Friday, January 16, 2015

Casino Comps Part 2

Even if you don't gamble much, I cannot underscore the importance of fostering a relationship with a casino host. Although some property chains, like MGM/Mirage (MLife) and Caesar's (Total Rewards), have great point systems that allow you to build and use your own comps as desired, many properties still do it the "old-fashioned" way. They can book stays for you, get you into VIP events, get you show tickets, etc. BUT, there are other ways to get comps.

First of all, never leave a table game without talking to the pit boss (the guy in the suit). Especially in cases where you played a long time (even if you ended up winning) or took a big loss (no matter how long you were there), the pit boss can usually comp you a nice dinner at one of the casino restaurants. They may be able get you a current running promotion without having to get a certain amount of slot points. For instance, I was at the craps table one day and I was given a voucher for a set of holiday plates that required I earn 300 points in the slot machine. Instead of throwing a $20 (or more depending on what amount of dollars equals points) into the slot machine, I just asked to pit boss at the craps table and he gave me a voucher based on my play, and YAY! I got my beautiful holiday dishes.

While a casino host can often seem to be a genie in a bottle, beware. You can't get everything you want, even if you feel like you deserve it based on your play. Sometimes they use fuzzy logic... e.g., we can't comp your dinner during your stay because we already comped your 2 free hotel nights and therefore you didn't earn any more. Huh? I thought you gave us the promotion for 2 free nights based on previous play? No? Also, if you go to the host at the beginning on your trip, they will often encourage you to charge you food to the room, and they will "see" what they can take off of your bill at the end of the stay based on your play. This is, excuse my french, absolute bullshit. So, my advice is if you are staying at the resort, not to just liberally charge to the room hoping for a magical comp at the end. Spend what you spend, and don't expect anything to get comped (unless you were given a certain amount of "resort credit" or food comps with your stay).

If you aren't staying at the particular resort (or that chain) and you'd like a free meal after your craps or blackjack session, talk to the pitboss. The only thing the pitboss can't usually do is grant you a hotel night. But, by making use of your pitboss and your casino host, you can get lots of freebies. Just don't be afraid to ask!

Good luck!

Sorry for the G-A-P!

So, I apologize again for the gap between posts. My health issues continue (please pray or send good vibes), but on a brighter note, I just started an at-home design and printing business. Would love to do business with you! Here's the website: designedandprinted4less. I've also joined the tweeting world and you can find the business there, if you are a 140 characters or less type person: Please check it out and share. My handle (is that the right word? I'm so new to twitter) is @created4less.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Introduction to Casino Comps

Back in the old days, the general public believed that getting "comp'ed" (or receiving complimentary rooms or meals) at a casino meant you were either a high roller whose high-stakes blackjack play earned him the Rain Man suite or a little old granny who fed enough quarters into a slot machine to be rewarded a free buffet pass. That stereotype probably wasn't too far off base, as there wasn't really a good method for casino hosts to accurately track what players were actually wagering.

Comps have come a long way, baby.

Today, every casino you walk into, from the Strip to downtown, has a loyalty program which tracks every dollar a player wagers. You can still technically come in to a casino and play without signing up for a player's card, but if you want a shot at getting anything complimentary, you'd better have that card. Even if you think you aren't going to gamble very much or very often there, it's still always a good idea to go ahead and enroll in the player card program the first time you visit a new casino. Many casinos have a new members' promotion, offering usually between $5-$10 of "free play." They give you your new card loaded with the free money on it, you put a dollar in to activate it, and then you can take a few spins on a slot machine until either the money is gone or you decide to cash out. If you win, you get to keep it.

While getting a few bucks on the house is a nice welcome gift, the most beneficial reason to enroll in the players card program is to get those comps. While casino newbies may think it's not worth the hassle of signing up, veterans know that it's no secret anymore that you don't have to lose your shirt at a casino to get some nice comps. Even a few hundred dollars with of play can get you a free hotel room for a night at some of the lower-end places. And with the most popular casino chains like MGM's MLife or Caesar's Total Rewards, every dollar you gamble converts to a few cents back that you can spend on (almost) anything at the casino. They can rack up pretty quickly, sometimes allowing you to get a nice meal after just a few hours of gambling.

A few different factors are taken into consideration by the casino when calculating a players' eligibility for comps. Certainly, the amount that a player wagers is a factor, but only as part of a sophisticated formula which includes the average wager per hour. Therefore, a casino takes into account how much you have bet over the course of time that you were betting to come up with your player rating. The type of game is taken into account as well. Slot machines are rated differently than table games, and certain table games are rated differently than others. All of this data is tabulated while at the casino when you swipe your card, and will result in the casino marketing and/or casino hosts determining your earned comps and sending offers to you via mail or email.

While many players are quite pleased with the offers that are extended by the casinos, and are eager to cash in their hotel rooms, show tickets and meal comps, others feel like their comps do not always reflect their play. If a player is not happy with the comps they are receiving, there are ways to fix that. Coming up in my next blog, I'll go into how to get a casino host and how to work with pit bosses to get the comps you deserve.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Blogger's Note

Hi all! I've been told never to apologize for lapses in posting, but I must make an exception. I have an amazingly cool secret project I've been busy working on which is very een-teresting and Vegas-themed. I'm bursting to talk about it, but I must refrain from sharing any further details until the veil of confidentiality can safely be lifted. So stay tuned!

Anyhow, I'm back to blogging today with lots of new secrets for Vegas tourists. The following post will be the start of what will hopefully be a multi-part series about casino comps. Without further ado...

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Midnight Snacking on the Strip

One of the best things about Vegas is that it never closes. A mecca for insomniacs, Sin City has options galore for late night eating. The city is called upon to serve the post-club crowd, as well as gamblers who may have just finished a marathon craps session and in need of some celebratory (or consolation) comfort food. And the difference is from a lot of other cities, you can get good food in Vegas late at night--really good food. So here are a few of my favorite midnight snack places:

Culinary Dropout at Hard Rock Hotel: This slightly off-strip place is the perfect low-key restaurant at which to wind down after a crazy Vegas night. Comfy couches are arranged around small patio tables for a cozy and casual outdoor dining vibe. Indoors, the restaurant features "future musical venue superstars who wouldn’t mind being paid at the bar in whiskey and pretzel bites" performing covers as well as their original soon-to-be hits. And about those pretzel bites... yum, just, yum. Culinary Dropout is open until 11 p.m. on weekdays and midnight on the weekends.

The Henry at the Cosmopolitan: With a bizarre, subtly sexual dressage decor theme, this little 24-hour upscale diner is open to the casino, BOND nightclub, and the Cosmo's Las Vegas Blvd. entrance, making it a great spot for people watching while you dine. And at 3 a.m., the people watching can be very, very interesting, ripe with plenty of "only in Vegas" sightings. Even with The Henry's abbreviated late night menu, the selections are still ample and include several healthy options like the kale caesar salad and lots of not-so-healthy options like the French dip. Here's a secret... the truffle tater tots are available 24/7 (even when not on the menu), and are an absolute must. They will spoil you for regular tots, if not change your whole life.

Gordon Ramsay's BURGR at Planet Hollywood: Speaking of truffled starches, there is no better truffle fry than the offering from Gordon's burger joint at PH. The Kennebec potatoes are hand-cut and--get this--covered with truffle salt, truffle parmesan, and served with truffle dipping sauce. Yeah, that's a lot of truffle. Absolutely delicious. The star attraction burgers are amazing and impossibly juicy as well, and their hotdog menu offerings (if you are in the mood for that) are a full meal (with leftovers for tomorrow), so bring your enormous hotdog appetite. BURGR is open until midnight during the week and 2 a.m. on the weekends.

Readers: what are some of your other favorite late-night spots to eat in Vegas?

Friday, October 3, 2014

Driving in Vegas Part 2: Backdoors to the Strip

Assuming you've decided to rent a car for your trip to Vegas, one important thing to know about driving on the Strip is that it can be a traffic nightmare. On most nights and weekends, Las Vegas Blvd. between Tropicana and Spring Mountain (roughly the area from MGM Grand to Treasure Island) is jam-packed with cars, limos and tour buses. There are tons of traffic lights and crosswalks are chockful of pedestrians, including a few oblivious tourists that cross during the wrong time, or worse, stray outside of the designated crossing areas.

While cruising down the Strip is a must for tourists at least once for sight-seeing purposes, sitting on Las Vegas Blvd. in a cramped car while not moving an inch as the precious minutes of your trip tick away is no way to experience Vegas. Instead of driving down the Strip yourself, a secret tip that I have is to take a Big Bus Tour. These open-top buses are a great way to see the city without all the pressure of navigating traffic. Kick back, relax, and let someone else drive while you snap pics. There are many different routes, times of day/night and pickup/drop-off locations to choose from, and it's an affordable little excursion at only about $30/person per tour. My husband Matt and I coordinated a night tour for our friends and family in May from Excalibur to Fremont Street for one of our wedding weekend activities. The staff was extremely fun and accommodating, and we highly recommend the Big Bus Tour company!

So, outside of doing the bus tour, you still have to get around town. Here's a good list of "backdoor" routes that can help you zip around town quickly while avoiding the Strip:

The airport (McCarran) is just east of Las Vegas Blvd. and just south of Tropicana Ave. From the airport, you will want to get on Swenson St. heading north no matter which hotel is your destination. It will lead you out of the airport and then if you are staying at or near MGM Grand, you'll want to take a left onto Tropicana. BUT, instead of taking Tropicana down to Las Vegas Blvd., hang a right onto Koval to access MGM Grand from the back side. If you are staying at Mandalay Bay, Luxor or Excalibur, take a left onto Koval from Tropicana and it will wind its way down to Las Vegas Blvd. However, instead of turning onto the Blvd., continue past it and take a right onto Frank Sinatra Dr. in order to access those hotels from the back. You can follow Frank Sinatra down further and you'll have access to Monte Carlo, New York New York and Caesar's Palace (but NOT Bellagio). Frank Sinatra then changes names to Industrial Road, and from there you can access Circus Circus and the Fashion Show Mall.

Another important "backdoor" road is Harmon. From the airport, you take Swenson to Tropicana to a right on Koval like you would go to MGM Grand, but now just follow Koval down a block to get to Harmon Ave. Take a right on Harmon and it'll get you to Hard Rock Hotel, and if you take a left, you'll have access to both the hotel at Planet Hollywood as well as the Miracle Mile shopping center. If you cross over Las Vegas Blvd. via Harmon, you'll have direct access to Aria's back entrance valet as well as the Cosmopolitan's self parking and valet.

Getting to the hotels further north on the Strip is easy as well. Koval will eventually turn into Sands Avenue for direct access to the Palazzo's self part lot, and if you cross over Las Vegas Blvd. Sands Ave becomes Spring Mountain. From there, you can take a left to access both Treasure Island and The Mirage, as well as the Fashion Show Mall if you hang a right instead of a left.

These "backdoor" routes help you hop from casino to casino without sitting in Strip traffic for hours. Hopefully these tips will help you save time during your next Vegas trip. If anyone has any other Vegas traffic suggestions, or secret "backdoor" routes, feel free to comment below!

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Driving in Las Vegas

One major question that travelers who fly to Vegas have to ask themselves upon planning their trip is whether or not to rent a car for their stay. Making that decision can be difficult, because while there are several public transportation options within the city, they all have their limitations:

1. "The Deuce" Bus: The Deuce is a double-decker bus that runs 24 hours a day and stops at several of the resorts between Mandalay Bay and downtown. A 3-Day pass is $20. While this is an affordable option for sight-seeing, it certainly isn't the most speedy form of transportation. The Strip on most days and nights is snarled with traffic, and while scenic, it won't get you to your destination quickly. It's crowded, loud, and on a hot day can be sticky and icky. Further, while the Deuce runs every 15 minutes, there is often a long line at the stop closest to the hotels, so you could be waiting for some time to board.

2. Monorail(s): There are two convenient monorails on each side of the Strip. On the same side as MGM Grand, the Las Vegas monorail (run by the city) stops at six different hotels and casinos as well as the convention center. Trains arrive every 4-9 minutes. A single ride ticket is $5 and for $22 you can get an all-day pass. The monorail on the opposite side of the Strip is run by MGM and only stops at MGM properties. One goes from Mandalay Bay to Excalibur, one goes from Monte Carlo to Bellagio. The MGM trams are free of charge. There is also a free tram between the Mirage and Treasure Island and Caesar's Entertainment properties have free shuttle buses between their properties, so that may be an option as well. While the monorails are another great sight-seeing option, they are limited to just the Strip properties around the stations, so any other nearby-Strip properties of interest (Hard Rock, Stratosphere, Palms, etc.) or downtown Vegas will require another form of transportation.

3. Cabs: While cabs are relatively cheap in Las Vegas, if you take more than a few trips, it can start getting expensive. The minimum is $6-$7 per ride, but with tip, you are looking at $10 or more per trip. If you have a group of 4 or more, it may not be a bad option if you are splitting the fare. But, another issue to watch out for is that the service is only as good as the driver you get, and that can be just as much of a gamble as you'll get inside the casinos. Many unsavory drivers will "long haul" you, that is, intentionally taking a longer route to your destination in order to run up the cab fare. A recent Time magazine article stated that riders in Vegas were overcharged by an estimated $14.8 million because of cab drivers "long-hauling" them. So, if you don't know exactly where you are going and the directions to get there, chances are high that you may get ripped off. Further, the lines for cabs outside the resorts can often be quite long, adding unecessary frustration and waiting when you just want to get to where you are going.

So, you may have already deducted from the above list that my recommendation is to spend the money and get a rental car. Not only is a rental car the most convenient way to get around the Strip, it'll give you a chance to go off Strip if you want to visit Mount Charleston, Hoover Dam or some of the great off-Strip casinos like Green Valley Ranch or the Red Rock Resort.

The best deal that we have found here in Vegas for renting a car is Fox Rent A Car. You'll save anywhere from 20-40%, the reason being that their lot is offsite of the airport. They do have a shuttle that will take you to their lot, but you have to take a shuttle to get to the main rental car lot from the airport anyway, so you have to take a second shuttle to get to Fox once you've shuttled to the rental car area. It's a little bit longer of a trip, but if you don't mind taking the extra time, it can save you some big money.

Another great secret to know about the Strip is that both valet and self-parking are free at all the Strip resorts (but NOT downtown). Self-park is a great way to go if you are okay with a little bit of walking. There's not much to navigating to the self-parking lot, either. Just follow the signs for "self-park" as you enter the resort. A great tip is to always drive up to the very top open-air level of the self-park. Not only will you remember more easily where your car is, some of the best views of the Strip and surrounding valley can be seen from these levels. Some amazing ones we've observed are at Caesar's, Aria, Treasure Island, New York New York and Mirage. (The one above is one we took from the top of the Rio garage.) Bring your camera and take some time to enjoy the view!

Valet parking is a perfect option if you have physical limitations or just want to get right in the front door of the resort without a lot of extra walking around. Here's another secret: Having your bags sent to your room is not a luxury only afforded to celebrities and the super-wealthy! Any hotel guest is entitled to free bellhop service on the Strip. So don't struggle to drag your bags through the hotel and up to your room; just head to the valet area and ask for a bellhop to take your bags up to your room when it's ready. It's convenient and safe. However, make sure to TIP both your valet driver and your bellhop! (A couple bucks each is sufficient.)

Getting around the traffic on the Strip can be a little difficult, so my husband Matt has some tips to share, since he is an expert at avoiding the jams! Stay tuned for our next blog, which will be chockful of secrets on how to "backdoor" your way around the Strip and avoid the traffic.