#FrugalCongressLife Knowledge Bank: Hotel Roomshare Safety

[DISCLOSURE: At the time of this writing, I am not directly affiliated with or sponsored by any companies or organizations whose services I mention in this article – everything you read from me 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.]

This new series, the second of three new series we are starting in the opening months of 2019, is called #FrugalCongressLife Knowledge Bank, and covers general tips and tricks for making your frugal congresses experience better or more fruitful that do not fit under the heading of a congress survival guide or a resource spotlight.

In less than two weeks, the 2019 US dance congress season will begin anew with the Atlanta Salsa Bachata Festival the first weekend of March and Chicago Salsa Bachata Festival the third weekend of March, and will continue until about the end of November with the Masters Of Bachata Takeover and NC Zouk Festival closing out the season. Between the end of November and the following March, the weather is generally too unpredictable and holiday activities too prevalent to realistically plan a dance congress, although outliers such as DCBX Ultimate Tropical New Year’s Eve, Orlando Bachata Kizomba Festival, and Interfusion Festival (which just happened at the Westin Alexandria last month) do happen during the winter. However, the majority of the US’s staggeringly abundant selection of dance congresses take place between March and November.

As the upcoming dance congress season kicks into high gear, many of you will be going to a lot of congresses, and most of you will be staying in hotel rooms. Staying in a hotel room by yourself can be very expensive and the costs can add up quickly. Lodging is easily the largest of the four major dance congress expenses, and while there are a number of different ways to mitigate lodging costs, the one that is publicly recommended by most people including me is a shared hotel room at the event venue (hereafter, “roomshare” – the vaguely Newspeakish term for this practice widely adopted by dance congress attendees in the US). As I have discussed many times, I recommend this option over others because it supports the event hotel and by extension, the event organizer, and is the most convenient frugal option, as well as a good way of potentially building friendships and camaraderie with fellow dancers.

The tricky thing about roomshares is that they are a short-term financial and living arrangement with one or more people that you may or may not know that well. This is a situation that requires a lot of trust, and as much as we would all love to treat the dance scene like a beautiful safe-space utopia where you can just blindly trust everyone, that would be extremely naive. Although most of the dance community’s people are good and well-intentioned, there are bad apples, even in our relatively calm, peaceful, and loving community. Additionally, there are financial predators in the dance scene who specifically target hotel roomshares to try and get something for nothing at YOUR expense.

Safety is a big concern for anyone who participates in congress hotel roomshares. With this in mind, this first edition of the #FCL Knowledge Bank is all about doing congress hotel roomshares as safely and effectively as possible.

Laura Riva’s guide on how to Be A Better Congress Roommate is required reading for the rest of this entry and a good general guideline for how to navigate hotel roomshares in any capacity.

This article is meant as a supplemental guide to Laura’s article detailing further good safety practices for hotel roomshares, and is mainly aimed at what I call “roomshare admins”, that is, people who book the rooms, put up the initial money for the rooms, the people who are generally in charge of making sure everything runs smoothly, and the people whose names and credit card numbers are first on the hotel room’s folio. In the context of hotels, a “folio” is a fancy term for the master bill detailing all charges attached to the stay for all guests in a particular room.

While this article is aimed at roomshare admins first and foremost, it is good reading for non-admins as well.

SAFETY TIPS FOR CONGRESS ROOMSHARES

BE SELECTIVE

Try to seek out people who you know are going to be calm and respectful and pay in a timely manner. Only room with random people as a last resort. First, try to room with people you have had good experiences with in the past or ask for recommendations from trusted friends. Rooming with close friends is certainly a safer bet than with people you don’t know, but I can tell you from experience that close friends are just as capable of screwing you over as anyone else — always use and trust your intuition when judging the character of people with whom you are entering into short-term (or long-term for that matter) living and financial arrangements. If you see any red flags, find someone else to room with.

LIMIT NUMBER OF PEOPLE IN ROOM

You must limit the number of people in your room to a comfortable level. It seems tempting to save more money by cramming 6-7 people into a standard hotel room, but this introduces not only safety issues, but logistical issues as well. Can you find a place for everyone to sleep? How will bathroom use be coordinated? More people in the room also means more people not on the folio – I will detail why this could be a safety issue later.

Cap it at 3 people for a standard one-king room, 4 people for a standard two-double room, and 5-6 people for a suite.

USE GROUP CHATS TO COMMUNICATE

Set up a group chat for the roomshare through text, WhatsApp, or Facebook Messenger two weeks before and add ONLY people who have paid in full (see below) to this group chat. Use the group chat to communicate anything related to the roomshare such as information on the room itself (room number), and logistical information such as when you will meet for exchange of room keys etc.

#NOPAYNOSTAY

The best practice when dealing with roomshare money is to make up-front pre-payment a non-negotiable prerequisite for securing a spot in the room for everyone involved.

Last fall, I conducted a poll on my personal Facebook page that was answered by dancers from all over the US asking whether or not you should ask your congress hotel roommates for their share of the room costs up front. The general consensus on the poll was almost unanimous: 93% of respondents agreed that room payments should be made up front and that should be non-negotiable. #NoPayNoStay, period (credit to Tim Currier for coming up with that hashtag).

Simply put, this practice weeds out flakes and financial predators almost instantly, and enforcing it establishes you as someone who won’t be walked on or put up with any BS.

The poll also confirmed that it is a common practice, so don’t let anyone tell you that it isn’t. Make sure you figure taxes and fees into the total cost as well.

Anyone who can even think about attending dance congresses consistently (especially if this attendance includes extravagant super-expensive events like Aventura Dance Cruise) can afford not to give you funny business over $60-100 or whatever relatively trivial amount of money we’re talking about.

A good system to use is to ask for a 50% refundable deposit prior to two weeks before the congress to secure the individual’s spot in the room and the remaining 50% within two weeks before the congress, after which the money becomes nonrefundable.

ON BARTERING

I would say it’s ok to do barter (wherein someone pays for the cost of their room stay with a non-sexual service of some sort such as private dance lessons or business consulting) in emergency situations with people you know and trust. I would not do barter with randoms and would encourage payment with money first and foremost for everyone.

Also, this should go without saying, but never ask for or accept sexual favors of any kind as payment for a hotel roomshare. In addition to being a sleazy and morally bankrupt thing to do, it is personally risky for you in this day and age of heightened awareness around sexual impropriety. A handful of prominent dancers have been taken down by sex scandals recently – don’t you be the next one.

SET GROUND RULES EARLY

It is not an easy discussion to have, but setting ground rules and expectations early, as Laura Riva alluded to in her article, is critical for a safe and enjoyable hotel room share experience.

Here are my standard ground rules for roomshares I‘m in charge of:

1. Anyone who sleeps or showers in the room chips in for room cost somehow ($$$ or barter).

2. Quiet hours 4am-9am.

3. No big parties (for safety reasons)

4. Ask people before touching/moving their things or sitting on their bed.

5. Keep time spent in bathroom reasonable.

6. Don’t break or mess up anything in the room.

7. No room service or restaurant charges on the room.

8. Use space in room wisely.

9. Be excellent to each other.

Make agreeing to ground rules a prerequisite for securing a spot in the room and being added to the rooms group chat.

Some of these rules seem uptight, but there are good safety reasons for all of them that I will go over, starting with…

AVOID HOSTING PARTIES OR LARGE GATHERINGS IN YOUR ROOM

There is always going to be an inherent risk with party rooms, especially with your name and payment details on the folio. If something gets broken or stolen from the room during a room party, you will be charged money for it and that could add up to hundreds of dollars depending on what is broken or stolen, so the safest practice is to avoid hosting parties in your room. Make it clear in your room’s rules that parties are not to be hosted in your room, go to the party rather than having it come to you, and seek out roommates who will do the same. There are dance organizations out there (at least in the Latin scene but probably everywhere else also) with the resources, social clout, and wherewithal to take on the risk of hosting room parties; leave the party hosting to them.

Needless to say, YOU be respectful at any room party you attend yourself, whether it’s put on by an organization or an individual. Don’t be an ass… you are NOT a rock star and trashing stuff in a hotel room will have dire consequences for both you and others.

NO FREELOADERS

Anyone who sleeps and/or showers in the room must chip in their fair share toward the cost of the room, period.

It is unfair to everyone else in the room who paid to have anyone using the room for free. Additionally, allowing people to freeload off of you also makes you a target for financial predators who want something for nothing both at that time, as well as in the future once the word gets around that you are a weak chump who is willing to let people walk all over you. That’s probably the harshest thing I have ever said on this blog, but it’s real. People might not explicitly say it about you, but they will be thinking it.

If somebody is bringing their significant other into a not-at-full-capacity room they need to let you know beforehand so the money can be divided fairly in some fashion, whether they pay their SO’s share or not.

NO ROOM SERVICE OR RESTAURANT CHARGES

While this has thankfully never happened to me, I have heard horror stories of hotel roommates charging restaurant meals and room service to the room and sticking the roomshare admin with the bill. In addition to pre-screening for respectful roommates who are not inclined to steal from you, one extra measure of protection you can take is to inform the hotel upon check-in that no room service or restaurant bills are to be charged to the room and to inform you immediately if anyone tries to. You’ll have to give up room service yourself by taking this measure of protection, but this is worth protecting yourself against an unscrupulous individual getting room service on your dime potentially.

GET AS MANY NAMES ON THE FOLIO AS POSSIBLE

Try and have as many people legitimately on the room’s folio as possible. If this means having to pay an extra $25 or whatever to have more than two people on the folio, that extra protection may be worth the extra $10-15 dollars per night.

Bottom line, the more people whose names and credit cards are on the folio, the more people who own the situation in the room and therefore have that much more extra incentive to be respectful and act right.

ONE ADDITIONAL POINT

The above are all things that any reasonable person should agree to and you should take any objections as a red flag. Full stop. There’s always someone else looking for a room at a congress.

CONCLUSION

These ugly matters are hard to talk about and hard to think about when all we want to focus on is the beauty and happiness of our dance congress scene, but these are discussions that have to happen. The dark side of dance has to be brought into the light in order to be fixed.

I hope you all have a safe congress season in your hotel roomshares, hit the comments if you have anything to add, and as always, I hope this was helpful to someone!

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#FCL Resource Spotlight: The Power Bank

[Disclosure: As of the time of this writing, I am not directly affiliated with nor have been sponsored or hired by any of the companies or organizations whose services I mention in this article – everything you read from me regarding these companies 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.]

Most people who have been alive in the last 11 years know how dependent on smartphones the vast majority of us have become today.

Many of our lifelines to the world are tied up in them, particularly text messaging and social media.

Our financial information and means of purchasing is often tied into them these days. Our means of getting around smoothly and navigating the vast majority of transportation options (other than our own cars of course) are tied into them as well — particularly car-sharing services such as UBER and Lyft that are called up and tracked using our phones. Your phone is more often than not the device you use to record the recaps and demonstrations at the end of congress workshops on video so that you can practice and retain the material.

All of this and more is tied up in a battery-powered phone that has to be kept charged, and in a lot of ways, you’re stranded if your phone’s battery dies and you don’t have immediate access to a power source to recharge it. This is particularly amplified if you’re away from home, away from your car, or otherwise out and about for most of the day, and access to wall outlets or other external power sources is not guaranteed. Enter the power bank.

The power bank is essentially a portable external lithium ion battery with a micro USB input that you plug into any computer, USB outlet, or USB wall charger that charges the battery, and the battery has a USB output that you plug any standard USB phone cable into. With your phone plugged into the power bank as it would be plugged into a standard USB charger, computer, or wall outlet, the power bank charges your phone until the battery runs out, after which it must be charged again. The vast majority of power banks include 4 light-up LED “dots” that visually show how much battery power the bank has left, with 4 dots indicating a fully charged power bank and one dot indicating an almost fully depleted power bank. Power banks are portable and can charge your phone on the go when you do not have access to a wall outlet or other power source, effectively giving you a second battery for your phone.

Some people like to charge their phones during workshops using one of the ballroom’s wall outlets. I am not a fan of this approach; while thefts from dance workshops are extremely rare, they could still happen, and in that case I would rather lose a relatively inexpensive power bank than my phone, which costs considerably more and has much of my life tied up in it. I would rather charge the power bank during the workshop and then use the power bank to charge my phone. This strategy is particularly handy if you’re staying offsite or are at a non-hotel event and do not have ready access to wall outlets in your room or power outlets in your car.

Some power banks come pre-charged but many do not – do not count on a newly-bought power bank to be pre-charged in an emergency. Buy and charge your power bank in advance.

The amount of charge a power bank has is measured in “mAh”, which stands for milliampere hours, an International System of Units measurement of the electrical capacity of small batteries. Yes, it is capitalized that way, that isn’t a typo. Basically all you need to know about mAh is that the higher the mAh, the more hours of use and full charges to your phone or other device you will get out of your power bank.

WARNING: DO NOT use Amazon’s AmazonBasic power bank models. Amazon has voluntarily recalled several of their power bank models because of overheating, which caused chemical burns. You have been warned. Stay away from Amazon’s models. This one paragraph probably cost me hundreds of potential affiliate marketing dollars but I care about your safety that much. Amazon does a lot of things well but power banks are not one of them from the looks of it.

TRAVEL WARNING: For those of you flying with power banks, the TSA prohibits all lithium ion batteries, including power banks, in checked luggage. All power banks must be carried on your person or in carry-on luggage.

More information about these policies here:

https://www.tsa.gov/travel/security-screening/whatcanibring/items/power-banks

https://www.faa.gov/about/initiatives/hazmat_safety/more_info/?hazmat=7

SOME SAFETY AND CARE TIPS FOR ALL POWER BANKS:

– Carry your power banks in a protective case. This will certainly add bulk, but will protect your power bank and greatly extend its life, especially if you carry it around in your pocket or bag from day to day. Protective cases for the Anker Powercore and other batteries with a similar profile that also include pockets for the cables are available online for about $10.

– Always use the original charging cable that came with your power bank to charge the power bank itself

– Use original or certified cables and wall outlets to connect your phone to the power bank always… going el cheapo on wall outlets and cables may cost you in the long run by destroying or shortening the life of your power bank, this is not an area to be frugal!

My phone at the time of this writing (September 2018) is an Apple iPhone 7 so charge provided to an iPhone 7 is the benchmark by which I’m measuring all of these power banks. Your mileage may vary.

The model of power bank with the best reviews, as well as the one I personally use as my primary power bank and recommend using, is the Anker PowerCore 10000, available online for about $29.99. As the name suggests, it is a 10000 mAh battery that is capable of providing about 3 full charges to an iPhone 7 with some battery power to spare. It is very light and low profile, but has a very durable and solid construction and is good for transporting regularly.

The Powercore 10000 uses Anker’s PowerIQ and VoltageBoost technologies to charge devices as fast as possible up to 2.4 amps and supports Qualcomm Quick Charge 3.0. I was able to charge an iPhone 7 from 10% to 100% in about 2 hours while using the phone normally. The battery itself charges fully in about 6 hours when hooked up to a 2.4 amp charger. The Powercore 10000 also boasts a wide array of safety features such as temperature control, surge protection, and short circuit protection.

Another highly rated alternative that I admittedly have no personal experience using is the Mophie Powerstation Plus XL, a 10,000mAh battery designed mostly for the iPhone and iPad and available online for about $70-100 . It’s standout features are a built-in Lightning cable for charging your iPhone or iPad, a Lightning input connector so you can use your iPhone’s regular charger to charge the power bank, and the ability to use any Qi-compatible wireless charger to charge the power bank. It has a slightly larger physical profile than Anker’s offerings, and I haven’t been able to find anything about safety features online other than triple-testing and stringent quality control.

The high-capacity Cadillac of power banks is the RAVPower 22000mAh, available for about $39.99 online. This battery comes with 3 USB ports and can charge two iPads and an iPhone simultaneously. It is reported to be able to provide an iPhone 7 with 8 full charges and has a multitude of safety features including a fire-resistant shell, temperature control, and short circuit protection. Its only disadvantage is that it is very heavy at about 14 ounces, but that is to be expected of a high capacity battery.

For those wanting maximum portability and the smallest profile, Anker also offers a “lipstick-sized” power bank called the Powercore+Mini, available online for about $12.99. It has a capacity of 3,350 mAh, can be fully charged in about 3-4 hours, and can provide one full charge to an iPhone 7 and have some capacity left over afterwards. The PowerCore+Mini also includes all the quick charging and safety features of its larger relatives.

Now that I’ve reviewed a few of the highest quality power bank options, here are a couple budget options for all you maximally frugal power bank buyers:

Walgreens sells its own Infinitive 10000mAh power banks that provide about 2-3 full charges to an iPhone 7 for around $15. Target also sells its own heyday(tm) 4000mAh power banks that provide anywhere from 1-2 full charges to an iPhone 7 for around $10.

The big caveat with Walgreens’ power bank is that it’s a “slim model” which has a slimmer profile than most power banks, but makes it more physically fragile and less durably constructed as a result. After about 3 months of regular use including daily transport in my bag (albeit not in a protective case, which I have learned my lesson on) the parts on my Infinitive 10000mAh came loose in the housing, and while it still works, it doesn’t charge as reliably as it did when I got it. Still, it would make a decent inexpensive backup backup option as long as you treat it with kid gloves, carry it in a protective case, and don’t make it your regular workhorse.

Target’s power bank works reliably, although both the battery and phone charging are fairly slow, but it is much more durable than the Walgreens models and makes a decent regular workhorse and backup option for the price.

I haven’t found anything on the Walgreens and Target models’ safety features and we can assume that they aren’t as extensive as those found in the higher-end models.

In my opinion, I’d rather spend the extra $10-30 on an Anker or similar higher-quality model, ESPECIALLY for the better construction and safety features that aren’t necessarily present in budget power banks, but I recognize some people are on budgets and it’s either the $10 power bank or nothing. Still, I would suggest those on a budget go with the Powercore+Mini and keep it charged as regularly as possible.

In our connected, phone-reliant world, power banks are an essential accessory for any frugal traveler on the go. If you have anything to add, please do not hesitate to hit the comments and I hope this helped!

#FrugalCongressLife Survival Guide: Zouk Heat Festival

[Disclosure statement: As of the time of this writing, I have no direct affiliation with Zouk Heat other than being a loyal yearly attendee and Terrisa being a personal friend of mine. I have not been hired by Zouk Heat to promote that organization in any way, and everything you read is my objective advice. As of the time of this writing, I am not affiliated with nor have been hired by any other companies or organizations whose services I mention in this article – everything you read from me regarding these companies is my objective advice and is provided as is with no liability to #FrugalCongressLife or the author.]

The Zouk Heat Festival is a brand new weekend Brazilian Zouk event organized by former DC Zouk Festival co-organizer and DC-based zouk instructor Terrisa Widener, happening from April 12th-April 15th, 2019 at the Dulles Marriott (45020 Aviation Dr, Dulles, VA 20166) right next to Dulles Airport about an hour northwest of Washington DC, very close to the DC Zouk Festival’s longtime Dulles location.

You will be busy all weekend with workshops in the morning and afternoon and performances and socials at night on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. The lineup is a veritable who’s who of national and international zouk instructors, including the UK’s Pedrhino & Linda, Ry’el & Jessica of ZenZouk, Rick & Larissa, Ivo Vieira, Jules Bertrand, Bruno & Fae, and many more!

Zouk Heat is also a new #FrugalCongressLife standout for its affordability, with a competitively priced full pass and a hotel room block priced at only $109 per night, which is very affordable for a good event hotel in the DC area.

Zouk Heat is the move for fans of Brazilian Zouk on the east coast April 12th-April 15th, 2019! Today’s guide, the first of 2019, is all about this excellent new festival!

PASS:

Hopefully you were able to get a $100 lot 1 early bird pass. If not, the price is $140 for a lot 4 pass at press time. Buy now before the price goes up again! It’s not every day Pedrinho & Linda are in the area, and $140 for a full weekend of workshops, socials, and performances with them and many others is a steal!

Follow us on Facebook and Twitter to stay aware of early bird specials for all the festivals we cover.

LODGING:

Zouk Heat boasts some of the most affordable event-hotel lodging of any dance congress in the DC area. Terrisa has gone to great lengths to negotiate a block of hotel rooms at $109 per night at the Dulles Marriott, lower even than the AAA/CAA rate and lower than the vast majority of the area’s 3-star-and-up hotels. A four-person room-share will cost the budget-minded about $30-35 per night with taxes included, and roll-away beds are available at an extra cost of $25 per room (no one sleeps on the floor at the Dulles Marriott!)

If you do the offsite congress grind regularly, take a break from it at this festival and get yourself an affordable room right in the center of the action at the event hotel.

Book your room here.

The Dulles Marriot’s array of luxurious amenities include an airport shuttle with an up-to-the-minute tracker, a fitness center, a pool, complimentary standard WiFi or two different tiers of high-speed WiFi for $12.95 and $15.95 per day (obligatory PSA: always use a VPN on hotel WiFi or any other public WiFi to protect your personal data from hackers), breakfast buffets ($15-20 on average), tennis courts, on-site coin-op laundry, valet dry cleaning, bottled water, and individual climate control, among others.

As per usual, I won’t be discussing any other lodging options unless the Dulles Marriott fully sells out (both the room block and all other rooms outside the block). You’re on your own if it’s offsite options you seek.

TRAVEL:

DRIVING:

Driving or ride-sharing is the preferred option if possible for this hotel as there is abundant free parking around the hotel. Be advised that the fastest road to Dulles from DC and points east is a toll road, charging anywhere from $2.50 for a 2-axel vehicle up to $8.75 for a 6+-axel vehicle in tolls to go from the DC area to Dulles, but if you have some extra time to spare and set your GPS to avoid toll roads, you can get around the toll road by using parallel local roads instead. Prepare to add an extra 30-65 minutes on average to your trip if you go this route.

FLYING:

This goes without saying, but try to fly into Dulles International Airport (IAD) if you can. The hotel is located right next to Dulles Airport and has a free shuttle going there, and the other two airports are too far away from this particular venue to be practical.

IAD is also at the time of this writing the only airport to not be served directly by a DC Metro station.

Any money you may save by taking Spirit or any other airline to BWI or DCA will be offset at least somewhat by the cost of transporting yourself there, particularly from BWI.

Once you land at IAD, the Dulles Marriott has a free shuttle that will transport you from the airport to the hotel.

FROM DCA:

From DCA, take the DC Metro blue line (make sure you are on a blue line train as the yellow line will add extra time and transfers) toward Largo Town Center to Rosslyn, then transfer to the Silver line toward Wiehle-Reston East and take an UBER to the Dulles Marriott from there.

FROM BWI:

If you must come from BWI, try to get there during the day so you can take the MARC train to Union Station. Once at Union Station, take the Metro red line toward Shady Grove to Metro Center, then transfer to the Silver line toward Wiehle-Reston East and take an UBER to the Dulles Marriott from there.

BUS/TRAIN:

Take any bus or train line to Union Station in DC and follow the above Metro directions for BWI from there.

See my DCBX Survival Guide for detailed info on both MARC and the DC Metro.

Information on the DC Metro system can be found here: http://www.wmata.com

A map of the DC Metro system can be found here: https://www.wmata.com/schedules/maps/upload/2017-System-Map.pdf

FOOD:

There are some food options close by and others within a reasonable driving distance.

For your frugal grocery shopping, Walmart Supercenter is located about about 15 minutes up route 28, at 45415 Dulles Crossing Plaza. A Giant (1228 Elden Street, Herndon, VA), Harris Teeter (12960 Highland Crossing Dr, Herndon), and Safeway (413 Elden St, Herndon) are all located within a 15 minute drive of the hotel.

Whole Foods is located about 20 minutes east (no tolls but the toll road is faster) at 11660 Plaza America Dr, Reston, VA.

The Marriott’s restaurant is Aviate Bar & Grille, a modern comfort food restaurant featuring a breakfast buffet and a bistro. Most of your other immediate food options for your daily meal out are located in the airport, and include a Kitchen by Wolfgang Puck, Smashburger, District Chophouse, Wendy’s, Au Bon Pain, Bar Symon, Pei Wei (Chinese), Chef Geoff’s, and two different Subways.

A 15 minute or so drive into the nearby town of Reston, VA yields several other options, including Pollo Peru, a casual Peruvian-style chicken place (1675 Reston Parkway), Hibiscus Thai Cuisine, a Thai eatery (11790 Baron Cameron Avenue), and a Silver Diner (11951 Killingsworth Avenue). Also to be found in Reston is Midtown Kabob (11990 Explorer Street), Jackson’s Mighty Fine Food and Lucky Lounge (11927 Democracy Drive), Big Bowl (11915 Democracy Drive), and sweetgreen (11935 Democracy Drive), among others.

Parking is a little tighter at Reston Town Center, but there are several parking garages located directly nearby that are all free after 5pm on Friday and all weekend. Info here: https://restontowncenter.com/parking/parking-rates/

That’s all for this entry. Hit the comments if you got anything to add and I’ll see you all at the Dulles Marriott in April!

#SuperFrugalCongressFood Guide – Make Your Own – High Protein Fruit Smoothies

[Disclosure: At the time of this writing, I am not directly affiliated with or employed by any other company whose services I mention in this article.  Everything you read is my objective advice.  There may be affiliate links in a later update to this post, I will say so if this is the case.  Even so, I only talk about and link to products I personally use and believe in on this blog. No statements regarding the health and effectiveness of food or supplements have been evaluated by the FDA. 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. Consult your doctor before starting any dietary or exercise regimen or changing your current dietary or exercise regimen.]

Another day, another year, another new series here on #FrugalCongressLife.

This new series is called #SuperFrugalCongressFood.

People have rightly pointed out to me that such “convenience” items as protein bars and fruit and vegetable squeeze pouches are not truly frugal foods regardless of where you buy them, because you pay a premium for the portability and convenience.

While this is certainly true, my #FrugalCongressFood profiles were never intended to be about the most frugal foods overall… these profiles are about frugal DANCE CONGRESS foods. In the busy on-the-go travel-experience environment of a dance congress, portability, shelf stability, convenience, and non-perishability are all major selling points for the ideal food. I always try in my #FrugalCongressFood profiles to find a good balance between frugality and saving money, and the time-saving benefits of portability and convenience. One is already being more frugal by not eating out or going to convenience stores for every meal, which can really add up over time.

But, for the benefit of those who want to be frugal to the absolute max and are willing to put some elbow grease in, I will in this new series give a recipe for a low cost meal that has to be prepared in some way, and give tips for how to prepare it on the go if possible.

One caveat to keep in mind is that money saved by using #SuperFrugalCongressFood recipes at a dance congress is offset with time and effort, itself another valuable commodity in the go-go-go environment of a dance congress. You may miss a workshop shopping to make a fruit smoothie and cleaning up the mess, or may have to skip an hour of social dancing to get up early and clean up after that meal you made in your George Foreman Grill before you check out of your hotel. There is a trade-off with everything and the big money/time tradeoff is one every frugal congress attendee must consider.

These food strategies, needless to say, work best if you are commuting from home, staying at an AirBNB with kitchen privileges (not a feature of every AirBNB listing), or staying at a hotel with a kitchen or kitchenette such as the Extended Stay America. If you are doing the latter, be sure to thoroughly clean and sterilize the kitchen or kitchenette before preparing food there – do not count on the hotel staff to have done this, especially in a 3 star or less hotel like the Extended Stay.

These recipes will also really only work well if you are local or traveling by car, as lugging the required gadgets onto a train, plane, or bus is not very feasible and may even add checked baggage fees that would offset whatever money you save making your own food.

Without further ado, here is the recipe for this edition: a delicious high-protein fruit smoothie with chocolatey undertones and a bit of greens mixed in.

Equipment required:

Shaker cup

Blender – the Magic Bullet and the BlendJet are good inexpensive portable blenders

Dish soap

Water

A refrigerator in your hotel is mandatory for this recipe.

Ingredients:

– 1-2 cups frozen fruit of any kind (I recommend pineapples be one of your frozen fruits, as the bromelain in pineapples has anti-inflammatory properties good for aching knees and shoulders)

– 2 cups any kind of milk (cow, almond, whatever)

– 1 cup spinach or kale (frozen or fresh)

– 1-2 scoops chocolate protein powder of any kind (Body Fortress and Optimum Nutrition Performance Whey are both good inexpensive brands of whey protein)

– Stevia or honey to taste

– OPTIONAL: 1 tablespoon coconut oil for healthy fats

– OPTIONAL: 1 scoop Barlean’s chocolate greens powder for some extra servings of fruits and vegetables)

Blend all ingredients together in blender and pour into your shaker cup. To clean blender, pour water into blender, add a few drops of dish soap, and blend until clean, then rinse anywhere you can or with more bottled water.

The base recipe provide 1-2 servings of fruit, 1 serving of vegetables from the kale, and anywhere from 25-60 grams of protein depending on how many scoops of protein powder you use and what kind of milk you use. Adding the coconut oil adds some healthy fats, and adding the Barlean’s powder adds about 3-5 extra servings of fruits and vegetables.

It tastes like a chocolatey fruit smoothie, and you won’t even be able to taste the greens if you add enough fruit to offset their flavor.

Personally, I find making food at dance congresses to be more trouble than it is worth – cooking and preparing food is one thing I travel to get away from – but for those who want to save the maximum amount of money on food (or want the additional health benefits of preparing whole foods) and are willing to put in some time and effort to do so, I am here to help with that as well. As always, hit the comments if you have anything to add and I hope this helped!

Merry Christmas!

Today is Christmas Day here in the US where #FrugalCongressLife is based. We hope all our readers are having a joyous and festive Christmas holiday with your families and loved ones, whether you are celebrating the Christmas holiday today or celebrated on the 24th!

#FrugalCongressLife Super Survival Guide: DCBX Ultimate Tropical New Year’s Eve

[Disclosure statement: As of the time of this writing, I have no direct affiliation with DCBX other than being a loyal yearly attendee of both the DC Bachata Congress and Ultimate Tropical New Year’s Eve and Lee and Kat being personal friends of mine. I have not been hired by them to promote DCBX in any way, and everything you read is my objective advice. As of the time of this writing, I am not directly affiliated with nor have been hired by any other companies or organizations whose services I mention in this article – everything you read from me regarding these companies 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.]

Happy Holidays #FrugalCongressLife fam! The holiday season is in full swing here in the US where #FCL is based, and we hope everyone is having an excellent holiday.

We’re also getting ready for New Year’s Eve, and for many of us in the Latin dance world, the event we have been choosing to ring in the new year at for these past few years has been the DCBX Ultimate Tropical New Year’s Eve super-celebration!

The creation of DCBX organizers Lee “El Gringuito” Smith and Katherine “Kat La Gata” Aguilar-Smith in collaboration with different organizers around the US, DCBX Ultimate Tropical New Year’s Eve is a massive Latin-dance themed New Year’s Eve celebration offering a wide variety of workshops and parties in THREE different locations: Washington DC, Chicago, and Orlando. Live video feeds including DJ sets from each location are simulcast on an Internet television circuit at all locations.

DCBX Ultimate Tropical New Year’s Eve is an epic NYE celebration for the ages and the NYE party of choice for #FrugalCongressLife for the last two years running!

For the final proper entry of 2018, we offer a big blowout super survival guide to EVERY DCBX Ultimate Tropical New Year’s Eve party across all three locations!

For up-to-the-minute info on DCBX Ultimate Tropical New Year’s Eve including workshop schedules and other new additions, and to buy your pass for each event, visit http://www.tropicalnye.com or look for each city’s corresponding event on Facebook.

BUYING YOUR PASS IN ADVANCE IS HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. A VERY LIMITED NUMBER OF TICKETS WILL BE SOLD AT THE DOOR FOR EACH EVENT AND EACH EVENT IS LIKELY TO SELL OUT. IF YOU MUST BUY AT THE DOOR, GET THERE VERY EARLY.

Early bird passes for each event usually go on sale during the month of November – this is a good thing to keep in mind for next year and all subsequent years if you enjoyed the event this year. We will update the guide and notify our Facebook and Twitter followers when early bird passes go on sale.

If you were following us on Facebook (@frugalcongresslife on FB) or Twitter (@frglcngresslife) you knew about the early bird specials already. If you are not following us on Facebook or Twitter, why not?

There are some small discounts on passes of anywhere from $5 to $50 still available if you text the word NEWYEARS to 64600. Your phone carrier’s standard messaging and data rates apply to any texts you receive.

DC and Chicago are cities supported by both Citymapper and Via at the time of this writing. Orlando is unfortunately not supported by either Citymapper or Via at the time of this writing.

FIRST, A GENERAL HEADS UP FOR UBER/LYFT RIDERS:

As many of you are aware, fares for UBER and Lyft are notorious for surging into the stratosphere during prime hours on New Year’s Eve. Prices can surge as high as 9.9 times the normal fare at prime hours and horror stories such as that of one man who paid $1100 for a 21 minute UBER ride are a regular part of the pre-New Year’s Eve news cycle in the 2010s and beyond.

If using UBER or Lyft to go to and from Tropical New Year’s Eve, the best way to avoid these surges is to instead use public transportation when possible (Citymapper comes in very handy for navigating public transportation), travel to the venue in the morning or afternoon, avoid using UBER or Lyft between the hours of 8pm-11pm and 12am-3am, and travel from the venue after sunup (#TeamNoSleep). Alternately, if you must travel to or from the venue during the aforementioned prime hours, hailing a traditional taxicab may for once be the more economical, if not the fastest, option. Remember taxicabs? They’re still around. #Throwback

Via, who we just covered last week, is another new rideshare option for people celebrating the DC and Chicago New Year’s Eve parties. I just started using it in DC this year and have therefore not used it on New Year’s Eve yet but am making Via my New Year’s Eve transportation of choice for the first time in 2018!

Don’t be the next person to pay $1100 for an UBER ride this New Year’s Eve.

With that said, on to the guide.

WASHINGTON, DC:

In 2017, Washington, DC’s Tropical New Year’s Eve party picked up from its previous location at the Hilton Doubletree in Crystal City and moved to its permanent new home at the Renaissance Downtown DC, also the home of DCBX’s massive world-famous flagship bachata congress in August.

Therefore, rather than reiterate everything we have already covered in our DCBX guide, we will just link it here:

https://frugalcongresslife.blog/2018/07/18/frugalcongresslife-survival-guide-dcbx/

Almost all general information in the above guide including travel and food tips is relevant to DC’s Tropical New Year’s Eve event as well!

Washington DC’s Ultimate Tropical NYE celebration promises to be the biggest yet, having expanded from one day into an ENTIRE WEEKEND. This year’s event truly has the feel of a winter edition of DCBX with a touch of New Year’s Eve extravagance and a lot of other cool extras.

The large selection of dance workshops offered in the afternoon and early evening each day feature such local, national, and international instructors as Leo Cato & Ivonne Pronovich, Kim Rottier, Mauricio and Deny, Kat Arias, Irving & Martha, Terrisa Widener, Julissa Ju, Jerry Lai, Ashley Kent, Go Go Earl Rush, Adrian Lorenzo, Bianca Chapman, Willem Engel-Holland, and Jenna Marie.

The parties feature such heavyweight Latin DJs as DJ Soltrix, DJ Selo, DJ Chuky, DJ Steve Greene, DJ Tico, DJ Jodey, DJ Enemy, and DJ Philly Boy, as well as live concerts by Los Hermanos Galvan, Los Hermanos Moreno, saxchata juggernaut Antonio Bliss, and Lola Jane performing her sultry smash hit “Kiss Me” live with bachata guitarist and singer Melvin War.

The festivities begin with a workshop and a bachata/zouk party in the Grand Ballroom at the hotel on Friday, December 28th. Activities jump off again at the hotel on Saturday the 29th with a sensual bachata/zouk day party from 3pm-6pm, workshops from 7pm-8pm, and 3 ballrooms (salsa, bachata, and zouk) of dancing from 8pm-4am. This same schedule repeats on Sunday the 30th, with the addition of a party at long-running DC salsa/bachata venue Lucky Strike nearby as well as at the hotel, and then the big New Year’s Eve blowout jumps off at the hotel with the final Latin dance workshops of 2018 happening from 12pm-6pm, followed by a dinner break (dinner menu available at the hotel) from 6pm-8pm (VIP dinner for from 9pm-10pm) and a dizzying array of parties in 10 different ballrooms including salsa, bachata, zouk, reggaeton, EDM, and Persian music, the aforementioned live concerts, comedy shows, karaoke, a four hour open bar from 10pm-2am for VIPs (VIP pass required), a champagne toast at midnight, live internet feeds from the other two DCBX NYE parties, and seemingly everything but the kitchen sink from 9pm until 8AM ON NEW YEAR’S DAY.

For the especially hearty party-to-breakfast New Year’s Day survivors, brunch will be served in the hotel lobby restaurant after the party on the morning of January 1st, 2019.

At press time, a full weekend workshop and party pass goes for $124, a general admission pass goes for $79, a table seat only pass goes for $99, and a VIP Dinner table pass goes for $199 and includes the VIP dinner and open bar. The “Pa’Riba Baller Package”, available to one person/group only for a staggering $4,995, includes an exclusive terrace suite overlooking downtown DC, a seated three course dinner and table for 10, first row seats, exclusive VIP lines and entrance, gifts and party favors, an ultimate VIP roped off section, and general admission passes for 10 friends or employees. The “Ultimate Pa’Riba Baller Package”, also available to one person/group only for an even more staggering $9,995, is similar, but offers the dinner and table for 20 and a 3000 square foot presidential suite overlooking downtown DC for your lodging. I can’t imagine visitors to this blog will widely consider these last two options.

LODGING:

At press time, rooms at the hotel or still available to DCBX group rate of $155 per night. Rooms sell out every year and they sell out fast, so jump on it now! Book your room here or mention discount code DCB if you call the hotel.

Purchasers of the early bird pass also had the option of booking rooms for the 31st or the 30th and the 31st free of taxes and fees as an add-on – this is not likely to still be an option at press time, but is something to keep in mind if DCBX does it again next year, which is likely. As we have said before, it pays big time to buy your pass early!

CHICAGO:

Surprisingly, Chicago’s Ultimate Tropical NYE celebration, a collaboration between DCBX, Dance Center Chicago and Chicago Loves Bachata, takes place at a dance studio rather than a hotel. Dance Center Chicago, hereafter referred to as DCC, a gorgeous, expansive second floor dance studio located at 3868 N Lincoln Ave in the North Center neighborhood of Chicago, is the host of DCBX Ultimate Tropical New Year’s Eve in this city.

Artists teaching the workshops include Matthew Owen, Jorge & Maria, Kimberly Rivera, Nadia Alvarado, Reynaldo Sanchez, Douglas Ortiz & Terri Ann Atkinson, Jeremy Feliciano, and Angel Cruz. DJs at the parties include DJ Freddy Fresh, DJ JO-Z, DJ Kimani Rashad, DJ Eric, DJ Julian, DJ Earl, and DJ Mambo Lu. The parties will also feature a four hour open bar from 10pm-2am for VIPs (VIP pass required), a champagne toast at midnight and live feeds from DJ Soltrix’ set in DC and the DC Antonio Bliss concert as well as every other Ultimate Tropical NYE party.

The celebration jumps off on the 31st with the final Latin workshops of 2018 from 2pm-6pm and parties in four different ballrooms (salsa, bachata, kizomba/zouk, reggaeton) from 9pm to 8am on New Year’s Day with dance performances at 11pm.

At press time, full passes (workshops+GA) are available for $59, workshop-only passes for $34, general admission for $39, and VIP general admission for $49.

TRAVEL:

FLYING:

Fly in to O’Hare International Airport. Unlike the Chicago Salsa Bachata Festival’s hotel venue, DCC is a significant distance from O’Hare and will require some travel. Expect a 23 minute UBER/Lyft/Via ride or 50 minutes on the Chicago Blue Line and the 80 bus.

BLUE LINE/80 DIRECTIONS FROM O’HARE:

Take the Chicago Blue Line towards Forest Park to the Montrose stop. From there take the 80 bus toward Broadway to Irving Park and Damen/Lincoln and DCC is a three minute walk south on N Lincoln Avenue from there.

TRAIN:

DCC is about a 40 minute trip from Chicago Union Station on the brown line. Head east on W Adams Street toward S Wells Street, make a right on S Wells Street andget on the brown line toward Kimball at the Quincy stop. Take the brown line to Addison and DCC is a 7 minute walk northwest on N Lincoln Avenue up.

BUS:

Take Megabus to W Polk Street between S Clinton Street and S Canal Street. Walk west on W Polk Street toward S Clinton Street and make a right on S Clinton Street. Take the Blue line to O’Hare from the Clinton Stop to Clark/Lake and get on the brown line toward Kimball and follow the train directions from there.

Information on the Blue Line, Brown Line, and the 80 bus here: http:// www.transitchicago.com/

LODGING:

Lodging here is readily available, but expect to pay somewhat of a premium for staying in a major city on New Year’s Eve.

Your cheapest nearby options appear to be hostels. The Wrigley Hostel, located at 3514 N Sheffield Avenue, goes for $121 per night on NYE and has mostly good reviews. The Chicago Getaway Hostel, located 16 minutes away at 616 W Arlington Place, goes for $80 per night and has mostly good reviews as well.

The closest chain hotel is the Best Western Plus Hawthorne Terrace, located at 3434 N Broadway and going for $160 per night on New Year’s Eve.

The historic Inn At Lincoln Park, located 16 minutes away, goes for $149/night and also has good reviews.

Expect a commute of at least 10 minutes by UBER/Lyft/Via for all of these options.

FOOD:

For your grocery shopping needs, Trader Joe’s is located a block down at 3745 N Lincoln Avenue.

You have several meal out options directly nearby. Wasabi Cafe, C’est Bien Thai, Mrs. Murphy and Sons Irish Bistro, Xurro – Churro factory, and Spicy Mexican Grill are all located on the block of Lincoln Ave directly north of DCC, and it’s pretty self explanatory by their names what types of restaurants these are. Bricks Pizza and Barbecue is located a block south.

Portillo’s, Lou Malnati’s, and the Weiner’s Circle, three notable Chicago restaurant landmarks detailed in our CSBF guide, are all 18 minutes or less away from DCC by Uber/Lyft/Via.

ORLANDO:

Orlando’s Ultimate Tropical New Year’s Eve, a collaboration between DCBX, FADE, and O-Town Social, takes place at the Avanti Palms Resort and Conference Center (hereafter APRCC), located at 6515 International Drive, Orlando, FL 32819.

The final Latin workshops of 2018, featuring a mix of national, international, and local instructors including De’Jon Polanski & Clo Ferreira, one of Latin dance’s newest power couples, take place between 2pm and 6pm, and a party featuring multiple ballrooms, a four hour open bar from 10pm-2am for VIPs (VIP pass required), a champagne toast at midnight, and live internet broadcasts of DJ Soltrix’ set and the Antonio Bliss concert from DC, and as well as the other Ultimate Tropical NYE parties, takes place from 9pm-6am on New Year’s Day.

At press time, general admission passes are going for $34, general admission+workshops for $59, general admission+open bar for $89, and VIP passes for $99.

APRCC’s amenities include resort-wide WiFi, pet-friendly rooms with wood floors (so you can practice your dance moves in your room), a state of the art video arcade, a beach area with volleyball, a 24 hour fitness center, and a large pool complex with a poolside bar and grill, and even a grocery shopping service.

The hotel shuttle service goes to University Studios, Universal CityWalk, Sea World, and Aquatica, but unfortunately does not go to the airport.

TRAVEL:

TOLL ROADS:

One unfortunate characteristic for drivers of the Orlando area is an overabundance of toll roads. Expect tolls to figure into pretty much all of your UBER/Lyft rides as well as any driving you do if you are local or you rent a car.

FLYING:

Orlando International Airport (MCO), located at 1 Jeff Fuqua Blvd, Orlando, FL 32827, is the closest airport to APRCC. Expect an approximately 19 minute UBER/Lyft ride including tolls directly from the airport, or about an hour and a half on public transportation.

BUS DIRECTIONS FROM THE AIRPORT TO APRCC:

Exit the airport on the north side near Copa Airlines, walk under Jeff Fuqua Blvd and make a right and you will see the 42 Destination Parkway Superstop. Take the 42 to the International Dr and Carrier Dr stop. APRCC will be visible from this stop.

This is about an hour and a half trip at a cost of $2.

BUS:

Megabus drops off at 902 N Semoran Boulevard. The stop is about an 22 minute UBER/Lyft ride from the hotel, but it being Orlando, there are tolls on this route that will figure into your costs.

PUBLIC TRANSIT DIRECTIONS FROM MEGABUS TO APRCC:

– Walk 3 minutes southwest on FL-436 to E Colonial Dr and N Semoran Blvd.

– Take the 104 Lynx Central Station – Sunrail 17 minutes to Lynx Central Station

– Transfer to the 08 toward Regency Village Dr and Vineland Avenue

– Take the 08 69 stops to International Drive and Carrier Drive

– APRCC will be visible from this stop

This will be approximately a one hour and 38 minute trip at a cost of $4.

For information on the 42, the 104, and the 08: http://www.golynx.com/

LODGING:

A room block exists for this event at APRCC at the rock-bottom rate of $69 per night plus resort fees of $12 per night. Book your rooms here.

If the block sells out, rooms should still be available for $115 per night plus resort fees off the block.

There are other hotels nearby but you already know, I don’t talk about that. You’re on your own there.

FOOD:

Dining options at the resort include the unfussy, cafeteria-like Market Place Cafe and Grill, the idyllic and gorgeous Pool Side Bar & Grill, and the sleek, futuristic Lobby Lounge & Bar.

There is also a Starbucks in the hotel for that all-important coffee fix.

For those who want to do their own grocery shopping, you have a few different options located within a 3 minute drive of APRCC. The International Drive Supermarket and Disney Gifts store is two minutes away at 6500 Carrier Drive. JNM Super Market is right down the road at 7521 International Drive. J Food Mart, a Japanese grocery store, is two minutes away at 7452 Universal Boulevard. E Z Food Mart is across the street from APRCC for your last minute shopping needs.

Some of the staggering selection of meal out options located within walking distance or a five minute drive include Buffalo Wild Wings* (7004 International Dr), Cafe Mineiro Brazilian Steakhouse* (6432 International Drive), Sushiology* (6400 International Dr), Fit Bistro (7733 Turkey Lake Rd), Chili’s (7021 International Dr), CiCi’s (7437 International Dr – BUFFET ALERT), Oreganatta (6320 International Dr – ALSO A BUFFET), Japan Food Aki Restaurant (7460 Universal Blvd), Ararat Euro Food and Bistro (7540 Universal Blvd), Halal Food Express (6227 International Dr), Aashirwad Indian Food and Bar (7000 S Kirkman Rd), Del Taco (6855 Grand National Dr), and, notably, IHOP (7661 International Dr), which may be open 24/7 on New Year’s Eve. Starred options are in walking distance.

CONCLUSION:

DCBX Ultimate Tropical New Year’s Eve is going to be the #1 Latin dance party in DC, Chicago, and Orlando for ringing in 2019 and beyond! Skip the overpriced and overrated nightclub parties and come dance your way into the new year with your dance friends at DCBX Ultimate Tropical New Year’s Eve! I hope everyone going to all three NYE parties found this super-survival guide helpful and if you are going to the DC edition of the Ultimate Tropical NYE party, I will see you there!

#FCL Resource Spotlight: Via

[Disclosure: As of the time of this writing, I am not directly affiliated with nor have been sponsored or hired by Via Transportation, Inc. (creators of the Via app and rideshare service) or any other companies or organizations whose services I mention in this article – everything you read from me regarding these companies 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.]

Rideshare services such as UBER and Lyft have changed the way we get around cities exponentially for the better since UBER was introduced in 2012. Calling a taxi was very costly and took a lot of advance planning back in the dark ages before UBER’s introduction; now in 2018 a ride anywhere is a few taps on a smartphone app away in most cities.

It is evident that the seismic changes in transportation introduced by UBER and Lyft have also changed the way dancers navigate dance festivals, especially when they are flying or taking the train or bus and do not have a car on hand to navigate their city of choice. However, as I have discussed before, UBER and Lyft can be a bit on the expensive side, even with less expensive options such as UBER ExpressPOOL and Shared Lyft, and those costs can add up.

This is where Via comes in. Via is a newer ride-share company positioning themselves as a low-cost up-and-coming alternative to UBER and Lyft, and they will definitely be an asset to those living the #FrugalCongressLife in the few cities in which they are currently available at press time.

At the time of this writing Via is only available in New York City, Chicago, Washington DC, and the Arlington, VA suburbs of DC. If you try to use Via to go from these areas to anywhere outside of these areas or vice versa (for example, to the MD suburbs of DC from anywhere in DC), the app will tell you your desired pickup of dropoff is out of zone and force you to choose a pickup or dropoff that is in their available zone. Via may expand to other cities at a later time.

Via’s pricing is competitive with or slightly less expensive than UBER and Lyft for equivalent service and there are ways to save money with Via that are not possible with UBER or Lyft.

For more information on Via visit http://www.ridewithvia.com

For those who have UBER ExpressPOOL in their city and are familiar with how it works, Via works very much like UBER ExpressPOOL. Instead of being picked up right at your requested pickup point, you are picked up on a designated nearby street corner – called a “virtual bus stop” by Via – to keep the driver on a more direct route and save time and money.

Like UBER ExpressPOOL and UBERPOOL, you will also be carpooling with other riders and may not be put on the most direct route to your destination as a result. Private rides, Via’s equivalent of UberX, can be booked for a higher fee that usually ends up competitive with or slightly less expensive than UberX and will take you and only you door to door from your pickup to your dropoff as UberX does, as long as it is within the bounds of Via’s zones.

If you cancel a ride after booking or do not make it to your pickup point in time, you will be charged a $2 cancellation fee in DC and a $3 cancellation fee in NYC and Chicago.

As far as I can tell, Via does not at the time of writing accept Venmo or Paypal as payment methods as UBER and Lyft do; a credit, debit, or gift card must be used as a payment method.

Via Ride Credits, Via’s proprietary transaction currency which acts as their equivalent of UBER Cash, can also be purchased with your card in $15, $20, or $50 increments. Major holidays, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday are frequently accompanied by Ride Credit deals offering a small percentage off the purchase of Ride Credits, otherwise one dollar gets you one ride credit. Additionally, Via frequently runs new user promotions offering free ride credits to new users – be on the lookout for those.

Via offers various levels of ride passes, called ViaPasses, that are a steal for regular users of the service.

Here is a breakdown of the types of ViaPass offered in each city:

NYC:

1-week Manhattan 24/7 ViaPass – $63 + tax – up to 4 free shared rides per day WITHIN MANHATTAN (10% off rides to other boroughs) OR up to 4 10%-off airport rides and private rides per day (can mix and match) 24/7 for one week

4-week Manhattan 24/7 ViaPass – $229 + tax- up to 4 free shared rides per day WITHIN MANHATTAN (10% off rides to other boroughs) OR up to 4 10%-off airport rides and private rides per day (can mix and match) 24/7 for four weeks

4-week Manhattan Commuter ViaPass – $179 + tax – up to 4 free shared rides per day WITHIN MANHATTAN (10% off rides to other boroughs) OR up to 4 10%-off airport rides and private rides per day (can mix and match) Monday through Friday 6am-9pm for four weeks

Unlike DC and Chicago, shared rides of any value are free with a ViaPass, but are limited to the borough of Manhattan. SharedTaxi rides are excluded from ViaPass discounts.

DC/Arlington:

1-week All-Access ViaPass – $69 – up to 4 free shared rides up to an $8 value (you pay for any overages after the $8) per day OR up to 4 10%-off airport rides and private rides per day (can mix and match) 24/7 for one week

[update 12/11/18 – price for a one-week ViaPass has gone up to $69, but ViaPass users prior to 12/11/18 will be grandfathered in at the previous $49 rate]

4-week All-Access ViaPass – $179 – up to 4 free shared rides up to an $8 value (you pay for any overages after the $8) per day OR up to 4 10%-off airport rides and private rides per day (can mix and match) 24/7 for four weeks

4- week Commuter ViaPass – $109 – up to 4 free shared rides up to an $8 value (you pay for any overages after the $8) per day OR up to 4 10%-off airport rides and private rides per day (can mix and match) Monday through Friday 6am-9pm for four weeks

Chicago:

1-week All-Access ViaPass – $55 – up to 4 free shared rides up to a $7 value (you pay for any overages after the $7) per day OR up to 4 10%-off airport rides and private rides per day (can mix and match) 24/7 for one week

4-week Commuter ViaPass – $139 – up to 4 free shared rides up to a $7 value (you pay for any overages after the $7) per day OR up to 4 10%-off airport rides and private rides per day (can mix and match) Monday through Friday 6am-9pm for four weeks

There is a $5 Ground Transportation Tax Charge for rides to/from Navy Pier and McCormick Place.

YOU MUST STILL TIP YOUR DRIVERS ON THE “FREE” RIDES. VIA DRIVERS MAKE A LARGE PERCENTAGE OF THEIR MONEY FROM TIPS. DO NOT STIFF YOUR DRIVERS. (assuming you have received proper service of course)

Also, you will still be charged the full cancellation fee if you cancel a ride or can not make it to the pickup point in time, even with a ViaPass. Additional fees apply for additional passengers with any ViaPass. ViaPasses for any city are only good in that city, for example, your DC ViaPass won’t be valid in NYC or Chicago.

ViaPasses are set to auto-renew by default, but this can be turned off.

Even with all these caveats, the ViaPass represents incredible savings for regular users.

One key disadvantage with Via aside from the restricted area is that, at least from my experience using Via in DC, you can expect longer wait times for pickups due to less people driving for the service at this time. I will touch on this theme again in the future, but usually anytime you do something to save money, you end up paying for those monetary savings in time and effort, and Via is certainly no exception here.

Even so, as I have said, Via is an incredible asset to those living the #FrugalCongressLife who reside in or are visiting any of the three metropolitan areas in which Via is currently available. I hope this article was helpful to somebody and, as always, hit the comments if you have anything to add!