How to plan an affordable Rose Bowl trip

For Wisconsin Badger football fans, the smell of roses will swell with the end of year. Hundreds reserved a spot for group travel to the Rose Bowl before their team even got an invitation to participate.

Are you tempted to head west to Pasadena, Calif., or south for a respite from the freeze of winter? Savvy planning saves big bucks.

Let’s use Rose Bowl travel as an example, but the same principles and strategies apply to other destinations.

Know your limits. Watch the game at home or tune in to the Travel Channel if you’re going to get all grumpy or stressed about being away.

That means deciding how much you can afford to spend. Feel at ease with the amount of time you’ll be away. Be honest about how much you mind being inconvenienced. Will unexpected circumstances seem like an adventure or likely ruin your day? Will group travel – with friends in a van, or a plane of strangers – exhilarate or drain you?

Signing up for a chartered excursion might cost twice as much as planning a trip on your own, but it’s worth the expense if you have a low tolerance for spontaneity or are easily unglued when navigating your own way.

With group travel, one payment typically covers many decisions, but not all. Budget for incidentals – meals, event tickets, transportation to attractions that are not on the group itinerary.

Do your homework. Study airfare and hotel rate patterns before making reservations. You’ll discover $165 per night in a Super 8 is at the low end for Pasadena lodging during Rose Bowl weekend. Also in this price range: four-diamond hotels that are almost within eyesight of Disneyland, but a 45-minute drive from the stadium.

Want more of the fans’ energy? Notice which hotels are booked for tour packages, head to the hotel website and consider reserving a room on your own. Or use kayak.com to plot the location of these hotels on a map, and notice nearby competitors.

Snagging a low airfare on short notice, especially during the holidays, is a challenge. If you’re hoarding an airline voucher, gained through flight bumping, now’s the time to use it.

Flights from Madison to Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) were as low as $510 in late November, then jumped to almost $700 three days later. Know the definition of “reasonable” for this time of year and destination, but also consider adjusting your flight patterns.

For a Rose Bowl trip, sound fiscal sense might mean starting from Minneapolis or Chicago, then heading to Bob Hope (Burbank) or John Wayne (Orange County) airport. Balance airfare savings against the additional costs of getting to these gateways.

Learn how and when to cut corners. The Gold Line of MetroRail connects Pasadena with Union Station in downtown Los Angeles. It’s $6 for a one-day pass (metro.net, 323-466-3876). Other segments of this light rail system extend to LAX and as far as Redondo Beach and Long Beach.

So, do you really need to rent a car? Do you really need to stay in L.A. or Pasadena? The right answers depend upon your expectations.

Be realistic. To cheer on the Badgers at the 2000 Rose Bowl, we booked a hotel that looked reasonable online, included transportation to the game and was the lowest price of any Rose Bowl offering that I could find.

Throngs of young adults – dressed in red, chanting wildly and chugging beer – seemed to be everywhere during our early afternoon check-in. The good news: We asked for a quiet room and were given one in another, nearby hotel. The lesson: Sometimes you get what you pay for.

Hedge your bets. Avoid booking a flight that is too close to the start of an event, or cruise. Travel delays and cancellations seem all too commonplace today.

Add in winter, and travel insurance might be a wise option. Like anything else, know what situations are and aren’t covered before you buy.

Seek lesser-known gems. Scour event listings at local newspaper and tourism office websites, before leaving home. How else would you know about the 3.5-hour Melting Pot Food Tours (www.meltingpottours.com, 800-979-3370) in Old Pasadena (and Los Angeles)?

Besides witnessing a Badger win in 2000, we were glad to discover that comedian Jay Leno tests new material at the Comedy and Magic Club, Hermosa Beach (www.comedyandmagicclub.com, 310-372-1193) on Sunday nights. That’s still the case, just south of Los Angeles, and it’s a $30 ticket on Jan. 2.

Funjet Vacations, a part of the Wisconsin-based Mark Travel Corp., offers four-night Rose Bowl trips, leaving from Milwaukee and Madison on Dec. 29. Prices start at $2,300 and include transportation, lodging in downtown Los Angeles or Marina del Ray, Rose Bowl game and tailgate tickets. For more: www.funjet.com/badgers, 888-858-4490.

Pricing is similar for Rose Bowl trips set up by travel agencies in Wisconsin. Some work with Funjet; others do not.

Badger Trips, part of College Travel Experts, has set up a three-night Rose Bowl trip for $1,495, leaving Dec. 30 from Madison. Transportation, Los Angeles lodging, a T-shirt and game-day breakfast buffet are included – but the game ticket is not. For more: www.fresh.badgertrips.com.

The University of Wisconsin Alumni Association also is arranging a bowl game travel package. For more: www.uwalumni.com/bowltours, 866-373-5073.

For more about Pasadena tourism: 800-307-7977, www.visitpasadena.com. For more about Tournament of Roses events: www.tournamentofroses.com, 877-793-9911.

“Roads Traveled” is the result of anonymous travel, independent travel, press trips and travel journalism conferences. What we choose to cover is not contingent on subsidized or complimentary travel.