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Buy Now or Wait for Olympics Bargains?

AskEd & AnswerEd
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London Telephone Booth in front of Big Ben (Photo: iStockPhoto/Jeremy Edwards)
Editor's Note: This story was originally published on March 27, 2011. To see the most recent SmarterTravel articles on related topics, please click on any of the following links: AskEd & AnswerEd, Ed Perkins.

According to a recent report from Europe, advance booking demand for hotels during the London Olympic Games is down by 80 percent, but hotels are still keeping rooms off the market. That report raises the classic dilemma of would-be Olympic Games visitors to the London Games next summer, July 27-August 12, and it leaves at least one reader in a quandary:

"If I want to take in the Games, should I buy now or wait for a bargain price?"

Sadly, that's a problem I can highlight but not yet solve.

Tickets

As my colleague Christine Sarkis recently blogged, the ticket sale process has started through CoSport, the official reseller for Games tickets to residents of the U.S., Canada, Australia, and a bunch of European countries. The "ticket request phase" runs through April 22, and "hospitality package sales" started on March 15. So far, CoSport isn't showing any prices, but it is accepting registrations and requests.

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The official London-based Olympic ticket website specifically states that it will not sell to foreign visitors. However, if you have some friends in the UK, you might have them inquire about buying tickets for you there.

In some prior Olympic Games, host-country and regional demand for tickets has fallen far short of expectations and national allocations. In those cases, local authorized sellers have released ticket inventory to foreign agencies and tour operators – basically, to any outfit willing to buy them. In other years, Game admission has become the "hottest ticket in town." Whether UK demand will exceed or fail to meet expectations is anyone's guess. In any case, various US ticket resellers, such as TicketCity are also taking requests for tickets, which may come either through CoSports or from initial allocations that originally went to other countries.

As always, as opening day approaches, you'll see a secondary market in event tickets: Will they go at scalper prices or distressed levels? That's the big question, with no answer yet in sight.

Packages

Tour operators of all stripes are organizing Olympic packages, some through CoSports, some through sports tour specialists, some through mainline tour operators. So far, the only hard prices I've seen were from Roadtrips, which lists a four-night package starting at a mind-boggling $3,695 per person, excluding airfare and event tickets. I suspect that, at least early on, other package prices will also be very high.

Hotel Accommodations

As noted, London and nearby hotels are holding most of their room inventory out for Olympic packagers and direct sales. So far, none of the big hotel chain or online agency sites is even quoting prices more than a year in advance, so I can't give any examples. But you'll be able to check prices starting this July.

Typically, host countries always anticipate a great shortage of accommodations during the Games, and they try to line up accommodations in student dormitories, private houses, and other places that don't usually cater to short-term visitors. London is doing this, as well, and you can look for special websites set up for accommodations searches.

Airfares

If anyone believes airfares can be forecasted accurately more than a year in advance, I have some great bridges I'd sell him or her. Overall, the long-term trend in airfares is upward, as the world's major airlines do a better job of matching seats to demand than they've done in the past. And, at least so far, no transatlantic low-fare lines have emerged to challenge the quasi-monopoly of the giant lines from North America to London. Airlines don't post fares this far in advance, so you can't tell anything yet. And the onerous British "air passenger duty" will continue to make London an unusually expensive ticket.

But the 800-pound gorilla in the airfare room is the price of oil. If oil remains at current levels, you can expect higher airfares in 2012, but an easing of oil prices will certainly ease airfare pressures.

Local transportation

London has spent a lot of time and money in beefing up transport services in and around the primary Olympic site on London's East Side. Expansions and improvements include the Docklands Light Railway to Stratford International, upgraded rail stops at Stratford and adjacent Stratford International to accommodate both conventional and high-speed trains, and expanded underground stations and platforms. Special high-speed trains will make the trip from St Pancras Station to Stratford International in seven minutes.

Although the Olympic Park will host a majority of events, others will occur as far away as Greenwich to the east, and Wembley and Wimbledon to the west. As far as I can tell, all venues enjoy good public transport.

Apparently, British ticket buyers will automatically receive a "Games Travel Card" providing for transport between the primary Game venues and all nine London transport zones. Presumably, foreign visitors will be able to buy similar cards.

What to do?

At this point, I can provide only a few general suggestions for prospective visitors:

Keep following developments.

  • If you prefer to lock in your experience, buy in early – register for Games tickets, accommodations, or packages immediately – and be prepared to be fleeced.
  • If you're willing to gamble, you may find some "sale" prices on tickets, accommodations, and packages as opening day approaches. But waiting runs the risk of paying top dollar. Don't adopt a waiting strategy unless you're willing to miss out entirely on the games.
  • No matter what, if you don't want to get involved with the Olympics, stay clear of London entirely. Visiting during that time – and probably several weeks or so before and after – is an open invitation for a royal fleecing.

Get fleeced or risk not going – not an attractive choice. But nobody said life was fair.

Your Turn

Are you planning to attend the Olympics? Tell us about it by adding a comment below.

 
 
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