Tips and Tricks for Traveling to Las Vegas
At one time or another, everyone has dreamed of a decadent (or depraved) Las Vegas vacation. But the one thing nobody ever looks forward to is the prospect of actually getting there.
Online travel sites make it easy enough to scout out cheap flights, but do they really have the best deals? And what about driving or riding the rails? In other words, what are the best options — in terms of speed, price or luxury — for us to get to Sin City so we can start gambling on sporting events, or watch Shania Twain’s new show at Caesars, or hang out with Wayne Newton?
We consulted with Fodor's editor Eric Wechter for the answers to these burning questions. He let us in his best travel tips, explaining everything we ever wanted to know about traveling to Sin City.
FROM THE EAST:
Wechter quotes Ralph Waldo Emerson when he states that “life may be a ‘journey, not a destination,’” but the Fodor's editor doesn’t believe those words apply to East Coasters.
“It’s better to fly in,” says Wechter, noting that the only other option for East Coast travelers is driving. But that kind of voyage, as he explains, would take three days at the minimum. “A road trip from the East Coast to Vegas is best left to gonzo journalists and college kids,” says the expert. In fact, Wechter says that any voyage from further than 600 miles wouldn’t be worth the drive, especially not for someone trying to save money on plane tickets. Once you factor in gas, food and lodging, “any airfare savings quickly vanishes,” says the Fodor’s editor.
So if flying in from east of Vegas is your only viable option, you might as well get a good deal on the internet. But according to Wechter, travel sites only make it seem as though you’re getting the best price at the click of a mouse. In actuality, there are more factors to consider.
“Purchase your ticket online on Tuesday,” advises the expert, who explains that Tuesday is when airlines generally post their cheapest fares. “Don’t forget Southwest” he adds. “This discount carrier’s fares don’t show up on many of the aggregate price-finder sites.”
But if you really want a great fare, Wechter advises that you plan ahead. “To truly get great deals, you have to pre-plan a bit and be flexible with your schedule,” he says. Traveling during certain times of the year at “low-demand periods” (which Wechter lists as “December, August, weekends following long-weekend holidays and the week before Thanksgiving”) will net bigger savings. “Arriving on a Tuesday or Wednesday and departing on a Saturday often lowers flight costs as well,” he adds.
Before booking a flight, however, travelers should consult the Las Vegas Convention and Visitor Authority website to check for upcoming events. “If there’s a huge convention in town, all bets are off,” says Wechter. Travel prices can — and will — reflect the higher demand.
FROM THE WEST:
“Ah, now, from the west, a trip to Las Vegas can be about the journey as well as the destination,” says the expert. “It all depends on what kind of experience you want en-route and how much time you want to spend,” Wechter says, noting that buses and limos are readily available to take passengers from the West Coast to Sin City. “If you’ve got the cash,” he adds, “a party limo ride will certainly get you in the Vegas frame of mind.”
Wechter is also a big fan of hopping in a car and driving to Vegas, as “there are a number of incredibly scenic detours” to take advantage of. “Northern Californians can take in Yosemite and Kings Canyon National Parks before they link up with I-15; Southern Californians can come through Palm Springs and Joshua Tree National park, then continue up Highway 95 through Boulder City and the Hoover Dam.”
But for those travelers coming up I-15, Wechter offers a word of warning: “This route is a stark reminder that Vegas’ location was originally meant to be a middle-of-nowhere spot, where gambling and vice could be conducted with little restriction.” He says there are few service towns along the route (Barstow and Bakersfield being the two biggest exceptions), so “a reliable car is crucial.” Wechter also says that “a full tank, a lot of water, and preferably a good roadside service plan are absolutely imperative,” especially for those driving during the hottest months of July or August.
“And although the journey through the desert can be serene [and] even poetic, on most Friday evenings you can expect major traffic delays from the Nevada border all the way to Vegas.”
If driving doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, Wechter says that flights from the southern California area are often cheap. From San Francisco and further north, however, the prices are comparable to East-Coast flights.
THINGS TO REMEMBER:
- There are currently no rail options to Las Vegas (the city doesn’t have a train station). A proposed bullet train would link California to the gambling mecca, though it’s yet to be approved. But as Wechter points out, there might also be “an adults-only 'X train' that salaciously makes its way into Sin City” in the near future.
- Travelers coming from the east who wish to avoid flying altogether can still board a train, though not a direct one. Amtrak offers a number of trains that run from Chicago to the Pacific, including the Texas Eagle, the California Zephyr and the Southwest Chief, but passengers looking to get to Vegas need to switch to a coach bus and continue their journey from the nearest station stops, usually located hours away.
- Don’t underestimate social media. “Airlines are increasingly offering good deals exclusively to their Twitter followers and Facebook fans,” Wechter says. Casinos, too, are actively involved with social media, and they’ll frequently offer package deals, such as hotel and flight combos, to their friends and followers.
THINGS TO FORGET:
Wherever you travel from and however you get there, the purpose of a Vegas vacation is to forget your troubles. Most travelers are trying to escape their everyday lives or elude their responsibilities for a few glorious days. There's no sense in planning a trip to Vegas that's going to leave you stressed, miserable and depressed before you even get there.
Besides, there'll be plenty of time for that on the way home.