Tuesday, August 21, 2007 at 8:07am by The Free Geek
Are you ready to visit Las Vegas? If so, you’re probably just as focused on how to save your money as you are on winning the “big pot”. The pinnacle of freebies in Vegas is the “comp” or “complimentary” item that can range from a keychain to an airline ticket. While large comps are reserved for high rollers, even nickle-and-dime patrons can snag a comp or two if they know what to do.
The first-time visitor to Vegas will benefit from the tips listed below, where you’ll learn how to snag as many comps as possible during, and even after, your trip to Vegas. If this is your second trip or if you’re a seasoned Vegas veteran, you might pick up a trick or two that will play well on your next visit.
Before You Leave
Before you walk out that door and even before you purchase that airline ticket or book the hotel room, look online for deals.
- First, you must know about how much you plan to spend in Vegas and how long you plan to visit. Both money and time are directly related to how many comps you’ll receive and the size of those comps. If you don’t plan to spend a lot of money and if this is your first visit to Vegas, lower your expectations now. But, don’t fret – you’ll still receive plenty of freebies if you know how to find them.
- Don’t expect a free room on your first Vegas visit. But, you can still snag deals with a “casino rate”, provided that you’ve expressed interest in gambling at the hotel’s casino and if the hotel isn’t the highest-rated place to stay on The Strip. This room will be comped upon checkout, provided you’ve given that casino some medium to heavy play ($1000 – $5000 per day on tables or more on slots). If you’re unsure whether you want to play where you stay, you can use Las Vegas Magazine online to find some very low room rates. When you arrive in Vegas, pick up a print copy of the same magazine so that you can take advantage of any accompanying coupons or advertised sales.
- You can find more online coupons for activities at Las Vegas Leisure Guide. You can also make a list of any free Vegas activities at Vegas4Locals or at Vegas.com. Don’t pass up Las Vegas Advisor in your search for Vegas information, as this site offers coupons, lists of free activities, and advice for Vegas newbies – including ways to save money on your stay.
- When you budget for your stay, include money for tips. The average tips include $5 per hour for dealers, $1 per drink for comped drinks, and 15-20% for room service or restaurant staff. You might pool money as a group if you want to get into a nightclub, as the doorman with the clipboard will appreciate a healthy tip and that move may get you in the door (literally). You don’t want to forget to tip the casino host, either, as you’ll learn below.
When You Arrive
Immediately upon arrival, check out the hotel’s casino to conduct the following business:
- One way to obtain comps in Vegas is to become a slot club member. In fact, you can’t get a free room or some other perks without this status. But, you can breathe easy, because this membership is free. Before you begin to gamble at any casino, find the player’s booth at the casino and ask for a player’s club card. You will need to show an ID and you will fill out a card with your name, address, and phone and social security numbers. In return, you’ll receive a piece of plastic that contains an ID number (much like a credit card). When you sit down to a table game, you will hand your slot card to the dealer, who will then get the host’s attention (for those who remember pit bosses, the host is the pit boss). From that point forward, your money and time spent at any given table will be noted and you’ll be ‘rated’ on your gambling habits with points on that card. Think of this card as a rewards card, much like one where you rack up airline miles. Instead, you’ll be gathering points for comps.
- Slot machines will also record your gambling amounts and time spent on play if you insert your slot club card into the appropriate slot at the machine.You earn points based on the number of coins you put into the machine, just like you will earn points at any table. You can redeem these points for comps that range from t-shirts to gas coupons to bottles of wine and more. But, as you’ll learn below, the slots are an easy way to part with your money and they really don’t rack up the points like table games do in the long run.
- If you plan to spend at least $1000 or more per day on gambling, ask to speak directly to a host when you arrive in Vegas and before you begin to play. Tell the host about your gambling budget and habits (what games you play, how many hours a day you play, how much you bet, what casinos you have frequented in the past, etc.) and the host can authorize your comp levels. Once you’ve found a host, that host may accompany you to the players booth where you will follow the same routine as the person who plans to spend only $100 per day. You are now a club card member.
- If you understand that comps are based upon a patron’s expected losses, you’ll learn why you shouldn’t expect much from a casino unless you’ve accumulated some time and spent some dollars on their tables and/or slot machines. Say that you spend $5000 at poker with a 4% house edge. You would be expected to lose $150 at that rate. The casino would then comp a percentage of that loss, somewhere in the range of 20-40%, or between $30 and $105. This doesn’t mean that you need to lose $150 to receive comps because you can be a winner and still walk away with comps. The point is that the casino wants you to play and the hosts want you to play on their tables and at their slots. They will reward you for your persistance, no matter if you win or lose.
- With that said, don’t gamble just to show off or to gain more points on your card – you’ll waste your money. No comp is worth that extra $500 to $1000 that you’ll throw around just to gain a reputation as a heavy gambler. That money would have paid for a room, food, and a show.
- Be prepared to be treated with disdain or ignored totally by your host if you cut your spending short and take your play to another casino. If you plan to spend big bucks but you’re unwilling to lose all your money, decide on your game plan now… either don’t play where you stay or just quit for the day.
How to Recognize a Comp
Whether you realize it or not, coupons, low room rates, and even the free transportation from the airport to your hotel are comps. You can receive those perks when you travel to any large city. But Vegas can be an expensive city, so the more money you can save the better. Despite a seeming warm Vegas welcome, casinos usually won’t provide handouts unless it’s to the breakfast buffet. You need to put some effort into finding those comps and you need to abide by some customs to keep those comps coming. Plus, you’ll need to ask for your comps when you’re ready for them. Don’t be shy – you’ll never get what you want if you don’t ask first.
Free Drinks: The free drink is the most common casino comp, even when you’re not a serious player. As long as you’re playing (not just sitting) at the slots or tables, a waitress will come around to take your order. Don’t try to fake the action because the staff is wise to that game. Additionally, a $1 tip per drink is the norm, especially if you want that waitress to return. Most of these drinks are house drinks, but go ahead and ask specifically for a special drink – the casino may surprise you and bring it on.
Eat Cheap or Free: No matter where you gamble, Las Vegas will serve up food at a very low cost. Think $.99 breakfasts, $4.50 full buffets, $5 prime rib or steak dinners, and $1 for a shrimp cocktail. Even if you don’t get comps for a free meal, you’ll still get some steal deals. If you want to know how much “free” food you can get at any given point in time, just ask the host or the personell at the comp card booth how much you can get with the points you have on your card.
Line or Buffet Passes: You might receive a line pass that will allow you to walk past a buffet line to a sign that says “VIP” or “Line Passes.” This pass, however, will not pay for your meal. The “Buffet Pass” will pay for the meal and it will also allow you to jump line. If you’re traveling or gambling with a party of three or more, ask the host if you can receive Buffet Passes for your group (most likely for a breakfast rather than lunch or dinner buffet, depending upon your gambling budget). While you may not receive passes for everyone, the comps will lower everyone’s cost for the meal.
For instance, if your group numbers three and you all want to eat at a $15 buffet, you might receive one Buffet Pass and you might have a 2-for-1 coupon in your back pocket. In this situation, you’ll only pay $15 for three people, or $5 per person. But, leave a tip based upon $45 (approximately $9) rather than a tip based upon $5 (approximately $1), otherwise you’ll be tagged with a reputation of being “cheap” rather than frugal.
You can use the same tactics for buffets to receive comps to coffee shops and restaurants. When you ask the host or other responsible personnel about your comp ranking based upon your slot club card usage, keep tabs on how many points you have remaining. If you establish a relationship with a host and ask him or her about your comps directly, you may find that you’ll receive further perks, such as a free meal that isn’t taken from your card or a comp when you don’t have enough points to cover the cost.
Free or Cheap Shows: Use the same tactics for shows or special events that you want to attend while in Vegas. Don’t expect comps for special shows that are in town for a short time. Ongoing shows that aren’t free will present a better chance for a comp. Go back to #2 and #3 in the previous list to find free shows or to discover 2-for-1 coupons that will help defray costs.
Cheap or Free Rooms: Even if you don’t make out with a free room on your first trip to Vegas, you’ll find rooms on The Strip that range from $34 to a little over $100 per night – the price of a hotel room just about anywhere in America. But, to get the best rates, try to travel on weekdays rather than on weekends or during peak seasons. When you check out of a room where you’ve stayed and played at the connected casino, speak to a host before you hand over your credit card to pay for the bill. You might be pleasantly surprised or you might be expected to pay the full tab.
While hosts have heard the same line over and over, they never tire of hearing from a patron who states that their hotel and casino are the best on The Strip. Once you pay homage, ask if charges can be removed from your bill. Some regular visitors to Vegas charge everything to the room – from meals to drinks to gambling tabs – in hopes that the comps at the end will be much larger than the accumulative affect of nickel-and-dime comps throughout a stay.
No matter how you manage your meals, drinks, or other charges, always put on a considerate face when you ask for a comp. While the casino wants to make sure that you have a good time and that you want to return in the future, that same casino also doesn’t want combatitive and argumentative guests to remain or return. If the hotel or casino doesn’t offer what you think you deserve, ask for a host’s card when you check out. Before you return to Vegas, call that host and ask for discounts before you arrive for your second stay.
When you establish a relationship with a casino host, you’ll enjoy more comps each time you return – especially if you’re a consistent gambler, if you treat staff with respect, and if you bring friends along for the fun. If you follow the customs listed here, you’ll discover that you don’t need to be a millionaire to be treated royally in Vegas.
Frugal Vegas Tips
Finally, here are some added ideas on how to make your trip to Vegas truly frugal:
- While it’s a fact that you’ll receive more comps if you stay and play in one place rather than spreading your money up and down The Strip, you may discover that your casino operates under an umbrella. You can then use the card at numerous casinos and rack up your points across the board. The MGM Mirage Players Club Card, for example, earns points at the Bellagio, MGM Grand, the Mirage, Treasure Island, New York–New York in Las Vegas; Beau Rivage in Biloxi; and the MGM Grand in Detroit. Members who own this card get points for slot or table play in any of these casinos, which makes them eligible for a hierarchy of special offers.
- You can learn more tricks about how to determine comps at Hotel Chatter, including how many points certain hotels might offer for your stay and play. For instance, the Bellagio will provide rooms at casino rates for 1275 points. To put this into perspective, the Bellagio will offer one point for each dollar you put into a slot machine. Rooms at the Bellagio usually average $300 per night, so if you want to spend $1,275 for one night at casino rate is up to you. It’s actually less expensive to pay the full rate.
- Take time to visit other casinos and sign up for their slot club member cards. You’ll receive offers from these casinos after you return home, even if you don’t stay and play at their facilities. These comps may range from room discounts to free meals or a show. If you visit Vegas often, the comps will begin to reflect the time and money you spend over your many visits.
- While you’re looking for online coupons to save money, take some time to read local accounts about Vegas before you go. Mark Evanier‘s point of view, for example, provides insights on what you can and can’t expect from a hotel and/or a casino. In addition, his attitude about comps is downright classy.
- There can be some benefit in asking for two players comp cards in case you lose the first one. You can put that second card to use if you’re with a friend who doesn’t mind playing at different tables or at the slots while you’re playing the tables. Since your name will be on both cards, you both cannot sit in on the same game. Those points will add up on from both cards into your single account. You and your friend can then benefit from one card that contains 500 points rather than from two cards that contain 250 points each…the higher points on one card will gain more comps.
- You may also want to keep your place at a table if you need a break (remember – time on a table counts toward points). Just ask the dealer to place your spot, and you’ll be recorded as being at the table while you visit the restroom. Don’t abuse this tip by taking long breaks, otherwise the dealers will politely refuse to hold your place in the future.
- Don’t valet your car even if hotel parking is free… you’ll still need to tip the valet. Instead, park your car in that free garage or lot on your own.
- Don’t bother with a taxi on The Strip, as they’re prohibited from stopping along the gambling row. The Strip is about four miles long, so walk or catch the Deuce (a double-decker bus) that runs every 10 minutes for about $2. An all-you-can-ride day pass $5. You must have exact change.
- Forget room service, as it’s overpriced. Roll out of bed and out the door to enjoy less expensive coffee shops or that free breakfast buffet.
- Don’t purchase gas on The Strip. Drive a few miles to the east or west to find less expensive means to fuel your car.
- You can save money when you order bottles of wine rather than wine by the glass. If you’re with a group, get everyone to agree on a specific grape and you’ll save all around. To go further, if you have a coupon for $25 for a meal and you only spend $20, spend the final $5 toward a bottle of wine that you can enjoy later.
- While you might want to put all charges on your room, you can save a few bucks if you need sundries by visiting a drug store on The Strip. Don’t worry – you’ll find several places where you can purchase toothpaste, deodorant, and even souvenirs for almost half the price as the same item at the hotel store.
Finally, if you’re truly serious about making Vegas a point of fun and frugality rather than one of disappointment and debt, you might want to purchase a book or two written by frugal gambling pros like Jean Scott. Scott will advise you on how to be cash-savvy in her columns; and her book, “The Frugal Gambler,” will show you how to maximize slot club memberships and how to look for gambling promotions.
A frugal and almost-free Vegas trip will take a little work on your part. But, once you begin to get the hang of what to expect and what’s expected from you in return, you’ll probably want to return to Vegas again and again. Good luck, break a leg, and kiss the dice.
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