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.

George Phillips

24 Responses to “Let The Gouging Begin!”

  1. Yup, the place we stayed at last year for our trip from the UK is up 60% for the same 5 days and that’s out on Rockville Road. Certainly means that we’ll look at other tracks on the series now…

  2. Could this be a sign of resellers (similar to those who use their computers to buy up as many rock concert tickets as they can in the first split second once those tickets go on sale) having discovered Indianapolis hotel rooms as their new prey? If so, they probably won’t make a profit because they overestimate the attendance for the 101st running.

  3. Dave in Mukwonago Says:

    I paid $120 for two nights at the Days Inn Northwest in November. It seemed too good to be true but I booked it anyway I know it’s not near the track and won’t be luxurious but I need to go low budget this year. I can’t afford to pay the $1600 I paid last year for 3 nights at the Crowne Plaza Airport.

  4. You should come to Miami during Boat Week. Scummy motels that normally sell for $80/night go for $300/night. And people pay it.

  5. You can always come stay with me in Dayton Ohio! Not that far away really, ha. I don’t go every year but when I do, I have the ability to go straight from home which I cherish to be honest. The gouging is just sad, happens everywhere though. It’s funny how it works though, we used to have Hamvention here by the airport, the hotels would gouge but the small business I worked for would offer specials to get business in the door for their product! That made more sense to me but I guess the difference was we had a never-ending supply to offer whereas a hotel books up and sells out…

  6. George, Be warned that the Rockville Road bridge over 465 is closed indefinitely and likely won’t be re-opened by May. INDOT may need to completely rebuild it. A too tall semi truck crashed into it this week. I would recommend avoiding hotels in that area as traffic will be a mess (and not just due to race traffic, but due to road closures) http://www.indystar.com/picture-gallery/news/2017/01/10/semi-strikes-rockville-road-bridge/96390038/ Also if you are willing to stay on the northside, Carmel or Castleton areas, 25-30 minute drive to IMS, there are still available race weekend hotels in the $180 range

  7. Mike Silver Says:

    My friends usually stay in the Castleton area. It is an easy drive to the track with quick access to I465.

  8. I think this increase will give further rise to services like AirBNB. I ended up staying in one last year, a nice little side loft off someone’s house in Fountain Square for a very decent price and am probably going to stay in one again this year. Hotels will learn the hard way that people will only put up with price hike for so long

  9. billytheskink Says:

    It would appear to me that the hotels were much fuller (or sold out much more quickly) than expected last year, even accounting for excitement over the 100th running, and that they are now raising their rates to see what the market will bear.

    Even so, the increases that you’ve described are ridiculous. They must have been REALLY surprised by the demand last year.

  10. you may wish to look into an air bnb rental you could share with your brother as well

  11. You callin’ me a liar? HA!

    Yeah, it’s crazy how high the prices are. And they have been high since I started watching them last fall. It will be interested to see how they settle over the next couple years, especially if demand this year doesn’t justify the exorbitant prices.

  12. I am paying $1600/4 nights for Watkins Glen Hotel for IndyCar weekend.

  13. Yikes! It appears that I will have to trade moonlight on the Wabash (and the Broadripple canal) for moonlight over the Sheboygan waterfront near Road America this season. I talked some friends into going to Indy last year and they can’t afford to go back this year either.

  14. If you don’t have to be within a driver and a bad sand wedge of the Speedway, try looking at some of the surrounding areas. Personally, since I don’t go for Legends Day on Saturday, if I go, I stay in Anderson. There are about 5 chains that have rooms up I-69 at exit 26. Muncie, roughly 15 miles further out, is also an option. Top rate for any of these rooms is $150/night and there are several chains where you can get under $100 (as low as $54.)

    From either of these municipalities, you can get to downtown Indy in an hour to and hour and 15 minutes. Why downtown? Because from downtown, you can catch the shuttle to the track (and escape the worst of the traffic.) There is plenty of parking on the IUPUI campus (if I recall, it’s about $10 for the day,) and the shuttle is another $40 round trip. Shuttle will drop off and pick-up about a block from the main 16th St. entrance. I’m sure you could also get a cab or an Uber from downtown.

    Most important, with this plan you don’t deal with the stress of the worst of traffic, inebriated drivers, overheating automobiles, inebriated pedestrians, financial ruin (from paying $500/night to stay downtown,) and inebriated service animals. Hell, with the savings by staying in Anderson or Muncie, you could probably get a limo to the track from IndyConnections and then you don’t even have to worry about your OWN sobriety.

    Seriously, though, I expect a year of inflated prices this year will lead to the return of reason next year, as the hotels realize that not everyone is a gazillionaire, and many won’t pay the increased freight.

  15. Perhaps the Boston Consulting Group got to them.

    • Bruce Waine Says:

      Think not………….Boston Group may be too busy investing in various 2017 INDY hotel – motel enterprises …………..

  16. I’m not sure that Boles or IMS would hold much sway over the local hospitality industry. This reminded of a story I read about Carl G. Fisher. Apparently price-gouging has been a problem since the early days of the 500. Fisher got so upset, with local hotels and restaurants, that he apparently threatened to hold the 500 in another city if they didn’t put an end to their gouging. Not sure that would work now…

  17. I am not surprised at all. When I went to COTA a few years ago, the hotel prices in Austin were outrageous. We stayed in north San Antonio for a quarter of the Austin price and drove in everyday. I hope you find something more affordable.

  18. It would be a great idea for a racing series or track owners (Indycar/IMS, ISC/NASCAR, or SMI) to buy some sort of hotel chain or something.

  19. Joshua Shimizu Says:

    You may want to check AirBnB and see if locals are renting out their apartments/condos during that time. Some people may abandon their homes etc., during that period, to make a few bucks. I understand that this may not be your kind of “thing”, and if so, disregard this comment. lol

  20. I have no specific information on the Indianapolis market, but here are a few alternate possibilities for the price hike:

    1) Indianapolis or Marion County may have added on additional bed taxes (a very popular ‘taxation without representation’ revenue generator for touristy areas).

    2) There is probably less competition among hotels than you think, with the same owner often holding properties across multiple brands (the same goes for gas station franchises).

    3) Just because “it’s the Indy 500”, don’t assume the race is the only factor driving the prices. Times are different now, and it could very well be that there’s an AAU youth basketball, travel soccer league, or cheerleading competition scheduled in the area the same weekend (whose participants don’t even know what an Indycar is).

    Ultimately, what you paid last year is just that. I don’t travel much, but have come to like hotels.com for my bookings. You aren’t necessarily going to get the rock bottom rates from ‘blind’ sites like priceline or hotwire, but you can at least see and research where you are staying, often cancel your room if needed, and (my favorite perk) every 10 stays earns you a free night, without having to be loyal to any one particular chain.

  21. You might also check in Plainfield (just west of the Airport). While it doesn’t have too many frills, most of the hotels are right off of I70 and it is only 10-15 min away from I-465.

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