Hotels and Travel

Travel to
the MTT
One of the more difficult problems in attending the MTT is finding affordable travel and accommodations. Minimizing these costs may be essential if you're a grad student, and it may make the difference in getting your travel req approved if you're in industry. Unfortunately, the MTT isn't much help here and, even less fortunately, they really can't be much help. So, you're on your own. But, maybe that isn't so bad...


Should I stay at an "official" symposium hotel?

Depends. There are a couple reasons for staying at one of the symposium hotels:

  • It's simple. You just apply when you register, list your hotel preferences, and hope you'll get what you want. 
  • You might be such a dedicated MTT geek that you're happy to spend extra money (lots of it) to benefit the MTT Society. 
  • If you don't, the Steering Committee will treat you like a pariah. 
  • You boss is paying for it. 

There are a couple reasons for making your own reservations, too:

  • It's a helluva lot cheaper. You can do way better, and in this economy, that's important. 
  • You might want to stay in a small, charming urban hotel or B&B, instead of another goddam Holiday Inn. 

Why do the Steering Committee people push so hard to get attendees to use the official hotels?

The Steering Committe gets a number of free rooms every year, which are used for VIP guests and IMS workers who need them. The number of free rooms is a fraction of the number booked by attendees. If the attendees don't use enough of the official rooms, the MTT may have to pay for rooms for some of those workers. Hotel rooms also might get more expensive in subsequent years. 

It's important to understand the level of financial angst that the organizers live with. The MTT Society survives on its income from the symposium, so if it doesn't do well, the Society may have to dig into its reserves. In fact, it invariably does much better than predicted, so perhaps this fear is not well warranted. But it's there. 

Recently, the Steering Committee has started treating people who make their own arrangements as second-class attendees, cutting them off from certain symposium resources such as transportation. Pretty sleazy, but there it is. 

Why are the "official" MTT hotel prices so consistently mediocre?

    The MTT society negotiates blocks of hotel rooms with various hotels near the symposium site a couple years in advance of the symposium. They are usually given a modest discount from the "rac rate," hotel-speak for the list price, at the time of the symposium. There is no way to tell, at negotiation time, what the business climate at symposium time will be; the hotel may be eager to unload rooms or may be packed. The result is a deal that is neither particularly good nor bad. However, you can be confident that there are enough rooms for everyone; just not a lot of cheap rooms for everyone. 

    The rac rate is usually a pretty high price, so even a discount may not be very attractive. Furthermore, often the MTT cannot reach an agreement with one or more good, nearby hotels, so many attractive hotels may not be on the MTT list. In Atlanta (mid 90s) and Anaheim (1999), for example, the Hilton, right next door to the convention center, was not an official hotel. (In 2010, it's the headquarters. Go figure.) Finally, to get enough rooms, the MTT negotiates only with large hotels; small hotels, often charming and nearby, aren't on the list. San Francisco, for example, is full of small, attractive hotels that are cheaper than the official ones and close to the convention center. 

    The worst option is to select the one hotel on the official list that is significantly cheaper than the rest. Invariably it is an overpriced, lousy hotel. You can do much better on your own.

So, how do I get a good, cheap room?
    Easy: make your own reservations. See a travel agent. Scour the internet. If you're really on a budget (grad students take note!) look for low-priced chain hotels like Motel 6; these never make the official list. Often you can get a better deal at the official hotels by avoiding the housing office and making your own reservations. 

    In all seriousness: call hotels in the area, ask for pricing, and then ask for any special deals they might have. If you don't get a good rate, politely say something like, "Gee, that's still pretty steep. Can't you do any better for me?" Hotel rooms are like airplane seats--to the hotel, they are a commodity that disappears every day. They make more money renting them cheaply than not at all, and the hotel people know it. 

Why can't I ever get into the headquarters hotel?
    The rooms in the headquarters hotel are unofficially reserved for the VIPs. Since the Adcom decides who the VIPs are, the Adcom members are, as you might expect, number one on the list. Other VIPs are the steering committee members and, some years, the award recipients. These folks receive their hotel-reservation forms ahead of everyone else, so they get first shot at whatever hotel they wish. 
    If you want to get into the headquarters hotel, there are only a couple of options: 
    1. Get elected to the Adcom.
    2. Get lucky.
    3. Work on the organizing committee. You just have to join; you don't really have to do anything useful. 

    Frankly, I'd just as soon stay in the Motel 6. 

Air Travel

Why are the prices for the "official" airline so consistently mediocre?
    If God in His wisdom can't understand airline pricing, how the hell do you expect a bunch of engineers to do it?
How can I get a cheap plane ticket to the MTT Symposium?
    Same way you'd get one anywhere. Shop around on-line well ahead of the date and be flexible. You can also use on-line reservation systems, which let you search schedules and make reservations on almost any airline. Finally, don't overlook consolidators--companies that buy blocks of tickets and resell them at low prices. The Travel section of your Sunday paper probably has dozens of ads from these guys, and many, such as Cheap Tickets, are on the internet. Consolidators give you the best deal when you travel between major cities; less popular destinations are usually not a particularly good deal. Tickets from consolidators are almost never refundable. 

    The IMS usually has an "official airline" with a modest discount. As with hotel rooms, that discount is not terribly attractive. 

How do I handle local transportation?
    To get from the airport to the hotel, get chummy with some other conventioneers on the airplane, preferably ones who have expense accounts and therefore a rental car. Don't worry; there are plenty. I've never been on a plane to the MTT symposium and failed to recognize a few other MTT guys. How do you recognize them? Well, if you can't recognize an engineer straight off, you haven't been in the business very long, dude! Click here to learn how to recognize an engineer in any environment!

    If this doesn't work, the IMS website often has information on ways to get from the airport to the hotel. Or, call your hotel and ask for their suggestions. They just might have a courtesy van. 


What's the best way to minimize meal costs at the MTT Symposium?
    First, don't go to the banquet. At fifty (or more) bucks a ticket, it costs more than ten trips to MacDonald's, and even at that price it's heavily subsidized. 

    Best thing to do: take advantage of the many free meals available at the symposium. (Click here for more info!) There are at least two receptions, hors d'oeuvres at the Interactive Forum, and often a free breakfast. If you are presenting a paper, there is a speakers' breakfast as well. There is a hospitality suite for guests of the attendees only; you can't eat there, but you can feed your spouse and kids at it. (The IMS now charges for admission to the "hospitality" suite. Another bad idea.)

    In 2010 the Steering Committee came up with a genuinely good idea: "badge bucks." A certain amount of money is programmed into an RFID chip in your badge, and it can be used at the conference food services. There is no longer a symposium breakfast, which was wasteful and expensive. 

    Finally, buddy up to some of the vendors. They often have hospitality suites and even lavish parties for their customers. Salesmen also have BIG expense accounts. Need I say more?