Travel tips for Cisco Live (and other summer Las Vegas conferences)

[See disclosure/disclaimer at the end if you’re into those things.]

Many of our readers will be headed to Las Vegas over the next couple of months. Whether it’s InteropITX, Cisco Live, VMworld, or something else, you may be curious about the quickest way to optimize your rewards and your stay while you’re there.

While reading all the other posts on rsts11travel would be the most thorough way to learn your way around Vegas, we figured we’d put together a unified list of things to do and think about as you head to what will be Tech City for much of the summer.

Be a joiner, get rewarded

For most of these events, you’ll be attending sessions at an MGM Resorts International property. From Mandalay Bay to Bellagio (with the technical exception of Mandarin Oriental), and MGM Grand and Signature at MGM Grand across the street, it’s MLife as far as the eye can see. Sign up here, drop by a MLife Rewards desk at any of the MGM properties (except Signature–go to MGM Grand–and Delano–go to Mandalay Bay) to get your card, and provide your number to the front desk before you check out to start earning points and perks.

If you happen to be at another hotel for your event, check into Caesars Entertainment’s Total Rewards program, Venetian and Palazzo’s Grazie program, Cosmopolitan’s Identity program, and possibly one or two others (Hard Rock Hotels have their own programs, if you’re that far off the strip).

Most of these programs will give you benefits from day one, however small. One or two hotel stays (and/or dining and gambling experiences) will get you status for a year or more, though, increasing discounts and benefits. For example, five nights at an MGM property at $200/night gives you 25,000 MLife Rewards tier credits, which promotes you to MLife Pearl status. This gives you a 10% discount at gift shops, 10% bonus on gambling points, and an expedited entry lane at MGM property buffets through September of the following year.

Also check your credit cards and other loyalty programs for possible status matching. World of Hyatt (formerly Hyatt Gold Passport) status can be matched to MLife Rewards (and vice versa), for example, and you can earn points with both for stays at either, even if you don’t have status yet. And if you’re accepted into the Founderscard program, you get almost-instant Total Rewards Diamond status.

Reference: Loyalty has its advantages (hotel programs in general), Making your Las Vegas visit as rewarding as possible (specifically Las Vegas programs)

Consider your transportation options

Larger events that take up numerous hotels, like Cisco Live and VMworld, will offer shuttle service between the major locations. However, sometimes (especially right before keynotes) the wait may be challenging or untenable.

Uber and Lyft are obvious alternatives. You can probably get a signup bonus if you’re one of the five people who hasn’t used them before (there’s usually airport advertising at LAS for 5 $10-off rides from Lyft, for example). And a ride anywhere on the strip during normal traffic is likely to be $10 or less.

Taxis are also available, anything from a Prius to a luxury crossover, albeit at twice the price of Uber or Lyft. If you’re in a hurry or your phone is dead, they’re a viable option.

Depending on where you’re staying, you may find one or more of the “public transportation” options useful as well.

  • The Las Vegas Monorail ($5/one-way ride, day passes from $12/day to $56/week) will take you from MGM Grand to SLS Las Vegas with a number of stops at other resort hotels along the way.
  • If you prefer to go down the middle of the Strip, the Deuce and SDX bus lines run every 15-20 minutes, and cover far more of Las Vegas (including the outlet mall and the Fremont Street Experience) in case you want to get off the Strip. Fares run from $6 for 2 hours, $8 for 24 hours, or $20 for a 3-day pass.
  • There are also shorter proprietary-but-free tram lines available. One covers Aria/Crystals to Bellagio (three stops), and one covers Excalibur/Luxor/Mandalay Bay (three stops).

And depending on your health and tolerance to heat and/or smoke, walking is a great option (especially if you use a fitness tracker). Getting from Signature at MGM Grand to the Shark Reef (far end of Mandalay Bay Convention Center) is about a 30 minute walk, most of it indoors. You will need to watch out for the sometimes-confusing signage sometimes, but after thirty or forty times you’ll get the hang of it.

Consider creature comforts when choosing your hotel

You may not always have a lot of choice when picking a hotel, especially if you have corporate travel restrictions, but check out some of the options that may have a more home-like atmosphere in some ways.

For example, several hotels (such as Vdara, Signature, and Delano) offer refrigerators and even cooktops/microwaves in their rooms by default. If you’re on a budget for food, you could stock up on breakfast and snacks and keep them in your fridge, instead of hitting the food courts. Some of these also have coffeemakers, good for those of us who have trouble getting started in the morning.

You’ll also likely find a shorter line for coffee or snacks at some of the less mainline hotels, even if you’re not staying there. Drop in to the lobby at Vdara for example, for a grab-and-go breakfast or lunch or some groceries. If you wait to get to the Starbucks closest to the convention itself (i.e. the walkway between Mandalay casino and the convention center), you’re going to have a bad time.

Also remember that there are a lot of mainstream options along the strip, including drugstores (CVS and Walgreens, a couple of each in fact) for picking up sundries, personal supplies, and even souvenirs.

Out of clothing? Got you covered (literally).

I’ve had a couple of times when I’ve left one of my zipper bags of underwear at home before a week in Las Vegas, so I know how uncomfortable such realizations can be. If you realize you’re out of socks or undies, or need a classier shirt for a dinner, or your jeans decided to show off your underwear at some point, you don’t need to panic.

You’ll find Marshalls and Ross along the strip between Planet Hollywood and MGM Grand, for the bargain shopper, and you can head up to the Fashion Show Mall across from the Venetian for a wider range of options including most of the high-end brands as well as department stores.

And of course, you can get Las Vegas-themed clothing and accessories at several outlets in any of the Strip hotels and casinos. Remember to use your loyalty card to get points and/or discounts if you go that way.

Emergency electronics? Got ya covered.

Sometimes you leave home without a laptop charger, or you need a mobile phone accessory. Two easy solutions here, whether you just need a cable or adapter or USB drive, or a whole new laptop.

First, you’ll find Apple Store retail locations at the Forum Shops at Caesars Palace as well as the Fashion Show Mall. There’s a smaller Microsoft Store at Fashion Show as well. If you know what you need and you know they’ll have it, this is a great option.

Take a three mile ride to Town Square and you’ll find Fry’s Electronics, which should have pretty much any gadget you want for your mobile gear.

Or if you just need a cheap phone charger or case, check Marshalls or Ross as mentioned earlier. Stock varies wildly, but you may find what you need there for under $10.

Pro-tip: If you have a USB-C standard device, including Pixel and Nexus phones or Dell XPS 13 9350 and XPS 15 9550 laptops or later, a 61W or 87W Apple charger and Apple USB-C cable will power you up very nicely. If the Apple Store folks ask if you have a Macbook, you can just say yes even if you don’t.

Second, if you have more esoteric needs and can’t leave the Strip, you can have Amazon ship things to you either at your hotel (check with the front desk for delivery instructions and possible charges), or to an Amazon Locker unmanned location at the LINQ Promenade (in the shadow of the High Roller observation wheel). The locker site is called “LINQ” for some strange reason, and you can get most items delivered free to a locker there within 2-3 days.

Caveat: You’ll find a number of kiosks in various locations that offer lots of glittery cases, barely-branded headsets and chargers, and other mobile accessories. You’ll also find most of those items for 1/3 to 1/2 of the price on Amazon, with much less of the hard sell.

Don’t hesitate to walk right past these kiosks even if they want to be very friendly with you. Odds are you’ll get no warranty support when you get the item home and it dies a miserable death, and then there’s the whole 2-3x price difference. If you’re desperate, though, check the price on Amazon and ask them to price match. If they’re desperate enough, they might.

Plug in whenever you can

I learned this tip during National Novel Writing Month, but it’s valid any other time you’re on the go and your device might not go as much as you do. In addition to charging everything overnight, be sure to plug in when you’re near a convenient outlet, whether at lunch or in a conference session. You can run your battery down when you get home.

A corollary to this advice would be to keep an extra charger and cable on hand for anything you need to charge. Maybe bring a smaller/more compact charger around with you, and leave the full-power chargers in your room to recharge at night.

Reference: Powering your bag on the go, part 1 (the cable edition) and part 2 (the battery edition)

Snack bars and water bottles are your friends

I always try to have a relatively temperature-resilient snack and a refillable water bottle with me when I’m traversing the Strip.

Snack bars like Kind or Clif can be a welcome respite when your stomach’s noises threaten to drown out a speaker in a breakout session. Bring them with you, or pick them up at one of the drugstores on the Strip (or take a car out to Whole Foods or a regular grocery after check-in).

Staying hydrated is critical as well, and the six ounce cups at your conference may not be enough, even if they do keep you from having to run for the bathroom mid-session. Whether it’s a sturdy reusable bottle from Fred Water or SmartWater or the like, or a Vapur collapsible bottle, you can refill at a fountain or hallway water dispenser (or even get iced tea during a break) and just leave the empty in your bag until you get to your next break. Instant drink packets or TrueLemon-type juice concentrates are worth considering, if you want to liven up your water a bit.

Keep your feet on the ground, and keep reaching for the stars

Those are some not-as-quick-as-I’d-planned tips and tricks for optimizing your Las Vegas stay this summer. As always, I welcome any suggestions you’ve come up with to share with other rsts11travel readers.

Disclosure: I work for Cisco in my day job, so I will be attending Cisco Live and the annual Cisco sales kickoff meeting in Las Vegas on the company dime for the most part. However, my suggestions and coverage here are unrelated to my employment, and nothing on this blog should be taken to represent any official opinions of my employer or of those events.

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One thought on “Travel tips for Cisco Live (and other summer Las Vegas conferences)

  1. Pingback: What verse are we on? The fifth! Back at Interop ITX Las Vegas | rsts11 – Robert Novak on system administration

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