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September 16, 2002
Jason Stefanovich has created a number of small utilities for OS/2 and organized several software development contests in 2001. You can visit his home page to find out more here.

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Warpstock on a Budget

I know what's going through your mind as you weigh the advantages and disadvantages of attending Warpstock this year:

The stock market hasn't been all that good to you; the economy isn't looking any better; who knows, your job could be the next on the cutting block; Austin is so far away and then there's the hassle of the airport after that fateful day last year.

But take heart! Attending Warpstock doesn't have to cost the thousands you may think it would. In fact, you can have an "all expenses paid trip" for around $500. I did, and I'll show you how too. Who knows? if you're really savvy, you might even pull it off for a couple hundred less.

Getting There

This may be the largest potential expense. Luckily competition is strong in the airline industry and you can get away with paying only half of retail price if you're smart and flexible.

There are a variety of online sites that offer discount rates on tickets. The airlines charge up to 50% less than market price for some flights. In exchange for lower fares, they receive a guaranteed payment on a seat that might otherwise be left empty (cancellations and refunds are not allowed.) Some of the most popular names in this business are Priceline www.priceline.com, Orbitz, www.orbitz.com and Hotwire www.hotwire.com [These don't work for Canadians - Ed.] Flying from my home in DC to Austin, I assumed that prices were going to be outrageous. The first site I checked out, a web site for a major US carrier, wanted nearly $350 for a round-trip ticket. The next, a well known travel agency, was just as bad. I started seeing some better results at Orbitz, which quoted a price around $280, but I was hoping I could do better so I tried Hotwire. The prices there were significantly better; I was quoted $225 but I was still hoped to do a little better. The last site I tried was Priceline. Priceline is probably the best known/most advertised of all the online travel sites (with William Shatner on the mike). What turned me off about them was their pricing structure. Anyone who's seen the commercials knows how Priceline works. You bid on your ticket and if the airlines accept your bid, it's yours. Unfortunately, Priceline also requires you to give your credit card information before you bid. If they accept your bid, you are obligated to pay for the seat, whether you are on the plane or not. A person looking for a deal will do just about anything, though. So, with dreams of a $150 round-trip in my head, I put in my information and bid. Priceline then warned me that my chances of winning the bid with my $150 were slim. I don't know if it was a ploy to get more money out of me or not, but I raised my bid to $180 and continued on. Fifteen minutes later, I was informed that my bid was accepted. After handling, taxes and other fees (the initial quotes you see on discount sites never include these) my total came out to $225. That's about $150 less than the major carrier wanted for the same flight.

This isn't just comparison shopping, though. There are some tricks that will get you lower prices and give you a better chance of catching the flight you want. Always make the selection to allow for "redeye" or off-hours flights. Allow the maximum number of connecting flights the site provides (most max out at 3). Flying at strange hours and making multiple connections is something many travelers don't want to deal with; it's also something the airlines will give you deep discounts on. With these options set, I have 2 connecting flights: one in St. Louis and the other in Dallas. My flight even leaves at a reasonable time, 1:00 PM, so I don't have to get up at the crack of dawn or be on the plane throughout the night.

There is, of course, another option: driving. I've heard many people talk about driving, and I even considered it myself. Unfortunately, driving is only a viable option if you live within a day's travel of Austin. Why? Because if you add up the price of gas, food and an overnight motel, the cost comes out to as much as or more than a flight. Still, if two or more attendees are willing to travel together, it can save you a few bucks (if you're willing to drive for two days and listen to your companions' rants about their problems installing Warp 3 on a Mac).

Sadly, both the train (Amtrak) and bus (Greyhound) are noncompetitive. The train costs as much as a plane, but takes up to two days. The bus, although half the price, may take up to four days.

Where to Hang Your Hat

I just knew I wasn't paying over $120 a night for a bed to sleep in. Especially when I was going to be spending most of my days and nights with my friends at Warpstock. Luckily the Warpstock board has foreseen this. Hence a double occupancy room costs the same as a single. (Warpstock Hotel Information.)

What that means is that if you share a room with a friend you only wind up paying $64 a night. That's a great rate for staying in a top class hotel. Not only do you get to enjoy a nice hotel and convenient access to the convention; you help out the Warpstock committee in meeting its hotel contractual terms as well. If you don't have a friend to room with you can find one on the Warpstock Roommates list. The cut off date for discount rates is September 13th, but you should still ask for the discount after that date.

Maybe you are unfortunate enough to have missed discount registration or can't find a roommate. After some searching at www.discounthotels.com I found the perfect place. The Homestead Studio Suites in Arboretum www.homesteadhotels.com had a nice, simple room for $41 a night. A queen-size bed, TV and the best part...a full kitchen. This will allow me to pick up food at one of the local grocery marts...a far less expensive proposition than eating out three meals a day (gotta snack too!). The Homestead Arboretum is only 2 miles from Warpstock (directions).

A short enough distance for a nice walk or to have a fellow attendee stop by and pick you up. There are also many fine eating establishments in the area of both hotels. (Austin City Search.).

In addition, both the Homestead Arboretum and the Marriott are only 17 miles from the Austin-Bergstrom (AUS) airport. (Directions.)

There's a hotel shuttle to Arboretum from the airport for only $15. It's also close enough to catch a cab if you can't catch the shuttle. Once you're in the area, you probably will not need transportation again until you leave.

Getting Around

Of course some people can't walk distances, or are just too lazy to do so (like me.) I checked out all the major rental companies. Hertz www.hertz.com, Enterprise www.enterprise.com, Avis www.avis.com, National www.nationalcar.com and Alamo www.alamo.com. I had problems with Alamo's site; their forms didn't work correctly. That's something I just won't tolerate, so I never got to see their prices. Avis was the most expensive, nearly two times that of the other national rental companies. In the end, it was National that beat out all the others (by a couple dollars). I'll pick up my Chevy Metro (hey! we're on a budget here) at the airport for a total of $78 for the 3 full days.


So far, my total costs (transportation, accommodations) comes out to $426. Which still leaves me $74 for food (remember that kitchen in the suite?) to bring it to $500. Add to that the cost of Warpstock (paying outrageous tuition costs and/or being a member of the press gets you in for free) and the Saturday Night Social and my costs come out to $550. Not too bad for a trip that could have cost well over $1000.

There are many more ways to minimize expense than I've noted here. Austin is a wonderful city that may make a great Vacation-Warpstock getaway for your and your family. Check out the Austin travel guides at www.austin.worldweb.com and www.tripadvisor.com.

Now go out there and register for Warpstock www.warpstock.com. I can't wait to see YOU there!

PS: Got a good cost saving idea for Warpstock attendees? Let me know.

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