LSU fans planning a road trip to Baton Rouge for one of the Tigers’ seven home games should be prepared to pay the price … at area hotels.
Last year, hotel room rates jumped an average of $35, or 34 percent, on Saturdays when LSU played at home, according to Trivago.com, a hotel search website.
“If history repeats itself this season, people may want to start pinching pennies, as hotel prices will again increase as fans flock to town to support the Tigers,” Trivago spokesman Jeremy Crider said.
Trivago looked back at the 2013 game-weekend hotel rates for teams ranked in this year’s preseason Top 25.
Baton Rouge ranked No. 12 in terms of rate increases on game weekends versus the normal rate on nongame weekends. Rate increases were much higher and rooms far more expensive in the hometowns for three other Southeastern Conference teams on the Trivago list: Alabama, Texas A&M and Auburn, ranking No. 3, 4 and 5, respectively.
Jeremy Jones, treasurer of the LSU Alumni Dallas chapter, said he avoids game-day price hikes by booking a hotel in one of the smaller towns surrounding the city, like Port Allen or Gonzales.
“Would you want to stay in Baton Rouge for $150 a night or Gonzales for $75?” Jones asked. “When going to an LSU game, you get to the stadium as early as possible to enjoy the atmosphere and tailgating … so it really doesn’t matter that you are staying 20 miles away as opposed to 3 or 4.”
Jones said he uses the same approach for LSU road games: find a hotel in one of the surrounding towns.
That’s not always an option in some smaller Southeastern Conference college towns like Tuscaloosa, Alabama. In 2013, game-weekend rates there jumped 112 percent to $244 a night, or one-28,000th of Nick Saban’s salary.
In College Station, Texas, hotel room rates jumped 95 percent to an average of $245 a night. In Auburn, Alabama, rates jumped 76 percent to $185 a night. The rate hikes — like tailgating and the cheers of Go Tigers! — are an annual fall rite.
Only two college towns ranked higher than those three for game-weekend rate hikes: Clemson, South Carolina, with a 152 percent increase to $255, and Notre Dame’s South Bend, Indiana, with a 132 percent increase to $267.
Traveling Tiger fans catch a price break this season with Alabama playing in Baton Rouge but will have to tap their wallets for the away games at Texas A&M and Auburn.
A year ago, The Wall Street Journal did a story about hotel room rates on game days under the headline “Downside of SEC Football: Hotel Price Hikes.”
The story, based on figures from Smith Travel Research, labeled Alabama “the epicenter of rising football hotel rates.”
Bobby Bowers, Smith Travel Research vice president of operations, said towns with few hotel rooms and lots of fans who love football are a recipe for a rate spike.
About the only way to dodge higher prices is to avoid hotels and stay with friends, he said.
That’s what Allison Kullenberg does. Kullenberg, LSU Dallas alumni board member and proud parent of LSU band clarinetist Kiersten, makes three or four games each season.
But she and her husband hardly ever book a Baton Rouge hotel.
The Kullenbergs don’t have season tickets, so they usually can’t make reservations too far in advance, she said. By the time they get their tickets, most of the Red Stick’s hotels have already been booked, and the prices have been jacked up for the rooms still available.
So instead of rushing to reach Baton Rouge after work on Friday, Kullenberg and her husband stay in Alexandria then drive to Tiger Stadium on Saturday and bunk with friends.
The Kullenbergs have a routine: Leave Dallas around 4 p.m. Stop at the French Quarter in Natchitoches for meat pies and sweet potato cakes. Overnight in Alexandria. Hit the road at 8 a.m. Saturday, following I-49 to U.S. 190 to avoid the interstate over the Atchafalaya Basin. Once they see the old bridge, the Kullenbergs start playing their LSU songs, like “I Bleed Purple and Gold” and “Calling Baton Rouge.”
Paul Arrigo, president and chief executive officer of Visit Baton Rouge, said the price increases at area hotels are relatively low compared to other SEC towns.
That’s because Baton Rouge is a relatively large city for the site of a major state university. Tallahassee, Florida; Athens, Georgia; and Tuscaloosa all had higher rate increases, he said. Those cities are much smaller than Baton Rouge, with fewer hotel rooms.
Baton Rouge hotel rates are also constrained somewhat because Biloxi, Mississippi, and New Orleans capture a lot of visiting-team fans.
To drive to Baton Rouge from most Southeastern Conference schools, fans have to go through Biloxi and New Orleans, Arrigo said. Lots of people choose to stop in those cities and drive in on game day.