Right now CCI is making an offer many attendees shouldn't refuse: the opportunity to book a hotel room for San Diego Comic-Con without any guesswork, melodrama or digital meltdowns. The Early Bird Sale is live again and ready to put a roof over your head this July.
What the Early Bird Sale is
Certain hotels are now letting you book rooms at discounted rates for Comic-Con. Generally speaking, these are among the cheapest rooms you will find - cheaper even than Motel 6 in high season. There's no lottery, no mystery, no tech snafus (usually.) You can just leisurely enter the sale, view your options and book a room.
Why it's a good option
This is the most non-stressful sale you can experience with Comic-Con (other than buying a Toucan t-shirt or something.) You can control which hotel you stay at, something not possible with Hotel Day. The prices are very reasonable, especially if you're splitting 3-4 ways. The free CCI shuttle runs to these hotels - you won't need to pony up for cab fare and you'll walk less than if you were staying downtown. Plus - and this is going to sound like I'm just putting a brave face on it but it's true - escaping the Comic-Con circus at night can be a godsend. And the shuttles run 24/7 so you can still come back downtown for a 1 a.m. assignation with that Doctor Strange cosplayer you met in the Starbucks line.
Why lots of attendees ignore Early Bird anyhow
Because they want to stay downtown. There was a time in my Con-going life when more attendees cared about saving money and actually wanted to stay out on Hotel Circle. I drew gasps of horror one year when I said I was staying at the Marriott Marquis (before the "Marquis") because it was so expensive - these days saying you have a room at the Marriott is more likely to draw an envious reaction. Did we all get richer or just more willing to shell out for high-priced rooms? I don't know, but I rarely hear anyone mention money these days when it comes to snapping up downtown rooms.
The real obstacle here is availability. There just aren't enough downtown rooms to go around. Don't forget you're competing both with other attendees and the vendors, pros, celebrities and staff that also descend on Comic-Con. There are a lot of them and they generally outrank you when it comes to booking rooms. But everyone thinks they'll be the lucky exception so they generally ignore Early Bird and gamble the farm on Hotel Day.
One drawback worth mentioning is that Early Bird asks you to pay for all your nights upfront - nonrefundably. This is something a lot of hotels ask for anyhow if you book on your own; and with Hotel Day, you'll be asked to make a 2-night deposit that's refundable for a short time. But the prospect of paying 4 nights upfront and being trapped into it for all eternity makes attendees squeamish.
One good compromise you can make
The Sheraton on Harbor Island Drive is only 3 miles up the road from the Con and just a quick shuttle ride away. I stayed there around …. 2005? And not only was the shuttle timely and quick (even accounting for Con traffic) but the breakfast buffet was killer. Nothing against the other hotels in the Early Bird Sale, I'm sure they're fine. But I would recommend the Sheraton as a reasonably close and reasonably-priced hotel that you can book without a lot of fuss. You'll be able to come and go from the Con pretty easily if you want to drop off bags of stuff or just take a mid-day shower or disco nap.
Every year people ignore the Early Bird Sale, then howl with outrage when they go through Hotel Day and wind up at a distant Best Western anyhow. So before you write it off, really consider it. Remember, if you do take the sensible path here, you get to feel smug a few weeks down the road when the other attendees are suffering through Hotel Day.
ETA: Oh, and I guess I buried the lede here - it looks like Hotel Day will be in early April, based on Early Bird shutting down on 5 April. In other words, it looks like CCI will manage to again sully Emerald City Comicon week with SDCC hotel stress. Go figure.
ETA II: A few people have asked for my thoughts on how Hotel Day will differ with a new vendor in the mix. If there's one thing I'm terrible at, it's predicting CCI's decision-making process - so I'll just say I have no idea. Maybe it'll be the same as always; maybe it will be radically different. What won't change is the intense competition for a limited number of rooms, so I'm still heartily recommending Early Bird.
First-timers, if you're thinking to yourself, "How bad could the regular hotel sale be?".... Pretty bad is the truthful answer you probably won't believe anyhow.