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3/22/09 TR article from Rockford, IL newspaper

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  • 3/22/09 TR article from Rockford, IL newspaper

    Las Vegas on $200? It’s possible, but not easy
    By Andy Colbert

    After stumbling upon $29 one-way flights to Las Vegas on Allegiant Air’s Web site, a thought came to me. Why not try to do a four-night trip to Sin City for under $200 apiece for two people, including airfare?

    The key would be to research the Internet for travel tips and insider information — today‘s version of being your own travel agent. A frugal strategy was needed before departing on the Feb. 2 flight from Chicago Rockford International Airport. I also purchased an American Casino Guide book that had loads of money-saving dining, entertainment and gambling coupons.

    Despite an 85,000-attendee World of Concrete show going on, the first financial hurdle was cleared by scoring $25-a-night lodging at the Tropicana Hotel & Casino in one of its “garden” rooms. The fact that Las Vegas is smarting from the economic crisis and that I was traveling during the week helped.

    A cross between Motel 6 and Super 8, this aging room at least faced what it considered one of Vegas’ top pool areas. Pools can be a thrifty place to spend time, as long as one stays away from costly drink service.

    We would also use the city’s reliable public bus service or free Strip shuttles instead of wasting money on cabs or a rental car, with outlandish taxes and special fees. Traveling only with backpacks, we even walked from the airport to our hotel in the 70-degree weather.

    Using the ACG coupons, every meal we ate was half-price, including a different buffet each day. One trick is to enter a buffet just before a price change, so you can get dinner for the price of lunch.

    A person can spend $100 a ticket to see a show in Vegas. Some pretty good entertainment also can be seen for free, just for signing up for a casino’s players card.

    Next door to the Tropicana, the Hooters casino was offering a free show to Bobby Slayton, “the Pit Bull of Comedy,” or Gerry McCambridge, “the Mentalist,” for a players card sign-up. The Country Superstars Tribute, complete with a live band, is normally $49, but free with a players card sign-up at the downtown Fitzgeralds Casino and Hotel, with an ACG coupon.

    The trick is to take the freebies and run. You are under no obligation to gamble.

    Another way to maximize your value while in Vegas is to utilize the ACG gambling coupons, be it match plays or slot credits. A match play is a dollar amount that you can win in addition to your regular bet, giving the player a huge advantage over the house. The free slot play and match plays are loss leaders for the casinos, especially if the bettor leaves after one hand.

    Since this was to be a frugal trip, that’s what I did. Even losing more times than I won, I still pocketed a $31 profit.

    A ploy by casinos to get you in is the use of free attractions. Among the better ones are the Fountains of Bellagio, Bellagio’s conservatory, the Mirage’s $9 million volcano and 20,000-gallon aquarium, a pirate battle at Treasure Island and “Big Elvis” at Bill’s Gamblin’ Hall & Saloon.

    I didn’t quite make my goal of $200 for the trip, but came very close. A snack and drink on the return Allegiant flight put me over budget. Per-person expenses were:

    Lodging: $54
    Meals and tips: $59
    Entertainment (three shows): $10
    Airfare: $92
    Bus token: $4
    ACG book: $16
    Total expenses: $235, minus a $31 profit made from gambling coupons, for a net cost of $204.
    Andy Colbert is a part-time sports reporter for the Register Star and can be reached at [email protected].