Las Vegas Rip-offs: Part 2

3. Hotel fees and surcharges

Since when does a toll free phone call cost $1? If you’re staying in a Vegas hotel room, chances are that’s the price you’ll be paying. This isn’t a new policy; it’s been around for years. What’s new is that some hotels, such as Sam’s Town, charge $1 per day for local phone calls even if you never pick up the phone!

Even worse, some hotels, like some of the Stations properties now charge a $4.50 ‘resort fee’, which includes phone usage and other ‘resort’ perks. I stayed at the Fiesta (a Stations property) recently, and while it’s a decent place, it’s far from what I consider a resort. My stay at the Fiesta was comped from a mailed offer I received. When I checked in, the clerk told me about this $4.50 fee. I explained to her that I was checking in on a comp mail offer. No soup for me, she still said I would be charged the fee. What a rip-off!

Have you seen those safes in some hotel rooms in Vegas? They’re not free either. Some places, such as the Las Vegas Hilton, charge you $1 per day regardless if the safe is ever used.

And don’t even think about touching that bottle of water on the counter in your room. I recently saw one of these ‘courtesy’ bottles that had an $8.00 price tag. Tip: Right before heading up to your hotel room after a night on the town, grab a couple bottled waters from a cocktail waitress. That way you won’t be tempted to touch that bottle of water when you stumble out of bed in the morning with a throat that feels like sandpaper from the combination of too many cervezas and the dry desert air.

And finally, the energy surcharge. This fee is an absolute disgrace. I would venture to guess that the typical Vegas visitor spends an average of about 2 non-sleeping hours in their room per day. Even if they had every light (yes, even those 40 watt energy-consuming monsters) in the room on, had the TV blaring, and the thermostat set at 55 degrees, there’s no way a guest could use $3.50 in energy each day.

If hotels want to increase revenue per room, just increase the nightly rate. These hidden fees and surcharges are an outrage.

4. Airport slot and video poker machines

It’s no surprise that the machines at the airport are the tightest in Vegas. What is a surprise is the new policy that recently went into effect at McCarran International Airport. ALL cashouts, even for $0.25 require a handpay. Why? Because they want you to play until you lose all your money. The airport authority obviously knows many of these passengers only have a few minutes to play and do not want to bother going through the trouble of a handpay.

5. The HarrahShoe

Yes, you read that right, it’s the HarrahShoe. The casino formerly knows as Binion’s Horseshoe is nothing more than a tourist trap now. Harrahs agreed to manage this property earlier this year after it was shut down by federal agents in January of this year. Harrahs slapped down some new carpet, changed a few mattresses and re-opened the property on April 1st. While it was nice to see the employees retain their jobs, many longtime Horseshoe customers have stated that they would’ve rather seen the doors remain shut than to see what’s been done to this Vegas landmark.

The most shocking change Harrahs instituted was the removal of the excellent single deck blackjack that the Shoe was famous for. It’s now been replaced with the 6 to 5 rip-off version of the game (see Vegas rip-off #1 above for more information).

Wade Faul, Harrahs Vice President of Operations at Horseshoe, says, “The traditional single-deck blackjack game really isn't an option at this time.” Tom Jenkin, Harrahs Western Division President was quoted as saying, “We wanted to do the legend of Benny Binion proud." Benny Binion would not be proud of the tourist fleecing that is being perpetuated by dealing 6:5 rip-off blackjack at the HarrahShoe.

In the April 12th issue of “The Motley Fool” that talked about Harrahs re-opening of the Shoe, author Jeff Hwang states, “Unfortunately, some casinos still treat their guests like suckers” referring to 6 to 5 blackjack.

Benny Binion’s motto of “Good food, good whiskey and a good gamble" certainly is not the motto that Harrahs has decided to abide by.

When the current HarraShoe is compared to the old Horseshoe, it’s a rip-off!

6. Car rental fees and insurance

When picking up a rental car at McCarran, you might be surprised by a new fee. Effective May 1st, a new $3 per day charge went into effect for all rentals at the airport. This is in addition to the state and local taxes already in effect.

This fee is to subsidize the new consolidated rental car facility that will be built off terminal at McCarran. Once built, ALL auto renters will board a shuttle that will transport them to this facility. If you’ve ever had the ‘pleasure’ of experiencing this process, you’re in for a treat. I’ve gone through this in Cleveland and San Jose and the process leaves something to be desired. Since the shuttle is a ‘generic’ shuttle, operated by the airport authority, the driver could not care less if you’re a #1 Club Gold, Fastbreak or Emerald Aisle member (all examples of frequent renter programs), so you will not be able to receive the same level of service you’re used to. Picture the scenario of dozens of anxious tourists all crammed into one waiting area for extended periods of time in 110 degree heat waiting for the shuttle bus, because the airport authority is too cheap to run a sufficient number of busses. I’ll give even money odds on this one! Any takers on that action?

The other rip-off at car rentals is the hard sell on loss damage waivers (LDW’s), also known generically as short term insurance. I’ve read reports that margins on this add-on are up to 70% for some firms. It’s not uncommon for this fee to be $8 per day. Would you pay $2500 per year for your auto insurance at home? I doubt it. Not only is the price of the LDW a rip-off, in most cases the coverage itself is unneeded.

Most personal insurance policies insure you on car rentals for personal use. If you have this coverage and get in a wreck, your carrier will handle the claim and pay the damages, less your deductible. Most insurance companies handle these types of claims as if you were driving your own vehicle, meaning you will likely be hit with an increase in your rates. Be sure you check with your personal agent at home prior to leaving on your trip.

Your best bet when renting is to use a credit card that offers primary car rental insurance coverage. Diners Club and some Platinum Visas offer this perk. Virtually all credit cards offer secondary coverage on rentals. Be sure to note the difference between primary and secondary coverage. Primary coverage means the credit card company will handle any claims. This means your personal insurance carrier will not even be notified of the claim and your rates will not go up as a result. Secondary coverage means the credit card company will only get involved after your personal insurance company has paid out policy limits.

This article was published in the August 21st edition of the newsletter. ISSN 1521-1983-Library Of Congress,Washington,DC Copyright 1997-2004. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part, without the consent of the publisher,, AND author is prohibited.