Whether conventions are work related or pure fandom fun, attending events like Comic-Con International or the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) this June or July can cost thousands of dollars. Over 50,000 people attended E3 in 2015, a record for the convention expo, according to IGN. And the estimated cost to attend Comic-Con in 2015 was $1,853, including admission, airfare to San Diego, four nights in a nearby hotel, meals and, of course, a costume.
Unless you’re lucky enough to have an unlimited expense account for the convention you’re attending, you probably want to save some money wherever you can. Here are 15 tips for cutting costs at Comic-Con, E3 and other popular conventions and conferences this summer.
1. Try Alternative Transportation
In some situations, it can make financial sense to take your own car or rent one away from the convention site, where demand drives prices up, said Sorab Bhardwaj, founder of the rental car savings site Zalyn.com. But sometimes even driving might not be the cheapest way to go.
“For those who live in LA looking to come to San Diego for Comic-Con, I would highly recommend taking the train instead of driving,” said Laura Roberts, author of “San Diego From A to Z.”
A value-level round trip fare on Amtrak during Comic-Con 2016 costs just $74, and savvy savers can search for additional discounts. Parking options associated with Comic-Con cost anywhere from $20 to $50 a day, according to the website operated by Ace Parking. So, leaving the car at home cuts parking cost and eliminates the hassle of dealing with convention traffic.
2. Fly Into a Smaller Airport
“Flights around the convention dates are typically pricey and one way to avoid flights is by driving there,” he said. “If you live far and can’t drive, you might get a better deal by flying into a nearby city and renting a car from there instead of flying in directly. Another benefit of renting a car is that it gives you the flexibility of picking a hotel away from the pricey downtown area.”
For example, E3 attendees could easily fly into Burbank, Ontario and many other airports instead of Los Angeles International Airport. While savings vary based on the airport departure and exact flight times and dates, doing a little homework could cut costs on hotel stays, airfare and more. And if renting a car allows attendees to compare room rates farther away from downtown LA, the savings can add up even more.
3. Beat Transportation Inflation
Transportation rates tend to go up in cities when big conventions are going on. As just one example, parking at the Colorado Convention Center, which is hosting Denver Comic Con this summer, costs event goers $25 per 24 hours. Car rental rates also tend to spike when big conventions come to town. So it sometimes makes sense to avoid car-related expenses all together, according to Bhardwaj. But be sure to opt for free or inexpensive transportation options whenever possible.
“Look for public transportation or a courtesy shuttle to and from the convention center,” he said. “While it’s tempting to whip out your phone and request a ride from Uber, make sure the surge pricing isn’t in effect. This typically happens at the end of the day when everyone is leaving and looking for a cab. If this happens, stroll around, move away from the convention center and wait for surge pricing to end or hail a regular taxi since they have standard rates.”
4. Buy Tickets Early
“Make sure to take advantage of early-bird ticket rates,” said Sharvonique Renee Fortune, organizer of T-MODE, an anime, gaming and Japanese culture convention in the Washington, D.C., area. “You get the same ticket value for less money. Savings can be as much as $10 to $20 or more off the at-door ticket price. That really adds up if you’re getting tickets for multiple people.”
For example, full early-bird registration for nonmembers at the Society of Health and Physical Educators’ 2016 SHAPE America National Convention was $490 compared with $565 for regular registration. Some conventions also offer discounted group rates, so check registration sites for details.
5. Volunteer Your Time
Event organizers often offer perks for volunteers. For example, volunteers at Dragon Con, a multi-genre science fiction and gaming convention, get steep discounts or free admission to the event, which costs $130 for those who register onsite. Plus, donating your time is a great way to make connections with others who share an interest or industry.
“Conventions are massive undertakings and are always in need of help to run the event,” said Fortune. “Many conventions offer great benefits depending on how many hours you volunteer, including free badges, crash space in hotel rooms, meal vouchers and even convention merchandise and swag.”
6. Consider the Environment
Many industry experts are adopting environmentally friendly ideas and practices that can help cash-conscious attendees go green in more ways than one, said Naina Ayya, communications manager at San Francisco’s Moscone Center that hosts Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC).
“[If you are attending WWDC 2016, for example, try] taking public transit rather than a cab from SFO Airport to downtown San Francisco … and from hotels to the Moscone Center. Secondly, avoid buying bottled water and instead bring your own reusable water bottle and refill it.”
7. Bring Your Own Food
If an event allows outside food and drink, pack your own and bring it with you. Avoiding in-house vendors will save you both money and time, allowing you to see and do more at the convention or conference.
“The food court lines at the more heavily attended conferences and conventions are miles long and move at a snail’s pace at peak times,” said convention veteran Mindy Jensen, community manager at BiggerPockets.com. “Not only that, but you’ll pay ridiculous prices for poor-quality food you don’t really want to eat. Think $12 for a dried-out hamburger [and] fries are, of course, extra.”
8. Take a Food Field Trip
Frequent convention goer and recording artist Kyle McMahon also stashes a sack lunch in his bag if the venue allows it or uses his smartphone to find food nearby. “If they won’t allow food in, I usually got to Yelp or use Siri to find local places which are almost always more price appropriate,” he said. “As a bonus, you get to try local fare.”
9. Host a Hotel Party
Sarah Negovetich, independent author and agent, loves networking with like-minded professionals at literary conventions. But buying rounds at the bar can get pricey pretty quickly — even if you’re just paying for yourself.
“Instead of overpaying for watered-down drinks, consider buying a bottle of your favorite libation and inviting people to your room,” said Negovetich, who added that such gatherings are also more comfortable and conducive to conversation than crowded hotel bars. “If several people take turns hosting the evening, you can reduce your bar bill for the whole event to the cost of one bottle.”
10. Ask About Convention Attendee Discounts
Many hotels set aside a block of rooms available at a discounted rate for registered event attendees. Convention and visitors bureaus also offer discount packages at restaurants and attractions in many cities, such as the San Diego Convention Center’s “Show Your Badge & Save” program.
“Every six months we update a list of exclusive deals for convention attendees,” said Jon Lynch, public affairs manager at the San Diego Convention Center. “To take advantage of all the money-saving options, all attendees have to do is simply show their convention badge or present the coupon. Deals range from food and drink to shopping and surf lessons.”
11. Get a Roommate
“Join forums or group boards about the conference, and ask if someone would like to be your roommate,” suggested Pauline Paquin, a personal finance and travel expert who founded ReachFinancialIndependence.com. “Chances are you’ll also get a new friend out of the experience.”
Other experts suggest using the convention’s hashtag on social media sites to search for a roommate. This works especially well for industry conferences, and you might connect with a business associate you already know to carpool and split hotel costs.
12. Try Vacation Rental Sites
Hotels near a big event will be packed and discounted blocks often sell out fast and aren’t always the best bargain. If you are attending an event with several colleagues or friends, however, splitting the cost of a rental property could add up to significant savings.
“Check out locally owned lodging through Airbnb or vrbo.com,” suggested Paul Moyer, founder of consumer finance site SavingFreak.com. “Both of these sites will tap you into owners of properties who are renting out rooms or even the whole property. Make sure to expand your search to several miles away from the convention. The closer you are, the more expensive it will be.”
For example, Airbnb offers many one-bedroom apartments or condos near downtown LA for $80 to $120 a night during E3 2016. That compares with nightly rates at nearby hotels for $200 and up.
Read More: How to Save Money on Your Next Airbnb Rental
13. Set a Swag Budget
“Before you step foot into the convention, know exactly what your budget is for the all the good stuff you’ll want to take home with you,” said Negovetich. “These events are usually loaded with a million things you can’t live without. And, if you don’t watch it, you can walk out of there with a month’s rent worth of signed books, T-shirts and collectibles.”
Negovetich suggested keeping your budget top of mind by maintaining a running tally on paper of how much you’ve spent. If it’s too tempting to pull out the plastic, consider only bringing a cash envelope to the convention or loading your pre-determined amount onto a pre-paid card. That way, you don’t have an easy opportunity to bust your budget.
14. Wait for Last Day Sales
Many exhibitors offer discounts on the last day of an event to avoid packing unsold goodies. “Vendors and artists often have sales and specials on Sunday for merchandise that didn’t move over the weekend,” said Fortune. “It’s a great opportunity to score some last-minute deals and save some bucks.”
Throughout the convention, you should also take advantage of the free swag many exhibitors offer. But be careful not to come home with too much of that either if you’re flying — if you have too much to bring back it could cost you extra luggage fees if your bag weighs too much.
15. Barter for Bargains
Leonard Richardson attended many conventions as a college student, when he played competitive card games on the Magic: The Gathering Pro Tour. He often found vendors were willing to pay a premium for hot cards that were playing well in games or for other collectible items in high demand. Savvy sellers can devote profits to food, lodging or other convention costs.
“If you have a large collection of items such as Magic cards or comics that fit with the theme of the convention, you can usually get reasonable amounts of cash without the hassle of doing eBay,” Richardson said. “Additionally, if there is a run on a certain item because an artist is attending the show, vendors might be willing to pay more than current market prices which will allow you to sell it to them and then purchase another one at a later date.”
Jamie Young contributed to the reporting of this article.