Going rogue: finding SDCC lodgings beyond the hotel sale

28 APRIL 2017

More than a day after the SDCC hotel sale, we still don't know where we are. We might feel tentatively optimistic, based on getting in fast, or we might be mourning our 9:08 am timestamp. It's hard to make any real pronouncements until the emails start going out - and most of us won't know for a week or two after that. Then there's the waitlist; last year, it was more than a month before the waitlist was processed and reservations opened back up. I don't think we'll see that kind of delay this year, but I do think May is going to be a long, painful vigil for most of us.

You can take your hotel fate into your hands, however, and make alternate arrangements. Every option below is exploratory; you don't have to commit to anything until you want to. But whether you scored in the lottery or not, you'll make the best decision by understanding what's available for you.

Here's what you can do now.

Look at hotels outside the CCI sale. Start visiting hotel sites and you'll see that some of those downtown hotels kept plenty of rooms out of the SDCC block. Other San Diego hotels skipped the sale altogether. What they have in common: rooms that are currently available, but at obscene prices. Are you obscenely wealthy? Go ahead and book. But if you're just looking for a roof, a blanket and a pillow, hold out. There are other options that won't bankrupt you.

Look on Airbnb,Tripping, VRBO, Couchsurfing, Craigslist, etc. Some attendees go this route every year; others hate it. Just be careful, as every year some SDCC attendee gets scammed out of their money or left homeless.

Stay at a hostel. The ratio of negative to positive SDCC hostel stories I hear is about 5:1. That said, if you're the intrepid hostel type, if you're fearless and unflappable in the face of massive shower insects, odd smells, and people who repeatedly play loud recordings of their voice down the hall at 6 am - embrace your adventurous spirit. You will save money.

Get involved in room exchanges. If you're not already part of the online SDCC community, you won't have as much pull as someone who is. People prefer to trade rooms with someone who's a consistent online presence so there's a baseline of trust involved. But you still might find someone with a room they don't need, so get out there and ask. If you have anything to offer in return - event tickets, a connection or introduction - do so. Not because we're all mercilessly quid pro quo here, but because SDCC attendees tend to take care of each other and it makes the Con a nicer place.

Put the word out. Ask your friends and coworkers and family. If you live west of the Rockies, someone in your network probably know someone who has a condo, cousin or spare couch in San Diego. If they live really far out, this probably is only an option for the desperate. But it's worth asking.

Look for roommates. Some people can bunk with strangers; some people can't. Some people actually look forward to it, which I'll never understand, but it is an efficient way to get everyone housed and possibly make new friends. If you're barely going to be in the room, it's probably the best way to take advantage of someone else's hotel sale luck.

Wait. I know it's nerve-wracking to sail closer and closer to the Con without a room, but you'll find some surprising availability the closer we get. Last year I was able to grab an extra night at the Hyatt two days before the Con; several other nights were available too. (I just didn't need them.) It may seem incredible that people would actually cancel their Comic-Con plans but they do. They get sick, laid off, conscripted into family reunions, etc. People at the Con decide to go home early and cancel Saturday night reservations. They get trapped at work and cancel their Weds/Thurs night reservations. If you have a high tolerance for uncertainty, you'll probably find some great rooms.

Which somewhat depends on your ability to...

Be willing to move. If you plan on buying a truckload of stuff, the idea of packing up every day or every other day and moving will sound onerous. But this can be one way to get downtown rooms. Back when the Marriott Marquis became difficult to attain, I'd book 2 nights there and 2 nights at Hilton Gaslamp, and then keep checking availability. Sometimes I could eventually get all 4 nights in one place, sometimes not. I don't mind moving because I like to keep everything tidy and organized anyhow, and I tend to regularly ship stuff home so I'm not burdened with a ton of bags. Ask yourself if you'd rather have 4 nights in one place on Hotel Circle, or if you're up for a more nomadic - but downtown - Comic-Con experience.

Cut a night off your stay. Do you have friends going to the Con? See if you can crash with them the first or final night. It's only one night in a crowded room and you can have your space the other nights. Are you camping out? Strike a deal to nap in their room when they're at a panel, then hit the grass come nightfall.

And finally, invest in a safety room for next year. I booked one yesterday - fully refundable, $539 a night, downtown - at the Keating. Most likely I'll end up giving it to someone else, like I gave away my safety room at Hotel Z last year and may give away my Hyatt safety room this year. But it's still nice to have. It's not easy to find a refundable downtown room and you will pay more than you probably want to - but if you are diligent in checking hotels, you'll find something. And you'll spare yourself, or at least mitigate, the horror of not getting a room at all in next year's sale.


  1. I see these refers to camping. What does this mean? Sleeping on the grass where?

    1. When people talk about camping and campouts, they mean being in line overnight. The advent of Hall H wristbands has lessened this somewhat - you can get your wristband late at night and get back in line early in the morning - but some people still wait overnight in lines to enter raffles, get into Ballroom 20 and other endeavors. In the Twilight era, people brought tents and little grills and literally camped on the Hall H lawn for days at a time. Nowadays, you're more likely to see people with pillows and an air hammock, or just sitting on a blanket. YouTube has plenty of line campout videos if you want an idea of what this looks like in practice.

      I'll post more about lines as we get closer.