My Frugal West Coast – Las Vegas Vacation

My Frugal West Coast Las Vegas Vacation - picture of Las Vegas sign

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I recently planned out all of our trips through November 2015.  Crazy, I know, but it is just part of the sickness.

Still, sometimes it pays off to plan ahead since some of the best award redemptions can only be made early.  Personally, I like to have as many options as possible, so I always start scheming as soon as I can.

In addition to credit card rewards-fueled trips to Jamaica, Dallas, Charlotte, Aruba (maybe?), and Italy this year, we’re also spending a week in Las Vegas and San Diego near the end of July.   Here are the juicy details of our frugal west coast vacation and how we leveraged our points and miles to make it happen:

Why Las Vegas and West Coast?

I’m going to be honest here.  Part of the reason we chose Las Vegas was the fact that I have more than 300,000 myVEGAS points to burn.  If you’ve never played myVEGAS rewards, it is a time-wasting Facebook game that rewards you with points for things you can do in Las Vegas.  As it stands now, I have enough points to pay for almost all of our meals for three days, and not just in undesirable places either.  Our plan is to eat Subway for a few meals and enjoy the rest at the Luxor, Excalibur, and the Monte Carlo buffets.  I love me a good salad bar.

Obviously, it doesn’t make sense to travel across the country for free food, right?  The other reason we chose Las Vegas is because hotel prices were crazy cheap the week we have off.  After some deliberation, we chose to stay at the Flamingo for only $41 per night.  Even better, I paid for our three nights with $200 in Expedia credit they gave me when I called and complained one day.  I just had to pay the taxes, which were around $25 total.

After our three days in Las Vegas, we’ll pick up a rental car and drive to the West Coast.  If anyone wants to offer me a free place to stay on the west coast, I’m all ears.  Otherwise, I plan to use SPG points for a few nights at the Westin in downtown San Diego or book a condo on  Either way, our lodging will be paid for with credit card rewards.  I have around $700 in cash-back on one of my cash-back credit cards if we go the condo route and I have a bazillion SPG points if we opt to stay at the Westin.

Flying to Las Vegas and Home from San Diego

You’re probably wondering why we’re taking such a random vacation to begin with.  One set of grandparents lives about 12 hours away which makes it really difficult to get together on a regular basis.  We’re all really good about it, but they still don’t get to see the kids as much as they should, and they never get to watch them alone.  So we’re driving them up to their grandparents, leaving them there for five days, then picking them up and driving them home.  Squeezing a vacation into that week made a lot more sense than making the trip twice and just coming home.

To pay for our flights, I used 21,600 Chase Ultimate Rewards points to book two one-way flights from Minneapolis to Las Vegas.  I was going to transfer those points to Southwest, but I went ahead and booked them directly through Chase.  For our flight home, I spent 50,000 American miles to fly both of us from San Diego back to Minneapolis.  The redemption options were crappy, so we ended up having to book first class for that one.  Totally pointless in my eyes, and I told Greg not to get used to it!

Personally, I can’t wait for this trip to happen.  I love all of the cheesy, free stuff to do in Las Vegas and I have never even been to the west coast!  Once it gets closer, I’ll budget a certain amount of money for gas, food, and incidentals.  And in the meantime, I’ll continue to try to convince Greg not to play craps.

Got somewhere you want to go? Let me help. Head to my “Free Rewards Advice” page for tailored advice on traveling cheaply today! For more about our travels, check these out:

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  1. Went in 2012 as part of a road trip to the T&T nationals In California. Going to Vegas in June for the nationals and it is going to be great. Last time we went, it was 115 degrees at 3 in the morning. It was really nice and I cannot wait to go back.

  2. Wow, sounds like you’ve thought of everything! We actually have some friends from England who want us to meet them in Vegas later this year for a few days. Thanks for getting my creative juices flowing on reward options… Also, it sounds like I need to start playing that game on Facebook!!!

    1. You do! The good thing about it is that you don’t have to actively play it. You just have to turn it on and let it run in the background. I don’t have time to play it actively, but I do have time to hit the button every half hour or so while I work.

  3. I thought the only reason to go to Vegas was for the food? (San Diego has even better food…)

    Oh no, I was just going to recommend a better substitute for Subway, but it looks like the place DH really liked is now closed. 🙁 I wonder where he’s going to eat the next time he goes for work.

    1. Do people go to Las Vegas for the food? I guess I wouldn’t know. All we ate last time was free myVEGAS rewards buffets and Chipotle. We don’t eat meat either so all of the fancy steakhouses are pretty lost on us.

  4. I go to Vegas far too often in most people’s opinion (well except my uncle Larry). Of course my in-laws do live out there now, so we go 2 – 4 times a year depending on the price of flights. Currently we are exploring going to Vegas in April before the oppressive heat comes in and my kids can actual enjoy the playground near Granmommy and PawPaw’s house.

    The only trip we have planned this summer is a trip to London and Norway. That should be fun since it is my entire side of the family and is doubling as a graduation gift for my sister’s step-daughter who has never been outside the US.

    1. Hope you have fun! We loved London and cannot wait to go back! What plans do you have for your trip! Here were my favorite things:
      Hampton Court (Henry VIIIs castle)
      The British Museum – a must do and FREE. Some awesome stuff in there.
      Westminster Abbey
      The Tower of London

      1. I have nothing planned. I will definitely suggest these places. Thanks!

        1. We also took a day trip to Stonehenge and Bath – highlight of our trip (though pricey!) DEF check out the British Museum if anything. It is totally free and there are so many crazy things in there. Google it and you’ll see what I mean.

  5. Las Vegas is always a good time and surprisingly cheap. I think people get suckered into the high prices thinking that’s what they have to pay, but I’ve always found ridiculously amazing deals- usually in the last minute too!

    1. I think it helps that we’ll be there on a Mon-Tue-Wed. Prices are crazy cheap! It was tempting to stay somewhere really nice- rooms at Caesars Palace, for example, were like $100ish! Obviously I chose the cheapest place with a good location.

  6. I\’ve never been to Vegas but really want to go.

    As for trips this year, its a busy one for us. We are headed to the Caymans for a week tomorrow. Then in April we are heading to Ireland for a friends wedding. Finally we have San Diego in December for a charity event. I\’ve only been to Ireland and have wanted to go back so I\’m excited for all of the trips we are taking!

    1. Sounds awesome to me. I really want to take my kids to Ireland.

  7. I LOVE Vegas!! My husband and I actually eloped there 🙂 Since we used to live in AZ, we would go there and to Laughlin allll the time! I miss that, haha (we have no babysitters close by now, wahhh!!).

    We are going back to AZ this May for my little sister’s wedding! Other than that, I’m hoping to go to Charleston, SC and Siesta Key, FL in the coming months!

  8. I don’t think you’re crazy at all for planning out til November…we’re planning til next summer. 🙂 I have my travel post coming out in a week or so, but we’re doing a ton of travel this year and next and really looking forward to it. We’v not been to Vegas in about a year and am itching to go back soon.

    1. Sweet! Feel free to join us! July 20-23 hotels are dirt cheap. Harrah’s was like $36 a night.

  9. myVegas points sound interesting…I just assumed they were only for gambling. How much food can you get for 300,000 points? The Flamingo is a good central location. Just curious, why did you use your Chase Ultimate points to book the flights. My understanding is that it much better to transfer to their partners where as booking through Chase would not be much benefit.

    1. I used Chase to book my flight for two reasons – First, the Southwest schedule wasn’t open until July yet and I had to book my flights . Second, our flights were only 10,800 points apiece, which is historically what they would have been had I booked through SW for the same flight. The best flights for our specific date/time were on Delta and they aren’t a Chase partner, nor do I have a Delta card (And I definitely don’t want one, it doesn’t make sense for where we fly) No benefit to waiting for the Southwest schedule to open for the companion pass either- right now we each have a child listed as our companion and not each other.
      There actually is a benefit to booking through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal- if you have a Ink card or a CSP, you get a 25% discount for doing so because your points are worth 1.25 cents apiece.

      If I did have some Delta points lying around, the same flight would have cost 12,500 points each in economy, and that’s ONLY if they had availability. I don’t do Delta and have zero Delta miles so I didn’t check.

  10. I’m going to vegas with Melanie from Dear Debt at the end of March, only because I have a hotel voucher I need to use. I don’t care for Vegas very much, but hey it’s a free hotel and I’m flying on points. After I’m going to Utah to see some of the national parks with a friend and camping. I’d offer you a place to stay but I live in LA, not SD. 🙁

    1. Nice! We might drive through LA on our way down!

  11. Last time I went to Vegas I was 22. It was expensive and a blast. But that was the old non-frugal/old man me who could drink without getting drunk and loved me some night life and blackjack.

    1. Expensive and a blast- sounds like my first trip to Vegas!

  12. We’re flying free on Southwest for all of 2015, thanks to a lot of airline miles and a free companion pass I earned with information on this website and others. (Thanks!) We’re going to FL to visit my parents in February, to Las Vegas with two other couple friends in April, to Miami on a business/pleasure trip in July, and to Chicago for a basketball game and quick getaway in November.

    1. Nice! We are using our companion passes (one for each kid) to fly to Jamaica for spring break in a few weeks. Cannot wait!

  13. I’m so jealous! You go on so many amazing trips. You’ll love the Flamingo. I’ve stayed there three times (maybe four? I can’t remember).

    1. I was surprised it was that cheap! I like the location- right in the middle of everything.

  14. I haven’t been to Vegas in over 15 years. Our vacation plans for 2015 are Orlando and California. Looking forward to a little R&R.

  15. I have never been to Vegas, I keep telling myself I need to experience what all the fuss is about! I need to check out places likes the Flamingo, Vegas hotels always look so pricey. If you are budgeting for food, dining & gas, everything on the West coast seems to cost so much more. My mom recently came out to Seattle and her jaw about hit the floor when we were at the grocery store, ha!

    1. Oh, I’m sure. I’m more than willing to eat fast food (well, certain kinds). I hate paying a lot for food!

  16. You’ve never been to the West Coast?! You destinations are where my wife and I grew up…both excellent choices! Don’t forget to experience the other Vegas off the strip too.

    1. Nope never. Been everywhere else though! We’ve done Vegas several times so I’ve done most of it. I just want to work during the day and people watch at night.

  17. I love Vegas! The few times I’ve gone have always been a blast, whether it was with my cousins growing up, or several road trips with a bunch of friends, or with just me and the hubs. Too bad you’re not making your way out to LA, just two hours away from San Diego 🙂

    We’re not taking any summer vacations this year but we’re going to San Francisco some time in March. It’ll be the first time I take all three kids on the longest road trip we would have taken (Lord help me).

  18. It’s been a few years now since I’ve been to Vegas, but I would like to go back this Summer. My wife and I only have a couple weeks break (well, I should say SHE finally gets a break) from her classes that we are able to travel. We will either go to Vegas or some other place. Either way we plan on utilizing our credit card rewards to fund the flights and ideally some of the hotel costs as well.

  19. I’d love to go back to Vegas. The rock climbing is amazing there.

    60,000 miles for 2 one ways?! Ouch. Let me know next time, I am REALLY good at finding good redemptions.

    1. I am good at it too- it’s half of what I write about for a living!

      It was just a weird stretch, plus I had to fly at specific time on a specific day. That never helps. There were other cheaper flights in miles – they just didn’t fit my time schedule.

  20. I would love to go to Vegas with my wife one of these days. Last time I went I spent a week climbing with friends in Red Rock park. Didn’t go to the stripe at all. Really neat that you’re able to go there with reward points.

  21. Since I’m in LA, Vegas is a popular weekend trip destination. We last went at the end of November with our friends. You’ll really enjoy SD. It’s so beautiful and chill down there; a perfect into to the West Coast!

    As for us, we’re going to Mexico later this year and we might sneak in a road trip to San Francisco as well.

  22. Oh man! I haven’t been to Vegas since I was 14! I don’t think I’ll go back until I can afford to see several Cirque du Soleil shows. Haha! I’m such a huge fan of theirs, I can’t see a real purpose in going to Vegas if not to see them! 🙂

  23. Our only travel plans this year include a road trip to the burbs of St Louis to celebrate my great-grandmothers’s 100th birthday!

  24. I went to Vegas probably 7 years ago and that was a crazy trip! I love the Bellagio water fountain. That year they were playing “Proud to Be An American” fantastic! I can only manage 4 days and 3 nights because it’s crazy in L.V.

  25. I haven’t stayed at the Flamingo for a few years, but it’s actually not bad. The rooms are meh, but the pool was awesome. I love, love, love San Diego. We are going many places this year, but not there and that kind of makes me sad since we usually do spring break in SD. There are just too many fun places to fit them all in!

  26. Go play some cards … I\’ll be waiting at 2/5 NL … come take my money! 🙂

  27. May I ask what MyLasVegas game you are playing? Thanks.

    1. I play the slot game “Betrock.” I turn it on and let it run while I work during the day. I like that one in particular because you don’t have to make any decisions. Everytime the auto runs out, you simply need to hit spin agan!

  28. Ive been to Vegas a few times and love going there in the winter. A few tips for people looking to save money – eat at the mid range hotels/restaurants near NY NY, avoid high priced meals and drinks from the Bellagio, avoid using ATMs on the strip, when taking a cab from the hotel insist on avoiding the freeway – its usually gridlock and cabs always take tourists there as they don\’t know the difference. A cab fare avoiding the freeway can be 40% cheaper

  29. Someday I will visit this place with my family. Thanks for sharing your vacation experienced. At least I have some idea if ever I can visit this place.

  30. Our 2015 vacation plans so far are the Black Hills SD (Mount Rushmore/Deadwood) and Yellowstone National Park. I have drove past Vegas the last 3 summers but haven’t gone there in about 8 years. Great you can get some discounts because when we were there last aside from the room everything else was pretty pricey.

  31. Can I add a destination hopeful for 2016? For sure, during the winter! I read your Get Rich Slowly article over there—only because it was yours. I hear ya on the relative that died of cancer. Been there, seen that. Though I couldn’t let myself reply over there, I still wanted to reply! I so want you to put on your bucket list of appointments in all things “travel” to bring yourselves and the girls to a little place in Arizona, just outside of Tempe, called the “Mystery Castle.” Sure, you can check it out on-line and read the story. But, you will never get the real vibe unless standing within. It’s one of those spiritual moments that the $10 admission simply can’t fully pay for. It’s the epitome of what parental love means. It’s the epitome of love. It’s why we spend, why we save…it’s why we receive with acceptance and forgiveness. It’s life changing. Enjoy!

    1. You know what, I actually keep a list of places people tell me about. We hope to take the kids out west to see the Grand Canyon maybe next summer- there are a few other places I would like to see in Arizona! Googled it- I would love to go there!

  32. It’s amazing how you can plan frugal holidays all over the world! I saw you’re coming to Italy, hope you like it! Have you already planned which city you’ll visit?

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