SXSW On a Budget

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South by Southwest (SXSW) is a massive, prominent music festival packed with awesome performances, informative workshops, industry expert panels, and valuable networking opportunities — but on the downside, attendance can get very expensive, very fast.  Between registration badges, food, lodging, and travel expenses, it’s easy to spend hundreds if not thousands of dollars on SXSW.  Fortunately, you don’t have to, because our guide to SXSW on a budget has you covered with some tips for cutting down on your festival spending.

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Pricing for SXSW 2015 Registration Badges

Before we start talking about how to save money on SXSW 2015, let’s cover the pricing for registration badges.  The badge that’s best for you, should you decide to purchase one, depends on which events and panels you’d like to attend, so make sure to use the SXSW badge type tool to make the best selection.

  • Music Badge:
    • Walkup — $895
    • Register by February 13 — $795
  • Gold Badge:
    • Walkup — $1,495
    • Register by February 13 — $1,395
  • Platinum Badge:
    • Walkup — $1,745
    • Register by February 13 — $1,645

Of course, you don’t need to buy any badges at all — all you need to buy is a ticket.  Just remember that badges are the only way to access certain industry and networking events, including the 2015 SXSW Demo Listening Sessions and the SXSW Music Mentor Program, which we cover in our guide on how to network at SXSW.  For more information about this year’s events, be sure to look through our guide to SXSW 2015 events as well.

Getting Around Town: The PediCab System

While SXSW does run a shuttle service, that’s not exactly the budget option since you’ll need a badge to ride.  To take advantage of the TMS Hotel Shuttle, you’ll need to pay another $20 to $120 for a pass on top of your badge purchase.  The festival shuttles are free… after badge expenses.

Fortunately, there are two excellent, low-cost (or free) alternatives.  SXSW takes place in downtown Austin, which means that unless you’ve booked a hotel exceptionally far away from the Convention Center where the festival is held, you’ll be able to get around on foot.  Late March tends to be reasonably warm in Texas, so you don’t have to worry too much about being cold or bundling up against the weather.  Just remember to stay hydrated!

If you don’t feel like walking everywhere and are willing to spend a little bit of money, you can turn to the inexpensive PediCab service as an alternative.  PediCabs are essentially bike-powered taxis, so they’re best used for shorter trips.  Since PediCabs are in high demand during SXSW, they’re usually easy to find.

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Where to Stay

If you want to cut down on the costs of your accommodations, the best answer will always be to sleep on your tour bus for absolutely free.  But if you don’t have a tour bus on hand, you’ll have to look to hotels instead.  Some of the more inexpensive hotels near the festival include:

  • La Quinta – Oltorf 
    1603 E. Oltorf Blvd.
    $131 – $141
  • Hampton Inn – South 
    4141 Governors Row
    $177 – $187
  • Best Western Plus – Austin City Hotel 
    2200 South IH-35
    $184 – $200
  • Fairfield Inn and Suites – South
    4525 South IH-35
    $189 – $199
  • Microtel Inn and Suites 
    7705 Metro Center Dr
    $195

Of course, you should always check in with the hotel itself to ask about exact pricing.  And remember: the farther ahead of time you can book your tickets, the better.  It can’t be emphasized enough that SXSW draws a very large crowd, so if you wait until the last minute, at best your tickets will be extremely expensive, while at worst there simply won’t be any rooms left.

If you’re able to book a hotel close to the Convention Center, you can save a little extra money by getting around on foot rather than taking the bus or using the shuttle system.

Cheap Eats in Austin

Concerts and festivals aren’t exactly famous for their modest pricing on food and drinks, but unless you’ve packed a week’s worth of sandwiches and beverages into your cooler, you’re going to need to eat somewhere.

Fortunately for frugal festival-goers, the Convention Center where SXSW takes place is located right in downtown Austin, which means bars, cafes, restaurants, and food trucks abound, with the trucks often being the cheapest option.  Keep an eye peeled for trucks like Micklethewait Craft Meats, East Side King, Veracruz All Natural, Chi’lantro, The Peached Tortilla, and Torchy’s Tacos, and Three Little Pigs.  If you want to sit down and rest your feet, you can grab cheap meals under $10 at places like the Dart Bowl (which is actually a bowling alley), Joe’s Bakery, Duy Vietnamese and Chinese Restaurant, and the Hightower.