Let's talk about SDCC hotels

12 JANUARY 2020

Happy New Year. It's kind of a weird time for an SDCC nerd, isn't it? We're past the badge sales - and have started making alternate plans in some cases - and we're still months out (probably) from the hotel lottery and other sales. It feels like winter is the season to sit back, settle in with Star Trek: Picard and catch up on any comics we've missed.

But it isn't! Not completely, at least. See, this is also the season to think ahead to your Comic-Con lodgings. Nerds in the know are already booking back-up hotel rooms in anticipation of the annual bloodbath known as Hotel Day, Hotelpocalypse and the San Diego Comic-Con hotel sale.

How You Can Book a Hotel Room

I know there are lots of first-timers swimming through our virtual aquarium this year, so I'm going to review the hotel reservation process for those of you looking forward to your inaugural SDCC. Warning: it's grim.

1. You can book your own hotel room whenever you please. However, because of the vast number of people pouring into the area during SDCC - not just attendees but vendors, creators, studios, staff and guests - the prices are sky-high on the regular market. There are hostels available but the reports coming out of these are pretty dismal. Airbnb and the like are an option, but of course the demand for these is also competitive.

2. You can wait and book your room through CCI for a more reasonable price. They offer two options:
  • You can book a room through the Early Bird sale. I recommend this because you can choose your hotel and the prices are good and it's completely stress-free. However, you must pay up front, it's non-refundable and the hotels are not downtown.
  • You can participate in the hotel lottery. This is far worse than the badge sale. You can request your top picks but there's no guarantee you'll get one - or get a room at all. Only a tiny number of people actually get a downtown room in walking distance of the Con. Most of us wind up assigned to a motel out in the hinterlands or we get that tragic email informing us we didn't get a hotel at all. At that point, some people start trading rooms and offering to room with or take in strangers. Then people wait for the waitlist to open, at which point they scramble for the scraps that are left.

It's not for the faint of heart. I have played every role possible in the SDCC hotel mayhem. I've gotten the dreaded "no hotel room for you" email. I've wound up assigned at Town and Country. Last year I got the Marriott Marquise in some kind of incredible lucky strike fever dream. I've traded rooms away and received them from benevolent strangers.

But one thing I always do, because I am an intensely practical sort, is to book a safety room whenever possible.

Booking a fallback room used to be a lot easier. There were years when friends would sigh because they "only" had a fully refundable backup room booked at the Horton - you know, right next to the Con. Now most of us would sell a kidney to be guaranteed a room that close. It's tough out there and while some new hotels will spring up and offer a crazy good rate one year, they're wise to us and raising their rates the next.

Booking Your Backup Room

Here's what I would advise. Yes, look around now (if you haven't already) and see what you can grab. Obviously your ideal backup requires no deposit and/or is fully cancellable and refundable. I booked such a room - not at my dream lodgings but the hotel is in walking distance and I can jettison it if I do well in the hotel sale. I also saw a different downtown room about half a mile from the Con for 279/night or so - nonrefundable and not luxurious by any means, but that's still a good deal to lock down IMO.

First-timers, in your anticipatory flush of joy, you may think any room is good - but you'll still benefit from taking the reins in your hands. Think now about:
  • What $$$ are you willing to spend on your hotel room?
  • How close do you want to be to the Con? Do you want to party all night in the Gaslamp? Get away from the noise and crowds? 
  • How much stuff might you buy and take back to your room?
  • Will you be cosplaying and want a room nearby for repairs and changes?
  • Who are you rooming with? What's their budget?

Maybe the Early Bird shuttle life is fine with you. If so, do it and don't look back when it goes live. But if you are one of those downtown-or-die people (I am) then start hunting around online. And be flexible. Maybe you and a larger group of friends agree to go in on a more expensive but refundable room just in case, and then you're able to find something better in the hotel lottery and can cancel it. Maybe you book a backup that's not great, but you're able to grab 2 nights at a much better hotel off the waitlist. Be creative and develop tiers of options so no matter how well or how badly the lottery goes for you, you have a room you can live with.

And don't fall into despair the first time you start looking for a room. This is an ongoing process that can take months. You will find something. Starting early, being strategic and patient, and working with others is the key. Good luck.

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