Friday, September 8, 2017

How I spend my time when I make a solo trip to Vegas

I didn't intend to take the summer off when it comes to writing about Vegas, but that's what happened.

I'll have a few thoughts to share in the weeks to come, as forthcoming trips always inspire creativity. I'll be spending Halloween in Vegas again this year.

This morning I responded to one of the many online discussions about the merits of traveling solo to Vegas, and wrote enough that it should be memorialized here. (I need to keep my answers short and sweet when it comes to online forums.)

Here's a slightly edited version of what I posted: 

There was a time in my life when I wanted to go to Vegas, and friends claimed they wanted to go to with me, but wouldn’t pull the trigger. I got tired of waiting for somebody to travel with and realized that Vegas is a city I knew well, and that I could find enough to do without somebody to do it with. My first solo trip wasn’t inspired by online discussions about the merits of traveling solo to Vegas. I had no idea it was such a common thing to do when I made my first trip.

I wasn’t getting comps, but I could afford to go solo if I was frugal about my accommodations.  I wish I had better records of my solo trips regarding when I went and where I stayed. My first solo trip was more than 10 years ago. I stayed at Westward Ho. Pretty cheap for a handful of nights, and just fine. Zero complaints about my room, and more than adequate as I didn’t have to impress anybody. (My most depressing solo stay was four nights of a six-night trip at Vegas Club. The room was almost free, and included a Friday night, so I didn’t care. But I really had to stick to the “I only sleep and shower in my room” mantra. I do appreciate a decent room for a morning of relaxation during a multi-night visit.)

I have made a handful of solo trips since the early 2000s, although not since May 2012. (My one solo night last fall doesn’t count; I was with friends for the first four nights.) I have stayed downtown, off-strip and spent a couple nights at the Riv several years ago. Location dictates some of the things I've done on solo trips, naturally, and a Halloween 2011 trip changed things forever as I needed a rental car to do some of the things I had planned. From then on, I became a rental car guy.

So what have I done, and what wouldn’t I do again?

I don’t dine anywhere fancy or trendy. Personal preference, even though solo diners have been known to eat at the bar at finer places. I stick to the cafes and simpler places… paying for atmosphere or fancy service isn’t of much enjoyment to me if I’m not sharing the time with somebody.

It it's pool season, I'll spend time soaking up the sun and reading. Being solo at the pool can sometimes be a bit lonesome, but if you’re there to relax, relaxing solo shouldn’t be too painful.

Gambling is often a solo activity, so when you do, it shouldn’t be a big deal. You just won’t have a friend or loved one to hug moments after you hit for $1,199 on the slot machine.

I go for five nights minimum when I go, and am not compelled to gamble every day. I need time to see and do things outside of the casino. I use to be into geocaching, so sometimes I scouted out places I could access for geocache searching, be it on the strip or elsewhere nearby. I always make sure to find my way down to the Pinball Hall of Fame, which is a great place to spend time solo.

I recommend solo travelers find something they're into and finding a way to check out the local scene. Is there a craft brewer that’s not at Neonopolis? I went to Hop Nuts a few years ago, a bit far to walk from Fremont St., but a short cab ride or Uber from the Plaza, right on Main Street. 

Collect comic books? Check out a local shop. (Alternative Reality Comics on Flamingo, east of the strip, is a great one, and another short Lyft ride away.) 

If you're there during sporting events, particularly football season, find a local bar where fans of your favorite college or pro team congregate. My friend did that a couple of years ago during the NCAA hoops tournament and ended up going to a Wisconsin Badger bar twice, and met a former Green Bay Packer while he was there. 

If nothing else, find one of those smaller, secondary museums or points of interest that your drunk, gambling buddy would never want to waste his time seeing. This is your chance to visit the Burlesque Hall of Fame. (And it’s close to Hop Nuts.)

When I have a rental car, which is just about every trip these days, I take one of my days or evenings to go see something I haven’t seen before. This might not make sense for those who are only in town for three nights, but I have enjoyed driving north to Valley of Fire, more than two hours northwest to Rhyolite, a “ghost town,” and up Mt. Charleston. Getting away to see something is a great way to spend a day, and there are ways you can do a few things like that even if you don’t rent a car.

What I wouldn’t do: Go to shows solo. I did that several years ago, when Caesars had its all-access pass for 48 hours. I used it to see a bunch of secondary shows in the CET empire. I paid a little over $100 and got good value out of it. I deliberately waited until close to show time to take my seat, even when I had claimed a ticket 30 minutes or more prior to the show. The seating arrangements made it awkward occasionally to have to sit there minutes before the performance. Crime? Not a chance, but just not as much fun to see a show and not have a friend to chat with before or after. Yes, I chatted with people sitting next to me, but it wasn’t the same as being solo at a blackjack table.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Vegas: Fun for the whole family, sort of

The Five Hundy podcast Facebook page has a rule about not discussing the merits of children in Vegas, as it will never end, and few poeple will change their minds on the topic. I tend not to get heavily vested in such discussions elsewhere for those reasons.

Thie topic came up in another Facebook group discussion recently, and I provided some food for thought to lobbyists on both sides of the aisle. Here's an expanded, edited version of that:

Vegas is not a family-oriented place, yet at the same time there is plenty for families to do in the Vegas area. The Dirty Circus amusement park would not survive if it relied upon adults only, I'm certain.

There are plenty of shows and attractions that are family friendly. Mac King's magic show is a perfect example. And there's nothing adult about the attractions atop the Stratosphere, other than you may need to be with a parent to ride them, or perhaps have more courage than a parent to ride one. The Ethel M (chocolate factory) tour and outdoor gardens couldn't be less about Vegas. The Pinball Hall of Fame is fun for all ages. Plenty of attractions at Excalibur are designed with children in mind.

Is Vegas the first place I'd think to take a child? Hell no. I wouldn't want to explain to my child why there's a giant rolling billboard on the strip showing a hot babe in a tiny outfit, with the promise she can be at my door for just $69. I wouldn't want to parade my child past porn slappers, even if they were to respect the fact I have a child with me and not try to pass off a handbill. (Unlikely.) I wouldn't want my child to see the realities of alcohol and homelessness on display nightly at the Fremont Street Experience, no matter how much fun that zip line appears to be.

Reality: I've stayed at the Orleans and watched plenty of girls young enough to be my daughter walk around the property. They were there, along with their parents, for some sort of big cheerleading competition. I'd rather not see that, but who I am to tell the Orleans how to run its business, or tell the parents where they should or shouldn't travel to spend money on their child's oh-so-important cheerleading competition? There are likely hundreds of youth-oriented events all over the Vegas area, filling casino hotels, each year. Shame on those hotels, they're as guilty as the parents who drag a 1-year-old child through the Orleans food court at 2 a.m. (seen it) and the parents who are walking a 4-year-old child down the strip at 1 a.m. (seen it).

Another reality: Disney parks are designed for kids, and it costs an arm and a leg to spend a day there. Vegas ain't Disney, by a long shot, but I wouldn't be surprised if part of the appeal of Vegas for families is that with planning and care, you can see and do a vareity of things at less of a cost than a trip to Orlando. That doesn't mean people shouldn't take their families to Disney, but I can see reasons why folks would give careful consideration to Vegas as a family vacation destination.

Sad reality: Many folks bring their children to Vegas and don't seem too concerned about what they're exposing them to at an early age. That's because we live in a Jerry Springer society. And that's not going to change.

Yes, some consider it a crime to bring children to Vegas. And for a variety of reasons, people are continually guilty. Likewise those casinos that you love and adore are catering, in some fashion, to those families you loathe. They want you, the hedonistic big spender, and the family of four, to all co-exist on the same property. No, not all casinos, obviously.

I don't usually say much about the topic, which finds its way to forums and message boards on a recurring basis. I'm not smarter or better than any of you. (And I have no children, for what that's worth.) I've obviously thought a lot about both sides of the coin, and can't damn either side.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Paid parking in Vegas: Where are the apples?

I’m like many others, I don’t like paying for something that has been free for decades, especially when there’s no meaningful reason for charging the fee.

Therefore, I’m irked by the idea that casinos along the Vegas strip are charging for parking. I think the MGM conglomerate initially tried to sell the idea that paid parking would offset all sorts of improvements to their parking ramps, etc., but I’m not buying it. It’s simply a cash grab that many people will tolerate, as far as I’m concerned.

The fine folks at the Vital Vegas blog (it's still one guy) pointed out today that paid parking is now in effect at the Cosmopolitan. Everybody else along the strip is in on it, so it's only natural that Cosmo is, too. I'd argue the folks running the Cosmo need to be at this point, otherwise their parking is going to be overrun with cheapskates like me, if it wasn’t already.

Scott, the CEO, editor, reporter and photographer of Vital Vegas, points out that paying for parking is the norm in major cities across the United States. He's right. But his logic is a bit flawed. Here's how:
He wrote, “While parking fees are annoying, they are becoming the norm in Las Vegas, just as they are in other cities.”

I would expect to pay for parking when I go to Harrah's in downtown New Orleans. I would expect to pay for parking if I were to go to one of the downtown St. Louis casinos. I’ve been to both, but I didn’t have a vehicle in my possession during those visits.

I expect to pay for parking in downtown New York. I expect to pay for parking in downtown Chicago. I expect to pay for parking when I go to a Pirates or Steelers game across one of the three rivers in downtown Pittsburgh. I even expect to pay for parking when I go to downtown Toledo, Ohio, for a Mudhens game.

There’s usually adequate parking to accommodate those parking in a major downtown, but it comes at a premium. Downtown New York, Chicago, Pittsburgh and many others cities were first developed as the central business district for a trade area, long before people were driving cars, which it seems like about 80 percent of adults do these days. (That’s a wild guess.) I suspect these downtowns weren't developed with the anticipation of thousands of cars flooding in and out of them every day. Ask Mrs. O'Leary, whose cow kicked over a lantern and started the great Chicago fire of 1871 (allegedly), what a car is. She's tell you it is part of a train.

Downtown New Orleans and downtown St. Louis were established long before they had major casinos, so I expect to pay for parking. A free parking ramp for a downtown casino would a nightmare, without a doubt.

When I go to a Native American-owned casino in Wisconsin, I park for free. Even the one near downtown Milwaukee had free parking the last time I visited years ago. (And it still does.)
Casinos in major downtown areas will need to charge for parking. Free parking in a major downtown, with or without a casino, is hard to come by most days. Casinos built in the middle of nowhere, such as casinos I’ve been to in Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin and North Dakota, do not. They’re casinos built away from major downtown districts. When I shop at a suburban Target store, I don’t pay for parking. When I gamble at an outlying casino in the Midwest, I don’t pay for parking.

So how does this apply to Vegas? The casinos on the strip aren’t in a downtown district. Granted, they weren’t nearly as big when they first sprouted up along a desert highway in the 1950s, but they managed to expand and provide parking for decades without much of a problem. Nothing about that has changed in the past two years.

Yes, real estate around the properties is far more expensive, and harder to come by, but there wasn’t exactly a shortage of parking when the fees were instituted, despite the fact millions of people visit the strip each year.

It may be the norm to pay for parking in a downtown district, but applying that logic to the strip casinos, which developed and redeveloped without difficulty thanks to the fact they aren’t in downtown Vegas, is flawed.

Yes, there’s a cost of maintaining the parking ramps, and providing minimal cleaning and security within them. Target stores can maintain their parking lots without charging a fee. Same goes for my grocery store. I’m not convinced the casinos are unable to do so.

Scott makes a good point about parking. We pay for it elsewhere, why let it ruin our trip to Vegas? I agree. And it doesn’t affect me much, as I spend so little time on the strip these days. Fortunately, the casinos I stay at, either off strip or downtown, provide free parking or validated parking for me as a hotel guest. (I typically rent a car in Vegas.)

But his comparison of paying for parking in Chicago versus paying for parking on the Vegas strip is not apples to apples. There’s evidence that people are staying away from strip properties because of the parking fees, but in the end that will wash away, much like the outrage and boycott of casinos that charged “resort fees.”

Whatever fees a casino charges, we need to add it all together and compare it to other cities. Is the cost of a weekend in Vegas a good value for a person driving in from California when the room rate, resort fee and parking fee are added together? Probably when compared to downtown San Francisco.

But we shouldn’t normalize these fees simply because they exist in some other form elsewhere around the country. 

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

How to succeed in business without really trying: SLS edition

If you hang around with enough Vegas rubes, you're bound to hear somebody profess their love for Ellis Island, a small, hole-in-the-wall casino that has two things going for it: Location and affordability.

There is nothing glamorous about Ellis Island. It's reasonably clean, has a decent variety of slot and video poker machines, a few table games, a small sports book and restaurants. It would do just fine as a locals casino three miles from the strip. But tourists from every outpost of the United States will profess their love for it. Why? For starters, it's easily accessible. 

It's not on the strip, but it's a short walk off the strip. It's behind Bally's. That makes it easy for the tourist to access. I'd argue that its location is detrimental to attracting locals, as locals are less inclined to deal with the hassle of going near the strip, typically. There's no shortage of places to gamble, big and small, all over the greater Vegas area. 

But it's just offset enough from the strip that locals frequent the joint. Ellis Island has the best of both worlds, it seems. 

So it has a good location for its modest footprint. And it is a favorite with gamblers near and far for its cheap eats and drinks. 

It's no secret, the 24-hour cafe has some of the cheapest meals you'll find around, and the food is pretty good. And then there's the barbecue joint that's open for dinner only. Great meats at a good price. 

Drinks at the casino bar? Not ridiculous, because the casino bar is nothing trendy or precious. And they brew their own beers, which are always cheap. It's not my favorite micro brew, but they have decent beers, and the price is right. 

Add in frequent food and drink promotions, great incentives and kickbacks for the gamblers and karaoke every night of the week, (the appeal of which I have never understood,) and you have a hopping little casino that shows no sign of slowing down. And they're adding a beer garden.

What does this have to do with SLS? 

I've wondered why nobody with a strip property tries to cater to the downtown crowd. Yes, the Bellagio and its well-coiffed customers are dumping millions per day into the property, and who doesn't want to cater to that crowd? 

I sense that the loss of low-roller joints along the strip have helped drive people downtown. And I've said that Tropicana should find a way to offer the best of both worlds within their classic casino. It won't translate to record profits, but give people a reason to go out of their way, and they will. Brew beers and sell them cheap, a la Ellis Island and downtown's Main Street Station , and people will find their way inside the building. 

Early today the fine folks at (it's one guy) reported that SLS, formerly the Sahara, was in a position to be sold. Within hours news broke that it is indeed being sold. Changes are expected at SLS. The name may revert to Sahara, for starters. 

I started this blog in early 2015 when it was announced the Riviera would be closing. I wrote something about the fact that the north end of the strip was basically dead. The Sahara property has never been the epicenter of the strip, and yet it persevered for decades, only to shutter six years ago and re-emerge as the glitzy, isolated SLS a few years later.  

I don't spend much time on the strip, and the fancy new SLS doesn't hold much appeal to me. They put a lot of effort into making it a more upscale, younger skewing destination, and none of that speaks to me. I'm not younger, and there are plenty of places to spend more for a meal than I'd spend at Ellis Island. 

They tried offering entertainment that would attract a young crowd, and I'm not aware that they failed to do so. But that alone doesn't pay the bills. 

Vital Vegas has noted, by tweet I think, that SLS had recently started to market their gambling to locals through some sort of promotional kickback. Locals aren't the most coveted demographic, but given the challenging location, shouldn't enticing the local crowd have been part of the marketing strategy early on? 

It's unreasonable to think that you can run a major casino/hotel in Vegas and expect only the prettiest of the pretty people to darken your doorstep. And if you're on the wrong end of the strip, such as SLS, you'd better find a way to cater to multiple crowds. 

SLS is too big, and too much has been invested, to turn into an oversized Ellis Island. But it's simple economics, I swear. If you accept that plenty of plain folk, like me, don't want a celebrity chef experience while on vacation in Vegas, and can offer them something they can't get everywhere else, such as the barbecue dinner at Ellis Island, you might get them to find their way inside.

Give me, and many people like me some other incentives to spend a few hours, such as plentiful $5 table games, (which I can find off the strip at Orleans, for example,) and reasonable drinks that aren't "crafted" by a bartender, and suddenly I'll be getting discounted room offers to stay at SLS during a future trip, which I'm likely to accept. Happily. 

How do you think the Orleans earned my loyalty? 

SLS is never going to have the benefit of location. It will be decades before we see a continuous line of developed properties reaching SLS, and probably not in my lifetime. 

Without the benefit of proximity to Bally's, the solution is obvious, give gamblers a reason to show up, and give them a reason to stay, whether they're the young, EDM loving crowd (for those too old to know, EDM=noise) or the Ellis Island loving gamblers that kept the Sahara afloat during its final years. 

Bellagio ain't going to offer a $13.99 barbecue plate in any of their restaurants. And Ellis Island isn't going to serve an $18 handcrafted cocktail any time soon.

The future of SLS shouldn't be an either/or proposition. 

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Could Vegas casinos go dry?

It seems unlikely that we'll see a day when comped cocktails at Vegas casinos are no longer a thing. But the booze doesn't flow as easily as it use to.

We are in an era where casinos are using technology to monitor your gambling and dictate when you are permitted a comped drink. Some folks have shared stories suggesting that it's not a big deal if you're serious about gambling.

We're also in an era where most comped cocktails are made with cheap, generic liquor rather than quality products you buy at the liquor store.

And to top it off, people are increasingly willing to pay obscene amounts for craft cocktails from bartenders who allegedly have an art degree of some kind. If people are willing to fork over more than a McDonald's employee earns in an hour for one single-shot mixed drink, why not bleed everyone and his sister when it comes to passing out drinks around the bar?

Perhaps the day will come when gamblers will pay the low, low price of $2 for a beer at the blackjack table. I'm not entirely convinced.

The following is an edited version of a comment I made on Facebook regarding the suggestion that free drinks may be drying up in Vegas casinos. (I have a bad habit of writing short novels when I contribute to a Facebook discussion. I need to stop doing that.)


I can't imagine all free drinks being cut off for all gamblers any time soon. The casinos will become more stingy down the road, but c'mon, that "Captain" they're serving to the $5 blackjack player downtown ain't costing the casino much money, especially since they're serving Admiral Nelson in place of the Captain.

If they ever get to the point where they stop serving free booze, the casinos might as well pull out the gambling and start offering more beer pong for the millenials. Plenty of people don't drink when they gamble, but the end of complimentary cocktails will essentially be telling gamblers in Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin and everywhere else not to bother bringing their gambling dollars to Nevada.

The end of free drinks will be the nail in the coffin people profess is coming. Paid parking isn't helping drive traffic, fake fees and taxes at bars on the strip aren't helping drive traffic and the erosion of modest, low-cost meals at casinos isn't helping drive traffic. For every person who wants to pay extra for everything on vacation, including $50 a plate for dinner, there are two other people who won't.

Can Vegas price out the low roller and survive? The strip properties seem determined to find out. (I keep trying to tell the folks at Tropicana that they need to counter this mentality, but they won't listen.)

And by low roller, I don't mean cheap people who won't spend a buck. I spend plenty in Sin City when I travel, but I'm not interested in paying $18 for a precious cocktail "crafted" by a millenial, or being gouged other ways just because I'm on vacation and I'm not supposed to care about money.

There's a reason why business is as good as I've seen it downtown during the past 20 years, and it ain't that awful Imagine Dragons skit high above the pedestrian mall that's putting asses in the video poker seats.

Friday, April 21, 2017

The evil that is the timeshare industry

This isn't about Vegas, but if you're a regular Vegas visitor, you can relate.

I've been to my share of timeshare presentations in my life. I don't remember how many, but too many. I feel as if the gifts are better nowadays than they were two decades ago. Perhaps it's my imagination.

I had no business going to an Orlando timeshare presentation in October 2000, but it seemed like a good idea. I was there with my friend and her sister and niece, and I was going to get a Disney admission ticket for giving up a couple of hours of my morning. I gave up a few hours of my morning, and ended up donating $10 to some charity, but I did get a Disney admission ticket out of the deal. I didn't ruin or change any plans of my friend, but I didn't feel as if it was worth it.

A few years later I was about as poor as I could be, and I wound up signing up for a timeshare presentation here in Minneapolis. It started innocently enough, I spun a prize wheel in the parking lot of a minor league baseball game. That turned into an invitation to the timeshare pitch, including a two-night trip to Las Vegas, airfare included. I should have been ecstatic about a free trip to Vegas, but I had no business spending $100 on a vacation at that time. I suffered through my timeshare presentation, received my gifts, including a $20 gas card, and was on my way.

In order to use the trip I would have had to put a deposit down and book the trip two months in advance. I couldn't afford to tie up $150 at the time, and there were too many unknowns about the free trip. What time would my flights be during the weekend I wanted to go? Would I be forced to connect, and endure a long layover, for my two-night trip?

I only had a few months to use the free trip, and couldn't justify doing so. At least I received a nominal gas card out of the deal. But it wasn't worth my time in the slightest.

I'm sure I had been to a timeshare presentation or two beyond those incidents, but I'm not recalling them at the moment.

By the time I received my free Vegas vacation via a timeshare pitch, I was done with pitches for good. That Vegas vacation might have been a nice freebie had I not been so poor, but for the most part I was convinced that the gifts weren't that valuable to me, even if my time wasn't worth a dime to anyone else, including myself. Nice gifts weren't worth the charade. Sitting at home playing video games would have been a better use of my time, I reasoned.

Somehow I've managed to avoid sitting through a Vegas timeshare presentation. I've been to Vegas more than 30 times during the past 20 years. I've been approached occasionally, but I've managed to avoid being suckered into one. Occasionally I see a nice gift being touted as enticement, but I haven't come close to being tempted in Vegas.

I'll spare you many of the details, but during a recent vacation in Mexico, I wound up going to two timeshare presentations on two consecutive mornings. I was there for a week, so I could afford to give up the mornings. Each presentation included a breakfast, and the pitches weren't obnoxious or overbearing, although I'm not anxious to make a habit of it.

I was with my girlfriend while in Mexico, and she suffered through the sales pitches as well. She knew, like me, there was no chance in hell we'd buy anything. We have thousands of dollars of bathroom improvements we'll be paying for in a few weeks, we weren't about to take on years of timeshare debt when we have a long list of home improvement projects we'd like to finance. There was no chance any timeshare offer would be too good to pass up, that much I knew.

During the first day's pitch we walked away with a voucher for a five-night stay at one of the company's properties, for a nominal cost. I'm sure using it will require sitting through another timeshare pitch, but I won't agree to do it if I cash in the voucher and wind up back in Mexico. What are they going to do at that point, force me to attend?

I have a year to use the voucher, so it's possible we'll go back next winter. If not, then our first morning was a waste of time. We were supposed to get a few other gifts in exchange for our time, and we did get a discount card that saved us a little cash on meals and merchandise at the resort we were staying at, but the discounts and deals weren't as great as suggested.

Near the end of the first day's pitch a woman was recruiting for another property not affiliated with the resort we had just toured. The resorts weren't affiliated, but the companies had agreements that allowed recruiting of those who balked at the incredible deals offered at the first timeshare pitch, evidently. Strange, I know.

I never fathomed I'd be immediately hit up to go to another pitch when we were so close to cashing out at the first one. I started to wonder if I was trapped in a vicious circle where I'd be badgered to attend presentations every day of my vacation. I was a bit stunned.

The nice recruiter assured us that presentation two would really only be 90 minutes, and she offered us a great discount on show tickets. The show was something my girlfriend knew of, and her sister had recommended. The street price was allegedly $145 a ticket, however, and we knew there was no chance we'd be spending even $100 a person for tickets to this show. We had vacation funds, but we needed to limit our recreational spending in order to afford our vacation. Even though we knew discounted show tickets were available without too much trouble for about $100, we weren't going to be buying.

But the nice recruiter offered us tickets for $20 per ticket. Now that's a pretty good deal. I looked at my girlfriend, who wanted nothing to do with another timeshare pitch. I said, "it's up to you." She told the recruiter "no."

The woman countered and said she really needed to get people signed up for the next morning, so she offered us two free tickets. I looked at my girlfriend again, and this time she decided we'd do it if we were going to get free tickets.

Our day two sales pitch was not much more than 90 minutes, and our saleswoman was fun to talk with. I'm not entirely sure why, but she didn't push the product very hard. I think it had to do with the fact we downplayed our personal situation when it comes to vacations. We weren't big enough spenders to fork over the minimum she'd need to get in order for us to become buyers, we hinted, so she quickly stopped trying.

As I said, I'm not planning to make a habit of sitting through the agony of a timeshare sales pitch for free tickets to a show, and I had no intention of doing so ever again. And yet more than a decade after I attended what I thought was my last timeshare pitch, I sat through two in two days.

There are plenty of websites with suggestions on what to do and what not to do if you're going to trade your time, on vacation or otherwise, for a gift from a timeshare company. Here are a few of mine:

1. Downplay your spending and vacation habits. The salespersons like to round up and try to show you that you're spending $1,000 or more for a week of vacation at a hotel when you go on vacation. The salesman from day one didn't seem phased by the fact that I go to Vegas somewhat regularly and get great deals and rates for the hotels I stay at. He had a scenario where I was spending plenty on vacations every year based upon the fact that I might spend $100 occasionally for a night in Vegas. And thanks to his catalog of places I can use my points or weeks, I can stay in Vegas at Polo Towers!

Also, don't mention many other trips you've taken in recent years. If you sound like you take a vacation every single year, you'll have a harder time getting the salesperson to throw in the towel.

We were much more liberal with our vacation talk regaring the past five years during day one. On day two we didn't travel as often, and our big vacation was using a friend's cabin in northern Minnesota, at no cost to us.

2. Make sure you have major expenses that are forthcoming. In our case we really have a major bathroom renovation forthcoming. But if I ever find myself in a timeshare presentation again, I'll be up to my eyeballs in debt. I'll have recently purchased a home that needs renovation. I'll have just finished one expensive project I'm trying to pay off, and I'll have another I need to start financing after I return home from vacation.

You'll be reminded that you are taking a vacation right now, so vacationing must be a priority. But downplay that, too. Tell the salesperson that you're there thanks to bonus points you received for signing up for an airline credit card, and note that this is the first time in years you've taken such an exotic vacation.

The less worldly and wealthy you sound, the better. The salesperson may not give up based upon that, but if she smells deep pockets, it will take longer to get her to throw in the towel.

3. Find things you don't like about the property. You'll see a beautiful room with an incredible view, but don't be too impressed by it. If it's a huge resort that has lots of kids out and about, (and you don't have kids,) or the resort isn't very close to things you'd like to be able access without driving, such as restaurants, mention that. You'll be reminded that you can buy today and use your points/weeks at billions of other properties, but at least you'll have planted another seed of doubt.

4. Have a pre-existing condition. Yes, you're on vacation, but note that you have a family member who you can't afford to be away from every single year. This isn't the best excuse, but it's an option. And you'll likely be told you can bank your time for a multi-week vacation whenever that family member dies.

5. Express doubts about agreeing to a purchase without adequate financial planning. All of these deals are based upon buying a package that day, with little basis of comparison. They don't send you home with a brochure and offer sheet because they know you won't be dazzled by the offer on paper a week after you get home. If anything, you'll learn how a $30,000 commitment over 30 years isn't such a great deal.

When I'm expressing doubt, I note that I don't like to buy a car or make other purchases without adequate consideration. That won't put an end to the game right then and there, but it plants another seed of doubt in the saleswoman's mind.

Beyond those five suggestions, I'd advise not bothering with a timeshare presentation. But if you find yourself signing up because the lure of the gifts is too good to pass up, plan ahead so that you don't open doors for the salesperson to walk through. It had been years since I had endured a pitch, so when I ended up doing two in two days, I sharpened my skills between pitch one and two, and it paid off. I was polite and friendly enough, but I gave the poor saleswoman little to work with, and she quickly added us to her long list of strikeouts.

And if you are signing up, barter a bit. The folks signing you up for the presentations usually don't care if you're likely to buy. Their job is to put asses in the seats. All they care is that you meet the minimum income and other requirements. (In Mexico it was important that we were married, or at least reside at the same address, according to our IDs. In our case, the latter is true.)

In Mexico we saw that our initial reluctance to say yes to discounted show tickets turned into free show tickets. So hold out for better loot if you think you're willing to sit through a pitch, and don't be afraid to walk away if it's not that great of an offer. Show tickets to a show you weren't interested in aren't worth giving up a morning for, even if the tickets sell for $100 each.

Once you say yes you'll probably be asked to hand over a small deposit, because otherwise you'll blow off your appointment. So make sure you're offered good, valuable gifts before you finally say yes.

And a reminder... an important lesson I had to re-learn in Mexico. If you're not interested in a timeshare pitch, and don't want to be politely hassled by people trying to talk you into attending one, remember the golden rule. You're going home tomorrow morning. Say that, even though you might be in town for another five days.

When somebody in Vegas asks me how long I'm in town for, which happens in areas of high pedestrian traffic, both on the street and in casino/hotel lobbies, I always say I'm leaving tonight or tomorrow morning. That's all it takes. It doesn't matter if the guy is setting up timeshare presentations, selling discounted show tickets or booking Grand Canyon tours. If he thinks you're about to leave town, he won't waste time with you.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

A thought regarding MGM's parking fee increases

I read this today:

“We are adjusting the parking rates for a variety of business-related reasons,” said MGM spokeswoman Yvette Monet. “These adjustments are based on market analyses we have conducted since we implemented the program.”

My translation: "People are threatening to boycott our strip properties that charge for parking, but not enough of them are carrying through to the point that it affects our bottom line, so we'll keep charging more, a la resort fees."

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Neil Sedaka, naughty nurses and Tropicana

I really didn't envision using my blog as a vehicle to comment on Vegas podcasts, but I had a few thoughts about topics inspired by the latest episode of the Vital Vegas Podcast.

The host gushes over Neil Sedaka, who he interviewed. I'm not that much younger than the host, but young enough not to remember how big of a presence Sedaka had in the world of popular music. I know the name, I know he's a big deal, but I don't know much about his music, his career or anything else.

I learned a bit thanks to the podcast, and it was entertaining to listen to the host's interview.

I don't consume any Vegas podcast religiously, but there are a few I listen to with great regularity, and what sets the VVP apart is that the host includes interviews periodically. The interviews are with entertainers, like Sedaka, and Vegas movers and shakers, some of whom are otherwise anonymous to tourists like me. Most of the interviews have been worth the time to listen, even if I didn't think it was a person I was interested in hearing from. I'm not that interested in learning about Sedaka or his career, but I gave it a listen earlier tonight and was entertained.

Kudos to the host for giving me something unique, and highly valuable, via the podcast.

The host also discussed the awkward circumstances surrounding the short-lived existence of a Heart Attack Grill on the Vegas strip. I'll assume you know HAG is a gimmicky, high-calorie burger restaurant downtown. For less than two months it opened a second location on the strip, in a sports bar that once bore the name of Pete Rose.

The host had an explanation for why the HAG was gone within two months. Allegedly the lease was on a month-to-month basis, leaving the building's ownership the ability to sell off the property the restaurant is a part of -- and swiftly kick out its tenants -- for redevelopment by an eager buyer.

That's plausible. And allegedly the HAG ownership wanted to invest more into its leased space, but was unwilling to do so without some sort of lease that extended beyond one month. That makes sense.

What didn't make sense to me, and wasn't addressed by the host, was why HAG moved into the space in the first place.

If you are serious about a restaurant on the strip, and you want to invest in the space you're going to lease, then you don't move in without negotiating a lease agreement prior to occupancy. The former Pete Rose sports bar was already equipped to run a bar/restaurant, so it was probably easier to open HAG there than it would have been in other places. But it's hard to believe a restaurant proprietor would take over such a space on a whim, hoping to get what s/he wants after the fact.

I don't doubt the ownership wanted to invest in the property, and the ownership wanted a longer lease term than 30 days, but I'm skeptical that the lack of a long-term lease was the reason HAG pulled out in less than 60 days.

I suspect the real reason was that, by most online reports, HAG had a tepid reception on the strip. If an established business was failing to drive a lot of traffic through its new doors upon its arrival, (even if it was relying upon word of mouth for advertising,) it was easier to pull out quickly, given its investment into the space was likely minimal by most restaurant standards.

I'm quite certain that if HAG was doing gangbuster business in its first six weeks, the month-to-month lease wouldn't have been enough of an issue to quickly shutter the breastaurant.

Choose to believe what you will. I continue to believe it was a cheap, easy way to try to duplicate the downtown HAG success on the strip, and with early returns as soft as they were, the ownership cut its losses.

One might only have needed to look at how lackluster the Pete Rose experiment was to guess that naughty nurses serving mediocre food wasn't going to set the strip on fire.

Lastly, the host talked about a variety of new show offerings coming to Tropicana, a casino with a great location on the south end of the strip, but one that seems to enjoy "also ran" status.

I was contemplating this today during a discussion thread online about how the big two, Caesars and MGM, are monopolizing the strip and stifling the concept of competition. It's not quite that simple, but that's the general overview of the strip casinos these days.

Tropicana is not part of a strip conglomerate, but it is part of some sort of hotel group. Being the only strip casino in the corporation's portfolio, Tropicana should be operated like a loose cannon. Decisions don't need to be weighed in relation to several properties, and with plenty of people continuing to express dissatisfaction with the big two and their bloodsucking ways, the Tropicana should be selling its old school vibe and offering many of the things Vegas gamblers love about Vegas of yesteryear.

Old school sells downtown, and using that approach, while positioning the property as the only one of that kind on the south end of the strip, certainly couldn't hurt the Trop's bottom line. There's a real appetite for vintage Vegas on the strip, and it's pretty hard to find these days.

It's unlikely that formula would result in record profits for Tropicana, but I suspect it would be well received.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

When do resort fees have a profound impact?

The following, edited comment was hastily constructed for a Las Vegas message forum discussion. It was a discussion regarding the latest resort fee increase announcements from the major players on the strip. I'll assume you've heard the rants and understand why resort fees irritate many people.
Not so long ago I wondered when we'd see a resort fee base rate (pre-tax) of $50. I predicted by the end of 2018 or very early in 2019. Of that I have no doubt as of today.

People will continue to fill hotel rooms, parking and resort fees be damned. People will fill them because they're waived due to casino loyalty, because they don't have to concern themselves with the bill at the end of the weekend or because the company is paying for them to be there.

With increasing declarations by people that they're done, or nearly done, with Vegas, particularly on the strip, and the number of locals who don't have any reason to darken the doorstep of strip properties – now more than ever – how soon are we going to hear about woeful economic times for the hourly workers who rely upon the tourist for their income?

It has been reported that parking fees are cutting foot traffic inside strip resorts, and that has affected the income of dealers and valet personnel, as well as the retail revenue inside the resorts. It has the potential to snowball into something not good.

Doesn't mean doomsday, but is it possible that we see a vicious circle that has a long-term effect?