Boston, the city I've called home for almost a decade, comes to life in autumn. Year after year, I've witnessed transplants like myself—and visitors alike—get drawn in by the excitement October brings. This year is no different. The streets buzz with post-season baseball fervor, while crews get regatta-ready on the Charles River and students line up to grab some quick caffeine before class. While potentially an expensive destination, this college town can support a strict budget, even one as small as $500. And as a local, I'll point you to a few ways to save without needing to rough it and then challenge you to come up with some money-saving strategies of your own.
What's the Deal in Boston?
Just because Boston is a mecca for college students doesn't mean you have to settle for dorm-style accommodations. In recent years, a few boutique hotels have cropped up, giving you not only style and comfort, but also extra amenities that add value. And considering the average Boston hotel rate is just over $200 per night, the prices at these properties won't send you applying for financial aid either.
As for airfare, fall flights remain relatively affordable from U.S. cities (knock on wood), despite recent fare hikes, making Boston a viable getaway option all around.
Where to Stay in Boston
The latest addition to the boutique trend is the part all-suite, part luxury hotel Inn @ St Botolph. This sister property to the chic, and much more expensive, XV Beacon is set in a historic brownstone on one of the most charming streets of the Back Bay. I got a sneak peek at the neighborhood inn before its October preview and was quite impressed. Its innovative concept of "edited service luxury" helps trim travelers' costs by eliminating services like a front desk and bellman, and instead relies on online booking, virtual check-in, and keyless entry. In addition to rooms decked out in comforting colors with cool textured upholstery for contrast, guests will get added value from complimentary phone service, Wi-Fi, satellite service on 42-inch HD TVs, kitchenettes, daily housekeeping, and continental breakfast.
The most budget conscious would do best with the studio suite, with $189 per night rates through the end of the year. With taxes, the total comes to $425.06 based on double occupancy for two nights, or $212.53 per person. Those traveling as a foursome could spring for the large, two-bedroom Alcove Suite—complete with trundle bed tucked into a 19th-century turret—for $349 per night. Split the two-night total of $784.90 with taxes by four, and pay just $196.23 (minus a half cent) per person.
The Inn @ St Botolph is taking reservations for its October preview, and then has its official grand opening in November. The property's 16 rooms are booking up quickly, so don't hesitate if you want to be one of the first to stay this fall.
If you can't secure a room at the inn or prefer a Cambridge location, another affordable option is Kimpton's funky Hotel Marlowe, a boutique hotel I'd recommend to my own family and friends. It's pet-friendly, and offers complimentary Wi-Fi and wine. Rates here are on par with the average, but it can pay off to compare prices on third-party sites. For instance, on hotels.com, I found late-October weekend rates for a king deluxe room for $169 per night, which is $30 cheaper than on Hotel Marlowe's own website. With taxes, the total comes to $383.70 based on double occupancy for two nights, or $191.85 per person.
Getting to Boston
While New Englanders can easily get to Boston within a few hours' drive, those from further away will need a flight, especially for short stays. Luckily, fares for late fall haven't crept up far enough to be cost prohibitive across-the-board. Here's a sampling of round-trip fares, including taxes and fees, from various U.S. departure cities:
- New York City: $119 (American)
- Baltimore: $143 (AirTran)
- Philadelphia: $143 (Delta)
- Buffalo: $169 (US Airways)
- Charlotte: $172 (AirTran)
- Pittsburgh: $179 (US Airways)
- Jacksonville: $207 (US Airways)
- Ft. Lauderdale: $223 (Spirit)
- New Orleans: $223 (Spirit)
- Chicago: $224 (US Airways)
- Atlanta: $229 (Delta)
- Orlando: $229 (US Airways)
US Airways represented about half the city pairs I researched, but low-cost carriers AirTran and Spirit had a decent showing. No matter what, always compare airfares to get the best price. Not surprisingly, the cheapest departure cities I found were on the East Coast, but you can expect to pay anywhere between $20 and $200 more from other locales.
I can't stress enough that your total cost will depend on your departure city. In some cases you might get right up to $500 (or even go over depending on price fluctuations). But in others, you might have enough left over for an additional night's stay. To illustrate the range in this article, I've calculated two separate cost breakdowns: one with the cheapest combinations of air and hotel based on two people traveling together and one with the most expensive. Everything else falls in between.
- Cheapest: $119 (airfare from New York City) + $191.85 (two nights at Hotel Marlowe) = $310.85 per person
- Most expensive: $229 (airfare from Orlando) + $212.53 (two nights at The Inn @ St Botolph) = $441.53 per person
If you want to save further, note that Boston's off-season is November through April, when rates are the most affordable of the year. And, if you're checking out universities, BostonUSA, the website of the Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau, lists hotels offering discounts for college visits, as well as all sorts of any-person discounts on hotels and activities.
The Escapes Under $500 Challenge
While my total costs ranged from $310.85 to $441.53 for airfare from various cities and two nights at hotels I like, I challenge you to build a trip to Boston for under $500 by posting your money-saving strategies in the comments section below. Don't be shy, since I'll be checking in from my laptop at a local coffee shop near Harvard Square as I take in all the excitement of the season.
(Editor's Note: SmarterTravel.com is a member of the TripAdvisor Media Network, an operating company of Expedia, Inc. Expedia, Inc. also owns Expedia.com and hotels.com.)