In Vegas, Not Quite Four of a Kind

By John Deiner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 22, 2001

Everyone knows that Las Vegas is the budget traveler's utopia: The drinks are free, the food is cheap, and casinos all but throw hotel rooms at you. It's the land of milk and 99-cent shrimp cocktails.

Everyone doesn't know what he's talking about.

In reality, Sin City has quietly gone upscale. The drinks are still gratis, but foofy restaurants serving foofier meals with triple-digit price tags have become de rigueur, and one ticket for a blockbuster show like Siegfried and Roy will set you back a C-note. For Siegfried and Roy!

And about those hotels‚. . . With 124,000 rooms serving 36 million annual visitors, it's relatively simple to find lodging. According to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, the average price of a room last year was $74. Not bad, but you likely paid a whole lot more if you bunked at one of the newer megaresorts, where a Friday or Saturday night stay can easily eclipse $200.

But do you really have to spend hundreds to do Las Vegas right? And what's become of the fabled $20 room?

For a June visit, I planned the ultimate Vegas progressive: staying at four properties on four successive nights, each room costing a bit more than the previous. I'd run the gamut from lowest of the low to newest of the new.

I had three rules:

1. Each room had to be in a casino hotel. (Non-casino budget hotels are scattered about town, but that would be like going to a rave and spending your time in the next room watching Animal Planet.)

2. Each hotel had to be either downtown or near/on the Strip, the two main gambling zones.

3. The stay had to include a Friday and Saturday night, the busiest times.

I booked several months in advance, picking a quiet period (for Vegas, at least) in which I could get the most out of a small budget, and used the Internet, hotel discounters and reservationists to snare the best deals.

Then I conned my patient friend Dan into coming along, said a little prayer and headed west.

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