Las Vegas is full of choices—Red or Black? Hold or Hit on 14? Pirates or Pyramids?—which is just fine for a city built on games of chance. But while visitors want to gamble on their vacations, they don’t want to gamble with their vacations. Choosing the right time to go to Vegas, the right time of the year, month, or even day of the week can make or break your budget even before you hit the craps tables. Crowds, wind, heat and yes, hotel room availability can stand between you and not just an affordable vacation, but show tickets, restaurant reservations, a good spot viewing the Bellagio Fountains, and even the craps tables. Especially the craps tables.
So let’s start making some choices right now. Decide first which of these things is most important to you: entertainment options, nice weather, or cost. Unfortunately in Las Vegas, as with most vacation destinations, the best times to go for fine weather and serious action on and off the gaming floors are the most expensive times to visit and vice versa.
If getting the best rates on airfare and hotel rooms is priority number one, then flexibility is the key to getting the best deals. In Las Vegas a week, and sometimes even a couple of days, in one direction or another can make a huge difference in what you’re going to pay. A room that may cost $200 per night one weekend may only cost half that a week later, so identify as many different potential vacation times as possible and then shop each of them for the best deals. Room rates also change significantly for a Sunday-Thursday stay, versus a Friday-Saturday.
Sin City Seasons
Late November through Christmas and then early January through February are traditionally slow times for Las Vegas, with a few notable exceptions. Thanksgiving, long one of the slowest weekends of the year, has recently gained in popularity, bringing with it huge crowds, apparently lured by the thought of turkey at the buffets. (Joke’s on them; turkey is nearly always on the menu at the buffets.) New Year’s Eve in Vegas has begun to rival Times Square in popularity. Each holiday brings corresponding long lines and higher hotel rates. Additionally, a few big conventions or events like Super Bowl weekend fall during this time period each bringing a wave of guests and gamblers. But generally speaking, the winter months are safe bets to get some bargains.
The trade-off is that you have to take lazy afternoons lounging in and around the pool off your itinerary. Daytime temperatures average in the 50s and 60s, which may sound tropical to those in snow-country, but it is surprisingly chilly and most hotels close part or all of their pool areas during those months. Nighttime temperatures can dip down into the 30s, with occasional whipping winds, so if you choose this time of year to visit, be sure to bring a jacket or coat.
But it’s all relative, according to Ted Pretty, Weather Anchor for Las Vegas television station KVVU-TV, who says, “The winters here make the 100-plus temperatures for four months out of the year somewhat bearable. While other parts of the country are slipping on ice or digging snow, we're outside loving the weather."
But despite the comparatively moderate temperatures, things do slow down in Las Vegas during this time of year and you’ll also see some penalties in the “What To See and Do” column of your itinerary. Most of the Las Vegas stage shows take extended breaks in December, many of the outdoor recreation facilities are closed or have reduced hours, and there are fewer big-name entertainers visiting the showrooms. There is still plenty to do – this is Las Vegas, after all. But if there is a specific show or attraction that you absolutely must see, make sure to call or check the Internet to see if it will be open before you book your vacation.
The summer months of late June through August are also traditionally off-season in Las Vegas, not too surprising, given daytime temperatures averaging in the upper 90s or 100s. If you don’t mind being hot – really, really hot - this is a good time of year to visit the city and get cheap room rates. Just be sure to slather on the sunscreen.
“The heat of the summer can best be compared to, oddly enough, the freezing temps of a Midwest winter,” says Pretty. “You can't do much outside for any amount of time and many folks coop themselves indoors.”
But if you want lie-by-the-pool-and-don’t-fry-in-five-minutes weather, mid-March through May and September through early October are reliably the most moderate, with daytime temperatures in the 70s and 80s and usually plenty of sunshine. Naturally, these are also the busiest times of the year, attracting vacationers and business travelers alike.
With the exception of Christmas, try to avoid visiting Las Vegas on holiday weekends, even relatively minor ones like President’s Day, unless you want to pay higher room rates and fight the hordes at the buffet lines. The same will happen during major events such as big boxing matches, NASCAR races, or the aforementioned Super Bowl weekend, all of which jam the city.
Once you choose a time of year, if possible, give yourself two or three periods when you could take your vacation. For a four day trip in July, you’re going to have much better luck getting the best rate on a hotel room if you have several different choices of when that four-day vacation occurs. Again, flexibility is paramount and it can save you hundreds of dollars when booking your trip.
Another thing that can drive up room rates are major conventions. Las Vegas has become the top convention and exhibition destination in the country and the massive influx of people they bring creates havoc with hotel availability and cost. The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority maintains an online calendar of all conventions so you can check to see if there will be one in town when you are planning your trip. Take a look a the projected attendance – anything over 30,000 people will start to drive up prices city wide, but even smaller gatherings can affect specific hotels near key exhibition spaces.
Generally speaking, weekends are more expensive than weekdays, unless there is a major convention in town. But similarly to the winter months, the downside to going to Las Vegas during the week is that there are fewer big name headliner concerts in town, most of which happen on the weekends. Many of the major ongoing production shows and even some restaurants are also closed on certain days during the week. Check with your hotel, or on-line schedules or in guidebooks to see what days each show is dark. It would be a shame to plan a trip around Blue Man Group, only to find out the days you are in town are the days they are out of make-up.
These guidelines should take some of the guesswork out of planning when to take your Vegas trip. Now, if only there was some way to accurately guess if your blackjack dealer is holding a ten.