Greetings from Los Angeles! If you’re following me on Facebook, Instagram and/or Twitter then you know that my wife and I were just in Austin, Texas for SXSW. The good folks at TripIt (the creators of one of my favorite travel apps) brought us down for a meet and greet with tech and travel enthusiasts. We had a lot of fun; here are the highlights.
Natalie and I both flew first class, Natalie came from Toronto (via DFW) and I flew in from L.A. When we went to book the flights a month or so ago, it was actually cheaper to fly first class than coach! A lot of consumers never even bother to look to see what the price of first class is, which is obviously a huge mistake because occasionally (especially during major events or conferences like SXSW) flying first class can cost less than flying economy. See screenshot above.
Since I’d heard that SXSW gets ridiculously crazy, I immediately booked a hotel the moment I knew we were going. The city pretty much sells out and hotel prices, as you would expect, are crazy. For instance, a 3-star hotel in the city was as pricey as the swanky Travaasa Austin Retreat, located about 14 miles out of the city. So I booked a room at Travaasa right away on Hotels.com for $440 a night.
The resort and spa is located on the hills of the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve and it’s surrounded by ancient live oaks. They have different packages available but guided adventures, culinary classes, cultural encounters and fitness and wellness workshops are all included.
The hotel was really peaceful and the food was tasty and healthy (menus include the calorie/fat count on each item) but the person above us was a very heavy walker (the floors are thin) so I didn’t get much sleep. And after my experience of not sleeping in Miami combined with the fact that I’m still recovering from shingles and I needed to be in the city for a meeting and dinner the next day, we checked out.
Before checking out of Travaasa, I looked online to see if there were other hotels available and if I could check out early without paying a penalty. The hotel was great and said it was not a problem on their end but since I’d booked through a third party, I needed to call them to make sure they weren’t going to charge me. Hotels.com’s hold time was less than two minutes and though the agent kept me on hold for a while to find out if the hotel would charge them, they ended up saying we were free and clear.
DoubleTree by Hilton
First, I looked on HotelTonight (the app for finding last-minute hotels) right at 9am when they release the night’s hotels, to see if they had any good deals available but they didn’t have anything in the city – only on the outskirts. I ended up finding the DoubleTree by Hilton on Hotels.com but I decided to book directly through Hilton.com since it was a tad cheaper and I would get free WiFi as a HHonors member. It was still ridiculously expensive at $527 a night. The staff was friendly and told me the normal rate is around $130 a night except during busiest times, which wasn’t even SXSW – it’s during Formula One.
To get around Austin, I booked a car with Silvercar, which is a fairly new rental car company available from these airports: Austin (AUS), Dallas Love Field (DAL), Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW), Denver (DEN), Los Angeles (LAX), Miami (MIA), Phoenix (PHX) or San Francisco (SFO). You can book online through their website or via the app but you will need to download the app to get the car. It’s the best rental car experience I’ve ever had and here’s the long reason why.
The short reason is that all of their cars are brand new Audi A4s that have a free navigation system, SiriusXM satellite radio, Wi-fi hot spot, Bluetooth pairing and toll tracking. The best part is that when you’re finished with the car, they will fill up your car with for the same cost of gas as it would cost you, but they add a $5 fee. That’s a bargain compared to what the traditional car rental companies charge, which is usually $9 per gallon.
Since traffic was pretty crazy, we ended up leaving our car in a garage downtown for $18 a night next to where we were speaking the following day and then took Uber Xs around the city. Everyone warned me that Uber and its rival Lyft charge ridiculous amounts of money during SXSW but I didn’t experience it during the four times I used it. The most I paid was a 2.1 surcharge but since I was only going a mile and a half, the ride never cost over $11. On the other hand, when I went to take Lyft, they had a 75% surcharge so I went with Uber.
Austin to L.A.
Natalie and I flew back to Los Angeles on Sunday and I knew there would be celebs on the plane when I saw Spike Lee walk past me when we pulled up at AUS and Jeremy Piven get off of the plane before we boarded. There were and I played a game on my Facebook page called Name the Celeb with a Scarf Over Their Head (see photo in gallery). Other celebs on the plane were tennis player Andy Roddick and Tuna the dog.