Book That Room!
The room booking process doesn’t have to suck… as much
The room booking process sucks. You sit on the landing page, impatiently pressing the refresh button, waiting with bated breath for the moment the block opens. Once it does you scramble with hands shaking to enter your information only to find out the block is sold out 😩. “Why does this happen to me?!” you scream. Is it you? Are you too slow or does the booking process just suck? Well, maybe it's a little bit of both. Don't be offended. You're not alone.
I think we can all agree that the ultimate goal of attending an anime convention is to have fun. We all have our own specific interests, of course, but the common goal is to have a good time, hang out with old friends and perhaps make some new ones. To help you achieve that goal you can reduce the things that might get in the way of you having fun. Things like booking a room and getting to the con can have a tremendous effect on your convention experience. Get those right and your weekend can go pretty smoothly. Get it wrong and you might have a terrible time.
It takes a certain amount of time, effort, and planning to get these things right, but it can save you from stress and anxiety when you do. This article is written in the hope that it will eliminate or reduce the stressors which prevent you from enjoying your convention. I’ve gathered up all the knowledge and experience that I’ve gained over my many years of attending conventions and I’m sharing it with you here. These tips can save you time, money, and perhaps most importantly, stress.
Booking the Room
Let’s start with lodging. Unless you’re a local who can drive home at the end of the day, you need a place to stay during the event. Most conventions have worked with area hotels to establish special room rates for their event. This is called a room block. They usually have rooms available at reduced rates, but not always. Bigger cons will actually block out an entire hotel or have multiple hotels to choose from. The booking process varies greatly depending on the convention and booking platform. I’ll go over a few so you can get a feel for how it works. One thing most of them have in common is the booking experience can be stressful. Conventions will set an opening date for the room block and you’ll have to scramble, hands shaking, to book before it sells out. For big cons the rooms can disappear inside of a minute. If you don’t get in and enter your name and credit card information within that minute, you might be out of luck. A convention like San Diego Comic-Con has room blocks at nearly every hotel within ten miles of the venue. If you don’t book at one of these hotels, you are in for a commute to and from the con each day.
There are many different room booking processes. Every con seems to do it a little differently. Very small cons of just a few thousand people might give you a group code that you put into the hotel’s website while booking. Larger cons will use a third party booking service such as Passkey. DragonCon has many different hotels in its block, each with a different method of reservation. The massive San Diego Comic-Con uses an alternative service which has a rather convoluted process of booking a hotel. It requires you to purchase a badge first, which is an adventure in itself. The entire process is a bit much to cover in this article, so just know that it’s quite the endeavor. FanimeCon also requires you to purchase registration before you are eligible to book a room. It then puts you into a group with a specific time slot during which you can enter the booking portal to make a reservation. The earlier you purchase registration, the earlier time slot you get, increasing your chances of getting the room you want.
Getting a room for Katsucon is a great example of the average room booking process. Katsucon is an anime convention based in National Harbor, Maryland which takes place in February at the Gaylord National Hotel and Convention Center. You can learn more about Katsucon by reading some of my articles here on this site. Use the search feature at the top of the page. Katsucon has a room block for that hotel and that hotel alone. When the room block opens, somewhere between May and July in the year before the event, you have just minutes to book a room. People call this “The Hunger Games” after the movie by the same name, and will say, “May the odds be ever in your favor.”
The most popular hotel rooms at Katsucon have an atrium view and they book up first. If you aren’t successful at booking a room, you have a some options.
- Keep trying the room block. Rooms can become available throughout the year as people cancel their reservations.
- Book outside the room block.
- Book at a nearby hotel.
- Book a short-term rental property through services like Airbnb.
- Stay with friends.
- Move closer to the convention (become a local) 😁.
1. Keep trying the room block Katsucon’s room block remains open until a few weeks before the con. Your reservation doesn’t even make its way into the hotel’s booking system until the block closes. People will often drop their room a month or two before the con as their plans change. Their canceled room is then returned to the room block so it can be booked by someone else. Keep a copy of the booking link url handy and book your room at the room block price. That link might be hard to find later on.
2. Book outside the room block Booking outside the room block can be done at any time before or after the room block opens. Rates for these rooms are usually much higher than normal. Hotels are aware that there’s an event that weekend and they adjust their prices accordingly. If you are part of a loyalty program with the hotel chain you might get a better deal by booking the room using your rewards.
3. Book at a nearby hotel Booking a room at a nearby hotel can also be done before the room block opens. If they aren’t part of the block it won’t be blocked-out. While this might sound like a good option, there are a few things to consider.
- Weather Staying at a nearby hotel means you’re exposed to the elements as you travel between hotels. Even the closest hotel across the street requires walking outside. If you have a delicate cosplay or wig, this can be disastrous. Katsucon takes place in February in New England. It’s not unusual for there to be snow on the ground or for very cold winds to blow through the area. Distant hotels may require taking an Uber or a shuttle service which can be slow and cumbersome. Conversely, Otakon in Washington D.C. is held in July or August when temperatures can reach the high 90s Fahrenheit (35+ C). Thunderstorms with high winds are not uncommon as was proved during Otakon 2023. Walking outside in those temperatures can leave you sweaty and prone to heat stroke, especially in cosplay.
- Cost Just because you’re not staying at the host hotel doesn’t mean that the room rate will be cheaper. In reality, it can be more expensive. Rooms booked under a room block are typically at or below regular hotel rates. Staying outside the block means you could pay significantly more, especially when they are near capacity.
- You miss out on the full con experience Conventions held at hotels have a different vibe from conventions held at civic convention centers. There’s usually more of a party vibe since everyone can hang out late at night before wandering to their room. If you don’t stay at the host hotel, you miss out on part of the convention experience. Dragon Con is the ultimate example of this. It’s one of the oldest conventions in the USA and is held at five downtown Atlanta hotels. With as many as 85,000+ attendees, it gets very crowded. You might wonder why it doesn’t just move to the nearby Georgia World Congress Center where MomoCon is held. In short, the con runners know that the hotels are part of what makes Dragon Con special. They’re part of the event. Each hotel has a personality and unique appeal. Without them, the event would lose something. The crowded lobbies and parties which run all night are part of what makes Dragon Con so much fun. If you stay off-site, you miss out on so much.
4. Book a short-term rental property Booking a short-term rental property through websites such as Airbnb can seem like a good idea initially. They usually aren’t too far away, have all the comforts of home, and can be had at a good price. They come with one big warning though: the property manager can cancel your reservation at any time, and I do mean at any time. Imagine thinking you had this great place lined up only to suddenly find out you have nowhere to stay. Now imagine you have five other people staying with you. Would this stress you out? Would it stress out your friends? I experienced such a cancellation on the morning of my arrival. In fact, out of the three short-term rental bookings I’ve made, only one actually came through. The other two canceled my reservation, probably when they realized it was during a busy weekend when they could charge someone else 3-4 times more than what I booked it at. In my experience, the booking platforms which offer these types of lodging - Airbnb, Expedia, or whoever - have very little concern about your reservation being canceled beyond giving you a refund. They might try to offer alternative lodging, but that’s like offering you a different pair of shoes to wear. Whatever they offer you is unlikely to be a good fit. To make things even worse, these platforms will prevent you from leaving negative comments or reviews for the property. I don’t recommend these types of bookings during conventions.
5. Stay with friends Staying at a friend’s place is also an option. There are too many variables here so you’re on your own. I will say it’s likely to either strengthen or weaken your relationship with your friends.
6. Become a local Go ahead and laugh, but people move to be closer to, not necessarily conventions, but to where the people are. Conventions are usually located where the people are. The biggest cons are in the biggest cities and bigger cities have more cons. Not only does it expose you to more conventions, it’s easier to fly out of big cities as they have more connections. I see this with influencers. Influencers and cosplay go together like peanut butter and jelly, which is why you see so many influencers at conventions. They move to LA or New York so they can collaborate with more people and have more options for self-promotion. If you’re a local driving to a con, you’ll have to figure out parking. If the event is in a downtown area, you have to deal with parking garages, surface lots, or expensive valet parking. None of these are great options. Garages and surface parking lots can be expensive and leave your car vulnerable to break-ins. Valet parking is convenient and safer, but often costs $40 or more per night. During Saturday of MomoCon 2023, parking in the seven-story underground garage was $60! This was due to two other events going on at the same time (thanks Ed Sheeran! 😡).
For bigger cities that have good public transit systems, I recommend parking further away and riding the transit in. You should be able to find parking that’s more secure and affordable and it’s unlikely that you’ll need to drive anywhere once you settle into your hotel. Parking at smaller cons isn’t necessarily much better. Colossalcon is based in the small city of Sandusky, Ohio and attendees fill the many parking lots to overflowing. Drivers end up parking in the surrounding fields at the risk of getting stuck in the mud. This is especially true on Friday and Saturday evenings. My advice is to arrive early, park your car, and leave it there. If you must go somewhere, do it early in the morning if possible. It’s not impossible to find a parking space later in the day, but you might have to walk a long distance to get to the convention center.
Room block prices typically stay the same no matter when you book. The Katsucon room block stays the same throughout the 6-7 month period it’s open. However, this isn’t always the case. The Kalahari Resort in Pocono Manor, Pennsylvania is home to Colossalcon East and it has a room block available. The prices aren’t especially affordable, but they aren’t terrible either… until it fills up. Once the resort is at or near full capacity, rooms become almost impossible to book. Every so often something will show up on the booking site, but at exorbitant prices. Just take a look at these prices for Friday and Saturday nights. $900 for a single night! This was for the “double queen sofa” room, which is the base room – the cheapest room. I was very surprised and frankly a little angry when I saw this. To charge more than three times the normal rate is outrageous. Perhaps even more outrageous is the knowledge that people booked at this price. When you really want to go to the con and this is all that’s available, you pay a high price.
For Colossalcon East, there were no other booking options. Nearby hotels were booked up. The Kalahari resort blocked out Friday and Saturday on its own booking site and they don’t allow booking through third party companies like Expedia or Booking.com. The resort had us between a rock and a hard place and they took full advantage of it.
This is perhaps the most helpful section of this article. The rest of what I’ve written you can figure out on your own, but these next paragraphs can mean the difference between getting a room and not. As I mentioned earlier, many conventions use a service called Passkey. It’s the bridge between the convention and the hotel. You don’t book directly with the hotel; you book through the Passkey website which then passes your reservation on to the hotel.
The Passkey system isn’t perfect. Sometimes it gets overloaded or shows error pages. Sometimes rooms aren’t available even though they aren’t sold out. Sometimes you’ll get all the way through filling out your information and entering credit card details only to have say it’s sold out. It’s frustrating and people complain about it all the time, but that’s just the way it is. The Passkey system doesn’t hold your place in line or hold your room. You must fully complete the booking process to actually book the room. If they sell out before you make it to the end, you’re too late. You won’t know until you hit that “Finalize Booking” button. It’s a nerve-wracking process and it’s not unusual to be shaking a bit out of anticipation and anxiety. It’s like bidding for an item on ebay within the last 10 seconds, if you’ve ever experienced that.
Here’s the best advice I can offer. Use a device which you are familiar with. This might be your mobile phone, but I recommend a desktop computer or laptop. You need to be able to navigate the form fields, type quickly, and see all the information on the screen. This is hard to do on a mobile phone or tablet. Here is the most critical tip: have your information saved in the browser. This includes your name, address, telephone number, and credit card information. Most modern browsers offer to save your information, even credit cards. While you might not trust your browser with this information (and rightfully so), it’s critical to getting a room. You can always remove your information from the browser afterwards.
Have the booking page open on your browser. Conventions generally make the link available well before the block opens. If not, be sure to have their website and various social media accounts open in different tabs at the same time since you don’t know which one they’ll share the link on first. Katsucon once shared a faulty link on some outlets and the correct link on Twitter. It took a full ten minutes for me to figure it out. The block might be scheduled to open at 10:00 AM, but some will open before that. I’ve completed bookings for some cons a full five minutes before the block was supposed to open (looking at you Katsucon). Make sure you understand which time zone the con operates in. You’ll kick yourself if you try booking three hours after it went live. Keep refreshing the page every 30 seconds or so until it opens. Once it does, quickly select the dates. There is a calendar picker icon. Click it to open the calendar and be sure to know the exact dates you want. Sometimes it opens to the previous month and this can throw you off. This happens to cons that fall between months, like May 31st – June 4th. You’ll have to click the arrow to advance to the next month and then click your check-in date. Do the same for the check-out date. I recommend selecting a single room since selecting more than one greatly reduces your chances. Also, select just one guest. This is critical in a future step.
Next you select the room. It helps to be familiar with the types of rooms offered. Do some research at the hotel’s website a few days before to understand what room types are available. Some conventions have just two or three rooms available, while others will have ten or more. They are sometimes listed on the convention website. Study the room type, name, and price so you can quickly find it in the list.
Once you pick a room you’ll have to enter your personal information: name, address, email, etc. If you selected just one guest earlier you’ll only have to enter one person’s information. Use the browser’s autofill feature that I mentioned earlier. This will populate your information with a single click, saving you precious time. If you selected more than one guest, you’ll have to provide information for each guest. The extra time spent filling out those fields can mean the difference between getting a room and not. The next step is to enter your payment information. Again, rely on the browser’s autofill. Agree to the terms and click the buttons until you confirm your reservation. You won’t know if you got a room until it tells you the reservation is confirmed.
If you are able to book a room, congratulations! If you selected just one guest as I suggested, now is the time to modify your reservation and enter the actual number of guests and their information. There’s no risk of losing your reservation. It’s already secured in the Passkey system and you can change the number of guests without fear. Some hotel blocks, such as the one for Katsucon, have a generic room listing that could be a two queen room or a single king room. The difference between these rooms is important when you have three or four people. Where are the third and fourth persons going to sleep in a single king room? By entering more than two guests in the reservation you stand a better chance of getting the room you want, but sometimes you don’t find out until you check in.
You might get through all of these steps only for the system to tell you “the room you selected is no longer available”. It might be that you missed out. There were people faster than you and the rooms are gone. It could be a glitch. It could be that they haven’t released all of the rooms yet. People have reported booking a room 30 minutes after the block opened when everyone else thought it was full. It could also mean that just a certain night no longer has enough rooms. You can try editing your stay and selecting different dates. Perhaps you are staying until Monday, but the Sunday night rooms have booked up. Change your departure date to Sunday just to get a room. You can try to modify it later and add days to your reservation.
If you completely missed the chance to book a room, it’s not the end of the world. As I mentioned earlier, some conventions keep the room block open until closer to the convention. Keep trying back. As people cancel their reservations the rooms become available again. Katsucon in particular will have openings in the months before the convention.
Hopefully this information will help you get that room and find your way to the convention. Taking care of lodging and transportation clears the path for you to fully enjoy the con in comfort and peace of mind. You can learn even more about booking rooms for specific conventions by joining online groups on Facebook, Discord, and other social media sites. There are active communities focused on finding rooms and rideshares. Good luck and may the odds be ever in your favor.