ConShark

SDCC Hotels 2015: The Aftermath [Update 2]

Update, 3/25 3:30pm PDT:

Reservation request confirmation emails (that is, the email that confirms Travel Planners received your form and includes the list of hotels you requested) began going out around 3:15pm. There is no mention of any of the errors that plagued the sale yesterday. It reconfirms that hotel selections will be sent sometime tomorrow, March 26. Some people are reporting receiving multiple copies of this email, though all contain the same reservation request number. (I’ve received two already myself.)

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Earlier:

What the hell was that?!

After all that hard work and preparation, a huge number of people were hung out to dry by Comic-Con’s hotel vendor, Travel Planners. It’s a true “Hoteloween” this year, with an exceptionally large group of people subjected to quite the trick; we’re still waiting for reservations to get doled out, leaving us simply hoping for a treat.

If you had the correct form yesterday, or if this year is your first attempting a downtown hotel, you likely have no idea what this mess is about – especially considering Travel Planners has not made any kind of public statement regarding the issue.

So here’s a full recap of what went wrong with yesterday’s hotel sale – settle in, because it’s a doozy.

Good form, bad form

The vast majority of participants experienced some kind of lag or delay upon loading the page (and many saw that lag again after pressing submit). It’s unclear how many people, if any, were able to access the form at exactly 9:00am PDT. This means all our estimates of sell out times based on previous years are useless this year.

However, a much larger issue was happening at the same time.

The correct form is what you saw in our guides, featuring one drop-down menu from which you are to select all six of your hotel choices.

correcthotelform

correcthotelform2

However, an error caused an as-yet-unknown but seemingly large number of people to see this instead:

sdcc2015hotelbadform

Some attempted to select six hotels within that menu by using Ctrl or Command keys, but those multiple selections reportedly were not transmitted to Travel Planners. Worse, some participants attempted to use Return or Enter keys to select from that menu – which then prematurely submitted their incomplete form. A few even reported that 5 hotels were pre-selected on their menu, and they could only select one.

Travel Planners’ slow reflexes

Many of these unfortunate souls spent yesterday on the phone with Travel Planners, after a number of phone reps told callers they could contact TP to have their hotel choices properly recorded. What followed were reports of every possible reaction and fix under the sun, as communication between Travel Planner higher-ups and their phone reps seemed non-existent.

Through the grapevine that is Twitter, the Friends of CCI forum, and other word-of-mouth venues, we heard:

  • people with the “bad form” should call TP to verbally submit their hotel requests and rankings
  • people with the “bad form” should wait until they receive the request confirmation email before contacting TP
  • people with the “bad form” would have their initial timestamp honored
  • people with the “bad form” would have the timestamp of the last form they submitted honored, for those who submitted prematurely and tried to send in a second, complete form
  • people with the “bad form” would be placed in “any available downtown hotel” based on their timestamp but not necessarily their top choices
  • participants who submitted multiple forms would have all forms cancelled
  • participants who submitted multiple forms might receive multiple reservations
  • incomplete submissions are invalid
  • incomplete submissions will not be thrown out due to the tech glitch

Whew.

What a mess. Eventually, Travel Planners realized how many people were calling with this issue and decided to send an email to those who submitted using the bad form, allowing them to resubmit their hotel choices:

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But not everyone received this – because it wasn’t long before they scrapped the email plan, too:

I just spoke with TP and asked about the bad form and receiving the email to resubmit the hotel list. Was told that they did send those emails to people but then stopped […] Told the recp emails will be received within 48 hrs from the sale, I said 48 hrs is to long to wait after what happened to so many people.

nvj29 on Friends of CCI

Update 2:00pm PDT 3/25: The hotel selection resubmission form seen here, which was originally set to close at 5pm EDT, reportedly closed early.

How did this happen?

On the technical side, it appears to be a problem with load testing the Javascript elements that handle the drop-down selection:

There’s also the unexplained issue of why the forms were allowed to be submitted without required fields being filled in, or without the required 6 hotels selected. Many who used the Return or Enter keys on their text box menu were confused by the premature submission, wondering why they weren’t bounced back to finish completing the form.

Considering how long Travel Planners has been the official hotel vendor for Comic-Con, they are well aware of the technical demands of this sale – so far, they’ve offered no explanation or excuse for these issues.

Travel Planners has a long history of mistakes and errors with the downtown hotel sale, but the last couple of years have gone rather smoothly. So it’s disappointing – and a huge step back – to see the same form, that we know from experience functions well, fail so catastrophically.

It’s worth noting that Travel Planners merged with another reservation company this year called OnPeak, and that certainly could have played a big role in the server switch, lack of load testing, or any of the other errors that plagued yesterday’s sale. But Travel Planners has broken what is a cardinal rule to many: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

So who wins?

No one, really. There is no fair and equitable solution to this problem.

People with good forms were, by and large, still subject to the loading lags and delays. This Friends of CCI thread shows how widespread the issue was.

People with bad forms had a myriad of experiences. Many also saw the page fail to load at first. Some accidentally submitted too soon; some submitted a second, full form after their first was accidentally submitted (and are reporting that their requests were cancelled); some were delayed while trying to figure out how to work the lack of a drop-down menu; others kept refreshing until they got a functioning page, and are now stuck with incredibly late timestamps and dashed hopes.

TP has stated that the submitter’s initial timestamp will be honored – an important and divisive decision considering how quickly these hotels usually sell out. By honoring premature timestamps, will it ruin the chances of the folks who experienced a loading delay but submitted a fully-filled form? Why doesn’t this apply to people to submitted a second form after their first incomplete one went through? Does this set a precedent for people submitting half-blank forms in the future? Will these people who get to resubmit hotel choices or give Travel Planners their accommodation info outside the usual time crunch be given any kind of handicap on their clock? With Travel Planners mostly radio silent, all these questions remain unanswered.

Perhaps the only way to truly even the score is to scrap yesterday’s forms entirely and re-do Hotel Hell all over again. But even that’s not fair to those who took time off of work, arranged childcare, rescheduled doctor’s appointments, or otherwise rearranged their life to accommodate Tuesday’s stressful sale.

One TP rep let slip yesterday that downtown hotels sold out in 13 minutes; that’s much slower than previous years. They noted that the most popular hotels (Bayfront, Marriott Marquis & Marina, etc.) were gone within “a couple minutes,” but all these numbers are from before those hotel preference resubmission emails (above) went out. Assuming everyone who got a bad form requested a downtown hotel, it seems logical to predict a full downtown block sellout time, and 13 minutes is a comforting number. But without those preference requests in, it’s tough to predict what timestamp will get you one of those top-choice hotels.

What’s next?

Whereas we’d normally have a confirmation email containing our requests in order by now, this massive glitch has thrown off the entire timetable. In 2014, those confirmation emails went out the same day the forms were submitted, around 2:30pm Pacific.

Participants who received the above email have until 5:00pm Eastern today to submit their hotel choices. Some have heard from TP phone reps that hotel reservations may not go out until Friday morning, which is beyond the 48 hour timeframe that TP and Comic-Con originally promised.

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Tuesday’s form was closed by 11:30am PDT.

As always, the secondary hotel sale, which usually consists of remaining rooms available outside downtown (Mission Valley, Shelter Island, etc.) will open within a few weeks (this year, on April 8). We’ll have an updated guide to this sale soon, but in the meantime check out our guide to Hotel Sale Round 2 from last year. It’s not nearly as stressful as this mess is.

What will this mean for future sales?

With badges and now even parking having switched to true lottery systems, it won’t be a surprise if this comedy of errors is the catalyst for a switch to a truly random hotel lottery next year.

 

What was your experience like yesterday?