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Don’t like Strip casino parking fees? Blame the airlines

Blame the airlines for this movement to require casino customers to pay for parking on the Strip.

Or, if you listen to some Strip watchers, we should blame ourselves.

Tourism is a copycat business world with few original ideas so it isn’t hard to look at what airlines have done over the past decade to see the Strip parking correlation.

It was in 2008 when American Airlines boldly announced that it was going to charge passengers for the suitcases they brought along for the ride. It only took two days for the other U.S. airline superpower at the time, United Airlines, to join American.

Now, it’s an industry standard.

Flash forward eight years when we saw MGM Resorts International step out on a ledge and announce it was going to charge customers to park in the parking garages they were required to build to accommodate their massive resorts.

The public blowback was huge and once-loyal customers vowed to stay away from MGM properties because the move took away what many of them perceived to be a fundamental right — free parking. Forget that people have been required to pay to park in downtown Las Vegas for years.

Maybe because of the gravity of the decision, it took competitors about seven months to decide whether they would follow MGM’s lead and, last week, it was announced that Caesars Entertainment Corp.’s Strip properties and Wynn Resorts Ltd.’s Wynn and Encore resorts would begin charging to park.

Caesars is starting with valet, but will expand to self-park fees by early next year. Caesars officials say they’ve been studying their parking initiative for two years, indicating they were looking at it even before MGM made its announcement.

The jury is still out with Wynn on whether self-park will be affected, but my money’s on that happening. Wynn officials know that an extra $50 or so isn’t going to deter their caliber of customer from staying there.

Top-tier loyalty card holders at the various properties get a break on parking fees.

Getting back to the airline industry, American and United are still flying despite the uproar they created when they began charging bag fees.

But one of the things they did was create a whole new level of competition as rivals lined up with their own programs for transporting people and bags.

Some airlines — Allegiant Air and Spirit come to mind — dramatically reduced their airfares, but provided a menu of fees so that customers could pick and choose what was most important to them. They even initiated fees for carry-on bags.

That led to a flurry of complaints from consumers who said they were sick of those airlines nickel-and-diming their passengers. Frontier Airlines used that to its advantage and created a low-fare ticket with the menu of ancillary add-ons or a more expensive ticket that provided “the works” for those who hate nickel-and-diming.

Meanwhile, Southwest Airlines went the other direction and remains the only major carrier that doesn’t charge extra for bags. The company has built a whole marketing campaign — you’ve heard of “transfarency,” haven’t you? — around the fact that it doesn’t charge for bags and itinerary changes don’t cost extra.

Now, Las Vegas locals are wondering which Strip property is going to be Southwest Airlines when it comes to parking.

Many naysayers predict all of the major Strip resorts will require their customers to pay for parking eventually. It’s too enticing a revenue opportunity to not invest in it.

But there’s bound to be some Southwests out there. After the Caesars and Wynn announcements last week, the media surveyed other outlets about their plans and it appears Las Vegas Sands’ Venetian and Palazzo, the Tropicana, the SLS and the Cosmopolitan are parking fee-free for now — although some implied it’s an open-ended question.

Representatives of MGM and Caesars have indicated that one of the reasons they’re charging for parking was that they were finding a number of people were parking in their lots for free and then going elsewhere. That’s true. How many people do you know that have parked free at the MGM Grand and gotten a ride to McCarran International Airport for a flight to dodge the airport’s parking fees?

It’s not uncommon to casino hop from one location. The Las Vegas Monorail, the vast number of available taxis and the arrival of Uber and Lyft even encourage that. It’s gotten to the point that on weekends and when large conventions are in town it’s hard to find a parking space in some garages. Maybe pay-to-park will change that.

It could also light a fire under public officials to get serious about a Strip light-rail system. If people fly in, they may be less interested in renting a car, for which they’d have to pay to park, and more interested in getting around on a modern and convenient transportation system.

While I sympathize with the hundreds of paid-parking critics out there — I received more mail on the issue after my last column on parking than on anything I’ve written here — it’s a battle that those longing to organize boycotts are going to lose.

The casino industry does a lot of things that make us mad, but we’ll still go, grudgingly. Most of us love Southwest Airlines, but it’s infuriating that there are times when a round trip to Reno costs close to $400 when fuel prices are down, even though it was just $100 a few years ago when fuel prices were up.

The airline industry is booming despite bag fees and itinerary change costs. Casinos will continue to flourish when the hoopla over parking fees ends.

Feel free to stand up for your principles. Don’t go to the best shows, concerts and restaurants in the world.

But don’t think MGM and Caesars will miss you. With Las Vegas on track to host a record number of visitors this year, a few grumbling locals won’t move the needle.

The Review-Journal is owned by the family of Las Vegas Sands Corp. Chairman and CEO Sheldon Adelson.

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

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