New Orleans may be the Big Easy, but for Ravens fans following their team to the Super Bowl next month, it's also likely to be a Big Expense.
"I think we got the last hotel room in the city. It has a full two stars, and it's $600 a night," Ravens fan Neal Moorhouse said with a laugh. "Beggars can't be choosers."
Moorhouse, who wears a Mexican wrestler get-up to attend games as his alter ego, "Carne Cabeza," was among the fans who immediately started making travel arrangements to New Orleans for the Feb. 3 game once the Ravens won the AFC championship Sunday night.
Many airline flights and hotels were sold out or close to it by Monday afternoon, although travel packages were still available, as fans eagerly looked for ways to join the Ravens for their first Super Bowl in 12 years.
"We were still doing sales at 2:30 in the morning for Baltimore fans," said Jason Parker, executive vice president of PrimeSport, the Ravens official travel partner, which started selling Super Bowl packages after the end of the game. "It's been nonstop ever since."
Flight and hotel reservations are often scooped up in advance by companies that put together packages for events like the Super Bowl.
Lynda Maxwell, whose Destinations Inc. travel agency is in Ellicott City, checked an industry reservation system and couldn't find any available hotel rooms. But she advised fans not to despair -- sometimes previously reserved rooms will be released.
"Maybe people from Boston were holding reservations and now -- ha-ha -- they won't need them," Maxwell said of the city whose team, the New England Patriots, fell to the Ravens on Sunday. "I would be checking hotels and see if things start to open up. I even looked at airport hotels, and they're booked up."
Marigot Miller, who lives in the Otterbein neighborhood of Baltimore, snapped up two Super Bowl XLVII tickets for her husband, Russ, and herself on Monday, and is thinking of sharing a house rental with other Ravens fans going to the game. A season ticket holder at M&T Bank Stadium, she heard from a friend who had won the Ravens ticket lottery but couldn't make it to New Orleans.
"Are you interested?" Miller said her friend asked. "Oh my gosh, yes. We are die-hard Ravens fans. It's beyond words. I am so excited."
Miller, who teaches at Kennedy Krieger Institute and who owns the Abbey Burger Bistro with her husband, said they're still in the process of booking flights and accommodations.
"Everything is completely inflated," she said.
Fans could be looking at spending in the four- or even five-figure range for Super Bowl packages. Many hotels have up to four-night booking requirements, and game tickets were going for a minimum of $2,000 on StubHub on Monday.
Yet flights, hotels and packages were selling fast.
"We were basically open all day [Sunday] until midnight," said Anbritt Stengele, president of the Chicago-based Sports Traveler. She estimates she sold more than 100 Super Bowl packages -- a few to fans from the NFC champions, the San Francisco 49ers, but mostly to fans coming from Ravens country.
"I don't think I've ever seen this kind of enthusiasm," said Stengele, who started her sports travel business 13 years ago. "You have some dedicated fans there."
Tour promoters offer a range of packages that include any combination of air and ground transportation, game tickets, hotel accommodations and party invitations. Some are using hotels as far away as Biloxi, Miss., about 90 miles from New Orleans.
Baltimore fans seem to have booked nearly every flight out of Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport to New Orleans in the days before the Super Bowl -- and a ticket on the most popular day to return, Monday, Feb. 4, is particularly tough to find.
Early Monday, JetBlue added two nonstop flights between Baltimore and New Orleans, one departing in the morning on Feb. 1 and one returning the day after the Super Bowl. As of Monday afternoon, seats were available on the flights, according to Allison Steinberg, a JetBlue spokesperson. Of course, that could change.
"We do have seats available and will continue to evaluate the demand for additional flights as we move forward," Steinberg said. Airfare for the flights started at $810 each way at jetblue.com.
As of Monday morning, all Southwest Airlines flights leaving Baltimore on Friday, Feb. 1, and Saturday, Feb. 2, were sold out, as were all return flights from New Orleans on Monday, Feb. 4. The following day's flights also were nearly sold out.
A Southwest spokesperson said Monday the airline was evaluating demand and would be adding more flights between Baltimore and New Orleans.
"Right now, air is a problem," said Buzz Levin, owner of The Travel Committee, an Owings Mills-based agency. "At the moment people are finding it difficult to find cost-effective flights."
Levin is offering one- and four-day travel packages to New Orleans for Baltimore fans.
"We have a large variety of things to offer for the Super Bowl," said Levin. "We have tickets for VIP-only pregame parties. And we have tickets to things like Maxim, Playboy and Taste of NFL parties."
With flights from BWI to New Orleans in such high demand, getting to the Super Bowl might require a side trip to Philadelphia or Washington. Neighboring airports appear to have more available flights to New Orleans.
AAA Mid-Atlantic's Ragina Averella said that with few flights and even fewer hotel rooms available, travelers should consider booking through a reputable travel agency.
"We do recognize the cost is going to be higher," said Averella. "But it gives [travelers] someone to serve as an intermediary and to make their trip easier."
She also recommends paying with a credit card. "That gives you options if something falls through with your travel plans," she said.
AAA Mid-Atlantic is offering its own Super Bowl packages, starting at abut $4,200 per person.
Buyer beware -- of both costs and possible scams -- is also Larry Swerdlin's advice to Super Bowl travelers.
"Regardless of where people book, they need to be absolutely certain they know what they're getting," said Swerdlin, who owns the Owings Mills-based Burton Travel.
He said bargains will be hard to find, given the high demand for Super Bowl travel. "For a certain amount of money," Swerdlin said, "we can get anything."
Moorhouse, who lives in Federal Hill, plans to fly with one brother to Birmingham, Ala., where another brother lives, and all three will then drive more than five hours to New Orleans.
Other than the less-than-plush hotel, the rest of their travel plans are up in the air. They don't have tickets to the game yet.
"Step one is actually getting to New Orleans," he said. "I'm hoping I'll just get lucky. Things like this happen to me. As long as I put an effort into it, things fall into place."
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