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I am going to an overseas conference this year. The conference organizer provided two hotels that we can book from. But after a round of Internet search, I found generally better prices at other hotels that are closer to the conference venue.

Obviously, I do not want to book so far away from everyone else that I cannot join any activities.

What are other pros and cons of booking a hotel through the conference or on your own that I may have missed?

  • Be a little careful about where you go. The last time I traveled, I booked a hotel that ended up being owned by a couple of people with an extra apartment they rented out. They were honest and it was a nice place, but because I was expecting a regular hotel and there was a language barrier (I went overseas), I ended up having a very unpleasant experience. It might be worth paying more to book at an international hotel chain where you know what to expect. – Kevin - Reinstate Monica Mar 31 '16 at 20:59
  • Sometimes the recommended hotels provide free meeting rooms to the conference, in exchange for conference participants booking through the conference. This would be defeated if everyone chooses their own hotel instead. – GEdgar Apr 2 '16 at 18:05
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When I attend conferences, I rarely use the "official" hotels. Frequently there are better, closer, and less expensive alternatives nearby that are perfectly fine.

The only reason to book at the conference-approved hotels is if your travel funding requires it as a condition for reimbursement. Otherwise, save some money and book elsewhere so long as it's within walking distance.

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    Well, there is another reason, namely that informal post-conference gatherings tend to happen at or near the conference hotel if many of the attendees are staying there. If you stay somewhere else, you risk missing out on that. – David Z Apr 1 '16 at 0:31
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    For sure. OP mentioned that he found closer hotels so distance isn't an issue. It's easy enough to head over to the "official" hotel for social gatherings and go back to your own hotel at the end of the night to sleep. – Mekki MacAulay Apr 1 '16 at 15:32
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Sometimes it's worth booking one of the conference-suggested hotels because the conference itself is in the hotel and you won't have to traipse around the city to get to conference events. This doesn't appear to be relevant to you. When this happens, it's likely that the conference has signed a contract with the hotel to fill a certain number of rooms at a certain rate, and if they don't, then the conference is liable to make up the difference to the hotel. If you like the conference or its parent organization, you can be a good friend to them by booking in the conference hotel. This saves future costs for everyone, since next year's conference rate may be increased to help cover these losses or anticipated future losses. I doubt this is applicable to you either, so you're almost certainly better off booking one of the closer, cheaper hotels.

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    On the other hand, sometimes it's worth not booking one of the conference suggested hotels because it will give you an excuse to traipse around the city to get to conference events. – JeffE Mar 31 '16 at 16:08
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    @JeffE, I've seen some conferences get too close for comfort in filling their hotel blocks. If you like your professional society and their conference, you might consider staying in the conference hotel. You can always traipse away from the main venue. – Bill Barth Apr 1 '16 at 3:00
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    I disagree with "this saves future costs for everyone". No one booking rooms at the official hotel makes the conference organizers aware that there is a big problem and they should revise their plans to organize conferences at overly expensive hotels and start negotiating their deals better. When they start doing that, then it'll really save costs for everyone. – Federico Poloni Apr 1 '16 at 12:17
  • @FedericoPoloni, who says there's a big problem? The problem only comes when nearly no one books the main hotel, and that does happen. If the non-conference hotels are much cheaper, tell your friends on the organizing committee and maybe next year, they'll find a better spot if one is available. Usually this only happens for tiny conferences with tiny hotel blocks and giant conferences that need a huge hotel's facilities. Giant conferences may only have one choice in a given city, so they may not have anywhere to move to. Tiny conferences have no power, but they'll fit in lots of places. – Bill Barth Apr 1 '16 at 12:45
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    I have seen situations where two or three room-nights could alter the function space cost by over a thousand dollars... In fact sometimes it's cheaper to pay for rooms you won't use (if they are still available) than to miss the target the hotel has set for that discount. Usually this isn't a problem, but there will be cases where your one room would make the difference. That matters more to those of us who have helped run events, I expect. – keshlam Apr 2 '16 at 2:02
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Sometimes you can find one of the "official" hotels for a better price booking direct. This will give you some of the benefits of staying there but note that if they're laying on transport from the hotel, you may not be counted and there may not be room for you. When I've booked a recommended hotel direct, it's always been within walking distance.

3

As you specifically mentioned that the conference is not being held in the recommended hotel:

Typically, conference organizers will ensure that there's transportation to the conference from the conference hotel, especially if the hotel is some distance from the conference. Typically, this is handled via buses, although I did have one situation where they hadn't secured enough buses for the number of attendees, so some attendees has to wait quite some time at the end of the day for the buses to drop off passengers and return. (about an extra hour, as the hotel was a 15-20 minute drive away).

This can in part make up for the expenses, but this can cause its own problems -- if you decide to sleep in and take a leisurely breakfast, rather than attend the 'opening ceremony' ** , and you suddenly find that the '15-20' minute estimate to the conference is driving time, not walking. So you're then rather stuck with the conference's schedule until you can figure out the public transit system, or can find a taxi driver who speaks your language. ***

** As it took almost 4 hrs from the time to plane landed to get to the airport the night before (long lines in customs, and you were in the one where the police inserted people to the front if they had detained them, then waiting for the shuttle that the conference had organized to fill up (as you had missed the expected time slot, so were waiting for the next batch of people), and then the 90 mins to the hotel) ... and you're now ~8hrs earlier than where you had started the day before.

*** Because even after the hotel explains to the taxi driver where you're trying to go, they might not actually have a good idea where they're going to, and then you're stuck trying to show him conference materials you have with you that are in English ... which does no good in a Cyrillic language country.

Another advantage is that conference planners will try to select a hotel that has accommodations for people speaking the language of the conference, or they'll assign some translators to the hotel to help. So if you don't speak the local language, and it's a country that's not well known for having a lot of speakers of your language, the conference hotel might be less problematic.

And as you suggested, there's the social issues in being nearby (can stumble a short way back to your hotel), but there's another reasons -- it's only come up once (and not foreign travel), but I was at a conference when the whole city was shut down. (it was Baltimore, and a hurricane ... I think Sandy). A few of the attendees were staying at alternate hotels that weren't within a couple of blocks walk, and as the public transit & taxis had shut down, they had no way to get to their hotels.

Personally, I rarely book the conference hotels (because they're rarely within the allowed per-diem, and I hate filing the extra paperwork for going over) ... but for international travel, if it's in a place that I don't speak the language, I make the exception. Although I will recommend that you get a taxi ride in Kiev at rush hour if you're ever there ... it was like lane markings were just suggestions for inferior drivers.

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    "Typically, conference organizers will ensure that there's transportation to the conference from the conference hotel" - I have always perceived this as very limiting. Having no "official"/included means of getting to the conference location has always served as a good enough rationale to buy a full-day ticket of the local public transportation system everywhere I have gone so far (in almost all places, such tickets are indeed cheaper than as few as three single-ride tickets). With such a shuttle service available, however, buying a full-day ticket for only the evening doesn't seem worth ... – O. R. Mapper Mar 31 '16 at 21:06
  • ... the money, while buying single tickets restricts the flexibility of having basically an unlimited number of trips (if only for backtracking if one takes a bus/train into the wrong direction for a few stops ...). – O. R. Mapper Mar 31 '16 at 21:08
  • @O.R.Mapper : if you're wandering the city, then you're not partaking of the networking opportunities with other conference attendees. I'd recommend arriving a couple of days early (my typical excuse : to help your body recover from jet lag, and/or if there are any travel problems) or stay an extra day at the end (often needed for side meetings). – Joe Mar 31 '16 at 22:48
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    I'm one of those people who can be alone in the middle of many small groups of chatting people who are looking for conversation; I can network directly related to talks or posters, but dedicated networking events usually leave me frustrated with a feeling of wasting my time by finding no-one to talk to ;) Anyway, given that sometimes, it has even been a problem to count travel days as working time, I doubt I could justify an extra work day towards my employer (or an extra holiday towards my wife, for that matter). – O. R. Mapper Mar 31 '16 at 22:56
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    @Joe if you're wandering the city, then you're not partaking of the networking opportunities with other conference attendees — Unless, of course, you're wandering the city with other conference attendees. – JeffE Apr 2 '16 at 19:33
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Pro:

  • Less searching needed.
  • Usually conveniently located.
  • Sometimes a reasonable rates via the conference (but well, in these days where a hotel price depends on your browser history (more on your cookies) and time of the day a "good rate" or similar thing does not really exist anymore).

Cons:

  • Cheaper alternatives may exist.
  • Nicer alternatives may exist.
  • Conference hotel sometimes close to conference but not close to where you like to be after hours.

I usually depend by hotel choice on various considerations:

  • How long would it take me to get to the conference cite and is it a nice commute (e.g. I was at a conference on the Lido and found the commute from downtown Venice to there very nice)?
  • How good can I reach possible after hours spots?
  • Does the price fit to what the university will reimburse?
  • Where do some some colleagues stay?
2

One thing to note is that when booking a hotel through a portal provided by a event, then the event is often getting a "kickback" in the form of some free (comp'd) rooms for every room purchased thought the portal.

E.g. 1 free night, per every 30 nights booked.

They will then use these to defray the room books costs of accommodating (say) the keynote speakers (if the conference is paying the accommodation of the keynote speakers.). This is arguably a good thing, it means the conference registration costs are lower (but the accommodation costs higher). Which gives some flexibility to people who can barely afford to attend.

Things get a bit more fun if the conference is also renting function space from the hotel, especially if they have been there before. Then the conference when negotiating with the hotel, can say things like "Look, last time we were here, our attendees purchases 100 rooms, 1500 buffet meals, and drank your bar dry; so how about you knock 30% off of your floor charges?" -- this can mean saving tens of thousands of dollars.

In the end, booking the indicated hotel though a provided portal, helps the conference.

You also will often (always?) get a discount by going through the conference. This is part of the negotiations, but as a rule the venue will give its worst level of discount. They know they have a captive audience, and they have little reason to discount further.

For this reason it is often cheaper to book the same hotelroom at the same time via other means. Eg if the hotel does a flash sale (because they have too many vacant rooms), or through a third party that can negotiate rooms on other grounds, eg a travel agent, or a bulk room reseller.

Conferences in theory don't like it when you do this, as then it doesn't get added to their count for things like getting room's comp'd.

But some conferences might not care (eg if they are not actually wanting comp'd rooms), eg the one I am at right now, suggested not booking through their portal; and even gave links to other places where the rooms could be booked for cheaper.

  • I seen now @Bill Barth captured some of these points in their answer. Some overlap here. – Lyndon White Apr 2 '16 at 8:15
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I often do not book thru international conferences for the following reasons:

  1. The conference may not tell me what hotel it is putting me in, but only the number of stars. The hotel that the conference picks might be far away. When I book directly, I know.
  2. When booked thru the conference, the hotel might not be cancelable.
  3. The selection of hotels offered by the conference might contain only expensive hotels.

However, your conferences may differ. Some conferences book a whole building so that you have to work with them. Domestic conferences often offer discounts for hotels. So, I try both and compare.

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