Blind Bargains

The Expanded Blind Bargains Guide to Attending #CSUNATC17 on a Budget

It's time for what has become a bit of an annual tradition around here. This will be our 8th time attending the CSUN Assistive Technology Conference, the largest such conference for the blind. We often hear from people who would love to go, if only it was within their budget. With room rates over $200 a night, a nearly $500 registration fee, plane tickets, meals, and other expenses, the cost often seems prohibitive. With this in mind, we've updated our list of tips for enjoying the conference on a budget.

Getting There

San Diego is one of California's major airports, and does offer relatively inexpensive flights from many destinations. We're often asked about which flight search engine to use, and we recommend Google Flights. Like most flight search engines, it will search all major airlines except Southwest, which you will need to check separately. If you are bringing lots of bags, note that Spirit, Frontier, and Allegiant charge for carry-ons, while Southwest includes two free checked bags with your ticket.

Some people, especially international travelers, may find a better flight deal into Los Angeles. Once in LA, use the FlyAway for a $9.75 trip from the airport to Union Station. The shuttle runs every half hour throughout the day. Note that the FlyAway bus only accepts credit cards, no cash, but tickets can be purchased online. Then, frequent Amtrak service connects Los Angeles and downtown San Diego. You can buy tickets in advance for around $30 each way, but reservations are not required. There are other nearby airports, but be careful to select one with a good public transportation connection to San Diego. To learn more about possible transportation options, try this page which discusses options for California airports.

Airport Shuttles

The cost of a cab or airport shuttle to most hotels near the convention center is between $10 and $15, a rather reasonable price compared with some cities. You can save even more, however, by using public transportation. Route 992 serves the airport every 10-15 minutes on weekdays and slightly less often on weekends. You can take this bus to get near the convention center, or transfer to the trolley system to reach most parts of town. Here's a blog post which explains your options in more detail. If you are coming into San Diego late at night, the 992 bus may not be an option for you.

Uber and Lyft discussed below are now also officially allowed at the airport and are a bit cheaper than a cab. There is a $2.76 fee added to your fare when using a rideshare service from the airport. The pick-up area at the airport is in a large parking lot, so establish contact with your driver so you have a system in place for locating them amongst the sea of other rideshare vehicles.

Getting Around

In addition to the bus and trolley system mentioned above, San Diego is served by the major ridesharing services such as Uber and Lyft. If you've never used one of these services before, they're one of the coolest and most affordable ways to get around. By using one of the mobile apps, you can request a ride to your location, track the driver and know exactly when they arrive, and then rate them when your ride is complete. Plus, all fares are handled through the apps.

If you haven't used one of these services before, you can get some free rides for trying them out. For Uber use coupon code uberbargains which gives you $15 off your first ride as of the time of this article. UberX is their cheapest option. For Lyft, use code JASON4232 to get $10 toward your first ride. Note that if your ride is less than the free ride amount, the rest of the credit will not carry over, so you may want to use your code for a longer trip if you're planning to make one.

Where to Stay

The Manchester Grand Hyatt is where the vast majority of all of the action is taking place. Room rates are also over $220 plus tax which will add another $30 or so to your cost each night. That's nearly $1,000 for 4 nights without roommates. Naturally, if you can find someone to share a room with, it'll cut your costs in half. Alternatively, there are several hotels within a couple miles of the Manchester for $150 a night or less. Many of these are on the bus or trolley system which connects with the main convention hotel while others offer a free hotel shuttle. Downtown San Diego is also quite walkable, a viable option considering the city's warm climate. Failing this, the cost for a cab or rideshare to and from the Manchester each way is still far less than the money you've saved by staying somewhere else. Some will argue that you lose some of the CSUN experience by staying off-site. We recommend hanging around the restaurants, lobby, or bars in the evening instead of going back to your hotel so you don't lose out on valuable networking opportunities. There'll be a ride waiting for you, even late nights.

There are other events and conventions in town the week of CSUN, so hotel rooms are at a premium and sold out in many locations, so it's best to lock in what you can as soon as possible. You can try a service like Hotwire or Priceline for Express hotel deals where you can select the star level, amenities, and location of your hotel but often will not be informed of the exact property until you pay. Select a hotel with a high rating or recommendation to avoid getting stuck at a place you won't enjoy. One year, we stayed at the Omni Gas Lamp, a 4-star hotel with exceptional service, for $95. Often the savings, which can be up to 60 percent, is worth the trade-off.

CardCash currently offers Hyatt gift cards for around 10 percent off. You can use these toward room fees or restaurant/bar charges. It's best to print out your gift card before you arrive if you go this route.

Convention Registration

There are many interesting sessions planned for CSUN, but it's also quite expensive to pay for a full conference registration. While limited scholarships can be obtained and student and military rates are available, many are still stuck paying for a full registration. If you still want to attend, consider visiting just the exhibit hall. An exhibit hall pass is available for free and will let you see many of the latest and greatest assistive technologies in one place. Trust us when we say you could spend your entire trip here. Save some time by registering ahead of time to avoid standing in a longer line and filling out forms on-site. Some of the evening events and showcase suites are also available for general admission. Keep an eye on Twitter using the official #CSUNATC17 or legacy #CSUN17 hashtags and ask around to find out what's going on.

Meals and Groceries

When attending practically any large convention, it's often a good idea to do some grocery shopping once you get there. San Diego has plenty of supermarkets in the downtown area, and this coupled with a hotel which gives a free refrigerator and microwave could save you quite a bit of money. Ralphs, 101 G St, is a short 10-minute walk away and has a decent staple of grocery items. Check their weekly ad to see what's on sale. You may need to select the accessibility view to view the ad. If you're asked for a location, put in the ZIP Code 92101. Ralphs changes their sales each Wednesday, so plan accordingly.

If you would rather not leave the hotel for grocery shopping, Amazon Prime Now also serves San Diego. You can place a $20 minimum order which can be delivered within a couple of hours, or pay more for one hour rush delivery. They have lots of grocery and other items at competitive prices, so it's great for some snacks for your room or a replacement iPhone charging cable. Heck, you could order a new laptop, clothes, or a projector cable if you were in a pinch.

Postmates is another option for getting meals and other items delivered. Their prices for delivery are often higher than others. You can use code jfwpu for $10 off your first order. Also, look for Postmates Plus merchants which offer a flat $3.99 delivery fee.

Some hotels also offer free hot breakfast or an evening reception. Plan ahead to avoid buying every meal at the main hotel, as these costs will add up quickly. Several affordable restaurants are also available within easy walking distance of the Hyatt and seasoned attendees will have plenty of recommendations to share.
Here's a specials page from the San Diego Reader. Specials often change, so it may pay to call ahead to verify a special you see posted.

Card Cash (mentioned above) offers gift cards to some restaurants which are close to the hotel. For example, a gift card to Seasons 52, a restaurant in the nearby Headquarters building, is currently available for around 14 percent off.

Groupon also has several deals for restaurants and other items near the hotel. Use the link above and enter your hotels' address or just San Diego in the location box to start browsing for deals.

Further Reading

Here are some other great articles on the conference itself and what to expect:

Paul J. Adam's CSUN tips page from 2015, but still good reading for some more ideas and practical advice for the conference.
Here's a CSUN 2017 Preview from Web Axe.
*CSUN For Newbies from John Foliot


With some creativity, it's quite possible to attend and enjoy the CSUN conference without spending thousands. in our first year, Blind Bargains stayed at a hostel for $24 a night. And while not every suggestion above will appeal to all who read this, we hope you'll find an idea or two which could help you keep a few extra dollars in your wallet.

Thanks to Accessible San Diego for providing some links for this article. Check out their website for some great information on the city and available services.

What ideas do you have for attending conferences on a budget? Know of an amazing restaurant to visit while in San Diego? Post your thoughts in the comments.

Category: News
Displaying 1 comment.
DebeeArmstrong Friday, 24-Feb-2017 5:17 PM ET:

In the past, I had to attend on a budget and it takes time traveling between discount hotels, grocery stores and the conference especially if you use public transportation. One thing that helps maximize time is preparing ahead. Download the accessible HTML guide to the conference and keep it in your cloud storage. Use mapping apps to scope out travel routes. Create note cards listing all the booths you want to visit in the exhibit hall in booth order-- the program has them in alphabetic order. If you have a sighted guide for just a few minutes, ask them to describe the layout of a room instead of actually guiding you there -- for example, booth 100 is the first one in front and 925 is in the back by the rear exit. Use a scanner with a good antenna to listen to sessions you cannot attend; the assistive listening channels are easy to find. Use more note cards, if you've registered, one for each time slot, to rank the sessions you most want to attend with corresponding locations. Locate all the dog runs ahead of time, even if you do not use a dog to gosip with blind friends and find out where the most excitement is at.

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J.J. Meddaugh is an experienced technology writer and computer enthusiast. He is a graduate of Western Michigan University with a major in telecommunications management and a minor in business. When not writing for Blind Bargains, he enjoys travel, playing the keyboard, and meeting new people.

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