Free Las Vegas attractions? Not when you factor in parking

We’d laugh it weren’t so sad to see articles in some of the national travel publications touting “30 things you can do for free in Vegas.”

Unless you plan to walk a ways to some of these attractions, they’re technically no longer free because you will have to pay to park near them.

Bellagio’s Conservatory and choreographed fountain show in the front of the property fit into that category as do the animatronic attractions within the Forum Shops at Caesars.

It will even cost you to park to go to some of the great Cirque du Soleil shows on the Strip or for a headliner concert at the Colosseum and to have a meal served by a celebrity chef.

When MGM Resorts International broke new ground — and a few other things — by announcing plans to charge guests for parking at their properties about a year ago, it started a trend that now seems irreversible.

Once MGM stuck its neck out with its highly unpopular plan, it was inevitable that others would follow — and they have.

For some of them, it was about self-preservation. If MGM was going to charge people to park, savvy travelers would find a way to park somewhere else and make their way to the MGM location.

That’s one of the reasons why Caesars Entertainment quickly announced plans to add valet parking and self-park charges at its properties, Wynn Las Vegas and Encore delivered valet charges in December and said it is considering fees for self-parking, and The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, the first to adopt the helpful parking space identification lighting, said it, too, would begin charging people to park.

Based on previous announcements, it appears that some form of paid parking will exist at 83 percent of Strip properties from Sahara Avenue to Russell Road. The percentage of paid parking spaces is much higher when one considers that the lots and garages for MGM Grand and Caesars Palace are much larger than those offered in free lots by SLS Las Vegas and the Tropicana, for example.

So what’s next?

Caesars officials told me recently that customers will start seeing the hardware installed at their parking garages this month and start charging in February.

When MGM opened the floodgates and began charging in June, company officials said parking would remain free to locals until the end of December, at which time the program would be re-evaluated. Many people, including me, thought the company would maintain some goodwill with locals and allow locals to continue to park for free by having their Nevada driver’s license scanned to enable free admission. But that ended Dec. 29 at MGM.

Free passage into MGM lots is still possible if you acquire one of the branded M life credit cards, a path recommended by my colleague, columnist Jane Ann Morrison. While that might be a good solution for some, the threat of damaging a credit score with an additional credit card isn’t appealing to all, especially if we someday might see similar rollouts of credit cards from other casino companies.

When Caesars starts its parking program next month, the mechanism will open with a driver’s license scan the same way MGM’s equipment did.

Caesars officials say they have no end date planned for free locals parking, but it seems inevitable that it would end someday. But it will be free for locals for now.

Caesars hasn’t announced how much it’s going to charge for self-parking at Caesars Palace, Paris Las Vegas, Bally’s, the Flamingo, Harrah’s, The Linq and the Cromwell. The company has said it won’t charge at the off-Strip Rio, and the lot at Planet Hollywood is in somewhat of a gray area because it also serves customers of the Miracle Mile Shops mall.

If Caesars follows MGM’s lead, count on self-park rates to range from $5 for one to four hours and $8 a day at second-tier properties (such as MGM’s Monte Carlo, Excalibur and Luxor) to $7 for one to four hours and $10 a day at the top tier. Circus Circus isn’t charging anything at its self-park lots.

MGM’s valet costs are $8 for up to four hours at the lower-tier properties (including Circus Circus) and $13 for up to four hours at the top tiers and $18 a day.

At Wynn and Encore, valet rates were introduced in December and are the same cost as MGM’s top tier. A company spokesman said last week that a decision hasn’t been reached on charging for self-parking.

The Cosmopolitan will start charging for parking early this year, but officials aren’t saying specifically when.

Self-parking will run from $7 for up to four hours to $10 a day at Cosmo. Valet rates will be $13 for up to four hours and $18 a day.

There’s one more potential development on the Strip parking scene — part of the dominos that have fallen since the initial MGM announcement.

Last month, a Review-Journal employee who was shopping at the Fashion Show mall on Las Vegas Boulevard was told by a retailer that paid parking was coming to the mall parking lot.

Mall management said that isn’t the case now — but the parking landscape at the mall is under review.

The concern was that if the Wynn properties across the street began charging for self-parking, guests would try to dodge the fees by parking at the mall lot.

“Currently, we at Fashion Show provide complimentary parking for our diners and shoppers,” Janet LaFevre, the mall’s senior marketing manager, said in an email.

“As the parking landscape of Las Vegas evolves, we will be monitoring our policies and validation procedures to ensure that our customers retain easy access to our property’s amenities,” she said.

In the meantime, if you see stories about attractions on the Strip being free, keep in mind that it’s only free if you don’t consider the parking charge.

Contact Richard N. Velotta at or 702-477-3893. Follow @RickVelotta on Twitter.