Of course, this is the point in the article when some people immediately go to the comments here or on Twitter/Facebook to dryly comment on how they got their hotel room months ago. Sure, they may be paying $500+ a night for a downtown lean-to with barely 4 walls and a roof, but they’ve got a room. Others neglect to mention that their hotel room is on the border of Mexico or nearly in Orange county, but that’s just details. Or maybe they got one through the company they work for and it’s right across the street and completely comped. And it’s a yacht owned by a C list Hollywood producer? Super. Those people aren’t the majority of Comic-Con attendees out there. Not everyone can afford $500-$600 a night at the Cutthroat Inn. And many of us who want to be part of the action after hours can’t (and shouldn’t) be staying at a fleabag motel that we’d have to drunkenly drive to each night after one or more of the many, many parties throughout the week. It’s just a bad idea all around, even if just slightly buzzed.
What we’re fighting for on Tuesday, April 8th at 9am PT is Official Comic-Con partnered hotels. Dozens of hotels with capped rates will become available tomorrow and be snatched up in a fraction of a second by more than 100,000 people all at once. Technically. This process is arcane and complex, but for first timers and veterans alike, I can’t stress enough how much you should read, re-read, and follow very closely the instructions they provide on the official site. And then, in preparation for tomorrow’s invasion, follow these steps:
- GET THE LIST – When you go to that official Hotel page, click the link for the Comic-Con 2014 Hotel Reservations (you’ll need Adobe Acrobat reader to view it). Then print it out. I know it seems like a waste of paper and ink, but this is what I do to whittle down the top contenders when I’m choosing a hotel.
- KNOW WHAT YOU WANT – Know how much you want (or can afford to) spend. Then take out a thick black marker and swipe through every single room out of your range. Of course, if you’re splitting the room with people, make sure you take that into account. It’s likely that, on average, you’ll be spending upwards of $1000 or more for a downtown hotel room. The price included on the list doesn’t include taxes, fees, or parking. The overnight downtown hotel parking cost can be as much as $50 a night, so be sure to include that in any math you’re doing (unless you find another better cheaper option).
- GET A HEAD COUNT – Know ahead of time how many people you expect to be in your hotel/motel. This figures into the price of the room. It’s good to know their full names, their ages, and their Member IDs just in case. It may not be needed for the first phase, but you will need most of that information at some point. Have it ready.
- WEIGH YOUR OPTIONS – As I’ve said above, if you’re into making the most of your Comic-Con adventure by partaking in various late night activities in the astounding San Diego night life, the exclusive parties, or the many hidden corners where creators meet for drinks and networking, consider the cost of parking and fuel compared to how far you have to drive each morning/night. And also take into consideration how early you’d leave in the morning to get in line and how late you’d leave each night. It’s possible that early morning line up hour might be within minutes of the hour you leave that party. Is a 30 minute 3am round trip worth it for a shower and a ten minute nap? Probably not. That’s why downtown is so highly sought after. If spending $20 a day on parking and another $15 on gas to drive to and from your hotel on the outer reaches of San Diego isn’t much less than the $50 additional dollars you’d pay to stay downtown, it might be worth fighting for something in between. Of course, if your expectations are low and you don’t think you have a shot at getting a room downtown, be realistic and shoot for an outer rim hotel, or better yet, one on the shuttle line that runs 24 hrs a day throughout the event from Wednesday at 3pm to Sunday at 7pm (times vary).
- WHAT ARE THE ODDS? – Mostly everyone, unless they’re rich or a very solitary person, is shooting for a room that will allow as many bodies as possible. 2 beds for 4 people is the official maximum. Consider a majority of those hotel rooms already gone downtown. And, yes, exhibitors have already nailed down their hotel rooms for this year, unless CCI has somehow changed that policy. They got them weeks or months ago. Studios with big stars that stick around for more than a day also already have their rooms (Stan Lee, Chris Hardwick, etc). But know that you’re not alone when it comes to fighting for a room on Tuesday. You’re not just fighting regular attendees made up of friends and families. You’re also fighting off companies scrambling to snag rooms for each of their employees, interns, booth babes, and random hangers-on. Many attempt to buy rooms by the block, but others are just grabbing a room one by one. It will be a bloodbath either way. The company I worked for last year ended up with a bunch of rooms outside of San Diego, but I was across the street from the convention center. Why? Because I booked my own room instead of going through corporate channels. Plus, I’m much faster than the average corporate admin assistant.
- TIMING IS KEY – The main reason for all of this advice is so that you can make sure your process is as fast and as smooth as possible once the floodgates open. Unless they change up their process the same way they did with membership registration, it will usually come down to timing and availability of the rooms you request at the time you request them. I have my 6 hotels listed exactly in the order I want them already taped to my monitor. I also have the text of that list ready in a document WORDED EXACTLY AS IT IS ON THE OFFICIAL LIST so that there is no mistake which hotel I’m picking from the dropdown list. There are a lot of Marriotts and Hiltons in that town. Make sure you pick the right one.
- STREAMLINED SYSTEM – You won’t need your credit card. At least not right away. In order to make the process smoother and not crash the servers as in previous years, Travel Planners does not require a credit card when you originally log in to pick your hotels. The reason everything crashed years ago was because 100,000+ people tried to create the necessary, encrypted, secure connections to complete a transaction that protected their credit card account details – ALL AT THE SAME TIME. The past few years have changed that, letting people use their Member ID (you’re definitely going to need that) to login, pick their hotels, name who’s staying in them, and submit their request in a matter of seconds, without sending any specially encrypted private information. Yes, it’s entirely possible to perform the entire submission request process in less than 20-30 seconds from the moment you get in. And it’s the scariest 20-30 seconds of your life. If you’re still inputting your information 5 or even 2 minutes later, your shot at getting any of your top 6 picks is tenuous at best. Once you get the confirmation email later, that’s when they’ll let you know where to place your deposit (2 nights rate and tax up front).
- THE WAITING GAME – Of course, considering that this is a lottery of sorts, you won’t know for sure if you’ll be getting any of the hotels you listed for quite some time. As Tom Petty said, “waiting is the hardest part”. For hours and possibly days after the hotel registration period is completed, you’ll see people posting online that they did or didn’t get the rooms they wanted. And they’ll tell horror stories about how they booked it within the first 10 seconds after 9am and still didn’t get what they wanted, while friends who got in 20 minutes later have the room they always dreamed about right across the street. Don’t fret (I need to take my own advice). Just step away from all things Comic-Con for the rest of the day, maybe two. Don’t keep refreshing your email. When the email eventually comes, that’s when you’ll have plenty of opportunity to cheer or weep at the results.
- PREPARE FOR THE WORST – If necessary, have your backups, even ones outside of your price range or desired travel distance, ready to go. Make sure everyone in your group is on board to chip in if necessary. Figure out the car situation and the parking options. Just be prepared for the worst. That printed out list should have your next 10 or more options listed from first to last in desirability based on cost or distance or both. Be ready to pick an alternate hotel immediately, without having to check with everyone else first. Again, timing is everything. More hotels will become available at a later date, even if only for a brief moment. More on that in a future post.
- DON’T STOP BELIEVING – So what happens if you got what you wanted? Great! Pay your deposit and you’re done. If someone asks, tell them how happy you are about your situation. Just don’t brag about it. Share your success and maybe tell people what you did to get the room and when you did it. Maybe that information will help others next year. But this will likely be the most devastating day in a good number of people’s lives. Sure, it’s not as bad as not getting a ticket to SDCC at all, but now they have a ticket and nowhere to stay. What can you do? If you are given alternate hotels to choose from, just pick one that’s either within your budget or within the distance you wanted. Just take it and work things out later. If you’re put on a waiting list, just be prepared for alternates to be thrown at you in the coming weeks as people drop their double booked second choices or find that they can’t go. Just keep on looking – EVERY DAY – and keep a close eye on the cancellation dates. The closer to the fully refundable deposit date on April 30th gets, the more rooms will likely become available. Hopefully Travel Planners will turn them around in a quick manner.
I’ve said enough to prepare you for the worst, but it’s all in your hands now. Once the dust settles, I’ll come back with some info on what your options might be in the event you didn’t get a room at all (or got a really lousy one out past the airport). They won’t be pretty, but you might be surprised that all hope is not lost if you don’t have an SDCC hotel room by the end of this week. It’s all a matter of what you’re willing to endure or it might even lend a whole new level of adventure to the big event. See you on the other side!