Washington, D.C. hotel booking tips for the Oct. 30 rally

Like thousands of people who are either fans of Jon Stewart and/or Stephen Colbert, I’ll be D.C.-bound for the Oct. 30 rally. And like so many travelers, I intend to keep costs low for the spontaneous trip. Or at least I’ll try to.

Here are 3 strategies to help you (and me) stay on a budget:

Tip #1: Cash in any frequent-flyer points, hotel loyalty points, or other rewards that you’ve accrued.

The day after Stewart announced the rally, I checked the meager balance of my Starwood Preferred Guest account and was thrilled to see that I had actually earned a free night from a previous promotion. (Spending two nights at the Element Hotel near Houston earlier this summer had qualified me for a free weekend night.) I was skeptical about my chances of redeeming the points but called the 800 number anyway. I could hardly believe it when I found out that yes, I could redeem the points and better yet, I had enough to nab one of the last rooms at the W Hotel (the going rate at the time about $300; that hotel has since sold out).

Tip #2: Check B&Bs, but expect a two-night minimum.

Before I could crow too loudly about my free night, I learned that the rally would start at noon. My plan to take an early Amtrak train down to D.C. was derailed when I saw that all the morning train tickets from New York City had sold out. The only tickets left meant that I would arrive at Union Station well after the rally started.

Because I’d dawdled when it came to booking, I’m now forced to head down on Friday night and pay for an extra night’s hotel. And that’s when I ended up with the same problem that many travelers are facing: many D.C. hotels in convenient locations are already sold out, or the only remaining rooms are well over $300 per night. So much for traveling on a budget.

I did manage to find some $150 rooms at www.bedandbreakfast.com, but was disappointed to see that many required a minimum stay of two nights. I wasn’t about to cancel my existing hotel reservation in order to book two nights at a B&B… which leads me to Tip #3.

Tip #3: Book prepaid, non-refundable hotels.

Though I try to avoid booking non-refundable rates, this event is one of the few times where I figure that the prepaid rate is worth the gamble. My total price at the Westin Washington D.C. — $185 with taxes — is definitely not the cheapest rate out there, but it’s close enough to the action that it’ll do.

Other tips & strategies:
1. Alexandria, Va., is a 25-minute Metro ride away.

2. Check www.busjunction.com for affordable bus tickets to D.C. For travel on Friday, Oct. 29, I found one-way BoltBus tickets from New York’s Penn Station to D.C.’s Union Station for $23, which includes free Wi-Fi. I wish I could say the same about Amtrak.

3. After reserving my hotel, I checked in with the Washington, D.C. tourism board for other booking tips. I was reminded that Oct. 31 is the Marine Corps Marathon so hotels in Arlington will likely be busy.

4. There’s always Priceline, Hotwire, Craigslist — or crashing on someone’s couch.

Have you found a great D.C. hotel deal that’s valid for the Oct. 30 rally? Feel free to brag.

[Photo by Amy Chen]