Saturday, September 26, 2009
Case Study: Mobile Lodging in Las Vegas for $23
As an airline flyer who can only fly standby, my life is full of plotting and planning. What happens if I can't get on the flight I want? What will my alternative transportation be? Where will I sleep? Should I take an open flight from one city only to risk being trapped in another? Like playing chess, each decision I make now has ramifications later in the game, so I have to be thinking many moves ahead. At this moment (3pm), I am sitting in the airport in Denver wondering how I will lodge myself in Las Vegas tonight if I happen to get there. I have to do some heavy lifting tomorrow in Las Vegas, so I have arranged to rent a minivan at 7am. Once I have the minivan, then I have my lodging. (See How to Sleep in a Car.) However, the lowest rates on the minivan start tomorrow, not today. I am hoping to catch a flight to Las Vegas tonight, but if I get there, I won't have lodging until tomorrow morning. I'd like to get a good night's sleep tonight, so what do I do? Option #1: Hotel. You can often find good hotel rates in Las Vegas, but not tonight. This is a Saturday night, the peak visitor night in Las Vegas, so there is no way I can find a room within my budget. Even if I could, it hardly seems worthwhile to check into a hotel for only a few hours. It might take an hour (and some money) to get from the airport to the hotel tonight and an hour to get away in the morning. If I get to Las Vegas at 9pm and pick up the minivan at 7am, I wouldn't have much time to sleep. Option #2: Sleep at the Airport. I know the Las Vegas airport concourses are open all night. If my flight arrives at 9pm, I can simply remain inside security (where no one ever bothers you) and sleep until morning. (See How to Sleep in an Airport.) This is option is free, and I have all the equipment I need: warm clothing, blanket, earplugs and eye mask. The only trouble with this option is that all the seating in the Las Vegas airport has fixed arm rests. There is no comfortable padded seating you can lie flat on. I can work around this by curling around the armrest in the fetal position. I can get some sleep this way, but it's not my best sleep. I'd like to avoid it if I can. Option #3: Call on Friends. I could, in theory, call on friends in Las Vegas to put me up for the night, but I almost never do this. I may stay with friends on social occasions, but not when I just need a place to sleep. Since homelessness is my chosen lifestyle, it doesn't feel right to take advantage of respectable mortgage payers in this way. Plus, I would still have the problem of Option #1: It would take me an hour to get there and an hour to get away. Option #4: Camp Away from the Airport. I could leave the airport and find a secret place to camp for the night. This gets logistically complicated, however. Under cover of darkness, it is fairly easy to find a place to sleep in any city without rain, but the ground is hard in Las Vegas, and I would need an air mattress. Getting one requires a pilgrimage to the Evil Mega-Mart™ by public transit. This is not a realistic option on such a short time frame. (Sleeping in the airport would work better.) None of those options are great, so I have had to get creative. I mentioned that I am renting a minivan tomorrow at 7am. Minivans are usually frightfully expensive compared to regular sedans, but I managed to snag a good rate. If I changed the pickup date to tonight, I would lose that rate. So what's the solution? Eureka! I'll just rent another car for the night, solely for the purposes of sleeping. Thanks to rigorous physical conditioning, I can sleep comfortably in the back seat of the smallest rental car. (I do it in Europe where all the rental cars are small.) While room rates in Las Vegas get high on the weekends (due to the influx of Southern Californians), rental car rates get low. Since my rental includes a Saturday night, I can get an economy car for only $23, including all taxes and fees. (Insurance is covered by my credit card.) So if I manage to get to Las Vegas tonight (which depends on the airline gods), I will proceed to the same rental car company I am getting the minivan from (Alamo). I'll rent the economy car, sleep in it, return it in the morning, then pick up the minivan. Brilliant! Since I won't go very far from the rental car center, the gas needle will still show "Full" on the economy car and I won't need to buy any fuel. In addition to lodging, a rental car also provides—at no additional charge—transportation, so I could pick up bedding if I needed it. (I probably won't need it because Las Vegas is still warm in September.) In most cases, a $9 sleeping bag from EMM™ is sufficient. Spending $23 for a good night's sleep is generally within my budget. It's about comparable to a youth hostel. I hate to spend more than that, but I can swing $23. Furthermore, I would be getting more quality sleeping time in a rental car than I would in even the finest Las Vegas hotel, since I'll get to my car quickly and drop it off quickly (faster than checking in at the Four Seasons). BTW: I only rent from Alamo Rent-A-Car when they are available. I like the low rates, the opportunity to choose my own car from the lot, and the lack of additional "holds" on my credit card. Alamo makes fine sleeping cars, and I recommend them to all homeless people! UPDATE—8PM The travel gods have been kind to me. Beyond kind! Not only did they see me to Las Vegas, but they gave me a free rental car upgrade—to an SUV! Yes, I paid $23 for the rental of a car that I assumed would be similar to the one shown at the top of this entry—a tiny Chevrolet Aveo or similar. However, when I got to the lot (where you usually choose your own vehicle), no Economy cars were available—and no mid-size or full-size cars either. So the attendant let me have an SUV, a Ford Escape (pictured below). Not only is this a spacious sleeping car, but it may mean I won't have to rent the minivan tomorrow! The SUV could handle all my "heavy lifting" needs. This just shows you that if you're right with the Travel Gods, all sorts of good things will come your way!