Hotelpocalypse 2016 Recap: The Great Randomizer [UPDATE]

hilton bayfront hotelOh, Hotelpocalypse. Please don’t come back for another year.

Although Tuesday’s San Diego Comic-Con General Hotel Sale seemed to clear up the technical issues that plagued last year’s sale, the new system of randomization brought with it a whole new slew of questions — namely, just how was it going to work?

Comic-Con International only offered two real sentences of insight into the process:

Screen shot 2016-04-07 at 7.40.49 PM

When we reached out to onPeak, the company actually holding the sale, we were told that timestamps for when you hit submit would actually be the determining factor, though obviously the waiting room was going to determine a large part of that. Though we reached out to Comic-Con International at the time for clarification, their offices were closed. So, onward we went into the sale, assuming that though we’d be randomized, we still needed to speed through the form.

Unlike last year, the process seemed to go off without a hitch. There were no bad forms, no major technical issues, and even a practice form while you waited.

However, then attendees started to quickly notice something on the final confirmation screen. It stated, “All requests will be processed in random order“. So where were we being randomized in the waiting room, submitting, and then being double randomized? What would possibly be the point of that?

Screen shot 2016-04-07 at 8.06.23 PM

After a lot of commotion on Twitter, someone over at onPeak seemingly realized that social media is a tool that exists to communicate with the masses, who then tweeted this:

So great! Questions answered. After the sale, granted (and really, can anyone give us a solid reason why we can’t have a guide for the hotel sale the way we do for badge sales?), but at least we didn’t have to worry about the dreaded “double randomization”. If there’s anything Comic-Con attendees hate, it’s feeling powerless. Nerves were somewhat calmed, and we all began the long wait of finding out which, if any, hotel we were placed at.

As it turned out, we didn’t have to wait long. Early this morning, just two days after we filled out the form, e-mails began to roll out. And for awhile, it all seemed to be really good news, with most of the big hotel confirmations going out first to seemingly those who had gotten into the form first.

However, as the day went on, things got a lot murkier. We witnessed hundreds of tweets sharing very similar circumstances, but very different results. Some who reported getting access to the form at 9:01 were being placed in Mission Valley. Some who got access to the form at 9:04 were being placed in the Westin Gaslamp downtown.

For this part, at least, we think we may have somewhat of an answer. Attendees obsessed with every minutia of the convention (also known as just, y’know, every attendee) noticed that this year’s waitlist options had changed. Here’s a look at last year’s waitlist options versus this year’s:

Missing for 2016 was the “Book me into any available downtown hotel. If NO downtown hotels are available, discard my request” option for those whose original six choices were full.

While it may seem clear to an attendee that if your first six choices aren’t available, that preference should be given to downtown hotels — it’s pretty obvious this isn’t what happened. Instead, onPeak likely lumped all hotels in all areas together, looked at availability by request, and slotted you somewhere at random in that case. This explains how some with later timestamps were still getting downtown, while some with earlier were getting closer.

So in a way, attendees were technically double randomized.

However, this isn’t really that different from any other year, as the availability at the most in demand hotels (the Hilton Bayfront, Marriott Marquis and Marina, Hard Rock Hotel, Omni, etc.) are all very limited, and fill up extremely fast. It’s just that without that waitlist option, more folks with earlier timestamps were likely being kicked out to Mission Valley than usual.

However, that doesn’t explain everything. To get more confusing, several who reported being let into the form within the first minute reported getting nothing, and some who reported being let into the form much later reported getting big, very popular downtown hotels.

So what in the world happened? And maybe more importantly, how did it happen?

As if they learned nothing from Tuesday, onPeak once again used the very confusing “All received requests were processed in random order as outlined on” wording in their rejection and waitlist e-mails sent out this evening. The only problem (okay, who are we kidding, there’s not just one problem here) is that onPeak had already had to clarify this language once, Comic-Con International didn’t clarify it at all on their site, and whatever else they’d said before didn’t really seem to be what actually happened. Confused yet?

[UPDATE April 9] As Friday rolled around, and thousands were left without e-mails, a possible answer started to ring out through the onPeak customer phone lines. Customer service representatives for the company began telling attendees without an e-mail one of two stories: That there would be a second batch of e-mails sent by 5PM or 7PM (and to be fair, we did see two folks who reported getting an e-mail late into the day), or that their information had been flagged as a duplicate, and only the last entry was kept, while any earlier entry was dumped.

“But I only submitted once,” most attendees explained. And here’s where customer service reps began giving any number of possible scenarios for why a submission may have been dumped: You having the same address as your spouse or parent may have flagged the entry. Same phone number? Same thing. Same last name? Same thing.

So could that explain some of the seemingly impossible results of the hotel sale, and why many who reported being in the form within the first minute of the sale were left out in the cold? It could. However, just like with the rest of the sale, the factors that marked someone as a supposed ‘duplicate’ appear to be random, as for every person who reports one set of circumstances causing them issues, there’s another with the exact same circumstances (using same address/etc.) that didn’t have an issue.

To be honest, while we think that some folks info was marked as a duplicate and dumped, we also think that the customer service reps were overworked, frazzled, and left without much information from their higher-ups — so “you were duplicated and dumped” seemed like an easy answer. And maybe it is that easy. Maybe simply having the last name as someone really is enough to flag you as a duplicate in the system, though that’s a very terrifying thought.

But it’s also clear that CCI, onPeak’s higher-ups, and the front-line onPeak CSR’s weren’t communicating very well. Reps were still telling callers that another batch of e-mails would be sent long after onPeak and CCI both tweeted out that all e-mails had gone out.

The short version of Hotelpocalypse is this: There are always more attendees who wish to stay downtown than there are rooms downtown, so not everyone was ever going to walk away happy today. We’re okay with that — we know that. But it’s the uncertainty of these sales, that stems both from the lack of communication about how any of it runs as well as the contradiction of what little information that’s presented that drives attendees absolutely insane. The randomization and new system may have fixed the technical issues from last year’s sale, but in terms of explaining the process, and being candid in how rooms were being assigned, onPeak and CCI didn’t provide attendees with what they really wanted: Answers.

For all of the “we tried to make it fair” and “there is no perfect system” answers we’ll undoubtedly get down the line, there are steps they could take to make this process run at least a little smoother. Having the payment deadline on a Sunday, when onPeak’s offices are closed on Saturday and Sunday, is ludicrous (especially if onPeak was trying to tell folks that e-mails would go out all the way up to after they were closed). Not having a proper guide or instructions for this sale is beyond our understanding.

For those that didn’t score a hotel today, there are other options, and hotels do open up off the waiting list. And for those whose first year of attending Comic-Con is this year: Please don’t judge the convention by this sale. The rest isn’t as big of a mess, we promise.

E-mails to Comic-Con International have not been returned in the last week.

What were your thoughts about Hotelpocalypse? How did you fare? Let us know in the comments.

About Kerry Dixon

Kerry Dixon is Editor-in-Chief of The San Diego Comic-Con Unofficial Blog and the site’s resident panel guru.

  • Stacey

    Thanks Kerry. That level of negativity is not needed here!

  • Jm5150

    PLUS im willing to bet, seeing as the confirmations arent over yet, that well see a new batch of end users all getting downtown hotels. Im sure theyve realized by now they never actually filled downtown so have a ton of rooms in the big 4. so whatever batches were left (times being all over the board) will get these rooms that were never given to the right attendees. proof that they screwed up

  • Michael O

    This is the first year I had help with #hotelpoclypse. I asked my mother to help out and she was really nervous the entire time. I was 2400 in line but she got in right away. I filled out the form in 1 minute after I got in. She was done when I got in.
    I got Town and Country and she got her Second choice. Thanks mom!

  • The Relevant Conundrum

    One of our group didn’t get in until about 20 minutes after the sale started and the entry screen said that all downtown hotels were sold out. Any word on what that was? How could they have possibly determined that? Was it the number of submissions? Or was it simply another messed up miscommunication/wording issue?

  • Imecoli

    Carolann, if it wasn’t for vendors you wouldn’t have to worry about the rooms or the convention, please allow that to swim around in the little grey matter you have

  • They do that every year. They can definitely determine that. If there are, say, 15K hotels in the downtown block (which there aren’t that many), and they have already had 40K submissions – downtown’s gone. They’ve blocked out the downtown hotels into the sale other years as well.

  • TK421

    This is done by computer for the majority of stuff. They dont have hundreds of people working there doing this. They fu-ked up by not having the “book me in any downtown hotel option”. There is NO WAY someone who got in under 3000 shouldn’t have some downtown hotel The Marquis has 1300+ rooms alone. Add in the Omni, Marriott Gas Lamp, Hard Rock, Sheratons, etc…and there is NO POSSIBLE WAY someone under 3000 shouldn’t have a room.

    It was double random…no doubt in my mind. Calling this morning the guy said it was random and Im like that’s NOT what your site/tweets said so I want to talk to a manager. Supposed to get a call back today.

  • Bearsybear

    My number showed briefly as 243 before I was moved right in to choose a hotel, and I mean seconds. All the planets must have been aligned perfectly for me, because for the first time ever I got my first choice. I think some of the difference that’s happening may also be on the night that’s being chosen. I only chose one night, Friday. I believe that Saturday nights sell out first, so my results may have been different if my stay included a Saturday night. This is the first time I’ve gotten a downtown hotel right out of the gate. I’ve always been on Shelter Island or by the airport, or waitlisted. By the way, been going to the con for over 25 years as hubby is a professional, but we still have random selection when it comes to hotels. Like a box of chocolates, we never know what we’ re going to get, and sometimes the box is already empty.

  • The Relevant Conundrum

    OK, thanks. Always appreciate your insight and knowledge amid the official chaos! 🙂

  • Annabella G

    Whether it was a success or not, I think they were just trying to make it fair. Too many people doing things to gain the advantage over others every year creates the need for them to make changes.

  • space traveler

    Any email yet? I’m still waiting for mine.

  • Gjon Shyti

    I like it being random the first time but everything after that was ridiculous

  • MediaSavant

    Your place in line wasn’t a useful way to determine when your entry form loaded. I didn’t even see an number before mine did. But, someone of the FOCC forum taught us how to check our browser cache for the actual form load time and I found out mine loaded just before the 1 minute mark (00:54 to be exact). I submitted around I got 2 rooms in my first hotel choice. I don’t think that was random. It would be interesting to go back and check your cache times.

  • Annabella G

    Sure but I doubt OnPeak’s system is as advanced. Perhaps in a couple of years but for now we are dealing with most likely a partially manual process with human error.

  • Fred

    Why can’t CCI provide the names and the member ID info for those who were able to get badges during Pre-Reg and Open Reg to onPeak so that attendees have a decent shot at getting rooms? Why not have separate room sales for the attendees (including pros and exhibitors) and then the general public? By making the room sale open to everyone and just once makes the sale an unmitigated mess.

  • minmin

    Nice recap. No e-mail for me, although I submitted at 1207p. My husband submitted 15 mins later and got an e-mail for wait-listed. We do share the same address and phone # but not the same last name, but I assume my submission was dumped. The good news is that my daughter, who lives across the country, got in and was able to get a room so we do have a place to stay. Who knew about these “new rules.” Why would onPeak dump the prior “duped” submission and not the last. Why have the hotel lottery take place after badge sales when after buying a badge, you can’t get a hotel nearby. If you are badge holders you should be able to participate in the hotel lottery even if you are in the same household. You’ve already paid the price of admission, but if that is the new rule, CCI and onPeak should have told us. This whole process needs to be MORE TRANSPARENT and less stressful. Yes, this process initially went more smoothly than last year but ended up being just as messy in its outcome.

  • Fred

    Look, I know that we’re all upset to differing degrees, but your “little grey matter” comment is just as antagonistic as Carolann’s. Let’s all take a deep breath and chill out, please. As a vendor, you have to admit that you get privileges that the regular attendee doesn’t. Yes, I know that SDCC is expensive for you–bringing all the goodies that we enjoy, so thank you!

  • Thanks for this update. I was #314 in line and got into the form almost immediately…and I got my first choice, the Marriott Marquis! My husband (same address but different last name and phone number) got in later, maybe around 9:05, and didn’t get any hotels. I feel VERY lucky. This whole process is incredibly opaque and unnecessarily stressful. I will say, though, that last year we got the Crowne Plaza in Mission Valley but were able to switch to the Doubletree downtown later on when SDCC notified us that rooms had opened up in several downtown hotels. So there’s still hope for those who didn’t get downtown on the first try!

  • Billy Jones

    That is a wonderful idea

  • Honest But Annoyed

    The personnel in charge of this are lying. There is no way this was done by time stamp both my friend and I logged in within 30 seconds of each other all withing the first 3-4 minutes top he got a hotel in Gaslamp that was his 2 option that was my 4th option and i got nothing. I call them up and first person i spoke to Ramon clearly showed no signs of empathy or idea what to say. the second person (name i couldn’t hear clearly) couldn’t even say what was my time stamp claiming they don’t have that information. Tell me if that makes any sense at all. to top it off after i brought light into their mistakes as listing the right information in regard to how the process woulds be the person the started saying hello over and over as if he couldn’t hear me. he proceeded to do this as i’m saying i hear you loud and clear. the moment i said i know that a company like your must have a dedicated Quality assurance department and the call has to be recorded for that purpose and i clearly hear you as I’m sure you hear me. The rep shut up froze put me on hold then i was disconnected. Bravo guys Bravo.

  • Investigatin Detective

    Someone on Friends of CCI forum had a long and very candid call with OnPeak personnel and it was a fascinating. Here’s a copy/paste of the convo:

    1) if you don’t have a confirmation at this point you are waitlisted. They are going to send out a mass email (which he read to me) within the next hour. SDCC is sending the email I think.
    2) Waitlists will start clearing on Monday.
    3) Waitlists will run through July.
    4) If you selected the wrong option on waitlists they will not change it for you (Ex. I picked six downtown hotels and am only waitlested for those 6). I can’t waitlist for any other hotel. They won’t reopen the waitlist and add me to the bottom. My misunderstanding is my problem.
    5) SDCC will open up a block of returned rooms at some point. We can all try for those later There were no/few downtown hotels on the list last year that I recall.
    6) Waitlist position is based on the hotel you selected and the number of days. The fewer days you selected the better your chances. Ex. if you had just selected 1 day you probably would have a room. They are clearing reservations with fewer days first. Once again – I picked 5 days so they said I basically have no hope at my 6 hotels. Bottom line is that even your position on the waitlist is somewhat random.
    7) he confirmed the double randomization at the outset – time in room and the randomized again after submission.
    8) they say its basically SDCC who made all these choices and not them – so blame SDCC.
    9) there are rooms set aside for vendors/exhibitors – if you can get on that list you can still get a room but its risky because if they catch you they will cancel your room.

  • Investigatin Detective

    Apart from OnPeak not being big with explanation and CCI essentially burying their head in the sand, what I find most annoying is that this process is essentially a TRIPLE lottery. They randomly decide when you get to a form. They randomly process said form. Then they randomly assign you one of the hotels on your list. Since CCI’s new thing is that everything should be “fair” this system is the complete opposite.

    It should run like ages at this point. They randomly sort you into a queue and once you’re at the front you reserve any hotel available. The randomization of the line should be enough. Why go through it several times?

  • Kerry

    The ONLY explanation that we have is maybe there’s a legal issue with sharing that data with another vendor. That’s purely a guess, though.

  • eerieisland

    Seriously. For as much work as Kerry does keeping us plebs updated on the site and on Twitter, Carolann Waggner, should really be thanking her for even doing as much as she already does.

  • Kerry

    I did see that. Curious to see if we get said e-mail in the next few days or not.

  • eerieisland

    Maybe you should open your own website detailing SDCC and get all of these supposed “free perks” that are falling into Kerry’s lap.

  • Fred

    Thanks, Kerry. For a moment, let’s assume CCI is correct about the legality of sharing this data with a vendor. CCI can just simply work in tandem with onPeak, meaning that CCI uses its badge purchasing system to randomly select the badge holder from the waiting room (badge holders would get an email from CCI with a specific link to enter the waiting room–just like with Pre- and Open Reg). Once in, CCI can then hand off the reservation details to onPeak. Yeah, I know. Wishful thinking on my part. I’m just concerned that it’ll worse for next year’s hotelpocalypse if there are no changes made.

  • RP

    My email with hotel selections didn’t show up until Sat morning.
    I clicked on the link to get the activation code – and no code was sent. Opened up two tickets with their IT but they are closed until monday. While their email was dated thursday, it didn’t show up until this morning (this is my work email which work fine) Problem is, monday will be after the 72 hour dead line that started on Thursday.

    Any ideas here how I can get a code today and add my ccard?


  • Tom Galloway

    Yes and no. The Marquis as a whole has 1300+ rooms…but that’s not necessarily how many are in the “cheaper than Marriott thinks we could get away with” block Comic-Con negotiated. I’ve never seen precise numbers on just how rooms are actually available via the convention, but am sure it’s not equal to “every room in every listed hotel”.

  • Em (emeraldawn)

    Still no news or no email. I am the only person in my house and family that is going and was the only person in my house doing a form. So no last name, email, address or anything that could have flagged me. I don’t mind rules. I understand them. But, when you don’t know the rules, you can not only play the game, but understand what is even happening around you. This is not how companies should work.

  • Kerry

    If it doesn’t show up, we’d suggest calling first thing Monday. They may still be able to help you. There’s always been a lot of confusion over the whole 72 hour thing, and onPeak themselves have given multiple answers this year (e-mail says one, Twitter says another, online screen says a third)

  • Jm5150

    doubtful. they wont do shit, they never do. onpeak will remain silent and avoid blame because they want the business from CCI. with 130,000 attendees its one of their largest accounts

  • Jm5150

    theres also a possibility that some group hacked the queue and was able to submit 5000 forms without waiting in the queue. its not fallible. I even noticed one of my windows using script blocker seemed to have a different waiting room that had the same message it gives you when your selected for the form, just no blinking light. I turn the blocker off so no idea if it actually work. It wouldnt be too hard to write some code and have a ton of browsers all having different IPs bust onto the form ASAP and take most of the downtown hotels. if this is the case, nobody is actually paying form them and they could all get re-released eventually which is what i HOPE to see for everyone. They wouldnt catch it right away if it were thousands of non duplicate forms. its a tough task but possible to do if youre a dick and want to guarantee a downtown hotel.


    they had computers filling hotels on top 6 lists immediately. with all the extra browsers going the system may have been forced to hold downtown hotels or specific hotels per each form. if you had 5 browsers going and got in with one, youd be filling out the form on THAT browser, but wouldnt care about the other 4 browsers, these other 4 could have been hogging up space in hotels somehow if they also got in while you were filling out the 1st form, or you just left them open after you completed the form. this would be why people with times between 9:00 and 9:03 werent getting top 6 picks or anything, but people AFTER 9:03 were. once they finished a form and closed the EXTRA windows, rooms were freed up for later processed attendees.

    so many different possibilities, but sadly i doubt we will ever be given an answer. theres no ramifications for onpeak if they dont supply information so why would they bother?

  • Jm5150

    i know,, wtf… you have until sunday to complete the reservation but theyre not op[en until monday!!!!. what if theres issues?? such a horribly run clusterfrack

  • Jm5150

    i loaded 8 seconds later and got nothing in top 6

  • RP

    Called this am and was able to add my cc info without issue.

    On and off the phone in 5 mins.

    Thanks for the info!

  • Jm5150

    thats a big fat “no”, but no surprise there

  • Jm5150

    so it WAS by time, but it wasnt.. and still no clarification from cci or onpeak how it was run. I have seen a lot of forms that got in immediately and got first choice. ive seen forms that got in immediately that didnt get anything (not as many). Ive seen forms in quick but not in immediately and got nothing, ive seen forms in quick but not immediate that got first pick. (not as many though) ive seen forms in late that got waitlisted, ive seen forms in late that got first pick (again, not as many though).. so the pattern here is there isnt one. it appears random AND by time!!! I WANT ANSWERS

  • Jm5150

    I know its a little late but id love to see a poll of what people got as opposed to their time to the form plus maybe other useful info. with all the data involved we could certainly be able to determine what percentage of hotels (and what hotels) were given out at different times. could help us figure out exactly how random it was. Like i told someone else. it seemed both random AND timed which makes no sense. theres no concrete evidence to lean either way

  • Bearsybear

    I’m starting to wonder if it wasn’t by both time stamp AND by how many nights were requested. I think at this point I would recommend to anyone staying three night or more to bite the bullet and get one of the rooms they offer during the pre-hotel selection. I know there’s no refunds, but if you have your badge and know for sure that you’re going to the con, then taking a shuttle ride back to your hotel is almost relaxing after a busy day at the con. And they run 24 hours starting on Friday. Just a thought.

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  • MediaSavant

    What were you asking for? I was asking for two SINGLE rooms and my 1st choice was the Horton Grand.

  • Jm5150

    so because im going longer i should be forced to commute?
    im there 10 days and theres no way id want to shuttle 1.5 hours each way multiple times a day fir the entire convention. you know whats more relaxing than a 1.5 hour shuttle that stops at 20 hotels? walking 50 yards to your hotel and getting in the hot tub. i say the opposite, if people get 1 or 2 days THEY should stay in MV. these people who grabbed just friday and saturday bumped people out of the hotel sale that requested the whole week because of overlap. now hotels will have unfilled rooms on monday, tuesday wednesday thursday and sunday. its set up in the worst possible way if its decided by room days.

    what they need to do is this.

    on one day, everyone who wants a hotel “registers” with CCI. the next day CCI issues everyone a time slot and a code. the timeslots are spread out over a week. groups can relax because the person with the earliest time slot is the only one worried about getting rooms. once your slot arrives you log in and have 30 minutes to select a hotel, room dates search by hotel. if that hotel cant accommodate you, you try another. this way people make their own choices instead of getting tossed “wherever”. if theres none of the hotels you want you know right off the bat theres no processing error. the only thing you can bitch about is your random slot in line. but its random, bitching will do no good. You can systematically get the closest hotel you want provided with whats still available. the way its done now feels like onpeak was in cahoots with mission valley to make them happy and fill their hotels.

  • Bearsybear

    There is always going to be more people that want hotel rooms in the downtown area then there are available, leaving some people unhappy. I’ve been in that category many, many times. I was booked last year in a run down motel and cancelled my reservation right away, never even left a deposit. Then after the cut off date of SDCC keeping the deposit, that’s when a lot of other people cancelled their reservations and I was able to pick up a pretty nice room (Sheraton Airport). Just because the rooms are sold out now does not mean more will be available after the April 30th date.

    Back in the day, you used to be able to choose your actual hotel, but that all got changed.

    I see that you are very passionate, and I can see that because of your misconception about the shuttles that you have never taken them before. SDCC color-codes the shuttles for different areas, and there are many, many, many, if not a couple hundred, shuttles, which are really full-sized busses.

    The last two years we stayed at the Sheraton at the Airport area (which was one of the hotels on the pre-book list, by the way). For this hotel the shuttle was color-coded yellow. You get the shuttle right out the door of the con, maybe walk 20 steps, depending on where your color-coded shuttle is being lined up. There was a new shuttle pulling up about every 5 minutes, but no more than 8 minutes. We got right on the shuttle. Our shuttle had 3 stops. THREE, not 20. It took a total of 20 minutes to get to our hotel, and we were dropped off right in front of the hotel. A friend of mine stayed in a mission valley hotel (purple coded shuttle) and her shuttle had 4 stops, taking her 24 minutes to get to her hotel.

    In the past, we’ve also stayed in one of the hotels that is about 3 blocks to the con. Where we didn’t have to wait for a shuttle, it was still a good walk that took us about 15 minutes from hotel to the front of the con. So in my opinion, it is not that much more different in taking a shuttle, except at the end of the day when your exhausted after walking miles and miles in the con, it sure is nice to walk right out of the con and have a shuttle drop you off right at the front of your hotel. In my opinion.

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