Continuing our 'Vegas Tips' series, this article talks about the pros and cons of the different ways you can book your Las Vegas vacation. Keep reading to learn more. If you're looking for the other articles in the series, click here.
These days it seems like there are about a thousand ways to book your vacation to Las Vegas. Having tried most of them over the years and being exposed to stories from folks through the Web site, I'm writing this article to hopefully help guide people in the future.
Keep reading after the jump for the whole article.
The purpose of this article is to look at the various ways to book your next Vegas vacation. We're focusing on methods that the average traveler has access to, so we're not going into anything regarding comps or casino marketing. If you're getting a free room from your host, that is clearly the best way to go and this article may not be for you. If you're like most of the visitors coming to Las Vegas, you're paying for your room and you want to find a good way to book it while getting a good price and staying flexible.
The advent of the Internet has changed the way Americans book vacations. Gone are the days when planning a vacation meant you needed to enlist a travel agent to make the arrangements. While a good travel agent can be worth their weight in gold when visiting a new locale, for a place that has as much available information as Las Vegas, their expertise is not as essential as it might be elsewhere.
Before we talk about the various methods of Internet booking, let's first look at the tried and true call-in reservation. Calling a hotel directly to book a room has a lot of advantages, even in the Internet age. First off, the reservationists are often well versed in the different types of rooms available. For instance, MGM Mirage takes all of their employees through each type of room before they put them on the phones to make sure they can give callers accurate information. Along with being able to describe the room, a reservationist can suggest another room that is comparable in case your first choice isn't available. Perhaps the best advantage is one that is shared with booking at a hotel's Web site: being able to cancel without penalty.
Let's look at this scenario: you're five months out ahead of your vacation. You find a good rate after talking to the folks at the hotel and you book a room. A few months go by and you decide to call another hotel, just to see what their rates might be. You find that they are offering a great room at a lower rate. Problem? Nope, just call and cancel your first reservation. Most Las Vegas hotels have a 48 hour no penalty cancellation policy. This can also be helpful if the hotel you booked at begins to sell rooms for a lower rate - they hotel reservationist can easily switch you to the new rate - an instant savings. Always check with a hotel to make sure you understand the cancellation policy, as these can vary.
A downside of booking with a hotel directly is that the hotel often times cannot help you book the rest of your vacation. Some hotels such as Bellagio, Wynn Las Vegas and The Venetian have concierge service but those are exceptions, not the rule.
If you decide you want to book your trip online you have several options. Most hotels have Web sites that allow you to book with them directly, with the same rules as booking over the phone. Beyond that, there are also a few travel Web sites where you can book a room, and sometimes airfare, a rental car and more.
Booking online with the hotel itself is usually done through the hotel's Web site. Often reservations made this way have all the benefits of a phone-in reservation, making them a great option. Most Vegas hotel sites feature room photos and descriptions, some with floorplans and 360-degree photos. Generally the only way to book through a hotel site is directly with them but some hotels DO offer what is called an 'affiliate program'. Basically this allows other third-party Web sites, such as RateVegas.com and others, to offer booking at these hotels with all the benefits of a direct booking. This helps keep these third party Web sites free as the hotel pays a commission back to the site owner while still offering all the flexibility of a direct booking (wink, wink). This is fairly rare with only some MGM Mirage hotels (Bellagio, MGM Grand, The Mirage, Treasure Island and NYNY) offering this service. You know this is being used if you click on a link to book a hotel from a third party site and you are re-directed back to the hotel's Web site, just as if you were booking with them directly.
Beyond booking online with a hotel (or indirectly through a special affiliate program), you can book online via a travel Web site, such as Expedia.com, Hotels.com, or one of many others. These sites offer the ability to book hotel along with airfare, rental car, etc... The advantage here is that sometimes booking all parts of your vacation together will get you a better deal. This isn't always true so be sure to actually check the numbers. It also comes at a potential cost - if you book your vacation this way, it can be very difficult to make changes or cancel if something comes up. If you go this route, be VERY careful to check the cancellation policy.
These travel sites also offer affiliate programs to third party sites like this one. This is how we are able to offer the majority of our hotel booking options. If you click on a link to book a hotel and you see a page similar to this one, you are booking through the affiliate program of one of the travel sites mentioned above. The most common used by third party travel sites is hotels.com, but there are others. You can feel secure as all of the reservation details are handled just as they would be if you booked at the travel site itself, the benefit being you are supporting whatever site you clicked the link from, again helping to support the free information they provide.
Lastly, at least one Las Vegas hotel operator decided they wanted to combine all the offerings of a complete travel site, plus direct hotel booking into a single operation. MGM Mirage Vacations is, as of this writing, the only offering of its type. I haven't used this option but you can book your room, airline, show tickets and more, all while staying inside the MGM Mirage infrastructure. I'm sure they will expand the available hotels to include those they acquired when they bought Mandalay Resort Group (Mandalay Bay, Luxor, Monte Carlo, Excalibur and Circus Circus) sometime soon.
So, with all of these choices, which is the best? While booking through a travel Web site can sometimes offer a price advantage, when I book my Las Vegas vacations I either call it in directly or I use the hotel Web site. If it is an MGM Mirage property, I book through the hotel via the affiliate program (and I encourage you to do the same if you're heading to one of their properties). I find this method offers the most flexibility and always competitive prices.
How do you like to book your trips? What experiences do you have to share?