Las Vegas insider Scott Roeben, founder of the popular Vital Vegas blog, says while extra charges on resort, restaurant or night-club bills might be considered shady and annoying, none of them are illegal. And, he adds, when you break them down some even make sense.
“The overarching theme for me has always been, I think Las Vegas is still a great value travel destination,” Scott said during a recent phone interview. “But I think there are a lot of things that Vegas is collectively doing wrong because the perception, I think, has changed from it being a value destination to a nickel-and-diming rip off, pulling every penny out of every visitor.”
He adds that perception and a lot of annoyance could be avoided if hotels and restaurants were simply more upfront and transparent about their fees — or if they rolled those individual charges into the price of a meal or room, instead of surprising customers when they’re presented with their final bill.
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The following are some of the extra fees, taxes and charges commonly added onto hotel, restaurant and nightclub bills in Las Vegas, often to the confusion of the person paying the tab.
- Las Vegas resort fees — depending on where you stay, these fees typically run between $20 to $60 a night.
- Resort fee tax — 13.38% per night.
- Credit card usage fee — typically 2.5% to 3%.
- CNF (Concession and Franchise fee) — typically 3% to 5%.
- Random venue fees — typically 7%.
- Random service charges on top of gratuities — the amount depends on where you are.
- Mandatory gratuities, which aren’t made clear — typically 18% to 20%.
- Live entertainment tax — 9%. This tax is added to the purchase of tickets for live entertainment in Las Vegas, such as a Cirque du Soleil show or concert.
- Extra charge for drinks served “on the rocks” — Scott explains when customers order a drink “on the rocks,” an extra charge will show up on their bill. That charge, he explains, is not for ice, but instead is for a larger two-ounce shot, rather than the standard 1.5 ounce pour.
Then there are the random fees and charges Scott likes to describe on his blog as, “WTF.” I asked Scott to break down some of these extra fees, taxes and charges, beginning with the dreaded “resort fee,” which typically covers Wi-Fi, local phone calls, access to the gym, two bottles of water a day and possibly some shuttle services. Personally, I think charging for Wi-Fi in Vegas is ridiculous, because it means many influencers and visitors are paying to post beautiful photos and selfies on Instagram or Facebook, which result in endless amounts of free advertising for that resort, night club, restaurant or pool.
Is Vegas an expensive trip? Las Vegas Resort Fees explained by insider Scott Roeben
“Resort fees are still a kind of a hot-button topic for Las Vegas because the amounts have gone up significantly,” says Scott. “It really started as a way to be competitive with online travel agency and hotel booking websites.”
He explains online search results often show lower-priced hotels first, so the logic behind resort fees is that by keeping the nightly room cost low, the hotel will rate higher on a Google search. The resort fee then helps to make up for the low cost of the room.
“So, the idea was, we can keep our room rate lower, but still make a profit,” says Scott. “They had to figure out a way to make money, while still coming up high in the search results. So, you make the room rate $50 cheaper and then you tack on $50 to reverse it, but guests don’t find out about the resort fee until later. You can find these really ritzy hotels at very reasonable rates and then they stick you with the resort fee and then they stick you with a tax on the resort fee and then there’s the minibar, particularly that $22 bottle of water.”
Scott adds, if the fee isn’t initially disclosed, it makes visitors feel like the hotel tried to get away with something even if it’s not that much.
“Maybe $30 bucks, maybe $40 or $50. It’s not a huge amount of money compared to your overall trip, but if they stick it to you at the end or it shows up without you knowing about it, then you feel like you’ve been ripped off,” he says. “So, it’s the feeling that it gives you because there are a lot of wealthy people also very annoyed by this. They could be paying a huge amount, maybe $1,000 a night for room, but they’re annoyed by a $40 charge because of how it makes them feel. It’s not that they can’t afford it. It’s the feeling.”
Surge or dynamic pricing: the act of raising prices for services during peak times
My first introduction to surge pricing in Las Vegas was after taking an Uber to dinner and paying $25 USD to get there. Assuming the price would be the same to get back to our resort, I didn’t pay any attention on our return trip and was charged $82 USD because it was a busier time of night.
I’ve since discovered this is the same pricing model being used in many of those small convenience stores found in resorts — the ones that sell everything from toothpaste to Advil, vodka to soda. You may or may not have noticed, but increasingly many of those shops no longer have prices on anything, with the exception of the list the cashier hides behind the till. That’s why on a quiet Tuesday, you may only pay $4 for that small bottle of pop, compared to the $5.80 charged on Saturday.
Scott says the resorts assume tourists on vacation aren’t going to worry about an extra dollar or two on these items but adds, again, there’s a feeling of being scammed.
“They think, hey, our hotel is booked 100% tonight. No one’s going to care if we jack up the price of these items, but then that’s multiplied over thousands of items,” says Scott. “So, it’s a very weird practice. It should be illegal to have a store without prices on things in my humble opinion. It goes back to that same idea of, you know it’s going to be expensive, it’s in a hotel gift shop. But you’re telling me that it could cost $7 one day and $8 the next day and I could walk into the same place and get charged differently?”
Scott explains surge pricing is creeping into Vegas restaurants as well — and that’s where those QR coded menus come in. Because the menu is online, all a restaurant has to do is go and raise prices on the website, rather than print out new menus.
“So, depending on the day of the week, they can have different prices and different items. It’s great for restaurants, not so great for customers because of that surge pricing,” Scott says.
He adds there are some legitimate reasons for restaurants to continue using QR codes for their menus post-Covid, including the fact the price of everything from ingredients to delivery fees can also fluctuate daily. By using QR codes instead of menus, restaurants can adjust accordingly so they don’t lose money on their food and don’t have to print new menus every day.
“They have to figure out the pricing of chicken wings from one week to the next. So, they would add a service charge to kind of neutralize those spikes in prices. I’ve talked to multiple people about this in the restaurant business and they like that this virtual menu allows them pricing that reflects what it’s costing to run their business.
CNF (Concession and Franchise fee) — typically 3% to 5%
“This one is definitely taking advantage of a vacation mentality, right?” says Scott. “CNF charges are concession fees added to restaurant bills. You can absolutely tell them to take it off if you want to fight with a manager. But are you going to spend the time arguing with a manager on your vacation? About a $3 charge? The priority is on $3, it’s not going make a difference in my life. Casinos rely heavily on that vacation attitude.”
The famous Las Vegas Strip at night. Image David Mark from Pixabay
Outrageous nightclub table and pool cabana rental fees, which also include random service fees
From the online search I did, the average starting price to rent a pool cabana in Las Vegas starts at $500 USD and can run to as high as $15,000 USD a day. And, don’t forget the additional minimum food and beverage cost, which can add thousands of dollars to the total.
Las Vegas cash grabs and resort fees explained by insider Scott Roeben
High prices in Las Vegas explained
Scott explains the high prices are dictated by demand.
“It’s the free market system. It’s what the market will bear and that’s the only reason you can charge outrageous amounts for a table in a nightclub or a cabana,” says Scott. “And so, somebody’s paying $15,000 for a table in a nightclub, the last thing they’re gonna care about is if you tack on a service fee for $500. You know, to the people who can afford these things, it’s a moot point. They don’t care.”
Scott says the reality is, it’s typically wealthy men looking to interact with attractive women who are paying for tables in nightclubs or cabanas at pools, with the additional food and beverage minimum spend.
“So now you’ve got alcohol being served and food and you have these lovely women at the pool who probably got in free because they’re lovely women. And now they want to drink and they go talk to the man who has a cabana, who has liquor, and that man probably feels like he’s getting a bargain because this lovely woman is talking to him and he’s feeling like the king of the castle,” Scott says.
“Same with a nightclub. VIP tables in a nightclub are in a good spot and they’re going bring you sparklers and bottles of Grey Goose for $400 and champagne and attractive women are going talk to you and you and your friends are kings for a day. That’s what you’re paying for. You’re not paying for a cabana. You’re not paying for a table. That’s ridiculous. You’re not paying $400 for a bottle of Grey Goose you can get for $30 That’s not what you’re paying for. You’re paying for the experience. The fees are inconsequential.”
Scott notes there are some visitors to Vegas who are so wealthy, it’s beyond the scope of the average person. He adds a gambler betting $1,000 on one roll of the dice is not going to be concerned with $1,000 “service fee” on their cabana.
“It’s so stupid. But, if you look at it objectively, it’s insane for girls to walk out with sparklers and a sign with ‘Happy Birthday Chad,’ on it,” says Scott. “The world is upside down, but it happens every day. It’s crazy. There are people paying $50,000 for a day at the pool and if you hit them with a $1,200 auto- gratuity or venue fee, they don’t care. It’s nothing to them. It’s one roll of the dice.”
If you grab a cab at the airport, you’ll get charged $3 for paying with a credit card on top of the $2 airport surcharge for any drop-offs and pickups. The good news is you can take an Uber and Lyft or one of the shuttle buses that costs less than $10 to most hotels on the Strip.
And now, some Vegas restaurants and businesses are also charging this credit card fee. Scott says everyone knows credit card companies charge fees to businesses that accept them, but he doesn’t believe that fee should be passed onto the customer.
“That’s a business expense,” says Scott. “But the idea of passing it along to a customer on their bill is absurd because you’re absolutely poking the bear. It’s an aggravating practice. It serves no purpose.”
With inflated withdrawal fees, casino ATMs area huge cash grab. Image by Public Domain Pictures from Pixabay
Inflated ATM charges in casinos
During a recent trip to Vegas, I considered using a bank machine at our resort, but the ATM fee was $10 USD and the exchange rate for Canadian money was 50% compared to the already high 39% we paid at our bank at home in Vancouver. Pro tip: bring enough money from home that you won’t have to make any withdrawals while in Vegas.
Scott notes if you’re American and taking out $500, the $10 fee is not a big deal.
“But if you take out $50 and get hit with a $10 fee, that’s problematic, but I don’t know how to get around that,” Scott says. “I obviously have a local bank and it doesn’t charge a fee, but when I need more money, I need the money. So, I’m making a small investment at the ATM and I’m taking out a big withdrawal.”
Servers of those ‘free drinks’ in Las Vegas casinos deserve a decent tip, says insider Scott Roeben. Image by Ira Lee Nesbitt from Pixabay
Tipping and mandatory gratuities, which aren’t made clear — typically 18 to 20%
We know enough now to look, but in the early days of automatic gratuities there were a few times we tipped on top of the 18 to 20% automatically added to our bill —and which was written in small print at the bottom of the receipt. I was also curious about the going rate for tipping servers who bring free drinks to gamblers in casinos.
“I’m not an outrageous tipper. But I am a consistent tipper. And there’s definitely a lot of debate around it,” Scott says. “I didn’t think it was controversial, but Vegas runs on tips so anyone you can think of, pretty much, will accept tips and the more you tip, the better your trip will be.”
He notes tipping a server well while gambling in a casino typically translates to quicker service and bigger pours.
“And you know there has been some inflation on tipping. You used to just give the cocktail waitress $1, but that’s been for the last 40 years, so I say $5 is the new $1 and it makes a big difference.”
A tip is expected if you take a photo or pose with a character in Las Vegas. Image by Sandra Thomas
Scott notes if a venue doesn’t disclose a fee until after you’ve already stayed, eaten, or sipped, then ask to speak to a manager about it.
“It’s a bad business practice to dupe customers and the establishment should be told so. And maybe they will remove it. But until there are laws in place to protect consumers, it’s never guaranteed.”
He adds, many long-time Vegas regulars were used to paying $2 for a hotdog while they played penny slot machines. He notes, it’s those visitors who are being pushed out by extra fees and higher prices.
“So they think, ‘I’m not gonna go four times a year, okay? But maybe I’ll go once,” says Scott. “That’s, not a problem now because we have this post-pandemic bump, but it will be a problem.”
Scott says the extra fees and taxes are cumulatively causing a problem for Vegas, because its perception of value is waning.
“Okay, the big picture problem for Vegas is now people think, ‘I’m not going to Vegas because now I can gamble in my neighborhood, locally. And I’m not going because I got hit with a resort fee and a concession fee.’ So, maybe Vegas doesn’t need those people right now, but when things mellow out, they’ll want to get those value seekers back. It’s an interesting time in Vegas for sure.”
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