Going to Las Vegas without seeing a show is like getting married there without an Elvis impersonator.
But how do you score the best bargains in a town where 75 ticketed shows are playing? How do you beat the ticket brokers and the high rollers to get a decent seat at a decent price?
The stakes have never been higher.
The average cost of a production-show ticket (excluding tour headliners) is $68.94, an 11% increase from last year according to numbers released in April by the Las Vegas Advisor, a bargain hunter's guide to the city.
And big shows will cost you even more.
There are 17 shows for which tickets cost more than $100, an increase from just 12 such shows last year. They include Barry Manilow, Celine Dion, Blue Man Group, "The Producers," "Mamma Mia!" and the Cirque du Soleil shows such as "O" at the Bellagio and "KÀ" at the MGM Grand.
In Vegas, $100 can quickly seem like a bargain. The best tickets to the blockbuster shows — if you can even get them — run $200 or more.
"It's an uncomfortable reality, but there are very few strategies to do anything but pay face value for the hottest shows," said Anthony Curtis, publisher of the Las Vegas Advisor.
But don't give up. For those willing to prospect and be aggressive and flexible, there are some tricks, Curtis said.
First, plan at least three months in advance.
Then check out your options. Most hotels offer reserved-seat show tickets through a closed in-house system or through corporate networks such as www.ticketmaster.com.
"What you get out of those is the convenience and security of booking in advance. But you won't necessarily get the best deal," said Curtis.
To save money, he said, take those seats in the back.
With so many shows boasting custom-built seating, sometimes the cheap seats in the third tier can still have a pretty good view, and you'll save big. They're also a good place to watch the audience, which in shows such as "Mamma Mia!" can be just as entertaining. The cheap seats for that show cost $49.50.
Another strategy: Companies eager to sell you a time share sometimes will tempt you with tickets. If you can sit through the one- to two-hour pitch, you may be able to score some freebies.
Oriana Leckert, 27, of New York, got two free tickets (worth at least $150) to "Mystère" after listening to a two-hour pitch to invest in Tahiti Village, a new vacation ownership resort on the Strip.
"I knew going in we weren't going to buy anything," she said. "But it was a great way to get good seats and free tickets."
If you don't care where you stay, check to see which hotel-casinos have packages that include tickets to the most popular shows. For example, if you stay at Caesars Palace on Aug. 17, you can get two orchestra seats to Dion's show, two drink tickets and a $260 room all wrapped into a $654 one-night package.
"Try to stay where you play," said Alexis Kelly, an associate editor at Fodor's who is putting together its 2008 guide to Las Vegas. "You'll save big that way."
Or, just like Andy Kang, you can shop for bargains.
The 40-year-old Los Angeles stockbroker used e-mail discount tips he received from www.travelzoo.com, a travel advisory site, to buy seats to "KÀ." The seats, just four rows from the front, cost $67.50 each; their face value was $137.50, he said.
"I knew I couldn't get any cheaper than that," he said.
But what happens when you want to jump in the car and go to Vegas on a whim?
Just like New York, there are walk-up places in Vegas where you can line up each day and save with half-price tickets for that day's shows. (The two major vendors are Tix4Tonight and Tickets2Nite; see accompanying box.) The key to success? Go around 11 a.m. or after 5 p.m., when shows might release more tickets. Expect to wait.
"They can be pretty potent," said Curtis. "You never know what is going to show up," he said.
Another insider tip: If you are flexible, go to the hotel where your favorite show is playing and check out the line for cancellation tickets, where they might have tickets to release. This is a good strategy midweek, Curtis said, and on the plus side you could get excellent locations, even front-row seats.
If you are planning to gamble, you may lose big, but you may get some tickets out of it. Casinos control their shows' ticket inventory and make sure their high rollers are taken care of.
If you plan to spend a fair amount of time at the tables or slots, call VIP services and ask what the requirements are for getting a comped ticket or a line pass that allows you to go straight to the VIP entrance.
Independent brokers are another way to go. Check out www.ticketnetworkdirect.com or www.stubhub.com. There are also other reputable online ticket brokers such as www.vegastickets.com, www.lasvegasshows.com and the Ticket Co., www.tickco.com, a third-party firm that buys and resells tickets on the secondary market.
But wherever you buy, make sure your seller is reputable. It's no good saving $20 on a ticket just to find out it is worthless.
Be especially careful with online ticket trading sites such as EBay where you're buying from individuals.
So now that you're schooled on ticket strategies and the need to plan, here's a challenge:
You've already seen every one of the five Cirque du Soleil shows in Vegas, so you need to develop a ticket plan for 2010. That's when a possible Elvis-themed Cirque show could hit the Strip.
And Elvis and Vegas? There's nothing like it.