[Disclosure: As of the time of this writing, I am not directly affiliated with any of the businesses whose services I describe in this post nor have I been hired to advertise for any of them. Anything written in this post is my objective advice. Any advice in this blog does not constitute legal or medical advice and is provided as is with no liability to #FrugalCongressLife or the author.]
Once you have your pass, travel to the congress is the next major expense you must consider. Obviously, if you are going to a local congress your only cost will be the cost of gas or transit, but as you get more into the dance congress scene, you will also want to go to out of town congresses that you will have to drive, take the train/bus, or fly to.
Gas and tolls can cost more than you think. For me here on the Maryland side of DC, just getting out of the state of Maryland to points north is about $15 in tolls by itself. The best frugal practice for any congress in driving distance, particularly on the higher end of driving distance, is to ride-share with as many people as possible and split the cost of gas and tolls. If you’re willing to add an extra hour or two to your drive, any GPS app such as Waze also has an option for avoiding toll roads and tollbooths.
http://www.tollguru.com is a good resource for calculating the cost of gas and tolls for a car trip that I use frequently.
If the congress is on a train or bus route, this is a good option to consider. If your congress is in flying distance, taking the train is less expensive, but will take much longer (north of 10 hours). A bus such as Greyhound, Bolt Bus, or MegaBus is way less than the train (as little as $15-20 one way depending on your destination and travel time), but comfort and legroom are sacrificed for this lower cost, particularly on a crowded bus (MegaBus in particular has very small seats). Compression socks are a good clothing accessory to look into for comfort and healthy circulation when traveling in cramped conditions such as a bus or plane for an extended period of time.
Everything I’ve said so far has been pretty obvious and self-evident: ride-share to save money on gas and tolls, the bus is cheaper than the train, simple enough right? Flying is a little more involved and there’s more to it than what is obvious. Flying is the most expensive form of travel, but it is necessary when driving or taking the train/bus just isn’t a realistic option.
The most frugal way to fly is to use a budget airline such as Spirit Airlines or Frontier. To supplement my own personal experience, I will be borrowing a good amount of information from Keven Alvarado’s guide to flying Spirit Airlines for this section, which helped me a lot when I booked my first Spirit flight. I will link this guide in a future update to this article if I can find it anywhere online outside of FB or Messenger.
The most crucial thing one must understand about the new wave of budget airlines like Spirit is that the flight you get with your ticket is “un-bundled”… for the relatively low ticket price, you get the seat you sit in, transportation to your destination, and that is it. You get no food or in-flight entertainment with your ticket; all of that is charged separately. Make sure you have movies, games that you can play offline, music, and whatever else downloaded to your phone or tablet along with a good pair of noise-canceling headphones, because whatever is on your phone or tablet WILL be your in-flight entertainment. Bring an empty water bottle and fill it at an airport water fountain after you get through TSA.
Any checked bags are charged separately.
You get ONE “personal item” for free on a Spirit flight – your personal item is a small bag that you can carry on for free and that carry on item has to fit all the way inside of a bin at the gate that looks like this:
Yes, it has to fit in that little bin, so you have to have a bag that will fit in that bin to begin with and you can’t overstuff it to the point where it won’t fit. If it doesn’t fit, you have to check it, period, and that’s extra $$$. Any other checked bags are also extra $$$.
Here is the bag I use for Spirit flights. It conforms to Spirit and Frontier’s size requirements for personal items as long as you don’t overstuff it. A search for “Spirit bag” on Amazon will reveal abundant others that also meet Spirit and Frontier’s requirements.
If you have a lot of bags that you’ll need to check for any reason Spirit won’t be for you as with the checked bag fees it will work out to the cost of one of the major non-budget airlines anyway.
Check out Laura Riva’s post on how to pack efficiently for travel to a congress here. I would add to her post that compression cubes are a very effective way to pack down your rolled up clothes and other such items even further and fill the space even more efficiently – buy some here.
Flying Spirit is overall best for weekend or 4-5 day trips where you can fit everything you need into a Spirit bag without overstuffing it excessively. Keep in mind that Spirit does not go to every airport either, this is also something that must be researched.
Spirit also has a “big front seat” that you can purchase for an extra $35 each way that is their equivalent of “first class”. Since I’m a pretty big dude, I’ll likely be doing this when I go to Dallas Bachata Festival in November, as cramming into their small seats for 8+ hours is not very comfortable for a big dude, even with compression socks.
The best time to buy plane tickets at their cheapest is 1-2 months out from your flight date. Flying out on a weekday is optimal if you can swing it as flying out on Friday and back on Sunday adds $50-90 to your ticket price on average. Research prices for your desired flight on spirit.com in an incognito or private window (very important that the window you do your research in be incognito or private because otherwise it will be tracked with cookies and the price will go up) until you are happy with the price. Then, go directly to the airport and buy your ticket there to save the $15-30 you would be charged for online processing fees if you bought online. Ticket prices literally change day to day – if the price seems too high, try another day. I got a Friday AM flight from Baltimore-Washington International (BWI) out to this year’s Chicago Salsa Bachata Festival (near O’hare International Airport [ORD]) and return flight the following Sunday evening late last March for $250 total by purchasing my tickets directly at the airport in early February, and I’m sure it would have been even less if I had flown on weekdays, but the missed work would have offset any savings too much. Anything under $200 round trip is a good deal, but some people have been able to go as low as $40-50 round trip (I may have to have those people teach me their ways before I go to Dallas).
Here’s another thing you should know about Spirit that isn’t in most guides to Spirit. They’re late. Frequently. Delays and cancellations are even more of a fact of life on Spirit than they are on any other airline. The money you save can make dealing with this fact worth it, but make sure you schedule your flights well in advance of any workshops or bootcamps you want to take or parties you want to attend. If flying out Friday, an early AM departure is very advisable. Of course, always assume your flight is going to be on time and arrive with enough time to get through TSA and be at your gate a minimum of 2-3 hours before your flight.
If you’re taking a non-budget major airline that isn’t Spirit or Frontier, a lot of the non-Spirit-specific info for packing efficiently etc. applies also. For these airlines, Google Flights or Cheapflights.com are good resources for finding the cheapest flights possible. Scheduling your flights on a weekday, if at all possible, will get you the cheapest flights on any airline.
That’s all I got for travel. I know most of this was pretty obvious stuff outside of the specifics of flying, but it’s relevant to lay everything out there when planning for a frugal congress is concerned. My next post on the big daddy of the Quadforce of Congress Expenses, lodging, will have considerably more meat to it (I can make this promise with confidence because I actually wrote this post last after completing the other three Quadforce of Dance Congress Expense posts). If you have other suggestions or insights regarding congress travel, post it in the comments.