To mark his 30th birthday, Patrick McAuliffe made it his goal to attend every Ravens game this season. So when he saw the preliminary NFL playoff schedule last week and figured the Ravens might end up playing the Broncos in the second round, he booked a cheap flight to Denver.
But others, like Gini Rollins, spent Sunday night clicking through airline websites and her online bank account, trying to figure out how to make the trip work. She'd spent most of her time during the Raven's 24-9 win over the Indianapolis Colts texting with her brother, a Baltimore native who has lived in Denver for the past four years. He implored her to make the trip.
Many Ravens fans found themselves in the same spot, trying to scheme a way to see star linebacker Ray Lewis play live one more time. But Denver is not an inexpensive trip: Round-trip airfare out of BWI Marshall Airport was about $600 on Monday, and local companies arranging packages to attend the game were charging $1,500 per person.
Thousands of tickets to the game, scheduled for 4:30 p.m. Saturday, were available on the secondary market, on websites such as NFL Ticket Exchange and StubHub, for as low as $150. Hotel rooms could be booked in Denver for reasonable prices — many were about $189 a night — but the rates appeared to climb slightly throughout Monday.
Rollins, a Towson native who lives in Arlington, Va., and works as a nurse, decided to splurge on the trip when she found a round-trip ticket on Frontier Airlines for about $300 out of Reagan National Airport. She'll leave Friday and return Monday, but will have to disobey doctor's orders to do it: She's been resting a severely sprained ankle for several weeks and isn't even cleared to return to work until Jan. 15.
"I just decided I couldn't miss it," she said.
Rollins grew up in a football-mad family, her father talking of the Baltimore Colts and even buying season tickets to watch the Canadian Football League's Baltimore Stallions.
"There was an emptiness in the house before the Ravens came" for the 1996 season, said Rollins, who still makes it to a few games a year at M&T Bank Stadium. "We've had tickets ever since they returned."
McAuliffe, who lives in Canton, paid about $179 each way for his tickets on Southwest Airlines. By Monday, the same seats were going for $300 each way. The cost of his hotel was mitigated by rewards points — he travels frequently for work — and he hasn't even purchased tickets to the game yet. His year of visiting other stadiums has taught him much about the secondary market. Mostly, it's wildly inflated early in the week. Maybe especially so for playoff games.
"I think Denver fans, seeing their team is the higher seed, may be banking on them playing again," he said. So not only are Denver fans not jumping on available seats, some who already have tickets may be trying to parlay them for profit. But McAuliffe is sure costs will drop.
NFL Ticket Exchange and StubHub had nearly 6,000 and 5,000 tickets for sale, respectively. There are also tickets available through travel agencies, though Sports Travels and Tours, had received mostly exploratory calls from customers Monday.
"It's mostly people kicking the tires," said Teresa Weybrew, director of sales for the Massachusetts-based company that puts together custom packages for each customer. "They're trying to see what deals they can find Monday, then they go home and stew over it and try to figure out if they can do it."
Brian Snyder, founder and CEO of BMORE Around Town, an events website, said he'd booked about 10 trips on Monday. That volume is much lighter than for recent playoff trips to Pittsburgh, New England or even Tennessee, when bus was the primary method of travel.
Snyder, who has been running Ravens trips since 2009, said in his experience, few customers plan for postseason trips and instead end up splurging. Many did so in order to attend Lewis' final home game, though, and will need time before making another large purchase.
The Denver package his agency offers includes airfare, ground transportation, two nights in a hotel, a party Friday and tailgate festivities Saturday. For a double booking, it's $1,349 per person.
"It's really just the price that is pushing people off," said Snyder, who booked a block of plane tickets a few weeks ago but does not receive a discount on the price. "I had 30 or 40 people text me right after the game Sunday, saying there's no way they'd miss Denver. But then they see the price, and there's sticker shock."
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