Con Survival Series: Tickets and Transportation

So now you know which convention your going to and where you are going to stay. The next thing you have to think about is how are you going to get there. And obviously make sure you can get in the door at the convention. If you’re lucky and the convention takes place in your neighborhood, you probably already know how to get there. If it’s any further away you will need some logistical planning to get where you need to go. Depending on what form of transportation your are taking determines how long in advance you should start making plans.

Traveling is the most tiring and stressful part of any trip. On your way you are anxious to get there and on the way back you are so tired you just want to go home. And it also takes the most preparations and planning. A good way to start is try learning something about the place you are going if it is unfamiliar territory. You can do this any number of ways including asking people on the convention forums, checking the city website, or just pick up a map of the area. This will help you get a feel of your surroundings, see how close the convention center is to your hotel, and how close all the available transportation is as well. After you’ve picked a mode of transport, and paid for it, you can probably put money down on a ticket for the convention since you’ve made your big commitment at that point.

Just about any convention today will let you buy tickets online and many times, the sooner the better. If you pre-order your ticket there will usually be a discount. Some cons will give you a flat rate pre-order discount. Others will have a tiered rate if you order your ticket before a date or before a certain number of people have registered. In the case of the tiered system, the earlier you order the cheaper it is. Also if you are going with any posse over 10 people you should look into the conventions group discount. If the convention does not list its group ticket policy, shoot them a friendly email and you can usually work something out. This is fairly easy to get with anime clubs or if you just happen to be popular. Without a doubt the greatest benefit to pre-ordering your tickets is once your get to the convention you will almost always spend less time in line.

I always have the odd feeling that if I buy my ticket too soon something is going to come up and stop me from attending. One of the things I dislike about most anime conventions is that they require you to register with a name and bring ID to pick up your ticket effectively stopping you from handing over your unused ticket to someone else. So while ordering your ticket well in advance can save you some bucks, it is a decision you have to be sure about. However, I always recommend pre-registering, it will probably save you at least a couple of minutes in line if things are going correctly at a convention. Though I have been in attendance where the pre-reg line was out the door because everyone did it but if you bought tickets there you could just walk right in.

Plane tickets are now the most expensive part of any trip so our general recommendation is avoid flying unless time, distance, or circumstances prevent you from doing otherwise. If you can’t avoid flying then there are several options to keep your ticket price as low as possible. Your first is to hop on Expedia/Travelocity/Hotwire and see what the prices are looking like. Then check all the websites of specific airlines, the prices can sometimes differ. You can also see if your hotel offers some sort of room rate/plane ticket discount. Some hotels have deals with airlines that can get you discount rates on both prices if you ask. Also if your going very far or overseas you might want to talk to a travel agent because they also can get you combination deals on room rate/plane tickets as well. And travel agents make their money from companies you stay with so it is free to use them. Once again, plane travel can be steep so order far in advance to get better rates. Also keep an eye on prices after you order, if they drop significantly sometimes you can get a little refund by talking to the airline.

I have traveled to conventions most often by bus and I don’t have any real horror stories from doing it whereas I feel like others do. One year coming back from Otakon it did take about 6 hours to get home though, that was a real mess. Anyhow it is usually the cheapest way to go. There are a number of places depending on where you live, the most obvious being Greyhound and one you might not know about called Mega Bus. Mega Bus has a unique pricing system and also is way cheaper than other bus options. I only recently found out about it myself so I have not used it yet, however I have heard good things. One thing to remember about bus transportation is first come first served. You aren’t always guaranteed a seat on the bus you want to be on even if you order your ticket in advance. If it is full it is full and there is nothing you can do about it. You will notice this when coming back from a convention more often that going there. This is being done away with slowly. So be sure to get to the bus station at a decent time! Of course the downside to a bus is that it takes a little longer to get where you are going. But seriously we are anime fans, right, we have plenty to do! Plan your convention stuff, work on a panel, read manga, play video games, etc. we are never bored!

Trains are sort of the in between of taking a plane and taking a bus. Trains are faster than the bus but cheaper than a plane. As far as I can tell Amtrak is the the biggest interstate train system because all the discount travel sites dump you right to their website.  In general any advice that applies for buses also applies for the train.

Personally, I like driving to a convention. You get to arrive when you want, leave when you want, take as much luggage as you want, play your music loud, etc. This also allows you to get a hotel further from the convention, and possibly cheaper, if you want. The only city I don’t recommend this for is New York City. Most other places, including Chicago and Baltimore, have decent priced parking garages. If you are going to drive though, you should be comfortable with the interstate and/or driving for long periods of time. If you have a couple of friends who drive you can switch off to make it easier. Driving can be expensive though if you don’t have a full car to split the gas and tolls with. Tolls will get you, so plan your route ahead of time and look up the tolls you will probably be incurring. Driving gives you the most freedom to come and go as you please.

When you finally get to the city you have to get from where you are staying to the convention. Unless you are within walking distance or have a car you have two options you can take a taxi or your can take public transportation. If the con takes place in New York City, Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, or Washington D.C. your best bet is to use Hopstop. You just put the address of where you are staying and where you are going and Hopstop tell you the quickest directions by public transportation and also how far you have to walk. If you are attending a convention outside of these cities your best bet is either use the website for the local department of transportation, call your hotel, or ask on the forums.

Taxis are always the last resort, use them sparingly. They are over-priced, period. But some hotels don’t offer shuttle services and in that case a taxi may be necessary. Before you consider one, make sure you aren’t within walking distance of where you need to go, this is an easy mistake if you are unfamiliar with the lay of the land. Also if you know it advance that you will need to take a taxi, it is best to print out directions or a map of where you need to go. Though this is good advice for anything not just taxi taking!

My only parting piece of advice is to always assume everything is going to go absolutely wrong. If you can swing it, try to get to out of state conventions the night before the con and give yourself the day off afterward. If life does not afford you that luxury, atleast try to get to the con 2 hours before any event you want to see and get home at least 4 hours before your minimum bedtime. You will always run into canceled, delayed, and rerouted planes and trains or bumper to bumper traffic when you absolutely cannot be late. It’s also when your leave yourself no leeway when you find yourself getting lost. So assume the worst and you will never be disappointed. Other than that may the road rise to meet you and may the wind be always at your back.

4 thoughts on “Con Survival Series: Tickets and Transportation

  1. Sub says:

    I’ve had to swear off Greyhound altogether: too many bad experiences. Last Otakon it took eight hours to get back to NYC from Baltimore, and friends who couldn’t get on the bus had it even worse. I’m going to have to suck it up, take the hit, and give Amtrak a try. On the other end, you’ve got the Chinatown buses, which are really cheap, but your life is also forfeit. If something goes wrong on one of those buses (as it did at my first Otakon) it goes real wrong.

    That trip, the bus, due at 1 PM, didn’t come at all. At 11 or so we had to pile into a minivan that was sent– the three quarters of the passengers who didn’t rush into the minivan were just left at the station to wait for something else– and experienced what it must be like to ride in a car with Yukari-sensei. I have never felt death so close to me.

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