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How to Attend San Diego Comic Con for Cheap!

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How to Attend San Diego Comic Con for Cheap!

Andrew WanHow to Attend San Diego Comic Con for Cheap!Million Mile Secrets Team

Signing up for credit cards through partner links earns us a commission. Here’s our full Advertising Policy.

Ah, it’s almost that time of year again for San Diego Comic Con (SDCC)!  From July 18 to 21, 2019, thousands of people will gather in San Diego to enjoy a multitude of events with various comic book and video game companies.

If you’ve never been, there’s tons of events you can look forward to, from panels and seminars with comic book enthusiasts, previews of upcoming movies, an independent film festival, and costume contests!  There are even huge exhibition areas in the convention center each year, with TV networks, comic book dealers, autograph areas, and much, much more.

With so many things to do though, it’s easy to get carried away and overspend, so you’ll want to be prepared with a budget!

Here is our guide detailing how to attend San Diego Comic Con for cheap!

With the Right Preparation, You Can Save Money and Still Have Loads of Fun at Comic Con!

How to Attend San Diego Comic Con for Cheap

Badges – Your Ticket Into the Convention!

Badges are essentially your ticket to get into all the fun and festivities that are Comic Con.  They’re often in very high demand though, so they can be difficult to get!  Here are few tips to improve your chances.

Step 1:   The first thing you’ll have to do is actually set up a Comic Con Member ID here.  You’ll need this member ID to be eligible to purchase a badge.  You want to do this ASAP, because the portal to register for a member ID actually closes before the badges go on sale!  If you miss this step, you won’t be able to purchase a badge at all.

Step 2:   Once you’ve received your member ID, you can purchase your badge here, (although they’re already all sold out for this year).

Ticket Prices Vary Each Year.  Here’s the List for 2019

One thing to note:  Keep an eye on your emails!  If you attended Comic Con last year, you’ll see an email with information about pre-registration.  On the other hand, if this is your first year attending, you’ll only be eligible to participate in the SDCC Open Registration, which comes a few weeks after the pre-registration window.

Hot tip to improve your chances of landing a ticket:   Try teaming up with a couple other people and buying your tickets at the same time!  As long as one of you gets through, they can purchase the tickets for everyone in the group.  Make sure you have each other’s member IDs though, as they’ll be required to complete the purchase.  You can buy tickets for yourself and up to 2 more attendees.

Another tip to get your hands on a badge?  See if there are opportunities to register as a volunteer.  That will, of course, come with some trade-offs, because some of your time will be dedicated to volunteering duties.  But you’ll increase your chances for a Comic Con ticket, and you’ll do some good in the process!

Saving on Travel

Great!  So now that you’ve got your badge, it’s time to find your way to the San Diego Comic Con!  Here’s how you can save some money on your way to San Diego.

Flying

If you’re flying in from out of town, use one of the best travel credit cards to help save you money!  If you plan early enough, you’ll have time to earn the welcome bonus on a brand new card, and most likely have enough points for a free round-trip flight!  Here’s our guide to the best ways to get to San Diego with miles and points.

Plus, with some of the perks on those cards, you’ll be able to upgrade your travel experience with things like airport lounge access for free food and alcohol, as well as TSA PreCheck to get you through security faster!  Other perks like priority boarding can let you get settled in ahead of everyone else without feeling rushed, and free checked baggage perks can also save you tons of money!  Especially if you’re toting an elaborate costume.

Saving on Transportation

Getting Around on Trains, Public Transportation, and Driving

Take the train to save:   If you’re somewhat local and have the ability to drive instead of fly, you might want to consider taking the train, instead.  Between gas and parking fees, taking the train could end up saving you tons of money!

For example, a one-way ticket from Los Angeles to San Diego through Amtrak will set you back just $40!  That certainly beats having to rent a car, fuel up for gas, and still pay for parking when you arrive at Comic Con.

Parking:   If you decide to drive to Comic Con, be prepared for expensive parking!  Parking prices in previous years have typically been in the neighborhood of $30 to $60 per day, depending on how close you’ll be to the convention center.

This year’s parking information isn’t released yet, but you will have the option to purchase the tickets online before the event.  Again, just keep an eye on your emails!

Public transportation:   If the cost of renting a car is too rich for you (and I certainly wouldn’t blame you), public transportation is another way to save tons of money!  The San Diego Metropolitan Transit System has trolleys that are great for bringing you to the Convention Center, and tickets are pretty inexpensive!

A one-way adult fare starts at $2.50.  Or you can purchase a 4-day pass for as little as $15!

The San Diego MTS is a Wonderfully Affordable Method to Get to the Convention Center

SDCC Shuttle:   As inexpensive as public transportation is, there’s actually an even cheaper option – FREE!  San Diego Comic Con offers free shuttles between the Convention Center and certain hotels in the area.

You can view last year’s map here.

Saving on Lodging

Perhaps surprisingly, there can be tons of great hotel deals for this huge event!  Comic Con partners with a few large chain hotels that offer decent discounts.  There are “Early Bird” hotel sales, and you can also find great deals on hotels that are a bit farther away from the Convention Center (if you’re willing to brave a longer trip).

Again, make sure you’re opted in to email updates from Comic Con, because this is the best way to be notified of any updates on available hotel rooms!

Early Bird Hotel Sale

Finding a hotel at a decent price for such a popular event like Comic Con can be difficult, so it’s best to plan ahead and book as early as possible.

Early Bird hotel sales can be found here and can usually be booked for around $170 to $220 per night.  But make sure you have your badge locked in first, because these hotels are non-refundable!  You don’t want to book a hotel room only to find out you weren’t able to land a badge.

A huge bonus if you can book an Early Bird deal:   Your hotel will most likely be along a route for the free San Diego Comic Con shuttle!  Great hotel rates and a free ride to the Convention Center?  That’s like 2 birds with 1 stone!

Hotelpocalypse

The hotels closest to the Convention Center (and arguably among the best for this event) will, of course, be the highest in demand and the most difficult to book.

Typically, once the Early Bird hotel sale ends, “Hotelpocalypse” will begin and play out as follows:

  • On a specific day, you’ll jump on the Comic Con website and fill out a form consisting of your hotel preferences
  • You’re given a list of 6 hotels, and you’ll organize them by the order in which you desire to stay
  • The sooner you do this, the better!  You’ll see a timestamp of when you started inputting your data to the form.  This timestamp is what will determine the order in which requests are fulfilled
  • You typically won’t find out if you have a hotel room for another several days, and emails go out in batches

Prices are generally pretty good if you go this route, somewhere around $175 to $200 per night.  But keep in mind, there’s no guarantee you’ll get a hotel this route.

If You Get Lucky in Hotelpocalypse, You Could Find Yourself Waking Up With a Huge Smile on Your Face Every Single Day of Comic Con!

Booking Direct

If you’re looking for more of a guarantee and peace of mind with having a confirmed hotel to stay for your trip to San Diego Comic Con, you can look into simply making a booking directly with the hotel.

Going this route might be pretty expensive though, so this is a perfect time to book award nights.  Check out our list of the best hotel credit cards, and you can earn enough points for an absolutely free stay during SDCC!

Other Lodging Options 

If nothing above tickles your fancy, here are a few other options you can entertain.

Airbnb

Finding available houses through Airbnb should be relatively easy for the month of July.  A lot of locals will know that demand is high, and many of them will rent out spare rooms or even an entire apartment to make a little extra cash.

Pro tip:   Book an Airbnb with a good cancellation policy, and use it as a backup.  If you end up with an awesome hotel through Hotelpocalypse, you’ll probably want those accommodations over an Airbnb!

Hostels

Many people swear by staying at a hostel, and it’s easy to see why.  They’re cheap, close to the Convention Center, and super easy to book!  It’s also very communal, and a fantastic way to get to know other travelers with the same interests.

Two of the well-known hostels are HI San Diego and Lucky D’s, and if you’re traveling in a group of 6-8 people, you can expect to shell out just $60 or so!  THAT’S AMAZING.

Moral of the story:   Travel in a large group and book a hostel to save TONS of money.

Saving on Dining

Gaslamp Restaurants

These restaurants around the Convention Center are probably the most convenient, so they’ll fill up extremely quickly!  And from reading in many online forums, most people have reported that few places will take reservations, so you’ll likely be wandering around or waiting in a line for a seat to open up.

Data points show the median food cost is somewhere around $20 for something substantial.

Food hack:   If you’re really hungry and can’t wait around to eat, you can make a stop by the Marriott Marquis.  It’s right next to the Convention Center and has a small food court where the lines have been reported to move very quickly.  Prices run around $5 to $15 per person. 

Convention Center Food

There are tons of places inside the Convention Center where you can grab small drinks and snacks like burgers and salads for around $10 or so.  It’s a great option if you’re just looking for something quick to eat.

Free food

If you know where to look, you’ll find that some events have free food!  And the best part is that some of them are events you can just walk right in without a pre-booked ticket!

Uber Eats or Postmates

At the end of the day, if things are just too hectic for you, there’s always the option of ordering something from Uber Eats or Postmates.  I’ve found the ETAs are pretty accurate, so you can maximize your time at the convention and not have to wait in long lines at restaurants.

Saving on Entertainment

A big SDCC secret is the free events.  There are plenty, but some are highly unadvertised, so keep your ears open.  There are plenty of free nighttime events (most night events are generally cheaper, anyway).

You can try seeking out exhibitor parties after hours.  If you ask around, you might find someone who can let you in on a secret exhibitor location!

You can also try Artist Alley.  It’s normally where you can find artwork displayed for sale, but you can also strike up a friendly conversation with them and see if they’ve got the scoop on nighttime events.

If you can’t find free events, make sure to pay for your entertainment with a card that earns additional bonus points on entertainment category purchases, like the following:

Bottom Line

Comic Con can be insanely fun, yet pretty chaotic and confusing at the same time.  And with so many opportunities to burn your hard-earned cash, it’s easy to get carried away!  But if you go armed with a budget in hand, your finances (and your future self) will seriously thank you.

As a quick recap, here are some of the best ways to save money at Comic Con:

  • Book award flights to San Diego
  • Volunteer
  • Join with a group of friends to book a hostel together
  • Utilize all the options for booking a hotel, like the Early Bird Sales and Hotelpocalypse
  • Consider alternatives to hotels, like Airbnb and hostels
  • Use the best credit card to get the biggest return for your purchases!

You can subscribe to our newsletter for more money-saving tips to other events and destinations.  And here’s a quick SDCC timeline to help with your planning:

July

This year’s Comic Con takes place, and the dates for next year’s convention are also released.  The wonderful thing about knowing a full year in advance?  Your boss probably can’t say no to your PTO request.

November

Pre-registration is available to those who attended the previous year’s convention.  Volunteer interest lists are also opened where individuals can register to potentially be selected to help out.

January

Anyone who completed a volunteer shift the year before will be able to have access to priority volunteer sign-up.

February

Open Registration of badges to the general public!

April

Hotelpocalypse:   The only thing worse than trying to get a badge is trying to get a hotel room.  Yes, you could just log onto Hotels.com and get one, but it will cost you an arm and a leg!  In 2016, everyone was emailed on April 3rd that Hotel Registration would happen on April 5th.  SDCC works with nearby hotels to block and distribute rooms to keep them at a reasonable price.

Volunteer Registration:   In 2014, people who signed up with an interest to volunteer were notified on April 14 of the process.  Volunteer signups happened on April 19th for first-time volunteers.

Parking Lottery:   Ace Parking accepts entries until a given date.  They then hold a lottery and separate everyone into groups.  Over the next few weeks, each group can log on and purchase a parking pass.  In 2016, the entry period closed on April 24th, the lottery was held on the 25th, and on May 2nd the first group was allowed to begin purchasing passes.

June/July

The panel schedule will be posted about two weeks before the convention starts.  The schedule will be posted one day at a time.

July

San Diego Comic-Con takes place and becomes the highlight of your year!

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Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)

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