My $185 Trip to Miami, or, BullCon on the Cheap

Hi! I’m Meg, an attendee of the very first Bullish Conference. I wanted to take a minute to share some tips on making BullCon happen for my fellow cheapskates.

Last November I had the very great pleasure of attending the first Bullish conference in Miami, a trip that I wrangled for $185.30 including flights and hotel, since having spent an inexplicable number of years as a grad student had provided me with plenty of experience in finding cheap shortcuts. So, if this sort of thing is of interest to you, here’s how I did it, and how you can do it (or something like it) too:

Photos by Julie Lavoie

Hotel: $177.50 total for 2 nights

Normally, I’m a fan of Priceline and Hotwire for hotels, but this time I wanted to be sure that my hotel would be in a commutable area. I ended up finding a great sale on a site I’d almost forgotten about: Kayak! They list multiple vendors (and their prices) for each hotel, and one of the vendors for the Harrison Hotel South Beach had rates way lower than the others. It was usually $150/night, but GetaRoom.com, that had it for $89/night including taxes, so I went with that, and the hotel was fine – relatively clean and quiet. I was able to walk to the Surfcomber (in a half hour), take the bus that runs up and down Collins Ave, and/or grab a cab to the hotel (5-10 min), and it was easy.

You have a lot of good options for lodging, some of them even cheaper than what I did.

1) I just checked Kayak and I don’t see the same deal on the Harrison Hotel now, but I do see a handful of other hotels not far from the Surfcomber on getaroom.com/ in the $80-$100/night range. (If you click “View on Map” and then zoom in to the South Beach area you can find them more easily.)

2) Another BullCon attendee stayed in a hostel nearby, which would bring the cost down to $20-$30/night.

3) If you want a nice hotel for cheap, your best bet might be to use Priceline Name Your Own Price or Express Deals, or Hotwire Hot Rates, and then take a bus or cab if it’s not in walking distance. Spending 10 bucks on a cab to save $100 or more on a hotel is kind of hard to argue with. You can use BetterBidding.com to get a sense of what hotel these deals (on both sites) might be for, and there are a few tricks if you’re bidding on Priceline. For example, sometimes the same hotel deals that show up on Hotwire Hot Rates can be gotten a little cheaper by bidding, so you might try entering the same location and star level into Priceline, and then bidding a little below the Hotwire rate. You can also get extra chances to bid by deliberately selecting an additional area that you know (from the BetterBidding list) doesn’t have hotels of the star level you’re looking for.

Flights: $7.50 total, including two more free roundtrip flights.

So I ended up getting a free ticket with miles (other than the $7.50 total I paid in fees), plus two more roundtrip flights out of the deal. How? It’s actually not as scamtastic as it sounds! Here’s what I did:

1) I found an offer from Southwest for 50,000 free miles if you get their credit card (and use it for a couple months). Usually the offer is 25,000 miles, but if you keep your eye out, you can find a 50,000 one from time to time. I’m a fan of theirs, but of course you can go with another airline card as well.

2) I logged into my (free and trustworthy) CreditKarma.com account and ran a Credit Simulator on what would happen if I were to get an additional credit card. (I am passionate about people being able to have this information, since it can make your credit score go up or down depending on your situation.) In my case, it actually made my score increase a little (since I needed more lines of credit).

3) I got the card and the miles, and booked the trip. Then I had enough miles left over for two trips to DC, where I was scoping out a move, thanks to how Southwest points work (based on ticket cost, not a flat number of points). That’s why, in my book, this was better than free.

Finally, there are a range of cheap ground transportation options to get you to and from the airport. For $2.65 you can take the Miami Beach Airport Flyer to and from the Miami Airport, and there’s also a Tri-Rail Train that you can take from there to the Fort Lauderdale Airport for $3.75 if needed. I didn’t know about this at the time, so I took a GO Airport Shuttle (like Super Shuttle) to the Fort Lauderdale airport for $24.15; I’d imagine they’d be even cheaper to Miami. (Southwest only flies out of FLL, but it’s only a 45-minute drive from the Surfcomber, so no big deal.)

Needless to say, BullCon was an amazing and totally invaluable experience. And if you can get yourself some Bullishness and some South Beach sun in November for under 200 bucks, all the better!

The Second Annual Bullish Conference takes place this November 14-16, 2014, at Miami’s Surfcomber Hotel, a women- and LGBT-friendly property. See our speakers and register here.