This week, in our last (until I think of something else to say about cons, and given I’ve already written over 6800 words on the subject, I’m thinking that may be awhile) episode of The Official Ultimate Pullbox Guide to Conning, we’ll take a look at a rather timely topic (as I know many of you are starting to stake out your digs for C2E2): finding good deals on lodging.
As with everything, planning is key. Obviously, the earlier you can start scoping out your digs, the better—more time to comparison shop, more available rooms/residences to look at, etc. I would highly recommend starting your search several months prior to your event, or even earlier, if you can (in fact, buddy Tom and I booked our room for next year’s C2E2 while we were at last year’s C2E2).
Any of you who are veteran con-goers are likely aware that most larger cons will team with area hotels to offer discounted rates, and these are often decent but not great deals: typically, anywhere from 10-20% off the normal nightly rate (around par with what you’ll get from the travel sites like Expedia, Orbitz and the like), and often with the added bonus of a shuttle service to the con (the ones for C2E2 are very convenient, rarely full and run every 20 minutes or so for the entirety of the con day/night). But just so you know…there are better deals out there.
Now, some things to be aware of when shopping for a room, especially in a larger city like Chicago: the hidden costs. A room might look like a bargain and a half—until the bill comes.
One year, when we booked late due to a miscommunication, we stayed at a seemingly less expensive con hotels (a chain which will remain nameless, so as to prevent our being sued by them) in Chicago, and thought we’d scored a decent deal—the room was about $120 per night with the con discount, which is more than reasonable…until we got in the room. And parked the car. The room itself was ludicrously small—like, had to walk sideways to get between the door and the bed—and on the fifth floor…and the elevator was out of service the entire weekend. The WiFI, which was an additional $10 per night, didn’t work. And while the valet service to park our car (which was required, as there was no on-street parking otherwise) was free, the parking itself was $48. Per night. And despite being a con hotel, it was still a six-block walk to the shuttle service.
Needless to say, we haven’t and won’t be staying there again.
Where I’ve found the best success is in good, old-fashioned research. Do a little digging—certainly, check the aforementioned travel sites, but don’t limit yourself to them. I found our fave spot (the South Loop Hotel, a 15-minute walk from McCormick Place with free gated parking and, if they’re in a really good mood, shuttle service) by doing a Google search of “Chicago Hotels.” Via this route, you can find some off-the-beaten-path, less heavily advertised hotels which can still offer great amenities and proximity, and occasionally really good prices.
Another trick—when you’ve identified your target hotel, don’t book through the travel websites; instead, go to the hotel’s website (if they have one), and see if they offer better rates directly. Some will, while some will offer discounts through the travel sites due to the higher volume the sites offer; it varies from hotel to hotel. What we’ve found at the South Loop is that they offer significant discounts to seniors, to State of Illinois employees (neither of which apply to us)…and for AAA members, which does. In fact, the discount is so great that the savings we achieve from our four-day stay each year pays for my annual Gold Plus membership. Score!
If you book early (like, several months or even a year early), it can be helpful to monitor your hotel’s website for changing rates. I’ve been able to save hundreds of dollars that way with our hotel—which conveniently doesn’t have a booking or cancellation deposit or charge until the day of check-in (and you’ll definitely want to check on those policies before you try this particular gambit). I’ll reserve the rooms the day I find out when the next year’s con is (and my bud and I typically book the room for a day earlier as well, to hang out in Chicago for some extra R&R) at whatever rate they have going, then monitor the sight about once a month. Often, and this is especially true if the con is in the winter or off-travel season, prices will drop precipitously as the event draws nearer; when they do, I simply cancel and rebook. As a for instance, we went from $268 per night for a double queen room with seating area (and pull-out couch) down to $120 per night…and that’s with free WiFi and parking! From over $1,000 to under $500 for four nights, with gated parking—in downtown Chicago.
Now, another resource I’ve started looking into while we were making plans for next year’s Gen Con in Indianapolis, and one I’d highly recommend, is Airbnb. Airbnb, for those of you not in the know, is a service wherein people can rent out their residence or rental unit (apartment, house, townhouse, etc.) in the same manner as a hotel. This can be an especially valuable option in situations where your event happens to be near a residential area…like almost any major city.
Case in point: while con hotels for Gen Con looked to start in the neighborhood of $200 per night and up for a double full (and we have 6 guys going, so we’d need three rooms), we found a 7-bed house, with full bath, kitchen, laundry and even a grill in the yard about 15 minutes’ drive (the same as all but two of the con hotels) from the convention center, for around $115 per night after all the fees and taxes. Cha-ching!
Now, you have to be a little careful and do your due diligence, both in using Airbnb and in tracking down lesser-advertised hotels. Read reviews, look at pictures or virtual tours, check on neighborhoods before booking. But with a little common sense and forethought, you can save some major coin, and significantly upgrade your lodgings.
And those are never bad things.
Ok, I think I’ve said my piece—probably more than any of you ever wanted to hear. I hope you were able to find some nugget of wisdom among my ramblings, and that you have a better time at your next con as a result. Whether you do or you don’t, though, thanks for taking the time, and happy trails to you all!
In the words of the late, great, Stan the Almighty: Excelsior!
Original Content by Andy Patch, thePullbox.com