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Plotting a course for Miami

Published: Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2012 5:30 a.m. CDT

DeKALB – In less than 24 hours, Anbritt Stengele saw the price of a late December, round-trip flight jump from $500 to more than $700, even with her company’s discount.

Stengele, owner of the Chicago-based travel agency Sports Traveler, said the drastic increase in price is an unusual occurrence, but Orange Bowl fever is spreading across the region. Stengele, who books travel packages for the marquee college bowl games, said the Orange Bowl has historically brought the least amount of interest, but Northern Illinois University fans have made it the second hottest ticket behind the national championship game.

“This is an exciting opportunity and the most interest we’ve had for an Orange Bowl in many years,” she said. “I really encourage people to go. There is warm weather [and] great tailgate parties, and it’s just a really great area for fans.”

Time is running out for Huskie fans looking to book flights because many are full and available seats are selling at premium prices. As of Tuesday afternoon, an Orbitz search produced the cheapest options for a Dec. 31 through Jan. 2 round-trip ticket at $508 out of O’Hare and $563 out of Midway.

Kim Launer, a travel agent with the DeKalb branch of Royal Travel and Tours, said one way to reduce prices is by departing earlier than Dec. 31 and returning after Jan. 2 to avoid the holiday rush. But specialty packages that some travel agencies and organizations offer for bowl games have filled up already or have a Friday deadline.

The veteran travel agent said it is the most frenzy she has seen for an NIU bowl game or sporting event.

“There is a lot more interest than I have ever seen before, and I’ve been doing this 29 years,” she said. “It can still be booked, but it’s very limited.”

One fan who hopes to score a plane ticket is NIU law student Brandon Ayers. He said he would try to keep costs down, but the extra money he might spend on airfare could be saved by staying with a friend who lives in Miami.

“I haven’t figured out how I’m getting there, but I hope to find the cheapest flight,” Ayers said. “I’ll find my way down.”

For those who want a cheaper alternative, a roughly 1,450-mile drive from DeKalb to Miami would cost about $190 for a vehicle that averages 27 mpg, according to Mapquest’s fuel calculator. The round-trip fuel cost would be roughly $380. A group with multiple drivers could make the estimated 22-hour round trip in one day.

NIU softball players Emily Norton and Madison Murphy said most of their team plan on making the trek to Miami. They are traveling by car with two of their teammates. They estimated each person will spend a little more than $250 after splitting fuel, food and lodging costs.

“Some (teammates) are flying in from California and driving down with the team,” Murphy said. “I think there is going to be a lot of people going.”

The demand has been strong from alumni, requiring the NIU Alumni Association to book two premium charter flights associated with packages priced from $1,829 to $2,699 a person. The association also has nonflight packages starting at $769 a person.

Joseph Matty, executive director of the association, said it is the most demand he has seen for any bowl game.

“We’re thrilled with the number of people wanting to buy tickets and support the team,” he said. “It’s great to see people in the Chicago area rallying behind their college football team.”

Estimated costs

Flying (rates for Dec. 31 to Jan. 2, based on Orbitz estimates) • O’Hare: $508 • Midway: $563

Driving (based on 27 mpg) • 2,900 miles round trip costing roughly $380 in fuel. • Estimated to take just more than 22 hours each way.

Bus (Greyhound rates for Dec. 30 to Jan. 2) • $345 a person

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