As an Executive Assistant, one of my responsibilities is arranging travel at least once a month for my boss. Because of that, I'm usually the one making travel arrangements when it comes time to attend a convention. Although there are some differences, planning travel for business and for attending conventions is pretty much the same process.
Please note, these answers are from my experience booking travel for business trips and for my own personal convention and other leisure trips primarily on the east coast of the US. These answers may not apply to all conventions, hotels, and other establishments, as there are always exceptions. The best answer to almost any question is check with the hotel you plan to stay at as rates, restrictions, and rules vary among them.
Booking a Hotel Room
For me personally, booking a hotel room is the first thing I do when I know I'm going to a convention, even before pre-registering. Flights and badges are often non-refundable, while hotel rooms usually are. Plus, what good are the flight and badge if you have no place to stay? Here are some frequently asked questions for booking a hotel room for a convention.
What is a convention rate?
Most (if not all) conventions will have a discounted event rate for at least one hotel, usually at the hotel where events are being held or near the convention center. The rates available to convention attendees are cheaper than the regular rate available, sometimes by quite a lot.
Conventions reserve a certain amount of rooms, usually called a block, that the hotel will put aside for only convention guests to use. This is why sometimes when you go to reserve online before the block is open it will show no rooms available. That does not mean that the hotel is already booked. It is important to wait until the convention releases their room block and rate information on their web site before booking.
Some conventions use their own hotel reservation system to cover multiple hotel rates, for example New York Anime Festival and, starting for 2009, Otakon. These systems run similar to web sites like Hotels.com.
When I register for the convention will they reserve a room for me?
No. Conventions do not handle room reservations for attendees. They get the block set up for you to make it easier and cheaper though.
All the rooms are full under the room rate! What do I do?
This usually is not a problem for smaller conventions, but for larger conventions hotel room blocks tend to fill up very fast. Otakon, for example, is known for having several hotels fill up very quickly after rates are announced.
If the main hotel fills up for a convention, sometimes they will then open up an overflow block at another hotel. If those are also full and you still need a room, the first thing to try is looking in the area for other hotels that the convention does not have a room block at. Use web sites like Hotels.com or Google Maps to find hotels in the area. You may end up paying more or less than the convention rate, and may have to walk further or drive to the convention. If you have a AAA card, or if your parents or someone else in your room does, be sure to look for the AAA rate when searching for rates. Many times you can get great discounts on rooms.
I can't find a room anywhere! What do I do?
See if there are hotels within driving distance or connected to the event via public transportation. Check the forums of the convention to see if others are having problems finding hotel rooms. Maybe someone else has already posted some suggestions of other hotels.
Many con forums (and other forums like Cosplay.com) have sections where people can post if they are looking for roommates or a room. Look through the posts to see if someone has something available, or create a new post to let people know you are looking for a room. Be sure to check the forum rules to make sure your post is okay or needs to be formatted in a certain way (such as a descriptive thread topic).
Do I have to book a room in the convention's room block? Can I stay someplace else?
You can, but usually the hotel where the rate is also is the one holding the events or is closest to the convention center and alternate and overflow hotels are often close by. However, sometimes you can find better deals at other hotels. Most of the time they are further away, but sometimes they are right in the area. So it doesn't hurt to look around to see if you can find a better deal.
However, the convention signs a contract to get a certain number of rooms put aside. It is important that they fill up the room block they requested. So by staying in the convention's room block you're helping to support the convention.
How old do you have to be to get a hotel room?
It depends on the hotel; for some the age is 18, for others it is 21. If you are over 18 but under 21, call ahead and see what their policy is. I never booked a hotel room until after I was 21, so I am not familiar with staying at a hotel and not being able to book it myself.
If you are under 18 you cannot get a room because it involves signing a contract. You will need to find someone older (parent, sibling, other relative, friend) who can book the room.
My parents won't let me stay with my older friends! What do I do?
We don't know your parents so we can't really tell you what to do. Sorry.
How many people can stay in the room?
Most rooms have a requirement of no more than four people. This is mainly due to fire code, because having a large amount of people staying in a room is a fire hazard. Hotels usually won't give you more than four keys. If the room is a suite, the amount of people who can stay in the room may be higher. It will be indicated in the room's description when booking.
If you want to have more people in the room, keep a few things in mind. First, the hotel does have the right to kick you out. Hotels know that some people at conventions will be overstuffing their room. You are going against the rules and regulations of the hotel, which you agreed to when you booked the room. The hotel can get in trouble for breaking this fire code. Second, the hotel will probably not give you more than four keys. That means you will have to share keys, which could cause problems for people who need to get back to the room and can't contact someone with a key. Third, the more people you add the harder it gets to share the bathroom, especially if you have a number of cosplayers.
Can I keep alcohol in the room?
If you are under the legal age (21 in the US), obviously you can't because that's against the law. If you're caught with it, you'll probably be kicked out of the hotel and arrested. If you are of legal age to drink you usually can. Check with the hotel to see if there are any city/county/state restrictions, or restrictions within in the hotel itself.
Do I need a credit card to book a room?
A credit card number is needed when you book, even when there is no money paid at the time of reservation, in case you do not show up (then the first night is automatically charged to your card). That is standard for all major hotels.
However, if you contact the hotel you may be able pay in cash or by check by sending in a deposit. How this works depends on the hotel, so you will need to call them.
Do I have to pay for the whole stay when I book? Can I cancel the room?
That depends on the hotel and the rate. When you book online, the rate details will explain if any deposit or prepayment needs to be made. If something is unclear, call the hotel. When you book over the phone, the reservation agent will explain the cancellation and any deposit policies to you before you book. Before you book a room, make sure you are aware of these policies completely.
Refundable reservations will have a date that you need to cancel by to get a full refund, which varies by hotel and the type of reservation. It can range between the day of your stay, to a week before your stay and beyond. Usually it is 24, 48, or 72 hours.
If you book online and do not have a convention rate, chances are the cheapest rate is an online-only, prepaid reservation. These are usually not refundable, so check the rate details. I would not recommend booking these unless you are absolutely sure you will be attending the convention and staying in that hotel.
What do I need when I check in?
You need a method of payment. This can be the credit card you reserved the room with, or sometimes a different credit card. If you want to pay in cash, it's best to contact the hotel before to see what their policy is for paying cash upon check in. You may also need to show a photo ID, but that depends on the hotel.
Should I bring a print out of my confirmation with me?
Yes, though you probably will not need it. However, sometimes things go wrong with reservations and you need proof to show that you did make your reservation.
When can I check in? When do I have to check out?
Check in and check out times can vary, so check your reservation. Check in is usually 3pm or 4pm and check out is usually 11am or 12pm. You can request an early check in when you book the room, however that is usually never guaranteed and is based on the hotels availability. Sometimes things get crazy with hundreds of people checking in for a convention and your room may not be available yet at check in time. When this happens, be civil for the sake of the employee. Screaming at them is not going to make your room available any faster.
If you are going to be checking in late, be sure to indicate a late-arrival guarantee on your reservation. The hotel can consider you a no show after a certain time (usually midnight) and give your hotel room to someone else. If you're going to be late checking in and didn't request a late-arrival guarantee (e.g. your flight has been delayed) call the hotel and tell them you will still be there so they don't give your room away.
Be sure to check out by the indicated time, though it's okay if you're a little late (especially if there is a line). Some hotels will slip a receipt under your door the morning of your check out, which will have instructions on checking out, which may include calling the front desk or using your television. You can request a late check out, but those usually are at an additional cost.
Will I be charged when I check in or check out?
Usually you pay for all the charges when you check out, but some hotels do charge for the entire reservation upon check in. It depends on the hotel, and if you need to know you should contact them to find out. It usually does not indicate on your reservation confirmation when your card will be charged. Occasionally, a charge is placed on your card upon check in for a certain amount as a hold.
These are important to keep in mind if you will be charging the room to a debit card and collecting cash from the others in your room. If money will be tight for you, check with the hotel first to see what kind of charges you can expect to see when you check in.
Should I bother signing up for the hotel rewards program?
If you attend a few conventions every year, or if you go to the same one every year, consider enrolling into hotel rewards programs. They are free and even though you may not be staying enough to rack up enough points for a free stay any time soon, you can get sometimes get special amenities and room upgrades. If you have a credit card, see if you are able to transfer rewards points to your program, or change your card to be a rewards card for the hotel you stay at most.
Do I have to tip people?
You should tip housekeeping and people who help with your bags. Housekeeping is usually $1 per person in the room per night you stay. So if you have four people in the room and are staying two nights you should leave $8. Leave it in a visible stop, such as the desk or nightstand, or in an envelope if one is provided. If people help you with your bags or check them before you check in and/or after you check out you should tip them $1 per bag.
Do I have to pay for damages made to the room?
Yes and you agreed to that when you booked the room. Be careful not to stain, rip, or break things in the room. Cosplayers should pay attention to any make up, paints, or dyes they are using and clean up any messes. If notice something broken or stained when you check in, notify the front desk immediately to make sure that you are not charged for something you didn't do.
Do you have a question that's not answered here? Please e-mail it to Elizabeth O'Malley, AnimeCons.com Editor.