What do booking a hotel room and telling a joke have in common?
For both activities, timing is everything. Or maybe not everything. Sometimes booking well in advance is the way to score a big discount, just as inserting a well-placed comedic pause is the way to score a big laugh. Unfortunately, there are other times when finding an affordable hotel room is as difficult as making a humorless audience appreciate how hilarious you are - no matter how far ahead you plan your trip, no matter how many times you attempt to explain that the reason it’s not a good idea to play poker on the savannah is that there are too many cheetahs.
But what can you do?
If you’ve ever had to book a hotel during a major convention, you know that demand-driven rate increases - unlike feline puns - are nothing to laugh at. That’s especially true when the convention’s being held in a place where hotels are normally expensive.
San Francisco Hotel Rates: Bad to Worse
One such place is San Francisco, which as we’ve written about in the past, is the most expensive city in the U.S. for business travel. Earlier this year, Expedia found that San Francisco hotel rates are the priciest in the world, more expensive than even Geneva, Dubai, and Hong Kong.
A record number of visitors came to San Francisco last year, and hotel construction has not yet responded. The result? An 88% increase in the average nightly hotel rate, to $397.
But even that seems like a bargain when a major event comes to town. Last month’s Dreamforce conference brought 150,000 visitors - so many that a cruise ship docked in San Francisco Bay was used for overflow lodging. A whole navy might be needed next February, when Super Bowl 50 comes to town.
For many years, San Francisco’s biggest annual crowd was for Oracle OpenWorld. And though it’s no longer the most attended tech event, OpenWorld - along with the simultaneous JavaOne Conference - will still bring 60,000 visitors to the city later this month. And with them will come some eye-raising hotel prices.
Oracle OpenWorld and JavaOne 2015
OpenWorld is Oracle’s annual showcase for its enterprise software, attended by thousands of IT professionals and end users. Since 2010, when Oracle acquired Sun Microsystems, OpenWorld has been held concurrently with the JavaOne developer conference. Together the two tech events represent a gathering of nerds rarely seen outside of ComiCon. (Only kidding!) This year OpenWorld will take over the entire Moscone Convention Center, while the JavaOne sessions will spill over into two nearby hotels.
The 2015 OpenWorld and JavaOne conferences run from October 25 to October 29 - though the most important date is Wednesday, October 28 when Sir Elton John will perform at an Oracle Appreciation Event (wristband required).
Where to Stay?
If money's no object, then the world’s your oyster: these top-rated luxury hotels on the fortuitously-named review site Oyster.com all have available rooms in the $1,000 a night range.
There are also options lower down the price spectrum. Search Expedia for San Francisco hotels during the conference dates and you’ll see a message like this:
Note - All prices quoted as of time of writing, on September 30.
Hotels being at 55% capacity might not seem like a sign of peak demand: an optimist might even say that with nearly half of the hotel rooms in San Francisco still empty, the glass is half full, so to speak. But it’s rare for hotels to reach this mark nearly a month in advance, and it’s unlikely that prices will come down in the interim.
For context, here are some of the prices Expedia lists for hotels in San Francisco during the OpenWorld and JavaOne conferences. Though the high prices might lead you to think otherwise, these hotels are all in the three to four star range that many companies base their travel policies on:
- Hampton Inn Downtown / Convention Center - Three stars - $579
- Hotel Vertigo - Three stars - $590
- Hotel Whitcomb - Three and a half stars - $489
- Pier 2620 Hotel Fisherman’s Wharf - Three and a half stars - $692
- Galleria Park Hotel - Three and a half Stars - $839
- Westin St. Francis - Four Stars - $603
- Hilton Union Square - Four Stars - $699 / night
- Hyatt Regency San Francisco - Four Star - $754 / night
Two takeaways from this list: rates are unusually expensive across the board, and vary a significant amount even within hotel star class.
How much should you expect to spend?
Rocketrip’s budget algorithm consolidates pricing data from multiple sources to produce a snapshot estimate of the true cost of traveling to a given destination during a specific date range. Every Rocketrip Budget to Beat depends on the custom parameters set for an employee by her company.
Using one typical set of travel policy guidelines, we generated a hotel budget for San Francisco from October 25-29, when the OpenWorld and JavaOne conferences will run.
The result? A budget of $635 a night. At this price, a traveler will have several hotel options to choose from. Of course, he could go out of his way to spend less by choosing a lower quality hotel, booking an Airbnb, or staying with a friend. But without a special convention hotel rate, and without any incentive to save, we’d expect him to spend a bit more than $600 a night.
How to Deal with High Hotel Costs
There are certain laws that we here at Rocketrip would never recommend you attempt to break. Like the law that makes it illegal to hunt bald eagles: please don’t break that. However, there’s one less deserving of your obedience: the law of supply and demand.
Big events bring big crowds and big hotel bills. But if you plan ahead and get creative, you can find ways to save.
For Conference Attendees
- Use the conference hotel - If you’ve registered for OpenWorld or JavaOne, you’re eligible for a significantly discounted rate at one of the official conference hotels when you book before October 7. Most rates fall within the $350 to $450 range.
- Consider alternate accomodations - Airbnb started in San Francisco, after all. Home rental prices increase less than do hotel prices during major conventions, because business travelers account for a small (but growing) portion of Airbnb’s users. Here’s a look at Airbnb availability during the week of OpenWorld and JavaOne.
For Other Business Travelers
- Book in advance -It’s an age old question: when should you book a flight and hotel to get the best deal? The evidence suggests that it’s almost always cheapest to buy your plane tickets over a month in advance. In contrast, discounted hotel rates sometimes do become available at the last minute (if you’re flexible about where you stay). However, it’s less likely that prices will fall before major events, and you’re better off locking in a relatively low rate early.
- Broaden your search - Hotel prices will be especially high around the convention center, so look farther afield for better rates.
- Help employees plan ahead - Encourage employees to organize their travel schedules as far in advance as they can. Though some last-minute travel is unavoidable, other instances are the product of forgetfulness, procrastination, and employees simply being too busy conducting business to think about business travel. Sending out a list of notable travel-realted events such as industry trade shows or company-wide meetings will remind employees to start preparing, and allow colleagues to better coordinate their plans.
- Keep your travel policy flexible - Fixed spending limits create a major pain point for employees. Flight and hotel prices are highly variable, and no single spending guideline will work for all of a company's travel.
Want to know more about creating a travel policy that controls cost and rewards employees? Check out our post on The 5 Steps to Engaging Employees in Cost Savings.