Using points to make festivals affordable

I’m the first to admit that I’m no spring chicken anymore, and living with neuropathy means no more roughing it by camping.  I have a real passion for new music that hasn’t waned as I’ve grown older.  But I’m not a general admission kind of girl anymore.  So last year I took a risk and decided to go to my first outdoor festival in over a decade: my husband and I headed to the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in Indio, California.

The Coachella Snail

Moving art at Coachella.

I don’t deal well with heat, as it really affects my condition and sometimes makes it difficult to walk.  So spending a full day out in the sun, on my feet, would be a challenge.  And it is imperative I get a good night’s rest in an air-conditioned room.  While I can walk long distances now under good conditions, I can’t rely on that ability when traveling.  So it was worth it to me to order VIP tickets to the festival to ensure a short(er) walk from the parking areas to the gates, and to have some shade during the day.

VIP tickets are admittedly expensive.  But I had a trade-off: free accommodations.  The beauty of Coachella is the bounty of hotels and resorts in the area.  I was lucky to find great availability with points for the Holiday Inn Express Palm Desert (20,000 pts/night), which beat paying over $250/night.  The property was easy to access, only about 10 minutes from the festival, and just far enough away that it wasn’t a madhouse.   So really, all we paid for that weekend was the VIP passes, some food (fairly cheap) and the rental car.  The rest was all points.

Social D

A lazy Sunday watching Social Distortion on the main stage.

The weekend worked out so great that we are trying our hand at festivals again in 2014.  This time we are attending the SXSW Music Festival.  While I tried in earnest to find Starwood, Hyatt and other chains in the downtown Austin area as soon as dates were announced, I was once again only rewarded by IHG properties.  We will be staying a few nights at the Town Lake Holiday Inn, on the edge of downtown, but still within walking distance of most of the venues (plus, they do have a shuttle).  The last few nights we found availability right in the heart of the action at the Intercontinental: Stephen F. Austin hotel.  The convention center is literally right around the corner.  Since this is our first time at SXSW, we really don’t know what to expect, so we are going to try to go with the flow as much as possible.  What I do know is without the free hotel, there would be no way we could afford the music badges or attend the festival at all.

I hope to highlight other festivals throughout the year and share any availability I come across with major hotel chains.  If the Olympics is more your thing, you might also want to take a look at the MommyPoints blog, as she has highlighted her adventures in securing hotels for both London and Sochi.

Have you used points for accommodations for arts or music festivals, or for major sporting events?  If so, I would love to hear how it worked out for you!


A dive bar and awesome fireworks

No matter where I go, I try to find a local hangout.  I’m a greasy spoon connoisseur and have long loved the many dives to be found in Seattle.  It’s one of my favorite cities, and I really enjoy the crowd that gathers each year on New Year’s Eve around the Seattle Center to watch fireworks, listen to bands, and enjoy the company of other revelers.

I’m not a big people person, so hanging out in crowds is not my normal behavior. But every once in a while you find a great spot that makes the crowd enjoyable.  And that place for me on NYE is The 5 Point Cafe in the shadow of the Space Needle.  It’s pure Seattle grunge at its finest.  It harkens to the dives of old with tiny bathrooms (no ADA here!), walls covered in stickers, loud music, and snarky comments in its menus.  And they mix a killer long island iced tea.

Space Needle NYE

Spectacular fireworks frame the Space Needle.

The eclectic crowd is a blast, and the hours fly by with friendly patrons and lots of people watching.  And guess what?  No cover.  While other bars and pubs in the area jack up the rate on New Year’s due to location, location, location, The 5 Point Cafe stays true to its roots.  And the best part?  Awesome fireworks at midnight.

A few hours before midnight, the cafe turns on the patio heaters and the crowd starts spilling out onto the street.  The real rush out begins with the countdown, where all are rewarded with amazing views of the fireworks.  This year, it was getting a bit cloudy as midnight came around, and the fireworks created even more smoke.  The effect was both eerie and beautiful, and made for a wonderful memory.

Foggy Space Needle

The fog gathering around the Space Needle.

For those from out-of-town, there are tons of chain hotels within walking distance, many of which had availability on award nights right up to a few weeks before New Year’s.  We stayed at the Crowne Plaza Seattle – Downtown, which was a refreshing 15 minute walk from the Seattle Center and just a few blocks away from the monorail that runs from the Seattle Center to the Westlake Center.

What are your favorite destinations and hangouts for New Year’s?  While I love Seattle, I’m hoping to try out new and exciting experiences each year.