How to get to the Olympic Games

In case you've been hiding under a rock the Olympic Games is next week!  Opening ceremonies begin on Friday.  Anybody that knows me knows that I love gymnastics.  It's my favorite sport in the whole wide world, and I especially love the Olympics because gymnastics is one of it's most popular sports and it gets tons of media attention I don't get to see outside of an Olympic year.  All the four year fans come out and finally, I have a plethora of people to chat about gymnastics with.

Has anyone ever wondered how to go to the Olympics?  If you haven't dedicated your life to a sport, put in millions of hours training, or don't have any talent is it still possible to go to the Olympics?  I had no idea how to even go about it, or what it even could cost, but when I told MJ that I wanted to travel to Rio to watch the 2016 Olympics in person he was totally on board.  The first step was easy enough.  A google search led me to CoSport, the official supplier of Olympic Tickets for USA residents.  You can't get them on Ticketmaster or Stubhub; not legally anyway.  Every country has their own official supplier that can only be used by residents.  It was early, so it looked shady because it was just a shell with not much information in it, but it was legit.  I signed up for email alerts some time in January of 2015 and the email I'd been waiting for finally came on April 22.  This is how the process played out for me. 

Individual Ticket Request Phase
Tomorrow Thursday, April 23, 2015 at 10:00 (New York time), we are launching our Individual Ticket Request for Rio 2016. Our Package Live Sales phase will open shortly thereafter - exact date/time to be announced.

Excitedly, I logged onto the website first thing in the morning and my eyes nearly popped out of my head when I saw the prices.  There were four categories to choose from, but I had no idea how the stadium would be set up and had to make a decision blindly without a seating chart.  Category C is on par with the cost of our last set of NFL tickets and honestly $132 sound fairly reasonable for an event of this magnitude.  I mean, it's the Olympic Games.  Not deterred, I put in requests for Women's Team Finals night,  Women's All Around Finals, and two different days of Women's Event Finals.  I would be okay with watching Team Qualifications, but the countries don't draw time slots for sessions until closer to the games and I would have no idea of which teams/individuals would be competing in the session I got tickets for until later.  I also have to say, I don't like the way they break up event finals over three days.  For the men it's two events per day, but for the women there is only one day with two events (Vault/Bars), but the other two days is just one event each, so that is not ideal for the my hotel.


During the initial ticket request round between April 23 and May 4th all requests received before the deadline would be treated equally - not on a first-come, first-served basis.  There was no guarantee that you would receive any or all the tickets you requested nor was there an obligation to purchase all of the tickets you request and receive.  For sessions where demand exceeds supply, the tickets would be awarded via random lottery.  I knew that this would likely be the case for Gymnastics because it's one of the most popular sports of the games.  Out of 10 tickets I got 0.  If I wanted to see dressage maybe I would have been in luck, but for a sport like Swimming or Gymnastics.  Not likely.   I wasn't ready to give up so I waited anxiously for the next phase.

Tickets + Hotel Packages
On May 1st the tickets plus hotel packages opened. They didn't even notify us, but I happened to check the day of and found a lot of them were already sold out.  They went as high as $11,000 depending upon how many nights and the number of ticket sessions provided.  All of the flex packages that allow a choice of sports are stacked in chunks from the beginning of the games to the end of the games.  The cheapest flex package was $3,700 which included 1 ticket of choice from select inventory of sporting events occurring within the first four days of the games and included four days three nights hotel accommodations.  That was not an option for me because it was Gymnastics or nothing, and gymnastics was not offered in that package.  A sport specific package for Gymnastics included 4 days and 3 nights hotel with tickets to Women's Team Final and Men's Team Final but it was $5,500 and would force me to see the men which is an event I wasn't interested in paying a lot of money for.  I'd also have the extra expense of Women's All Around Final tickets...provided I could even get my hands on them.  I couldn't stomach those inflated prices because I could put together a hotel package for us plus one to two events I really wanted to see for much cheaper if the tickets would become available.  But that's how they get you.  They are in the business of making money so they push overpriced hotel/ticket combo's first, and make it harder to get individual tickets.  When I realized what a racket the hotel/ticket packages were I immediately searched for a hotel, with hopes that I might be able to snag tickets when individual ticket sales opened.  On some sites it was too far out to even book.  On others most of the prices were $500-900 per night.  I managed to find one hotel that was rated well on Trip Advisor and decently priced.  I had to pay the $1,400 for 8 nights (August 7-15) at the Villa Gale Rio de Janeiro hotel in advance, but it was fully refundable and changeable so I snatched it up.  The next day there was NOTHING and this was over one year out from the games!  Co-sport rolled out hotel only packages later, but the least expensive one was $1,485 for 3 nights.  They have a monopoly on a lot of the hotels which makes getting them on your own that much harder, but their prices are highway robbery.  It seemed kind of hopeless, but still not ready to throw in the towel I waited for the next phase.  I have a hotel room in Rio.  All I needed was the tickets...and airfare, but I'd worry about that later.

Individual Ticket Sales
The first 10 days of individual ticket sales were open only to those who requested tickets in the initial ticket request phase and was supposed to go live on May 19th, but it was delayed.  From what I read their website usually crashes during live sales because they can't handle all the traffic, and tickets in your cart disappear before you've even had a chance to buy them.  This did not sound promising.  A few weeks later I was in Hawaii without my Visa when the tickets finally went live without any warning.   Turns out, Visa really is the official payment system for the games.  It is the only acceptable form of payment so if you don't have a Visa you better get one.  Just hours after the email went out there were only eight sports left with available tickets.  Eight! None for gymnastics.  I checked in regularly for months after that and still...nothing.  I found a support group online for people who want Olympic tickets.  I got some helpful inside information from those who have gone before, and discovered that there are people all over the world trying to get their hands on tickets and I was not alone in my quest for the Olympics.  It turns out, that getting Olympic Gymnastics tickets is like finding a needle in a haystack.  Almost impossible.  Even when the Olympics is in your very own town, it is still hard to get tickets.  That would certainly make the logistics easier, so hopefully it will come back to the US again.  LA is already trying for 2024.     

So this was my dilemma.  Would it be enough just to go and experience the Olympic Games even if that meant not watching a Gymnastics event?  What other sport would I be willing to pay $100 to go watch?  Should I take what I can get and hope that gymnastics tickets become available as it gets closer?  It couldn't be just any sport either.  It would have to be one sandwiched around Gymnastics because I can't afford to stay in Rio for more than the week I already booked.

This was getting really complicated.

When I got news that MJ would probably be out of country at the time it was the nail in the coffin on my bid for the 2016 Olympic Games.  I cancelled the hotel reservation and quit checking in on CoSport.  Every now and then, I'd get an e mail announcing additional tickets so I'd check just for kicks and never saw anything available for gymnastics, until a few weeks ago there was Men's Gymnastics AA final tickets available for $348, and today there is Women's Team Final tickets for $348 but how screwed would you be on hotel and airfare costs if you didn't book that stuff in advance?  And what if I had booked it in advance?  That would mean spending all the money and planning a trip to the Olympics when you don't even know if you are getting tickets!  They sure don't make it easy for people on a budget who need to plan ahead for these things.

I came across an article saying that there were many last minute Rio deals to be had and since there are Women's Team Final tickets available for August 9th I decided to see what it would cost to get to Rio right now.  I found a deal that included 5 nights hotel (instead of the 6 I requested because it takes 18 hours to get there) in a 4-star Copacabana hotel + round trip airfare for two on Travelocity, but while I was shopping this message popped up:

Your price has changed
While you were shopping, the price of your trip changed from $10,867.28 to $15,691.28. This is the next best deal for your trip.

It was less than 5 minutes! I didn't even have a chance to check on Trip Adviser reviews.  So I tried again.  This time I went for the more affordable Best Western near the airport.  Again.

Your price has changed
While you were shopping, the price of your trip changed from $9,152.63 to $13,976.63. This is the next best deal for your trip.

What this tells me is that they lure you in, to think you can get it for 5k per person (which is still quite astronomical), and then they bait and switch "while you were shopping."

So let's pretend I still had that $1,400 hotel reservation.  I priced out the flights separately and the lowest was $3,184 round trip, but that is with a travel time there of 29 hours! Still cheaper than CoSport, but much lower when I priced it out a long time ago.  That same Best Western Hotel on it's own was only $137 per night, and I saw another for $260 near the airport that looked decent.  Not the worst, but given the price of airfare, last minute is most definitely not the way to go.  Brazil also requires a travel Visa.  The struggle is real for Olympian families who need to get there in a hurry.

So you see, getting to the Olympics is not only very difficult for athlete's is also very difficult and expensive for fans who just want to watch.  It's a pretty tricky balance between timing, luck, and expectations.  You have to either be very rich, very lucky, or not care at all which sports you see.  In all cases you have to be persistent to snag hotel and tickets but specifically, if you are dead set on seeing a high demand sport.  I would love to be a part of the spectacle that is the Olympics, but I am neither rich or lucky and I wasn't willing to spend thousands of dollars for anything but gymnastics.  Then my husband left the country so, that was that.  At least I got to go to Olympic Trials.

Rio didn't work out, but I haven't given up on my Olympic dream just yet.  Tokyo 2020 I'm coming for you...or maybe 2024, especially if it returns to the US.

For those of us who can't be there, this is the NBC link to TV listings for every sport.  This is the Live stream schedule.  Podium training for Men and Women is Wednesday and Thursday August 3 and 4!  It will not be televised, but this is the live stream link.  I am looking forward to a sneak peak of training so I can continue to speculate on line-ups.  I will be glued to the TV all week.  I can't wait.


Mrs. Pancakes said...

There are so many fans during the events...i always wonder how they get to them. It sounds like it's important to plan way ahead of time. I bet you will make it to Tokyo 2020! I can't wait to read your recaps!

Susannah said...

Yeah, we're not getting to the Olympics. ;-) But we are figuring out a way to get TV while they're going on. We want to watch them!!!

Carla said...

Wow! Sooo, it looks like I'll never get there and I'm perfectly fine with watching it from the comfort of my couch. Unless, of course, the Olympics makes it's way back to the US in my lifetime.