Gen Con: the Cheapening
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Posted by qwaserity

Fellow posters,

I have friends who want to come to Gen Con but they think it's too expensive ($800 for two people is expensive for them). Other than the obvious (like working for a company the entire weekend or twenty people to a room), what are the ways that you make Gen Con more affordable?

Start with:

Pack candy, nuts and an empty water bottle.
Know your discount dealers like CMON and Half Priced Books.
Play in tournaments where you can win the game rather than buy it.
Visit the food court over the convention food options.
Hotels outside of downtown ($303 for my room).
 

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Posted by brooks

Wow... with a budget for 2 at $800 that's going to be tough. Just a pair of 4-day badges are going to chew up a quarter of that amount. Definitely go with an outer hotel most of which have free parking, free WiFi, and often free breakfasts. Be certain to pick a hotel with a free breakfast and gorge yourself at said free breakfast.

Definitely pack snacks and skip lunch eating dinner at a fast food, food court kinda place for dinner. There are snazzy water stations all over the convention center to bringing an empty bottle is a great idea. 

Staying at an outlying hotel explore car sharing and compare Uber/Lyft against downtown parking. Check out Gate 10 parking (I've never used it, but from these forums everyone who has seems to love it.)

There are a huge number of events for free seminars and panel discussions which can be wildly entertaining (or incredibly boring and useless, so they can be hit-or-miss.) 

Play free demos in the vendor hall. If they are tabletop roleplaying enthusiasts, Pathfinder is rolling out their 2nd Edition at the convention and there should be free hour or two demos of that on a regular basis in the Sagamore ballroom. 

Honestly I don't know if there is still a coupon book as I've never used it, but that may be a good source for discounts and freebies. 

Look for pickup games of all types in the hallways, hotel lobbies, etc. 

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Posted by trace_sl


  • 10 dollars a day.  As of this post there are 162 days to go, at 10$ a day that is 1,620$.  
  • Budget for next year, take your budget out to make Gen Con every other year, saving for 24 months not 12 or now 6. Never put a strain on your money.  
  • Volunteer!  
  • Limit your days, just go for 2 days not the full 4.  

 
 

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Posted by andrewj.rager

There are lots of events that you can play for free or for a $2 fee.

Don't eat at ICC, the food trucks, or the food court in the CCM. Go to actual restaurants or "Fast casual" places in the area. Usually for the same price as the food court, you can sit down and relax. Just do some research on deals places might have. 2 years ago Primanti Bros had an after 9 special for $5 burgers or pizza. We ate there 3 nights of the con. Most of the time the restaurants a block or two away are much less busy and you can get in immediately if you don't go during peak hours.

Be selective from who you buy from. Check BGG for what stores have told them pricing will be and just go to the deals. Don't buy from AEG or FFG at full price, but Kosmos and Iello might be a good place to check out as they can have good deals. Also if you can, wait until Sunday to buy games (Hot games excluded of course) as games will go down in price because they don't want to ship them back. (This only applies to some places)

Budget: 2 people Arrive Thursday, Leave Sunday
4 day badge x 2 after taxes and fees = $242
Outbound Hotel ($150 avg) 3 nights plus 17% tax = $526.5
5 events at $2 x 2 = $20 (cheaper if you find $0 events)
Lunch (8.5) and Dinner(12) for 2 for 3 days (Thu,Fri,Sat) = $61.5
Eat Breakfast at the Hotel
On Sunday eat lunch on your way home.
That's $850 before you even buy a game. Also does not include parking DT or rideshare. Wasn't sure on prices for that.

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Posted by buffythecatslayer

Limit your days, just go for 2 days not the full 4.

Two single-day badges are almost or more expensive than the full 4 day badge, unless they do something like Friday/Sunday, so at least in terms of getting a badge, get the 4 day.  Other than badges though, yes, they could save a lot by just doing Saturday/Sunday, and if possible staying just the one night in a hotel.

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Posted by syntruth trace_sl

trace_sl wrote:

  • 10 dollars a day.  As of this post there are 162 days to go, at 10$ a day that is 1,620$.  
  • Budget for next year, take your budget out to make Gen Con every other year, saving for 24 months not 12 or now 6. Never put a strain on your money.


I can't stress that enough myself. GenCon is our "one big vacation" each year, so immediately after each GenCon I start a new savings goal in my banking app. I use Simple** bank, not sure of other bank/apps have that feature.  (It takes a bit out of my account and puts it into the savings goal each day.)

That goal covers badges/events, flights, hotel shares and food, and a guess at Vendor Hall purchases based on prior years. I tend to target $500-$1000 over expected, simply due to unplanned events, like emergencies. Anything left over, which surprisingly happens, is immediately put into the goal for next GenCon.

Sadly, GenCon is now rather large and expensive, so going off the cuff or without planning can get overwhelming. Budgeting is key, I think, and the experience and all that has been worth every dollar saved for us.

** Unrelated, but maybe helpful: The Simple Bank app has allowed me to really manage my funds overall and allowed me to pay off debts and the like in a very organized manner -- something I am not good at naturally, unfortunately. xD I can't recommend it enough.

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Posted by qwaserity trace_sl

trace_sl wrote:

  • 10 dollars a day.  As of this post there are 162 days to go, at 10$ a day that is 1,620$.  
  • Budget for next year, take your budget out to make Gen Con every other year, saving for 24 months not 12 or now 6. Never put a strain on your money.  

 
 


LOL. I know some folks who can't budget to save their lives. I've already paid for the hotel room. I'll pay for my badge later this month. In May I'll pay for my tickets. At the con I'll pay for food... It's almost like GenCon spreads out the cost just so you CAN go... 

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Posted by quarex

I have absolutely come back from Gen-Con having spent less than $400 for myself, and I consider that a personal failing honestly, as I was trying to spend more and failed.

Granted yes my badge is paid for by the Auction so that helps, and then it sort of compounds the savings, since when you are working you are not spending any money.  I spent more on food than on anything gaming-related most of the last half-dozen times I have gone I think, every year saying "THIS year I am going to irresponsibly buy something!" and never really managing it.

My food goals every year are to eat an endless mountain of free breakfast at the hotel (assuming the hotel has free breakfast) which then frees me from having to eat lunch other than a granola bar and a cup of coffee or something, and then, yes, I always spend too much on dinner, but they could easily avoid that by patronizing one of the delicious-but-still-cheap options nearby, meaning they may well have $75/day left to buy whatever strikes their fancy.

Which, admittedly, was probably less than I would have ever spent per day when I first started attending, granted.  And as their first time, yes, it would probably be harder to want to stick to that budget.

Edit: Ugh I lost the plot half-way through; I remembered that hotel costs had to be part of the $800 when I started but not by the time I finished, hah.  O.K. yeah they would probably have more like $30/day to spend instead of $75/day, if I understand the price of decently cheap hotels in Indianapolis

Re-Edit: But again if they volunteered and covered the cost of their badges that way they could still probably make it work with a cheap hotel.

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Posted by ladye qwaserity

qwaserity wrote:
Fellow posters,
I have friends who want to come to Gen Con but they think it's too expensive ($800 for two people is expensive for them). Other than the obvious (like working for a company the entire weekend or twenty people to a room), what are the ways that you make Gen Con more affordable?
To address the expense. I've been part of a couple and we have taken many travel vacations. We have NEVER done an out of state convention a real vacation--outside of visiting family--for less than $1,000.00. That is including travel, food, hotels, and activities.

The only reason GenCon is cheap for us is that we live in Indy and pack some of our own food, and I work downtown with free parking within walking distance. And even "cheap" is around $500.00 for badges and event tickets.

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Posted by kellishaver

This is why I like that badges and events go on sale so early - it allows you to spread out the cost. We bot badges in January, hotel and parking in Feb, and we'll be throwing money into savings each month until July for game purchases. gas, and food (we're close enough that we can drive). 

We've spent $340 on hotel, $375 on 3 badges, $110 on parking (parking can be done a lot cheaper if you're willing to walk or take a shuttle). We'll be eating the free hotel breakfast, packing our own snacks to get us through the day, and getting fairly inexpensive food at the mall or a restaurant near our hotel. There are plenty of free events and things going on that you could keep busy without buying event tickets if you really wanted to.

So I feel like 2 people could do it for less than $800 if they didn't have to buy plane tickets, but that wouldn't leave any kind of a budget for buying games or enjoying the more popular events. 

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Posted by lehane

I agree with the people saying toss a few dollars aside each day/week. While I am in no way at $800 for two people (for the record I try to budget $2,000 for myself for the entire trip including badge, event tickets, Hotel, travel costs, etc).

Three things I do are I dump my coin change each day in a minions beach pail and empty it when full. usually about $200.00 for a year of saving.

I also have a separate bank account that I drop my left over dollars in at the end of the week when I withdraw my cash allotment for the week. That is the bulk of my savings for Gencon. 

Any unspent money from Gencon gets put right back into the Gencon account for the next year. The rollover could be nice if there isn't any major purchases in gaming and I discipline myself in the Artists' area. 

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Posted by fethbone

- Packing food is obviously first up. Even better if you can get a hotel like a Candlewood/Home2/Residence Inn with a kitchenette and full-size fridge so you can cook and prep at your hotel. Avoid the food trucks and CC food. Neither are a very good deal, and if you're going to eat fast food, you might as well get it cheap at a real fast-food place in the mall. There are the hardcore people with coolers I see, but you can pack a really good amount of food in a backpack or messenger bag if you don't mind things being at room temp.

- Staying well outside of downtown is pretty much going to be a given for lodging. Free parking and much cheaper. Depending on where you are willing to stay, I have seen Super 8's and Motel 6's hovering around $100/night if you book early enough. If you are brave and willing to look, you could also consider finding people to go in on an AirBnB/VRBO rental. Cramming 10 people into a 5-bedroom house is more tolerable than trying to cram 10 people into a hotel room. And again, you have a kitchen. 

This is kind of an extreme option, but you may be able to get a hotel all or mostly paid for by signing up for a hotel loyalty credit card. IHG, at least, runs promos where you can get 80K+ points for signing up for their card (can't remember if there's a minimum spend initially, there may be), and the average property in the outer ring around downtown Indy I would say is around 15-25K points a night. Yes, you have to keep the card for a year and pony up an annual fee at the end of that year, but $89 for a 3-night stay ain't bad. If you keep the card after a year, you also get a free night a year to use at future Gencons or wherever. All the big brands (Marriott, Hilton, Hyatt, Wyndham etc.) have cards and incentives. I will say you probably cannot do this with Hilton, as they have an adjustable-rate points system, and I've heard Hilton properties have stratospheric points costs during Gencon.

- It really also depends on what your, I guess, goals are at GenCon. Personally, I don't really buy that much stuff from the dealer hall. I play a lot of demos, love the First Exposure playtest area, and go to a lot of free seminars. Yes, if your goal is to shop or come home with lots of swag, you may have to pray you get lucky in a drawing/contest, work the coupon book, or brush up on your negotiation skills, but you don't have to spend a lot of money after your badge to have a great time. Honestly, I spend most of my money eating and drinking my way through the long weekend.

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Posted by squirecam fethbone

fethbone wrote:
- Packing food is obviously first up. Even better if you can get a hotel like a Candlewood/Home2/Residence Inn with a kitchenette and full-size fridge so you can cook and prep at your hotel. Avoid the food trucks and CC food. Neither are a very good deal, and if you're going to eat fast food, you might as well get it cheap at a real fast-food place in the mall. There are the hardcore people with coolers I see, but you can pack a really good amount of food in a backpack or messenger bag if you don't mind things being at room temp.
- Staying well outside of downtown is pretty much going to be a given for lodging. Free parking and much cheaper. Depending on where you are willing to stay, I have seen Super 8's and Motel 6's hovering around $100/night if you book early enough. If you are brave and willing to look, you could also consider finding people to go in on an AirBnB/VRBO rental. Cramming 10 people into a 5-bedroom house is more tolerable than trying to cram 10 people into a hotel room. And again, you have a kitchen. 
This is kind of an extreme option, but you may be able to get a hotel all or mostly paid for by signing up for a hotel loyalty credit card. IHG, at least, runs promos where you can get 80K+ points for signing up for their card (can't remember if there's a minimum spend initially, there may be), and the average property in the outer ring around downtown Indy I would say is around 15-25K points a night. Yes, you have to keep the card for a year and pony up an annual fee at the end of that year, but $89 for a 3-night stay ain't bad. If you keep the card after a year, you also get a free night a year to use at future Gencons or wherever. All the big brands (Marriott, Hilton, Hyatt, Wyndham etc.) have cards and incentives. I will say you probably cannot do this with Hilton, as they have an adjustable-rate points system, and I've heard Hilton properties have stratospheric points costs during Gencon.
- It really also depends on what your, I guess, goals are at GenCon. Personally, I don't really buy that much stuff from the dealer hall. I play a lot of demos, love the First Exposure playtest area, and go to a lot of free seminars. Yes, if your goal is to shop or come home with lots of swag, you may have to pray you get lucky in a drawing/contest, work the coupon book, or brush up on your negotiation skills, but you don't have to spend a lot of money after your badge to have a great time. Honestly, I spend most of my money eating and drinking my way through the long weekend.
I use Hilton and I’ve been able to get downtown rooms for 40k points a night, which isn’t bad at all. Plus when you pay with points the fifth night is free. So a room is even “cheaper” that way. I like Hilton because even in smaller towns there is a Hampton Inn or similar affiliated hotel.

whatever you decide, getting a rewards program is helpful. Even if you can only gather enough points to use it in alternating years.

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Posted by freebiegrabber

My suggestions (some of which have already been mentioned):


  • Pack your food.  Get a small, softside insulated lunch bag and make yourself sandwiches. Pack string cheese; nuts; jerky; granola bars; etc. - you can get most (if not all) of this at a grocery or drug store.  (There are two CVS stores in downtown Indianapolis!)  You'll save money AND have the convenience of being able to eat whenever you want!  No waiting in lines, and you can zip from event to event quickly!  Carry around an empty water bottle.

  • If you're coming from out of town: take a Greyhound bus.  For example, an "economy" seat from Chicago to Indianapolis (arriving the Weds. evening before GenCon) is only $25 (one-way)!

  • Once you arrive, stay in a cheap AirBnB.  For example, a private room with a shared bathroom in a "bed and breakfast" several minutes outside of downtown Indianapolis is currently only $29/night (for GenCon weekend)!

  • Play free demos in the exhibitor/vendor hall.  Just buy a handful of Generic tickets and arrive a few minutes early to your desired events; you might be able to weasel in if there's a no-show, or the GM is feeling generous.  Look for free pickup games in the hallways, hotel lobbies and Union Station.

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Posted by fethbone squirecam

squirecam wrote:
fethbone wrote:
- Packing food is obviously first up. Even better if you can get a hotel like a Candlewood/Home2/Residence Inn with a kitchenette and full-size fridge so you can cook and prep at your hotel. Avoid the food trucks and CC food. Neither are a very good deal, and if you're going to eat fast food, you might as well get it cheap at a real fast-food place in the mall. There are the hardcore people with coolers I see, but you can pack a really good amount of food in a backpack or messenger bag if you don't mind things being at room temp.
- Staying well outside of downtown is pretty much going to be a given for lodging. Free parking and much cheaper. Depending on where you are willing to stay, I have seen Super 8's and Motel 6's hovering around $100/night if you book early enough. If you are brave and willing to look, you could also consider finding people to go in on an AirBnB/VRBO rental. Cramming 10 people into a 5-bedroom house is more tolerable than trying to cram 10 people into a hotel room. And again, you have a kitchen. 
This is kind of an extreme option, but you may be able to get a hotel all or mostly paid for by signing up for a hotel loyalty credit card. IHG, at least, runs promos where you can get 80K+ points for signing up for their card (can't remember if there's a minimum spend initially, there may be), and the average property in the outer ring around downtown Indy I would say is around 15-25K points a night. Yes, you have to keep the card for a year and pony up an annual fee at the end of that year, but $89 for a 3-night stay ain't bad. If you keep the card after a year, you also get a free night a year to use at future Gencons or wherever. All the big brands (Marriott, Hilton, Hyatt, Wyndham etc.) have cards and incentives. I will say you probably cannot do this with Hilton, as they have an adjustable-rate points system, and I've heard Hilton properties have stratospheric points costs during Gencon.
- It really also depends on what your, I guess, goals are at GenCon. Personally, I don't really buy that much stuff from the dealer hall. I play a lot of demos, love the First Exposure playtest area, and go to a lot of free seminars. Yes, if your goal is to shop or come home with lots of swag, you may have to pray you get lucky in a drawing/contest, work the coupon book, or brush up on your negotiation skills, but you don't have to spend a lot of money after your badge to have a great time. Honestly, I spend most of my money eating and drinking my way through the long weekend.
I use Hilton and I’ve been able to get downtown rooms for 40k points a night, which isn’t bad at all. Plus when you pay with points the fifth night is free. So a room is even “cheaper” that way. I like Hilton because even in smaller towns there is a Hampton Inn or similar affiliated hotel.whatever you decide, getting a rewards program is helpful. Even if you can only gather enough points to use it in alternating years.
Wow, 40K is not bad at all. I heard on another thread that the namesake Hilton downtown could be up to 90K points a night during Gencon. Crowne Plaza actually went down from 40K to 30K a year or so ago, so I'm a happy camper. I forgot to mention also with the IHG card you get the 4th night free when you pay with points as well, so there's your Wednesday or Sunday night if you're so inclined.

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Posted by squirecam fethbone

fethbone wrote:
squirecam wrote:
fethbone wrote:
- Packing food is obviously first up. Even better if you can get a hotel like a Candlewood/Home2/Residence Inn with a kitchenette and full-size fridge so you can cook and prep at your hotel. Avoid the food trucks and CC food. Neither are a very good deal, and if you're going to eat fast food, you might as well get it cheap at a real fast-food place in the mall. There are the hardcore people with coolers I see, but you can pack a really good amount of food in a backpack or messenger bag if you don't mind things being at room temp.
- Staying well outside of downtown is pretty much going to be a given for lodging. Free parking and much cheaper. Depending on where you are willing to stay, I have seen Super 8's and Motel 6's hovering around $100/night if you book early enough. If you are brave and willing to look, you could also consider finding people to go in on an AirBnB/VRBO rental. Cramming 10 people into a 5-bedroom house is more tolerable than trying to cram 10 people into a hotel room. And again, you have a kitchen. 
This is kind of an extreme option, but you may be able to get a hotel all or mostly paid for by signing up for a hotel loyalty credit card. IHG, at least, runs promos where you can get 80K+ points for signing up for their card (can't remember if there's a minimum spend initially, there may be), and the average property in the outer ring around downtown Indy I would say is around 15-25K points a night. Yes, you have to keep the card for a year and pony up an annual fee at the end of that year, but $89 for a 3-night stay ain't bad. If you keep the card after a year, you also get a free night a year to use at future Gencons or wherever. All the big brands (Marriott, Hilton, Hyatt, Wyndham etc.) have cards and incentives. I will say you probably cannot do this with Hilton, as they have an adjustable-rate points system, and I've heard Hilton properties have stratospheric points costs during Gencon.
- It really also depends on what your, I guess, goals are at GenCon. Personally, I don't really buy that much stuff from the dealer hall. I play a lot of demos, love the First Exposure playtest area, and go to a lot of free seminars. Yes, if your goal is to shop or come home with lots of swag, you may have to pray you get lucky in a drawing/contest, work the coupon book, or brush up on your negotiation skills, but you don't have to spend a lot of money after your badge to have a great time. Honestly, I spend most of my money eating and drinking my way through the long weekend.
I use Hilton and I’ve been able to get downtown rooms for 40k points a night, which isn’t bad at all. Plus when you pay with points the fifth night is free. So a room is even “cheaper” that way. I like Hilton because even in smaller towns there is a Hampton Inn or similar affiliated hotel.whatever you decide, getting a rewards program is helpful. Even if you can only gather enough points to use it in alternating years.
Wow, 40K is not bad at all. I heard on another thread that the namesake Hilton downtown could be up to 90K points a night during Gencon. Crowne Plaza actually went down from 40K to 30K a year or so ago, so I'm a happy camper. I forgot to mention also with the IHG card you get the 4th night free when you pay with points as well, so there's your Wednesday or Sunday night if you're so inclined.
You have to be choosy. Rooms on the Hilton site (out of block) are more than $400 a night, but many times that same room goes for a "normal" amount of points. There are exceptions. I've seen the standard Conrad jump to 70-120k a night.

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Posted by roundtop

Here are my tips, coming from out of town (flying)

1) google flights to track flight prices. Wait for a price you are willing to pay (I saved over $200us last year and about the same this year)

2) work for someone. This often includes your badge and hotel (and some pay on top). True dungeon is always looking, as are many others.

3) breakfast. If the hotel doesn't include it, go to the grocery store (2 downtown) and pick up breakfast bars and some fruit. I aim for about 400-500 calories for breakfast as it will be a long day.

4) lunch / snack.  Go at least 2 blocks away and get sit down food. Just about the same price for better food and often more food. Alternate option is bring granola bar / cliff bars. Looking for around 300 calories. Nuts are also great.

4) dinner. Get something nice if you bagged your lunch, you saved money already, and you have the calories for it. If you had a big lunch, consider something small (I mentioned grocery stores, right?)

5) events. 
Demos are free in dealers hall.
Lectures are free.
Writers symposium has a lot of awesome stuff. Don't be afraid to spend $2 or $4 for events you want to try.  Game library is great, and there is the mayfair/asmodee stuff (caveat, this may change)

6) controversial methods:
Ok, so these are not great, and I advise against them, but you could... stay up all night playing d&d rather than a hotel room, use wet wipes to give yourself a quick wipedown in the mornings in the bathrooms.  Sleep where you can during the day, or power through.    Do not do this, but I have seen it done, often with stinky, tired results.

In 2018 I spent under $1k on gencon, including a $300 flight, by using the advice above, and that included spending about $400 on dealers hall.
 

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Posted by turbostar

Our group went into a 1 week house rental just outside of town. It's roughly $300 per person, so I'm at roughly $410 with badge and housing paid for. Mostly the same as what others have mentioned here. Pack snacks, be frugal. Keep an eye out for great deals and just have fun. 

I've gone in the past and spent under $400 myself after housing/badge registration. It's doable, you just gotta be incredibly frugal. :)

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Posted by jpederso

If you come to Gencon to shop but don't need the latest games, I would recommend the auction and consignment store.  I usually make a list of games I'd like to pick up and the best retail price I've come across.  Then I pick them up if I can find them at a considerable discount.  Auction is a bit different because I'm just looking for something interesting at a good price.

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