SDCC Sundays: Reflections on Hotelpocalypse 2017

Preparing for San Diego Comic-Con can be really stressful. It’s an incredibly fun experience but getting there isn’t always easy. Nothing is guaranteed and every year it seems to get harder and harder to secure not just badges, but also a place to stay.

There’s a reason you see so many people jokingly resigning themselves to their fate during the badge sales on Twitter and a reason that hotel sales are dubbed ‘Hotelpocalypse.’ If nothing else we all at least have a slight sense of humor when it comes to all that anxiety-inducing uncertainty.

Now, I know I’m not the only person who believes that Hotelpocalypse is the worst part of SDCC prep. Sure, badge sales are nerve-wracking, but even if you manage to get badges (especially the coveted four day ones) you’re immediately at the mercy of the SDCC gods again when it comes to hotel rooms.

And with a good 100,000+ people converging on downtown San Diego and the Gaslamp District, space is at a premium. Unless you’re staying with a large group of friends and recruit them all to run the Hotelpocalypse gauntlet with you,  there is a very good chance that you might end up with nothing at all.

The patient among us (those who don’t mind waiting for the free shuttles) might just opt out of the process entirely and take part in the SDCC sponsored Early Bird sales. The hotels may be further from the convention center, but at least they’re guaranteed. The rest of us? We just pray that somehow the lottery works out in our favor.

And this year things didn’t really seem to be in anyone’s favor…

April 26th: It Begins

After receiving Waiting Room links a little less than a week prior, Hotelpocalypse hopefuls got their chance to enter the onPeak arena on at 8 AM on April 26th. After reading through the official SDCC hotel sales guide on their website I had pretty high hopes for this year’s sales.

And for the most part the actual process of signing up for hotels went pretty smoothly. While there were some reports on social media of glitches and errors after the waiting room started moving people into the sign up form at 9 AM, it didn’t seem as bad as it has been before.

With eight people trying, only one member of our group got into the sign-up form almost immediately. Over the next few minutes the rest of our hopeful group started cycling through. We got in and we got out – and then all we could do was wait.

This year, the sign-up form had some new options. Attendees were invited to list six downtown hotels as well as a preferred list of six non-downtown hotels. I don’t know if this was meant to soften the blow to people who wound up with a less preferred hotel or not, but it did give people a chance to prioritize their fallback choices.

After all, some hotels you could be randomly assigned into aren’t even on the shuttle list. So it was a good idea. How it actually played into hotel assignments I suspect we’ll never really know. (SDCC and onPeak surely aren’t going to tell us.)

But hey! We did have something of a Hotelpocalypse highlight in the form of the Waiting Room running man. He’s not the witty yellow box from badge sales (who was sorely missed) but we’ll take it. At least you could yell profanities at him to run faster and get your anxiety out that way.

Except the real anxiety came after getting into the waiting room.

May 1st: Wave One

Whoever though it would be a good idea to release SDCC hotel results in two waves must be a sadist. That’s the only explanation I can come up with for stretching out the agony longer than the 48 hours of past sales into not just one week, but two. Sure, I get that maybe they wanted to divvy up the first round of hotels and then release those hotels not reserved to attendees in the second wave. But is that really what happened?

On Monday, May 1st onPeak sent out the first wave of hotel reservations. The lucky few who got those emails were given a week to put down a deposit for their assigned hotels.

And we do mean the lucky few.

Based admittedly solely on anecdotal evidence, it didn’t seem like anyone really got emails in the first wave.

In our group only one person out of eight got an email during the first wave. That person got their first choice hotel. The rest were left to wait another week to see what would happen. And they weren’t alone. Take a look at that SDCC Unofficial Blog poll from Twitter. Less than thirty percent of respondents got an email with a hotel reservation in the first wave. 

It didn’t seem to matter when you got into the form as far as wave assignments went. People who got in within the first minute still saw their inboxes sit empty while people who got in minutes later might still have gotten a hotel assignment on May 1st. Nor was there any rhyme or reason to what hotels were included in the first wave, as some people on Twitter started realizing that certain hotels may have not released any reservations on May 1st. 

It really makes you miss the days of alphabetical hotel emails…

People who did get hotels were put in an awkward position – especially if they were buying as part of a group. If just one person in a group got a reservation, they would have to decide whether or not to put down a pricey deposit on the hotel they got without knowing what hotels everyone else might get a week later. Sure, you could cancel the reservation later, but to secure it you had to put down a deposit of two nights (plus taxes and fees) which adds up to a not insignificant amount of money.

Ultimately, after the first wave we saw most people left with a lot of questions, a lot of uncertainty, and a fair bit of anger – and, in seemingly most cases, no hotel room.

May 8th: Wave Two

Things didn’t seem to get much better as the second wave of reservations rolled out. Emails started going out way later than they had on May 1st, which left people frantically refreshing inboxes and asking others on Twitter every few seconds whether anyone had heard anything yet.

When the emails did start to trickle out they were very, very slow going.

onPeak didn’t announce that all emails had been sent until the next morning on May 9th. By contrast they had sent the same tweet in regards to the first wave emails before at 10:56 AM the same day they started going out. First wave emails were sent within hours. Second wave emails – for some reason – may have taken a full twenty-four hours. Even then, a lot of people were left in the dark with no emails and no idea what was going on.

By the end of May 8th, a follow up poll by SDCC showed only about half of respondents had received an email from onPeak. While they knew that probably meant they didn’t get anything, no emails came to confirm that – or to tell them what their next steps would be. 

At leas the second wave seemed to put more hotels out in the wild, so to speak.

One of the tried and true methods for getting a halfway decent hotel (or, really, any hotel at all depending on your situation) is trading or offering up reservations on Twitter and the Friends of CCI forums. We’ve actually made some pretty great friends by offering up extra hotel rooms – and those same friends years later came through for us during a past Hotelpocalypse. Also, while hotel swaps during the first wave were limited, they opened up a bit more during the second.

Still, there a lot of people out there who never got any kind of email from onPeak. It left plenty of hopeful attendees to languish without a hotel room unless they got lucky enough to snag someone else’s extra reservation.

May 15th: The Hotelpocalypse
Waitlist Thunderdome

It wasn’t until the end of this week on May 12th that anyone heard from onPeak again. Finally they sent out some information about the waitlists and how people could pick up any rooms that remained after the second Hotelpocalypse wave had run it’s course.

And it looks like it’s going to be a first-come, first-serve free for all.

Now, forgive me, but that email doesn’t really inspire much confidence as far as I’m concerned.

After what happened in the second wave as far as emails were concerned you have to wonder who will even get the emails with the waitlist link. They’re sending them out on the day the link is supposed to go live. If they roll those emails over any period of time – no matter how small – you’ve got to imagine that there are going to be some people who may not even get their emails before all the leftover hotels are gone.

And what if you didn’t get this email either?

We have two people in our group that still haven’t received any kind of waitlist email – or even one to just say better luck next year. Now, granted, we got all the hotels we needed in the first two waves. But we have no idea why they haven’t gotten any emails yet. They all managed to send in completed forms during the initial sign-ups and we know from social media that they aren’t alone. 

There’s one line in the email that indicates that maybe the hotels will open up to everyone at some point: “Those who requested to be on the waitlist will have the first opportunity to book from remaining Comic-Con hotel inventory.” So even if you didn’t ask to be on the waitlist or you just didn’t get any kind of email at all, you might have a chance. Otherwise, you may have to look at non-SDCC rate rooms downtown or alternative options – like the risky AirBnB reservation or hotels elsewhere in the city.

I’d like to say that once the waitlist sales are over we can really sit down and make sense of all of this, but I think we might just be left with all the same questions – if not some new ones.

So What Now?

I have this naive hope that SDCC or onPeak might respond to everyone’s questions about what the hell actually happened this year during Hotelpocalypse. There has been a lot of confusion and frustration regarding the whole process and the onPeak folks so far are staying mum. 

But it would be nice to know what effect – if any – getting into the initial sign-up form at a certain time on April 26th had to do with your hotel choices. Everyone swears by the fact that your timestamp matters. When you get into the form and/or how quickly to fill it out matter. But that simply can’t be true or we wouldn’t hear so many stories about people who got in to the form (and completed it) within the first minute getting shafted under the current system. 

The SDCC Unofficial Blog posted a great conversation about alternatives to onPeak’s current system. Honestly, though, I don’t see them changing things, which I don’t really mind that. I just would appreciate a little explanation as to how and why they do things the way they do.

Will we get any? Probably not.

But it would go a long way in helping to build a little goodwill for onPeak. Besides, if they were actually a little bit more open with people then maybe we would realize things work a lot better than we think they do. As I pointed out: a lot of our observations are simply anecdotal. For all we know, moving to the two wave system may have actually made things better. It could have ensured that more people received their top choice hotels than in previous years. 

Until onPeak opens up a bit, though, we’ll never know. And, realistically, we probably never will.

So if you still need a hotel room, we wish you the best of luck in the waitlist grab bag on Monday. Chime in below and let us know how it goes because we’re genuinely interested. We’d love to hear what everyone’s thoughts on Hotelpocalypse were this year. If you have any suggestions on how it could be better or just some other observations we’d love to hear those, too. Maybe you guys can make more sense of this craziness than we can!