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How to save money on race travel

man running on vacation in Paris
July 31, 2018

By Maggie Tomasek

Race vacations are one of my favorite types of vacations. (I know, the phrase “race vacation” may seem like an oxymoron to some.)  Half marathons, marathons, triathlons and the like are a fantastic way to experience a new location, and it’s easy to tack on days before or after your event to turn it into a full-fledged getaway. Here are a few tips to help you plan your trip and save money on race travel.

Planning tips

Are you focused on your race performance? If you’re not gunning for a personal best, tack on a few days at the beginning of your trip and do your sightseeing before the race.  If you have a lofty goal finish time in mind, plan to sightsee afterward so you can rest up before the starting gun goes off.

Do you care more about the race or the destination?  Race: register and then make your travel plans. Destination:  decide where you want to go and find a race to do while you’re there. This approach usually works better if you’re looking at a shorter jaunt (i.e. 10K, half marathon or sprint triathlon) through a new location. Marathons, Ironman events and triathlons often sell out quickly or have qualifying/lottery entry limitations so they require more advance planning.

Don’t feel like planning? Sites like Marathon Tours and Travelling Fit offer complete packages with hotel, flights and race registration to destinations all over the world. Sometimes, the time you save can be more valuable to you than a couple hundred dollars in flight costs, for example.

Saving tips

Set a budget. There’s more to race travel spending than hotel and transportation. You’ll also need to budget for your race entry fee, food, gear, souvenirs, and of course, swag at the race expo.  I use a Supplemental Savings account to help me budget and save for race travel (and all of my travel, actually).

Register early for the race. The closer to race day you get, the higher prices go. Pro tip: Add race registrations to your birthday or holiday gift wish list.

Hotel or Airbnb? When looking at places to stay, you might need to prioritize whether convenience or price matter most. Hotels near the start/finish line will be pricier – and fill up fast – but could be worth it for the convenience. Booking an Airbnb or VRBO elsewhere in the city could save you money, but be sure to have a good race day plan to get to and from the starting line. Or, do both locations! Spring for the more expensive hotel the night before the race for the convenience and spend the rest of your trip in cheaper Airbnb locale(s).

Don’t buy your plane tickets too soon. Waiting until 3-5 weeks before the race date is actually the window when you are most likely to find the best price on tickets. However, your flight time options could be more limited, and if you’re traveling internationally, those flight connections can sometimes get a bit dicey. Being flexible with your travel dates can help too. If you’re tacking on extra days before or after the race, you might save more on your flight than the cost of an extra night in your hotel or Airbnb.

Another option? Look at alternate cities and airports to travel in and out of. For example, if you’re running the New Orleans Marathon, try flying into Baton Rouge instead. And, if you decide to make it a road trip to your race vacation destination, make sure you follow these cheap road trip tips.

Find a racing buddy. An easy way to save money on race travel is to bunk up. Make it a friends’ trip and share your hotel, rental car and other costs.

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Maggie Tomasek is the Social Media & PR Specialist at Alliant. She began her career as a journalist for newspapers in Utica, N.Y., Des Moines and Cincinnati before moving to Chicago in 2009. Maggie is a seven-time Chicago Marathon finisher and a lifelong creative writer with a passion for comedy. Her mom instilled in her a great sense of fiscal responsibility, and her big sister told her to throw that responsibility out the window every once in a while in the name of life experience. So far, that combination of financial advice has worked out pretty well for her.