My Comic-Con Reservation Army

In the past few years, Comic-Con has become too much for me to deal with. Each year, it’s gotten bigger and flashier, and since San Diego built a sports stadium downtown, almost impossibly crowded. I’m nostalgic now for the days when a few weeks before the Comic-Con, I could book at the Clarion, a modest hotel a block away from the convention center, for $89 a night. Eventually others caught on that the Clarion was a good deal, and I realized that if I wanted a room there, I’d have to call the special convention reservations line the minute it opened, at 6 am my time.

That was enough drama for me, but one year a screw-up left us without any rooms for Saturday night, so I had to switch to another hotel, but we were still able to book rooms within walking or bussing distance, and we settled for that.

But being able to get any hotel downtown revealed itself to be luck of the draw, and last year, I lost. As I had in previous years, I got up and started harassing the convention’s travel agency at 6 am the day bookings opened, even though they’d said they wouldn’t open until 9 am Pacific Time. (In case they confuse their time zones, I didn’t want any East Coasters having an advantage on me.) At 9 am, the web site for bookings still wasn’t up, and I figured my phone was the only way in. I dialed and re-dialed and re-dialed for 40 minutes, freaking out more and more with each busy signal. By the time I finally got through, there were no hotel rooms left to book downtown. I ended up settling for rooms in a hotel in Mission Valley, four miles away, and tearfully begging the agent to put me on a waiting list for the Sheraton Suites. (I don’t know if there was a waiting list, because I certainly didn’t get a call about any rooms.) The next time I checked the internet, all the rooms in all the hotels had been booked and remained booked up to and into the convention.

The con is tough enough even if you have rooms next door. Peter describes it like drinking water from a firehose; to me, it sometimes feels like water torture. And the prospect of the only respite being so far away was daunting. Everyone (none of whom are morning people) would have to be in the rented mini-van going to the con by 7 am in the morning, so that we could park in one of the rare $8-a-day parking spots under the convention center rather than in one of the $30-a-day spots half a mile away. The show runs until 7 pm at night, whereupon the hundreds of thousands of convention goers compete for seats in the Gas Lamp district’s restaurants. Even when we had hotel rooms in the area, I don’t remember ever having dinner before 8 pm, or getting back to the hotel before 10 pm. Together with having a toddler in tow, I thought the cons of the convention had outweighed the pros, and I opted to stay home.

Luckily, now Peter has actual staff and doesn’t need me to cover the booth, and that staff made the best of the situation they could. But I still vowed that this year I would do all in my power to get them rooms in a hotel downtown.

So this year, I amassed an army to help me. I conscripted Peter, Shiaw-Ling, Candace, and Loretta, and tried to express to them how vital it would be to get on the phone lines and the internet the very nanosecond they were available and to pound every avenue to getting a downtown hotel as thoroughly as possible. Book fast, and ask questions later, I instructed them. Overbook, don’t underbook, since a reservation can be cancelled, but it is nearly impossible to add. We’d confer later and do with the reservations whatever we needed to do. Friends, who’d been informed of my sorrow and suffering the year before, gave me the best advice they could, from “patiently keep trying to get through via the internet” to a more direct URL and anecdotal theorizing that Explorer might be faster than Firefox.

I tossed and turned all night. At 6 am, I was up and beginning to harass the travel agents, who patiently told me to wait until 9. Shortly before 9, I tore Peter out of bed and ordered him to start pounding the internet. We have a cable connection, but even Peter was impressed at how the reservation site bogged down. “This is worse than when Amazon had their Christmas specials!” he exclaimed. I started dialing like a machine, and to my surprise, got through after only 3 tries.

I’m not sure if things were slow on their end, or if I just had a slow agent, but getting six rooms through “Eric” as he called himself was painful. I tried for the Sheraton Suites first. I was told to wait and after 3 minutes, Eric told me I could have the rooms I wanted for every night, except Saturday. Well, we certainly won’t going to pack up and leave before the Con was over, so I asked him to look for another hotel downtown. Meanwhile, Peter had at least gotten up a page with the hotels and rates and saw the Sheraton Marina was listed as being 1/2 block away and within our price range. I jumped up and down and asked Eric for 6 rooms at the Sheraton Marina. After another excrutiating wait, Eric confirmed the Sheraton Marina had 6 doubles, but we’d have to check in on Wednesday, not Tuesday. Ok, ok, I promised, giddy at my success. Slowly, slowly he typed in the names for the people in each room. I reminded him twice that I needed doubles and confirmed that the rooms were at the Marina, not Mission Valley. He gave me a confirmation number, and I ran to my computer to see the confirmation.

And that confirmation showed 6 rooms at the Sheraton…Mission Valley. Arghhhhh! Peter was still pounding at the internet site, which would take his information for one room at a time, but poop out before it issued a confirmation. A confirmation popped into my email showing that Loretta had snagged at least one room with two beds at the Sheraton Suites. And I returned to frantically dialing my phone over and over to repeated busy signals. The web site finally gave way and let Peter book one room after another. By 10 am, he’d gotten 6 doubles at the Sheraton Marina, paranoically booking them with the names of musicians he knew.

Peter wasn’t being crazy. In at least one previous year, the booking agency solved its problem of not having enough rooms for the insistent horde by cancelling rooms that were booked under the same name. So if John Smith from New York was booked in at the Marriott, as well as the Radisson, he could kiss one randomly selected reservation (or maybe even both) good-bye, even if he’d booked the second room for a friend. I’m still in fear that the travel agency will erase all or any of our reservations with no notice–it’s happened and with so much demand, it’s not surprising that they screw up once in a while. And unfortunately, given the demand, once you’ve been screwed, there’s no getting another room nearby.

When Peter saw his reservations take email form, we called off our warriors, who returned from the field with various trophies (i.e. room reservations.) We’ll be digging through the booty and revelling in it for the next few days, and then returning whatever we don’t need. But in any case (knock on wood), it looks like we won’t have to be commuting in from Mission Valley this year.

As an afterword, it is now nearly noon (less than 3 hours since the lines opened.) All the hotel rooms, including the ones in Mission Valley, and except a few going for $409 a night, have been booked, and the phone lines are still busy.

Update: The Sheraton Marina is actually 2-1/2 miles from the convention center, not 1/2 block.

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