There are ways to do Super Bowl on the cheap
Friday, January 28, 2011
By Anya Sostek, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Pittsburgh's going to the Super Bowl.
But can Pittsburghers afford to actually go to the Super Bowl?
There are ways, say seasoned travelers, to shave hundreds -- if not thousands -- of dollars off the cost of the trip.
David Snedeker, a former Pittsburgher living in Jacksonville Beach, Fla., canceled a $700 rental car reservation in favor of a hotel right across the street from a Dallas rail station. A four-day transit pass will run him $30.
Anil Gupta of Murrysville has adopted an unusual dieting strategy for his trip to Dallas. "I'm planning on only eating cheese," he said. "Straight off the Packer fans' heads."
And then there's the truly hard core Doug Kroll, who has Super Bowl bargains down to a science. Mr. Kroll, a 49-year-old former Oakland resident living in Kansas City, Mo., traveled to the last two Steelers Super Bowls for well under $4,000 each, including all travel and lodging expenses and the cost of a ticket.
He hopes to go this time as well, assuming he can be excused from a military obligation.
While he waits for the official word from his superiors, he's mapped out the 19 Steelers bars within 60 miles of Cowboy Stadium. The bars are ground zero for Mr. Kroll as he scouts for ticket deals in the days before the game.
As for actually getting to Dallas, some fans are finding that they can save hundreds of dollars by flying into alternate airports, such as Oklahoma City, Okla.; and Killeen, Austin or Houston, Texas.
Douglas Shymoniak of Portersville found a round-trip fare of $209 flying from Cleveland to Oklahoma City and snagged a rental car for $22 per day to drive the 190 miles to Dallas. On Orbitz, the cheapest flights from Pittsburgh to Dallas were more than $800 on Wednesday for a connecting flight and more than $1,400 for a non-stop flight.
Debolt Unlimited Travel, a charter bus service based in Homestead, still has plenty of spots available in its Super Bowl XLV transportation package. On Thursday, it will pick up passengers in Monroeville, Downtown and Bethel Park and shuttle them to the Monica Royale Hotel and Suites in suburban Dallas. It will then drop them off at Super Bowl festivities and the game. Total costs range from $585 (if four share a hotel room) to $748 for a single. Passengers return here Feb. 7.
Mr. Kroll, the Super Bowl veteran, has several other basic tips to save money. The farther away the hotel, the better the price. Bonus if you're staying in a different state entirely. (He stayed in Toledo, Ohio, for $55 a night for Super Bowl XL in Detroit and is planning to stay in Oklahoma for less than $60 a night this time around.)
On game day he eats a big breakfast near his hotel, fills up his gas tank far away from the stadium and packs snacks such as beef jerky, fruit and snack bars to avoid having to buy overpriced food inside the official events. He also brings cash and offers to pay to join Steelers tailgates in the parking lots. "You will be surprised how many welcome you and refuse your money," he said.
But back to those tickets. In Mr. Kroll's opinion, if you already have your tickets in hand before you leave for Dallas, you've paid too much -- except season ticket holders who paid face value.
That's because ticket prices tend to fall as game time draws near, and brokers need to unload them.
Ety Rybak, chief operating officer of Inside Sports & Entertainment Group, tends to agree. Ticket prices for the Super Bowl already fell about $500 from last week, he said, once the Steelers made sure that the Jets -- and their big money New York followers -- would not be making the trip.
Right now, he said, the cheapest ticket to get inside the Cowboy Stadium costs about $2,000. Face value seat prices start at $600 and top out at $1,200. (There are also those 5,000 Party Plaza tickets, at $200 each, that sold out Tuesday night that allow fans to watch the game on video screens outside the stadium. They'd certainly be a lot cheaper than seats in the stadium if fans try to resell them.)
"Tickets are worth a certain amount of money but there's an expiration date," said Mr. Rybak, whose New York-based company arranges tickets and travel for its clients. "As soon as the game starts, it just becomes a piece of cardboard."
Fans willing to play "a game of chicken with the seller" by waiting until the last minute will probably get the best deal, he said. And like Mr. Kroll, he advocated waiting until you're in town to buy the tickets.
In Tampa, Mr. Kroll saw a sign in a Steelers bar advertising tickets that Arizona fans hadn't claimed. He spoke to an official NFL broker who, perhaps impressed with Mr. Kroll's military service, sold him a ticket for just $1,500 as long as he promised not to re-sell it. Mr. Kroll said that he thought about selling it anyway when he found out just before the game that seats in his section were going for $3,000.
In the end, he's thankful he held onto it. "I was in the section where Santonio [Holmes] caught that pass," he said. "Oh my god. I walked home crying. I couldn't believe we won again."
To avoid buying counterfeit tickets, experts advise going through an official NFL broker, seeing the actual tickets and using a credit card, so that the charges can later be challenged if necessary.
For those who don't want to stay in the hinterlands, four-star hotel rooms in downtown Dallas are currently running about $750 a night for Super Bowl weekend, with a four-night minimum -- and that's if you can find one, Mr. Rybak said.
Even staying 20 minutes outside of the city, a guest would probably pay $300 or $400 per night, he said.
Once a hotel is booked, checking the current rate is worthwhile.
Renee Minnemeyer-Climo, of White Township in Beaver County, booked a room at the Fort Worth Hyatt for $299 on Monday. When she noticed on Wednesday that the price per night had dropped to $199, she called the hotel and they honored the lower price.
And then there's the hotels of the sub-four-star variety. A Motel 6 about 15 minutes from Cowboys Stadium still had rooms available on Wednesday for $120 the night before and the day of the Super Bowl. That price is doable without taking out a second mortgage -- though hardly a deal when you consider that rooms at that same hotel on a different February weekend run $40 a night.
Within the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area, there are other options as well. The Texas Association of Campground Owners has set up a website for Super Bowl fans looking for RV sites, campgrounds and cabins (dfweventsandcampgrounds.com).
Or you can try the free option: crashing on someone's couch. Ryan Springer, 29, will be using the website www.couchsurfing.com
, which pairs up hosts willing to part with a couch or spare room and travelers eager to use one.
Though Mr. Springer admits that the concept was "a little scary at first," he's used the site to stay for free in places like Vancouver, St. Louis and even Dallas. He's hosted visitors from places including Russia, Sweden and New Zealand in his Mount Washington abode.
Even with a place to stay, Steelers fans must then navigate the Dallas area without driving into a money pit.
Parking is running anywhere from $50 -- a mile or more away from the stadium -- to $900 for a prime spot. So why not avoid driving altogether?
Mr. Snedeker, the former Pittsburgher who will be taking public transit during his Super Bowl stay, raved about the "extremely friendly" folks at Dallas Area Rapid Transit helpline, who helped him plan his trip. They've assured him that by taking two trains from his hotel in Farmer's Branch and then a shuttle to the stadium, he'll get to the game in about an hour.
"A $30, four-day pass, is a lot cheaper than $700 in rental car fees and $500 plus in parking," he said.
An insider tip courtesy of Dallas resident Todd Cotropia is to take a cab to the bars and restaurants in Arlington, Texas, some of which are offering shuttle service to and from the game.
Even with money saved on the margins, many -- even most -- Steelers fans would blanch at the idea of spending thousands of dollars for a weekend football game.
But Mr. Kroll, who cherishes his trips to Detroit for Super Bowl XL with his then-11-year-old son (and subsequent swing through Pittsburgh for the victory parade on the way back to Kansas City) and to Tampa for Super Bowl XLIII, doesn't see it that way.
"I've been overseas on deployments twice already -- I've seen a lot of things," he said. "To me, life is short. In a way, you follow your dreams."
Anya Sostek: firstname.lastname@example.org
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