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Montanans seeing high hotel prices during basketball tournaments

Posted at 8:02 PM, Mar 10, 2023

BILLINGS — It’s basketball tournament time across Montana, but cheering on your favorite team isn’t always cheap.

Finding an affordable hotel room has become a real challenge in Billings. And it's forced many to look outside the immediate area.

"It wasn’t an option for us to stay there. It was $245 before taxes, and it just wasn’t worth it to me. They (kids) can’t even swim there, they’re really just there to sleep and get ready and check out real early in the morning," said Helena resident Camille Van Hee on Friday.

Van Hee drove to Billings from Helena last weekend for her daughter’s cheer tournament. She says it was difficult finding a cheap place to stay in Billings, so she went a few miles down the road.

"We ended up staying in Laurel. I got a room through Travelocity, and it was $140 for the night. It was cheap, I guess. I expect to spend about $160-$170 since prices have gone up now. So that was cheap for us. It wasn’t safe, and I didn’t know that, but there weren’t any other rooms available and by the time we got there that was the only option for us," Van Hee added.

And hotels admit that rooms can get expensive, especially during busy weekends.

"There’s always going to be a little be higher rate on those full weekends, but you try to be as fair as possible. You don’t want to end up gouging or price gouging anyone just for the last room," said Jase Muri, Billings Hotel Center and Convention Center general manager.

And he says booking early is always key.

"It’s always a point of contention for a lot of people, and there is a lot of people that ask us at nine at night what the price is. It may not be exactly the best deal that they’ve ever heard. That’s just kind of the way the world is, the further out that you can book a room the better rate that you can get," added Muri.

Compared to other cities in Montana, Billings is relatively cheap. Bozeman, Butte, and Great Falls are all playing host to state basketball tournaments this weekend, and several hotels are asking for more than $300 a night.

And Muri says that's not a model they want to emulate.

"We’re very rarely like a Bozeman where we’re a three, four or $500-night city. That’s not where we’re at or where we want to be," he said.

As for Van Hee, her daughter’s next tournament is next weekend in Missoula.

And she has no plans on staying, not wanting a repeat of what happened in Billings one week ago.

"The funds are not there for a hotel that we’re really just sleeping in and using the mirror to get ready in the morning," Van Hee said.