How to save money at the AAUP annual conference (June 13-17 in DC). Whether it's your own cash or someone else's money, it's good to save dough. The basic rules to cheapness are this: don't stay at the conference hotel, and don't eat the conference meals. The hotel meal prices at the AAUP conference aren't quite as ridiculous as they used to be, but $53 for lunch and $78 for a banquet is absurd. For food, some nearby restaurants include Axian Food Factory, Penn Grill, St. Arnold's pub, Tabard Inn, Julia's Empanadas, Nando's Peri Peri, and many more. Check yelp.com for ideas, and look for lunch specials and happy hour deals. Make sure to register for the conference by May 15 to save $50 off the ridiculously high conference registration fee.
Flights: flights aren't very cheap to DC right now. Go to Farecast at http://www.bing.com/travel/. Use flexible search to find the cheapest dates to travel, and get guesses on whether fares are likely to go up or down. Take a quick look at fares every day or sign up for an alert, since sometimes the fares go down just for one day. Check nearby airports: flights from Milwaukee to DC are always cheaper than from Chicago, for example, and parking is better and cheaper at MKE. Flying to Baltimore sometimes can save money, but you'll need to take the $7 MARC train (only on weekdays) to get to DC.
The AAUP hotel is the Mayflower for $234 a night (with taxes, $268). For that hotel, it's not a terrible rate, but there are a lot of cheaper alternatives. Do a search by distance from 1127 Connecticut Avenue NW to find nearby hotels that are cheaper on hotels.com, kayak.com, bookingbuddy.com, or other sites. The District Hotel 0.5 miles away is $120 a night with taxes, but it gets mediocre reviews. Embassy Row Hotel 0.6 miles away is $166 a night with taxes, and gets decent reviews.
One key fact about DC is that hotels are much cheaper on Friday and Saturday, which is good if you're arriving late or are willing to change hotels midtrip (check rates for different dates). The Quincy Inn is rated about the same as the Mayflower, it's 0.2 miles away, and it's only $169 a night with taxes on Friday and Saturday night, but $240 a night on Thursday and even higher on Wednesday and Sunday night.
For the cheapest option I could find beyond walking distance, the Inn of Rosslyn is only $84 a night (not including taxes), and a short Metro or DC Circulator bus ride (and a little walking) to the conference hotel. It gets decent reviews for its price. The Mayflower is a block from the Farragut North stop on the Red line, and two blocks from the Farragut West on the Blue/Orange lines.
Hotwire and Priceline offer some cheap alternatives if you're willing to prepay and not know your hotel in advance. On a weekend, you can often get a hotel for near $100. Look at hoteldealsrevealed.com to guess what hotel it is by matching the stars/amenities in the location. Right now, Hotwire has a 3 ½ star hotel Tues-Thurs for $193 a night (including taxes and fees). Fri/Sat there's a 3 star for $113 (taxes included) in Georgetown that's probably the Holiday Inn, a 4-star for $120 a night that's probably the Omni Shoreham in Woodley Park, and a 4.5 star hotel for $167 a night (taxes included) that's highly likely to be the very nice Madison Hotel four blocks away.
A cheap alternative to hotels is Airbnb.com. It's basically people renting out their private homes and apartments for visitors. Sometimes it's just a room (or even a living room couch) and sometimes it's an entire apartment (you can search by room type). Search Airbnb.com for the cheapest places that have a lot of good reviews near where you're going. (Don't forget to consider places further out, but near Metro or public transit, too.) Except for Hotwire, Priceline, or Airbnb, never prepay for a hotel, and keep checking for good last minute deals to let you cancel your reservation.
Public Transit in DC:
In addition to the Metro, check out the DC Circulator (dccirculator.com). Not as well known as the Metrorail (which is great, but a little pricey on long trips, and crowded during rush hour) but nicer than the Metrobus, the Circulator is a $1 bus that runs along routes in Georgetown, Adams Morgan, and downtown DC. The blue route goes to Georgetown and Rosslyn metro, and it stops a few blocks NW of the Mayflower hotel. The yellow route goes to north Georgetown and Union Station, and it runs a few blocks south of the Mayflower. If you're staying far from the conference, buy a Charm Card online. That's Baltimore's transit card. It works interchangeably with the DC SmarTrip fare card for public transit, but it's cheaper. The Charm Card is $2.50 (plus $7.50 in value) ordered online (http://www.wmata.com/fares/purchase/store/) The DC SmarTrip card is $5, by contrast. The Charm Card saves you 25 cents on every Metrorail trip, plus discounts on bus transfers. If you're doing one short trip to DC, it isn't worth it, but it's good over time and saves the hassle of buying paper cards.