Casinos gamble on low room rates
With gambling revenue down, resorts look for new ways to draw guests.
Getting a bargain for a trip to Las Vegas, Atlantic City and other casino destinations is a safe bet these days.
Hotel rates in Las Vegas dropped 18% during 2009, from an average $103 to $85 a night, according to the latest Hotel Price Index from Hotels.com. New Jersey rates are down 15%, to $115 from $135. (In comparison, the average rate drop nationwide was 7%.) "You're finding four-star properties for $99 midweek," says Jeff Vasser, president of the Atlantic City Convention & Visitors Authority.
Fewer travelers during the recession explains the bulk of the drop, but hotels face more competition, too, says Barbara Messing, vice president for deal-tracking site Travel-Ticker.com. Las Vegas added 6,000 new rooms over the past six months, many of them in the recently opened City Center complex. Atlantic City, meanwhile, lost some traffic to new casinos in Pennsylvania.
Worse for hotels, those guests who stayed last year didn't offset their low room rates by spending money in the attached casino. Income from casino gambling dropped in eight of the 12 states that allow it, according to the American Gaming Association. Nationwide, revenue dropped 5.5% from 2008, to $30.7 billion.
Travelers hoping to take advantage of the hotels' streak of bad luck can find plenty of great deals this summer -- low room rates with plenty of extras thrown in. But low prices won't last beyond the summer, says Reed Webster, director of gaming destinations for Orbitz.com. Convention and group bookings have been on the rise for the fall and beyond, and hotels will likely raise prices to reflect that.
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Before then, keep an eye out for these seven trends when booking a vacation to a casino destination:
Room rate sales. Hotels have dropped rates significantly, and partner booking sites are getting in on the action. Expedia cut Las Vegas rates by up to 40% for its Summer Vacation Sale (book by June 29, travel by July 31). Watch for restrictions, like the days of the week the rates are available. Expedia, for example, has rooms at Circus Circus for $27 per night, but that’s for a midweek visit (the package gives a fourth night free). Also, rates on the hotel’s website are higher, with a midweek rate starting at $34.
Room upgrades. Room upgrades are a fairly common promotion, Messing says. The key bit of fine print, however, is "if available." Hotels are still hoping for high-roller or last-minute guests who will pay the higher rate outright.
Transportation deals. In December, some of Greyhound's "Lucky Streak" casino bus lines began offering extras for travelers heading to Atlantic City and Connecticut. For example, Foxwoods in Connecticut offers $20 in keno coupons, as well as either a $10 food voucher or free-buffet coupon.
In-house extras. Room rates might be low, but the cost of amenities like spas, golf courses and restaurants aren't, Webster says. Still, some resorts have accepted that travelers won't spend every minute (or every dollar) on-site, so they have expanded promotions to cover amenities at sister properties. For example, starting May 14, consumers who book a package on Orbitz of three nights or more at an MGM Mirage property will receive a $100 dining credit good at any of the group's Las Vegas casinos.
There are plenty of resort-only deals, too. Harrah's Rincon in San Diego has a "Splash Into Summer" package through Sept. 30 with room rates starting at $69 a night. Each night you stay, you'll also get $10 in free slot play and two poolside drinks.
Outside promotions. Although gambling revenue dropped, Atlantic City saw room occupancy increase last year as the city tries to reinvent itself as a destination for food and shopping, Vasser says. Resorts increasingly are partnering with local attractions and businesses to add value to packages. The Sheraton's Econo "Me" package offers room rates starting at $99, and includes a booklet with $600 in coupons to Atlantic City Outlets. The package is available through Dec. 31.
Loyalty card exclusives. Visitors who have signed up for casinos' free reward cards that are used to earn rewards for room stays and gambling can expect to see extra enticements, Messing says. Wynn Las Vegas and Encore recently sent an offer of rates starting at $119 (instead of the usual $239) through July 17, a $50 resort credit when you stay three nights and a free suite upgrade at booking if available.
Just joining the club can cut the bill, too. New members of the Peak Rewards Players Club at Sandia Resort & Casino in Albuquerque, N.M., get $20 in free slot play, $20 in free table play and access to members-only room rates.
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