Two Way Hard Three | Las Vegas Casino & Design Blog

December 31, 2005

The Best Way to Book Your Las Vegas Vacation?

Posted by Hunter

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 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,, 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, 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?


Read archived comments (12 so far)
December 31, 2005 5:46 PM Posted by Mike E

Great article, Hunter. You touched on some great points.

I too only book directly with the hotel through phone reservations or their website, but mainly by phone. The reason I do this is because you can be much more expressive in your requests. Websites have comment boxes, but it seems that they often times go unnoticed. Also, some websites don't even advertise a certain room type and don't quote the price online so you have to call and ask. Villas and top suites at most the properties are like this.

With Wynn LV, I prefer booking over the phone because if you've stayed with them before, the reservationist brings up your profile and books you under your previous player account number. When booking online, be sure they give you a card with your established account number so your comps accumulate properly.

One of the best tips given is booking early and checking back often. I think every trip I've booked has been at the lowest possible price available. For my upcoming trip in January, I booked a Tower Suites room in November for $389. I rebooked 4 times and now the price is $249! I highly doubt it will go lower, but I still check occasionally.

Regarding third party websites, a friend of mine was booking a Vegas trip for last month and asked me to help her. I gave her as much advice as I could and insisted that since she wasn't booking a packaged deal, to book her hotel directly with the website. She didn't listen and went with Expedia and got a great deal at Luxor for 2 nights at $89 and the 3rd night free. I was humbled as this was a great deal for those dates... until she had to cancel and paid a $100 cancellation fee. I'm not one to say "I told you so" but never had I felt more of an urge.

Regarding airfare, I usually drive to Vegas, but it's been my experience that the first dates that become available on airlines are usually cheaper directly through their own website than through a third party as well.

December 31, 2005 7:12 PM Posted by Doug

I almost always book through the airline 'vacation packages' section. For me, Alaska Airlines gives me more flight opportunities and a cheaper price for the entire vacation.
In the old days I used to just stop by my local travel agent on a Friday and make a two-week advance purchase. And it was convenient back then because I often just paid cash for the whole thing.

January 2, 2006 4:39 PM Posted by Mike P.

This probably doesn't help a lot of people, but American Express Platinum cardholders can get room upgrades and some freebies through their travel service. We've booked Bellagio and Venetian through them and I think Wynn now works with them as well.

For restaurant reservations we like to use when possible.

For shows we'll often plan one trip ahead and stop at the box office to get tickets for our next trip.

When booking directly we usually use the phone rather than hotel web sites for pretty much the same reasons already mentioned.

Mike P.

January 2, 2006 7:32 PM Posted by Mike E

Mike P, can you tell us of some of your first hand experiences with the room upgrades if any? I'm very interested. Also, is there an annual fee?

January 3, 2006 8:14 AM Posted by muckcat

We almost always book through AmericaWest Vacations. We live in New York and always book Vegas trips as a airfare/hotel package. I do a ton of comparison shopping online. The individual hotel sites are great for checking the rates for various dates. If you're flexible about your dates this is the way to find the cheapest date range. Once I know when we can get cheaper room rates I go to or and check what they are offering for packages around those dates. Again, run a check on a few dates either before or after when you think you want to go. You may find a cheaper date/hotel/flight combo. Also, I use the travel sites to check for cheap flights without a room included just to check for deals that way. Then I go to Almost without exception I find that they beat the travel sites package prices. It's also easier to tailor your flight options. The AWV's website is extreemly user friendly. The travel sites often only offer discounted rates on indirect flights. We always fly direct. I find that working directly through the airline you get more options at better prices on the tickets. Once I've got a package nailed down I usually call America West by phone. The booking agents often offer better flights over the phone than you can get on the website. And I've definitely had an agent find seats on a flight that the website said was soldout. Once I've got a package I like I put a 24 hour hold on it. This gives me one last chance to look for better deals and confirm that the dates don't conflict with work for either me or my wife. If you're uncertain about cancellation America West offers a cancellation waiver. It costs about 30 bucks and will save you from paying the $100+ penalty per person if you have to cancel. I usually don't bother since I haven't had to cancel a Vegas trip in ten years. As someone else mentioned booking on the travel sites usually limits your room options. America West offers the full variety of rooms at most strip hotels. The exception being villas but if you're looking for a good rate you're probably not looking for a villa anyway. Also, holding the package for 24 hours gives you the chance to contact the hotel directly to make any inquiries you might want to make. Before our most recent trip in December I put a hold on a Mirage package. When I call the Mirage to find out if the pool would be open I was told it would not. I called back America West and was able to modify the package, at no cost, to switch from Mirage to the Augustus Tower at Caesars and retain seats on the flights we wanted. When I had put them on hold they were the last available seats on the flights.

I find using all the tools available is the best way to get the best value in a Vegas package. It takes some work but it's usually worth it. And I too begin my search well in advance of our intended travel dates. At this point I'm pretty well versed in how low things can be expected to go and when I see a deal I usually know it. That's the time to book.

January 3, 2006 8:29 AM Posted by socalduck

I've used the Amex Platinum upgrade on two visits to Bellagio. The type of room you get is subject to availability, but the first time I got a oversized room at the north end of the main tower with a jacuzzi overlooking the Strip and Caesar's. Second time, it was a lakeview room on a high floor. Both times, I also received a $50 food/bev certificate, certificates for a continental breakfast each day of my stay, and a "Fountains of Bellagio" CD.

The annual fee on the Platinum card is steep, but if you travel a lot, the airline club access and discounts on international companion fares are worth it.

As for booking options, I've found that can offer some fantastic discounts. I've gotten rooms at Venetian for $109 a night through hotwire, and the Hyatt Lake LV for $89 a night through Priceline. The downside of hotwire and Priceline is you pay upfront before you find out the actual hotel, and there is no refund if you later need to cancel. On Hotwire, 4.5 or 5 star strip hotels are generally safe bets, and include properties such as the Venetian, Mandalay Bay, Luxor, and Aladdin.

January 4, 2006 8:44 AM Posted by Mike P.

Mike E's question about Amex Platinum was mostly answered already. We've been upgraded from pseudo suites to real suites at the Venetian several times and once even got put into a suite that they don't advertise on their web site. Those opportunities pretty much dried up after about mid-2003 though. The last time we were there the best we could do was an upgrade from a regular Venezia tower room to the concierge floor.

My wife always books the accomodations she wants at Bellagio because she doesn't want to risk ending up in a mere "Bellagio" suite. They always give us breakfast coupons and a spa pass or art gallery ticket.

Wynn just joined the program, so we don't know yet how generous they are with upgrades.

Mike P.

January 6, 2006 10:17 AM Posted by Hunter

I have an AMEX Platinum card I've never used for the Vegas stuff. I'll try it on my next trip - sounds good.

January 6, 2006 6:56 PM Posted by Mike E

Thanks for the replies. The free breakfasts, lunches, and room upgrades at Wynn LV sound like they're worth the annual fee alone if I keep going to Vegas at this pace. Wonder what they'd do for Centurion card holders... "Mr. E, your villa is located where you first entered in that atrium." Hey, I can dream, can't I?

One more question: to qualify for these upgrades, do you have to book through Platinum Travel Services and if so, are they competatively priced to hotel and travel websites?

Sorry, I didn't mean for this to turn into Q & A, but this has really caught my interest.

January 7, 2006 9:29 AM Posted by Hunter

I have a friend with a Centurion Card (aka Amex 'Black Card'). I've been able to tag along on several trips where he has used the services...

Basically, it has a lot of stuff similar to the Platinum, plus a dedicated concierge service that can basically get anything that you could want (but you still pay $$'s for it).

January 9, 2006 7:43 AM Posted by socalduck

Mike E., you do have to book through the PTS desk to benefit from the program. Room rates are similar to what you find on Expedia, etc. I would agree with Mike P. that, over the last couple of years, room upgrades offered through PTS are more likely to be upgraded standard rooms as opposed to actual the suites that were commonly availabe a few years ago. Increased travel demand, as well as a big increase in the number of Platinum card holders, is to blame. My perception is that the Centurion card is comparable to the Platinum card of 5 years ago in terms of the level of service and availability of upgrades, amenities, etc.

January 16, 2006 1:30 PM Posted by Never Ben

Southwest Airlines vacations has been fantastic for me. They have direct flights from major cities, great rates, and run lots of specials to Vegas.

If you want to book thru SWAvacations, I highly recommend shelling out the extra $29 for their travel insurance, which they call the "pre-flight waiver." Not only does it let you change or cancel all your reservations (air, hotel, car) up to 2 hours before your flight with no penalty, if the cost of the package decreases between the time you buy and your flight, you are guaranteed the lower cost.