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Testing four Vegas Strip hotel rooms, from $11 to $170 a night

by Staff

LAS VEGAS — During this year’s Super Bowl in Las Vegas, fans were stunned to see hotel rates skyrocket, with budget properties charging ultraluxury prices. The following month, I received my own surprise: A night at some of the same lodgings on the Strip cost less than a stadium beer and pretzel.

Hotel rates always vary, but none as wildly as Las Vegas properties. Sin City hosts some of the country’s biggest conventions and special events, which can cause prices to spike. During non-marquee times, however, prices fall back to Earth.

They have to compete with over 150,000 hotel rooms and they want to get people in the door,” said Marla Royne Stafford, a hospitality and marketing professor at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas. “They can sell it for very cheap and then they’ll make their money back on the alcohol, the gambling and the dinners.”

As for the rate, the adage “You get what you pay for” does not exactly apply to Vegas. If that were the case, the front desk attendant at my $11 hotel would have handed me a sleeping pad and inflatable pillow and wished me a good night.

“Those hotels that have $11 rooms — you might actually be able to get a very good room,” Stafford said. “It’s not your top hotel, but I would have no qualms about staying at some of them.”

To draw the guest room curtain on Strip hotels, I sampled properties in four price categories: under $25, under $50, under $150 and under $200. For consistency, I booked weekday stays on and avoided other booking sites and weekends, when rates spike. The rooms came with a resort fee of roughly $50 a night, which the hotels tacked upon arrival. Here’s what I learned during my stays.

Total after taxes and resort fees: $63.84

Background: When the Flamingo opened in December 1946, its mobster owner, Bugsy Siegel, had stars in his eyes. He imagined his glitzy hotel-casino attracting Hollywood’s gilded set, but his dreams never panned out. Today, the biggest celebrities at one of the Strip’s last remaining Mob-era hotels are Wayne Newton and Piff, the “America’s Got Talent” contestant who dresses up like a magic dragon and performs with a chihuahua. Both are paid to be here.

The room: In 2017, Caesars, which owns the Flamingo, embarked on a $90 million renovation of nearly half of the 3,500 guest rooms. To my surprise, $11 and change landed me a refreshed room in the Spa Tower. The spacious and spotless room was bathed in pink light and decorated with such flamingo flourishes as framed prints and a lamp featuring the leggy bird. The basic amenities included toiletries that made my skin squeak and a tall stack of mildly scratchy towels. The bedding was standard fare: snow-white sheets with a thin coverlet and a four-pack of squishy pillows. My favorite perk was the minifridge that didn’t have sensors, so I could stash my perishables for free.

Restaurants and shops: The retail row reminded me of a dying mall. The stores sold enough flamingo products to adorn every lawn in Florida. The dining options had a lot in common with highway rest stops. In the Flamingo Food Hall, I could taste the grease without even having to purchase a meal from the Wingzone, Nathan’s Famous or Johnny Rockets. Higher up the food chain, the Bugsy & Meyer’s Steakhouse has a speakeasy that was closed because “we don’t have enough business,” a hostess told me. The only two bars open during my stay sat in the middle of the smoky casino floor. I bought a can of beer at the provisions store and moved the party to my room.

Highlight attraction: The four-acre Wildlife Habitat, a rare slice of nature with flamingos, hummingbirds, ducks, koi and turtles basking in the desert sun.

Did we get what we paid for? The room and garden were worth more than the $11 investment, but the restaurants and shops were disappointing. I would stay at the Flamingo again as long as I made plans to dine elsewhere on the Strip.

Caesars Palace for $39.44

Total after taxes and resort fees: $101.34

Background: The hotel opened in 1966 and was one of the first Vegas properties to create a fully conceptionalized theme, according to the Neon Museum Las Vegas. In addition to Roman sculptures and columns that transport guests back to the Roman Empire, the casino’s cocktail servers wear gladiator-inspired dresses and clunky automatons perform a show about the fall of Atlantis.

The room: I arrived early but could not enter my room before 3 p.m. without paying a $30 early check-in fee. So, I nursed an $8 cup of coffee and waited. My room was in the newly renamed Colosseum Tower, one of six towers containing nearly 4,000 total rooms. To reach the bank of elevators, I had to traverse a battlefield of slot machines and poker tables. My reward for surviving the crossing was a Cronut. (Dominique Ansel’s bakery is steps from the lift.)

In my room, I could leave behind the cacophony of the casino and the kitsch of Roman times. It was spacious and tasteful, with a black-and-white color scheme and splashes of emerald green, a tribute to Cleopatra’s jewels. The stately marble and white quartz bathroom had a separate water closet decorated with drawings of Greek and Roman classical orders. The plush white towels were too thick to wear as togas. The bedding was cool and crisp and anchored by a quartet of marshmallow-soft pillows.

The fridge and amenity tray came with a warning: The hotel would charge me for any items I moved. In addition, if I rearranged the fridge’s contents to accommodate my own supplies, I would have to pay a $75 restocking fee. I could make hot water in the coffee maker for free, but if I wanted anything stronger, I’d have to purchase the pods.

Restaurants and shops: The dining scene is Food Network Live!: Bobby Flay (French, Italian, burgers), Guy Fieri (chicken tenders), Giada De Laurentiis (wine bar, casual dining spot) and Chris Santos (steaks) all have restaurants. The roster of celeb chefs also includes Gordon Ramsay and Nobu Matsuhisa, whose name is attached to a boutique hotel within Caesars. Bacchanal Buffet is a feast for hungry gods, with more than 250 items. The hotel’s Appian Way Shops pale in comparison to the Forum Shops, a luxury mall attached to the hotel.

Highlight attraction: The Garden of the Gods Pool Oasis, which takes sun worshiping to the next level with seven pools set among manicured greenery and Roman architecture.

Did we get what we paid for? I got the better deal, especially since I didn’t slip up and end up paying any of the punishing early check in, late check out or minibar fees. I wish the hotel offered free laundry to wash the smoke smell out of my clothes. But since it doesn’t, I could not stay more than one night here.

Total after taxes and resort fees: $191.61

Background: Vdara, which opened in 2009, is a rebel. The MGM property is part of the Aria campus and does not have a casino or theme, nor does it allow smoking. The gleaming 57-story hotel could easily fill a gap in an urban skyline.

The rooms: Once again, I showed up early, but unlike Caesars, the front desk attendant allowed me to check in early for free. Another staff member also granted me a late checkout for no extra charge.

My room on the 43rd floor was sophisticated but cozy. I could work and lounge in equal measure. The studio had a kitchenette with a two-burner stove, microwave, fridge and small table for dining. The kitchen cabinets were bare, so I requested utensils, a bowl, a mug and a tea kettle. “Can I get you anything else?” the concierge thoughtfully inquired. “A robe? Slippers?”

The couch overlooked a large picture window that framed the twinkling lights of Vegas and the mountains beyond. In the bathroom, I could soak in a free-standing tub accompanied by a rolling cart piled with soft towels. The furniture had a few scuff marks and stains, but the bedsheets were as white as a snowdrift.

Restaurants and shops: Vdara keeps it simple. Its Market Cafe sells sandwiches and pastries, as well as meals for in-room dining, such as frozen pizza and pints of ice cream. The Vice Versa Patio & Lounge serves breakfast in the morning and alcohol accompaniments — flatbreads, sliders, truffle fries — in the afternoon and evening. For more dining and shopping, plus gambling, follow the art-lined walkway to the Cosmopolitan Hotel or walk across to Aria.

Highlight attraction: Guests can buy a spa day pass that allows them to steam, bubble and sauna from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Access costs $75 or $100, depending on the day.

Did we get what we paid for? The price was spot-on. I’d book Vdara again. It helped me recover from Vegas without having to leave the city.

Total after taxes and resort fees: $239.26

Background: The NoMad, which has sister properties in New York and London, is tucked inside the Park MGM like an exotic nesting doll. Esteemed French architect Jacques Garcia designed the boutique property, whose eclectic furnishings deserve a cameo in Wes Anderson’s next film.

The room: The nearly 300-room hotel has its own elegant entrance and lobby, where I didn’t have to stand in a loud, long line only to be told that I couldn’t check in until 3 p.m. While I waited for my room, a gracious staff member showed me around. The tour covered the main sights: NoMad Bar, NoMad Library Restaurant, a former convenience store that could double as an Oxford don’s office.

The NoMad’s rooms occupy the top four floors of the Park MGM, and the two hotels overlap at several points, such as the elevators, fitness center and, during the offseason, the pool. When I stepped onto my floor, I left behind bright and shiny Vegas for timeless Europe.

My room overflowed with character. An old travel trunk housed the minibar. A soaking tub with artworks within splashing distance sat in a small alcove near the bed. A languid couch the color of cocoa nibs stretched under a long picture window. I had two sinks, two desks and more old-fashioned light switches than I could ever use in one evening.

The snack station had the same rules as Caesars, but the coffee maker came with free pods. The bed was covered in white linens as crisp as sails. The towels were thick enough to soak up any bathtub incidents.

Restaurants and shops: The NoMad Bar is only open on weekends and during Dolby Live events. The book-lined restaurant serves dinner Wednesday through Sunday. I stayed on a Monday, so I had forage for food in the Park MGM. From the casino, the route to the hotel is paved with Korean barbecue, a steakhouse, noodles, a Cuban food truck and Eataly, the Italian food emporium.

Highlight attraction: Drinking Vegas tap water out of an embellished glass coupe made in France.

Did we get what we paid for: Not really. The room was exquisite, and the staff doted on me. But the point of booking this tranquil retreat was to escape the frenetic hotel-casino scene. But the opposite happened: I felt as if I were a Park MGM guest who was just passing through the NoMad.

You can’t judge a Vegas hotel by its rate. I’m no longer suspicious of super-low prices. If I need a place to simply rest my head, I’ll definitely hand over my lunch money to an $11 place and use the savings for other splurges on the Strip. I will also not be so complacent with higher-priced properties. A steeper rate does not always translate to a more refined or amenity-rich experience.

I could’ve spent an extended stay at Vdara because it falls into my comfort zone. But for a quintessential Vegas vacation, I would go back to Caesars Palace as long as I could snag a room for less than $50. A more expensive rate would eat into my dry cleaning budget, which I would need upon my return home.

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