Take me out to the (pre-season) ball game
Spring training games can be affordable -- if you're able to snag tickets.
Travelers looking to see their favorite baseball team in action before opening day may strike out unless they’re willing to get a little creative.
Major league teams practicing in the Grapefruit (Florida) and Cactus (Arizona) spring training leagues wrap up by April 3. Fans hoping to book a last-minute trip must battle spring-break tourists for hotels and airfare. There’s also reduced availability for tickets thanks to avid fans who booked trips months in advance.
“It’s brutally difficult,” says Lisa Goularte, vice president of sales and marketing for Sports Marketing USA, which offers spring training packages for 20 major league teams through a partnership with MLB.com. “Can it be done? Yes. But you have to be resourceful.”
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Still, last-minute spring training trips are typically significantly cheaper than traveling to see an away game during the regular season, says Robert Tuchman, executive vice president for Premiere Sports Travel, which creates sports travel packages.
Here’s how to gauge the economics of an 11th-hour spring training trip:
Hunt for airfare sales. Airfare is likely to be the most expensive component of a last-minute trip, says Gabe Saglie, the senior editor for travel deal site Travelzoo.com. But there are fare sales. For example, AirTran has a promotion with one-way fares for as little as $49 to cities with major league baseball teams. Book by March 25 for travel through Nov. 16.
Consider tourist traffic. Finding hotel accommodations is the next hurdle. As a major tourist destination, Florida has more options than other locales. “You can put together a pretty cost-effective package,” Tuchman says. Scottsdale, Ariz., is usually a tougher market, with local lodging booked in advance, Goularte says. Travelers may need to look for local vacation rentals in lieu of a room, or be willing to drive in from farther afield.
Be sure to look for hotel promotions. Starwood has dropped already-discounted rates at more than 750 properties by another 25%. The deal, which must be booked by March 30 for travel through May, includes 34 hotels in Florida and 16 in Arizona.
Root for the underdog. Teams that had a strong 2009 season are more likely to have an avid spring training following this year as fans use the games to gauge the odds of continued success, says Goularte. If your team was on a losing streak (or is matched up against one that was), the chances of grabbing tickets are much better.
Scour the secondary market. A ticket search engine like FanSnap.com will compare prices for available tickets across reselling sites. The Chicago Cubs and Cincinnati Reds game in Mesa, Ariz., on March 29 has tickets ranging from $9 to $70 apiece. Depending on where you look, $20 gets you a lawn seat or a closer one in a field box.
Go during the week. Just like during the regular baseball season, weeknight games can be a tougher sell, Goularte says. There are also more tickets for day games, although they can also be more expensive. For instance, the New York Yankees and Baltimore Orioles have a doubleheader in Tampa, Fla., on April 2. The night game seats range from $18 to $145 on FanSnap.com. The site found double the amount of seats available for the afternoon game, with prices ranging from $18 to $209.
Weekday travel can be less expensive, too. At Cibola Vista Resort and Spa near Phoenix, rates start at $99 per night for travel Sunday through Thursday in April, Saglie says. Staying on a weekend will cost you $10 more per night.
Check the pre-season calendar. Some teams scheduled a few extra home exhibition games before the season’s opening day, Tuchman says. For example, the Minnesota Twins will play the St. Louis Cardinals at the new Minneapolis stadium April 3. Seats start at $30.
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