I had heard many great things about the Fargo Marathon. I had heard about the tremendous support from the town and the great course and knew I had to run it. The problem? Tickets were over $600 to Fargo. I could have flown to Minneapolis and then driven the 250 miles for half of that price, but who wants to do all that driving? 🙂
So, I turned to one of my frequent flyer programs – US Airways. I am never a big fan of US Airways just because I have not had great experiences with them. However, they are part of the Star Alliance of airlines, so miles that you have in the US Airways program can be used to book flights on United and Continental also. United is the best carrier to use to get to Fargo, so I took my 25,000 miles with US Air and booked my flight. The options were wide-open, so I was able to get the exact ticket I wanted. The cost? 25,000 miles and $10.
Next, I needed a hotel. The problem with a small town and a big marathon is the overbooking of hotels that occurs. I decided to run Fargo in January (Fargo is in May) and many of the most convenient hotels were already booked up. I was able to use Thank You points to book the Super 8 Fargo for just 5100 points. That was a great deal as using Thank You points used on travel give you a 1 point per cent redemption rate (for hotels – for airfare, it is 1.25 points per cent). So, actual cost out of pocket would have been $51. Again, hotel cost? 5100 points and $0.
Finally, I needed a car. There are many great ways to get fantastic deals on rental cars. However, you may not find the deals until the pick-up date gets nearer. The problem with waiting to find such a deal is that the deal may not materialize and now you paying the highest rates. So, my best tip is to find the best rate at the time that you begin planning your trip and book it. This rate must be a cancellation-free policy. You can be sure of this if you are booking on the rental car site and it does not ask for your credit card. The reason you book the car now, even if it is more than you really want to pay, is that you now have your safety net in case you never find your cheap rate. There have been a couple of times that has saved me (you still have wheels on your arrival instead of being stuck at the airport!). I was fortunate enough to get a fabulous rate right from the rental company ($10+ taxes) for the 1 day. I always make it a point to rent the compact class since they are normally cheaper and it is normally just me. Also, those cars are the ones in highest demands at events such as these so your chances of getting upgraded to something else are very good. I was upgraded at the desk to a Ford Excursion – for a total of $13 for the rental!
The morning of my flight, I went to the United Airlines counter (even though the flight was booked with US Airways, you need to check in with the operating carrier for the flight). The ticket agent told me that I did not have a United issued ticket. He said US Airways had issued a paper ticket (this was 2010 on a domestic airline, what is with paper?!) that was actually a flight voucher and I needed the numbers on that paper since it had never been entered in the system. Well, I did not have that paper. They told me to over to US Air’s ticket counter and see if they could get it into the system. I went over there and they took 20 minutes before they “figured out” that it was United’s problem and I needed to head back over there to get my ticket printed out. I ran back to United and was told that US Air still had not entered the proper numbers into the system. I ran back to US Air and they finally got on the phone with their reward reservation supervisor to see what that person could do. As I am waiting, one of the helpful US Air representatives said that it better work in the next 3 minutes or else I would not be able to get on the plane. That did not work well for me! I was signed up for the Fargo Challenge (5K Friday night, marathon Saturday morning) and had a TV interview that night so I HAD to make that flight (this was on Friday morning). With the helpful US Air rep counting down the seconds left for it to get in the system, they were finally able to enter it. I raced back to United and was able to get my ticket and get on the plane just in time.
Thanks to the agents’ perseverance, I was able to make it to Fargo on time. The 5K went well, interview went well, and the morning of the marathon launched with rain. It was pretty easy to find parking for such a big race, so that meant I got to wait in my car out of the rain. The races before the marathon were run in such a way so that none of the finishes/starts interfered with each other. I was surprised at all the Fargo citizens that came out to cheer us on, in spite of the rainfall. It was very encouraging and turned a rainy day into a great race and a memorable experience. The finish line is in the University of Fargo’s Dome and they do an excellent job of putting on a fine finish line setup.
Fargo is a race worth doing. It will be run on May 19, 2012. The Fargo Challenge is a great idea if you want a different type of racing experience. The race director is great and the course is flat and fast. The only thing holding back more runners from participating is the cost of getting there. In an upcoming post, I will outline the ways that you too can go there for free! If you have any specific questions regarding the process, let me know.
5K – 22:37 (7:17 pace) – 97 out of 5197 finishers
Marathon – 3:55 (8:59 pace) – 603 out of 1885 finishers
Go Far Challenge – 4:17 – 25 out of 153
Overall cost and resources used:
Flight – 25,000 (US Airways) miles + $10 (taxes)
Hotel – 5,100 (ThankYou Network) points
Car – $13 (car reserved through rental company at regular rate)
Actual cost if paid with cash: $745! That gives my airline miles that I redeemed a value of $0.027 per mile (this is the ratio normally used by frequent flyers to determine the value of the miles being redeemed). That value is very good for a domestic ticket!