- The Washington Times - Monday, March 27, 2006

George Mason University fans are scrambling to get to Indianapolis this weekend for the Final Four as the cost of flights soars and hotel rooms are expected to become scarce later in the week.

“Prices are just going crazy — air fare is near sold out,” said Dawn Van Dyke, a spokeswoman for AAA Mid-Atlantic.

Round-trip air fare started at $441 yesterday afternoon for fans leaving the Washington area Saturday and returning Sunday, according to Jeanenne Diefendorf of Orbitz.com. A few hours later, the cheapest price was $547.

“Obviously, with the increased demand and for people going into Indianapolis the hotels are able to charge a premium and air fares are likely to go up as we get closer,” said Katie Deines, a travel expert for Hotels.com. “But there’s actually quite a lot available still. I would just encourage people to book as soon as they know they can go.”

Hotel rooms in Indianapolis have increased by $150 to $200 because of increased demand, said Ms. Deines, who advised fans to book rooms in outlying areas such as Carmel, Fishers, Shelbyville, Franklin or Lebanon.

The Ramada Indianapolis, 12 miles from the RCA Dome, starts at $225 a night compared with the Lees Inn in Shelbyville, which is 35 miles from the city and starts at $59.50 a night, according to Hotels.com.

Official George Mason travel packages — some of which include tickets and lodging as well as a chartered flight to Indianapolis — are nearly sold out, according to Joel Malnick, president of Collegiate Athletic Travel. Packages including air fare run from $1,575 to $1,635 for double rooms. Without air fare, the price is $1,075 to $1,135.

“By the end of the day [today], it’s pretty much over,” Mr. Malnick predicted.

Although tickets for George Mason students go on sale today for $170, senior Tauhidul Hoque, a member of the school’s Patriot Platoon student fan club, was able to buy his yesterday afternoon.

“We don’t have a football team so basketball is really the only thing to follow on campus,” said Mr. Hoque, who has had perfect attendance at home basketball games for the last two years before this season, when he had to miss a few because of work.

Tickets for all three Final Four games started at $255 each last night on Stubhub.com, an online ticket auction site. At Ticketsnow.com, which uses licensed ticket brokers, they ranged from $415 to $9,600, according to Chief Marketing Officer Kenneth Dotson.

“All the tickets are pretty much sold out in the primary markets so if the fans want to go, they have to turn to secondary markets or they can go to the street and buy from a ticket scalper, but that’s probably not a good idea,” Mr. Dotson said.

AAA recommends that fans drive to the games.

“It’s less than 600 miles and we’re suggesting that two drivers can comfortably split the time behind the wheel and get there in a day,” said Ms. Van Dyke, who also advises that drivers rent cars rather than putting wear and tear on their own vehicles. “That would probably be cheaper than everybody buying plane tickets anyway.”

Fans driving to Indianapolis can rent an economy-class vehicle in the District for four days with unlimited mileage for $202.20 from Budget, according to a sales representative. The price does not include fees for drivers under 25 and is subject to change. Gas is about 10 cents cheaper in Indianapolis than in the Washington area, Ms. Van Dyke added.

Dana Cizmadia, a 2005 George Mason graduate and member of the Patriot Platoon, plans on driving to Indianapolis overnight Friday but hopes the university will charter a bus for students attending the game, like it did for the playoffs in Dayton, Ohio.

“Depending on whether we win or not, we could be coming back really sad and depressed Saturday or really ecstatic on Monday night,” said Miss Cizmadia, who went to the games at the Verizon Center.

“If we made it all the way, I think I would be very angry at myself if I wasn’t there to see it.”

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