It isn’t too hard to navigate your way around Vegas. But do remember: Thanks to huge hotel acreage, often very slow traffic, and lots and lots of people—like you—trying to explore, getting around takes a lot longer than you might think. Heck, it can take 15 to 20 minutes to get from your room to another part of your hotel! Always allow for plenty of time to get from point A to point B.
Getting into Town from the Airport
Getting to your hotel from the airport is a cinch. You can grab one of the roughly nine gajillion cabs that are lined up waiting for you, summon your favorite ride share service such as Lyft or Uber (designated pick up areas are in the parking garages of each terminal), or you can grab a shuttle bus. Bell Transportation (www.airportshuttlelasvegas.com; [tel] 800/274-7433) runs 24-passenger minibuses daily (3:30am–1am) between the airport and all major Las Vegas hotels and motels. The cost is $7 per person each way to hotels on the Strip or around the Convention Center, and $8.50 to Downtown and other off-Strip properties (north of Sahara Ave. and west of I-15). Several other companies run similar ventures—just look for the signs for the shuttle bus queues, located just outside of the baggage-claim area. Buses from the airport leave every few minutes. When you want to check out of your hotel and head back to the airport, call at least 2 hours in advance to be safe (though often you can just flag down one of the buses outside any major hotel).
Even less expensive are Citizens Area Transit (CAT) buses (www.rtcsnv.com/transit; [tel] 702/228-7433). The no. 109 bus goes from the airport to the South Strip Transfer Terminal at Gilespie St. and Sunset Rd., where you can transfer to the Strip and Downtown Express (SDX) or Deuce line that runs along the Strip into Downtown. Alternately, the no. 108 bus departs from the airport and takes you Downtown. The fares for buses on Strip routes are $6 for adults for 2 hours or $8 for 24 hours. Other routes are $2 for a single ride. Note: You might have a long walk from the bus stop to the hotel entrance, even if the bus stop is right in front of your hotel. Shuttles and taxis are able to get right up to the entrance, so choose one of those if you’re lugging lots of baggage.
If you have a large group with you, you might also try one of the limos that wait curbside at the airport and charge $45 to $65 for a trip to the Strip. The price may go up with additional passengers, so ask about the fee very carefully. The aforementioned Bell Transportation is one reputable company that operates limousines in addition to their fleet of shuttle buses (call in advance).
If you plan to confine yourself to one part of the Strip (or one cruise down to it) or to Downtown, your feet will suffice. Otherwise, we highly recommend that visitors rent a car. The Strip is too spread out for walking (and Las Vegas is often too hot or too cold to make strolls pleasant); Downtown is too far away for a cheap cab ride, and public transportation is often ineffective in getting you where you want to go. Plus, return visits call for exploration in more remote parts of the city, and a car brings freedom, especially if you want to do any side trips at your own pace.
You should note that places with addresses some 60 blocks east or west of the Strip are actually less than a 10-minute drive—provided there is no traffic.
Having advocated renting a car, we should warn you that traffic is pretty terrible, especially in and around the busy tourist areas. A general rule of thumb is to avoid driving on the Strip whenever you can and give yourself plenty of extra time during rush hour to get where you want to go.
When it comes to parking, it used to be that Las Vegas was where you could park on the most expensive real estate in the country for free. Sadly, that is no longer the case. In 2016, MGM Resorts properties announced they would institute fees for both valet and self-parking, and then unfortunately, most of the other Strip resorts quickly followed suit. There is no rhyme or reason to the fees, other than they go up incrementally depending on how long and at which property you’re visiting stay (the max you’ll pay overnight is $15) and visitors are begrudgingly paying them. But hey, you still get your first hour free. Your best bet to avoid a parking headache is to leave your car where it is.
The days of free valet are also gone, with most casinos now charging $13-$20, and that’s not including the $2-$5 tip. But you’re paying for convenience at this point, so if you’re feeling especially swank you can park right at the door. Valet usually fills up on busy nights and is restricted at some hotels to elite players’ club members.
It’s easier to keep a short list, so save for Venetian, Palazzo, SLS, Treasure Island and Tropicana, you’ll have to pony up to park on the Strip. A few other hotels, such as Wynn/Encore and Planet Hollywood still let you self-park in their garages for free. Mandarin Oriental and Four Seasons are the exceptions to this rule, as both offer only valet parking at $30 and $22, respectively.
If you’re visiting from abroad note that insurance and taxes are almost never included in quoted rental-car rates in the U.S. Be sure to ask your rental agency about these. They can add a significant cost to your car rental.
At press time, in Nevada, the cost of gasoline (also known as gas, but never petrol) is around $2.75 per gallon and tends to vary unpredictably. Taxes are already included in the printed price. One U.S. gallon equals 3.8 liters or .85 imperial gallons. Fill-up locations are known as gas or service stations. Las Vegas prices typically fall near the nationwide average. You can also check www.vegasgasprices.com for recent costs.
Renting a Car
All of the major car rental companies have outlets in Las Vegas, as do E-Z Rent-A-Car (www.e-zrentacar.com) and Payless (www.paylesscar.com).
Rental policies vary from company to company, but generally speaking you must be at least 25 years of age with a major credit or debit card to rent a vehicle in Las Vegas. Some companies will rent to those between 21 and 24, but will usually charge extra ($20–$30 per day) and will require proof of insurance and a major credit card; also, they may restrict the type of vehicle you are allowed to rent (forget those zippy convertibles).
All of the major car rental companies are located at a consolidated facility at 7135 Gilespie St., just a block off Las Vegas Blvd. near Warm Springs Rd. and about 2 1/2 miles from the airport. When you arrive, look for the signs for buses and shuttles in the baggage-claim area and follow them outside, where you’ll find blue-and-white buses marked McCarran Rent-A-Car Center. It takes about 10 minutes to make the trip, although it’s worth noting that the lines for buses and at the car-rental counters can be long—budget some extra time if you have somewhere to be right after you get to town.
The rental-car facility is modern and easily navigable, and just in case you resisted while at the airport, there are slot machines next to the rental counters as well. Welcome to Vegas!
When exiting the facility, take three right turns and you are on the Strip, about 2 miles south of Mandalay Bay.
Car-rental rates vary even more than airline fares. The price you pay depends on the size of the car, where and when you pick it up and drop it off, the length of the rental period, where and how far you drive it, whether you purchase insurance, and a host of other factors. Finding the answers, online or at the counter, to a few key questions could save you hundreds of dollars:
- Are weekend rates lower than weekday rates? In Vegas this is usually true, although holiday or special events weekends can be more costly. Ask if the rate is the same for pickup Friday morning, for instance, as it is for Thursday night.
- Is a weekly rate cheaper than the daily rate? Even if you need the car for only 4 days, it may be cheaper to keep it for 5.
- Does the agency assess a drop-off charge if you don’t return the car to the same location where you picked it up? Is it cheaper to pick up the car at the airport than at a Downtown location?
- Are special promotional rates available? If you see an advertised price in your local newspaper, be sure to ask for that specific rate; otherwise, you may be charged the standard cost. Terms change constantly, and reservations agents are notorious for not mentioning available discounts unless you ask.
- Are discounts available for members of AARP, AAA, frequent-flier programs, or trade unions? If you belong to any of these organizations, you may be eligible for discounts of up to 30%.
- Are there additional fees? In Las Vegas, expect to add about 35% to 40% on top of the rental fee, including a $1.60-per-day vehicle license fee, a $3.75-per-day facility fee, a 10% concession fee, and about 20% in taxes and state government surcharges. Ouch.
- What is the cost of adding an additional driver’s name to the contract?
- How many free miles are included in the price? Free mileage is often negotiable, depending on the length of the rental.
Some companies offer “refueling packages,” in which you pay for an entire tank of gas up front. The price is usually fairly competitive with local gas prices, but you don’t get credit for any gas remaining in the tank; and because it is virtually impossible to use up every last bit of fuel before you return it, you will usually wind up paying more overall than you would if you just filled it up yourself. There are several gas stations within a few blocks of the car-rental center, including three at the intersection of Las Vegas Blvd. and Warm Springs Rd. You may pay a few extra pennies at them than you would at stations elsewhere in town, but in the long run it’s still a better deal.
Many available packages include airfare, accommodations, and a rental car with unlimited mileage. Compare these prices with the cost of booking airline tickets and renting a car separately to see if such offers are good deals. Internet resources can make comparison-shopping easier.
Surfing for Rental Cars
For booking rental cars online, the best deals are usually found at rental-car company websites, although all the major online travel agencies also offer rental-car reservation services. Priceline (www.priceline.com) and Hotwire (www.hotwire.com) work well for rental cars; the only “mystery” is which major rental company you get, and for most travelers, the difference between Hertz, Avis, and Budget is negligible.
Demystifying Rental-Car Insurance
Before you drive off in a rental car, be sure you’re insured. Hasty assumptions about your personal auto insurance or a rental agency’s additional coverage could end up costing you tens of thousands of dollars—even if you are involved in an accident that was clearly the fault of another driver.
If you already hold a private auto insurance policy in the United States, you are most likely covered for loss of, or damage to, a rental car, and liability in case of injury to any other party involved in an accident. Be sure to find out whether you are covered in Vegas, whether your policy extends to all persons who will be driving the rental car, how much liability is covered in case an outside party is injured in an accident, and whether the type of vehicle you are renting is included under your contract. (Rental trucks, sport utility vehicles, and luxury vehicles may not be covered.)
Most major credit cards provide some degree of coverage as well—provided they were used to pay for the rental. Terms vary widely, however, so be sure to call your credit card company directly before you rent. If you don’t have a private auto insurance policy, the credit card you use to rent a car may provide primary coverage if you decline the rental agency’s insurance. This means that the credit card company will cover damage or theft of a rental car for the full cost of the vehicle. If you do have a private auto insurance policy, your credit card may provide secondary coverage—which basically covers your deductible. Credit cards do not cover liability or the cost of injury to an outside party and/or damage to an outside party’s vehicle. If you do not hold an insurance policy, you may want to seriously consider purchasing additional liability insurance from your rental company. Be sure to check the terms, however: Some rental agencies cover liability only if the renter is not at fault; even then, the rental company’s obligation varies from state to state. Bear in mind that each credit card company has its own peculiarities; call your own credit card company for details before relying on a card for coverage. Speaking of cards, members of AAA should be sure to carry their membership ID card with them, which provides some of the benefits touted by the rental-car agencies at no additional cost.
The basic insurance coverage offered by most rental-car companies, known as the Loss/Damage Waiver (LDW) or Collision Damage Waiver (CDW), can cost $20 per day or more. The former should cover everything, including the loss of income to the rental agency, should you get in an accident (normally not covered by your own insurance policy). It usually covers the full value of the vehicle, with no deductible, if an outside party causes an accident or other damage to the rental car. You will probably be covered in case of theft as well. Liability coverage varies, but the minimum is usually at least $15,000. If you are at fault in an accident, you will be covered for the full replacement value of the car—but not for liability. In Nevada, you can buy additional liability coverage for such cases. Most rental companies require a police report in order to process any claims you file, but your private insurer will not be notified of the accident. Check your own policies and credit cards before you shell out money on this extra insurance because you may already be covered.
It’s worth noting that rental-car companies seem to be pushing the extra coverage especially hard these days. Doing your research on what types of coverage you do and do not need will allow you to smile politely and decline if it is appropriate. Don’t let them pressure or scare you into spending extra money for items you don’t need.
Drive in Style
If the idea of tooling around Las Vegas in a pedestrian rent-a-box just doesn't sound appealing, you can indulge your fantasies by going with something more exotic.
Las Vegas Exotic Car Rentals (www.vegasexoticrentals.com; [tel] 866/871-1893 or 702/736-2592) has a fleet from makers such as Lamborghini, Bentley, Ferrari, and Lotus, plus a stable of classic American muscle cars like the Chevrolet Corvette. They even feature an Aston Martin, if you want to work out your inner James Bond while buzzing between casinos. Rates start at about $300 per day and go up from there—sometimes, way up. At press time, the Lamborghini Gallardo Spyder was $975 per day, or roughly what you'll pay for a week in a room at a nice Vegas hotel.
Because cabs line up in front of all major hotels, an easy way to get around town is by taxi. Cabs charge $3.30 at the meter drop and $2.60 per mile after that, plus an additional $2.00 fee for being picked up at the airport and time-based penalties if you get stuck in traffic. A taxi from the airport to the Strip will run you $15 to $20, from the airport to Downtown $18 to $25, and between the Strip and Downtown about $12 to $18. You can often save money by sharing a cab with someone going to the same destination (up to five people can ride for the same fare).
All this implies that you have gotten a driver who is honest. Long-hauling—the practice of taking fares on a longer route to the destination to increase fares—is rampant in Las Vegas these days. A 2013 audit by the state found an estimated $15 million in overcharges and nearly 25% of all fares from the airport were charged too much.
The simplest way to avoid this is to always know where you are going and roughly how much it should cost to get there. Use the maps on your phone or online to gauge the distance and calculate the approximate fare or let a website like taxifarefinder.com do the math for you. When you get into the cab and state your destination, don’t be afraid to add something like “that will cost about $20, right?” It puts the cabbie on notice that you are not a hapless tourist ready to be taken for a metaphorical ride.
If you suspect that you have been long-hauled, call the taxi company to complain and be sure to file a report with the Nevada Taxicab Authority at taxi.nv.gov.
If you just can’t find a taxi to hail and want to call one, try the following companies: Desert Cab Company ([tel] 702/386-9102), Whittlesea Blue Cab ([tel] 702/384-6111), or Yellow/Checker Cab/Star Company ([tel] 702/873-2000).
By Uber or Lyft
On-demand car service companies Uber and Lyft finally won their long battles to operate in Las Vegas. As in other cities, you can order either service via mobile app to come collect you and take you wherever you need. Rides are slightly cheaper than taxis, though price surging still happens on busy nights and will wipe out any savings. An Uber or Lyft from the airport to the Strip will run you $11 to $19, from the airport to Downtown $21 to $38, and between the Strip and Downtown about $12 to $21. Hotels now have designated ride share pick-up areas near valet.
The 4-mile monorail route runs from the MGM Grand, at the southern end of the Strip, to the SLS Las Vegas (formerly the Sahara), at the northern end, with stops at Paris/Bally’s, the Flamingo, Harrah’s, the Las Vegas Convention Center, and Westgate along the way. Note that some of the actual physical stops are not particularly close to their namesakes, so there can be an unexpected—and sometimes time-consuming—additional walk from the monorail stop to wherever you intended to go. Factor in this time accordingly.
These trains can accommodate more than 200 passengers (standing and sitting) and make the end-to-end run in about 15 minutes. They operate Monday from 7am until midnight, Tuesday through Thursday from 7am until 2am, and Friday through Sunday from 7am until 3am. Fares are $5 for a one-way ride (whether you ride from one end to the other or just to the next station); discounts are available for round-trips and multiride/multiday passes.
For more information visit the Las Vegas Monorail website at www.lvmonorail.com.
The Deuce and SDX (Strip to Downtown Express) buses operated by the Regional Transportation Commission (RTC; www.rtcsnv.com/transit; [tel] 702/228-7433) are the primary public transportation on the Strip. The double-decker Deuce and double-carriage SDX run a route between the Downtown Transportation Center (at Casino Center Blvd. and Stewart Ave.) and a few miles beyond the southern end of the Strip. The fare is $6 for adults for 2 hours; an all-day pass is $8 and a 3-day pass is $20. There are no discounts for children or seniors. CAT buses run 24 hours a day and are wheelchair accessible. Exact change is required.
Although they are certainly economical transportation choices, they are not the most efficient as it relates to time or convenience. They run often but are usually very crowded and are not immune to the mind-numbing traffic that clogs the Strip at peak times. Patience is required.
There are also a number of free transportation services, courtesy of the casinos. A free monorail connects Mandalay Bay with Luxor and Excalibur; another connects Monte Carlo, Bellagio, and CityCenter; and a free tram shuttles between the Mirage and Treasure Island. Given how far apart even neighboring hotels can be, thanks to their size, and how they seem even farther apart on really hot (and cold and windy) days, these are blessed additions.
Traffic in Las Vegas can be frustrating at times, especially near the Strip on evenings and weekends. Here are a few tips to help you get around the worst of it:
- Spaghetti Bowl: The "Spaghetti Bowl" is what locals call the mess where I-15 intersects U.S. 95. The latest billion-dollar construction overhaul, called Project Neon, has added to the ongoing traffic congestion and is supposed to be completed in November 2018. Avoid it if you can.
- Do D.I. Direct: Most visitors seem to get a lot of mileage out of the Strip and I-15. But if you're checking out the local scene, you can bypass both of those, using Desert Inn Road (D.I.), which is now one of the longest streets running from one side of the valley to the other. Plus, the 2-mile "Superarterial" section between Valley View and Paradise zips you nonstop over the interstate and under the Strip.
- Grin and Bear It: Yes, there are ways to avoid traffic jams on the Strip. But at least these traffic jams are entertaining! If you have the time and patience, go ahead and take a ride along the Strip from Mandalay Bay to the Stratosphere. The 4-mile drive might take an hour, but while you're grinding along, you'll see a sphinx, an active volcano, water ballet, the Eiffel Tower, and some uniquely Vegas architecture.
- Rat Pack Back Doors: Frank Sinatra Drive is a bypass road that runs parallel to the Strip from Russell Road north to Industrial. It's a great way to avoid the traffic jams and sneak in the back of hotels such as Mandalay Bay, Luxor, and Monte Carlo. On the other side of I-15, a bunch of high-end condo developers talked the city into re-christening a big portion of Industrial Road as Dean Martin Drive. From near Downtown to Twain, Industrial is now called Sammy Davis Jr., Drive, and it lets you in the back entrances to Circus Circus, Treasure Island, and others. It's a terrific bypass to the Strip and I-15 congestion.
- Beltway Bypass: The 53-mile 215 Beltway wraps three-quarters of the way around the valley, allowing easy access to the outskirts while bypassing the Resort Corridor.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.