There’s only one public airport in Vegas (Grand Canyon sightseeing flights leave from private terminals) and that’s McCarran International Airport (www.mccarran.com), which is gloriously central – right on the Strip, below Tropicana Avenue. There are only two direct flights to Vegas from the UK (British Airways and Virgin) but you can usually find a better deal by flying indirect (my personal favourite route is via Los Angeles on Air New Zealand and Southwest). If you’re coming from within the United States, there’s a plethora of airlines serving the city.
McCarran is pretty small, but what it lacks in glitz it makes up for in ease of getting around. Security is usually swift, and it’s well sign-posted. There are also slot machines at the gates, to while away the time.
If you’re hiring a car here, the rental centre – home to all the car companies - is a 10 minute drive from the terminal, but there’s a shuttle that takes you there, running every five minutes or so.
Getting to the city from the airport
There is public transport but it’s a faff. You’ll need to get the 109 bus (direction Maryland if you’re departing the airport) – there are four every hour – from the airport to the South Strip Transfer Terminal, near the Town Square shopping centre, about 10 minutes south of Tropicana. From there, you need to change onto a Gold Line bus that will take you up the Strip (it makes four stops along the Strip, and then continues to Fremont St downtown). Fare is US$2 one way, or $5 for a 24 hour pass.
Shuttle buses leave from outside the baggage claim and take you to whichever hotel you want. Various companies run the services and charge different amounts – the Executive bus costs US$6 per person to a hotel on the Strip, or $7 off the Strip, but because they’re the cheapest, queues are longest (and there will be more stops on the journey in, too). So I prefer to drop an extra dollar on the Bell Trans service, which has a flat fee of US$7 per person to a hotel on the Strip, or $8 off the Strip. You’re expected to tip the driver on top of that (the standard is $1 per bag).
Some hotels also provide their own shuttles (although they charge too). Call yours and ask whether they run a service.
Be aware, though, that if there’s more than one of you (and especially if you’re a family) it may well work out cheaper taking a taxi.
Taxis have a bad reputation in Vegas, and there’s an urban legend about drivers taking people the “scenic route” through the airport tunnel (which adds about five miles onto your journey if you’re going to the Strip). However, I’ve never experienced that, and to make sure you don’t just tell the driver not to take the airport tunnel when you give him your destination (the only exception to that rule is if you’re going to Downtown Las Vegas, rather than the Strip, when, depending on traffic, it can be worth taking the tunnel).
A ride to MGM Grand costs around US$13-15 and anywhere further up the Strip will be around the $20 mark. Vegas cabbies are notoriously pushy about wanting big tips, too, and can be aggressive. Having said that, if there are two of you, it’s not much more expensive to get a cab than the shuttle, and it’s definitely much quicker.
The taxi line at McCarran is notoriously long on weekends (not that I’ve ever had a long wait) so be prepared. There used to be a cab driver who you could arrange to pick you up through Twitter, but this summer he switched to driving buses instead. Hopefully, though, someone else will start up the service.