Can you help me get to DC for $800 or so?
September 27, 2011 1:12 PM   Subscribe

Itinerary whizzes and Washington DC gurus: can you help tweak my plans for a trip from the midwest to DC for four nights, all under $800-1000?

I need to be in the DC area for a conference that starts early morning Monday October 17 and continues through Thursday October 20 (four hotel nights).

My allocated budget is $800 and I can spend maybe $200 more than that ($1000 at most). Here is my current plan:

Flight (GFK-DC Area airports): $600+
*Alternative: Amtrak to MSP, MSP-DC Area: $500 + a lot of aggravation

Here is where I really run into trouble.

Can I stay at the Alexandria Days Inn on S Bragg ($48/night) and still be able to safely (and sanely!) commute over to the conference hotel (Arlington/Crystal City Doubletree)? That Days Inn is super cheap (with terrible reviews), but is it safe and can I get to Arlington within a reasonable amount of time during rush hour traffic (on public transpo)?

Otherwise, I can stay at the Americana (from this recent thread on decent cheap DC hotels--which doesn't help me as much as you'd think, because I need a decent cheap Arlington hotel), which is also in Arlington and I can walk to the Doubletree from there. It's about $88/night, though, and that's twice the price of the Days Inn.

Budget (Days Inn): $600 flight + ~$210 for hotel= $810
Budget (Americana): $600 flight + $386 for hotel= $986
Budget (Doubletree): $600 flight + ~$950= $1550

So, I am open to better suggestions and thoughts on safety and transportation, alternative means of doing whatever. I have never been to DC, but I'm fairly well traveled and I'm willing to be adventurous (at this budget, I have to be).

Things I have thought about and tentatively ruled out:
-staying in a hostel (prices are comparable to the Days Inn and all are situated about an hour's commute from the Doubletree)
-staying at the Doubletree (it's $226/night!)
-Couchsurfing (I don't have an account, and if I understand correctly, it would be 'rude' by Couchsurfing's standards to sign up and immediately request a place to stay without any reputation)
-a roommate (I'm not opposed, but don't know anyone going--if anyone's going to DLC, I'm all ears!)

So my question is in two parts:
Part one--is it safe to stay at the Days' Inn (S Bragg St, Alexandria), and if so, how are the buses in DC area (do they run late, fill up quickly, etc)?

Part two--can you think of a better hotel to stay in than any of the three listed above (Days Inn, Americana, Doubletree) that's cheap and close to the Doubletree (metro: Pentagon City stop) or off a nearby metro stop? I'm not afraid to walk or take public transportation, but I am worried about being late because of it.
posted by librarylis to Travel & Transportation around Washington, DC (23 answers total)
One thing to think about is to reserve a room at the Days Inn, then try Priceline / Hotwire a couple of days before departure to see if you can score a closer / better room cheap.

The site says they have a free shuttle to Metro - and Crystal City is on the Metro line too, so commuting via subway should be no problem.

I live way out in the suburbs, but I don't think there is anyplace in Alexandria that is really unsafe.
posted by COD at 1:23 PM on September 27, 2011

Are you in North Dakota?
posted by dgeiser13 at 1:24 PM on September 27, 2011

I used to live about 4 streets away from South Bragg. It's a boring suburb, not an exciting urban area, so you should be safe. You can take a cab to the metro to the van dorn stop in about 5 minutes, even in rush hour and it's about a 15 minute train ride to crystal city up the blue line. The buses tend to take more circuitous routes, call the hotel and they can tell you what the bus route is like.

There are tons of decent hotels in northern virginia that are near metro, I guess it depends on how far you want to travel in the morning.
posted by empath at 1:26 PM on September 27, 2011

Try Air BnB; if you just want a room (rather than a whole apartment) you should be able to find something within your price range (just glanced and saw a $65/night room), and you can specifically ask your host about transportation options.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 1:27 PM on September 27, 2011

Btw, while you're in Crystal City, make sure you leave the hotel to go to lunch. There are a bunch of great restaurants down there.

For that matter, take a quick trip up to Rosslyn on metro and take a shuttle over to Georgetown. Great shopping and atmosphere, and just like 15 minutes from Crystal City. (and if you're an Exorcist fan, the stone staircase from the movie is right across the bridge by the gas station). Actually. Rosslyn itself is pretty great at night, lots of bars and restaurants, and fairly walkable. Having Yelp on your iphone if you have one will give you a lot of great ideas :)
posted by empath at 1:32 PM on September 27, 2011

(i say that, because there is absolutely NOTHING to do in alexandria, so killing time in the rosslyn/crystal city/georgetown area will be a lot less boring -- metro runs late on the weekends).
posted by empath at 1:33 PM on September 27, 2011

is it safe to stay at the Days' Inn (S Bragg St, Alexandria), and if so, how are the buses in DC area (do they run late, fill up quickly, etc)?

I don't know how safe that area of Alexandria is, so I can't tell you how safe it is. The WMATA website gives three different options for buses, two from Metrobus and one from ART. The latter tends to be more reliable, but with several options, you'd be good to go. Using NextBus (they also have an iPhone app) can help with seeing how close the bus actually is instead of depending on the schedule.

can you think of a better hotel to stay in than any of the three listed above (Days Inn, Americana, Doubletree) that's cheap and close to the Doubletree (metro: Pentagon City stop) or off a nearby metro stop? I'm not afraid to walk or take public transportation, but I am worried about being late because of it.

Well, I can't speak for the hotel itself, but for about $20/night more, you could go with the Day's Inn near the Pentagon, which isn't sketchy and is near the Metro, which tends to be a little more reliable than the buses. And like empath says, you can try heading out of Crystal City for meals and entertainment. There have been several recent Ask MeFi posts about activities and food in the area (my activity shows these two, but there's definitely more).
posted by zombieflanders at 1:37 PM on September 27, 2011

er...can't tell you how good the hotel is.
posted by zombieflanders at 1:38 PM on September 27, 2011

Depending on how early you can leave, there are $500 flights on from Fargo. I quickly found one that leaves BWI at 4:30pm on Thursday.!GFK.WAS,Oct16.Oct20;FAR.WAS,Oct16.Oct20@1,0
posted by jeffch at 1:41 PM on September 27, 2011

OH! If you do stay at the Days Inn, go to this Korean place for the buffet -- it is so good, and basically across the street from the hotel.
posted by empath at 1:41 PM on September 27, 2011

Hoooold up there. That Days Inn looks gawdawful from the Tripadvisor reviews. Even if there's a direct bus line between the two hotels, you always want Metro (subway) over busses when you're from out of town.

I can personally vouch for the HI Hostel ( The commute looks the same on Google Maps but is going to be better (No transfers and it's a reverse commute out of the city on the subway.) Metro Center and the area is very safe and well patrolled, although the hostel is one of those border areas between a business district and residential that feels lonely after working hours and I wouldn't advise an unfamiliar person to loiter around alone in a strange city afterhours. The yellow line from Mt. Vernon Square is a straight shot to Pentagon city.
posted by Skwirl at 1:42 PM on September 27, 2011

To answer a few questions:

Yes, I'm in North Dakota (Grand Forks--I meant to link the airport code to something meaningful).

I don't have a smartphone so any option like 'there's an app for how quickly the Metro is running today' won't work.

I basically don't want to travel over one hour of public transportation commuting time. At that point, stress outweighs money. Yes, as an out of towner, I prefer metro to bus.

I wasn't sure about flying to BWI because Google maps tells me it's 40 miles to DC--and ground transportation listed on the airport's website looked possibly expensive enough to offset any savings. If anyone knows anything about that, please let me know!
posted by librarylis at 2:30 PM on September 27, 2011

BWI is a long way away from Northern Virginia. You want to fly into National, if you can.
posted by empath at 2:44 PM on September 27, 2011

Ground transport from BWI is affordable. $5 for the MARC and then metro costs.

If you're really game for couch surfing drop me a mefi mail, I may be able to connect you with a friend in crystal city.
posted by phearlez at 3:19 PM on September 27, 2011

Try to name your price on hotwire or priceline right near the conference now. You might be surprised.

There's no marc on weekends and amtrak isn't cheap. Supershuttle might be worth checking out if bwi is more than $75/100 cheaper than DCA.
posted by n'muakolo at 4:11 PM on September 27, 2011

I'd say avoid IAD if you can help it too.
posted by n'muakolo at 4:13 PM on September 27, 2011

Ground transport from BWI is affordable. $5 for the MARC and then metro costs.

True, but MARC doesn't run on weekends and it seems like librarylis will be arriving sometime on Sunday (the conference starts early on Monday). You can get Amtrak trains from BWI to Union Station DC but they can run about $12-$21 one way depending upon how far in advance you purchase the tickets (check the rates, it's been awhile since I've had to take Amtrak from DC to BWI). I personally feel that getting to/from BWI is a bit of a crap shoot price wise in addition to being more of a pain (particularly on the weekend). I'll do it if the difference in airline tickets warrants it, but always add an additional $40 to the BWI prices (in case I have to take Amtrak both ways) to see if it's still worth it.

IAD is a bit further out, but there is a private bus (Washington Flyer) that connects with the Metro at West Falls station. It's $10 one way, $20 round trip. All things being equal, you'd want to fly to DCA.

Also does the organization that is hosting the conference have a listserve? I'm an archivist and I know that when the regional and national conferences role around, there are always people asking to share rooms to save some $.
posted by kaybdc at 5:43 PM on September 27, 2011

Personally, I would just stay at the Americana and save yourself the hassle of commuting. It just seems like staying way the hell out in Alexandria where you have to deal with taxis or infrequent busses to the metro would be a huge time suck. If you stay at the Americana, you can walk everywhere and MORE IMPORTANTLY, it provides you with more time to do some exploring in the evenings if you want to head into the city and do some sight seeing after the conference ends for the day. From Crystal City to, say, the Smithsonian metro shop would be 15 minutes or so if you don't have to wait for a train. I think this makes it worth twice the cost of the place in Alexandria.
posted by echo0720 at 6:20 PM on September 27, 2011

Trying not to be too hovering here, but wanted to add one thing:

Playing with the Hipmunk site above (thanks!), I figured out a way to get the BWI leg of the flight to be Thursday. So, I'd need to be at BWI at 12:30ish on a Thursday afternoon. Does that change the equation much, as far as Amtrak/Marc etc?

The hotel I'm still trying to decide about, though I'm definitely weighing each answer that comes in.
posted by librarylis at 7:23 PM on September 27, 2011

Another option from BWI is the B30 bus which takes you from the airport terminal directly to Greenbelt Station, which is in Maryland on the green line of the Metro. It is the same price as a MARC ticket -- $6 (cash-only, exact change) -- and it runs every 40 minutes, 7 days a week. It is probably slightly slower than taking Amtrak/MARC since it drops you off north of the city (longer Metro ride), but it runs more often and is quite a bit cheaper than Amtrak.

I disagree about BWI being that much of a hassle to get to. There are more public transit options than IAD and in my experience the flights from BWI are usually cheaper. DCA is definitely the holy grail of DC-area airports but is usually more expensive.
posted by av123 at 11:00 PM on September 27, 2011

"I figured out a way to get the BWI leg of the flight to be Thursday. So, I'd need to be at BWI at 12:30ish on a Thursday afternoon. Does that change the equation much, as far as Amtrak/Marc etc?"

12:30 Thursday afternoon gives you many options to BWI ... MARC trains run on weekdays, and there's also the B30 bus that av123 mentioned, which is a *strong* choice. Just remember that if you arrive on Sunday you won't be able to take MARC for BWI transit, you'll have to use the B30 or the SuperShuttle.

That Days Inn hotel is near where I used to live. The area isn't *dangerous* but it's pretty shoddy and run down, and you'll be in a bad spot for public transit (limited bus service). Americana would be a much better choice of the two, if only based on location and the walkability factor. From the Americana you can walk to the Doubletree, to restaurants, and to Metro that will take you around the DC area to other interesting places.

When you're assessing the Metro situation, note that Pentagon City and Pentagon are different metro stops on the same line. Pentagon City is a mall and a giant public space, where you can access the metro system freely from the outside. Pentagon is the station attached to the secure military facility ... everyone can use that station, but it can't really be accessed by foot, only by bus (for civilians/commuters) or car if you are a Pentagon employee with a parking sticker.
posted by mccxxiii at 6:03 AM on September 28, 2011

Thanks for all the wonderful advice in this thread! I went to DC about two weeks ago (time flies) and everything went stunningly smoothly thanks in no small part to you lovely people.

For the benefit of people who might stumble across this later:

I ended up house-sitting for an anonymous Mefite (thank you!) but had I not done that, I would have stayed at the Americana. Others at the conference did so and they said it was fine.

I did eat all around the conference area, so thanks for the helpful tips there. Pentagon City metro station has a good few things to eat around there.

I flew GFK-MSP-ATL-IAD there and BWI-MSP-GFK back. The flight there was a bit of a pain, but I used the Washington Flyer and the West Falls Church metro station to get to where I needed to be. To get to BWI from DC, I took the Metro to Union Station and the MARC train to BWI (well, and then the free shuttle to the airport itself).

Thanks again, everyone!
posted by librarylis at 9:17 PM on October 30, 2011

Oh, and I did indeed make it under budget. For which my bank account thanks you all, doubly.
posted by librarylis at 9:18 PM on October 30, 2011

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