Just noticed this posted on the team booking site and haven’t seen a mentioned here yet.
FIRST Update 4/3: Due to overwhelming demand, at this time, housing through ConferenceDirect is now closed. If you have already submitted a block request, please know that you are on our list and we will be doing our best to fulfill your request based on what becomes available with block releases after 4/6. If you are planning on attending the conference and have not secured hotel reservations, search for hotel availability via our trusted partner aRes Travel.
aRes Travel is a third-party travel planner. Rates, deposits, and cancellation policies may vary and are the responsibility of the guest. Questions on hotel policies or payments made on aRes website should be directed to the aRes Reservation Center or to the hotel directly.
This has been the most frustrating process I can remember.
We have been trying for months to get a block of hotel rooms with no luck through FIRST.
Call hotels direct and they say they have availability, but once they find out we are related to FIRST they refuse to process a reservation because they have a contract in place with FIRST housing for a part of their hotel. Does not matter that FIRST housing has nothing available - they just won’t do it.
this is absolutely the worst time of year. First get to DCMP, arrange house and logistics. Then, if you are lucky enough to get a slot to Houston, you get to scramble to get transportation AND enough rooms to house your kids.
One of the HUGE benefits of two champs was spreading teams out and shorter trips (at least for us). Two cities to handle the load. I really hate this time of year.
I called yesterday and was told they are only working Monday and Tuesday and then closing. I wasn’t sure if that meant closing today or next week after MSC. I was told they would do their best to take care of us if we qualified, but this doesn’t inspire confidence. The only advice I was given was to send an email Monday morning after MSC is over. I asked if it would be better to call directly and was told “probably not.”
Having never been to Houston and maybe having the chance of getting there this year for the second time with no guarantees, I miss Detroit.
FWIW as of last night, the link that came with the Dean’s List packet still goes to a valid reservation link, though most of the hotels are no longer available. Not that that’s available for everyone, but hopefully at least some folks are able to keep booking.
It’s frustrating for sure. Given that so many teams have to make travel plans last-minute, I feel like there’s gotta be a better system for this. “We refuse to sell you a room, despite the fact you can’t get one through the normal contract” doesn’t seem like a good business model for anyone.
I imagine the volunteer link is still functioning, too (though it’s a unique link per volunteer, so I can’t verify that easily). It’s a lot different to need one room than a sub block of 5, 10, 15, or 20+ rooms.
It’s totally frustrating for teams, agreed. Given that Conference Direct is in the business of making money, I don’t think I agree with you that this is a bad business model. Likely, they’ve done the math and they know that with their current backlog and the number of rooms available, they think they have more requests than they will be able to fulfill and rather than giving people false hope, they cut it off. Given the shortage of rooms, I respect that they’ve closed the system so people really know they’re on their own.
But that’s just it, he is saying if you call on your own and the hotel figures out your a first team they will deny you a room but if you call and portray yourself as unaffiliated with first visiting for an unrelated reason they will book rooms for you. that i do see as a problem
The more I think about it, I think the missing link is just that Conference Direct needs to ensure clarity with hotels that teams shouldn’t be getting turned away just because there was a contracted block. Which, admittedly, is not an easy communication task (especially if the decisions have been made within the last few hours).
From a team experience perspective, a big thing that I think would be valuable is some guarantee of “if you qualify, we’ll make sure you have at least X rooms available to book”. (for small X, maybe 3 to 5?) I’m not sure the internals of how the Conference Direct contracts work, or what it would take to get there…
I’m also just biased against Conference Direct in general. They’ve got major software issues on their end, to where they literally can’t use my personal email for any bookings (???). They’ve tried and failed to fix it three years running now, and only recommend I use a different email every year. I get it, software issues are hard to trace down… but the user experience is leaving a lot to be desired. To the point where, at least from my current vantage point, I’m struggling to see the value they’re actually adding.
We requested a block on the first day of it being available for 10 rooms, in the international-reserved hotels first, and then other surrounding hotels. I heard nothing from HQ. The whole time. Once I called them and all I heard was ‘there’s no updates, you’ll hear soon’! At the bare minimum I was hoping for update emails.
Students/parents ended up booking their own hotels/AirBNBs independently, leaving us as already a small team (bringing only 7 students to TX), separated all over the city. Not a super huge fan of this booking system after using it and would love to see it redone, somehow.
(Edit: realized the numbers look weird with 10 rooms for 7 kids - we didn’t have a list of people going so made an estimate, but I can also guarantee this lack of certainty on housing is part of the reason why some parents early on, opted out of sending their kids)
I can only recall one occasion where we have had success booking rooms through the FIRST system. I believe that it was 2016 when we had our FRC team as well as 2 of our FTC teams all qualify. We needed rooms for the second FTC team (we had already arranged for the rooms for the FRC and one of the FTC teams). One of the other FTC teams at our qualifying event had reserved rooms but ended up not qualifying. That other team tried to work with the Hotel to transfer the reservation from their team to our team, but the hotel would not do it. So, their mentor and our mentor coordinated so that they would cancel their rooms and we would immediately call to reserve rooms. Somehow it worked and we were able to get the rooms reserved, but it was at a different hotel than our other two teams. We then thought it would be nice to swap the rooms around so that the two FTC teams would be at the same hotel and the FRC team would take the rooms at the other hotel, but we could not make that happen.
All other times, we have managed our room reservations outside the FIRST system.
I keep hoping that FIRST will figure out a way to fix this, but every year a thread like this pops up indicating that the system is still not working well for many teams. So, it looks like we will continue to book our own rooms.