Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Making The Most Of Your Las Vegas Budget

My wife and I took a trip to Las Vegas recently and I thought I’d write about the expenses involved and how we managed to reduce those by using a casino's player's club card.  I’ve written before about how important these are when it comes to getting comps while gambling. Hopefully, this will provide some hard evidence as to just how much you can save.

I'm Not Referring To Gambling Money

First, let me say that I have two budgets when I go to Las Vegas – a gambling budget and an expense budget. The gambling budget is solely used for gambling. The expense budget includes all non-gambling expenses. "That's cheating!" I hear you scream. "You can't write about Vegas expenses without considering gambling!" Yes, it’s a purely hypothetical distinction. After all, it’s all money coming from our pockets. However, by thinking about it in these terms, I can better track and analyze how much we win or lose gambling and how much we spend on lodging, meals, shows, etc.

Whether we win or lose at gambling is completely random. No amount of planning, praying, blowing on dice, wearing red, or carrying lucky charms will change that fact. Therefore, the gain or loss in our gambling budget is also random. As a result, I view our gambling budget as something I have no control over, short of adding funds to it. If I have no control over it, there's nothing to write about. If we are fortunate enough to end the trip with some of our gambling budget left over (which we usually do), I just roll that money over to the gambling budget for the next trip.

So un-ruffle your feathers, sit your ass down, and let’s look at what this trip cost, excluding gambling.

Details Of Our Trip

We stayed at the Cosmopolitan for three nights in a Terrace One Bedroom room with a view of the Bellagio Fountains. Prices vary by date, but the regular price for this room during our stay was $245 per night. Because we had been there before and are a member of their player’s club, I had received an offer in the mail for 2 free nights plus $130 in free play (credit they give us to gamble with). I also receive one free night per year based on my tier in their players club. By combining these deals, I was able to get all three nights for free. When I made the reservations over the phone, I was told the daily resort fee ($30) was supposedly not included with my free room, but when I checked in I was told it had been waived. Bonus!

A Nicer Room

However, the free nights are for their lowest priced room. My wife and I like to have a bit nicer room, so we upgraded to the one bedroom room with a terrace and a Japanese soaking tub. (Yes, I’m a diva when I go to Vegas.) This is a 2 tier room upgrade and they charge $70/night for that ($35/night each tier). The fountain view I like is usually an additional tier upgrade, but I find I can almost always score that upgrade for “free” with a $20 tip to the person checking me in. Technically, that’s not free, but a one-time $20 cost is much cheaper than another $35/night upgrade fee for 3 nights, so I consider it "free."

The view from our room during the day...

and at night.

 At the Cosmopolitan, besides earning player’s club points by gambling, you can also earn points by spending money at the rate of 5 points per dollar spent. This means it is incredibly important to present your players card whenever you purchase anything in order to maximize your points. I also prefer to charge everything to my room, just to make sure there is another record of my spending in case the wait staff or store clerk forgets to run my player’s card at the time of purchase.(I have one other reason for charging meals to my room, which will become obvious a bit later.)

How We Ate

My wife and I ate at the Wicked Spoon buffet twice – one time for breakfast and one time for dinner. (We usually don't eat lunch in Vegas.) As part of my player’s club benefits, I get a 2-for-1 buffet once a month, which we used for one of the dinners. Total cost for these meals was $85.

We also had dinner one night at the newly opened Beauty And Essex, the Las Vegas version of Chef Chris Santos' New York restaurant of the same name.  That dinner was absolutely amazing! We had 6 tapas-style courses plus three drinks. The food was some of the best I have ever eaten and my wife discovered a new favorite drink called The Woodsman. Total cost for our dinners was $170. Worth every penny.

We ate two meals at The Henry, which is the Cosmo’s 24 hour restaurant. Total cost there was $90

We also went to the Wynn one night and tried their newly remodeled Buffet for dinner. That cost $95 for the two of us. (For the record, we felt the remodeled decor and slightly changed menu added up to a big “meh”. It’s not too different from how it was before the remodel.)

Use Your Points Wisely

Of course, when we gambled, we made sure to use our player’s club card, so we earned additional points that way. You have the option of converting your points into either gambling credits or cash to be used to offset any charges you incur. On previous trips, I would convert them to gambling credits, but this trip, I realized the smarter move is to use them to offset spending, which is what I did.

The reason this is a better option is because, when gambling, your expected return is less than 100%. For example, the video poker machines we like to play have a return of about 95.5%, which means the casino keeps about 4.5% of the money you put in, on average. Slot machines probably have a worse payout ratio - you can't tell because, unlike video poker machines, which display their pay tables*, slot machines do not post their payout ratio. But if you use your points to pay for expenses, you’re getting a 100% return on that money. When I checked out, I converted my points to $158 in cash that I applied to my final bill.

* Using this information, plus the known probabilities of certain hands occurring in poker, the machine payout ratio can be calculated.

Extra Credit

And finally, I was able to use a $200 credit card bonus that I earned on a new credit card to offset some of these expenses as well. With this particular card, the bonus can be used only for travel-related expenses such as hotels and transportation. By charging my restaurant bills to my room, they show up on my credit card bill as a hotel charge, not restaurant charges, and hence I can use my bonus on them.

Total Savings: Almost $1,000!

So, let’s look at the overall savings using a player’s club card got me. Costs without discounts:

  • 3 nights in 1 bedroom suite with fountain view plus resort fee: $825 
  • All meals: $478
  • Total: $1,303
  •  My cost: $387

 I saved $916 by using my player’s club card!

My Net Cost Was Even Less

My net cost after using my credit card bonus: $187

So our vacation for 4 days and 3 nights for 2 two people cost only $187*! Not bad, considering we ate 4- and 5-star food the whole time. I haven't even mentioned all the free drinks we got while gambling.
* Technically, it cost a little bit more than this because we drove to Las Vegas and had to pay for two tanks for gas to get there and back, but what's $40 between friends, huh?

What About Gambling?

Speaking of gambling, how did that go? Not too bad. We ended up losing $900 total, but this did happen to me:

(Credit - Win) shows I was down to my last 15 credits when I hit this

Am I being disingenuous when I say the trip cost me only $187 and I don’t include my $900 in gambling losses? Possibly. But as I’ve said before, budgeting means separating your money into buckets and my gambling budget is its own bucket.

For this analysis, I am looking only at how my player’s club card saved me money on things I bought and how it can save you money if you use it as we do. Winning or losing at gambling is something outside of our control, so it has to be excluded from any analysis such as this. (Note I have also excluded the $130 in free gambling play I received from the casino, which could be viewed as offsetting some of my loss.)

As an added bonus, we got to meet up with a friend of mine from high school while we were there. (Hi Kevin!)

1 comment:

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