It's official: everything in Las Vegas is trying to screw you, and not in the way you seek to be screwed while in town (although also in that way... and also for money). It starts the minute you elbow your way past the banks of slot machines at McCarren, step outside into the desert sun, and hail a cab. "Hey, I'm smart, I won't fall for any scams. I can beat the Vegas odds!" you claim, foolish tourist.
Sure you can. But just to give you some idea of the extent to which you're going to be taken for a ride (literally) while you're here, these are all of the ways Vegas taxis will try to screw you.
Beware the time-honored tradition of long-hauling.
This is the first, last, and most important thing you need to know about. Long-hauling is the easiest scam at the cabbie's disposal. So, what is it? Exactly what it sounds like: cabbies take you (and your money) for a ride, opting to choose the long route to your hotel in order to increase your fare anywhere from a few bucks to four times as much as the ride should've cost.
"Long-hauling happens everywhere there are cabs and tourists to take advantage of. It's all part of the Vegas tourist tax that I'm prepared to pay," you say?
Yes, long-hauling does happen to unsuspecting tourists the world over, but it is endemic in Vegas. So much so that it's estimated to cost visitors an extra $15 million each year. Plus, anywhere from 25-50% of taxi drivers participate in this practice.
So how can you avoid getting long-hauled? Here's how:
1. When you get in the cab, instruct the driver not to take the tunnel, but instead take Paradise or Swenson.* Even if you don’t know what that means, it at least indicates that you're onto them and are paying attention. And definitely do pay attention because cabbies are aware that you're onto them and have worked out another long-haul strategy: taking a reaaaal wonky way to Swenson. To be safe, make sure they follow the signs for Swenson. It's the one time in your life where you should actively be a backseat driver.
*Unless you're staying Downtown, on West Flamingo, or on West Sahara (the Palms, Rio, Palace Station), in which case, you definitely want to take the tunnel to the freeway.
2. Use your GPS. Forsake the obligatory "backseat of the cab VEGAS BABY WOOOOOO" selfie just this one time and pull up the route to your hotel. It'll show the shortest, fastest route and also where the traffic congestion is (should your cabbie try to argue their long way around is "faster"**).
**Sometimes the long way is faster, as anyone who lives here and avoids surface streets and the Strip with obsessive single-mindedness can tell you. But still, check the route on your phone.
3. Act like you're from here, or have been here a bunch of times, or used to live here, or any other bold lie that positions you as anything other than a wide-eyed tourist with a flashing neon sign on your forehead that reads "TAKE MY MONEY." Cabbies don’t mess with locals. That's an unspoken truce here. Solidarity, and all of that.
Cabs are stupid... expensive. Watch out for additional fees.
The base fare for a cab here is $3.45 plus $2.68 per mile. There's also an additional "wait time" charge of about 50 cents per minute when the cab is sitting idle or traveling at less than 12 mph, a 3% transportation tax, a $1.80 airport pickup fee, and additional fees if paying with plastic (we'll get to that). And then you've gotta tip the guy on top of it. Basically, just to sit in the cab is going to cost you about $15.
If you're going to travel everywhere by cab, plan on a $50-$100/day budget just for that. If you don't believe me, go ahead and price out how much a taxi from MGM to Downtown and back again will cost you, just to get an idea. Truthfully, you're better off picking a hotel that's by a bunch of other hotels and traveling everywhere on foot.
And don't even think about Uber or Lyft. Those are subject to the same rates of taxation and various fees (like airport pick-up fees). In fact, in order to legally be allowed to operate here they had to submit pricing plans to the Nevada Transportation Authority, which is very much interested in protecting the cab unions. All of this means one thing for you: Uber and Lyft are not significantly cheaper. Now, having said that, they do have some advantages: A) no additional charge for using a credit card, B) significantly reduced risk of long-hauling (they use GPS-based mapping programs and so do you), and C) you don't have to tip.
Also, pick-ups are a lot more convenient when there are long taxi queues at hotels where some young enterprising casino employee will try to shake you down for another $20 to get you to the front of the line. (We'll get to that, too.)
There's a $3 surcharge for using a credit card
I repeat: there is a $3 surcharge for using a credit card in a cab in Las Vegas. It's most likely the highest credit card swipe-fee in the world, and that's IF the cab accepts credit cards. Some don’t. They can, but they'll tell you they don't. So if you need to pay by credit card, make sure your cab will accept it before you even get in.
Beware recommendations, aka diversions
Cabbies get kickbacks from certain clubs and restaurants (especially strip clubs) for funneling them tourists. Beware the cabbie promising to take you to the "best restaurant" or the "hottest club in town" because they're probably getting a kickback for it. If you're trying to go somewhere specific, it's also not uncommon for them to suggest going somewhere else instead (these are called "diversions"), or to go so far as telling you the destination you requested has gone out of business or burned down. This is a lie. Stick to your guns.
This is a much bigger problem with topless bars than anything else, for which the kickbacks can be as much as $100 per cab load of (male) tourists.
Bottom line: do your research beforehand and know where you want to go. Hell, I'll save you the trouble: Spearmint Rhino and Sapphire. Done. (Now both of these businesses should give me $100 for every person who clicks on this article, amirite?)
Oh, and don't trust the hotel doormen either
They, too, are in on the club kickbacks. And they, too, are trying to screw you. Last year the Venetian came under fire from locals when doormen were trying to shake people down for $20 to skip the line, and purposely stalled the line to make the wait times longer and get more people to plunk down that future Harriet Tubman. Plus an extra tip for the "favor." Don't fall for it. Most Strip hotels are connected to other hotels you can walk to (relatively) easily enough. Tell the scammer GFY and go next door for your cab.
Editor's Note: Here are some other things you should probably know about cabs in Las Vegas.
1. You can't hail a cab on the street here. It's actually illegal for them to pull over on the Strip for pick-ups. You have to go through the hotel cab stands.
2. If you encounter a long line for a cab at the airport, skip it. In Sin City, money talks, and if you're willing to cough up an extra $10 to spare an hour of your life in line, find a porter in baggage claim or talk to a skycap and ask for a Yellow No. 1. Just like that, you skipped the line and are on your way. Now you just have to keep an eye out for long-hauling and diversions and etc.
Like I said, everything in Las Vegas is trying to screw you. Good luck.
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