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Future scheduling of Summer Rail Fests


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#1 KevinKorell

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Posted 08 August 2016 - 11:38 AM

As I have done these Rail Fests for 16 years, it has become a regular routine to hold one for the Winter in mid-January, and one longer Summer event in July.  This has provided a 6-month leeway between events.  
 
Several core members of our group have expressed the desire to move the Summer event from July to another time.  We have discussed this briefly during Sunday chat sessions, and also a few of us talked about it in person at the most recent Fest. A few reasons to change it include:

  • Higher temperatures in July, coupled with desire to visit such places as Florida, Texas, Arizona, etc.
  • With higher temperatures comes higher likelihood of heat related rail issues such as heat kinks and associated slow orders.
  • High season in many locations means higher hotel prices.  We ran into such issues this past PCRF event with soaring hotel rates in Seattle and Portland. For some, the ability to participate in the Fest hinged only on the availability of loyalty program points that could be redeemed to stay in these hotels.
  • Higher Amtrak fares in busy Summer months.   Along with this comes the new Amtrak Guest Rewards rules that went into effect earlier this year, which likewise mean spending more points for travel than when the fares are cheaper.
  • More families travelling in Summer. Nothing against children, but some do get antsy during long train rides.
  • More people travelling means more frazzled crews on long distance trains.

I also heard reasons for not moving the Fests out of July.  We have one core regular participant in the education profession, which obviously favors taking vacations in the Summer months.

 

So if not July, then when?    Most, if not all, of the above arguments against July would also apply in the most adjacent months, June and August. And then that brings us to May or September.  May isn't Summer at all, and the last third of September isn't either. But it can still be warm and comfortable in both months.
 
I also heard some reasons against May or September:

  • Graduations take place in May or June, depending on school calendars in various parts of the country.
  •  September is football season for those who care about pro games, or who coach high school teams.
  •  September is peak of hurricane season.
  •  Memorial Day takes place in late May.  Labor Day takes place in early September. We would want to avoid periods around both.
  •  Mothers Day - 2nd Sunday in May.  Travel during this weekend would not be a problem, but eating in restaurants if not on long distance trains would be a concern. A Fest could be scheduled to ensure we are travelling that day.

So where does that leave us?   Here is our forum to discuss our views.  Perhaps I missed some of the pro's and con's for either moving the summer Fest or  leaving it where it is.

 
Please note that this would NOT have any effect on our Winter Fests, since the Martin Luther King holiday weekend has seemed to work for everyone.  Moving the Summer trip to a month other than July would create a longer wait between Fests depending on where it ends up.
 
No final decisions have yet been made at this time, so please let's talk here about this first.



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#2 pennyk

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Posted 08 August 2016 - 12:23 PM

I prefer late April (after Easter) or May over July mainly because of summer crowds which likely translate into higher train fares and hotel rates (or sold out trains and hotels).  Weather is also a factor, including possible hurricanes in July and probable extreme heat in July.

Although I am retired, there are some in the group that have difficulties getting time off during the summer peak vacation time.



#3 AlanB

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Posted 08 August 2016 - 07:38 PM

Hotels price things out based upon demand, and all hotels tend to charge more for weeknights when they feel that a majority of their clientele are likely to be business travelers on an expense account.  Weekends are always going to be cheaper.  So moving things from July isn't going to have a big affect on hotel prices.  In fact, in some cities hotel prices might actually be lower in July as there are fewer conventions and business travelers due to so many families taking vacations.  It really just comes down to the luck of the draw and hitting a city with no conventions going on and low business travel during that particular week.  The one exception to this rule would be a major tourist trap city like Orlando, there summer will always be the worst.  But most places aren't like Orlando, the house of the mouse.

 

Next, I'd say that we should probably rule out September as a choice.  Since a large portion of the core members attending OTOL fests also attend the AU Gatherings, having nearly back to back events would not be a good idea.  And there is a very strong possibility that next year's AU event will occur in September.

 

Finally, I wouldn't totally rule out all of June & August either.  Yes, heat could still well be an issue.  But, typically the first two weeks of June and the last two weeks of August are not as busy as the rest of the summer period.  Even Disney drops its prices from Peak to the next lower level for the last two weeks of August because fewer people go on vacation at that point.  Most want to be back to start getting ready for school, and many schools now start in the last week of August.


Alan,

Take care and take trains!

#4 BillMagee

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Posted 08 August 2016 - 08:24 PM

While July has worked out OK for me, moving it out of the peak summer travel season would be my preference.  The reasons why - lower fares, hotel rates, fewer kids, better weather, easier time off scheduling (for those who have that issue) - have already been stated, and I agree with them.  While I have some personal and professional commitments that occur at various times in April, May, September and October, I would hopefully be able to work around those issues. 

 

So, in summary, I would prefer shifting the summer Fest out of July to sometime up to early June or from the last week of August onward.



#5 AlanB

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Posted 08 August 2016 - 08:53 PM

Just as an example with regard to hotel prices, and I admit I have a bias towards Hilton Family properties as do a few others, I just went and priced Portland, OR for Thursday night September 15th.  I picked Thursday, since that's the day we visited Portland this past July.  The Downtown Hilton has rooms with prices starting at $332 per night.  The Embassy Suites, were many stayed this past July is sold out.  As is the Doubletree where Kevin & I stayed this past July.

 

Seattle didn't do much better either, everything was in the mid to high $200's, with one hotel sold out for Wednesday the 14th.

 

The LA Downtown Doubletree, where several of us stayed, is sold out for the weekend of the 16th, 17th.  Prices for other hotels downtown are high, with lower rates heading outside of downtown.

 

Moving things a week later, with corresponding days in each city, doesn't change things much although the DTree LA isn't sold out along with the Portland DT.

 

Jumping way into the future, I checked Seattle & Portland for Wednesday & Thursday nights respectively, picking mid-May and the first week of June for 2017.  It didn't help!  Prices are still high for those dates many months into the future.

 

So based upon my somewhat limited sampling, moving the event from July to other dates isn't going to fix the issue of potentially high hotel prices.  It may help with Amtrak, one can't be sure.  Especially with September which starts to get into leaf peeper season.  But it's not going to help with hotels IMHO.


Alan,

Take care and take trains!

#6 BillMagee

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Posted 09 August 2016 - 08:04 AM

For various reasons, cost is not a primary decision driver for my participation.  That is in part due to my circumstances limiting my participation to two or three nights.  Within reason, I don't really care what the hotel rates are.  I also have enough AGR points to allow my participation on Amtrak LD's for several years regardless.

 

My preference for moving the Fest to a non-summer month is to enhance the travel experience.  The shoulder months (March-May, September-November) are simply nicer times of year to travel than the middle of summer or, for that matter, the middle of winter.  The weather is generally good, and leisure traffic is generally lower.

 

I would consider an ideal arrangement to be scheduling the extended, longer Fest in March, and the shorter, more local Fest in late September through early November. Having the long distance Fest in March puts it in a reasonably low demand time of year for leisure travel (the primary market for long distance trains) while getting it out of the true winter months.  A local Fest in the fall would space things out nicely.  As Alan said, hotel rates can vary for a wide variety of reasons, particularly with larger, business-oriented locations and properties.  

 

Having said all that, I will try to work with whatever is decided, including staying with July if that is what is decided.  I can't guarantee that I will be able to participate every single time no matter when the Fest is scheduled, but I will certainly try to work things out.



#7 jis

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Posted 09 August 2016 - 11:40 AM

For me there are four months each year when my participation is less likely for various other work (standards meetings) and family (visit India) commitments that seem to repeat each year. Those months are January, March, September and December. There is usually one bad week in June too but usually I can work around that. I still try to work around any of those, but as you might have observed I have missed several January events. I really have zero control over when the ISO and other standards bodies decide to hold their meetings, but fortunately they announce the dates year(s) in advance. Other than that when the Fests are held do not matter much to me, and if I have sufficient vacation days available in that given year I try to make it to at least part of them. I do not have enough vacation days to make it entirely by train cross country and back for two significant group events - the OTOL Fest and the AU Gathering, over and above my two to three week trip to India to visit family and friends. So some significant train segments get substituted by flight segments and I don't see that changing anytime soon.

 

March, the latter half is better than the former, if we must be in March. September the former half is better than the latter usually. The middle week of April and the middle weekend in October typically are the NARP Council Meetings. As you can see, it is complicated, so just come up with dates and then I will see how it works out.

 

In particular, hotel and train rates do not worry me that much. I can usually work out something using some money and my copious collection of points for the foreseeable future.



#8 jacorbett70

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Posted 10 August 2016 - 09:44 PM

2017: I will be directing my effort to get time around August 21 for the total eclipse and won't jeopardize it with a simultaneous request another time. Any scheduling for a Fest would be after that is in the bag.

Years after that ... generally the summer and holiday periods pose more of a risk of not getting time off.

 

In many cities I have noticed downtown hotel rates extremely high even off-season.

Amtrak may be better in terms of points/$ during the shoulder season. Maybe a double points time. Also with a missed connection or change of schedule it may be more likely to get in sleeper than rough it out in coach due to sold out sleeper conditions.



#9 KevinKorell

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Posted 10 August 2016 - 09:52 PM

 Maybe a double points time.

Double points offers  usually happen early May and again I believe late October/early November but ending well before the Thanksgiving period.



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#10 saxman

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Posted 11 August 2016 - 09:46 PM

Summer is a little bit harder for me to get the vacation time off. This last one was the most difficult to get off and involved me changing bases even and getting a really bad schedule in return for doing the fest. But that's the nature of my job and the seniority system. But again, I have the flexibility to just fly somewhere on a whim, so I can always meet the group mid trip, which was my backup plan this last fest. So far, I've been able to get the time off though. Shoulder months would be easier for me. I'm not opposed to alternating either. I don't mind the January fest though. That's an easy time to get cheap hotels in places like NYC, and the weather isn't really a concern for me. Hot or cold, I'll deal with it.






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