Sunday, May 10, 2009

10 Penny-Pinching Tips for a Marathon Trip

Let's face it, traveling to and from a marathon these day's can get quite pricy. When I first started running marathons, the registration fee was around $60. Now many are well over $100 and some half marathons are $60. Inflation! Not to mention the expenses if the marathon you're training for is in another town, state, or country—airfare and/or gas, lodging, food, etc. Before you know it, your "cheap" sport is costing you a mini-fortune.

Now don't get me wrong, there are times when you may want to splurge and go all out for your marathon excursion. Maybe it's your first marathon, you're 50th birthday, or your first Boston. But, if you're like me and you tend to do a marathon every year, it can really put a drain on the old wallet. Below are 10 ways to save a little money on your next marathon trip. What money-saving tips do you have?

Penny-Pinching Marathon Tips:
1. Take a bump—Do you fly on business a lot? Next time you're waiting for your flight and they offer a bump, take it (or at least check it out). Many times the bump will only delay you a few hours. Sometimes you may need to stay overnight, but if you're on your way home and you have no time restraints, it may be worth it. Almost every marathon trip of mine that involved flying, I used a travel voucher from a bumped flight. One time I took a bump and was given a $400 travel voucher, which put me in first class on the next flight. When I arrived at my connection I was forced to take bump because my flight was late, so I was given another $400 travel voucher. I made out with two $400 travel vouchers and was only delayed by 3 hours! Things may be different now with airlines, but it's worth checking out when they ask for people willing to take a later flight.
2. Bid on a room— has a "Name Your Own Price" option. You can save up to 50% on the regular price of a room using this method. Basically you give the arrival/departure dates, the star-rating of the hotel you want to stay in, and the area of the city in which you want to stay. Then you make a bid and wait to see if any of the hotels that meet your specifications accept your bid. What's the catch? You don't know the exact hotel you're going to stay in before you commit to the offer, but you are guaranteed the star-rating and the area you requested. In 2005 I ran the San Francisco Marathon. I placed a bid for a 4-star hotel in the area near the race start. My bid was $75. It was actually accepted. I got a great room at Club Quarters about 3 blocks from the start. Perfect!
3. Bid on a flight— has a "Name Your Own Price" option for flights too! You can save up to 40% on a flight using this method. Works basically like the bidding on a room. The only catch is that you have to have flexible travel plans. After you make your bid you have to commit to the flight before knowing the departure time. It will leave on the date you request, but it could be anytime on that date. But, if you plan to arrive two days before the marathon and plan on leaving the day after the marathon, this could be a great way to save on your flight.
4. Scour the discount travel sites—Many times, marathons will offer special rates at area hotels. Check out these discounts then go to several of the discount travel sites (Orbitz, Travelocity, Cheaptickets, Expedia) and see if you can get a better deal. You may not get as good a deal as with Priceline's "Name Your Own Price" option, but you'll be able to pick exactly which hotel you want.
5. Book a room with a kitchenette—Many times I've saved some money by booking a room with a kitchenette so I could prepare my own food. This is helpful if you have an eating routine that you don't want to break. I did this in Nashville for the 2003 Country Music Marathon. I stayed at a reasonable hotel near the airport (I drove, but hotels near an airport tend to be cheaper) that had a kitchenette. I found a grocery store nearby and bought what I needed for the few days I'd be there. It was reassuring to know that I was eating foods that wouldn't give me troubles on race day.
6. Invite some buddies or try alternative accomodations—One good way to save a few bucks on a room is to get some running buddies to share the room and split the cost with you. Not only will you save some money, but you'll have a great time together "roughin it." Do you have friends or family that you could stay with or "rent" a room from? Also, consider staying in a hostel. I found a great hostel in NYC on the Upper West Side right by Central Park for only $65 a night! I had my own room but shared one of two bathrooms on the floor. I was in a safe neighborhood, very close to the finish and it was about $150 cheaper than any hotel I could find.
7. Use public transportation—Many of the major marathons are in large cities that have great mass transit such as, New York, Chicago, D.C., San Francisco, and Atlanta. San Diego has a great trolley system. In San Francisco I took the BART from the airport to about a block from my hotel. In Chicago I stayed in a hotel near the Midway airport. The hotel provided free transportation to the train station where I took a train to get to and from downtown Chicago for the race. For the upcoming Marine Corps Marathon, I have a room booked in Arlington (where the rooms are typically cheaper). A metro stop is right by the hotel which will take me to and from the marathon.
8. Scout out the area—Don't rely on the hotel for all your needs. People live their everyday lives in the cities you're visiting and they're not paying $15 for a club sandwich. Take some time to peruse some travel guides such as Frommers that break up the local restaurants into price ranges. Then take an hour or so to walk around the area you're staying in and check out some of the local offerings. Chicago is great for this. Just off Michigan Ave, behind all the skyscrapers are some great little restaurants. Philadelphia has great places like the Reading Terminal Market where you can sample the different traditional local cuisines as well as buy some foods to take back to your room.
9. Combine Business and Pleasure—Keep an eye out for upcoming marathons that may coinside with a business trip. That's exactly how I ran the Baltimore Marathon. I knew I'd be in town for a conference so I planned for Baltimore to be my next marathon. Work paid for my flight and hotel for the conference. I just paid for an extra night at the hotel. Ca-ching! Money saved!
10. Save your pennies—Sounds silly, huh? But one year, I stuck a jar in my car and every time I had coin change, I put it in the jar. I saved over $100! I used this for food and gas money for my Richmond Marathon.


Tony said...

All very great ideas. I planned a vacation around the Disney World Marathon. We had a great vacation and I had great couple of days of racing.

RunnerDude said...

Hey Tony! A Buddy of mine did the same thing and had a blast. I've never done Disney. Thinking maybe I need to.

Stacey said...

Thanks for the tips! All great ideas. I stayed with a group of friends in a condo when I ran Vegas...the whole trip cost me $35. Have a great week!

RunnerDude said...

Hey Stacey! Man, you're good! Only $35 bucks! Hats off to you! You have a great week too.

RunningLaur said...

Great list!

Friends and I are splitting travel costs to a race this weekend and getting a great trip experience out of it at the same time. Since flights are cost comparable to driving for a single person, I love throwing a ton of people in the car and splitting gas. You get a cheaper trip and the chance to see lots of the country!

RunnerDude said...

Hey RunningLaur! Sounds like fun! I agree, definitely more fun hitting the road. You guys have a blast!