Top 10 values for this month
When he was 16, Anthony Curtis received a book on blackjack from a family friend. Fascinated, he recalls, "I read it, instantly understood it and couldn't wait to get to Las Vegas."
Growing up in Detroit, Curtis had always shown an aptitude for math and board and card games, and for the next five years, he read everything he could about blackjack. In 1979, as soon as he turned 21, he headed for Vegas with $2,600 in his pocket.
"The first day, I won $22," Curtis says. "The second day, I lost $1,800, so after paying for my apartment, I was down to less than $100. I thought, Now what? I knew if I was going to stay, I had to come up with a plan."
He took on odd jobs and began investigating ways he could get more out of Vegas than it could get out of him. It didn't take long for him to learn that he could eat and drink cheap and get generous discounts for shows and other activities by using coupons.
"But, more importantly," Curtis says, "I realized the value of coupons for gambling, $3 for $2, $7 for $5, $10 for $5, that sort of thing. They're small, but when you put them all together, you can be playing dozens of them in a day by running from casino to casino. It's a way to make your gambling dollars go farther."
That, says Curtis, is how he built up a bankroll and reputation as one of the world's most foremost gambling authorities. Today, he's president of LasVegasAdvisor.com, a comprehensive Web site that includes virtually everything he's learned about Sin City over the past 26 years. It features current news; gambling tips; information about weather, transportation, conventions and special events; and reviews of hotels, casinos, shows, dining, spas, activities, nightspots and promotions.
He also publishes the Las Vegas Advisor, a 12-page monthly newsletter that offers more candid insights, and heads Huntington Press, a publishing house that specializes in gambling- and casino-related books and merchandise.
Curtis has dished up Vegas scoops on "Dateline," "48 Hours," A&E, E!, Discovery, the Travel Channel, the Food Channel and the Learning Channel, and is the author of "Bargain City-Booking," "Betting, and Beating the New Las Vegas" and "The Art of Gambling Through the Ages."
In short, if you're looking for advice on how to do Vegas, Curtis is the undisputed guru. He's parlayed his vast knowledge into a busy, full-time career.
SO, HOW CAN you make the most of your visit to Vegas? Curtis' advice is simple: Pick up all the handouts distributed on the street; they can contain valuable coupons. Shop around. That means getting on the phone and calling for the best rates. Also, check newspaper ads, Web sites and online message boards.
"LasVegasAdvisor.com has members-only boards and free boards," says Curtis. "Our member boards are strictly monitored and tend to be more useful, but there's still a lot of information to glean from the free boards. The good thing about most boards is that they're 'searchable,' so you can hone in on any topic you'd like. Or, simply post a question and you'll usually get great answers or at least leads."
According to Curtis, November and December -- especially the second week of December through Christmas -- are the best months for bargain hunters to visit. "This is the slowest time of the year, and hotels and casinos discount like mad," he says. "The next best time is June and July. Throughout the year, weekdays are always better than weekends. Don't come when there are big conventions in town."
During low seasons, prices drop substantially. For example, in December you might be able to snare a room at the Gold Coast, Orleans or Palace Station, all less than a mile from the Strip, for less than $20 per night. Prices change quickly, and these rock-bottom rates might not be available on the days you want to go but, Curtis says, you won't wind up paying much more.
Travelaxe, accessible free from LasVegasAdvisor.com, is a powerful tool for researching hotel prices. Input your trip information and the search engine scans 18 different travel and hotel Web sites for current rates, presenting its findings in an easy-to-read, side-by-side comparison chart that highlights the cheapest price for each property and calculates potential savings.
Even better, Travelaxe allows you to customize results based on price, brand or class (i.e., budget, midrange, luxury). This enables you to consider only accommodations that meet your criteria. After you've made your choice, click a button and Travelaxe takes you to the reservations page.
As far as shows go, street kiosks offer half-price tickets, but there are some disadvantages. "Availability changes daily, and you can only buy them on the day of the show," Curtis said. "There are lots of selections, but not the top-of-the-line shows. And there's a service charge of $4 per ticket."
ALL THE OPTIONS can be mind-boggling, which makes the Las Vegas Advisor a godsend; staffers do all the legwork for you. They pay for and personally check out each item covered in the newsletter and on the Web site. Information is continually updated and subscriber feedback is carefully considered.
One of LVA's most popular features is the Top Ten Values (see sidebar), which appeared on Page 1 when the newsletter debuted in 1983.
Among the deals on that inaugural list were a 15-cent ice cream cone at Lady Luck, 49-cent breakfast at Bingo Palace and $2 steak dinner at Binion's Horseshoe. Since then the Top Ten has become known as the place to find Vegas's best values.
LVA subscribers receive a "Pocketbook of Values" upon signing up, which provides more than $3,400 in coupons for free slot play, two-for-one meals and show tickets, discounted admission for activities and attractions, complimentary room and rental car upgrades, and more. Additional e-coupons are posted on LasVegasAdvisor.com year-round.
"Gathering and dispensing information on how to save money in Las Vegas is what we do every day of the year," says Curtis. "The harder you work, the better you usually do, and that also goes for Vegas vacationers looking for value."
Connecting with the Vegas experts
Price of a full LVA membership is $50 per year, including 12 printed monthly issues of the Las Vegas Advisor newsletter; the "Pocketbook of Values"; access to LVA's online archives, member forums and Daily Deals e-coupons; 50 percent off select Huntington Press-published products during the first 60 days of membership; and special promotions (for example, subscribers can reserve a free no-strings-attached room at the Stardust on select dates from November through February).
Through Dec. 15 you can take advantage of a $12 trial subscription offer that gives you three editions of the newsletter, the 2005 "Pocketbook of Values" (you have to visit Vegas before the end of the year to get full use of it) and all other membership privileges. To sign up, call 800-244-2224, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or go to the Web site www.LasVegasAdvisor.com.
Another information-packed Web site is www.vegas.com. Its "Insider Tips" feature includes a question-and-answer section categorized by "Lifestyle" (26 options, including "Bargain Hunter," "Elvis Fan," "High Roller" and "Grandparents") and "Occasion" (16 choices, among them "Bachelor/Bachelorette Party," "Family Vacation" and "Wedding").
Vacations-Hawaii, which specializes in Vegas vacations, offers six flights weekly between Honolulu and Sin City. Four- and five-night packages, including air fare, accommodations and most meals, start at $439 per person. Call 591-4777 for more information.
Cheryl Chee Tsutsumi is a Honolulu-based freelance writer whose "Hawaii's Back Yard" column appears in the Star-Bulletin Travel section each Sunday.
BACK TO TOP
Top 10 values for this month
1. Complete steak dinner, $4.95:
At Ellis Island. The 10-ounce filet-cut sirloin meal, including salad, green beans, potato and rolls, first appeared in the Top Ten in November 2000, which means it's entering its sixth year as Las Vegas' top bargain. Open 24 hours.
2. Shrimp cocktail, 99 cents:
At Golden Gate. The 99-cent shrimp cocktail is in its 46th year, and its 22nd (with only a few breaks) in the Las Vegas Advisor. The quality is as high as ever, even if the price was raised once. Offered between 11 a.m. to 3 a.m.
3. Ham and eggs, $2.49:
Arizona Charlie's Decatur. You can get a huge ham steak, two eggs any style, potatoes and toast any time of the day. Or get steak and eggs for just 50 cents more.
4. Souvenir photo, free:
Imperial Palace. First, join the Imperial Palace's Player Club at no charge. Then, go to the sidewalk in front of the hotel to get your picture snapped with Elvis, from noon to 8 p.m. The photo will be ready by the time it takes you to walk to the slot club booth to pick it up. Afterward, stop by the Dealertainers Pit, a spinoff of the hotel's "Legends in Concert" show. At any time, your dealer might step back from the table and belt out one of his/her character's greatest hits. Michael Jackson, Cher, Dolly Parton, Ray Charles and Elvis Presley are among the more than 20 celebrities represented.
5. Fun-book, free:
At Stratosphere, available daily. This is the top fun-book in town considering value and ease of acquisition. The blackjack coupon alone is worth $10.
6. Casbar Lounge, free:
At Sahara. Go to saharalasvegas.com any time daily to check out the nightly lineup for this month; there's no drink minimum or admission charge for any of the shows.
7. Cravings buffet, $12.50 to $22.50:
At the Mirage. Its prices are the best of all of the gourmet buffets, and the selection is extensive: American, Italian, Chinese, Middle Eastern, Asian noodles, dim sum, raw bar, rotisserie, carving station, salads and desserts. Available daily.
8. Mac King show, $7.99:
At Harrah's. To get the discount for this great show, which normally is priced at $19.95, you'll need a coupon, which is guaranteed for guests at Harrah's properties (Harrah's, Imperial Palace, Flamingo, Bally's and Paris) and usually distributed to others by vendors outside the hotel. The price includes one drink. The show runs Tuesdays through Saturdays.
9. Prime rib dinner, $6.99:
At California. The big cooked-to-order cut of prime rib comes with potato, veggies and roll, plus a full salad bar (worth $4.75 alone) and cherries jubilee for dessert. You won't find another prime rib special in Las Vegas with those extras. Available 5 to 10 p.m. nightly.
10. Monday Night Football Parlay, free:
At Sam's Town and Boulder Station. Every Monday, catch "Monday Night Football" in full swing along with the parties at Sam's Town and Boulder Station. The games are shown on big screens at both spots, but it's the free hot dog and beer that you get just for showing up that puts these two on the list.