College football is an incredible sport unique to American culture. Whether you are a current student, graduate, or simply a fan of the team, you understand how passionate and emotional the sport can be. I am guilty of it myself. I graduated from Arizona State University and am a die-hard Sun Devil fan. I was able to see two years of amazing Sun Devil football while I was a student, and I’m forever hooked on the sport. Now, my wife has become a for college football fanatic, too, rooting for her school, the University of Utah Utes.
However, being a college football fan can come at a steep financial price. According to Skift, more than 47 million people attended college football games in 2017. While many of these fans are assumed to be local, some away-team fans regularly travel to games. And college football fans really do travel for their teams. Even the airline industry has taken notice and has started catering to these fans.
For example, United created flying routes specifically for college football games that get national attention. These are the games United Airlines created flight for during the 2019 season:
|August 31||Auburn University vs. University of Oregon at AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas||EUG - DFW|
|September 7||Louisiana State University at University of Texas - Austin||BTR - AUS|
|September 14||University of Alabama at University of South Carolina||BHM - CAE|
|September 21||University of Notre Dame at University of Georgia||SBN - ATL|
|September 28||Ohio State University at University of Nebraska - Lincoln||CMH - LNK|
|October 12||University of Alabama at Texas A&M University||BHM - CLL|
|October 12||University of Southern California at University of Notre Dame||LAX - SBN|
|October 26||University of Wisconsin at Ohio State University||MSN - CMH|
|November 9||University of Notre Dame at Duke University||SBN - RDU|
This is noteworthy as this gives fans an opportunity to fly to the game rather than having to drive. Otherwise, these fans may be stuck having to commute farther to a larger airport or drive the entire distance. Additionally, it decreases the chances of the airline running out of seats on existing flights due to the influx of football fans. Lastly, these flights can be a unique experience as you will likely be flying with a bunch of other fans of your school.
The costs of being a college football fan
While costs can range widely based on your favorite team’s win-loss record and your chosen gameday activities, it is generally expensive to be a college football fan. Costs can include tickets, tailgating celebrations, food, hotel stays, air travel, parking, rental car expenses, and gas just to name a few.
These costs can add up quickly, but there is a way you can save money and enjoy the game. Using points and miles earned from travel rewards credit cards can help you save hundreds on your travels — including on your flights, hotels, and rental cars.
This way the next time your team has a big game coming up, you don’t have to check your bank account for permission to head to the game. So whether you’re attending a regular season game or you’re lucky enough to go to a national championship, here’s how you can save money with the right credit cards and strategies on your next college football game adventure.
If your team is a flight away
If you are flying to a game, you are probably going with family and friends to enjoy the game together. My wife and I have flown for college football games using our points and miles, and they have saved us hundreds of dollars.
If you want to save big on airfare, your best bet is to get the Southwest Companion Pass. This will allow you to purchase one ticket, and get the second one for free (not counting taxes and fees). And their generous baggage policy makes Southwest a great airline to fly.
So how much could you save using the Companion Pass? If you live in Denver but love the Auburn Tigers, you will absolutely be at the Iron Bowl against the University of Alabama on November 30th. However, the round-trip flight is nearly $700 (as of October 31st).
For two people, you would be looking at close to $1,400 in flights. But with the Southwest Companion Pass, you will be able to fly your football buddy with you for only the taxes and fees. In this case, your flying partner will cost about $90.
For the Pac-12 fans reading, let's say you want to attend the Territorial Cup to watch my beloved Arizona State Sun Devils take on our rival from down south, but you live in Florida. Your round-trip ticket will cost you $557. For two people, you would be looking at over $1,100. But with the Southwest Companion Pass, your football buddy will only cost you $65.
So how do you get a Southwest Companion Pass? You either have to fly 100 qualifying one-way flights or earn 110,000 qualifying miles (125,000 starting in 2020) in one calendar year. If you aren’t flying a ton, 100 flights may be unreachable. However, you can earn the miles needed through flying on Southwest or by earning rewards with Southwest credit cards.
Even if you aren’t interested in a Companion Pass and just want to fly yourself for free, accruing Southwest Airlines miles and booking flights with Southwest is an extremely smart strategy for college football fans. Here’s why:
If your team is looking extra competitive this year and you want to go to potential playoff games, book your flights way ahead of time with Southwest. If your team ends up flopping because of your potential “jinx,” you can always cancel that booking and your rewards miles will return to your account. Otherwise, if you wait until you know your team is going to a playoff or championship game, the flight prices will likely be through the roof and could prevent you from attending. This flexibility is one of the features that makes Southwest a great option for sports fans.
My wife and I have this exact strategy every year. Since our teams are both in the same conference and division (Pac-12 South), there is always a decent chance one of our teams will make a conference championship. And since the Pac-12 championship is in the Bay Area every year, there are several airports we can choose from when it comes to flying Southwest.
If you need a place to stay
Finding a place to stay for a weekend can be tricky as a college football fan. When I travel to ASU games, I have no problem finding a place to stay as ASU is only 15 minutes east of Phoenix and Phoenix is a big town with lots of options. But if you are a fan of a small-town team like the University of Alabama, hotel and housing options can be slim and extremely expensive on game-day weekends.
Consider a few of these strategies to maximize your dollars and cut your costs:
- Book as far in advance as possible. College football is something many people travel for, and that means hotels conveniently located near the stadium could fill up quickly.
- Using points earned from purchases made on one of the best hotel credit cards can save you hundreds of dollars per night. For college football fans, I recommend the World of Hyatt Credit Card. In the World of Hyatt loyalty program, they have an award chart listing out the exact price for each hotel when you pay with points. But if the cash price of their hotel rooms increases because of demand, you still pay the same amount of points. So if you are traveling to a big game, these points alone could save you big bucks.
- If you like having a rental car when you travel, still consider staying at a hotel closer to the stadium. You may be able to score free parking and walk home from the stadium. For example, the Aloft Tempe is a quick walk from Sun Devil Stadium and has complimentary parking. Before going this route, be sure to weigh the raised cost of staying near the stadium versus parking and fuel costs.
- If you prefer using rideshare services, you might be better off staying further from the stadium. You may save considerable money or hotel points when it comes to your lodging. For example, below are the hotel prices surrounding Autzen Stadium, the home of the Oregon University Ducks, for a gameday weekend (as of October 31st). As you can see, staying around the stadium (the green area in the center) is significantly more expensive than staying a few miles away. Depending on the number, while you may pay for a rideshare to and from the stadium, you may still save money by doing so.
- If you are traveling on a budget, consider using a homeshare platform. The largest advantage of this strategy is that if you book a home with a kitchen, you can save on dining costs. Additionally, if you are traveling with multiple people, homesharing can be a great way to divide costs to save even further. Lastly, it can make the experience that much better with unique homes from websites like Rent Like A Champion or Airbnb.
If you are driving a long distance
If you happen to still live within driving distance of your team, it can be a pretty sweet deal. You don’t need to worry about a flight or potentially even a place to stay. However, you can still utilize some of the best travel credit cards to reduce the cost of your drive.
If you live more than several hours away from your team’s stadium, consider booking a rental car to make the trip. There are a few reasons this may be a smart decision:
- You will save your personal car from extra wear and tear.
- If your personal car isn’t the most fuel-efficient, you can save on gas. And if you use one of the best credit cards for gas, those savings could multiply.
- If something does happen to the rental car, it’s thankfully not yours. With rental car insurance through a credit card, you will have coverage for anything that happens.
If you live locally
If you live in the city of your favorite college football team, you are a very lucky fan. While the above scenarios may not be relevant for home games, you may be able to use them when you travel to see your team play.
However, you may be able to use some of your points on your home team. Hilton regularly offers unique college football gameday experiences that can be purchased using Hilton Honors points. These experiences include going behind the scenes on the production of ESPN’s College Gameday broadcast. These unique opportunities can be purchased using a bidding system, and there are specific terms and conditions for each auction.
Lastly, consider taking a local rideshare service to the game. You can save money on gas, parking, and avoid driving if you plan on drinking. If you find yourself using rideshare platforms regularly, using a credit card with bonus rewards for Uber could be a great choice for you.
The bottom line
College football is an outstanding sporting event to attend. The camaraderie, fans, and ambiance are unlike those in any other sport. And if you did graduate from the school you cheer on, it makes the experience that much better.
Unfortunately, attending games can quickly become expensive. With flights, hotel, ground transportation, food, and tickets, you could easily be looking at over $1000 for just one weekend. Rather than paying cash, you could be using points and miles earned from savvy credit card usage to help reduce the price — or maybe even attend more games!
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Earn 25,000 online bonus points after you make at least $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of account opening - that can be a $250 statement credit toward travel purchases
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