Hotel Tonight: Testing The Last-Minute Hotel Booking Service In New York City

Hotel Tonight logoI just finished renovating my one-bedroom Brooklyn apartment, an experience that has driven many a New Yorker to drink, or even better, to a hotel room. With my husband and me both working from home, a toddler at heel and not many friends with “extra” room for us to crash, we were forced to decamp while our apartment was without a kitchen or bathroom. Looking for options, I first turned to Airbnb, my preferred source of accommodations now that I travel with a baby, and while it’s recently been ruled semi-illegal in NYC, there are still plenty of listings. Most neighborhood options were either sketchy (I’d rather not share a bathroom with “several” other bedrooms, even if it was featured in a film) or comically overpriced (though cheers to the creative thinker who includes their own Netflix account as an amenity). Searching the major booking engines for hotels yielded either insulting (uh, Brooklyn is still part of NYC) or downright offensive ($400 for a La Quinta in the middle of nowhere?!) offerings, so I turned to what would become my new obsession: hotel hopping with Hotel Tonight.

Hotel Tonight is a mobile-only app service that provides daily hotel deals for one (or sometimes a few) night only with sometimes stellar discounts, but only available starting at noon for the same day (sometimes for multiple nights). It’s ideal if you are, say, out and about and decide you’d rather sleep at a hotel rather than home, or like playing it fast and loose with your vacation bookings. Prior to my “staycation” week of hotel hopping, I had used it only once for a last-minute hotel room in Boston, discovering a hotel I’d never heard of, at a price far lower than anything else available. I liked its well-curated stock of hotels, sleek interface, to-the-point reviews and especially the fact that you get to “trace” a hotel bed to confirm your room purchase, an odd kind of satisfaction akin to a scratch-off lottery ticket.The first day I excitedly logged in at exactly noon, using the Wi-Fi from outside my local library with suitcases at the ready to head to my home for the night. I did some cross-referencing with individual hotel sites and booking engines, finally settling on the new-ish Hotel BPM in Sunset Park. Though it’s less than five miles from my apartment and I consider myself to be a fairly intrepid New York explorer, it’s not an area I’m familiar with or would think of for a hotel. Even my car service driver was bemused and curious about the location, just off the Brooklyn Queens Expressway and quite handy to Costco, if, say, you wanted to bring your own extra-large package of toilet paper. I was pleasantly surprised with the room, a spiffy green-and-white design with some hi-tech touches like a smart TV that can connect to Hulu and Netflix. The DJ/music theme was sort of lost on me, as well as its connection to the neighborhood.

The immediate area of the Hotel BPM can feel a bit desolate and industrial if you walk the wrong way, but my toddler enjoyed a nearby playground with the questionable feature of being located right under an elevated highway. Though I imagine the front desk could have given me tips, I followed a friend’s recommendation to the nearby Kofte Piyaz, where I had some of the best Turkish food I’ve found outside Istanbul. Walking back past many Mexican and Spanish delis and diners, I had to wonder what would drive a tourist out here, other than low room rates? The hotel’s website is very “rah rah, Brooklyn!” which feels a bit disingenuous when you discover the beautiful “Brownstone Brooklyn” or trendy Williamsburg is nowhere in sight, and our borough’s famed bridge wouldn’t even be visible from the roof (if I could get on it, not sure they have granted access to the public yet). The hotel hosts happy hour downstairs on weekends, but on my Tuesday stay, you were on your own if you wanted a drink.

On day two, we went down to breakfast, where I had the interesting experience of understanding all of the hotel staff’s conversations (including local references), but none of the (mostly foreign) guests’. We didn’t know where we’d spend the night or even the few hours between hotels and checkout time coincided with Hotel Tonight’s rollout of daily offers. I hesitated a minute too long and missed out on the Nu Hotel (well located by Smith Street, although next to the county jail) and decided to gamble on waiting to book anything until 3 p.m. check-in time, when rates sometimes go down further while hotels still have empty inventory. We hauled our suitcases and child to the excellent Green Fig coffee shop, where my husband spent a few hours on conference calls and I repeatedly checked for rooms, and we both gorged on Italian sandwiches made on buttery garlic bread. Waiting didn’t help with prices, but we booked the Super 8 Park Slope and hopped on the subway to Union Street.

The “Park Slope” in the hotel’s name is technically correct (maybe Gowanus is more apt), but a bit of a misnomer as Prospect Park is a good mile away. I’d still recommend the hotel for location, being an easy walk from newly hip 5th Avenue, getting-cooler 4th Avenue, and right on almost-there 3rd Avenue. There’s a pretty stellar dive bar across the street and a few cute, bordering on hipster, restaurants a block away. Rooms are small but fairly nice for a Super 8 (hotel is brand new), with slow but free Wi-Fi (you can pay a few bucks per day for high speed, that’s how they get you). In retrospect, it was probably our favorite of the Hotel Tonight stays – a solid option if you want to save some money and hang out in a residential area with lots of nightlife.

On day three, I willfully ignored the sign informing me that breakfast was only to be eaten in the sad breakfast room, and took a yogurt and a poor excuse for a croissant back to my room and sleeping baby. Checkout was an unusually early 11 a.m., but we managed to stall for an hour before heading for Wi-Fi with suitcases and all to a series of 4th Avenue coffee shops. I was stymied again by the Nu Hotel with an $80 jump-in room rate, but decided on a lower price for the Union Hotel a few blocks away. I had walked by the Union the night before and was intrigued by its minimalist logo and optimistic website renderings.

The Hotel Tonight description had warned me it was “basic,” but I still burst into laughter when I couldn’t even open the door to our tiny room without hitting the bed. New York might be infamous for small hotel rooms, but if you saw this in a movie, you’d think it was over-the-top cliche. With maybe a foot-wide swath between bed and doors, the room would necessitate coordination of exits of multiple people. Still, points to the Union Hotel for a good location with a bevy of food and bar options, breakfast vouchers for a local diner and a sleek decor (with a bathroom very similar to my own in progress a few miles south).

The next day, we checked out and headed back to the Two Moon Cafe (go for the big backyard and Wi-Fi, stay for the rosemary-and-sea-salt shortbread), our favorite from the previous day, and killed time before our contractors cleared out. Returning home to a semi-finished apartment with no sinks or hot water, my fingers itched to check what Hotel Tonight might offer up. A few days hotel hopping in my own city had given me a different perspective on a place I already know well, some good advice for friends visiting in the future and some much needed hot showers. Every day at noon I think about checking for hotel offers like Pavlov’s dog, and depending on the destination, I might try for an all on-the-fly trip, booking rooms every night or two. It’s just a hi-tech version of walking into a hotel and asking for a room for the night, with a lot less legwork, and without that nifty hotel bed to trace.

How To Stay In Nice Hotels Without Paying Top Dollar

luxury hotel accommodation
UggBoy UggGirl, Flickr

I still remember the feeling of slipping into 600 thread count sheets after months of staying in backpacker hostels where the bedding was often akin to vintage potato sacks and the mattress boasted a giant dimple where thousands of other young unwashed explorers had slept before me. Settling onto an ergonomic, body-cradling bed, resting against down pillows, waking up to a buffet breakfast with more types of pastry than one could reasonably taste-test before 10 a.m. – it was glorious. There’s just something about a nice hotel that you can’t put a price on. Yet, of course, they do come with a price, and it’s typically a hefty one.

No matter your travel style, it goes without saying that you want to stretch your dollar as far as possible. That often means compromising on accommodation – staying in a bare bones room with questionable stains in the carpet – so you can spend your money on what really matters, which is of course, exploring your destination. Still, few of us would turn down the chance to stay at a nice hotel, especially if we could do it without forking over a whole lot of extra cash. And the thing is, you can stay in nice hotels without paying top dollar – you just have to know how to go about it.The first step, of course, is to search around for a good deal on your accommodation of choice and you’ll find no shortage of booking websites offering discounts (Expedia, Kayak, Hotwire and lastminute.com, to name just a few). But why limit yourself to what’s advertised to the masses? Here are a few other ways of scoring nice digs on a budget.

Haggle. It certainly depends on where in the world you’re traveling, but in many countries, haggling is an expected part of any transaction. So go ahead and ask the receptionist for their “best price” – you’ll be surprised at the number of times you receive a discount. This tactic works best if you haven’t already made a booking and the hotel risks losing your business. Of course, use some common sense and make sure you’re not being unreasonable in your demands, especially if you’re traveling in a developing country (where the locals need those extra few dollars more than you) and the price is already pretty good.

Ask for an upgrade. There are lots of places where negotiating would be frowned upon. I mean, you don’t exactly walk into The Four Seasons and start haggling over your room rate. But what you can do at these kinds of establishments, is ask for some kind of bonus, whether it be an upgrade to a better room type, being placed on a higher floor in the building, getting a room with a nice view versus one that faces the parking lot, or a free breakfast voucher. A surprising number of hotels will oblige your request if they have room available. Just be polite when inquiring and remember to tip when they come through with the upgrade.

Seek out new, independent hotels. A new establishment – especially one that isn’t associated with a major hotel chain – needs to work at attracting guests and building a name for itself, which means they’ll likely offer lower rates to get people in the door. As an added bonus, everything in the rooms will be sparkly and new, and the service will probably be better than usual because the owners are eager to impress.

Stay in business hotels. Hotels geared towards business travelers typically fill up during the working week, but come the weekend, they empty out. As a result, many of these hotels lower their rates over the weekend, making them ideal for leisure travelers looking to save a few dollars. The further away from the tourist centers the hotel is located, the cheaper it’s likely to be (many are found near conference centers or the local business district).

Look for a hotel away from the tourist haunts. Every city has its established hotspots that tourists generally flock to but if you can hunt down the emerging districts you’ll be able to nab accommodation at a much lower rate. Don’t be afraid to venture a significant distance from the downtown attractions – as long as there’s a good public transit system or affordable taxis, you won’t have a problem. In fact, chances are you’ll have a more authentic experience overall when sleeping, eating and shopping in the same district as the locals.

Have you ever had success negotiating down the rate on a nice hotel? What other tactics have worked for you?

Hotel News We Noted: November 23, 2012 (Special Black Friday/ Cyber Monday Edition)

lake placid lodgeHappy Holidays! With Thanksgiving officially behind us, it’s time to start the mad countdown to your winter festival of choice. Whether you’re seeking a quick weekend away, a New Year’s blowout or are getting a head start on planning spring break, these deals are ripe for the choosing.

We’ve ranked our lucky 13 favorites, starting with brands and hotel groups and working our way down to amazing deals at individual hotels and resorts.

Craving more? For travel deals that aren’t related to hotels, check out Allison Kade’s post, here.

Your regularly scheduled “Hotel News We Noted” post will return on November 30.

Destination Hotels & Resorts
Destination Hotels & Resorts is offering an advanced look at some of its Cyber Monday savings with up to 50% off. More than 15 properties in Destination Hotels & Resorts are offering special deals of up to 50% off, including properties in Washington, D.C., Charleston, Colorado, Chicago and Northern Virginia. Visit http://www.destinationhotels.com/CyberMonday to book.

Omni Hotels Worldwide
For the third consecutive year, Omni Hotels & Resorts’ Click Quick offer will feature 999 room nights available at a $99 nightly rate. This rate applies only to rooms booked between Nov. 23 and Nov. 26, 2012, for stays through Jan. 31, 2013.

Viceroy Hotel Group

Now through Cyber Monday, Viceroy Hotel Group is offering a variety of deals on its 13 properties worldwide in cities like Anguilla, Santa Monica, Abu Dhabi and many more. For details, visit www.viceroyhotelgroup.com/earlyaccess.

Portico Club

This normally member’s-only travel club is offering special access to its private homes on Cyber Monday. Book homes or condos in areas like Steamboat Springs, Las Vegas, Scottsdale and Rose Hall. Special deals vary by property.

Loews Hotels

A Cyber Monday special will run from 12:01 a.m., Monday, Nov. 26 (EST) to 3 a.m., Tuesday, Nov. 27. Bookings apply for travel from Nov. 26, 2012 – April 30, 2013. Those who book on Cyber Monday will receive up to 40 percent off Loews Best Rate at 15 Loews Hotels & Resorts and free in-room Internet access.Lake Placid Lodge, Lake Placid
Lake Placid Lodge, is offering several Cyber Monday deals with savings of up to 50% off. Reservations for all deals are bookable online at LakePlacidLodge.com from 10:00 a.m. EST on Monday, Nov. 26 until 5 p.m. EST on Friday, Nov. 30. Rates start at $400 per night.

Grand Lucayan, Bahamas
Starting Black Friday, Nov. 23, through Cyber Monday, Nov. 26, Grand Lucayan, Bahamas, is offering 60% percent off stays for travel through Sept. 30, 2013. Rates begin as low as $79 in this 96-hour sale. Reservations must be made online here.

Miraval Resorts, Tucson

Starting Nov. 26 through Dec. 2, guests can book an all-inclusive Miraval 3-night stay for two and receive an extra $500 dollars in resort credits. The deal includes casita-style accommodations, a $150 nightly resort credit per person, all meals, unlimited self-discovery activities, full access to resort amenities, complimentary shuttle from Tucson International Airport or complimentary valet parking, a welcome gift and extra $500 in resort credits per stay.

Sonesta Resorts Saint Maarten

Sonesta Resorts Saint Maarten’s Black Friday Sale returns Nov. 22 – 29, 2012, offering a 50% discount on all-inclusive rates valid for travel Dec. 1, 2012 – Dec. 19, 2013. Bookings can be made with promo code BFSALE.

Bernardus Lodge, Carmel

The Bernardus Lodge is offering a special rate of $285 per night, complete with one 50-minute massage per room, a 50 percent savings, from Black Friday to Cyber Monday.

Helmsley Park Lane Hotel, New York City

On Monday, Nov. 26, the Helmsley Park Lane Hotel in New York City will offer 40% off the best available rate for stays Dec. 1, 2012 through September 30, 2013. This Cyber Monday special will be viewable and bookable on that day only by visiting this link here.

Hotel Madeline Telluride, Colorado

Book your winter vacation and save up to 50% at Hotel Madeline Telluride. Hotel Madeline Telluride is offering a one-of-a-kind Ski & Spa package, which combines access to the resort’s 2,000 skiable-acres and the hotel’s relaxing spa. For $600 total, guests who book the Ski & Spa package on Cyber Monday will receive two nights in a deluxe king room, breakfast for two, two ski passes and two massages.

[Image credit: Lake Placid Lodge]

Planning A Last Minute Labor Day Getaway? Great Hotel Specials Await

affinia dcYour long weekend is just a few days away. If you’re ready to get away from it all or just plan one last summer escape, we’ve rounded up some great hotel deals for your booking pleasure.

Beach Shack, Cape May
The Clam Digger Labor Day Experience honors the first Annual Clam-A-Rama. To celebrate, the Beach Shack is offering special overnight accommodations starting at $370 and includes four beers in Beach Shack Pail with shovel and an order of Steamer clams at the Rusty Nail, one Beach Shack clam pitching kit, two Clam-A-Rama T-shirts and a one-day day beach cabana rental. This package is available August 29 through September 5, guests must call (877) 742-2507 and mention the code “CLAMDIG” to receive special offer.

Sheraton Delfina, California
For those looking for something new and fun to do yet still local to southern California, head over to the Sheraton Delfina Santa Monica to enjoy the Labor Day Weekend Package for only $250 per night. Features include welcome drinks, 24-hour Cabana Club Room and Lounge Access with complimentary breakfast and evening appetizers, complimentary valet parking and complimentary bicycle rentals to explore the famous streets and beaches of Santa Monica!

Viceroy Palm Springs, California
At the Viceroy Palm Springs, a Twilight Romance retreat for two will include a couple’s 30-minute spa service under the stars in a private al fresco spa cabana between 9 p.m. and midnight. Soak up the evening with a complimentary bottle of Moet Ice followed by breakfast for two, Citron poolside. Rates start at $250 per night.
Avalon Beverly Hills, California
The Avalon Beverly Hills is offering a Breathe Easier Package, which invites guests to enjoy 25% off their entire stay including room, meals and beverages, valet parking and internet access. Rates start at $180 per night.

Affinia Hotels, Manhattan
Invites guests to beat the end of summer blues with Keep it Cool at Affinia Hotels featuring the necessities for savoring the sunshine and enjoying NYC’s parks and outdoor spaces. This offer starts from $269 for travel over Labor Day Weekend, including overnight accommodations, a Walking Tour Kit featuring an iPod Shuffle or Nano loaded with a walking tour and playlists, City Walks deck of cards, city guidebook featuring popular walking tours, StreetWise city map, pedometer and towel, a BYOB Kit including a neoprene wine carrier with wine key, BYOB guidebook, Little Black Book of Wine and picnic blanket, sunscreen and two bottles of water. For more information and to book visit www.affinia.com/summer or call 866-246-2203 and mention promotional code SUMMER.

Wolcott Hotel, New York City
With Labor Day Weekend rates starting at $230 per night, travelers will enjoy home-like accommodations in the newly landmarked hotel, just blocks from the Empire State Building and a short distance to many of New York’s top summer attractions including the South Street Seaport, Highline, Governor’s Island and of course, Central Park. Hotel amenities include complimentary muffins and coffee every morning, concierge services for tickets to local attractions, fitness room, laundry facility, and an on-site gift shop. To book, visit www.wolcott.com or call 212-268-2900.

The Liaison Capitol Hill, Washington DC
This Washington, DC hotel invites guests of all ages to relax and enjoy its rooftop lounge with a “Sun Yourself” kit. When the sun gets too strong, dive in or chill out with a refreshing cocktail (or, cold non-alcoholic beverage for those under 21) and a bite from the poolside menu. Rates start at $149 for Friday, Aug. 31 through Monday, Sept. 3 and include access to the pool, breakfast for two at Art and Soul, the hotel’s restaurant run by two-time James Beard award winner and Oprah’s former chef, Art Smith, daily yoga on the roof, a “Sun Yourself” kit with sunscreen, lip balm and bottled water and overnight accommodations. For additional information and to book, please visit the website www.affinia.com/dive and include promo code SUMPKG.

The Maplewood Inn, Finger Lakes, New York
The ideal way for foodies to eat their way through the Labor Day weekend is at the Great New York State Fair in Syracuse. The Maplewood Inn offers up a “Fair” package with rates starting at $149 nightly. The package includes two fair tickets, two breakfast vouchers, transportation to and from the fairgrounds (from 5 a.m. to 7 p.m.) and double occupancy accommodations. Please note that this package is based on availability. To book this package, visit www.themaplewoodinn.com or call (315)451-1511.

W Scottsdale, Arizona
The hotel is offering three unique promotions for Labor Day Weekend, allowing guests to design their ideal end-of-summer retreat at Arizona’s hottest destination. These offers are part of a “Pick Your Package” promotion and each include complimentary access to the hotel’s highly-anticipated Labor Day pool party, hosted on the W Scottsdale rooftop pool deck, WET, on Sunday, September 2. The Road Trip package is geared towards drive-in customers and offers a gas card, valet parking, and overnight accommodations. The Vitamin W, includes a W Scottsdale beach tote, Aloe Vera cooling spray, lip balm, a poolside pitcher of margaritas, and accommodations in a Wonderful room.
The Feel the Music package includes a $30 iTunes gift card, W Scottsdale ear phones, W Hotels music CD, two cool cocktails, and accommodations in a Wonderful room. Rates start at $199. For more information or to book “Pick Your Package,” guests can call (480) 970-2109.

Mystic Hotel, San Francisco
Still searching for a Labor Day escape? Book now at the Mystic Hotel Union Square
San Francisco – famed restaurateur Charlie Palmer’s new boutique hotel located in the heart of the city’s most popular neighborhoods – and receive 20% off your holiday stay. To book this rate, use code MHLD on the hotel’s website.

2012 Labor Day Travel Trends

las vegasLabor Day is just around the corner, and new data from KAYAK shows just where travelers are searching.

If you’re planning a flight, Las Vegas, New York and Chicago are the top flight search destinations for Labor Day. Average clicked fares for travel to these destinations for the holiday weekend were $291, $300 and $254, respectively.

Of course, you’ll save money if you travel after the holiday weekend – 8 to 10% on average.
People may be flying to Chicago, but they’re staying in Atlanta. Las Vegas, New York, and Atlanta are the popular U.S. hotel destinations by absolute search share rank with hotels coming in at $183.74, $275.63 and $204.21, respectively.

What’s in the ATL? Atlanta search share increased 54% YoY, perhaps due to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. Atlantic City ($276.97) and Myrtle Beach ($136.73) hotel search shares increased 49% and 41%, respectively.

Internationally, it’s all about Ireland. Dublin is the top trending destination YoY, likely because of the Notre Dame v. Navy football game on Sept. 1 in Dublin – flight searches surged 246% compared to last year. Will you be cheering on the midshipmen or the Fighting Irish?

London, Dublin, and Paris are the most popular flight search destinations for Labor Day weekend in Europe with average prices of $1071.24, $1355.32 and $1,200.03, respectively.

Within the Caribbean and Central America, San Jose CR, Panama City and Belize City are the most popular flight search destinations. Belize City saw a 50% YoY increase in search share.

So, now that you have that data in hand, where will you be traveling this Labor Day?

[Flickr via Moyan_Brenn]