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Parking Fees Coming to Vegas? Bet on It!

I just returned from a holiday-weekend stay at the Luxor hotel in Las Vegas. Predictably, there was nickel-and-diming aplenty, beginning with the hotel’s nasty, indefensible resort fee of $29 a night, for rooms that featured neither a mini-fridge (better to drive guests to eat at one of the hotel’s 13 restaurants) nor a coffee maker (better to drive guests to caffeinate at one of the hotel’s three Starbucks).

But there was one bright spot, made all the brighter for being unanticipated.

After a five-hour drive from Los Angeles, I bypassed the Luxor’s self-park entrance and instead turned into the valet lane. I fully expected to be charged for the convenience of unloading directly in front of the hotel’s main entrance, and I was fine with that.

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But after checking out of the hotel, with a noticeably lighter wallet, I was pleasantly surprised when I arrived at the parking kiosk: No charge for valet parking. Of course, I tipped the valet anyway; his compensation is probably heavily dependent on contributions from departing hotel guests.

What I’d forgotten (or never knew) was that Las Vegas hotel parking has historically been complimentary, both to self-park and to use the valet. Competition among the city’s hotels has kept that decades-old free-parking policy in place, even as pressure to monetize all the hotels’ assets has intensified.

That’s about to change.

The Fee-for-All Begins

MGM Resorts International owns or operates 14 hotels in Las Vegas, including many of the biggest names: ARIA, Bellagio, Circus Circus, Excalibur, Luxor, MGM Grand, Mandalay Bay, The Mirage, and New York-New York.

That company’s latest press release, issued last week, signals nothing less than the end of free parking in Las Vegas, not only at MGM’s own properties, but throughout the city’s extensive network of hotels.

MGM Resorts International (NYSE: MGM) today announced the launch of a major parking strategy and investment to address long-term growth in visitation to Las Vegas. The $90 million strategy will expand and enhance parking infrastructure, take advantage of new technologies that will significantly improve the parking experience, and meet changing consumer tastes and demands. The strategy includes the implementation of a parking fee program that will introduce a modest fee for customers utilizing valet services or self-park facilities.

“New technologies” to meet “changing consumer tastes and demands”? Nonsense. What drivers need are empty parking spots, and clearly worded signage directing them to those spots, or to the valet stand. Stripped of its marketing gloss, the real news in MGM’s announcement is the imposition of parking fees by Las Vegas’s largest hotel operator. And that’s just the beginning. It’s a safe bet that Caesars Entertainment, the city’s second-largest casino operator (Caesars, Harrah’s, Bally’s, Flamingo, Nobu Hotel, Paris, Rio, and so on), will follow MGM’s lead and begin charging for parking as well.

MGM’s “modest fee,” up to $10 for self-parkers, will be imposed beginning in the second quarter of 2016, long before the alleged improvements to the parking experience will be completed. That disconnect undermines the company’s rationale for the new charges. Because as I can personally attest, free parking worked just fine as recently as last weekend. No “enhancements” (or fees) needed.

Reader Reality Check

I’m betting that parking fees will be the new normal in Las Vegas within six months. You?

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After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.

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