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Of Popes and Hotel Prices 

As the leader of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis is decreed with providing spiritual guidance to over 1.2 billion followers worldwide. But no matter your religious beliefs, His Holiness can teach us all something about travel costs.

A Brief History of Papal Travel

Given the global reach of the Catholic Church, it’s somewhat surprising that most popes have traveled far less than the average CEO. In fact, for the first 500 years of the Papacy’s existence, not a single pope went on a business trip – though more than a few had to endure exile. Pope John I became the first pope to voluntarily travel from Rome when he sailed to Constantinople in 532. (All this according to the Wikipedia article on Papal Travel, the existence of which is proof that there’s a Wikipedia article for everything.)

For the next millennium and a half or so, supreme pontiffs didn’t stray far from home. They’d sometimes attend major industry conferences / doctrinal synods, as Pope Urban II did in 1095 when he crossed the Alps for the Council of Claremont. And of course, it was occasionally necessary to visit important clients, like when Pope Pius VII went to Paris to coronate Napoleon as Emperor of France. Mostly though, popes conducted business from their seat of power in the Vatican. (Sometimes literally: the dogma of ex cathedra, or “from the chair,” holds that the pope is infallible on matters of faith when ruling from the chair of St. Peter.) When Pope Paul VI visited the Holy Land in 1964, it not only marked the first papal use of an airplane, but also the first time a pope had left Italy since 1809.

Since then, the Holy Fathers have been busy racking up some serious air miles. Pope John Paul II made the equivalent of 31 trips around the world and was seen – in person – by more people than anyone else in human history.

Coming to America

The current pope, Francis I, makes his inaugural visit to the United States later this month. After addressing a joint session of Congress in Washington D.C. and the United Nations General Assembly in New York, Pope Francis will spend a weekend in Philadelphia. Officials are expecting over 1.5 million visitors for what Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter said will be “the largest event in the city’s history.”

With so many visitors flocking to the city, it might take a miracle to find affordable accommodations – though for that miracle to be officially recognized by the Catholic Church it would need to meet the criteria enumerated in this article from Wikipedia, a site which is itself a miracle of sorts.

Bloomberg News reports that short-term rentals in the city are going for “ungodly rates” during the pope’s visit. The average weekly cost of a property on HomeAway is $1,690 per week, more than eight times the usual rate, according to Jon Gray, the vacation rental site’s Chief Revenue Officer. Searching the term “pope” on Craigslist turns up thousands of listings, from an apartment with a weekly rate of $30,000, to a 1993 Honda Accord that’s yours to sleep in for the low, low price of $30 a night.

Thank God there’s a website where you can compare all the various options for places to stay: Popedelphia is a central directory of listings from Airbnb, Craigslist, and other home-sharing sites.

Divine Authority, Dynamic Budgets

Another sign of the pope-driven tourism spike coming to Philadelphia is provided by Rocketrip’s budget algorithm. Since our Budgets to Beat are based on real-time prices and availability, they adjust dynamically to reflect periods of high demand.

With more than three weeks to go before the pope’s visit, hotel rates in Philadelphia are already way above normal. Based on a 3-star hotel policy, our algorithm estimates that available rooms will run $525 a night! The moral of this story (or homily, if you will) is that trip costs can be highly variable based on destination and date. For a company trying to manage its travel expenses, static spending limits will inevitably miss the mark. Even basing spending caps on average nightly rates for a city will leave travelers without booking options in many cases, say, when the pope (or maybe just a trade show) comes to town.

To learn more about managing business travel costs, check out how Rocketrip works.

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