Getting Around in Las Vegas (Part 1) – Taxis, Shuttles, and Car Rentals
Advertisement laden taxis are often the preferred way to get around Las Vegas. Just make sure to avoid being long hauled from the airport!
There are plenty of in-town transportation options in Las Vegas with choices dependent on visitor preferences, budgets, and planned activities. Rental cars, owned vehicles, shuttles, taxis, limos, buses, the Las Vegas Monorail, inter-hotel trams, and walking are the major choices. In this two-part series, we have included basic cost estimates for these but visitors are encouraged to consider their hotel location, local weather, activity plans, and needs for flexibility in making common sense decisions for transportation methods.
This initial entry in a two-part series concerns use of taxis, shuttles, and rental cars for getting around in Las Vegas.
Visitor stats from the most recently available Las Vegas Visitor Profile Study indicate that roughly 50% arrive in and use their own vehicle (car/RV/bus) for in-town transportation. This series addresses the remaining half of Vegas visitor’s transportation needs. According to the profile study, 44% of 2011 Vegas visitors arrived at McCarran International Airport.
Taxis : There are 19 taxicab companies providing cab services in Las Vegas, with all under the jurisdiction of the Nevada Taxi Cab Authority (NTCA). The NTCA sets base fares and fees and enforces laws governing taxi operations. Current base fares for Las Vegas taxi services are…
- Initial meter activation / “drop fee” = $3.30
- Cost per mile including .20/mile fuel surcharge = $2.60
- Waiting time fee per hour = $30 ($2.50 per 5 minutes)
- McCarran Airport pickup fee = $1.80
- Fares may vary depending on time of day, day of week, route taken / requested, destination, weather, road conditions, and traffic level. Anytime cabs are moving at less than 8 m.p.h. (as in snarled traffic), there is an additional charge of approximately 55-60 cents per minute.
Typical minimum cab fares from McCarran to popular Las Vegas hotel destinations are…
- South Strip including Luxor, Excalibur, Tropicana, Mandalay Bay, MGM Grand, and Monte Carlo resorts = $12-$17
- Mid Strip including Aria, Cosmopolitan, Bally’s, Bellagio, Caesars Palace, and Flamingo = $14-$19
- North Strip including Mirage, Venetian, Wynn, Circus Circus, and Stratosphere = $16-$21
- Downtown / Fremont Street including El Cortez, Fitzgerald’s, Golden Nugget, and Binion’s = $22-$27
- Other base fares to various hotels from McCarran include $53.20 to Lake Las Vegas, $26.42 to Green Valley Ranch, $10.56 to Hard Rock, $22.60 to South Point, $44.31 to Red Rock, $23.79 to Boulder Station, and $19.11 to the Palms. Check this Taxi Fare Finder link to obtain estimates for Vegas taxi fares.
- Cab drivers are routinely tipped an additional 15% of the above base fares plus $1 per bag for luggage assistance.
Vegas visitors must wait in lines at both the airport and at all the casino-hotels rather than hailing cabs. Long-hauling taxi trips involving longer and more expensive fares still occur in Vegas. Cab users should ask drivers for expected fares to a given location and should have some idea of what those fares should actually be (check the Taxi Fare Finder estimate site above).
Shuttles : Shuttle vans and buses are a popular transportation option in Vegas, particularly for rides between the airport and hotels. Several shuttle companies offer transportation from McCarran to individual hotels, with typical one-way costs of $7-$8 per person to Strip hotels and an additional $1-$2 for trips to Downtown hotels. Shuttle rides to off-Strip hotels are usually an additional $2 -$6 per person depending on location. Round trip fares from the airport to hotels and back are generally twice the one-way fares for most companies. Be aware that shuttles are usually ride-share situations with potential multiple stops and time requirements depending on time of day and passenger load. Check out our comparison of taxis and shuttles for more information on this transportation option.
Free hotel shuttles : None of the Strip hotels offer free shuttle services from McCarran Airport. Off-Strip properties including Ellis Island / Super 8 motel, Green Valley Ranch, M Resort, Palace Station, Red Rock, Silverton, South Point, Suncoast, and Terrible’s all offer free shuttles to and from McCarran (though most restrict use to hotel guests).
Some off-Strip hotels offer free shuttles to Strip locations and/or Downtown. Some examples are…
- Gold Coast & Orleans to Bill’s Gamblin Hall
- Green Valley Ranch to Mandalay Bay
- Rio to Harrah’s , Bally’s, and Paris
- M Resort to Fashion Show Mall
- Palace Station to Miracle Mile Shops (near Planet Hollywood)
- Palms to Forum Shops (near Caesars Palace)
- Red Rock to Fashion Show Mall
- Sam’s Town to Riviera and Harrah’s (Strip) and the Cal, Fremont, and Main Street Station (Downtown)
- Silverton to Forum Shops
- South Point to Mandalay Bay
- Suncoast to Tropicana
Check this link (includes contact info for schedules) to view all the free inter-location shuttles in Vegas. Many inter-hotel free shuttles require guests to show their room keys to drivers prior to boarding.
Car rentals: A rental car provides a lot of flexibility and freedom for visitors who desire those aspects for in-town transportation. The decision to rent a car partially hinges on costs, how much running around is anticipated (particularly off-Strip), trip length, and how comfortable individual drivers are with jumping into the Vegas traffic mix.
Most Vegas visitors flying to town and subsequently renting a car ride a free shuttle bus to the McCarran Car Rental Center, which is a consolidated site for multiple car rental agencies. The buses congregate just outside the baggage claim area at McCarran, with the ride to the center requiring about 7 minutes. Their blue and white buses depart the airport approximately every 5 minutes. More than 5 million visitors annually use this system , and the convenience of that system is appealing to most visitors relative to renting a car at other Vegas locations because of logistics (and potential costs of getting to alternate rental locations). The biggest drawback of the McCarran Car Rental facility is the ubiquitous taxes and fees that often represent 40-50% of total rental car costs. The high taxes and fees in some respects are the price for the system’s convenience.
Check this link for alternative rental car sites / agencies in Vegas, which includes options for car rental at the hotels and specialty vehicle rentals (Corvettes, Hummers, etc). Off-airport rental locations can at times offer lower total rental costs compared to the McCarran Rental Center, assuming those locations provide free shuttle services to and from the airport.
Finding the best deals on Vegas car rental rates is usually a multi-effort bargain hunting activity. Tips for securing a good car rental rate are…
- Car rental rates are subject to effects of supply and demand. Rates will always be higher during holidays and special events in Las Vegas when crowds are up.
- Initially book rental cars as far in advance as possible ; frequently recheck rate options online
- Book through sites that send email alerts when better rates for your trip dates become available
- Often, lower total rental cost offers for your trip dates will show up after initial bookings, sometimes just prior to trips
- Begin online site searches at CarRentals.com, Priceline, Autoslash.com, CarRentalExpress.com, and always compare rates at individual car rental agency websites.
- Be aware of add-on costs (taxes, fees, late return fees, early return fees, fuel fees, and rental rate surcharges for drivers under 25 years of age).
- Always look for lowest total rental costs for your trip dates rather than the lowest daily rate per se.
- Book with smaller independent agencies vs national big-name chains ; try Payless , E-Z Rent A Car, and Fox Rent A Car agencies, all of which are accessible at the McCarran facility. Renting with Fox requires customers to ride a second shuttle to their rental car location which is about 5 minutes away. An advantage of Fox Rent A Car is substantially lower taxes and fees than agencies at the McCarran facility, which has often resulted in lower total rental costs for the author.
- Search for coupon / discount promotional codes through individual car rental agencies, Promotionalcodes.com, CouponWinner.com, Car Rental Codes.org, and Rental Car Momma.com.
- Memberships in AAA, AARP, Sam’s Club, Costco, BJ’s, and USAA and other groups like airline frequent flyer programs often provide car rental discount rates.
- Per day rental rates are almost always cheaper on weekends (after 12 p.m. on Fridays) and for weekly rentals ( 5+ days) when visitors can fit those parameters into their trip dates.
- Prepayment for car rentals is becoming a commonplace option from online rental sites these days, and can result in 20-30% savings on total rental costs from some agencies. A drawback of prepayment is inability to secure a lower overall rate when and if they become available.
- Negotiate with rental agency reps either during phone bookings or at the rental counters. Receiving a car upgrade or lower rate certainly won’t happen if you don’t ask for them.
- Economy or compact cars are generally least expensive, although occasionally some agencies will run promotions for mid or full-size cars depending on their anticipated inventories during specific dates.
In a recent survey comparing average daily car rental rates (ADR) among 50 top destinations, Las Vegas ranked number 46 (among the least expensive destinations) with an average daily rate of $32. That info pertains to rates across several common sizes but excludes the exotic rentals. Again, average daily car rental rate quotes do not consider taxes and fees which emphasizes the earlier point regarding the consideration of total rental costs in making selections. Economy car ADRs in the author’s experience run from $18 – $28 per day in Vegas. Economy car weekly rentals (5+ days) including some weekend days have resulted in $175 – $190 total costs for 6 – 8 day trips. Arriving at those cost levels required use of many of the above listed tips.
Driving in Vegas : Visitors who choose to drive a rental or their own vehicle in Vegas should be aware that it’s similar to driving in any busy metropolitan area… with the exception of a 4-mile stretch of roadway. The Las Vegas Strip (Las Vegas Blvd) at times morphs into the world’s longest parking lot on busy weekends and special event days / nights. Further, there’s always some sort of construction ( often both roads and buildings) taking place on the world’s most famous thoroughfare. Alternate routes that roughly parallel the Strip on the east (Koval , Audrie, and Paradise Roads) and west (Frank Sinatra Drive and Dean Martin / Industrial Rd.) sides can save time and frustration when trying to access Strip hotels.
Major east-west routes intersecting Las Vegas Blvd at the southern and mid-strip areas are Tropicana and Flamingo, respectively. During high crowd conditions, these too can move at a snail’s pace due to traffic. Depending on the destination, the Desert Inn Arterial allows east-west movement in the north Strip area partially because it does not intersect Las Vegas Blvd, but rather runs underneath it.
We suggest Vegas drivers use a good map and plan out their trek prior to hitting the roadways. Driving in Vegas at times requires a special defensive approach, as there are tons of additional drivers scrambling toward their own versions of the next lurid event. Check this link for Vegas road maps including the Strip.
(Photo credit: Moyan Brenn)