Festival frugality: 9 tips to save money at music fests

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Festival frugality: 9 tips to save money at music fests


Confronting the frequently sky-high costs of music festivals can be anything but festive.

Nielsen's Music 360 report says 32 million people attend at least one U.S. music festival annually -- gatherings such as Coachella, Lollapalooza and South by Southwest -- and journey an average of 903 miles to rock out to their favorite acts.

These millions of festivalgoers plunk down a decent chunk of change on admission alone. For instance, a basic pass for this year's Coachella would have hit your wallet to the tune of $399.

Once you tally the costs of your tickets, food, drink and travel expenses, it could have you singing the blues.

We reached out to two festival insiders -- Greg Gerla, CEO of music festival locator FestiFind.com, and Maddie Rish, a member of the marketing team at Everfest, which bills itself as "the world's festival authority" -- for some advice on saving money at music festivals.

1. Choose the cheaper festivals.

Gerla recommends attending festivals that won't drain your bank account as much. For example, a three-day pass for Fun Fun Fun Fest in Austin, Texas, cost $199 in 2015, compared with $250 for a three-day pass to Austin City Limits Music Festival (ACL) does. However, both festivals feature big-name talent.

To cut costs even further, consider heading to a festival close to home, says Gerla, who lives in Austin.

2. Lend a hand.

If you just can't part with your hard-earned cash to buy a festival ticket, look into volunteering.

In exchange for your labor, you may be able to catch at least some of the acts at no cost when you're off-duty. Typically, Rish says, a volunteer must sign up for a certain number of hours and shifts throughout a festival weekend. For example, the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival mandates volunteering a minimum of 18 hours spread among three six-hour shifts.

"The volunteer work might involve picking up trash after the festival or helping with the food-and-drink vendors," Gerla says.

Keep in mind that you might have to pay fees when you submit your volunteer application. For instance, Bonnaroo requires a $25 non-refundable application fee, plus a $300 refundable deposit to ensure that you finish your shifts.

3. Join a street team.

Marketing companies and festival organizers regularly seek people to promote festivals on the streets. Typically, festivals require someone to fill out an application to join a street team.

The application for the What The Festival asks for several details, such as previous attendance at the festival and previous event promotion experience.

Typical duties for someone on a street team include hanging up posters advertising the festival's lineup, Rish says, and hopping on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media networks to spread the word about the festival.

For completing these tasks, a team member usually earns points for tickets, VIP upgrades and other perks.

4. Bring your own grub.

"Festival food is delicious, but spending $12 on a sandwich isn't unheard of," Rish says.

To avoid forking over so much money on food, pack energy bars and other snacks from home, she recommends.

"If you bring your own snacks, make sure they're sealed in an unopened wrapper," Rish says. "Otherwise, they'll likely get thrown away by security -- and that definitely doesn't save you money."

Warning: Some festivals, such as the Ultra Music Festival, don't allow any outside food or beverages.

5. Share the ride.

Parking at most festivals is a hassle, not to mention expensive. Particularly in big cities such as Chicago, Los Angeles and New York, your parking tab could equal the tab for a couple of meals, Rish says.

For the 2016 edition of Lollapalooza in Chicago, Saturday parking near the festival grounds ranges from $10 to $70 a day, according to the SpotHero parking website.

So instead of fighting traffic and coughing up money for parking, Rish recommends taking advantage of a ride-sharing service such as Uber or Lyft.

"You can split the price of the ride with your friends," she says.

However, be aware that ride-sharing services may charge surge pricing (this is when pricing is automatically raised when rider demand is higher than the number of drivers near you) at busy times, which will affect how much you pay for your ride.

Rish also recommends taking a public bus, subway or train if those options are available.

Or you could avoid transportation altogether by staying somewhere within walking distance of the festival grounds.

6. Check out hotel alternatives.

If you're an out-of-town attendee of a music festival, look into renting a place from a private owner -- through websites such as Airbnb and Craigslist -- rather than booking a hotel room.

"Hotels always jack up prices for festivals in town, but some Airbnb people may not increase their prices," Gerla says.

During Austin City Limits, you can locate a private one-bedroom pad for about $100 a night, Gerla says. However, a check of TripAdvisor shows few hotel rooms going for less than $126 a night during the festival.

7. Dump the overpriced bottled water.

"One time I bought a bottle of water for $6 at a music festival in San Diego," Rish says. "Never again!"

Instead, stick an empty water bottle in your backpack and fill it with free H20 at water stations on the festival grounds, she says.

Be aware that some festivals prohibit bringing containers onto the festival grounds. For instance, the Ultra Music Festival bans bottles, cans, canteens, flasks and coolers brought from outside the venue.

8. Buy the bigger beer.

At a music festival, you may get sticker shock when you see the prices charged for beer. And you often can't carry your own alcohol into a festival, as many of these events ban beer and other booze you've purchased ahead of time, Rish says.

Rish's suggestion: Buy a large beer that you can share with friends. "It's an easy way to save a couple of bucks," she says.

A calculation by Forbes showed beer prices at 11 music festivals in 2015 ranging from $4 to $15 apiece, but the magazine didn't indicate the sizes of those beers.

9. Carry cash.

When you swipe your credit card at a festival, some food and clothing vendors may tack on an extra fee, Rish says.

She suggests you set aside a certain amount of cash for each day of the festival and bring your credit card only as backup.

"Make sure you're holding it in a safe, secure spot, like a money clip or fanny pack," she says.

Having cash on hand before you arrive at a festival also means you can steer clear of fees for withdrawing money from on-site ATMs, Rish says.

Additionally, she recommends not purchasing festival merchandise at the venue. Rather, shop for the merchandise online after the festival, she says, because you may end up paying less for it.

Keep in mind that some festival vendors accept cash only -- no plastic.

Bottom line

Festivals can be costly but there are savings options available. Look into volunteering at or working on a street team for a music festival to save money, and carry cash to avoid ATM fees.

About the author: John Egan is a content marketer, blogger and freelance writer in Austin, Texas. He is editor in chief at Austin-based startup LawnStarter. John previously worked at SpareFoot, Bankrate and the Austin Business Journal. When he's not writing or editing, John enjoys sports (Go Jayhawks!) travel, music, movies and food (especially pepperoni-and-mushroom pizza).

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