SXSW Music 2015: book reward nights now!

(Source: SXSW)

(Source: SXSW)

I just booked our reward nights at Holiday Inn Austin – Town Lake for the music portion of SXSW (March 17 – 22, 2015). Badges go on sale in the next week or so, if the schedule stays the same as previous years. Once that happens, there will be nothing left. So if you want to save some serious bucks and avoid couch surfing, this is your chance!

Holiday Inn Austin – Town Lake (20 North Ih-35) has reward nights available for the entire music portion of the festival at this time.  We really liked using this hotel as a home base last year, because it’s just on the edge of the craziness of downtown but steps away from the Rainey Street venues and awesome food trucks.  Reward nights are a reasonable 25,000 IHG reward points per night (or 15,000 + $70/night).  Don’t have enough points?  You can always do the (not so) secret workaround.

If don’t mind a short hike, Hampton Inn & Suites Austin @ The University/Capitol (1701 Lavaca Street) also has rooms available for the entire conference/festival at 50,000 HHonors points per night.  This is about the same distance from the action as the Holiday Inn, just in the opposite direction and a up a slight incline from Sixth Street.

The rest of the hotels at the edge of downtown are already sold out of award nights, as many didn’t offer them in the first place because of demand. That being said, there are many other hotels available outside downtown on various shuttle routes. I would still book as soon as possible if you have the points available.

I must say, if you can score a hotel through SXSW Housing right when badges go on sale, they do offer decent rates.  Last year I was able to grab the Holiday Inn Austin – Town Lake and I think it was about $210/night.  I ended up cancelling because I decided to use my pre-booked award nights to save extra money.

Good luck, and see you in Austin!

Award night hotels for New Orleans Jazz Fest

This year the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival is celebrating its 45th anniversary with an all-star lineup.  One of the longest running festivals, it is also one of the most diverse in terms of music (despite the moniker).  This year the festival is being held over two long weekends, from April 25 to May 4.

The festival is held about 10 minutes north(ish) of the French Quarter in a residential area  and next to one of the iconic New Orleans cemeteries.  There really aren’t any options (other than one B&B) within walking distance, so the festival partners with Gray Line Tours for continuous shuttle service between three different stops near downtown and the French Quarter.  The shuttle gets preferential access to the site (meaning less traffic lineups), and is really a good deal.

Jazz Fest attendees are really lucky this year because there are still a few good hotels left on award nights within walking distance of the shuttle stops, and right smack in the middle of the French Quarter action.

Some of the fun from 2013! (Source: New Orleans Jazz Fest)

Weekend 1 & 2 Availability

Availability for the first weekend is pretty slim by now.  But there are a couple of options.

Country Inn & Suites New Orleans (315 Magazine Street) – 44,000 points/night
This hotel is closer to the convention center than the heart of the French Quarter, but not horribly far from a shuttle stop.  Not super close though for those that can’t walk 10 or 15 minutes.  For those that have a Club Carlson credit card, read up on award nights as you can save lots of points and a get an extra night free.

Wyndham Riverfront New Orleans (701 Convention Center Blvd) – 30,000 points/night
The Wyndham Riverfront, as the address suggests, is also right by the convention center. At 30,000 points/night, this is a good deal consider you would have to pay about $350/night to stay during the festival.

Weekend 2 Availability

IHG has a few more hotels available for the second weekend, in great locations.

Crowne Plaza New Orleans French Quarter (739 Canal Street) – 40,000 points/night
You can’t beat this location for fun, fun, fun in the French Quarter, and it’s just a few blocks to the shuttle stop in front of the Sheraton.

Intercontinental Hotel New Orleans (444 St. Charles Ave) – 50,000 points/night
The Intercontinental is a ritzy place also in the heart of the action, and also just a few blocks walk to the Sheraton shuttle stop.  It’s a bit more spendy, but this is a lovely hotel and a good deal for the points as well.

Have fun jazzing it up with these free stays in the Big Easy!

Few hotel award nights still available for Coachella

Although the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival sold out in just a few hours (!) on Friday, there are still a few hotels available on award nights for those lucky enough to have available points.  Not surprisingly, there are fewer hotel rooms available for Weekend 1 than Weekend 2, so those with passes for the former better get crackin’.  There really are no hotels within walking distance of the Empire Polo Club, where the festival is held, so you will either need to drive or take one of Coachella’s shuttles from the hotel.

Weekend 1: April 11 to April 14 Availability

Weekend 2: April 18 to April 21 Availability

Good luck, and let me know how your Coachella adventure goes!

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.