Yes, I popped my BlogHer conference cherry in New York last weekend. I got back to La-La Land at 12:30 am on Sunday night and am now feeling less like a zombie (a satisfied one, but a zombie nonetheless).
The first thing that probably goes through anyone’s mind is, “Crap, that’s an expensive city!” My trip was multi-purpose: 1) I had just launched this blog, 2) I hadn’t been to Manhattan in 5 years, and 3) my BFF was also going on behalf of her company, so it would give us a chance to spend some time together. She would be the only person I knew going there, and I know you’re thinking that my first money-saving strategy was to crash on her floor. Negative. Here’s what I did to have a cost-effective, grand ole time at BlogHer ’12 sans sponsors.
Conference pass. BFF had told me back in January that she was going, so I was way ahead of the deadline for the Blogger Earlybird pricing, which was on February 28th. I bought it on February 27th (no reason to buy earlier when it wasn’t in danger of selling out at that point) for $198 plus a processing fee. Total: $203.94.
Hotel. When I started pricing rooms, BlogHer had a room block reserved at the Hilton New York, where the conference was being held, at a rate of $229/night. That’s a smoking deal, as I think the cheapest one could get there as a normal civilian is $299-329 per night, plus taxes. If I’d never been to New York before, I most likely would have taken a room there. But the conference was in Midtown and I have fully functional feet. Everything is squished together on that island. You can bet I was going to do some comparison shopping of the nearby hotels.
While the easiest way to cut costs is to find a roomie, I opted not to. BFF was rooming with a work colleague, and I wasn’t going to impose on them. I concentrated on location, so even though I had a couple of friends based in New York where I might have crashed, I wanted to remain fairly close to the Hilton. I also felt that it would be necessary to decompress at the end of the day, so I was willing to pay for some solitude to balance out mingling with 5,000+ women for 3 consecutive days. I heard about attendees who slept 4 people per room and shared their queen beds with bloggers whom they had not previously met. (Let’s not even get into the logistics of 4 women grooming in one hotel room!) I absolutely support their frugal behavior, but I chose not to do it this time around. Maybe next year I’ll look for a single roommate, once I get to know a few more BlogHers better.
I’m a fan of opaque hotel deals, where you pick a star level and the neighborhood where you want to stay. Only after you book is the name of the hotel revealed. This especially works when I’m not traveling with someone else, because the only person I have to please in regards to location and amenities is me. Some people are afraid to do this because it’s a crap shoot, but I think it’s quite fun. My Hotwire search for 3 to 5-star hotels in Midtown Central and Midtown East yielded a 4-star hotel in Midtown East for $157 per night, and it was probably going to be about a half-mile walk from the Hilton. Given the neighborhoods marked on the Hotwire map, I cross-referenced their locations and amenities on Hotel Deals Revealed, which relies on travelers to report where they’ve booked hotel room through the opaque sites. (I can usually narrow my guesses down to two hotels, but it gets more difficult as the reported deals get older, i.e., 2009-10).
On March 12th, I booked 3 nights (August 2-5) for the $157 per night rate. With taxes and whatever other crazy miscellaneous fees that New York City hotels dream up (an additional 19% according to my bill), hotel came out to a grand total of $584.20. Not too shabby, considering this hotel turned out to be the Intercontinental New York Barclay on 48th and Lexington! Rates there on a good day start at $324 per night. By Google Maps, it was .7 miles from the Hilton, which is about a 15-minute walk. If I had gotten a roommate and stayed at the Hilton, I would have saved $42.50 per night, but as I mentioned before, having a sanctuary at the end of several crazy days and not having to screen for a sane roommate before the conference was worth paying the extra dollars for me.
But hold on a minute, I did something else to save a buck. Before I buy anything online, I go to Mr. Rebates, which gave me an additional cash-back rebate if I clicked over to Hotwire through their site. At the time I bought, they were giving a 2% rebate, which amounts to $11.68. Price of the hotel was lowered to $572.52.
Airfare. I watched airfares obsessively for about two months (but really, this only requires a once-daily search) once I knew I was attending the conference. Before I buy any flight, I use Bing’s Price Predictor to see when the best time to buy is; it will tell you whether to wait or buy. I’ve used it for 4 years for destinations both in and out of the country, and it hasn’t failed me yet. I was especially watching the Virgin America and JetBlue fares since they both have direct flights to JFK. When I first started tracking, airfares were $605 from LAX to JFK. There were a couple of times where they went down to $548 and then back up to $600 again, while I lamented to myself, “I should have bought then!” I stuck it out and the price finally dropped to my liking, so I bought my ticket for $504.90 on JetBlue, direct from Burbank to JFK, on May 3rd. Additionally, I booked the flight through Travelocity using my Chase Freedom card, which gave me double rewards points for using the card. Essentially, I got 1,010 points (i.e. $10.10 when you cash them in) for buying something I was going to buy anyway. (I didn’t use Mr. Rebates on this one because their rebate was only a flat $2 per airline ticket, no matter what the fare cost.)
Long-term parking. Obviously the most frugal route to go is if you have a kind friend or family member who is willing to drop you off and pick you up, but I felt my departing and arriving flights were both too late to ask anyone. An added bonus for Burbank is that it’s a far less busy airport than LAX, and ergo parking is cheaper. One of my favorite sites for advance booking is www.cheapairportparking.org. Another quick search on the Retail Me Not website yielded a $5 coupon off your reservation, which has apparently been active for the better part of a year now. (Yes, I’ve used it multiple times now.) Because I took the red eye on Wednesday night, I booked for 5 days of parking at $6 per day on July 12th. With the $5 coupon, it came down to $25, so I was almost getting one day for free.
Recap of expenses:
Full conference pass: $203.94
Airfare, round-trip BUR > JFK: $494.80
Long-term parking: $25.00
Cost so far: $1,296.26
Yes, that is a lot of money. But most cost estimates I was seeing from the other BlogHers were ranging from $1700-2000. Again, you’ll see that the majority of my saving methods are of the “good and cheap” pairing, versus the “fast.”
Also of note: I did not run out and get any cute little outfits or shoes just because I was going to New York. I already own more than enough clothes, and being in Manhattan during a conference is not the place to break in any type of footwear. No expenses there.
Next post: how much I actually spent once I got to New York. Unsurprisingly, I didn’t spend a lot.