Conventions Versus Tokyo – An Experiment in Trip Planning

Recently, a friend of mine was talking about going to a sci-fi and modeling convention known as Wonderfest. He was trying to get me to come along, and having a limited income; I sat down and followed what was in the Traveling to Japan on a Budget episodes. What I discovered was shocking.

I came up with an interesting set of data points. From there, I moved on to another anime convention that was tempting, Otakon. Finally, after looking those conventions I decided to look at another destination convention, Anime Expo in Los Angeles California. What I discovered was that as the two episodes pointed out, traveling to Japan on a budget is as affordable as going to a convention out of state. I will say that I am not anti-convention going, quite the opposite. This article is intended to allow you to see a realistic breakdown of the money spent on each trip. The next thing is to note that your spending may and probably will vary. These numbers are intended as a base line based on previous convention experiences.

First, let us go over all the rules/facts I used in creating the data comparison.

General Items

  • All trips are based on a single traveler.
  • All US trips budget for $30 a day to be spent on food. The Tokyo trip assumes the rough equivalent of 3000 yen.
  • All trips budget $500 for general souvenirs and any unexpected costs.
  • All trips are based on single hotel occupancy.
  • The Alcohol on Plane entry is there because on the international leg of airfare the beer and wine are typically free. On domestic flights there is a charge. This field assumes that you would only consume alcohol on the international leg of travel; all other flights would remain alcohol free.

Automobile Travel

  • The average gas mileage for the vehicle being driven is 26 MPG (City/Highway)
  • This trip uses a vehicle with a gas tank of 15 US Gallons.
  • The trip is based on a starting address near St. Clair Hospital in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
  • Fuel price is set at $3.75 which is the price as of 1-April-2014 at the closest gas station to St. Clair Hospital, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
  • Automobile trips have 5 miles added to them to cover incidental side trips.
  • Distance is based on the optimal route returned by http://maps.google.com on 1-April-2014 driving straight to the convention center of the event. It does not include additional travel, if necessary, to the hotel.

Domestic Trips

  • Domestic trips are based on the traveler not participating in any activity other than the convention.

Tokyo

  • The Tokyo plan assumes you (the traveler) will plan where you’re going each day, such that you know which trains to take and to where. (Hyperdia is a good resource for this.)
  • The plan assumes you have not been there before.
  • It assumes you SPEAK NO JAPANESE.
  • The “Touristy Stuff” listed includes: Tokyo Tower (both viewing decks), Tokyo Sky Tree (both viewing decks), Gundam Front, admission to various temples in Kamakura, Ueno Zoo, entrance fees for miscellaneous Tokyo parks, and an allowance for video arcades.
  • It is not physically possible to do all the activities listed above on shorter trips, so your “Touristy Stuff” budget may shrink accordingly.
  • Activities listed are based on doing one event each day and combining it with some smaller (paid) activities along the way.
  • The travel expenses include all the train fares and the optional expense of the “Himiko” water tour.
  • Airfare to Tokyo is based on data collected 1-April-2014 through http://www.bing.com/travel
  • The estimates ASSUME YOU HAVE YOUR PASSPORT AS OF 1-April-2014.
  • The estimate is built around best practices for booking flights.
  • The number of hotel nights is based on the fact that you arrive one day AFTER you depart due to crossing the International Date Line.
  • Hotel nights are also computed assuming that the flight(s) you are taking is a flight that is east to west. West to east will alter the hotel day by two as you will leave one day and arrive in Japan two days later.
  • It is not possible to accomplish everything on the list of “things to be do.”
  • The expenses are based on receipts collected from previous trip and verified correct as of 25-March-2014.
  • Tokyo travel expenses include a tourist trip to Kamakura which is outside of Tokyo proper.
  • The trip averages travel to 800 Yen per day.
  • The travel budget includes the Keisei Skyliner with the two day Tokyo Metro pass bundle.
  • The airfare is based on flying into Tokyo Narita Airport (NRT) not Haneda (HND). In the event Haneda is used the Keisei Skyliner must be removed from the budget and replaced.
  • The two day Tokyo Metro pass is assumed used on the first and second FULL days in Japan.
  • The trip includes a 1500 Yen travel expense buffer for mistakes and unexpected side trips.
  • The exchange rate used for this trip is 103.51 retrieved from http://www.xe.com on 1-April-2014 at 12:30 PM.

Tokyo

  

  

Travel Start

2014-05-21

Travel End

2014-05-29

Duration in Nights Room

7

Flight

$ 1,476.00

Hotel In $

$ 26.08

Hotel

$ 182.56

Estimated Food Total

$ 193.19

Estimated Total Travel Cost

$ 136.58

Touristy Stuff

$ 142.57

Buying Stuff

$ 500.00

Alcohol on Plane

$ –

  

  

Total

$ 2,656.98

Cost Per Day

$ 332.12

 

 

Otakon

  • Hotel price is based on the only available convention related hotel in the inner harbor area as of 1-April-2014.
  • Parking is based on an estimated $35 rate at the convention hotel. Rate was not available on the convention hotel’s web site at 1-April-2014.
  • Total hotel cost is based on the 14% hotel and sales tax rate of Baltimore County as of 1-April-2014 and does not include any additional fees or levies beyond that tax rate.
  • Travel is based on optimal directions returned from http://maps.google.com on 1-April-2014 and driving to the Baltimore Convention Center directly, not the hotel.
  • Tourist Activities is the $80 rate for attending the convention.
  • Toll roads are paid in cash, not using the EZPass discount.

Otakon

  

  

Travel Start

2014-08-07

Travel End

2014-08-11

Duration in Nights Room

4

Flight

$ –

Hotel

$ 1,254.00

Estimated Food Total

$ 150.00

Estimated Total Travel Cost

$ 230.48

Touristy Stuff

$ 80.00

Buying Items

$ 500.00

Alcohol on Plane

$ –

  

  

Total

$ 2,214.48

Cost Per Day

$ 442.90

 

Wonderfest

Wonderfest

  

  

Travel Start

2014-05-29

Travel End

2014-06-02

Duration in Nights Room

3

Flight

$ –

Hotel

$ 375.57

Estimated Food Total

$ 120.00

Estimated Total Travel Cost

$ 171.83

Touristy Stuff

$ 55.00

Buying Items

$ 500.00

Alcohol on Plane

$ –

  

  

Total

$ 1,250.52

Cost Per Day

$ 312.63

 

Anime Expo

  • Hotel price is based on the least expensive convention hotel that has rooms available on the travel dates listed.
  • Hotel price is $119
  • Hotel tax is based on the rate of 15.5% retrieved http://www.bizjournals.com/losangeles/news/2011/05/26/la-city-council-votes-to-raise-hotel-tax.html
  • Travel expenses is the shuttle rate, round trip, to and from LAX airport
  • Airfare prices were retrieved from http://www.bing.com/travel
  • Airfare prices were retrieved at 2:25 AM on 2-April-2014
  • Airfare starting point is Pittsburgh International Airport (PIT) and the destination airport is Los Angeles (LAX)
  • “Touristy Stuff” is the price of a four day general admission badge.
  • The tourist activities do not include any sightseeing done outside the convention.
  • Estimated travel cost does not include transportation to events or activities other than the convention.

     

Anime Expo

  

  

Travel Start

2014-07-02

Travel End

2014-07-07

Duration in Nights Room

5

Flight

$ 398.00

Hotel

$ 687.23

Estimated Food Total

$ 180.00

Estimated Total Travel Cost

$ 32.00

Touristy Stuff

$ 65.00

Buying Items

$ 500.00

Alcohol on Plane

$ –

  

  

Total

$ 1,862.23

Cost Per Day

$ 310.37

 

Analysis

Let us look at the totals from these estimates:

 

Otakon

Wonderfest

Anime Expo

Tokyo

 

Total

$ 2,214.48

$ 1,250.52

$ 1,862.23

$ 2,656.98

 

Total Days

5

4

5

8

 

Cost Per Day

$ 442.90

$ 312.63

$ 310.37

$ 379.57

 

 

The most interesting thing to note, that based on the criteria listed above, the closest convention to Pittsburgh breaks down to the most expensive going as a single person. A trip to Tokyo is $63.33 cheaper per day than attending Otakon. While looking at the price differences, Anime Expo in Los Angeles, California is the less expensive of the Anime specific conventions, at $310.37 or $69.20 per day cheaper than a trip to Tokyo. When you look at the numbers in this fashion you are presented with information that shows that a well planned out trip to Tokyo can be done affordably. The domestic trips cost changes if you intend or do any item outside the convention. These numbers also change based with multiple occupancy in a hotel room for domestic travel. The average anime convention attendee will split the room with at least four people and younger attendees have been known to have upwards of twelve people in a quad occupancy room. Once you reach your late twenties to early thirties, the concept of sleeping on a floor, in a bath tub, or in a chair becomes unappealing as your body is not as resilient as it once was and the thought of the aches and pains associated with those sleeping amenities should be taken into account.

Anyone looking at the data will say the comparison is apples to oranges as trip durations are not the same. In many ways it is not. As a person who has traveled extensively on business over the last thirteen years, I have learned a number of travel practices that result in better airfare prices. With the two events with flights, it is computing the best travel times to allow you to save the most money. Typically your top expenses are travel and lodging. This holds true in the case of the data presented here. By using the dates for travel to Tokyo, the difference in flight cost was in excess of $150, money that can be better spent elsewhere. The next concern people have is getting the time off of work. An interesting consideration to take is that a large percentage of convention goers will attend more than one convention in a year. From attending numerous conventions in a single year on business, there is a surprising number of people who attend a number of larger conventions in a year. For example it is not uncommon for an attendee of Otakon to attend AUSA (Anime USA) and Katsucon. For a person working a professional job, and assuming that they arrive the day before and leave the Monday after the show, they have taken at least nine vacation days over the course of three weekends. Each of these conventions incur their own cost breakdown and when you compute the total amount spent on all of the events you plan to attend, the value of the trip to Tokyo may become very appealing.

The next things to look at are the intangibles, and these are something that influence people’s decisions more than the cold hard numbers.

  • Is going to Japan important to you?
  • Is it more important to hang out with all your friends at the convention?
  • Can you plan your trip to Japan with friends?
  • Are the people you are seeing at the convention local to you and can you see them in other social settings?
  • Is there something at the convention that you must attend?
  • Will you do more than just walk around the convention center, either looking at people or costuming? (Think of it this way, you are paying a significant amount of money to stand around and look at people)
  • Are you prepared for the possibility of being alone and lost in Japan?
  • Are you willing to travel by airplane?
  • Are you willing to explore and plan out your vacation?

Those are some of the questions you as a traveler must consider. I personally know of a few people that will take a convention over Japan because the costuming and hanging out with their friends are so important that they cannot miss the convention for any reason.

For the general American Otaku, these numbers point out that going to Japan is not as unrealistic as people believe. These numbers also show that going to a “destination” convention is not as affordable as you initially think. Now that we have seen reasonable estimates, and you have decided that you want to go to Tokyo, we can move on to a simple starting point to planning your trip.

To be continued in my next article “A Basic Look At Planning a Trip to Japan.”