Unlike San Antonio, Austin doesn't have a large stock of downtown hotel rooms dependent on large conventions, so discounted rates for downtown rooms are harder to come by. In slack times, the properties at the margins of the city feel the pinch; but the central properties don't because normal business and leisure travel can fill most of their rooms.
When looking for discounts, keep in mind the calendars of the state legislature and the University of Texas. Lawmakers and lobbyists converge on the capital from January through May of odd-numbered years, so you can expect tighter bookings. The beginning of fall term, graduation week, and football weekends -- UT's football stadium now seats 100,000 -- will also fill lots of hotel rooms.
The busiest season, however, is the month of March, when the South by Southwest (SXSW) music festival fills entire hotels. It is designed to coincide with UT's spring break, usually the third week of the month. SXSW is the largest gathering of the year for the music industry. It attracts more than a hundred bands from all over the world trying to get record deals, thousands of music fans, and lots of producers and music company execs. And now there's a film and media festival the week before the music begins. To make matters worse, Austin often hosts regional playoffs for NCAA basketball, and the university likes to take advantage of spring break by hosting academic conferences. So, try to avoid coming in March of an odd-numbered year when UT's basketball team is in the regionals. Of course, there are a few other spots in the calendar when the city is busier than usual, such as in September for the Austin City Limits Music Festival. This festival has become immensely popular and attracts lots of out-of-towners.
If you're coming here to see what Austin's all about, consider staying somewhere in the central part of town. You'll enjoy your stay more because traffic in Austin can be bad, and making your way around an unfamiliar city can be trying. You don't have to stay downtown. Consider the hotels in South Austin in and around South Congress or close to Lady Bird Lake. This is a comfortable area to say in, with lively foot traffic, and most of the places of interest are very close. These areas are within walking distance of downtown. You don't need a car unless you're planning to visit sites outside central Austin.
Also consider the areas near the University of Texas, such as Hyde Park, West Campus, and even a little farther to the north. Here, too, it's easy to get around, and you get a good feel for Austin.
Most hotels catering to business travelers offer weekend discounts and, of course, corporate discounts. You'll find lots of Austin room deals on the Internet, but don't stop there. Be sure to phone and ask about packages -- which might include such extras as breakfast or champagne -- and reduced rates for seniors, families, active-duty military personnel . . . whatever you can think of. Call the toll-free number and the hotel itself, because sometimes the central reservations agent doesn't know about local deals. Sure, calling is not as impersonal as the Internet, but don't be afraid of being a pain if the deal is worth it.
Please note that rates listed below do not include the city's 15% hotel sales tax, and they are the prevailing rates during normal times of the year. During festival times other occasions that fill hotels, the rates will rise.
Wherever you bunk in Austin, it is safe to expect air-conditioning and Internet connections. Even B&B rooms offer high-speed wireless Internet connections these days, and many hotels also offer WebTV, enabling you to retrieve e-mail and cruise the Internet via the tube. Most hotels in Austin are smoke-free; when smoking rooms are available, I mention them in the review.
For Budget Hounds -- If you're on a tight budget and looking for bargain discounts, you should know that there are two major clusters of budget hotels in Austin. One surrounds the intersection of I-35 and Ben White Blvd. (Hwy. 71), and the other is north of there, where I-35 intersects Hwy. 290 East. The latter cluster is a better location for three reasons: one, it's closer to downtown; two, it has better dining options; and three, you're not limited to using I-35 -- there are alternative routes for getting around. This cluster includes Studio 6, at 6603 I-35 (tel. 512/458-5453; www.staystudio6.com), and Hawthorn Suites at 935 La Posada Dr. (tel. 512/459-3335; www.hawthorn.com).
It Pays To Stay -- If you're planning to settle in for a spell, two downtown accommodations at prime locations will save you major bucks. Rooms at Extended Stay America Downtown, 600 Guadalupe (at Sixth St.), Austin, TX 78701 (tel. 800/EXT-STAY [398-7829] or 512/457-9994; www.extstay.com), within easy walking distance of both the Warehouse District and the Lamar and Sixth shops; and at Homestead Studio Suites Austin-Downtown, 507 S. First St. (at Barton Springs), Austin, TX 78704 (tel. 888/782-9473 or 512/476-1818; www.homesteadhotels.com), near the Barton Springs restaurant row and the hike-and-bike trail, will run you from $400 to $500 per week. Full kitchens and coin-op laundries at both bring your costs down even more.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.