The cheapest ways to see the solar eclipse

Brittany Jones-Cooper
Reporter

On August 21, a solar eclipse will be visible in most cities across the United States. In preparation, the travel industry is exploding with activity, offering up unique deals and excursions for spectators to get the best views.

Southwest airlines says that they will have 3,857 flights operating that day, but have pinpointed the five flights with the greatest likelihood of seeing the solar eclipse from the air. Passengers on those five flights will also receive commemorative viewing glasses and cosmic cocktails. A one-way ticket on these routes cost between $213 and $333.  

For those out of the loop, a solar eclipse is when the moon crosses in between the Earth and the Sun. This upcoming episode is special because it will be a total solar eclipse, where light from the sun will be completely blocked. The last time a total solar eclipse could be seen from the US was 1979.

What you see, however, depends on where you live.

Everyone in the US will be able to see at least a partial solar eclipse, but 14 states will get the full event. The path of totality will run through cities in Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, Montana, Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, and North and South Carolina.

How to find accommodations

As one would expect, tourism to these 14 states is getting a boost, and rates for accommodations reflect that.

Hilton says that they have 176 hotels in the path of the total eclipse. But at this point, travelers will find no vacancies in Nashville, TN; Columbia, SC; Salem, OR; and Casper, WY. The chain has several locations in Kansas City, an area expecting the total solar eclipse, but most are sold out. That said, Hotel Phillips, Curio Collection by Hilton in Kansas City still has rooms available for $309 a night.

On the East Coast, Columbia S.C. is expected to have the longest solar eclipse, and the city is hosting more than 100 eclipse-related events over the weekend. Perhaps that’s why hotels are almost completely sold out from August 20-August 22. A quick search on Hotels.com came up with zero hotel vacancies, as did a search on Priceline and Kayak.

Cities experiencing a total solar eclipse.

Alas, at this point your only option might be a homeshare. Still, it won’t come cheap.

This single bedroom in a home is going for an astounding $800 a night in downtown, Columbia. But not every find will break the bank. This 3-bedroom home is a steal at $450 a night, and this minimalistic airplane hangar turned hotel is renting rooms for $300 a night.

At the time of this article, there was just one room hotel room left in Madras, OR, a city expected to experience the total solar eclipse. This room is at the Hub Motel for a rate of $450 a night. Rooms at this same hotel usually go for $55 to $75 a night.

For a cheaper and more rustic experience, there are several tent camps and RV lots available in Madras for under $300 a night. The catch is that you have to bring your own tent or RV.

How to save on travel

Seeing this solar eclipse is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and shouldn’t be missed. At the same time, you don’t want to go into debt over it. Here are some cost-effective ways to experience the celestial event.

Roadtrip!

The travel industry to taking advantage of the eclipse hysteria, but truth be told, it will be over before you know it. Scientists predict that the longest duration of the solar eclipse will be near Carbondale, Illinois, where the sun will be completely covered for two minutes and 40 seconds. Do you really want to spend $300 on a plane ticket for an event that will last three minutes?

If you don’t mind driving, jump in the car and drive to the nearest zone of totality. Gas prices are impressively low (about $2.29 a gallon on average), so the cost of your round trip will likely be less than paying for a plane ticket and hotel room.

To get yourself in the spirit, listen to the Eclipse playlist on Spotify. Total Eclipse of the Heart by Bonnie Tyler, anyone?

Stay just outside the zone of totality

It’s convenient to stay at a hotel or rental property in the zone of totality, but that’s going to cost you more. Instead, consider staying in a less popular part of town. For instance, most hotels in Nashville are sold out, and those that remain will cost at least $425 a night. In comparison, Murfreesboro is located about an hour and half away from downtown Nashville, and it has a number of discount hotels available for $56 to $81 a night. Sure, you might have to drive a little for a premier viewing spot, but the savings will make it worth it.

Watch it online

Most Americans will get to see a partial solar eclipse from their hometowns, but if you’re dying to see the full shebang, watch this live video stream. You may miss the excitement of seeing it in person, but this is no doubt the cheapest and most comfortable way to experience the rare event.

Brittany is a reporter at Yahoo Finance. 

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