There’s a crazy assortment of lunatics running enthusiasts who like to travel from location to location to partake in distance running events – often half marathons (13.1 miles) or marathons (26.2). Many even plan “doubles” – i.e., two events in two locations in two days. I did it once – a Saturday marathon in Jackson, Mississippi and a Sunday marathon in Mobile, Alabama. Frankly, once was enough for me! Plus, I like to take at least a little time to see the city or town I’ve traveled to.
Running races is admirable, but planning these trips deserves its own medals.
With this in mind, I thought I’d make a general list of helpful hints when planning Marathon travel.
1. Plan Ahead. First, and foremost, it’s fun to start planning a trip. As soon as the idea is planted in my head that I might want to visit a city for a marathon or event, I go to sites such as Kayak and set up a price alert for flights – I always use the daily alert, not the weekly alert. Fares can change like the seasons, and in order to take advantage of a good rate you need to know about it. If the location of the race is a bit obscure, its good to start looking into award bookings too.
2. Early Bookings can be Great Deals. I know we typically hear talk of “last minute bargains,” but I find the better bargains are found sooner rather than later. Some trips, especially for popular marathons in large cities, are best planned months and months before the event – before the merchants and hoteliers realize that there is a big opportunity to make lots of money on an upcoming marathon weekend. Point in fact…. the past two years, within days or weeks of finishing the Miami Marathon, I booked a hotel for the following year. In so doing, my reservations were in the vicinity of $110 per night rather than easily twice that.
3. Flexibility. Remain flexible and don’t purchase non-refundable rooms if possible. Yes, I said plan ahead. But also recognize that you don’t want to back yourself into a corner if you don’t have to. Plans sometimes change, and its great to know you can change your destination, your hotel or your dates of travel. Hold hotel rooms, but don’t opt for non-refundable if possible. A bargain is only a bargain, if you use it.
4. Keep checking. Hotels, Airfares and Car Rentals rates change. If you are renting a car, make a reservation early. They can nearly all be canceled without penalty. Often, car rental prices keep increasing – and if you placed a reservation early, you will have the benefit of that rate. On the other hand, if the price decreases (and you’ll only know that if you check back), then you can cancel and take advantage of the lower rate. Join all of the car rental companies – they might email you special savings. Most airfares are not refundable (except Southwest), but, even with non-refundable fares, it never hurts to ask for a refund. Just ask nicely and you might be surprised. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had non-refundable reservations refunded!
5. Use all advantages you have. Read blogs and sign up for emails, and point and mile programs. Sign up for shopping portals, and register your credit cards with dining programs. Its all about points, points, points, miles, miles, miles.
6. Be persistent, but not annoying. Be nice. Be very nice. If you are dealing with a representative on the phone, and the conversation does not seem to be going in the desired direction, don’t argue and don’t plead. Hang up and try again. Because…. you never know!!!
7. Priceline and Hotline are your friends. Do not be afraid of sites such as Priceline or Hotline. You can get some amazing deals. There are lots of tricks to get the most out of these websites. (see e.g. www.betterbidding.com – check it out!).
8. Apartment and Vacation Rentals. A reader reminded me of www.airbnb.com. I’ve heard some wonderful reports from people renting apartments or houses. This might be especially suitable to family travel, or travel for more than a few days.
9. Loyalty is rewarded. Show some loyalty, if possible. If you can concentrate your flights on one airline, or hotel stays at one hotel brand, you may be able to get “status.” Its not about snobbishness – its about good prices, good treatment, late checkouts, free wi-fi, etc. A late checkout is worth the difference between showering or not showering after a marathon. And to me, that’s worth A LOT!
10. Take advantage of credit cards. Get some credit cards that have special offers. Don’t just buy because the card has a good advertisement. Read up on the deals. Listen to the experts’ reports on why one deal is good or not. Within the past few months, I obtained an American Express Platinum card with 100,000 miles, a US Airways World Mastercard with 35,000 miles, an American Airlines Business Visa Card with 50,000 miles, a Club Carlson Business Visa with 85,000 points and a Hilton Honors American Express card with 85,000 points. I have excellent credit (I check it regularly at Credit Karma), and always pay my bills on time. With all these miles, I’m ready for a destination marathon trip. Somewhere exotic – please!
11. Earn and Burn. This is a summary term. People who collect points and miles, say its best to earn and burn them. I’m need to burn more. So, where should we go?
12. Be organized. Find a way to keep track of your planning. Never, ever let points or miles expire. Try Award Wallet or other services to help keep track of your points and miles.
With the right marathon travel planning, you are more likely to make better travel choices, and arrive where you’re going calmer, and are with better energy to enjoy the trip, your friends and the run.
Feel free to ask me any questions. I’m also on twitter – katruns26point2