I got a free, last-minute ticket to Coachella, and it still cost $2,000 to go. Here's exactly what I spent for a weekend at the notoriously expensive festival.

  • The Coachella Music & Arts Festival takes place over two weekends in April at the Empire Polo Club in Indio, California.
  • Coachella tickets cost $US429 for general admission, but how much Coachella costs depends on what you want.
  • I decided to go to Coachella for the first time this year.
  • When I was given press passes to the festival, I thought it wouldn’t cost that much – but costs for airfare, a rental car, transportation, lodging, and food and drinks still add up to over $US2,000.
  • Visit BusinessInsider.com for more stories.

I’ll be honest: I never really thought I’d go to the Coachella Music & Arts Festival. Living in New York, I never thought it made much sense to ship out to Indio, California, for one of Coachella’s two weekends of music and fun, the first of which starts Friday.

This year, New York’s homegrown festival, Governors Ball, had a disappointing lineup, and Coachella’s East Coast edition, Panorama Music Festival, was not happening.

So when Business Insider asked me to cover the festival, I checked out the lineup. This year’s edition features Childish Gambino, Anderson Paak, Janelle Monae, and Tame Impala, some of my favourite artists.

Read more:
15 unbelievable facts that show just how much people are willing to spend on Coachella, from $US430 tickets to $US9,500 campsites

After I scored some last-minute press passes, I was all in. Then I started calculating the budget.

Coachella is notorious for costing festivalgoers an arm and a leg. Tickets cost $US429 for general admission for the weekend, and that’s just the beginning. Because Coachella is at the Empire Polo Club, two hours outside Los Angeles, you have to factor in transportation, parking, lodging, and more. Money’s Megan Leonhardt estimated the typical cost to be $US2,347 in 2018.

I figured that was all hype. I’m a very frugal traveller and pride myself on saving as much as I can, but my budget for Coachella is already over $US2,000, and I didn’t even pay for a ticket.

Here’s how that breaks down.

Airfare: $US339

David McNew / Getty Images

After scouring Kayak, Priceline, and every other travel aggregator for a week, I found an Alaska Airlines airfare sale that netted me a nonstop round-trip flight from New York to Los Angeles for $US339.

The only catch: I would have to fly in on the Wednesday before the festival and out later, meaning I’d have to figure out extended lodging. Tickets flying in and out closer to the festival were double the cost.

Rental car: $US464

Getty Images/John Moore

With a couple of days in Los Angeles before and after the festival, I decided to book a rental car rather than pay $US150 for the Coachella shuttle between Los Angeles International Airport and Indio.

I settled on a reputable budget option from Avis: a Ford Fiesta. I paid only for liability insurance, as my Chase Sapphire Reserve has rental-car insurance. It still came out to $US464. Yeesh.

Lodging: $US1,139

Lodging is the most expensive part of Coachella. As I was coming from New York, I didn’t want to deal with buying or bringing camping gear, so car camping was not an option – and because I was booking at the last minute, the pickings on Airbnb were expensive and very slim. I decided to look at hotels, but even budget ones like Holiday Inn Express or Motel 6 were charging $US350 or more a night.

After searching Hotel Tonight and other last-minute-deals sites for a week, I found a room at a boutique hotel called the Hideaway Hotel in Palm Springs for $US379 a night. I booked it for three nights. The hotel costs closer to $US200 a night if you book a stay outside of Coachella weekend.

A friend in Burbank agreed to let me crash in her home office for the nights before and after Coachella, saving me more than a few bucks there.

Shuttle pass: $US80

Andrew F. Kazmierski/Getty Images

As I was staying in Palm Springs, a 30-minute drive from the festival grounds, I needed a way to get back and forth from the concert each day.

Thankfully, I’m not the only one. As lodging in Indio is limited, lots of attendees stay in nearby towns like Palm Desert and Palm Springs, where there tend to be more – and cheaper – lodging options.

Coachella offers a shuttle that for $US80 takes festivalgoers back and forth between hotels in those areas and the concert.

Gas: $US30 to $US40

The Ford Fiesta I rented gets pretty good gas mileage, at 27 city/37 highway. As Palm Springs is about 120 miles from Burbank, where I was staying before and after the festival, I figure that gas, at $US3.85 a gallon, should cost about $US30 to $US40. Not too bad.

Food: $US120

From everything I’ve read, it seems that food prices at Coachella mirror those in Los Angeles and New York. As such, I bought groceries for breakfast and am planning to spend about $US30 each day on lunch and dinner.

I try not to drink during festivals, as alcohol gives me headaches and makes me lethargic. I’m probably in the minority here, so if you do plan on drinking, you’ll have to factor those costs in; beers and mixed drinks tend to cost $US10 to $US15.

Total: $US2,182

In part, the high cost of the weekend for me is from booking everything at the last minute. If I had known a year ago that I would be going, I probably could have found a better deal on lodging or had enough time to plan to camp.

That said, most of my other costs – from airfare to a rental car to the shuttle – are unavoidable if you’re visiting from out of state. Be prepared to empty your wallet.

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