This is a short article I wrote in 2006 for an aborted attempt at a furry lifestyle magazine called “Furry: The Magazine”. It’s probably out of date, but I’m putting it here for historical purposes. Some of this I later integrated into my “How To Do A Furry Con” article.
Conventions are exciting for any furry fan. They represent a chance for us all to get out from behind our computer screens and actually meet one another, enjoy events together, buy and sell various items, party and generally have a good time. However, if you’re not careful, you can easily tear through lots of money during a convention, ending up back home flat broke and on the ramen diet for the next few weeks. Fear not, because going to a con does not have to bust the bank!
Saving money at a convention is actually a lot easier than it sounds. There are plenty of little things you can do to trim a few dollars here and there, and those dollars will eventually add up to huge savings.
Before you leave, take a few minutes to make a budget for your trip. It sounds terribly boring, but knowing where you are spending your money is the best place to figure out how to save it. Write down a list of things you want to buy while at the convention and the maximum you are willing to spend for them. Be sure to leave in some disposable income because, let’s face it, you will certainly see something you want that you hadn’t anticipated.
If you are traveling by air, consider booking your tickets online directly with the airline. Going through a travel agent or a third-party booking service can sometimes add anywhere from $5 to $60 to the price of a round trip ticket. If the airline gives you the option to use an electronic ticket (as most major air carriers do), take advantage of this as it can save you additional money over having a paper ticket mailed to you.
As a general rule, the earlier you book your tickets, the better price you will get. Some airlines will offer deep discounts for last-minute travelers; however this is a gamble that usually doesn’t pay off, especially if you have to be at your destination at a certain time.
Take advantage of frequent traveler programs offered by many airlines so that you earn something back for your travels. Many small trips over several years can quickly earn you a free ticket. Don’t be afraid to hunt for discounts. Some airlines offer very steep discounts for college students, veterans, military servicemen, and members of certain organizations. Usually, doing a little bit of research can pay off in large amounts of money saved.
If you can spare the time, it is often best to travel on off-peak days. Fridays, Sundays, and Mondays are peak travel days for airlines, so if you are willing to spend a little bit longer in the host city, booking a flight from Thursday to Tuesday can usually save you a good bit as well. Wednesdays are the absolute cheapest day to travel on.
Do some research into transportation to and from the airport. While many conventions will have a “recommended” shuttle service that will take you directly to the hotel, these often charge a flat rate per person. It might be cheaper to take a taxi if you are traveling with several people, and public transportation is almost certainly a cheaper alternative, though it may take you a bit longer to reach the hotel.
If you are driving to the convention, the most obvious way to save money is to carpool and share the gas and driving duties. However, before you leave, get your car checked out and tuned up. Check the air pressure in your tires and use cruise control while driving if available or try to drive a consistent speed. These simple steps can save you much in the amount of gas you burn.
One thing many people don’t realize is that all gas is the same and comes from the same place – there is almost no difference between the gas at one station and the gas at the station across the street that is selling it for 20 cents more. The extra markup is for advertising and special detergents that they add to the fuel, so fill up wherever it is cheapest.
If you have space, bring along a few empty gas cans. Fill these up where gas is the cheapest; this will allow you hedge your costs later on in the trip when you get to a state where gas is horrendously expensive. Bring a cooler with drinks and snacks along as well, as this will save a lot of cash over stopping for fast food along the way.
As a last resort, you can take a bus or train. If you live in the Northeast and the host city is also in the Northeast, the train is not usually a bad bet. However, the same rules above that apply to airlines apply to bus carriers and Amtrak as well: book early, travel on off-peak days and do research on discounts that are available.
Eating in restaurants all weekend, especially in the hotel, can be extremely expensive. Even eating at nearby fast-food restaurants can get expensive after a whole weekend. If there is a grocery store near the hotel (you can ask at the hotel desk), head over there and get some lunch meats, fruits, vegetables, and snacks and “brown bag” it the whole weekend. Also, don’t eat or drink out of the hotel vending machines at any cost – you will probably be paying several times the cost of a soda than you would pay at a grocery store.
Likewise, don’t drink at the hotel bar. The drinks are usually horrendously overpriced and, if you get drunk, you could easily wind up with a $100 bar tab. Find a liquor store near the hotel and stock up when you get there (be sure to do some research into liquor laws in the host city – some states can be funny).
If you can possibly avoid it, do not buy anything in the hotel gift shop. Gift shops massively overprice everything they sell for the convenience of having it right there in the hotel. Usually if you walk down the street to a store, you can find everything you need for cheaper prices.
Don’t sign up for “in room internet” offered by some hotels as there is usually a rather steep charge associated with it that is billed to the room. Many conventions provide an internet room and many hotels have free wireless access anyway. Also, don’t get roll-away beds, room service or other extra services unless you know the cost beforehand. These services usually come at a fee and it is usually rather steep.
Do not, under any circumstances, use the hotel phone for anything other than room-to-room calls. Many hotels will charge you per minute even for local calls and the long distance rates are usually very expensive. If you need to make calls, use a cell phone or get a calling card and use a pay phone.
When you are checking out, take time to examine your bill closely. Sometimes mistakes are made or the hotel is just trying to milk you for money and you could be getting charged for things you didn’t use. Be sure to check for things like mandatory parking fees, roll away beds, telephone calls and room service. Don’t be afraid to ask to have charges explained or removed if you don’t recognize them.
The key to saving money at a furry convention, and indeed while traveling in general, is to do research. Take the time to plan your trip properly and look for the little ways to trim costs around the edges. And just think: all the money you save with a few simple little things is all the more money you will have to spend in the Dealers’ Den!