We just got back from Las Vegas, a fun and exciting city designed entirely to suck money out of suckers’ pockets. So here are my top tips for coming home from with at least enough cash to get your car out of the airport parking lot:
1. Time it right. Las Vegas room rates are less predictable than airfares, owing not only to seasonal fluctuations but to the schedules of major conventions and other events. When choosing travel dates, plan well ahead, go directly to the hotel websites, check the rate calendars for the best prices and book those dates. In general, Fridays and Saturday nights cost more. The period between Thanksgiving and Christmas can be a particular bargain.
2. Don’t gamble. If it weren’t a losing proposition for the gambler, casinos wouldn’t exist. If you must gamble, pick a low-stakes game with decent odds so you will lose less money and it will take longer. There’s a single-zero penny video roulette game at The Four Queens downtown where I swear it could take me all day to lose the price of a latte. At that rate, it’s cheap entertainment, not real gambling.
3. Take an airport shuttle to your hotel. The cost of $6 or $7 a person is usually lower than the cost of a taxi, unless there are more than two of you.
4. Bring enough cash. The casino ATMs typically charge $4.95 per transaction, on top of what your bank may charge you. So if you withdraw money to gamble, you’ve already lost before you start playing.
5. Tip the casino cocktail waitresses. Yes, they’ll bring you free drinks but if you don’t tip, they’ll go elsewhere. And if you give them a few bucks in advance and ask them to keep coming, they’ll do that.
I visited Walt Disney World on Saturday with my husband and our friend Tom, who lost his sunglasses somewhere at Epcot. I wish I had taken a photo of the bin of sunglasses that Guest Relations produced when we stopped on the way out of the park to ask after Tom’s missing pair. There were easily a hundred pairs of sunglasses in there, which the Disney staff told us were the ones found on that day alone. Sadly, none of them were Tom’s. But I guess it’s fair to say that Disney takes the lost and found thing pretty seriously.
The Hertz car rental agency at Barajas Airport in Madrid is billing me nearly $500 for damage to a rental car. The evidence? Photos that are time-stamped six hours before I returned the car and a blatantly altered document attesting to the car’s condition.
One of the photos is at left, showing the time stamp of 13:17, or 1:17 p.m., on Sept. 6, 2010. Here’s the damage claim from Hertz that states — correctly — that the car was returned at 19:04, or 7:04 p.m., on that date. (I also have a photo of the car taken early in the afternoon in Ponferrada, four hours north of Madrid.)
And I have to say, I’m a little embarrassed that my salvation from these bogus charges will probably rest as much on the mistakes the Hertz franchise made in supporting its false claim as it will on the measures I took to protect myself from it.
I just got one of those emails purportedly from an acquaintance who is stranded overseas and needs me to wire money asap:
I’m in some kind of deep mess right now.I came down here to London,England for a short Vacation, got mugged at gun point last night at the park of the hotel where i lodged.All cash,credit cards and cell were stolen,I went to the U.S embassy and the Police here to report but they’re not helping issues at all,My flight leaves today and I’m having problems settling the hotel bills.
If you think banks have treated you badly in the United States, try traveling abroad. The fees imposed on foreign currency transactions — at ATMs and in credit card fees — are horrendous.
Joe Brancatelli dissects the problem neatly in his latest Portfolio column. And he mentions a tactic that I happen to have employed recently: I opened a Capital One money market account that does not charge the punishing currency exchange fees imposed on most bank accounts for foreign ATM withdrawals.