How can I do a conference trip to Las Vegas?
July 18, 2018 7:24 PM   Subscribe

I signed up for a three-day conference in the Excalibur Hotel in Las Vegas, Friday, Saturday, Sunday. I don't typically do this type of travelling so have no expertise in this. What can I do to make this easy and comfortable to handle?

I signed up for a conference that starts early Friday, ending in the evening on Sunday. I'll probably fly into LV on Thursday and then it's all up in the air. Probably exit on a late afternoon flight on Sunday.
The myriad of choices and ways to do this have got me a bit boggled. I know next to nothing about LV except hot, busy, big and little or no public transit.
It seems like staying at the hotel where the conference is held would be the best bet but it's pricey and ugh, hotel living. There's the logistics of getting there, then where to stay. Eating in restaurants does not seem like a good option, but in Las Vegas, what do you do if you don't rent a vehicle?
I've looked on Expedia and there are hotel/air flight combos that seem reasonable if I choose some other hotel than the Excalibur, like half as much for the hotel but then you have to chase around to get to where you need to be.
I have a ton of air miles on the United Mileage network and some miles on the Chase rewards system. It seems like I should be able to use these to pay for the hotel and air flight.
Maybe I should stay at a cheap AirBnB, plus rent a car, but then I would be driving about a strange city to get to where I need to be. It's only three days after all.
Anyway, if I seem like a rank newbie, it's because I am at this type of travel. Any pointers for a get in, stay 3, and get out visit would be helpful.
posted by diode to Travel & Transportation around Las Vegas, NV (13 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I was just in Vegas for work. What is your budget?
posted by cakelite at 7:42 PM on July 18, 2018

It's not quite true that Vegas has no public transit, but for the purposes of this conversation it's most helpful to know that the Vegas strip has a monorail system. Stay at any hotel on a monorail line and you're honestly fine. Monorail lines are tied into who owns what (Excalibur is an MGM or MLife brand so optimize for those hotels with your miles). I also suggest looking at hotels on the same side of the street as the conference hotel but that's preference.

Anything between Mirage and the Mandalay Bay is walkable if unenjoyable (Vegas has elevated pedestrian walkways and on a weekend they're going to be bustling but it's fine).

Also, everyone who doesn't walk or monorail (most people!) use a taxi or an Uber. Traffic on the Strip on a Friday night can be vicious so I wouldn't suggest using a car to get up or down the Strip but rather to get off the Strip and enjoy a meal elsewhere. I don't suggest a rental car.

Food is expensive in Vegas these days but you can definitely get coffee shop food at wherever you stay (don't go for a buffet or a big name restauranteur). You can save a lot of money going off-Strip the majority of the time but you probably make it up in transit costs.

If your budget is under $300 (Excalibur's running around $296 for a random three-night stay in August so I'm making some assumptions here) then I'd suggest that your first bet is joining M Life to see what the discount is. Also! If your conference rate is not cheaper than the rack (public) rate, then don't book the conference rate. You don't usually have to do so to attend the conference.

Bally's is hella cheap and not the worst walk (it's a bit long but not unendurable) but man is it a crappy place to stay. Fully as crappy as a cheap hostel. The Trop's also kind of down and out these days but there might be a deal there. New York New York also might have a cheap deal and it's relatively easy to get from there to the Ex. DO NOT BOOK CIRCUS CIRCUS. You will regret it.

Plus, see if your conference has a roommate-wanted sign-up list.

Finally, as a very frequent conference goer (and yes, that includes Vegas) I suggest that you look at the schedule to help you decide where you want to stay. If you've got a lot of of 8:30 or worse yet 7am sessions to get to, then my suggestion is for your budget dollars to go to the hotel. Think about how hungover, exhausted, or stressed you get during travel/conferences and plan accordingly.
posted by librarylis at 8:16 PM on July 18, 2018 [5 favorites]

I've been going to Vegas on business at least yearly and sometimes more often than that for more than 20 years. My strong preference when doing conferences is to stay at the official hotel. For one thing it's nice not to be as stressed in the mornings about getting to my first event on time, since I know it's at most a 10-minute stroll downstairs to get wherever I need to be. For another, if you're looking to network (and assuming you're at least somewhat extroverted when you're at one of these events) you can generally find a ton of people hanging out in the hotel lobby and bar area late into the evening. It's a good opportunity to start friendly relationships with people, if that's what you're looking to do. But it's much easier to do that when you're staying on-premise rather than watching the time tick away and thinking about how long it's going to take you to get a cab and get back to your hotel, or fetch your rental car from the garage and fight traffic. (I've had a car in Vegas two or three times, but I barely used it and I would probably not do it unless I was driving into or out of town. Getting around in cabs will be faster.)

Obviously money sometimes takes precedence, so do what makes sense for your bank account! But sleeping at the same hotel where the event takes place can easily make you feel more a part of the community. Definitely make sure you've investigated any available conference rates -- they can make the stay quite a bit more affordable, especially at the "official" show property.

My only hot tip for Vegas eats is a world-class restaurant called Lotus of Siam, which is off the strip. I've been going there for many, many years, and they've become progressively more popular over time. (You pretty much need an advance reservation now.) They used to be in a dingy strip mall on the north end of the strip but now they're in a new location on Flamingo Road and the food is as good as ever. It's not cheap, exactly, but very reasonable for the quality of the food, and I'd say it's easily the best value for your dollar in Vegas. It's my favorite part of the trip every time. There are some hole-in-the-wall places near the strip hotels that are pretty good (my wife found a Korean place she likes in a shopping center across Las Vegas Boulevard from City Center). You can eat very well in restaurants in the strip hotels, but you will pay a lot for the privilege. I like Estiatorio Milos at the Cosmopolitan and Barmasa and Blossom at the Aria, but I'd like them a lot less if I weren't getting reimbursed for my meals. (Well, Blossom isn't that bad.) Lotus of Siam feels like stealing.
posted by Mothlight at 9:11 PM on July 18, 2018 [6 favorites]

LV veterans, correct me if I'm wrong, but Sunday flights are usually the most expensive; depending on where you are coming from, how good the Sunday sessions are, and your family situation, it could be worth it to stay into Monday.
posted by batter_my_heart at 10:22 PM on July 18, 2018

Staying in the conference hotel will make your life a lot simpler. If you're going to be there in August, it'll probably be 100 degrees during the day (if you're going to be out, consider sunscreen and carry a water bottle). Driving in LV is frustrating and can take a lot longer than you'd expect, taxis/Lyft/Uber pickup and delivery can be very slow due to the time it takes them to just get into/out of the pullthrough, and parking decks can be slow to navigate and find parking (I've never parked at Excalibur but that's been my general experience) and isn't free unless your conference has negotiated it. Being able to pop up to the room during the conference for a quick nap or just some quiet time can be really useful.

Excalibur is on the monorail, so you can check rates for hotels off of it for better rates if you're willing to do a little travel.

There's a few cheapish places to eat within walking distance of Excalibur - some of the places in New York, New York offer decent bang for the buck for the convenience. The best way to keep food costs down with conference travel is to bring food that you can make in your room. Excalibur charges for minifridges (unless you have status or charm the desk staff) but you can pack a small cooler or (less environmentally friendly) buy a styofoam one at one of the drug stores two blocks up the strip and abandon it when you leave. If you keep a loaf of bread, peanut butter, sandwich meat (assuming you're omnivorous), yogurt, nuts/trail mix, and fruits and veggies in the room (either brought with you or purchased at the afore mentioned drug stores), you can keep costs down to a few bucks per meal.

If you're there for a conference, you're presumably partially there for networking, so budget for at least one meal out a day with people that you meet. It's one of the most common ways for me to connect with new people at conferences. If your budget is tight, I wouldn't bother trying to eat off strip unless you can pool people to share the fare, as you're looking at ~$40 roundtrip IIRC.

If I were you, I'd shop around for the cheapest rates you can find at the Excalibur and take a taxi-like transport of choice there and back (taxi specific note - many have a surcharge for using a credit card, so if you prefer them to Uber/Lyft, carry cash). Unless you are extremely financially constrained, the small amount of savings you can eke out of staying elsewhere don't balance out the time and frustration it creates.

If you do rent a car, I highly recommend Budget with the Fastbreak service (or a similar one), as the lines at the main desks can be glacially slow.

Flying out, there's slot machines in the LV airport. If noise from them will bug you, bring earplugs.

If you saw Bliss Dance in the desert, she's been relocated to the park near New York, New York, so go see her there.
posted by Candleman at 12:18 AM on July 19, 2018

Don't rent a car, that's madness. There's a walkway between the Luxor next door and the Excalibur. If you literally just want an air conditioned room, the Luxor is cheap and fine. If you want a nicer hotel, the Mandalay bay has tram service to the Excalibur. Both the Luxor and the Mandalay are 5 minute indoor walk to the Excalibur. It's easy and a no-brainer.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:16 AM on July 19, 2018 [2 favorites]

Do not take a Taxi from the airport to your hotel. If you do, insist on local roads and tell them to avoid the highway. I didn't pay attention last year and it cost me $50 with tip. A Lyft from the hotel back to the airport was $13.00 not including tip.
posted by studentbaker at 6:44 AM on July 19, 2018

What kind of conference is this? For work or entirely for fun?

I've been doing academic conferences since the late 90s and my advice **for those**, and for people presumably starting out b/c they haven't done this before, would be:

(1) Stay in the conference hotel if there are still rooms. Again thinking about this from a work-based academic conference POV, most of the value of a conference is not in the official events like panels. Most of the value is in meeting some new people with similar interests, meeting people whose work you've been using, seeing people you've met a few times, being introduced to someone by a mentor or collaborator, and bullshitting about work over a meal and/or beer. The stuff that's on the schedule is not the real conference; the stuff that's on the schedule is the framework the real conference is built around. You want to be available for those things, not a 20 minute walk or cab trip away if you can help it. You want to bump into people. And, if you're an over the top introvert like me, you want to be able to step away for half an hour and have that only take half an hour instead of 90 minutes.

(2) Eat in restaurants for the same reasons. "No thanks, I'm going to find a supermarket where I can get some ingredients" is a great way to spend a lot of money on airfare without getting anything really useful out of the conference.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 7:22 AM on July 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

Cheap (not exciting) eats tips: Starbucks Protein Packs are a great light lunch or snack to purchase in the morning and stick in your bag so you have something to eat when you're stranded. There is also a wonderful Walgreens that has quite a large fresh food selection and is also great for inexpensive snacks or even premade salads.
posted by LKWorking at 10:06 AM on July 19, 2018

Just to clarify, if your conference is at the Excalibur, that hotel is connected to the Mandalay Bay and Luxor by a free tram (not the Monorail). There is a monorail across the street that starts behind the MGM and heads north from there. That is a paid public transit option.

The Excalibur is connected by skywalks to NY, NY and The Tropicana. Those two are connected to MGM by skywalks. Any of these hotels mentioned would be easy to get to/from Excalibur. I would NOT want to commute by monorail to Excalibur. You have to walk through MGM, and go across two skybridges. It's a long walk.

Here's a little map that shows how the hotels are interconnected.

The first few times you intend to use the monorail/tram stations, give yourself plenty of time. They're not well-marked, and they're harder to find than they should be.
posted by hydra77 at 11:13 AM on July 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

Definitely stay at the conference hotel. This gives you the opportunity to “disco nap” before the evening activities. Do not underestimate the value of a 30 minute lie-down at 5 pm after the day is over but before the evening begins.
posted by crazycanuck at 1:00 PM on July 19, 2018

ugh, hotel living

You're going to be at the conference all day, not spending a lot of time in your room. Nothing wrong with a hotel for that.

Driving near the strip is very ugh. Last time I was in Vegas I had driven there and still used Uber/taxi/monorail to get around in town even though I had a car available. Parking is expensive.
posted by yohko at 9:28 PM on July 19, 2018

Response by poster: Thanks for all these great tips, I am highly reassured this is doable. I'm signed up for my first conference in November, then possibly might sign up for another one in early September. It's for personal interest, not business but there will be some networking involved definitely.
It's little tips like these that makes trips doable. And Candleman, yes, I did see Bliss Dance in the desert. I'll make the trip to see her again.
I like to get around a bit so I may well do the monorail thing and stay somewhere less pricey just to get out of the building and go somewhere else in the evenings.
posted by diode at 1:12 PM on July 20, 2018

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