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.

‘Snap Your Stay,’ A New Way To Review Your Hotel Experience

hotel tonight appWe’ve talked in the past about last-minute booking application HotelTonight, which allows travelers to book discounted, same-night hotel stays in major cities across the country. It’s a well thought out application and we generally find that the prices are pretty competitive as well.

The application is back with its newest redesigned version, offering a Price Guarantee functionality that ensures the rates are the same or better than competitors. If you find a lower price elsewhere, HotelTonight offers a booking credit equal to the difference in fare.

But we’re most excited about the “Snap Your Stay” feature, which allows users to upload a series of live photos of the hotel bed, bathroom, view, lobby and exterior, plus one cool feature of their choice to the app. Guests get $5 future booking credit ($10 if their photos are good enough to be featured) as incentive. The app isn’t the first to showcase live photos to assist in a travel review – TripAdvisor has a similar functionality, but it is the first to do so in a consistent manner (meaning travelers will see all pertinent parts of their stay) as well as in such a way that incentivizes travelers to share.

We’d love to see a live view of the hotel, and hopefully this new feature can help us make our booking decisions even easier.

What do you think? Are you more likely to book a hotel if current photos are live in the app, or are you most concerned with price?

Hostel-Finding Travel App Shows Who Else Is Staying There Too

travel appBrowse, Book and Start Making Friends are the three steps needed to use WeHostels, a new iPhone travel app that is about as easy as it gets to book a no-frills place to sleep for the night. Like a HotelTonight for hostels, WeHostels has some unique features worth a look.

Testing the app for my hometown of Orlando produced four good results based on my current location. At one property, close to Orlando International Airport (MCO), a basic tent with shared bathroom came in at $15 per night. Typical of other listings, additional choices included a standard four-bed male dorm, standard four-bed female dorm or a deluxe six-bed female dorm suite for $25 per night.

Looking down the road, WeHostels users can enter their next destination to line up a hostel for the next place they may be going in advance too. Once found, booking is easy via the app for regular hostel guests who don’t need to know more and just want to tie down a place to sleep for the night. Contact information for the property is also included for those who want to know more.

So what’s different about WeHostels over finding a hostel from another hostel source, say Hostels.com or HostelWorld.com?

In addition to the handy travel app, WeHostels boasts a social element where we can check out who might also be staying at a chosen location before we get there.Like the crowd-sourcing element of other apps, the quality of that information will depend on who has and uses the WeHostels app. Still, on the hostel choices I had for Orlando, someone had checked in to three out of the four property choices. In advance of arrival I would have the name, a photo, the hometown and some other information about others I would spend the night with.

Available right now for iPhone, WeHostel plans for the launch of a general mobile site soon to enable Android users. Save more at WeHostel now; enter the code “GADLING” for $10 off.

Want to know more about WeHostels? Last June, the WeHostels product team moved together into a house in the mountains of Colombia. The team isolated from society with the goal of hacking full-time and developing the WeHostels first mobile app.


Which App Offers The Lowest Hotel Prices? Priceline, Tonight Or Hotel Tonight?

william shatner pricelineFinding a dirt-cheap hotel room – either at the last minute or well in advance – is an art, not a science, and I’m always looking for new tools to save money. For years, Priceline has been my go-to resource for cheap hotel rooms and rental cars because I have a system for gaming the site and it works beautifully for me.

Here’s a few examples of deals I’ve scored by bidding – not using the search function – on Priceline in the last few months.

  • Full-size rental car with Avis at LAX for a bid of $13 per day (with taxes and fees the total price came to $18.44 per day for a 9-day rental).
  • 4-star Westin Gaslamp Quarter Hotel in San Diego- $70 per night bid ($82 per night including tax and surcharges).
  • 4-star Hyatt Regency Chicago- $55 bid- ($67.66 all inclusive per night)
  • 3-star Courtyard by Marriott- Flint, MI- $50 bid ($63.25 all inclusive)
  • 3.5- star Galt House Hotel- Louisville, KY- $50 bid ($64.95 all inclusive)
  • 3-star Courtyard by Marriott, Fair Oaks, VA- $51 bid (63.94 total)

As you can see, I’ve gotten some killer deals on Priceline and I’m not really brand loyal, so I don’t mind the element of chance in bidding. But my biggest complaint with Priceline is that I sometimes get stuck with hotels that charge for Wi-Fi and have expensive parking. (If you’re looking for a list of hotels that offer free Wi-Fi click here.)

The Hyatt Regency in Chicago, for example, charges $52 per night to park, and a hotel I got on Priceline in Orange County in December charged $14 per computer per night for Wi-Fi, which works out to $28 per night for my wife and I. I almost never pay to park at the hotel I’m staying at and I’m adept at finding free parking just about anywhere, but it’s hard to get around paying for Wi-Fi, unless you can find another signal or if it’s free in the common areas.

I’ve tried other sites and apps with less than impressive results but on a recent last minute trip to Milwaukee, I decided to give two other apps, Booking.com’s Tonight and Hotel Tonight a go (the Jetsetter app doesn’t work in Milwaukee). Hotel Tonight had just four options for us, ranging from $50 at a Radisson outside the city to $189 for the ultra hip Iron Horse Hotel. But while the selection was lame, we did get a $25 credit for registering, so if we’d been up for staying at the Radisson in the suburbs, we could have snagged a hell of a good deal.

The Tonight app had almost the exact same results from a regular Priceline search (not their bidding tool) – the same hotels and the exact same prices (Hotwire, Expedia and others all tend to generate similar offers). All the downtown hotels we had our sights set on – Hilton, the Iron Horse, Residence Inn, Hilton Garden Inn and a few others were all at least $129.

So I went back to my old reliable method of bidding on Priceline, using the free rebid system, which relies on the fact that some bidding zones don’t have 4-, 3.5- or 3-star hotels. In Milwaukee, like most U.S. cities, there are several geographic bidding zones that have no 3- or 4-star hotels (you ascertain this by checking the boxes and seeing what star levels are grayed out), so I started the bidding at $35 for a 4-star hotel and after being rejected at $35 and trying again at $40, got a message stating that if I’d increase my offer to $55, I’d get my 4-star hotel.

I’ve gotten messages like these before but I never given in at this point because I figure there’s always room for an even cheaper price and usually there is. In this case, I got the 4-star Hilton City Center for a $45 bid ($59.07 total). This same hotel was on the Tonight app and in the Priceline search field at $129 not including taxes per night.



The hotel was beautiful and we even found free street parking right around the corner, which saved us $25. This is just one example, but I’ve found over and over again that there is really no substitute for bidding if you want a really low price. Some people can’t handle the element or risk or surprise, however you want to put it, but you can mitigate those risks by researching what you might get on sites like Bidding For Travel.

If you like the security of choosing your own hotel, Tonight or Hotel Tonight are worth exploring, but if you simply want the lowest rate, you are usually better off bidding.

[Photo credit: Loren Javier on Flickr]

The 10 Best Travel Apps For Flight Attendants

1. FAAWait – During a creeping weather delay a flight attendant who also works part time as an air traffic controller told me about FAAWait. It’s his favorite app. One click and we knew which airports across the country were also experiencing delays, how long the delays were averaging, and what had caused the delays.

2. MyRadar: Recently a fearful flier on board one of my flights spent three hours watching the weather light up his iPad screen: blue, green, red – wow, so much red! He knew exactly when to expect turbulence, how bad it might get, and how long it would last. Knowing this kept him calm. At one point he even turned around in his seat to let the crew know it would be smooth flying from here on out. Two seconds later the captain called to tell us the exact same thing, it was safe to get up and finish the service. Since then I’ve been recommending the app to anyone who mentions they’re afraid to fly.

3. WhatsApp: An Emirate’s flight attendant from Bosnia based in Saudi Arabia told me about this app on a flight from Miami to New York. WhatsApp makes it possible to send text messages to friends and family out of the country free of charge. There is virtually no cost to stay in touch with loved ones. You can even share audio and video messages.

4. Twitter: Still the best way to get breaking news! You don’t need to “get it.” Just learn how to use the hashtags to find information as it’s happening. For instance, not too long ago I was at an airport that was being evacuated and no one knew why. That was my cue to search the airport code – #DFW. That’s how I found out there was a bomb threat on an incoming flight. I learned this from passengers who were actually on board the flight and tweeting about it as they taxied to the gate.

5. HappyHourFinder: Flight attendants don’t make a lot of money. In fact new hires start out making less than $18,000 a year. And yet we’re subjected to overpriced hotel and airport food on a regular basis. This is why we take advantage of happy hour specials, particularly ones that include half priced appetizers, which might explain how I ended up at Vince Neil’s Bar, Tres Rios, in Las Vegas two hours after learning about the app in the crew van on our way from the airport to the layover hotel.6. Instagram: Because when you travel there are just so many beautiful things to photograph. The app not only makes your pictures look ten times better, it’s easy to text and email your photos or post photos straight to Facebook or Twitter. What I enjoy most about the app is following people whose photos inspire me to travel, like @Lax2Nrt or even @Umetaturou who shares hilarious pictures of a Border Collie named Sora who can balance anything on his head. One of these days I’m going to fly to Japan and walk that dog!

7. Postagram: Remember when you used to send postcards to family and friends from around the world just to let them know you were thinking about them? Now you’re too busy to think, let alone search for just the right card to send. Not to mention all that time it takes to address and stamp it. With Postagram you can turn your cool photos into postcards by using pictures from your phone, Facebook or Twitter. Write a short message and Postagram will take care of the rest.

8. Yelp: Whenever I find myself at a layover hotel in a new city, the first thing I do is pull up Yelp just to see what’s nearby. I might use it to find a great place to eat, check out a tourist attraction, or locate a pharmacy within walking distance. Users post reviews and photos to help narrow down the search so you can determine whether or not it’s worth it to leave your hotel room.

9. HotelTonight: If you’re a commuter like me, this app will save your life one day. At noon each day HotelTonight offers great last minute deals on a couple of hotels near your current location. Get a $25 credit with your first booking, $25 for each friend who signs up, and $25 when a friend makes their first bookings. So … who wants to be friends?

10. GateGuru: Enter an airport code and up pops everything you could ever want to know about food, shopping, and any services offered, along with reviews, ratings and maps. Enter your flight number and access flight status, delays and weather conditions all in the same place.