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The Strip Diary, Day Eighteen: The Economics of Long-Term Hotel Living (and Why Vegas Messes Them Up)

04/22/2011 07:40 am 07:40:37 | Updated Jun 22, 2011

Day Eighteeen: MGM Grand ($69.99)

Today has been a busy day. I've visited Zappos and Vegas.com; I've had coffee with two bankruptcy lawyers who explained why Vegas real estate is screwed; and I've explored some of downtown and Fremont street, my impressions of which I'm hoping to share this weekend.

The result of all this running around is that, having just checked in to my next hotel (video below), I only have half an hour before dinner and I haven't even started to think about today's diary entry.

It's time, then, for another installment of my regular feature: "Paul meets his deadline by writing in generic terms about hotels". Today's episode... how I manage to live in hotels permanently without bankrupting myself.

A few days ago, I talked about how I can't understand why the whole world doesn't live in hotels. Unsurprisingly, given how disingenuous that statement was, I got lots of mail in response.

More than one correspondent pointed out that many people have husbands or wives -- and kids -- which prevent them from gallivanting around the world. Others -- mostly girls -- argued that they couldn't bear to be without all of their clothes, furniture and other stuff. Both of those are fair reasons to stay home.

By far the biggest argument against universal hotel living, though, was the cost. After all, everyone knows that to live in hotels -- decent hotels, at least -- one must first be obscenely wealthy. The fact that I have been living in hotels for almost five years must mean either: I'm expensing my accommodation bills to some mysterious media benefactor, or I am independently wealthy.

Nope and nope.

In fact, over the past four-and-a-bit years, my monthly accommodation budget has been consistently lower than the rent on my former apartment in London. To get how that's possible, it's important to understand a few basic differences between short-term hotel living and long-term hotel living.

Short-term hotel living is what most people think of when they think of hotels -- checking in for a couple of nights, splurging on room service, and then going home.

Short-term hotel living is a shit-show. In the past seven nights in Las Vegas, I've spent a total of $828.75 including tax on accommodation; an average of just under $120 a night.

Over the course of the month, that average would result in a total accommodation bill of $3600. Then there are resort fees and/or Internet charges (call it $15 a night, on average = $450 a month), not to mention taxis to and from each hotel ($300 a month) and so on and so forth. Factoring in some peak weekend rates, I'll probably spend $7500 on accommodation alone this month, which is way more than most people pay on rent.

But the way I've been living this month is a million miles away from how I normally live. Not least because, if you're serious about living in hotels long-term, changing location every night and booking your rooms the night before is just about the worst way to start.

Here's a far better approach..

1) Stay longer than a month. In most parts of the developed world (or at least in the US and Europe where I spend most of my time), cities don't levy room tax on hotel stays of a month or more. Annoyingly, most Vegas hotels cap hotel stays at just under a month, so the trick doesn't work here. But if this were, say, San Francisco or London, my $828.75 weekly bill would be more like $739.95 without tax -- an average of just under $106 a night or $3180 a month. And of course most cities on earth don't charge ludicrous "resort fees".

2) Only stay in hotels with free Internet, and free everything else. One of the biggest advantages of long-term hotel living is how much stuff hotels give you for free. In a hotel you don't pay for cable TV, for example; or for power, or water, or heating -- or the countless other basic expenses that sit on top of your mortgage or apartment rent. Another huge saving is on maintenance. If something breaks in an apartment, you have to call someone to fix it -- and pay them for their work. In a hotel, if something breaks, you just switch rooms. Before I left London, four years ago, I figured out that -- factoring in local taxes, bills, maintenance, cleaning and other stuff that's included in hotels, I was paying around $100 a day just to exist in my apartment. Almost half a decade later, I can still easily get a hotel room in most cities for $100 a night, without breaking a sweat.

3) Break a sweat. Negotiating amazing rates is half the fun of long-term hotel living; and I've used just about every trick imaginable to shave a few dollars off a nightly rate. I almost always stay in independently owned hotels, or those which are part of a small chain. Why? Partly, because the service is often better, and the rooms have more character. But mainly because they're far more willing and able to offer discounts for long stays. These are still difficult times for the hospitality industry, and a guest offering to occupy a hotel room for a couple of months is music to an independent hotelier's ears. In San Francisco, by booking in for six months, I was able to negotiate a three room suite at a boutique hotel, less than a mile from Union Square, for less than $75 a night (normal rack rate for a basic room: $175). And with no tax. I'd tell you which hotel, but I'll probably go back and I don't want it to be full.

4) Be a bit shameless. I'd never advocate lying to hotels, but there are a couple of tricks that I imagine might be quite effective, if i were to try them. Here's one: when you call up to book a long stay, always ask for the cheapest room available. Every hotel has a couple of crappy rooms they can never sell, and so are willing to sell at a discount. These rooms are your friend. When you arrive at the hotel for your two month stay, there's almost no chance that the person at the desk will be the same person who took your reservation. Act disappointed that you've been given a crappy room, given that you're staying for so long. No front desk employee has ever been fired for giving an upgrade to a valued customer.

5) Do your homework. Most cities publish their occupancy rates for the previous year. Use them to figure out the optimum time to stay in a particular city, and when are the times to avoid. Another key to long-term hotel living, of course, is to have a job which allows you to work from anywhere so you can pick and choose your location based on where the best rates lie. It pays to track currencies too: I once spent a week in Iceland, just because the economy had collapsed and the hotels were nearly empty.

Obviously I'm painting in broad strokes with all of these tips. There are a countless more techniques, and nuances within those techniques, which help to make long-term hotel living not just affordable but actually preferable.

If I were a cynical man, I'd suggest you pre-order my book to see how I used them to upgrade my way to my current lifestyle. But I'm not a cynical man, so instead if you have more questions, email me here and I'll do my best to answer them in future diary entries.

But first I'm going to order room service, send an $8 fax and watch some overpriced porn. Seriously: why doesn't everyone live like this?

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The Wynn vs Imperial Palace...