Could finding vacation accommodations at a university save you money?
by Alicia Klepeis
Get Away on the Cheap
When you think of university accommodations, what comes to mind? Beer pong? Icky carpets? Bunk beds? Reset your memory banks. Today's dormitories are often luxurious compared with our old-school visions. Many universities rent out rooms to guests during the summer months and other university break times.
Accommodations can range from single to double or family rooms, as well as apartments or other suites. Many have private bathrooms. They range from simple and slightly spartan to rooms with a view. Coronado House on Texas A&M's campus has a beautiful swimming pool, spa, and woodland walks right outside.
How much do these rooms cost? Single rooms can be as cheap as $30-40 per night, with basic doubles going for $50-75. The more amenities the room has, the higher the price can be. However, it is very unusual (in the US and Canada, at least) to have a room over $100. In the UK and Europe, rooms are more expensive (because of the currency conversion) but still are a sweet deal compared to almost any standard hotel room.
So, what will you find in your room? Unlike hostels, most university accommodations come with linens and towels. Many have in-room refrigerators and microwaves, as well as internet access. Some rooms (especially at the American universities) have cable TV, while others (particularly the European ones) do not. Several universities offer access to athletic facilities (usually for a small fee, though sometimes free of charge). For example, guests staying at Marquette University's Straz Tower in Milwaukee are able to use the lap pool, indoor track, racquetball courts, and even a sauna.
Some university accommodations offer guests the opportunity to use their dining halls to buy inexpensive meals. The University Center in Chicago rents year-round guest suites, semi-suites, and apartments. The semi-suites include a meal plan as part of the room price. The apartments have full kitchens so you can save money by not eating out all the time. Texas A&M International University offers its guests low-cost lunch and dinner options. Visitors staying at Keble College on Oxford University's campus can enjoy a full breakfast in a beautiful Gothic dining hall. And, beginning in June 2012, UCLA's Courtside Collection will offer a complimentary "all-you-can-eat" breakfast buffet to its guests.
How do you know which universities rent their rooms? In the case of American universities, few advertise that they have rooms available. If you know your destination is near a college, call its residential life department and inquire. (Be sure to ask whether there are restrictions on the minimum age of guests. Some universities only allow children over 8, for example.) Several universities in the Midwest offer rooms for rent, including the College of St. Scholastica, Marquette University, the University of Illinois-Chicago, and more.
Accommodations are available in Worcester, MA and Laredo, TX through the University Rooms website. According to Boris Sandford, the International Manager for University Rooms, "We are a UK company and have only very recently begun our expansion in the United States, but within a few years, we do hope to have a considerable presence across the country and attract many more universities and colleges to our network."
European university accommodations are plentiful and often charming. The University Rooms website features dozens of hosting institutions in the UK, from Bath to Belfast to Cardiff. There are many choices of rooms in London for a fraction of conventional hotels' rates. Imperial College alone offers over 1,000 rooms for rent, all for under £100, including breakfast (for a double room with private bathroom). This website also covers dorm rooms throughout Europe (Italy, France, Switzerland, etc.), as well as South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada. Most of these accommodations are centrally located or with easy access to public transit.
Before you book your university accommodations, you should be aware of a few facts. First, these rooms offer twin beds so you may prefer other accommodations if you're looking for a romantic getaway. Also, you aren't likely to find a concierge or bellhop. Finally, flexibility is essential. If you have dates that aren't rigid or are willing to consider different room configurations, you'll do better in your search for inexpensive accommodations. However, if you like spending your travel dollars on something besides your room and enjoy unique experiences and accommodations, staying in a dorm or campus apartment might be perfect for you. Happy travels!
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