There is no doubt, San Diego Comic-Con is only getting more popular. Almost daily, we get asked by a number of hopefuls new to the scene how they can get tickets to the annual geek pilgrimage, or what it is about SDCC which makes us love it so much.
As always, the official Comic-Con International website should be your first stop for the latest information on announcements, policies and important dates regarding the convention. But as a service to our new and regular readers, we decided to create a FAQ with answers to some of our most-asked questions.
If there are other questions you would like us to add to the FAQ, please let us know!
1. What is San Diego Comic-Con
2. When is San Diego Comic-Con?
3. What exactly is Preview Night?
4. How much does it cost to attend San Diego Comic-Con?
UPDATED 5. How do I get tickets to San Diego Comic-Con?
6. How many tickets are available?
UPDATED 7. How many tickets can I purchase?
8. What’s there to do at San Diego Comic-Con?
9. How do I know what the schedule at San Diego Comic-Con is?
10. Do I need tickets to experience everything at San Diego Comic-Con?
11. How do I pick up my tickets for San Diego Comic-Con?
12. What if I buy a ticket and decide I can’t/don’t want to go?
UPDATED 13. Where should I stay at San Diego Comic-Con?
14. How do I get to San Diego Comic-Con?
15. What is this about an expansion to the Convention Center?
16. Is San Diego Comic-Con All-Ages?
UPDATED 17. How can I get a free ticket to San Diego Comic-Con?
18. What are these “exclusives” I keep hearing about?
San Diego Comic-Con, commonly abbreviated as “SDCC” (not to be confused with SDCCC, the San Diego Convention Center Corp. which hosts the event) is the biggest “comics” convention in North America (and if you think New York Comic Con is larger, read about the differences in how the two conventions report attendees). We use the term “comics” in quotes because despite the name, SDCC has always been about so much more. Even when it started way back in 1970, the convention was devoted to comics, movies, and fantasy literature — its first logo even had a comic book, a movie projector, and an icon to represent books (or fantasy literature). Since then, it has grown to be a pop culture juggernaut, spanning even further to also encompass television, video games, horror, anime, and much more. Since the beginning of the decade, it has regularly attracted over 130,000 attendees annually. It is organized by Comic-Con International (CCI), a non-profit organization.
To see how SDCC compares with the other larger North American comics conventions in categories like ticket prices, types of panels and number of vendors, check out our handy infographic.
SDCC is held annually in the summer, with its specific dates dictated by the San Diego Convention Center. Typically the convention begins in mid to late-July, but it can and has occurred anytime between late June and early August. The convention spans four days, Thursday through Sunday, plus a Preview Night on Wednesday. The convention center, which houses the exhibit hall and the majority of panel programming, is open on Wednesday’s Preview Night from 6PM-9PM, 9:30AM – 7PM Thursday through Saturday, and 9:30AM – 5PM on Sunday; however there are several events outside of the convention that spill out into the surrounding businesses and last until the early morning hours.
The dates for 2016’s San Diego Comic-Con are July 20-24.
Although the official start of the convention for the general public is Thursday, the convention actually opens for a limited audience on Wednesday evening, referred to as Preview Night, and is meant to give a smaller crowd a “preview” of what to expect on the exhibit floor. Generally starting at 6PM on Wednesday, Preview Night has grown to also include annual Warner Bros. Television pilot screenings in the convention center’s Ballroom 20, and is the unofficial kickoff to the annual convention.
2016’s Preview Night is on July 20, 2016.
SDCC offers a variety of tickets, or “badges”, depending on your preferred pricepoint and availability. Badge prices for 2016 increased slightly, with adult badges ranging from $55 for a Thursday, Friday, or Saturday badge (up from $50 in 2015) or $40 for a Sunday badge (previously $35). All four badges can be purchased for $205 and combined into a four-day badge. Prices for junior attendees (13-17 years old) are roughly half the adult prices, and attendees 12 and under are free with a paying adult.
If you’re interested in attending Preview Night to get an early start on your shopping, it is available only by first purchasing all four of the main daily badges, Thursday through Sunday. If that requirement is met, a Preview Night badge may also be purchased for an additional $40. This means that in order to get a “Four-day with Preview Night” badge package, you’ll be spending $245 (up from $220 in 2015).
Here’s a handy graphic showing all the prices for 2016:
First, the basics. If you want a shot at purchasing a badge, you first need to create a Member ID. Creating this ID will not only allow you to take part in the badge purchase process, but it will also put you on the official mailing list where announcements regarding purchase dates are made. Simply put, no Member ID, no badge. The Member ID system also closes before badge sales without prior notification, so if you’re even considering attending the convention, create a Member ID before it’s too late.
Now, in regards to the purchase process itself, there are typically two sales that occur prior to every year’s SDCC: Preregistration and Open Online Registration. A third badge sale, Badge Resales, occurred prior to 2014 – but it was done away with in 2014, and is unlikely to occur again anytime soon due to low numbers of returned badges.
Preregistration is for previous year’s badge holders who want to attend SDCC the following year. These used to be made available onsite during the convention, but high demand created a frenzy with those wanting to return and forced CCI to move these sales online.
The 2016 Preregistration occured Saturday, November 14. For 2015 and 2016 badge sales, there was a change to the process of Preregistration. Attendees must now prove that they attended San Diego Comic-Con the year before by providing a unique “Badge ID” from their physical badge. Only general attendees – those who did not attend as volunteers, press, professional, staff, or any other type of special attendee – are eligible for Preregistration.
New for 2016: Badges will now be equipped with RFID technology, and will be physically mailed to US attendees or those who enter a US address during check-out. If the badge is lost or stolen, Comic-Con International can “deactivate” it remotely using the RFID, and issue you a new badge – however, you’ll need to pick up that new badge on-site. International attendees, and children under the age of 12 (who can register for free during the actual event), will still need to pick up their badges on-site.
Open Online Registration is for everyone who has a Member ID. That is, for new attendees as well as returning attendees who were not able to purchase a badge (or all the desired badge days) during Preregistration. This is where the bulk of the tickets are made available to the public. For the past two years, badges during Open Online Registration have sold out in about 60 minutes. The 2016 Open Online Registration is set for Saturday, February 20, 2016
In both badge sales, only single day badges were offered, albeit in limited quantities. For anyone who purchases four single day badges (or four single plus a preview night), you will receive a single combined badge during on-site registration.
CCI uses a third-party ticket vendor, EPIC Registration, for badge sale processing and fulfillment. Everyone who qualifies for Preregistration or Open Registration receives a personal Registration Code, which can only be used on one device. The waiting room opens 1-2 hours prior to the actual sale, and when the time comes, the system sorts everyone in a randomized order to purchase their badges. You then have 15 minutes to complete the purchase, or your session will expire. Also, everyone is allowed to purchase badges for two additional qualified individuals – meaning, they qualify for registration on their own and have valid Member IDs – or three individuals total if someone in front of the line already purchased their badge for them.
Badge Resales are not guaranteed to happen, and no badge resale occurred in 2014 or 2015 due to a lack of returned and cancelled badges. For those who do require a refund, starting in 2015, a 10% badge processing fee will be kept by CCI.
There are other ways you can attend SDCC. You can get a complimentary (i.e., free) professional badge if you can qualify as a creative professional, though trade professionals still must apply and pay for a badge. From CCI’s website, a creative professional is someone who takes “an active role in the creation, design, writing, editing, or production of comics, animation, films, books, video games, or toys”, where trade professionals are “agents, publicists, managers, executives, marketing, sales, business development, advertising, legal representatives, and other industry professionals who need to attend the convention for business reasons.” Applications for professional badges for SDCC 2015 were due by October 31, 2015 — and registration for Creative Professionals is ongoing through April 27, 2016. Trade Professional Registration will occur at a later time.
If you work for a website or media outlet, which can be anything from a blog all the way up to an anchor on television network news, you can try to be approved as press in order to get a complimentary press badge. To apply as press, applicants fill out the form on CCI’s website. Press applications for SDCC 2016 were due by December 11, 2015.
One of the more popular ways to get a free ticket is to become a San Diego Comic-Con volunteer. Volunteering has proven a very popular way for fans to attend the convention and help contribute to making it an awesome event for all of us. As a nonprofit organization, CCI depends on the contributions of its volunteer corps, over 3,000 in 2013. Per CCI’s website, if you are chosen to be a volunteer, you can pick any day for your 3-hour assignment, and in return you get a complimentary badge for that day! The best part is that you are free to enjoy the show when you’re not on assignment, and you get your own exclusive Comic-Con volunteer t-shirt. Volunteers are legacy, in that if you were one last year you get first dibs for the next year.
Volunteer registration for 2016 has not yet occurred, though the Interest List (for those who didn’t volunteer the previous year, but would like to), is now full.
This is hard to say, because CCI does not publish the number available for each badge type. But as we stated previously, the general attendance numbers state there are 130,000 attendees (badge holders) annually.
Wondering how difficult it really is to score a badge to Comic-Con? We offer some rough estimates in this handy infographic.
The 2016 Open Registration policy allows you to purchase up to three badges, as long as everyone you are purchasing for had a valid Member ID and is eligible for Pregistration on their own. The policy in the past has always been flexible in that, if someone was ahead in the queue and was able to purchase a badge for you, you could use your spot in line to purchase three badges for people other than yourself. So, a couple of different combinations were allowed – either yourself and two others, or three people other than yourself. Either way, the buddy system is your friend.
The better question is, what’s there not to do at San Diego Comic-Con? If you enjoy anything entertainment-related – games, movies, television, even nightlife – you’ll find plenty of it in San Diego during SDCC.
Officially, San Diego Comic-Con offers thousands of hours of programming, otherwise known as “panels”. These panels take place in the many rooms inside, and now in venues surrounding, the San Diego Convention Center, and get the most media attention due to the many celebrity appearances and newsworthy surprise announcements that take place during them.
Also inside the Convention Center is the Exhibit Hall, hosting nearly a half million square feet of space housing booths from big Hollywood studios all the way down to mom-and pop comic vendors. For 2015, over 700 exhibitors were listed as being in attendance. Many of the big exhibitors sell exclusive merchandise you can’t find anywhere else but at SDCC, hand out free swag to attendees, host celebrity signings, and many other events which attract a crowd.
You can find a copy of the 2015 Exhibit Hall map by clicking here.
CCI also hosts other events at and around the Convention Center during SDCC, such as the annual Eisner awards, the Independent Film Festival, the San Diego International Children’s Film Festival, the annual Masquerade, and more.
In addition, many companies will host their own events in the areas surrounding the Convention Center, commonly referred to as “offsite events“, which take place during and after Convention Center hours, making SDCC an event that goes all-day and all-night.
The official San Diego Comic-Con programming schedule is announced exactly two weeks before SDCC by CCI (with Wednesday and Thursday events being announced two Thursdays prior, Friday events announced two Fridays prior, etc.). Closer to the event, CCI will also post an Autograph schedule, for various signings held by CCI. This means that when you purchase a ticket, you won’t know exactly what the schedule is going to be, or who is going to attend.
In addition to the official schedule, many of the exhibitor booths in the convention center may have their own autograph or giveaway schedules. That information is released by each individual company, and the best way to keep track of those announcements is by following us, The San Diego Comic-Con Unofficial Blog.
In the past, folks generally did not require a badge to participate in an offsite event. But in 2015, it seems even SDCC outgrew the convention center and its normal surrounding venues and started occupying other hotels and spaces in the area, such as the Xbox Lounge at the Manchester Hyatt, or the nearby Lyceum Theater, both of which required a SDCC badge for entry.
Although there were still plenty of awesome events in the neighboring businesses and venues that were open to the public last year, the trend seems like events where SDCC badges are required will continue for the foreseeable future.
Let’s say you are one of the lucky ones, and you were able to score a badge for San Diego Comic-Con (congratulations, by the way). What next?
New this year: Comic-Con International will be mailing badges to U.S. attendees. During checkout, attendees will need to submit a mailing address, and any badges purchased in that transaction will be mailed to that address.
The one exception to this is for international attendees. Comic-Con International won’t be mailing badges internationally, so international attendees will either need to provide a U.S. address to have the badges shipped to, or pick them up on-site. Children 12 and under will also still register for free on-site, as always.
In years past, Comic-Con International has utilized both the convention center and the Town & Country hotel in Mission Valley for badge pick-up, but with the new policy, they may keep badge pick-up strictly at the convention center. Stay tuned.
Also new this year is that badges will be equipped with RFID technology. That means that if your badge is lost or stolen, you can inform CCI, and they will deactivate the badge remotely. From there, they’ll issue you a new badge – which you can pick up onsite. They won’t mail the badge twice.
You might be asking, why would anyone want to go through all this trouble to score one of the toughest tickets in town, only to decide not to go? We’d joke, but sometimes circumstances are no laughing matter — a change in financial status, an illness or death in the family, and other personal situations take precedence. If you find yourself in a circumstance where you need to return your badge, CCI offers a Cancellation/Return policy where you can submit your refund request online. There is, however, a deadline when refund requests need to be submitted by — for 2015, this was June 15, 2015. There is also a 10% handling fee that will be applied to all refunds made by the deadline (which was deferred for 2014, but is in effect as of 2015).
It is important to note that SDCC badges are non-transferrable, meaning you can’t give yours to a friend if you can’t use it; or worse, if you try to sell your badge to someone else. If you get caught, you may be banned from the convention for life.
The hardest part of Comic-Con may be getting a ticket to attend at all, but securing a hotel is a very close second. CCI books a large block of rooms at hotels (59,228 “hotel room nights” to be exact, according to the San Diego Convention Center Corporation) not only in the Gaslamp (the downtown area that’s closest to the convention center), but also as far out as Mission Valley and other areas around San Diego, at a reduced con rate — both with pros and cons depending on your needs. They then offer these hotels to attendees in two different hotel sales — the first of which is called the Early Bird Hotel Sale, which typically launches in January or February. In years past, this hasn’t included any hotels in the Gaslamp, only hotels located further out.
In 2015, the Early Bird Hotel Sale started on February 25 and was available through March 24.
This is followed a few weeks later by the General Comic-Con Hotel Reservations (or what we (un)affectionally dub, Hotelpocalypse). CCI uses a third-party vendor, Travel Planners, to run the reservations — and on the morning of the sale, you’ll be directed to their site to fill out a list of your preferences and requirements (and we recommend checking out our guide to familiarize yourself with the process). The questionnaire ranges from number of guests in the room, nights you’ll be staying, to hotel preference. You ranked exactly six hotels in the order you wanted them. In the event that none of your hotel preferences wound up being available, you could choose if you wanted Travel Planners to slot you in the closest available hotel, or if you were only willing to accept hotels on your list. Last year, you needed to finish filling out your form and submit it within about two minutes in order to be awarded a Gaslamp hotel room. Forms submitted after that two minute mark were unlikely to get a hotel in the nearby area.
The General Hotel Sale took place on March 24, 2015. You can find details about that sale, as well as 2015 hotel prices, here. We have been informed by Travel Planners that the 2016 General Hotel Sale will take place on April 5, though that date is subject to change.
If you aren’t lucky enough to secure the hotel you want through Travel Planners, all hope is not lost. Almost every hotel still has rooms available at non-convention rates, though they’re significantly higher. You can also try other routes, like renting a condo or apartment through sites such as Airbnb or VRBO, searching for roommates through social media, or there’s always camping out on the sidewalk (really, some people do this). A few of the hotel rooms also open up a few weeks later, as people release rooms.
Once you’re in San Diego, there are several different ways to make it to the actual convention. The city offers great public transportation, which includes the MTS Trolley. There’s a stop on the Green Line located directly across from the convention center (Stop: Convention Center Station), so if you’re staying at a hotel near a trolley stop, this is a great option for getting around. However, if you’re trying to get to the convention center from the airport, there is no trolley station there — instead, you’ll have to use the bus, or, our recommendation, book a Super Shuttle, of which you can find annual discount codes online.
For those driving to SDCC, CCI offers paid parking at various lots around the convention center. They pre-sell parking passes through a third party vendor called Ace Parking, with prices ranging from $15-$30 depending on how close the lot is to the convention. This is much cheaper than what rates at non-Ace lots will be during the con, and you won’t have to worry about your lot being full.
Parking passes for 2015 moved to a lottery-based system, and you needed to submit your information to Ace Parking to be entered by April 12, 2015. Attendees who were selected to buy parking were put into Groups, with set time frames to purchase. All remaining inventory went back on sale to the general public on June 8, 2015.
Perhaps the easiest way to get around during Comic-Con, though, is by using the Comic-Con Shuttle Service. Starting on Wednesday afternoon, the shuttle buses offer over 60 stops all over the city including downtown, Mission Valley, and hotels near the airport on Shelter Island and Harbor Island. They run 24 hours a day all the way through Sunday evening, though service is a little slower after midnight. Lines for the bus can get long, though, so you may have to wait — but no experience at SDCC is complete without a line.
You can find a copy of the 2015 Shuttle Service schedule by clicking here.
The city of San Diego had planned an expansion project of the Convention Center, but the project has recently hit some major setbacks.
In its current form, the expansion plan would add over 200,000 square feet of exhibit space, an 80,000 ballroom, and 500 new hotel rooms as part of a second Hilton Bayfront tower.
Yes it is. As stated above, attendees 12 and under are free with a paying adult, and don’t require a member ID. Accompanying adults just need to register their child at the badge pick-up desk onsite.
Comic-Con International prides itself with booking family programming on the schedule, as well as family-friendly booths on the exhibit floor like Hasbro, LEGO and Nintendo. And Sundays are generally regarded as Family Day, with several panels and events tailored for the kids. For example, 2015’s Sunday family panels included panels like a farewell to Phineas and Ferb, a look inside the new Adventure Time book, a celebration of Sixty Years of Gumby, and much more.
Granted, some of the programming, booths and cosplay can be a little, well, mature, so for the times when you want to go see the cast of The Walking Dead but don’t want to take Junior, Comic-Con International also offers on-site day care for children six months through 12 years of age. For a fee, the day care staff keeps kids entertained with snacks and activities while the parents are free to attend the more “adult” festivities.
Buying a ticket to SDCC might be a near-impossible task, but there are also a few ways you can attend for free. You can get a complimentary (i.e., free) professional badge if you can qualify as a creative professional. From CCI’s website, a creative professional is someone who takes “an active role in the creation, design, writing, editing, or production of comics, animation, films, books, video games, or toys”. Applications for professional badges for SDCC 2015 were due by October 31, 2015. Registration for creative professionals occurred in February 2016, and is ongoing through April 27, 2016. Trade Professional Registration will occur at a later date.
If you work for a website or media outlet, which can be anything from a blog all the way up to an anchor on television network news, you can qualify for a complimentary press badge, but only if your application is accepted by CCI. To apply as press, check out the application on CCI’s website. Press applications for SDCC 2015 are due by December 11, 2015.
One of the more popular ways to get a free ticket is to become a San Diego Comic-Con volunteer. Volunteering has proven a very popular way for fans to attend the convention and help contribute to making it an awesome event for all of us. As a nonprofit organization, CCI depends on the contributions of its volunteer corps, over 3,000 in 2013. Per CCI’s website, if you are chosen to be a volunteer, you can pick any day for your 3-hour assignment, and in return you get a complimentary badge for that day! The best part is that you are free enjoy the show when you’re not on assignment, and you get your own exclusive Comic-Con volunteer t-shirt. Volunteers are legacy, in that if you were one last year you get first dibs for the next year.
The Interest List for volunteers (those who did not volunteer the previous year, but would like to) and Volunteer Registration are both now closed.
Many companies – whether it be comics, toys or collectibles – manufacture and sell merchandise you can buy only at San Diego Comic-Con. These are commonly referred to as “exclusives”. They are generally limited in nature, meaning only a small quantity are produced, and can range from comic variants (issues with different covers from what was available in retail), to figures with variant coloring, to molds and statues which aren’t available anywhere else. The packaging of these items — the boxes these exclusives come in — can be an “exclusive” of their own, with new artwork or special display and window packaging than what is available at retail.
There’s a bit of a debate as to what constitutes an “exclusive” nowadays, as many are available online as a pre-order before Comic-Con, but also available to those who aren’t even attending SDCC at all. These are commonly referred to as “convention exclusives”, a general term used for product available in conjunction with Comic-Con but also available to the general public, or sometimes available at San Diego Comic-Con and other conventions, but not to the general public. Confused already? The main thing that signifies something as an “exclusive” product, however, is generally that no matter which retail model it follows, it still retains its limited nature and special packaging. Some companies also put up remaining quantities online, but only after Comic-Con. This depends on the manufacturer and their policies, which are usually stated when the product is announced.
Exclusives can be purchased at the manufacturer’s booth on the exhibit floor. For example, a Hasbro exclusive can be purchased only at the HasbroToyShop booth on the exhibit floor, with remaining quantities available online after the convention. Product is sold on a first-come, first-serve basis, although some companies do reserve stock to allocate across all days of the convention, for people who only have a specific day pass.
Exclusives are also one of the most popular aspects of the convention, with professional collectors and fans alike scrambling to pick up a limited-issue comic or statue, to display that one-of-a-kind keepsake from their Comic-Con experience.
For anything else, and to receive continual updates about San Diego Comic-Con 2016, we recommend you follow the San Diego Comic-Con Unofficial Blog via social media. You can find us on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Youtube, and on tumblr.
Do you have any other questions? Let us know in the comments!