Post-recovery Vegas package rates holding in '02

LAS VEGAS -- This city has become more accessible for 2002 through the best prices in recent memory.

A city known for its enticing prices, Las Vegas reduced rates even further during the recovery period after Sept. 11.

Though some operators expected rates to return to normal after the first of the year, the special prices are holding.

United Vacations, for example, is offering a package for travel from Jan. 13 to Feb. 10 that includes roundtrip air fare; two nights' accommodations at the Westward Ho Casino; a free tour of Laughlin, Nev.; a Las Vegas Funbook with discounts at more than 40 dining, show and entertainment venues, and Showtime Tours' Las Vegas Nightlife Tour, which is an escorted tour of the city's sights and hot spots.

Prices start at $199, per person, double, from Los Angeles and San Francisco; $294 from Seattle; $434 from Chicago; $444 from Denver; $449 from New York, and $499 from Washington.

The Las Vegas Strip, where much of the city's nightlife can be found. The current low prices enable visitors to upgrade to hotels they might not have been able to experience before, according to Richard Rodriguez, director of Las Vegas marketing for Gogo Worldwide Vacations.

"There's a lot of booking up," said Rodriguez.

"People who used to book Excalibur can now book Treasure Island. Those who booked Treasure Island can book the Mirage or Paris. Those who booked the Mirage and Paris can move up to the Bellagio."

Some hotels, according to Rodriguez, are as much as 30% off their usual prices as far ahead as April or May.

Although some hotels are holding out by only dropping their rates at the last minute, others -- including MGM Mirage hotels and Park Place hotels -- have cut their prices far in advance, giving the operator time to market the deals.

"MGM Mirage and Park Place are giving us the opportunity," said Rodriguez.

"They are saying, 'We're going to lower our rates, and we want to make sure you are able to support us.'

"They're not saying, 'We'll wait and see.' "

As a result, those properties are Gogo's most productive hotels for the season.

"They've actually been able to shift market share," said Rodriguez.

Gogo's 2002 catalog includes three-night, air-inclusive packages for the Mirage at $375 from Miami, $389 from New York and $495 from Boston. The prices are valid Jan. 11 to Feb. 7.

Three-night, air-inclusive packages to the Excalibur are $305 from Miami, $319 from New York and $429 from Boston, also valid Jan. 11 to Feb. 7. Prices are per person, double.

Las Vegas continues to expand its range of attractions, moving ever further from its earlier image as primarily a gambling destination. The city continues to expand its lineup of shows, including more top musical acts, comedy acts and traveling casts of Broadway hits.

The city's facilities for families continue to grow, and tour operators continue to add to soft adventure and outdoor offerings.

In 2001, Travel Impressions added the new Hyatt Regency Lake Las Vegas, located 17 miles off the Strip.

"It has three championship golf courses," said Patricia La Rocca, Travel Impression's product director for Las Vegas.

" 'America's Sweethearts,' with Julia Roberts and John Cusack, was filmed there, so I always get nostalgic when I'm there."

Among Travel Impressions' 19 Las Vegas hotels is the Aladdin, which opened a spa in December.

It has 35 private spa therapy rooms and six suites, including one for couples.

Travel Impressions is now offering optional tours, which enable travel agents to earn commissions.

Last July, Travel Impressions introduced helicopter tours to the Grand Canyon. For 2002, the lineup of optional tours will be expanded.

Among the additions will be shopping trips to outlets and day trips to the casinos of Laughlin, Nev.

Both Gogo and Travel Impressions are offering the new Palms, a 455-room resort and casino that opened in November.

Special prices on hotels are reaching new lows. Prices for Circus Circus in a three-night Travel Impressions package are from $19.50 per person, per night, including roundtrip airport transfers.

Excalibur is offering a two-for-one deal on its "Tournament of Kings" dinner show and at its Catch a Rising Star comedy club.

Prices start at $77 per person, double, for a three-night stay, including roundtrip airport transfers.

For a three-night package from Travel Impressions, prices, including transfers, for the Luxor start at $84 per person; $109 at Monte Carlo and $174 at Caesars Palace.

Air fare from New York (Kennedy) starts at $199, from Boston at $299 and from Los Angeles at $65.

Prices do not include tax.

Showtime Tours, the destination management company that provides ground operations for Mark Travel brands, is offering a new tour called the Ultimate Memory.

It begins early in the morning with a one-hour flight to the Grand Canyon followed by a helicopter ride to the bottom of the canyon.

At the bottom, participants ride a pontoon boat on the Colorado River, after which they helicopter back to the rim for lunch and fly back to Las Vegas, arriving about 1:30 p.m.

The retail price of the tour is $314.

Mark Travel brands that offer travel to Las Vegas include United Vacations, US Airways Vacations, Southwest Airlines Vacations, Adventure Tours USA, Transglobal Vacations, Funjet Vacations and MGM Mirage Vacations.

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