Las Vegas hotels: Let them have golf money! Save without slumming in Sin City

By Chris Baldwin, Contributor

LAS VEGAS - These days, going first-class is the only way to go in Las Vegas. Or so the starlet-aura stalkers and rope-line gawkers say.

Aladdin Casino - Las Vegas
The reasonably priced Aladdin often gets overlooked on the Strip scene.
Aladdin Casino - Las VegasTPC Canyons Golf Course - DesertWynn - Ferrari showroomRio All-Suites Hotel & Casino

The ultra-plush, uber-hip five-star casino hotels are as hot as Elmo in a preschool. Everyone seems to want to stay at the Bellagio, The Venetian, Wynn Las Vegas.

But a stay like that eats up an awful lot of scratch - money you could spend on golf, gambling or women named Destiny.

Accommodation is the easiest way to stretch your dollars in Sin City, but that doesn't have to mean sleeping in your car outside Kinkos, at the Motel 6 or some creepy guy's roadside motor lodge in the desert.

You can still stay at top resorts, frolic in happening pools and soak in the casino scene - just do it in a four-star hotel that's not all the buzz.

"I never got the Wynn craze, or the Bellagio craze before that - how people decided they had to stay in one certain hotel no matter what," vacationer Don Rubin said.

"It's Las Vegas. There are 20 really nice hotels. I can be in a full suite paying less than half what some guy is at the Wynn. And his hot tub's not running any better than mine."

Hey, this is the Vegas version of roughing it.

Rubin isn't exaggerating. Searching the internet in mid-November for a room the following month found a rate of $69 for the four-star Treasure Island. The five-star Bellagio and Wynn both came in at over $200 per night.

The savings would almost cover a round at a high-end golf course like TPC Canyons and more than pay for one at a good mid-range track such as Painted Desert.

Think there's that much difference between a four- and five-star room?

"I sleep well in either one," Rubin said, laughing. "Especially if I won at the tables."

Second thoughts on four-stars

You can live large and spend small, but there are some basic tenets to follow.

First, don't just pick out a four-star place and assume you're going to get a deal. Look for the lower-key casino hotels, the ones you don't see on Entertainment Tonight every week.

The Palms, for example, is a no-go. Even without that fifth star, the Maloof brothers create enough buzz around their casino to charge higher prices. The first new U.S. Playboy Club in 20 years just opened at the Palms, and celebrities like Tara Reid, the Wayan brothers and Avril Lavigne often hang out there.

(Here's a Vegas secret: Celebrities "hanging out" at a casino are often paid to be there. Hotels that pay celebs don't need to give you discounts.)

Try the Aladdin instead. Considered a Vegas oldie by some (it opened in 2000, two years after the long-standing original was imploded), it has perhaps the best location in town - smack-dab in the middle of the Strip, within walking distance of the Wynn and Mandalay Bay anchoring the opposing ends.

Plus, the rooms are among Vegas' most comfortable, especially if you're a member of Starwood (the Westin, Sheraton and W hotels rewards program) and get a free upgrade. The casino is surprisingly happening (some card players swear by its poker room).

Yes, there's a mall connected to it, which probably accounts for the Aladdin's limited cachet. The march to the self parking garage is arduous, there are no top restaurants on site and it's doubtful you'll run into so much as a Real World alum en route to your room.

Still, you're in the center of everything, in a very nice room with one of those famous Westin beds, often for well under $100.

Down near the Wynn end of the Strip, Treasure Island is another standout four-star value. Forget the pirate-ship show out front; you'll love this place for its renovated rooms, reminiscent of the Mirage's at distinctly un-Mirage-like prices.

Again, there's no really memorable dining on-site, and the casino smells especially smoky. The lines at the registration desk are frequently long. But if you don't mind not feeling like a VIP when you check in, you can save some serious loot for golf.

Rio All-Suites Hotel & Casino matches savings with inclusive high spirits. Like The Palms and the similarly scene-y Hard Rock Casino, Rio is off The Strip but within walking distance of the hot spots; unlike those places, it doesn't live off making people feel too uncool for the room.

No, the Rio is all about an all-together-now good time. Cocktail waitresses jump on slot machines and start shimmying. A nightly carnival line snakes down the center of the casino floor, with people being pulled off their machines to dance.

Maybe they're all just excited about their room rate. That's another Vegas secret: It's a hell of a lot of fun to go four-star reasonable.

"Sometimes the rich are just dumb," Rio guest Bob Connors said between drinks as the casino scene bobbed on around him. "I'll save my big money for the golf."

Chris BaldwinChris Baldwin, Contributor

Chris Baldwin keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment