If you were looking for a hotel room in Washington, D.C. at this time four years ago, you were out of luck unless your pockets were very deep and your connections very strong.
Fast forward to Inauguration 2013, and finding a hotel room in D.C. is easier. Much easier. There's still plenty of availability, in fact. Maybe even a few deals.
Sure, there are still the over-the-top hotel packages. The JW Marriott, for example, offered to let one buy the entire hotel for inauguration weekend for $2.7 million. No one took them up on the offer, though they did have a buyer for a similar package in 2009. Instead they're offering 12th floor luxury suites with terraces overlooking the inauguration parade route for Inauguration Day parties. Each suite is available on Jan. 21 for $40,000 per suite, which includes $15,000 in food and beverages. Each suite can hold up to 50 people.
Over at The Madison Hotel, a four-night, $47,000 package comes complete with a social media butler who will "post on all of your accounts so you don't have to fumble for your phone to catch that perfect Facebook profile picture!"
Hotel prices in Washington D.C. averaged $600 per night four years ago, according to Kate Gibbs, media relations manager at Destination D.C., and hotels were booked to 90 percent capacity. Even hotels in the greater metro area were commanding $300 per night on average. Today, hotel booking sites websites like Hotwire are reporting rates under $200 per night.
"We know that demand is not what it was four years ago," said Gibbs. "Fantasy hotel packages exist but we also see realistic opportunities."
Hotwire said demand has been weak and prices have dropped in the last week, and the trend is expected to continue. Last week, prices for hotels in the Washington area were averaging $190 per night. As of Monday, the average price had dropped to $156 per night.
Travelocity also reports more availability than there was four years ago. "We're seeing a lot of bookings move to northern Virginia because they were offering group rates that the city could not compete with," said senior editor Courtney Scott. "A month ago prices in D.C. were at $300 to $500 per night, with a two-night minimum. In the past two weeks the hotels in D.C. opened up, lifting restrictions on minimum night stays, and we're seeing prices drop."
That's a trend Gibbs thinks will continue over the next few days. She said besides lifting minimum-night restrictions, hotels may also add value, like free breakfast, in order to fill rooms.
But be sure of your plans, Scott said. "Many hotels are still non-refundable, but if travelers are looking for a deal you can find them."
Homeowners, too, are hoping to cash in on the crowds that do make the trip for Inauguration 2013. HomeAway.com said the average price of a two-bedroom home is about $600 per night. A two-bedroom would go for about $280 per night on a weekend without a special event. There's plenty of availability among vacation rentals too: HomeAway said 62 percent of properties were booked for the weekend Jan 18 – 21.
Either way, the inauguration is a boon for the city, even if the excitement level isn't quite what it was the last time around. "Hosting the inauguration is like hosting the Superbowl every four years, " said Gibbs. "In January, leisure travel is down, with the exception of the inauguration.
"Of course we're hoping people will make a long weekend out of it," she said. "But we realize most people have to get back to work Tuesday, including everyone on Capitol Hill."
If You Go:
Check out one of the unofficial inaugural balls. Illinois promises to have a great one, with Windy City favorites like Chicago-style hot dogs and deep dish pizza. Illinois State Society: firstname.lastname@example.org or call 703-451-1237; gala is Sat., Jan. 19 at the Renaissance Washington Hotel.
New since the last inauguration, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial has opened on the National Mall. It will be open on Inauguration Day, which happens to fall on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.
Destination D.C. is hosting a live Facebook chat on Tuesday at noon ET for visitors to get real-time advice on visiting during the inauguration.