Hotel tonight is an app that appeals to a certain type of traveler – at the last minute. It allows residents living outside the city to enjoy large discounts, but at what some would consider a steep price: Reservations can be made from one week, max. We wanted to find out what happens when a procrastinator prompts a planner to book it in their own way “anytime.”
Andrea: the planner
It’s 6 a.m. on a Friday in San Antonio. Do you know where you sleep tonight?
I do not.
It’s noon. Now?
1 h 30?
To get closer.
Phew. It was cut it close – for me.
The travel world is populated by two opposing forces, planners and procrastinators. In some categories, like meals and activities, I embrace my procrastinator side. In new destinations, I often let myself be carried away by the wind of spontaneity, like a puff of dandelion without a menu or an agenda. But for overnight stays, the planner oversees all bookings. I don’t trust the Procrastinator; we might end up sleeping in the bed of a tanning salon. I want – no, need – know in advance that I have a guaranteed nest for the night.
But then came a Hotel Procrastinator disguised as a friend.
Alexa is a last minute booking, and she urged me to join her club, HotelTonight, the app that caters to undecided, elusive, disorganized, and / or headstrong travelers – the counter-me. At first I resisted, then I softened and finally agreed to challenge myself. With Alexa’s encouragement, I invited the Hotel Procrastinator to join me on an upcoming trip to San Antonio. It made the planner very nervous, but she just had to face it.
When HotelTonight launched in 2010, the company took its name literally – travelers could only book a hotel within 24 hours of their stay. About two years ago, the app extended the reservation period to one week. Discounts can go up to 50%, in particular with the âGeoâ rates, which appear after midday on the day of the reservation. The prices drop even more after 6 p.m. About two-thirds of app users search for the rainbow of discounts and book same day. A potential risk: Parts can sometimes disappear.
âYou want to be strategic,â Tim Lopez, a company spokesperson, told me after my experience. “You are not exactly encouraged to wait until the day of.”
A few days before my departure, and several weeks beyond my comfort reservation window, I downloaded the free application and plugged in the destination and the date. The preliminary research was encouraging. I noticed familiar names (Wyndham Garden, Hyatt Place) as well as local favorites (Menger, Crockett Hotel). I scanned the mini-bios with images and was encouraged to see that none of the properties looked like settings for “Cops”. The playful items – âGold star (alone) for free breakfast with Texas shaped waffles,â reviewer Crockett said – boosted my confidence and determination. I could have booked right away, but I was curious to see the deals closer to my night. In the shadows, the Hotel Procrastinator chuckled and Alexa beamed.
I started the research for good 48 hours before I arrived. I scanned the curated list of hotels described as Luxe, Hip, Solid, and Basic. (Total inventory: over 15,000 hotels in 1,900 cities in 36 countries, all rated above two stars.) I had fewer choices – about 15 properties – than traditional sites like Hotels.com and TripAdvisor, but i spent less time option. I mentally circled El Tropicano Riverwalk, for $ 92 (vs. $ 139); the Emily Morgan Hotel, for the Geo special rate at $ 149 (vs. $ 176); and Aloft San Antonio, for $ 112 (was $ 149).
On Thursday, the Aloft price fell to $ 88 and the Emily Morgan fell to $ 114. I sent the hotel procrastinator to get me a coffee and motioned for the risk taker to come and sit next to me. I no longer worried about where I was going to sleep; I was now obsessed with gambling – or betting.
On the morning of my stay, I checked the site and gasped in horror: the hotels I had followed were gone. Many of the new picks started with La and ended with Quinta, and a few more had increased prices. I asked Alexa for advice. She suggested that I book immediately, before the situation got worse. Yet, I had gone so far in this exercise. I decided to push him over the edge.
For several hours, I obsessively (and to no avail) watched the app for any movement. After lunch, Procrastinator and Planner held a talk. If I hesitated any longer, they told me, I might end up at the Holiday Inn near SeaWorld. And so, I gave in. I clicked on Candlewood Suites and paid $ 141. At least I had a full size refrigerator and free laundry facilities.
The hotel did not exactly match the description in the app. It wasn’t on the Riverwalk, for example. Also, when I told my friend from San Antonio where I was staying, she insisted that I move to a better place. (As motivation, she pointed to Interstate 35, the âdrug corridor,â from the parking lot.) She found me a $ 100 room at the Westin Riverwalk on a site called Angel Buys.
Faithful to the end, I stuck with my HotelTonight purchase. That evening, however, I revisited the app. The hotels I had seen before had returned. Maybe I shouldn’t have acted so recklessly and held on a little longer.
Postscript: After my experience in San Antonio, I have more confidence in the Procrastinator but will always continue with caution. For a future trip to Philadelphia, I plan to book a week away, a happy compromise for the two travel personalities.
Alexa: the procrastinator
I was about to crash onto a friend’s couch in New York City when I took a quick peek at HotelTonight’s selections – just in case. Vivid images of hotel rooms filled the screen alongside prices that I could almost convince myself they were affordable. Did I really want to sneak into my friend’s one-bedroom apartment, which she shared with a roommate who slept on the other side of a semi-permanent partition? Or did I prefer the idea of ââa large soft bed, a space to spread out my things and my four walls?
I booked a room at a Hampton Inn for $ 113.
That was two years ago, and I’ve used the mobile app a handful of times since then, in places as far away as Los Angeles and Portland, Maine. I counted there for last minute getaways and trips when I preferred having my own accommodation rather than sharing with friends or family. Recently I used the app for a visit to Philadelphia with my sister. I couldn’t make up my mind if I wanted to stay a night or two, and the app gave me the ability to feel my day – who would join us, for example, and when were we planning to leave – before taking a decision. I booked once I had all the details.
I’m not looking for a luxurious night in a boutique hotel and spa, which you can find on HotelTonight, but a mid-priced room with an adequate bed and maybe, if I’m lucky, a free breakfast. . (Yes, I’m a fan of free food and WiFi.) The app’s mobile design allows you to scan hotel amenities including parking, which is why I chose the Rodeway Inn Center City in Philadelphia. The $ 15 a night self-parking convinced me. What my room lacked in windows (zero) hotel location made up for it: the property was around the corner from my sister’s hotel and within walking distance of Reading Terminal market. No free breakfast, but the $ 176 rate included Wi-Fi.
Do not mistake yourself. I am not completely comfortable with this process. I am now checking the app in advance to get an idea of ââthe possible cost. Of course, I could save a few bucks if I planned ahead and got a room through Airbnb. But I fit the app’s target demographic: travelers who don’t initially intend to stay in hotels. When I studied abroad in Europe as a student, I was not fazed by the idea of ââsharing a house or hostel room with friends. I always crave the spontaneity of cheap travel, but when the idea of ââa bumpy sofa or cramped space starts to come true, I log in and start sliding. With last minute booking options, my inability to commit to overnight getaways or turn off the college mindset never ends up being an uplifting travelogue.
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