(A continuing series of hints, tips, and observations based
on stuff that worked for me. Your mileage may vary.)
Air Fare: Unless you live in California (and within reasonable driving distance to the Con), chances are you'll be flying into San Diego. Unlike the superheroes we obsess over, cosmic surfboards, rocket-packs or cloaks of levitation aren't an option for us....so we'll just have to settle for a standard commercial airplane flight.
The fact that you're reading a blog suggests that you're web-savvy enough to find a good airfare search site, so try a bunch of them to see what kind of prices you can get. I prefer Hotwire, but I've also had good experiences with Orbitz and Travelocity. The great thing about all three (and many others) is that you can search for, compare, and book your flight, hotel, and rental car at the same time.
Generally, the farther out you book your flight and hotel, the more money you're going to save....which leads me my personal Comic Con motto:
Yeah, not the most elegant of sayings, but it gets right to the point. Obviously, you'll want to pay for a reasonably convenient flight (no more than one plane transfer), a fairly decent (and safe) hotel room, and a nice sit-down meal or two...but generally, I see the trip as a money-managing challenge to keep the "overhead" down as much as possible, so more money can be spent on The Cool Stuff (i.e. comics and the galaxy of comic-related goodies).
Once you've locked into your flight, here's a few things to keep in mind:
1. It's a good idea to check your online flight itinerary from time to time since airlines sometimes adjust the flight schedules anywhere from a few minutes to an hour (or more).
2. Consider using either an extra-large suitcase or even checking in an extra suitcase to use for transporting your stuff from the convention. It's definitely an added hassle to check in and babysit another suitcase, but it may be worth all the trouble depending on the amount of stuff you're bringing either to or from the Con. I used an extra-large suitcase my first trip down (since I had a bunch of stuff for artists to sign), but on my second trip I traveled extremely light. In fact, I only took one small, efficiently-packed suitcase as my carry-on item, along with a shoulder bag, without having to check-in a larger suitcase...which made for some very easy-going air travel. Bottom line: The amount of luggage really depends upon what your goals at the convention are. Obviously, if you're bringing along a foam rubber Galactus costume and five long boxes of stuff for pros to sign, you'll have to devise another plan.
3. Bring some snacks with you to nibble on as you go through the airport-to-airplane-to-airport experience. Airlines rarely serve anything on their flights these days, and airport food is just laughably expensive. The airport is also a good place to give the Con programming schedule another look-through (more on the programming in another installment).
4. As for your ride from the San Diego airport to your hotel, there's a few things you can do. Big spenders will probably just rent a car upon landing in San Diego, but that's a LOT less pennies for cool stuff. For my fellow cheapskates, check with your hotel to see if they operate an airport shuttle service. If not, you can arrange for a private (third party) shuttle service to pick you up and (most likely) bring you back to the airport at the end of your stay (you can save money with a round-trip package, as opposed to just hiring them for one-way service). Taxis are also an option, but very expensive. Finally, if you're very lucky (like me), you can arrange for a friend or family member who lives in San Diego to pick you up and drive you to your hotel.
Speaking of your hotel, let's tackle this extremely important piece of the San Diego Con pie.
Hotel Room: The Con has contracted hundreds and hundreds of rooms in large, classy, and conveniently close hotels, but the prices per night are mindblowingly expensive. Nobody is going to stay in them for less than $145 a night (one hotel charges $285 per night for its single rate). Unless you're a professional who's in town to do business, network or otherwise hobnob with your fellow Wizards (or a reporter covering them) and can write-off the expense, there's really no reason to pay that kind of money for a room you'll be spending hardly any time in at all. There are plenty of convenient, much more reasonably priced rooms to be had if you act early. If you're reading this now and still haven't booked a room, it looks pretty bleak you'll be getting any room at any price.
As I said before, the online travel sites are very convenient and
helpful when it comes to searching for a place to stay for the Con.
However, I'll say it again: You MUST reserve your room as soon as
possible, preferrably as many as four or five months before the Con....especially if (you guessed it) you want to save money.
There are some incredible online deals to be had if you spend
the time carefully looking through a service's available rooms around
the San Diego area. For example, in 2005, I was able to get a nice, clean,
middle-of-the-road room for an amazing $40 a night (at the Good Nite Inn near Sea World). Even the people behind the desk at the hotel couldn't believe that price.
This brings up another important point: Booking directly with a hotel will usually be much more expensive that booking through an online travel service. Their methods of locating and brokering huge blocks of rooms allow them to charge a fraction of what the actual hotel would charge (hence the surprised reaction of the hotel staff), so be sure too book through the online guys, not the hotel itself. Using the online travel services, as well as other online tools, like the hotel's own website (to see photos of the building and your room) and Mapquest, you can arrange for a convenient and cost-efficient place to lay your head at night. Of course, it's incredibly wise to contact the hotel following your online booking to make sure that they not only have the reservation. but to make sure you've either put a deposit on, or paid for your stay entirely up front. Why? Well, let me tell you why.
For my first Comic Con in 2003, I had made an online reservation
five or six months ahead of time through Expedia, but was not required
to put any money down for the room (I was assured the reservation was
enough). I periodically called the hotel to make sure the reservation
was still in place (which it was), right up until the day before my
flight ("Yup, you're right here in the computer"). The next day, I
flew out to San Diego, my friend picked me up, drove me to my hotel,
and I went to the desk to check in.
My reservation was nowhere to be found, and the staff (including the manager) collectively shrugged their shoulders and casually told me there was nothing they could do.
So, there I was. In San Diego, with no hotel room, with no vacant hotel rooms available in the entire city and surrounding area (according to the zombie-like hotel staff). Happily, my pal put me up at his house for the duration of the Con, but you can imagine how horrible it felt to have no room and having to impose on a friend. What I found out later was that since I hadn't put any money down on the room, the hotel wasn't legally obligated (or AS legally obligated) to hold the room for me. My guess as to what happened? They bounced me for a desperate, last-minute visitor who was willing to pay a king's ransom to stay in their crummy room, instead of settling for Mr. Cheap Internet Deal (me). Whatever the case, it was a lousy way to kick off my first Con, and I was justifiably paranoid when I lined up a hotel room for my 2005 visit (probably driving the hotel staff crazy in the process).
I'm not implying this is a common experience (it probably isn't), but just urging you to stay vigilant on your hotel room booking. With literally the entire city's hotel rooms booked up, a little proactive effort on your part will ensure there's no monkey business with your reservation.
Chances are, you'll be just fine and your room will be ready and waiting for you. Once you settle in, it's on to your next task, which just so happens to be the subject of Surviving San Diego part III: Gearing Up!