Take 2 — London Calling
How to plan a trip to the Olympics
We leave in six days. I'm mostly packed. This will be my fourth Olympics and I am getting excited. One of the common questions I hear when people learn about my trip is "How did you plan a trip to the Olympics?" Here are a few tips that will help guide you if interested in attending a future Olympics.
Step 1: Tickets
Photo by Nathan Dwyer
Each time I have attended an Olympics I secured tickets first. The International Olympic Committee contracts with a ticket provider to handle the U.S. allocation of tickets. For Vancouver and London it was Cosport. They are the only authorized retailer of tickets to U.S. residents and are allowed to charge a markup on the face value for providing this service. The Seattle Times wrote a critique of the company in 2009 here.
The Phase 1 ticket lotteries occur more than one year prior to the Games and you will be notified how to apply once on their email list. Requests are made for particular events and there are multiple price levels you can choose from. As can be predicted, the more popular the event, the more expensive. We have had great experiences attending preliminary non-final events which are cheaper. Your luck in the lottery will vary. For London we applied for seven events (one per day) and only were awarded one. For Vancouver we received three of seven.
All hope is not lost when the lottery results are in. For my last three Olympics I bought tickets during Phase 2 when all remaining U.S. tickets are placed on sale on a "first come" basis online. This requires acting quickly on the day the tickets go on sale and being flexible with events and price levels. A large variety of events have been available and we filled out our week with one event per day for both Vancouver and London. The marquee events do not typically have tickets available through Phase 2. Keep in mind that at this point you have no idea what countries will be participating in team events because that schedule is released only a few weeks before the games. I have been lucky twice that Team USA has been assigned to events we purchased. Purchased tickets arrive roughly three weeks before the Games and at that time you learn your actual seat assignments.
Tickets can also be found on Craigslist, Ebay and through ticket brokers. I bought one set of tickets for Vancouver to a hockey game at face value and this worked out well.
Step 2: Accommodations
Options vary greatly, and will depend on the city where the Games take place. Supply and demand will dictate price. For my first two Olympics I was able to stay with friends. For the last two I have found accommodations over the Internet. Various websites pop up prior to the games such as Rent for the Games that put home or apartment owners in touch with renters. Keep in mind a high markup occurs for rentals during the Games and many owners require rental for the entire two weeks of the Games. However, if you are persistent and do your homework you can often find what you need. We were able to rent a home near Whistler in 2010 for only two nights and in London we have rented an apartment for nine nights. On both occasions I believe the owner preferred a longer rental, but decided to rent for shorter to guarantee the property did not sit empty. Payment can be arranged through sites such as Paypal.
Hotels are another option, although markups of 300 percent have been reported. Travel companies and Cosport sell hospitality packages which include hotel, but prices are extremely high.
Step 3: Travel Plans
Photo by Nathan Dwyer
Once tickets are guaranteed, the final piece of the puzzle is arranging travel. Make sure to apply for needed passports and visas far enough ahead of time to avoid last minute problems. Airfares can vary, but sites like Kayak allow you to track prices and compare airlines. I have not noticed any significant markups on flights during the Olympics. I recommend purchasing flights as soon as Steps 1 and 2 above are completed.
There are certainly many ways to attend an Olympics. In case you were wondering, the Sochi, Russia 2014 Winter Games are only 563 days away.