It’s not hard to lose money in Las Vegas. Remember the phrase, “The house always wins”? For the most part, gone are the days when casino heads figured that if they could get the tourists there, they’d spend so much money gambling it was worth it to sell prime rib plates for $4.99 and offer cheap entertainment. Now, buffets can run as high as $50 a person, and many shows along the strip are pushing $100 or more per ticket. But, with proper planning, it is possible to find discounted, cheap and free activities in Vegas. Here’s a short guide for those visiting Vegas on a budget.

Hotel Deals

If you plan far enough ahead in advance of your trip, it’s possible to get some great hotel deals online. These are available primarily by signing up to become a member of rewards programs, such as Total Rewards, offered by Caesars Entertainment, or M Life, offered by MGM Resorts. Sign up online several months before your trip, and discounted hotel rates for all the hotels that are part of these rewards programs will start heading your way within a couple of weeks. Once in Vegas, pick up your Total Rewards or M Life cards at your hotel and use the card whenever you gamble, buy souvenirs at the hotel gift shop or eat at eligible restaurants to earn points that can be cashed in for play money and other freebies.

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Take a Tour of Hotels Along the Strip

It doesn’t cost anything to explore the more than 30 hotels and numerous casinos along the 4-mile Las Vegas Strip. Luxury hotels spare no expense in their decor and amenities and it’s well worth a sightseeing tour. A few you won’t want to miss are the The Venetian, Bellagio, Caesars Palace and Paris Hotel and Casino.

The Grand Canal Shoppes at The Venetian are a special treat, where luxury meets quaint charm. Cobblestone pathways lined with street lamps and a powder blue faux sky above create a romantic atmosphere, but the best feature is the canal running through the center of the shops. As in Venice, it’s possible to hitch a relaxing ride on a gondola, complete with a singing gondolier.

Cost: $16 per person, if you agree to share a gondola for four. A private gondola for one or two can be requested but will cost about quadruple the price per person!

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Caesar’s Palace

Put simply, Caesar’s Palace reeks of class. With perhaps the classiest casino on the strip, eight pools, a luxurious shopping mall and lavish decor, it is a must see on any trip to Vegas.

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Eiffel Tower at Paris Hotel

Yes, Las Vegas has its own Eiffel Tower. Exactly half the size of the original, the tower is an attraction at Paris Hotel and Casino. From atop the tower, you can get a breathtaking 360 degree view of downtown Las Vegas. Rides to the top via elevator can be taken during the day or at night, but night time offers the most spectacular views of the millions of city skyline and its millions of twinkling lights. The viewing deck is enclosed for safety, but there are areas where it’s possible to get an unobstructed view and take pictures. Cost: $7.50 to $15.50 per person, depending on time of day and if you qualify for a discount, available for children and senior citizens.

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Bellagio

The dancing fountain at Bellagio is one of the best known and spectacular free shows on the Strip. Set to music and lights, the show takes place in the 8-acre lake in front of the hotel. The fountain shoots as high as 460 feet in the air and spans more than 1,000 feet. Shows are every 30 minutes from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday and from noon to 7 p.m. Saturdays, Sundays and holidays. After 7 p.m., performances take place every 15 minutes until midnight.

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While at Bellagio, be sure to head inside to see the hotel’s conservatory and botanical gardens, also complementary. Decor changes five times a year - once for each season and for the Chinese New Year. The 13,500 square foot conservatory is brilliantly lit by natural sunlight streaming in through the 50-foot high glass ceiling and is open 24 hours a day. In addition to the Bellagio fountain, there are other free shows along the strip. Circus Circus offers free performances by aerialists, roller skaters, jugglers and more starting at 11 a.m. daily.

Sirens of Treasure Island is a free outdoor show featuring pirates and offered at the entrance of Treasure Island Hotel and Casino. Warning: The show used to be more family friendly but has been revamped and is now geared more for adults. Performance times vary depending on the season.

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The Mirage offers up a erupting volcano right on its front lawn, featuring explosions and fireballs. Shows typically begin at 7 p.m. and run every hour until 11 p.m.

The Forum Shops at Caesar’s Palace features a show involving moving statues that depict the fall of Atlantis.

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Located off the strip in downtown Vegas, the Fremont Street Experience offers free nightly light shows featuring 12.5 million lights. An overhead canopy spanning the length of five football fields features animation and video set to music. Shows run from 6 p.m. to midnight.

Street performers abound in Vegas, and many are very skilled. You’re free to watch them perform, but if you watch for a while and like what they do, it’s courteous to put $1 or more in their tip jars/hats/guitar cases, etc.

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Hint: Be on the lookout for the statues at The Venetian. Are they really statues?

It’s possible to get discounted tickets to shows at various half price and discounted ticket sales kiosks and stores located throughout the Strip. These sellers typically purchase tickets that didn’t sale, so usually, they aren’t available until the day of the show, or sometimes a day in advance, and there is a limited quantity, so get there early. Discounts vary but can be up to half price off. Some of the more popular shows, like “O” at Bellagio and Donny and Marie at The Flamingo, usually aren’t available at these sites. Discount tickets can also be purchased from a variety of online retailers as much as 30 to 60 days before the show, but remember that sales from these vendors are typically final, meaning no refunds in the event you need to cancel. Also be sure to check and make sure there are no hidden fees when you reserve your tickets. Some venues charge a “live entertainment fee.” Coupled with tax, this can add a significant amount to the total charge.

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Save Money on Food

There are some fabulous buffets in Vegas, and they carry a fancy price tag. To save money, consider purchasing the Buffet of Buffets, a 24-hour pass accepted at several hotels: Caesars Palace; Flamingo; Planet Hollywood; Bally’s; Imperial Palace; Paris; The Rio; and Harrah’s.

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The cost is $44.99 for Total Rewards members- signing up for Total Rewards is free and can be done online or at any Total Rewards hotel - and $49.99 for non-members. Although this may seem pricey, these buffets run around $20 to $50 per person per visit, and the pass allows you to eat as many times as you want in a 24-hour period, so it’s possible to save start money after just one or two visits. The pass expires 24 hours after it is purchased, so it’s a good idea to purchase it prior to breakfast, then try to eat that day’s three meals and attend breakfast before the pass expires the next morning. That’s four meals for about $50, including tax. Not a bad deal! It should be noted that there is an extra charge to eat at the newly opened Bacchanal Buffet at Caesars. The charge used to be $10, but the Buffet of Buffets website now states that it has increased to $15. This may seem like an annoyance, but the buffet at Caesars blows away every other buffet on the Strip, with more than 500 dishes and beautiful presentation of genuinely scrumptious fare. Plus, Bacchanal was named the No. 1 Buffet in Vegas by USA Today. There truly is something for everyone: Mexican, Italian, American, Chinese, Japanese, seafood and a deli are offered.

It’s still possible to get a steak or prime rib in Vegas for under $10, but you have to venture off the Strip, to places like Ellis Island Casino and Brewery or Market Street Cafe downtown, a few miles away.

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There’s also a McDonald’s right in the heart of the strip, if you’re craving cheap and fast.

It’s also worth noting that drinks - soft drinks, beer, wine and some cocktails - are free while gambling at most casinos, but it’s expected that servers should be tipped at least $1 per drink.

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Tours

Tours are available from Las Vegas to a variety of area attractions, such as the Grand Canyon and Hoover Dam. Research tours ahead of your trip so you’ll be well aware of what deals are offered. Sometimes, certain discounts are only available online. The concierge at your hotel can suggest a tour company, but those recommended by hotels are often more expensive and you can find the same tour for half the price if you do your research. Sometimes booking online in advance isn’t wise, as many companies won’t refund your money if you have to cancel. But it is wise to compare tours and companies, read reviews on sites like tripadvisor.com and have company names and phone numbers handy when you arrive in Las Vegas ready to make your reservations. Hotels typically charge for wifi use, so this will save money.

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Check and double check - meaning ask a human being on the phone, don’t just rely on the description on the Internet - to make sure the tour does not include hidden fees, such as a fuel surcharge. Also be aware that gratuity is expected and not usually included in the tour price.

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