San Diego hotel rooms for Comic-Con International go on sale tomorrow morning at 9:00 AM Pacific Time. Because they’ve sold out in a matter of hours the last few years — or, more precisely, because they’ve overwhelmed the reservation system while doing so — Travel Planners is instituting some new policies and a new procedure.

Last December they announced that they would require a deposit at reservation time, and a cut-off point in May after which it would no longer be refundable. This should help cut down on some of the “just in case” speculating that always happens. (Previously you had to provide a credit card when making the reservation, but they didn’t charge it.)

As for the procedure, here’s what used to happen: You would search for hotels, get a list of those that have rooms available, enter your name and contact info, then enter your credit card and get immediate confirmation. At every step, the server would be slow, and there was a good chance that you would have to start over. Yes, it would even fail at the last step.

The new scheme is wildly different: Instead of searching for a hotel, you’ll be asked to enter a list of up to 12 choices, in order of preference, and submit it. A few hours later, they’ll send you an email to confirm what you’ve gotten.

My first thought: this is exactly how it worked for me last year, when I got through on the phone instead of online. It’s also how reservations by fax used to work.

It’s annoying not to have instant feedback of course, but I suspect one of the main reasons the system breaks down is that it’s trying to handle so many complete transactions simultaneously. This way, the only part running “live” is collecting requests. Once those are all in, they can process them at whatever speed the reservation system can actually handle.

Plus, if they really want to minimize the load on their website, they can put everything on one page and minimize the number of graphics and scripts. Every image you have to load slows the page down. Every new page you have to load is another chance for the process to break down completely. When designing a web application, there are times to emphasize looks, there are times to emphasize convenience for the user, and there are times to emphasize simplicity in the actual process. This is one of the latter.

I guess we’ll see how it goes tomorrow morning.

Update: The request process, at least, went surprisingly smoothly. ← I’ve got some thoughts here on the reservation form and how the process worked.

See Also: Convention Photos & Write-Ups

5 thoughts on “Pre-Game Thoughts on the New Comic-Con Hotel Procedure

  1. I see what you’re saying, but I’m still worried. The new procedure – while making sense on paper – nonetheless seems bizarrely ancient to me. Why not just mail in your choices, then? I’m also not thrilled with the entire process taking place behind the scenes. While I don’t have any reason to impugn the integrity of Travel Planners staffers, this procedure would make it a whole lot easier to slip a friend into a prime spot in the queue. And they haven’t exactly been stellar at record-keeping in the past. In 2008, I was told I’d been wait-listed but called two weeks later and found they had no record of me; in 2009, I got through on the phone like you did, and gave them my list of choices – and they never called back. Tomorrow’s new procedure feels like crossing my fingers and wishing. At least with last year’s process there was instant feedback – more like the Oklahoma land rush, but still preferable to me.

    • Hmm. I was thinking about it more from the technical standpoint, rather than how it could be abused. I guess it all comes down to how much you trust them. It sounds like you’ve had a lot more trouble with them than I have. Not that my experience has been fantastic…

      And yeah, it is archaic. The ideal solution would be for them to build up their hardware, network, database and software system so that it can handle everything live, but they’ve gone three(?) years in a row thinking they’ve added enough to handle the load, and it’s still crumbled. I really wouldn’t be surprised if they’d discovered a bottleneck in their underlying reservation system that made offloading requests into a queue the only practical solution short of overhauling everything from the ground up.

      I really hope the queue can hold up…

  2. Fortunately, we have a good friend who lives in the SD area, so when we attend this year (for the first time in several yrs) all we have to do is bring chocolate …

    • Convenient!

      We’re just close enough that we could commute if we wanted or had to, but just far enough that it’s really annoying to do so four days in a row. We talked about commuting by train this year, but the schedules aren’t suited for it. So, it’s off to the Hotel crunch again.

      Seriously, the first time I did this, I booked a room at the Super 8 a month before the show. Now? The two nearest Motel 6s are already booked solid! And it’s only been 6 years!

  3. I booked my hotel months ago and lucked out. A friend is able to get a family discount with a certain hotel chain. I wish everyone best of luck though in their journey for a hotel room!

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