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 an anime convention. Although there are some differences, planning travel for business and for attending conventions is pretty much the same process.
Info from Conventions
This is the best place to start. Many conventions provide information on how to get to there. Some provide more details than others. The convention's web site is a good place to start to find the best and cheapest way to get there. You can also ask questions that are not answered on the web site on the forums (be sure to read the rules first and look for existing threads that may help you). Hotels also provide directions on their web site.
Flying is by far the fastest way to get to a far away convention, but it can also be the most expensive. Obviously you want to get the best deal on your flight, but with multiple carriers searching their individual web sites then comparing fares can be time consuming.
Personally, I never use travel web sites like Orbitz because I don't like having a third party involved. Plus, what I have found is the best deal are directly with the the carrier, not a travel website.
I use Kayak.com to search for flights across multiple carriers. Kayak is a search tool for finding flights and hotels, but unlike the other sites it brings you directly to the carrier to book the fare, so there is no third party involved. I like Kayak because you can really narrow down a search to find exactly what you're looking for. You can define a search by carrier, take off times, landing times, layover length, number of stops, and you can also include nearby airports. It's a great tool that makes my job easier. (Note: Southwest is not included in searches on travel web sites, so you need to check their web site for fares.)
How fare prices work remains a mystery to me, but usually the later you make the reservation the more the price goes up. The cheapest fares are always non-refundable, so keep that in mind if you are not 100% sure you are attending the convention. If you know for sure you will be attending the convention, book your flight as soon as you can to try to get the best deal.
If you ever need to cancel a non-refundable flight what will happen is you will receive a credit for your flight that can be used with that airline within one year of the travel date. When you redeem your credit you will also need to pay a change fee that is taken out of your credit, which can be as much as $150. Some airlines allow anyone to use the credit, while others only allow the original ticket holder to use it.
Recently, many airlines have added several fees, including fees to check baggage and for better seats. When booking your flight, be sure to research these fees, because when you book the flight you may not be charged for them until you check in at the airport.
If you don't like to fly, see if there is a train you can take instead. Amtrak.com is the place to go to find schedules and fares.
Taking a train does take longer than flying, because of multiple stops and slower speed. Sometimes you have to deal with transfers, unless you going from one major metropolitan area to another (Boston to New York or Washington, DC for example have no transfers).
If you can find the right deal at the right time, taking a bus can be a cheap way to get to a convention. However, taking a bus is probably going to take the longest time out of all your options. Like the train, it has multiple stops and you may need to transfer buses.
Greyhound is the best option if traveling far distances, but if you're not going far you can check to see what regional services run in your area.
By Public Transportation
Even if you live close to a convention, if it's in a big city parking is expensive. Or maybe you're flying into a convention and don't want to pay an expensive cab fare to the hotel. This is where public transportation can help you out.
One downside to this is if you're unfamiliar with a system it can be easy to get confused, or even worse, lost. I've been living outside of Boston my whole life, but I still have yet to figure out how the "T" works between all the subways, buses, trains, and ferries. Since each city's system is different, sometimes figuring out where you want to go in a new city can be challenging.
If you plan on taking public transit to a con, or to go sightseeing the day before, be sure to check out the system's web site before your trip. See if their system is card/ticket or token-based and find out how much fares are. Print out a map if you can or pick one up at the first station you go to.
If the convention is not far away, or if there are multiple people traveling with you, driving may be the best and cheapest option. There is some planning that is important to do before you
Google Maps is my favorite site for getting directions. It provides a lot of different options and it's easy to modify the directions if you want to take a slightly different route. Print out directions for both to and from the con, in case getting out of the city is a completely different way than going in (and so you don't end up going west instead of east, like PatrickD and I both did after leaving ConnectiCon 2008). Also check the convention's web site to see if they provide directions with landmarks, which is very helpful in an unfamiliar area.
If you are traveling a far distance you should get your car looked at before you go. The last thing you want to do is breakdown on the way to the convention and not be able to go. Check the tread and condition of your tires and see that they are properly inflated. Make sure you have a spare tire and a roadside emergency kit (which you should always have). Make sure your wiper blades, turn signals, brake lights, and high and low beams are operating. Also check all filters, belts and fluid levels. If you need to get an oil change soon, do it before you leave. If you have AAA or another roadside assistance program, make sure you have your card or other information with you. (Thanks to eHow.com for the above tips.)
Pack lots of snacks and drinks and plan where to stop along the way for breaks. Bring a map of the area or a GPS to help you if you get lost or stuck in a detour or traffic.
Be sure to check the parking rates for the hotel you are staying at, or at the hotel or convention center where the con is (if you are driving in each day). Hotels in big cities often charge upwards of $30 a day to park, but sometimes the convention works out a deal with the hotel and/or parking garage to bring the price down. You can also do a search of the area to find cheaper garages.
Do you have a question that's not answered here? Please e-mail it to Elizabeth O'Malley, AnimeCons Writer.