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How to Win the Olympics Travel Event
April 8, 1996 -- So you promised yourself you were going to the Olympic Games in Atlanta this summer, but you procrastinated and now it's April and you haven't done anything about it and you're sure it'll cost a fortune for a middle seat on the plane and obstructed-view tickets to team handball.
Surprise! It looks like procrastination has made you an enlightened traveler. Much to the shock of the pundits, the 1996 Summer Olympics are turning into a buyer's market for last-minute travelers.
"There'll be tickets. There'll be lodging. And late bookers may pay a lot less than some travelers who planned right and booked early," says Lowell Jakes, president of Dream Homes International, an Atlanta real-estate broker.
What will you need so score a trip to Atlanta and the games this summer? Money, of course, because Olympic games are costly affairs no matter when you book them. Some patience and a good map of Atlanta will help. And if you can surf the Internet--or get the assistance of someone who can--you'll have a distinct advantage over other Olympic hopefuls. Here's what you need to know.
Who's got the tickets? A record 11 million tickets were allotted to the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games (ACOG), organizers of this year's 26-sport extravaganza from July 19 to August 4. Official arrogance led ACOG to fulfill only a fraction of the mail-order ticket requests it received. Then early phone- and Internet-sales efforts went awry. The result? Tickets to many events are still available for sale by telephone at their original price ($6-$250) directly through ACOG. In fact, so many tickets remain that ACOG will sell seats at the sports venues on the day of the event for the first time in Olympic history.
Of course, some events, as well as to the opening and closing ceremonies, are sold out. But you needn't call a rapacious ticket broker to find seats. Hit the computer instead. Individual ticket holders are buying, selling, and trading electronically--and often their asking prices are at or near the tickets' face value. Best places to look: the message boards on America Online (keyword: Olympics) or a World Wide Web site called Inside Connections (www.insideconnections.com). Inside Connections is especially useful: ticket holders listed there usually give their telephone numbers, so you can negotiate person-to-person.
The skies seem friendly enough Although several flights are sold out, there are plenty of seats available for travel into Atlanta's Hartsfield Airport. Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines (800-221-1212) operates more than 500 flights a day into the airport. Its biggest local rival, Valujet (800-825-8538), also happens to be the nation's fastest-growing discount carrier. All the other major carriers operate into Atlanta from their respective home airports, too.
Finding room at the inns Here's the bad news: most of the hotel rooms in downtown Atlanta, the close-in suburbs, and the locations within walking distance of the major Olympic venues are sold out. But here's the good news: your procrastination didn't cost you a shot at those rooms. The average Joe never had a chance: ACOG commandeered these accommodations years ago and has doled them out to Olympic officials and high-rolling corporate sponsors.
So where do you go for housing? Unless you're desperate, not to WorldTravel Partners or Private Housing '96, the officially sanctioned sources. Travelers who use these outfits pay top dollar, must meet burdensome minimum-stay restrictions, and aren't even permitted to choose their accommodations. One example: C.J. Reiss, a New Yorker who booked last year through WorldTravel Partners, is paying $400 a night for the privilege of sleeping in a no-name motel more than 100 miles from downtown Atlanta.
Your best source for reasonably priced Olympic lodging is on the open market. Real-estate agents and booking and referral services in Atlanta offer everything from guest rooms in owner-occupied suburban homes to condo and apartment rentals in the downtown area. Prices may seem high--from $100 per bedroom a night to thousands per night for a large house--but they are low compared to what local residents once hoped to charge. And remember: the closer it gets to the Olympics, the more your negotiating position improves.
Two tips: Get on the Internet for the best housing selection. Many homeowners and brokers advertise their lodgings, complete with pictures, on the World Wide Web. Typing "Olympic lodging" into a web browser will yield literally thousands of places for rent. Also, consult a good map of the Atlanta area before committing to a property. Most Olympic venues are inside the so-called Olympic Ring, which will be closed to auto traffic and accessible only by MARTA, Atlanta's mass-transit system. Finding rooms in an outlying neighborhood close to a MARTA stop should your highest priority.
Using an all-inclusive option If you have neither the time nor desire to track down your accommodations and tickets, let someone else do the work for you. For example, Leisure Clubs International sells all-inclusive day trips to the Olympics. For prices that start at $849 per person, travelers purchase a one-day package that includes same-day, roundtrip charter flights, ground transportation, and tickets to two separate Olympic events. And if you're interested in multi-day stays, many real-estate brokers are selling homes-and-tickets packages. One example: for about $350 per person per night, Dream Homes International offers a 6-night Olympic vacation that includes accommodations for eight people in a 4-bedroom house, housekeeping, tickets to six Olympic events per day, golf, access to a country club, several parties, and transportation to a MARTA stop.
WHERE TO FIND OLYMPIC TICKETS AND LODGING
WHO STATUS WHAT THEY OFFER
ACOG Official source for Seats for remaining events.
404-744-1996 Olympic Tickets Prices: $6-250; average:
www.atlanta.olympic.org $40. Visa card only.
Atlanta Hosts Private real-estate Suburban B&Bs. Prices start
770-631-0191 broker for owner- at $200/night per bedroom
www.mindspring.com/~dasco occupied homes No minimum stays.
Atlanta Rentals Private referrals Houses, apartments, condos,
770-522-1845 to property owners B&Bs. Deal directly with
www.atlanta-rentals.com throughout region owners. Prices: $125+/night.
Dream Homes International Private real- Suburban houses, B&Bs, city
770-394-9316 estate broker hotels. Ticket and room deals
www.xcity.com/dreamhome Prices: $200+/night.
Jerry Moore Re/Max Private real- Rooms in owner-occupied
800-952-1040 estate broker homes, houses. Prices start
iquest.com/~jmoore at $200/night per bedroom.
Leisure Clubs International Official source of Same-day, roundtrip flights
800-723-1717 all-inclusive day- and tickets to two events.
chelsea.ios.com/~olymtrip trip packages Prices: $849-$3,200/person.
Peach Comfort Housing Private source of B&Bs, homes/cabins, RV/camp
404-292-1744 housing and camping spaces. Prices: $200+/night
Private Housing '96 Official source for Houses, apartments, condos.
770-455-0247 private housing Complicated rules. Prices:
www.ph96.com $150-400/night per bedroom.
World Travel Partners Official source of Hotels, cars, flights.
214-851-4029 travel services and Complicated rules. Prices:
www.worldtravel.com travel packages $38+/night per person.
Source: Travel Holiday on April 8.
This column originally appeared in Travel Holiday magazine.
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