Fine-Tune Your Music Festival Budget and Save

Music festivals can be pricey. Here’s how to see your favorite artists without breaking the bank.
Dalia Ramirez
By Dalia Ramirez 
Edited by Rick VanderKnyff

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Attendees of this year’s Coachella music festival have posted viral videos adding up their expenses from the weekend — with costs reaching the thousands for flights, hotels, food, drinks, outfits and rideshares. Plus the ticket, which can start around $400 for a three-day pass to a popular festival like Lollapalooza or Coachella.

Summer music festivals can be a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but costs can easily blow a hole in any budget. If you’ve decided to take the plunge this summer, here are a few ways to keep your festival spending in check.

Check out credit card rewards

One of the best ways to make the most of your money at a music festival is to take advantage of credit card rewards for entertainment purchases. The right card can get you cash back on tickets, access to lower-cost presale tickets or free add-ons like food and lounge entry. Some can even get you access to exclusive artist performances and activities like a Ferris wheel ride.

Travel-specific credit cards can help you save on flights and hotels if you’re attending an out-of-town festival, and many offer rewards for car rentals and Uber rides as well.

Plan ahead for hidden costs

If you’re unprepared for full days of walking and dancing — and strict rules on what’s allowed inside the festival gates — you may find yourself paying for unexpected necessities including food, water and transportation.

Kaitlin Gomez is a nursing student and avid festivalgoer based in Irvine, California, attending a multi-day music event almost every month. With her devotion to these experiences, she’s learned to prepare in advance so she’s not overspending inside the festival. She recommends eating beforehand (and drinking, if that’s your cup of tea), and carpooling if possible. Pro tip: Many festivals have limited free parking available if you arrive early enough to score a spot.

Her biggest cost saver, though, has been purchasing “investment pieces that last years and work with festival rules,” like a backpack with a built-in hydration pack, sturdy shoes and a portable charger. Events can overcharge for on-site food ($17 for an order of chicken tenders at Coachella), water bottles and even phone charging access, so coming prepared keeps costs in check.

And a note on lodging: While some festivals, like Coachella, offer a camping option for a price, some do not. So if you need a hotel, shop around and book early. Airbnbs often tack an extra $100 or more in fees on top of the booking price, so a shared hotel room may be the most cost-effective option.

Choose payment plan or presale

Most festivals offer a few options to pay for your ticket. The first is paying for the entire ticket price outright, which can vary depending on when you make your purchase.

Festivals usually have several “tiers,” starting at the lowest price for customers with presale access, and up to hundreds of dollars more for tickets purchased within weeks of the event. Signing up for presale, especially with exclusive access from a participating credit card company, can guarantee you the lowest possible price.

But if you don’t have the funds to cover an entire ticket at one time, a zero-interest payment plan from the event company can make the cost more manageable. Though it can cost a small convenience fee to pay in installments, “it doesn’t feel like as much of a financial impact when you’re only paying a fraction every month,” says Gomez.

A Coachella ticket, for example, can be purchased for $99 down, with the rest paid at around $44 a month for the next eight months.

Join the social media community

Going to a half-dozen festivals every year may seem unfeasible, but in this era of social media, that kind of devotion can pay off. Gomez and thousands of others have grown and monetized their online followings to fund their music festival habits, earning themselves free tickets and commissions in the process.

“Create valuable content and the partnerships will come,” says Adriana Ramos, an Austin, Texas-based life coach, digital marketing consultant and creator of festival blog Ramos has spent years sharing her festival experiences and advice, which has helped her build a strong platform with a loyal audience on her website, YouTube and Instagram.

Because of her influence, event organizers and affiliated brands have offered Ramos free tickets and the opportunity to make a commission from her followers’ ticket purchases in exchange for making promotional social media content. With some events and brands, you can apply directly to become an affiliate partner.

Individual content creators are a valuable source of marketing for large festival brands, so if you’re willing to invest the time, interacting with the festival community online can help you attend more events at a reduced cost.

Weigh your priorities

Even with credit card rewards, planning ahead and partnering with event brands, a music festival ticket can still be a serious investment.

“It’s OK to not go to a festival if it’s going to set you back financially — or if you can’t afford to enjoy it fully,” says Ramos. “There will always be another one.”

This article was written by NerdWallet and was originally published by The Associated Press.