Dragon Con on the Cheap
Conventions can be expensive destinations, and for some of us, this is a concern. There are ways you can get around this. Here are some of the ways I've cut costs with my Dragon Con vacation.
Preorder. If you preorder your membership, you can save a lot of money. There's an element of risk. Dragon con memberships are non refundable. But you're making a gamble either way. If you choose not to preorder, you are essentially betting that you won't make it to con that year. If you intend to go and can't foresee a reason you wouldn't, it's more logical to place your bet the other way. If you make it to con, you end up saving money versus paying the price at the door.
The earlier you preorder, the more money you save. It's always best to buy a Dragon Con membership during or directly after the con the year before. Even if you just save a little bit by preordering a few months early, it'll take some of the financial burden off your shoulders.
If you're not going to preorder, consider a one day pass. I do not recommend this. It's impossible to see it all in one day. It's impossible to see it all in four days. But, if you decide to attend only Friday or only Sunday, you could still attend the parade for free and you would still be eligible for Saturday's low aquarium rate. Be aware that two one day passes could cost around as much as one four day pass. Monday is a short day, I really wouldn't recommend going just Monday unless you have no other path to attending the con. Monday, incidentally, would be the ideal day to bring kids, since it's a short day and there are smaller crowds. It's much easier to navigate the con on Monday, because a large number of people go home early.
Do not buy food from the hotel lobbies. The food isn't special or fancy, it's just expensive. I bought the smallest slice of pizza I've ever seen last year. I don't remember where I got it or how much I paid, but my sense of regret flared up instantly. It was in a deceptively large single slice box, which unfortunately contained very little pizza.
Bring food in from home if you like. At the very least, you should bring your own water bottle and a granola bar. The water bottle can be refilled for free at many water coolers, which are conveniently located around the con.
Alternately you can go to the mall next door for fast food. This is what I usually do. Some of the mall options include Moe's, Chick-Fil-A, and Dairy Queen. There are some reasonable restaurants in the area. I've seen pizza guys selling full size pizzas for reasonable prices on the street outside of the con before. In recent years, there are also food trucks. In 2019, these food trucks were parked around the Sheraton.
I've also heard of this magical place called the con suite, where there is free food for anyone brave enough to look for it. I've never had time to go on this mythical quest, but perhaps you, adventurer, are braver than I.
Now this is the tricky part. Dragon Con host hotel rooms are extremely difficult to come by at the con rate. It is imperative if you want to stay in a host hotel that you time that booking exactly right. There is a group on Facebook called Dragon Con Rooms where you can find out when rooms are being released at the hotels.
Some hotels book up very fast and they do not release more rooms at the con rate. Others release room blocks throughout the year.
There are other ways to get a reasonable deal on a host hotel room. The Hilton, for example, offers a points program. Depending on how often you travel, you could save up and pay for a Hilton room with points. They also sometimes have the option to buy points at a half price rate, then you can use those points to pay for a room that is posted at regular price.
Any way you slice it, a host hotel room is going to be pricey. One way you can mitigate those costs is to split your host hotel room with as many people as you can. See the hotel policies on room capacity to share rooms fairly and safely.
When cost is a concern, you can also consider staying off site somewhere. There are some reasonably priced overflow hotels you can learn more about on the Dragon Con website. In 2019, I stayed at the Hampton Inn and Suites, which was a reasonably short walk from the con. There are also hotels near the Marta line. Marta rides do cost money, and the Marta does close for some hours of the night, so you will have to plan ahead for that.
Don't try to sleep in the lobby at con, you will be asked to go to your hotel room or leave.
Be aware that parking in downtown Atlanta is expensive. There are websites on line that offer prepaid parking, you can compare those and make a decision about what you want to pay at what distance from con.
Sometimes it makes the most sense to park your car at a Marta station and take the train into the con. They offer long term parking in their garages.
Some host hotels offer vallet parking at an additional cost, but that parking is limited.
Do your research before you come into town and have some backup plans.
Believe it or not, it might be cheaper and safer to take a bus to Atlanta than to drive. Check Greyhound and Megabus fares to find out how much it'll cost to get to Dragon Con from your area.
Cosplay can be really expensive. Unless it's something you get a lot of joy from, you could choose not to buy or build a costume and save money that way. Cosplay is not a required con expense, although more and more people are cosplaying these days. Those little pieces and supplies really rack up cost. If you do cosplay, try to be thrifty in purchasing your materials and tools to help keep your overall con expenses down.
The special aquarium night is optional, and if you choose not to do it, you're saving yourself some cash. There's plenty to do at the con. I've been, and I'll say it's worth going at least once. There's a shuttle that goes back and forth between the con and the aquarium.
Avoid the vendor rooms and the art show if money is a big concern, because if you go in there, you will spend money. That's absolutely true. No matter how much I tell myself I'm going to be thrifty, I end up buying a bunch of stuff from dealers or artists or both. If money is an object, skip it and do free stuff.
Autographs and photo ops are both expensive, although a few celebrities (like authors and certain voice actors) sign for free, especially if you already have a copy of their book or DVD with you. Find out before the con how much your celebrity charges and consider that part of your budget if that's what you're into.
The awards banquet costs money. I've never met anyone who goes to that.
Here are some things at the convention that are included in your membership: Concerts, celebrity panels, entertainment events like plays and sing alongs, the Masquerade, the parade, fan panels, robot battles, film festivals, and cosplay photography.
Dragon Con gives more bang for your buck than you'll get at any major theme park or festival I've ever heard of. It's a high value experience at a fairly low cost.
Set a budget for yourself before the con, and bring what you believe you'll need with a little extra for an emergency. Don't carry it all with you at once, in case something happens. Remind yourself not to give in to expensive impulse purchases.
Peachtree Center Marta Station
Dragon Con Related Links
- Home Page | Dragoncon
Check out Dragon Con's homepage to get information like how to get host hotel rates or how much a photo op with your favorite actor might cost you.
- MARTA Long-term Parking – MARTA Guide
In addition to free daily parking at most MARTA stations, you can also take advantage of long-term parking. For $5 or $8 per day, you can leave your car at designated stations and lots overnight and ride the train directly to the airport or to anothe
- The Mall At Peachtree Center
From here you can find the mall directory, which includes a list of shops and restaurants present inside the mall, as well as a map.
- Google Maps Link to the Dragon Con Area
From here you can find area restaurants and get an idea of the landscape of the con. Knowing your geography can save you money on food as well as prevent you from getting lost beyond all reason.