7 Tips to Save Money on Conferences

by Thursday Bram · 3 comments

cheap conference

Conferences can be a pricey proposition, requiring you to pay for a ticket, travel, a hotel room and meals out. Even if you have an employer willing to the foot the bill, they can be pricey in terms of just the time you’re investing in attending.

Luckily, there are approaches that can help you keep costs under control, while still getting the most of actually being at a conference. Here are seven such money saving tips.

save money on conferences1. Calculate the ROI of a particular conference before you ever buy a ticket.

There are some conferences we all love to go to — in your field, there may be one particular conference that everyone always goes to, giving you a chance to see friends and colleagues. But if you aren’t going to get much more than just catching up, that might not be the best conference to attend. On the other hand, if a particular conference will guarantee you a chance to meet with prospective customers, it’s a much better financial decision.

2. Pack food or go grocery shopping upon arrival.

The price of the average hotel breakfast or conference venue bottle of water means that it makes sense to stick a couple of oatmeal packets in your suitcase or swing by a local grocery store for fresh fruit.

3. Look at alternatives to traditional hotel rooms and car rentals.

There are a variety of websites that will connect you with people interested in hosting a paying guest for a few nights, as well as car sharing sites that will get you access to a few different cars while you’re away from home. The prices are often lower than what you’ll see posted at a hotel, and will give you a few extra options even after all the hotels are booked up.

4. Check volunteer and paying opportunities.

Some conferences offer free tickets or other incentives to volunteers who spend a couple of hours working the conference itself, which can help bring down costs. You may also be able to cover the conference for a trade magazine, website or other organization — such an approach can land you a media pass or even payment for attending in the first place.

5. Look for reasons to leave the conference venue.

It’s often best to pick a hotel as close to the conference venue as possible in order to minimize the amount you spend on transportation to and from where you’ll be staying, but food prices often skyrocket if you’re buying within the conference center or your hotel. Even if it means catching a bus or walking a while, see if you can leave the conference venue for food and meetings. You may even be able to fit in a little site-seeing if you can get out of the conference center.

6. Partner up with another attendee.

You may be used to running a one-man or one-woman show, but having a conference buddy can make things easier. If you plan for a conference buddy before you even buy your ticket, you can arrange to split hotel rooms, cabs and other costs. Depending on who you partner up with, you may be able to form a lasting relationship, letting the two of you hand out each other’s cards and promote each other at different events, rather than both of you attending every conference that comes up.

7. Submit a speaker’s proposal.

Assuming that you aren’t brand new to the field that a given conference covers, you’re likely to at least put together a panel or a short talk that would be of interest to conference attendees. Depending on the conference in question, speakers may be compensated with free tickets, coverage of hotel and travel costs, or even outright payment.

The trick is to look into the conference you want to attend and see what’s considered normal costs as well as what opportunities you can find to reduce costs. Every conference has its quirks and it may take a couple of different approaches to make sure you’re only paying out what you’re comfortable with.

Of course, different conferences also have different price tags and different values, making it a little harder to calculate. But if you’re confident that a given event will really help you, it’s worthwhile to spend the time necessary to turn it into a good deal.

There are, of course, plenty of other strategies that can make conferences more affordable and more worthwhile. If you have any tips or tricks you’d like to share, please add them in the comments.

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  • Aaron says:

    Here are some tips if your employer is paying for the conference.

    1. Use rewards credit cards and get reimbursed. You end up making money by going.
    2. Join hotel reward clubs and get your reward number attached to your reservation. Again, might as well earn points since you’re not paying for lodging.
    3. Would you and your family enjoy going on a vacation in that location? Bring your wife and kids. Your hotel room for the conference dates is paid for, as well as travel and meals for you, so only your family has to pay for travel and food while there.

    I’m going to Vegas for an upcoming conference, and we both wanted to take a vacation in Vegas at some point. Tacked a few days on the already paid for hotel room, so the expenses will be limited to her plane ticket, those extra hotel days, food those days, and food for her during the conference days. Tough to vacation in Vegas for much cheaper than that, and I’m gonna get a ton of Hilton rewards points, too. We’ll of course grocery shop when we get there to limit food expenses for her while I’m at the conference, which includes meals.

    General other tips for conferences:

    Book your hotel and flight early if it’s a big conference that will soak up rooms and plane seats.

    Some conferences have groups that get discounts for spouses and families who tag along for the trip while their significant others are attending the conferences. Check to see if there’s one for your conference. I’m attending VMworld, and there’s a group called “Spousetivities” who will give my wife the opportunity to do some fun and heavily discounted prices on some activities, as well as meet people, get free swag, and have fun with.

  • Dee says:

    Thanks for this! I was just debating whether I should go to an upcoming conference because of how expensive it is.

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