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.