In an era where many Las Vegas hotels charge hidden nightly resort fees that can exceed the nightly rate (depending on the time of year, this is entirely possible at more than a few properties), a good, honest deal might appear to be a thing of the past. It's not. The deals have just – for the most part – moved off the Strip.
Typically, there are significant tradeoffs involved when leaving Las Vegas Boulevard. Transportation will probably be your number one concern, at least if you're flying in – rental cars used to be plentiful and cheap, barely worth even a line item in your Vegas budget, thanks to short driving distances and abundant free parking.
Everything's different, now. Rental car pickups have been consolidated into an unwieldy and expensive new facility that renters are paying for via exorbitant fees tacked on to every bill. There's no rail link to this facility – a tedious ride through a construction zone on an often-crowded shuttle bus is required. For the moment, anyway, renting a car in Las Vegas is almost a terrible idea.
Of course, there are always Vegas' extraordinarily expensive cabs – soon, we're promised, to be challenged by newly-legal ridesharing services like UberX – but for now, those costs add up quickly, as do those punishing taxi wait times at many casinos.
Ideally, what you're looking for in a Las Vegas hotel is one that doesn't engage in gratuitous gouging, while also offering proximity and access to the action along the Strip. You never want to feel stranded or on the hook for new costs that eat away at the savings you enjoyed by booking somewhere off the beaten path.
Surprisingly, such a sweet spot exists, thanks to the Las Vegas Monorail. Many visitors aren't even aware that there is such a thing, but it is very real, shuttling along a 3.9 mile route between MGM Grand and SLS Las Vegas (formerly The Sahara) all day, every day and well into the wee hours of the morning. (Tickets are $5, a day pass is $12, three days for $28.)
A limited number of stations, mostly buried deep inside casinos with almost prohibitively vague signage, can and does discourage use for intra-Strip travel. But the Monorail does do one thing very well: It connects the city's sprawling Convention Center district with the heart of the action in minutes.
How is this relevant to you, the leisure traveler? Easy. Because there are hotels over there. Sensible, quiet, affordable ones, geared towards serious business travelers. Hotels with no resort fee. Sometimes, there's even a free breakfast buffet. With monorail stations either right across the street or a few steps away, staying here is almost a no-brainer for the value-minded.
On a recent Saturday night, I tested my own assertion by checking into the Renaissance Las Vegas, a stylish and quiet (even with a convention in-house) hotel with a resort feel. Well-insulated rooms offered Strip and mountain panoramas, along with a birds eye view of the monorail and the impossibly green Wynn golf course.
The hotel was a one minute walk from the Convention Center station – I could be at the SLS resort within minutes, not to mention the rest of the Strip. Harrah's, the fun Linq dining and entertainment district and that giant High Roller wheel were just one stop in the other direction. I had essentially checked into a remote wing of any Strip hotel I felt like visiting. I paid $119 on a Saturday night when most Strip hotels were charging much more – and that's before they tack on those resort fees, which are now coming dangerously close to $35 per night at far too many properties. No such fee at the Renaissance.
Sound too good to be true? There are times when it is – when large conventions are in session, deals of any kind can quickly disappear. But for a surprising number of dates each year, they're very much attainable.
Of course, there's the other matter – on and around Paradise Road, where the Renaissance is located, you'll find a number of hotels that appear to fit the bill. Price them out and you'll discover some great deals and, often, no resort fees. All seem close to the Monorail, or even the Strip. But are they? Distances in Las Vegas can be tricky, particularly on a hot and sunny afternoon. While the map may show the monorail route passing by a hotel, the nearest station could be a mile away or more. The Strip could be even farther, often with zero chance of shade or relief from the heat.
Then there are the properties that may be near a Monorail stop, or even the Strip, that may offer attractive rates, but the value (freebies, no fees) too often just isn't there. The tired Westgate, formerly the tired Las Vegas Hilton, is a fine example of this, with a resort fee of $28 per night and their not-so-secret mission to get you to buy a timeshare. The Westin, which is easy walking distance from the Strip, charges a $24.99 resort fee and doesn't include breakfast.
In the end, just four properties meet these admittedly tough standards. All of them, interestingly, happen to fall under the Marriott umbrella. Then again, perhaps this is not so interesting – it's a rather giant umbrella these days. All offer lightning-quick access to the Monorail, no resort fees, high standards of cleanliness, proper soundproofing, limited tolerance for loud parties and, for the most part, abundant inclusions of free stuff, in stark opposition to the gouging going on very nearly next door. Each property is also 100% smoke-free – a rarity in Las Vegas.
Here, your four best new friends in Las Vegas, hotel-wise:
1. SpringHill Suites Convention Center from $79
Spa-like décor in junior suite-sized rooms will be particularly appreciated in a crazy-making city like Las Vegas. A breakfast buffet, internet, fitness center access and parking are all free. That's right. Free. Bonus: There's a rooftop pool with decent Strip views, too. Hit it right and you'll find this to be one of the best values in town.
Monorail Stop: Westgate
2. Residence Inn Convention Center from $76
Complete kitchens are a selling point at this hotel geared toward longer stays that's tucked away into a secret garden of sorts. If you know the brand, you'll be amused to find this familiar, low-rise apartment village-ish setup just one stop from the glitter of the Strip. An extensive free breakfast and speedy, complimentary internet make staying here an even sweeter deal.
Monorail Stop: Convention Center
Here, you're literally a crosswalk away from the monorail. There's no free breakfast, but you still get your basic internet, fitness center, pool and parking for free. The Courtyard is located directly next door to the Residence Inn – make sure to do a price comparison, as that's going to be the better value.
Monorail Stop: Convention Center
If you're as much into atmosphere as you are into saving, this nicely done hotel with attractive rooms and even better views (at least when you're facing the golf course) manages a resort-like feel without the resort fee. Lack of abundant freebies is something to consider, but the hotel often offers a Third Night Free promotion – call or email directly and inquire.
Monorail Stop: Convention Center