Steelers Nation isn't about to let a recession ruin a chance at witnessing a possible record sixth Super Bowl victory.
By mid-day yesterday, less than 24 hours after the Steelers vanquished the Ravens in the AFC championship game, fans had snatched up all 50 three-day Super Bowl packages, at $4,895 a person, being offered by AAA East Central.
The trips sold out about as rapidly as they did in 2006, the last time the Steelers made the Super Bowl. But that time it involved a less expensive motor coach trip to Detroit, not a plane ride to Tampa, Fla.
"This probably parallels the type of response we had in previous years, which is a pleasant surprise given the economic circumstances," said Jim Lehman, AAA East Central senior vice president. "We're very excited to see the enthusiasm and interest in going to the game."
In response to the demand, AAA quickly added a second package deal at a different hotel that will cost $200 more. The three-day trip from Jan. 30 to Feb. 2 includes air fare, hotel accommodations, tickets to the game and a pre-game party. Information is available by calling 800-354-8761.
AAA isn't the only agency seeing super interest for travel to Tampa.
The Travel Authority, an Indiana-based agency teaming with the Steelers to offer trips to the Super Bowl, had 75 orders by noon ye sterday for its highest-priced three-day package deal, starting at $1,725 per person, based on double occupancy. The package includes hotel accommodations, air fare, a welcome reception and tailgate party, but no game tickets.
"It's been kind of a steady pace this morning," said Kenny Schonburg, vice president of the Travel Authority's sports division.
Mr. Schonburg said demand was a little slow but he expects that to pick up as fans secure tickets.
"It's down a bit but there's still definitely a lot of interest from Steelers fans," he said.
The three-day deals cost slightly less for those with three or four people in a room.
The travel agency also is offering a game-day round-trip charter that will get you in Tampa for the game on Sunday and home for work on Monday for $995 a person. Like the others, it doesn't include tickets to the game. Information is available at www.TheTravelAuthority.com.
Getting to the Super Bowl by plane will get a bit easier thanks to additional flights by some airlines.
JetBlue Airways currently does not have any nonstop service to Florida from Pittsburgh International Airport. But that will change for Jan. 29 and 30, when the low-cost carrier will offer one nonstop "special flight" to Tampa each day departing at 3:20 p.m. It will offer two return trips to Pittsburgh Feb. 2, one departing at 12:55a.m. and one at 10:55 a.m.
The one-way fare to Tampa on Jan. 29 was available yesterday from $294. It had jumped to $399 for Jan. 30.
"We sometimes schedule special flights surrounding big events to meet the extra demand for travel," spokesman Bryan Baldwin said. "These are just temporary flights for the Super Bowl."
Myrtle Beach Direct also will offer a nonstop flight to nearby St. Petersburg from Pittsburgh Jan. 29 and returning Feb. 2. The one-way fare is $239.50. USA 3000 will fly nonstop to Tampa the day of the game with a return flight Monday. The cost is $289 one way.
Two airlines, Southwest and AirTran, presently offer nonstop service to Tampa. Southwest has two flights daily Monday through Friday and one each Saturday and Sunday.
AirTran runs a daily flight on Monday and also Thursday through Sunday.
Neither AirTran nor Southwest has plans to add service yet, but their flights are filling up quickly.
Nearly all the seats on Southwest's nonstop flights to Tampa Jan. 29 and Jan. 30 had sold out by early yesterday evening.
The two nonstop return flights Feb. 2 were sold out. AirTran's nonstop flights Jan. 29 and Jan. 30 to Tampa and the return flight Feb. 2 were sold out.
Tad Hutcheson, AirTran vice president of marketing and sales, noted another option for Steelers fans would be to book flights to Orlando and then drive about an hour to Tampa. AirTran offers two daily nonstops and Southwest three into Orlando.
For one airline, the timing of the Steelers' latest Super Bowl trip couldn't be worse. US Airways, Pittsburgh's still-dominant carrier despite its numerous cutbacks here, eliminated all nonstop service to Florida earlier this month.
And for those wanting to get a jump on lodging for the big game, a South Tampa Mediterranean estate just might be your ticket.
The fully-furnished six-bedroom, seven bath waterfront mansion 10 minutes from the stadium is available for $40,000 for Super Bowl week. The agent, Courtney Mann, said he's willing to negotiate a lower price for fewer days.
"I'm sure there are people in Pittsburgh with the means to rent something like this," he said.
Mark Belko can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-1262.