Bumbershoot: a gem of a festival in the Emerald City

Music under the Needle.  Photo credit: cntraveler.com

Music under the Needle. Photo credit: cntraveler.com

Seattle closes down the summer festival season with a huge party every Labor Day Weekend, with the eclectic Bumbershoot Festival.  Dubbed the largest arts festival in the United States, Bumbershoot sees up to 100,000 or so attendees over the long weekend.  You may be thinking, “what kind of weird-ass name is Bumbershoot”? Well, it’s a synonym for umbrella, which makes sense considering Seattle’s drizzly weather.

While the 2014 line-up has not been announced yet, Bumbershoot crosses many music genres, often sporting well-known festival headliners, the cream of the indie crop, and a slew of homegrown Seattle artists.  This year should be no exception.

The festival setting is the Seattle Center grounds (think: Space Needle), which is just north of downtown and Belltown.  The area is well-served by transit, including by bus, ferry, and monorail (which takes you to Westlake Center, where you can pick up the light rail system).   Some of the newest and least expensive hotels just happen to be within walking distance, with ritzier hotels just a short walk or monorail ride uphill to downtown.

Seattle Center provides the perfect setting for the festival, with large open spaces for sunny days and a number of exhibition buildings for rainy days.  The main stage is indoors at Key Arena, which has decent acoustics and provides a reprieve from the weather and a (fairly) comfy seat.  In addition to a talent-packed music line-up, pass holders also get into comedy shows, dance performances, and a number of exhibits celebrating the Great Northleft, as they like to put it.

As it is still early in the year, there are several hotels nearby available on award nights.

All of the above hotels are within a few blocks walk of the Seattle Center and have availability from August 29 to September 2.  There are even more hotels in the downtown area, often for higher points.  Downtown hotels tend to be highrises, so they may stay available with points even longer.

While Seattle Center provides for many food options right on the grounds, the Belltown neighborhood is just a few short blocks away.  Belltown is home to many up-and-coming restaurants, gastropubs, and even my favorite hole-in-the-wall bar, the Five Point Cafe.

So enjoy one of the most laid back urban festivals in North America, and don’t forget your bumbershoot!

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Big Guava: big festival, big savings

You may not have heard of it (yet), but that’s good.  It means that you can see quality acts for cheap.  Well, cheap for a festival. Big Guava is a new festival in Tampa, Florida that is sporting a lot of the big acts you’ll see around the concert circuit this year. A three-day pass for the inaugural year includes parking, free rides and general admission, and is still under $200 per person all in.  But you know what’s really cool?  Hotels are nearby and they are cheap! No ridiculous $500/night hotels like other festivals sporting many of the same bands.

What about the lineup?  Awesome!  Headlining are Outkast, Vampire Weekend, and Foster the People.  Other festival favorites include Cake, Grouplove, Haim, Violent Femmes, Tegan and Sara, Walk the Moon, Band of Skulls and many, many other fun bands.

Vampire Weekend draws a good crowd!

Vampire Weekend draws a good crowd!

The venue is the State Fairgrounds in Tampa, which has many inexpensive hotels nearby.  How inexpensive?  Well, if you want to pay up front, some are as cheap as $75/night plus taxes.  Many hotels are available on award nights as well, although if you snag a cheap rate, this would be a great time to earn points that you can burn on more expensive festivals later.

Violent Femmes still put on an awesome show!

Violent Femmes still put on an awesome show!

In fact, I’d recommend the two IHG (Holiday Inn and Staybridge) hotels, which have stackable promotions, in order to really get the points earning machine running.  Trust me, the IHG promotions will add up fast.  For the best info on how to sign up for IHG’s promotions, read the first post in this FlyerTalk thread, and then sign up for all of the codes at the bottom of the first post under ‘2014 codes in numerical order’.

Here are some of the great hotel deals:

Holiday Inn Express Hotel & Suites : Tampa-Fairgrounds-Casino (8610 Elm Fair Boulevard) – $127/night or 15,000 points

Staybridge Suites : Tampa East- Brandon (3624 North Falkenburg Road) – $155/night or 20,000 points

Comfort Suites at Fairground-Casino (4506 Oak Fair Blvd.) – $105/night or 16,000 points

Sheraton Tampa East Hotel (10221 Princess Palm Ave.) – $111/night or 7,000 points

With deals like these, hopefully many people will get to enjoy the super-talented acts coming to Tampa.  If you make it to Big Guava, please comment and let the rest of us know how it rates!

An amazing hotel award option for SXSW

Yeah, I’m as surprised as you are.  Not only is the occasional hotel still available with points for SXSW 2014, held between March 7 to March 17 in Austin, but there is a good hotel still available and it’s at an amazing value.  The Westin Austin at the Domain is still available, and it is 10,000 points per night.  With SPG’s fifth night free for award bookings, this brings the hotel stay for the entire 10-night festival down to just 8,000 points per night.

Proof that I'm not crazy. Source: Screenshot of SPG website

Proof that I’m not crazy. Source: Screenshot of SPG website

To give you a sense of what a crazy good deal this is, Lucky at One Mile at a Time values Starpoints at 2.2 cents each or more, and The Points Guy says 2.5 cents each.  The going rate for this hotel over the conference period is a whopping $499 per night.  Without adding in the taxes, etc., you would normally have to pay for the hotel, the stay values the Starpoints at a minimum 6.3 cents each.  Awesome!  I’m not going to lie, you are at The Domain, which is not downtown where the vast majority of the action is.  But the hotel is on the SXSW hotel shuttle route, so you aren’t out of luck.  Hurry, hurry, hurry, because this won’t last long!

As a side note: there are pretty slim pickings anywhere near downtown.  But if you are swimming or more like drowning in HHonors points, the Embassy Suites in Downton/Town Lake is still available for 40,000 points per night as well.

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This article first appeared on roadeightyfive.com.

Using points for free concerts, festivals and elite experiences

The credit card industry has been changing, and in my eyes it’s for the better.  Certain elite credit cards from the days of old, like American Express and Diner’s Club, provided unique experiences for their members pretty much from day one.  In a way, they made you feel special.  Somewhere along the way, that feeling of uniqueness got lost in the mass credit market.  Well, customer service and personal touches are back, and providing that special experience is driving some competition between credit cards.   The result?  Really cool once-in-a-lifetime experiences for you!

American Express has long been a leader in providing their members special treatment and experiences.  One of those perks is the Front of the Line program, giving members early access to all types of entertainment, usually for the most popular bands, festivals and plays through Ticketmaster.  Not only can you get your tickets early, but if you are short of cash, you can also use your Membership Rewards points to pay for the tickets.

HAIM

See HAIM for free? One of many offerings through Front of the Line. Source: Ticketmaster

SPG lets you redeem points for elite experiences (called Moments by SPG). Some regular offerings include VIP suite access at Wrigley Field or Madison Square Garden (including concerts!), tickets to major sporting events (like the NHL Winter Classic), or musicals in Vegas or New York. For foodies, SPG offers exclusive dinners with the hottest chefs (like a private dinner party with Chef Keller at French Laundry in the Napa Valley). Every once in awhile SPG pulls out the really cool stuff, like access to award shows, Sundance Film Festival events, comedy festivals, or VIP access to major concerts.  Examples?  How about VIP access to P!nk in Amsterdam, or a meet and greet with Coldplay and VIP concert access?  SPG also promotes an ‘On Tour’ offering, where they package hotel nights with concert tickets to some of the biggest bands.  Follow U2 across South America? No problem!  It’s one of the reasons we have an SPG American Express card, which also gives us the Front of the Line access.

There are a lot of other alliances to note.  In the US, there are programs like Chase Ultimate Rewards, which has auctioned off experiences such as Mad Men meet and greets and VIP packages including passes to the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.  North of the border there is TD Bank, a major sponsor of music education and events in Canada, which provides discounts on concerts through their TD Music Access program.  Offerings lately include 2-for-1 tickets and $10 per ticket concert credits.  In some cases they also have a reservation program for concerts that I have yet to try, but it looks pretty cool.

Reserve tickets for the hottest bands through TD Music Access (like Imagine Dragons in Montreal).  Source: TD

Reserve tickets for the hottest bands through TD Music Access (like Imagine Dragons in Montreal). Source: TD

So if you love music and you can’t afford to travel (or can’t afford the tickets for that matter), look into what points can do for you.  At the very least, it may help you quench your musical thirst!

Have you redeemed points for a concert, festival or other experience?  I’d love to hear about it!

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!