Let The Gouging Begin!
It’s that time of year again. It used to be that I wouldn’t start thinking about making my hotel reservations for Indianapolis 500 race weekend until mid-to-late February. Last year at this time, my friend Paul Dalbey (of More Front Wing) sent me a text telling me that rooms were already going quickly – and that was mid-January.
I had already decided that we were going to move to a different hotel since our usual Sleep Inn at the intersection of Rockville Road and I-465 had changed over to a Motel 6 sometime after the 2014 race. I found out in May of 2015 that not only had it become a Motel 6, it had also been transformed into a brothel.
It was amazing the difference that one year made. The property went from a clean and modestly priced hotel with a perfect proximity to the track, to a sleazy dump with the same unsavory characters causally hanging around the front desk for no apparent reason. We stayed there three weekends in a row and kept seeing the same clientele there each weekend – and something tells me that they were not race fans.
After observing tricks turned in the parking lot, seeing a set of ladies undergarments by our car and finding an electronic sex toy under our bed – we finally decided it was time to abandon our usual Indianapolis hotel and find something new for 2016.
The night that Paul texted me, I got online and realized he was right. Most of the places I knew were already booked up in January. We ended up finding a nice hotel further out west on Rockville Road. It was relatively new and very clean, but it was more money than we were used to paying at the old Sleep Inn. But the room was a suite and had a Jacuzzi tub in the room, so I expected it to be a little more. The Jacuzzi is not important to me, but Susan likes it. Since race weekend is mostly about what I want to do, I splurged and got the suite for her…since it was only a little more per night than the standard room.
Our room last year cost $149 per night for the three night race weekend. My brother stayed in the same place for $129 for two double-beds. With all of the phantom fees and taxes, our final cost for the suite ended up being $546. Ouch! To me, that’s pricey – but it is the Indianapolis 500, after all. So I gulped and ponied up the money.
Fast-forward to the present. The other night, Paul texted me again. This time, it wasn’t to tell me that rooms were filling up. It was to alert me to how much higher the rooms were this year. To be honest, I thought he was mistaken. I wondered to myself why the 101st Running should generate more demand than last year’s milestone 100th Running.
After a quick check of the hotels I was familiar with, I found that he was right. The exact same room where we stayed last year had jumped from $149 to $229. The standard room with a king-sized bed was $209. I decided to look around.
That’s when things really got frustrating. There is a relatively new Holiday Inn Express at Rockville Road and I-465 that shares the same parking lot as the previously mentioned brothel. A standard King room is going for $434 per night. Forget that! The Microtel and Wingate by Windham at that same intersection are already sold out. Ditto for the Best Western across the Interstate.
There is a Country Inn & Suites where we stayed last year for the Grand Prix weekend, but they’ve jacked their rates up to $399 per night. There are other examples, but I think you get my point.
For now, I’ve gone ahead and made reservations where we stayed last year at $209 per night. I know it’s a decent place, but it galls me to pay over 40% more just one year later for a lesser room. With all of the taxes, my stay for race weekend will be $721. That’s outrageous!
My brother’s room that he paid $129 for last year? He just made reservations there for $199. He’s paying 54% more over last year for the same room. We have both made reservations just to keep in our back pocket, but we are still going to look around for better deals. We don’t have to cancel until April 26 – exactly one month before our check-in date.
I want to go back to my earlier question – why would the 101st Running have a higher demand than last year’s 100th Running? I’ve never been in the hotel industry and know really nothing about it, so feel free to correct me if I’m wrong. But it seems to me that over the past nine months, the hotels in Indianapolis somehow got together and decided that they practically gave their rooms away last year. This, after the Indianapolis 500 sold out for the first time in over twenty years.
It’s as if they thought that a sellout was the new norm for the race. While I think things are trending upwards for the “500” over the past several years, I think most experts – IMS President Doug Boles included – would agree that attendance in 2017 may be better than it was in 2015, but would fall short of the sellout of last year’s race.
But the hotel industry seems to think that the race is back to being a sellout every year and they are going to make sure to capitalize on it. How else could they justify more than fifty percent increases over just one year ago?
I’m sure IMS officials are aware of the gouging going on, but it is probably too late to even address it this year. But if ticket sales for the race end up being dramatically lower than what was expected – I’m sure Doug Boles and Company won’t need to look any further than this year’s gouging by the local hotels.
Not everyone is like me. I’m going no matter what. If I have to stay in Columbus again like we used to in order to save money, I’ll do it, even though it means waking up at 2:00 on race morning to get to the track at a decent hour.
But not everyone is as gung-ho crazy about the Indianapolis 500 as I am. They haven’t been going to the race for over fifty years. They may have gone last year, had fun and would like to go again – but if they have to pay a fifty percent premium on a hotel room this season, many will opt to stay home. Then, not only do the hotels suffer; the Speedway suffers.
The Verizon IndyCar Series benefits from a successful Indianapolis 500. Those that have an unbelievable experience at the Indianapolis 500 might decide they want to go to Iowa, Road America, Gateway or Mid-Ohio. If the greediness of the hotels prevents someone from going to the Indianapolis 500, the effect trickles down to affect all levels.
It looks as though this year’s “500” will cost a lot more than I had been budgeting for. I am not a rich man. My income is such that I feel it significantly to spend $721 on my hotel for a weekend. Most likely, we will knock out one of the other races we had planned on going to later this summer because of this increase. Another increase like this next year and I’ll have to alter the way I attend the race. That’ll mean no more Carb Day, no more Burger Bash, no more Legend’s Day – just get a hotel room sixty miles away just to go to the race and nothing else.
The NFL priced itself away from the common fan years ago. The Indianapolis 500 still remained affordable, even with the recent increase in prices. But despite the good job that Doug Boles has done keeping things affordable for fans; the hotels are working against him, the Speedway and the fans. The hotels have conspired to make the Indianapolis 500 unaffordable to fans like me that have to travel to it.
I understand business is business. I get it. I’m all about capitalism and finding what the market will bear. But I think the hotels in Indianapolis have gotten too greedy, too fast. Fifty percent increases are absurd and will soon be out of reach for common fans like me. If we can’t afford hotels, why buy a ticket? If enough people stop buying tickets, well…that’s not good for anyone.’
My hope is that Doug Boles and the hotel industry can find some common ground for next year and beyond in order to minimize the gouging that is taking place this year.