With higher airfares and more and more airlines fees, I recently had to ask myself whether I could still do a trip to anywhere for under $500 without sacrificing too much. To my surprise, the answer is "yes," at least for now.
Now that the presidential election race is heating up and Independence Day is fast approaching, I thought an affordable patriotic destination was in order. Instantly, Philadelphia came to mind. As America's birthplace (think Declaration of Independence), mounds of political history, and let's not forget the Liberty Bell, there couldn't be a better place to visit. Plus, area hotels have put together a slew of packages, and Philly is served by Southwest Airlines, the only U.S. airline travelers still like.
Staying in Philadelphia
Three citywide hotel packages, sponsored by the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation, make Philly affordable and give travelers options for summer travel.
The Philly Overnight Hotel Package, available at more than 30 participating hotels, includes a two-night stay, free parking, a teddy bear, and discounts at Macy's. In one example, you can stay at the Comfort Inn located downtown near the historic area for $157 per night, plus 14 percent tax, which totals $357.96 ($178.98 if you share the room with another person).
With the Philly's More Summer Fun Hotel Package (valid through September 7), you get a $50 American Express reward card in addition to the Macy's discount if you stay two nights, which is essentially cash back since you can spend it on virtually anything. For the dates I checked, the cheapest downtown hotel was the Residence Inn in Center City with rooms for $165 per night, which comes to $376.20 with the 14 percent tax. Subtract the $50 reward card to get $326.20 total, or $163.10 if you share with someone else.
For families, the Animal Discoveries Hotel Package (available through November 30) might be the best bet. A family of four sharing a room will receive two nights' accommodations; free parking; four combo tickets to the Philadelphia Zoo, Adventure Aquarium, and Ride the Ducks Tour; and small gifts and extra hotel amenities. The best rate for my test dates was $250 per night at the well-located, four-star Loews Philadelphia Hotel. The total, including a seven percent state tax, came to $535, or $133.75 per person for a family of four.
To find the best rates, play around with a few dates. While Philly puts on a tremendous Independence Day celebration, Fourth of July weekend might be too pricey for the $500 budget, so consider other weekends. Better yet, go midweek for the cheapest prices and smallest crowds.
Getting to Philadelphia
Despite how most airlines are raising prices and adding new fees daily, Southwest is holding its own by keeping fares low and by not charging for first or second checked bags. When I looked, round-trip fares to Philly, including taxes and fees, for a non-holiday weekend in July included:
- $149: Columbus, OH; Jacksonville; Manchester, NH; Providence; Orlando; Raleigh-Durham
- $158: Palm Beach International Airport
- $159.50: Ft. Lauderdale
- $163: Ft. Myers
- $179: San Antonio, St. Louis
- $191: Nashville
- $220: Jackson, MS
- $261.50: Austin
- $270: Indianapolis
- $277: Chicago
- $278.50: Houston
- $284: Detroit
- $286.50: Birmingham
Southwest serves other cities, which might have fares that fit under budget, particularly from the East Coast and Midwest. West Coast travelers can expect to pay between $100 and $200 more per ticket—likely over budget but still reasonable. If Southwest doesn't fly from your city, you can find fares under $300 on other airlines such as US Airways (a Philadelphia hub), but you might have to be more flexible with your travel dates and will need to consider the additional fees you might incur on top of the ticket.
Not in the mood to fly? Luckily, you can drive, take the bus, or use the train to get to Philly. With nationwide bus service, Greyhound drops riders off at a few Philadelphia locations, and Amtrak stops at the city's 30th Street Station, while offering service through the Northeast Corridor and connecting to other major cities in the U.S. and Canada. Plus, a companion travels Amtrak to Philadelphia for half the price through December 10. And whether you come by air or alternative modes, you can get around the city via affordable public transportation or by walking, the latter of which is always free.
Here's the cost breakdown with the most expensive airfare and hotel package on my list (note that other configurations might be cheaper):
$286.50 (airfare from Birmingham) + $178.98 (two nights' hotel at the Comfort Inn) = $465.48 per person
With at least $34.52 left in the budget, you should have plenty left over for exploring the many affordable (or free) ways to enjoy America's history in the City of Brotherly Love. Here are just a few:
- Independence National Historic Park (including the Liberty Bell Center, Independence Hall, Congress Hall, Old City Hall, City Tavern, New Hall Military Museum, Franklin Court, Bishop White House, and more) (free)
- Betsy Ross House ($3 adult/$2 child suggested donation)
- National Liberty Museum ($15 family admission or free admission every Sunday)
- Christ Church ($3 adult/$2 child suggested donation)
- Christ Church Burial Ground ($2 adult/$1 student)
- Elfreth's Alley Museum ($5 adult/$1 child)
- SoundAboutPhilly podcast tours (free)
- Historic Philly Trolley Loop ($2 all day hop-on-hop-off service)
I haven't been to Philadelphia in several years, but have heard of many new developments with the dining scene and activities. If you've been to Philadelphia recently, please tell us about all your favorite finds. Just comment below on your favorite money-saving tips, things to do, or places to eat and stay.