-fake tan (but if that atmosphere is what you are after, head to The Palm’s, especially during Ditch Friday’s). MGM’s lazy river is far superior to Mandalay Bay’s. Although there is no wave pool, the sheer number of pools and the sheer lack of small children more than make up for that fact. Like Mandalay Bay, get here early if you want good seats and be ready to spend a fortune on inner tubes. They are worth it though – the lazy river is where it is at!

Although there are a few exceptions, most pools in Las Vegas close pretty early, around 6 or 7 at night. This is an effort to get you inside and gambling. Plan accordingly.

Price:

Something to be aware of in Las Vegas is that room tax is added to ALL Vegas hotel rooms (on or off the Strip). If you book a room through Expedia or other discount website, be prepared to pay at least an extra 10% when you check in. The only way to avoid this is to stay waaaaaay out of town. Boulder is the closest town that doesn’t have a room tax, and it’s a thirty minute drive away (towards Hoover Dam though, so it’s a good option for a night if you are planning to check out the New Deal wonder).  

If you don’t care about location, Fremont Street and downtown usually have the best prices. Fremont Street is old Las Vegas, and it can be a fun experience, espeically if you’ve already “done” The Strip and are looking for something different. Don’t stay here on your first trip to Sin City or you will be sorely disappointed. Rooms are pretty disgusting, lobbies smokey, and clientele can be a little shabby or shady (I’ve stayed downtown, for example. Haha). The exception here is Golden Nugget. They’ve totally revamped themselves, with good restaurants and a pool worth hanging out at – it has a water slide and a shark tank!

Holidays

Las Vegas hotel prices vary wildly depending on whether there is a big football game in Miami, a big fight at MGM, or a big convention in town. If you are flexible, check several different weekends (or better yet, weekdays) to find a good price for a hotel. Beware of holidays. Spring Break is a very popular time to come to Las Vegas, so things tend to be more expensive. The weather can also be pretty iffy in March and April – don’t count on pool time or sundress weather. It may be 80 degrees and sunny, it may be 60 degrees and windy. Memorial weekend is always a great time to come to Las Vegas weather-wise, but horrible price wise. Everything (hotel rooms, nightclub cover charges, drinks, table minumums) are about triple what they usually are. I normally leave Las Vegas during Memorial weekend, with one very expensive exception. Some alcohol was consumed that night, so my clearest memory was yelling at a bouncer that the $20 cover charge he was insisting on was ridiculous because the establishment in question wasn’t even a nightclub and besides, I was a girl in a very short dress. We didn’t get in.

Wherever you end up, as always, it’s the people you are with and the things you do that make a trip. Some of my favorite Vegas nights have been spend at the cheapy Fremont Street, Hooters and Imperial Palace, and some other favorite nights were spent at Mandalay Bay and The Wynn. My favorite? Even during non-pool season, it’ll always be MGM.