hoteltonight is a free smartphone app developed for last-minute hotel bookings at deep discounts. It’s a great idea: If a hotel room isn’t booked on that day, it’s probably going to be empty. Selling it at a big discount to travelers willing to book last minute fills the room and adds to the bottom line of the hotel. How does it work in reality and who should check the app out?
When hoteltonight was launched, I thought the idea is brilliant: Plenty of hotel rooms sit empty every night and the cost to the hotel of accommodating last minute guests is minimal – a little wear and tear and housekeeping. Historically, hotels have charged sky-high rates to walk-up customers because the assumption was they don’t have any choice. Smartphones and hoteltonight turned that assumption upside down: They offered hotels a chance to fill rooms that would go empty with customers who were willing to book last minute and were flexible with the hotel to stay at.
How does hoteltonight work? hoteltonight (ht) is available for iOS, Android and Windows Phone as a free download. It’s a simple and beautiful app: The home screen shows you a list of the most booked cities on ht. You can click on any off them or enter the name of your desired city in the search field at the top left of the screen. That will give you a list of hotels available tonight and the rate.
The app defaults to tonight, but you can change the date (up to one week out) and duration of your stay in the top right of the screen. There is also a map view of the hotels via the icon in the bottom left corner, giving you an idea where the hotels are.
Clicking through will provide you an overview of the hotel, with a few photos, a map, a summary of the benefits and some facts about the hotel, room and food available. You also get a guest review score, but no access to the detailed reviews. All the hotels are classified from “basic” to “hip” or “luxe” – which I found to be more helpful than the standard star system.
Once you have selected a hotel and decide to pay, you’ll need to add your payment information (on my Android phone, Android Pay came up as option immediately without having to enter anything).
How good is it? To figure out whether hoteltonight delivers the promised discounts or not, I compared the prices with hotels.com and agoda, my favorite hotel booking sites. I looked at hotels for San Francisco, New York City, London and Sydney, for the same night as well as for one night a week out.
The average saving for the same-night reservations were 31% over the next cheapest rate from hotels.com or agoda. hoteltonight did best in the US with average savings of 48% and delivered no savings for Sydney!
Those great discounts disappear when you book a few days out – hoteltonight was sometimes cheaper, sometimes more expensive, delivering no savings on average.
One other limitation of hoteltonight is the number of hotels available. ht selects a handful of hotels for each city. In my example, it had 16 hotels for New York while agoda at 946! If you don’t care where you sleep, that’s fine. If you need to be in a specific area or are looking for a specific class of hotel, you might be out of luck on hoteltonight!
Who should use it?
Spontaneous Trips: I tried hoteltonight out when it first launched and offered large promotional discounts. We just wanted to get away for the weekend and on Saturday morning looked at options around San Francisco. We found a nice, independent hotel on the beach at a great price and went for it! And that’s one of the use cases for hoteltonight: If you live near one of the big cities supported by hoteltonight, you can go on a spontaneous trip. Live in San Francisco and want to go to the wine country? Live in New Jersey and want to spend a night in New York City? hoteltonight might be the best option to get a great value hotel room on short notice.
Last Minute Changes: Are you on a trip and have a last minute change? Your flight home was cancelled? Your plan to stay with friends or with airbnb didn’t work out? hoteltonight will probably get you a better rate than just walking into the next best hotel and can save you a lot of money in this type of situation.
Flexible Travel Plans: If you are planning a road trip in the US and don’t really know where you want to spend how much time, hoteltonight might be a good option as well. You can stay as long as you want in one place and move on when you are ready, without being tied down by advanced reservations or paying sky high walk-up rates.
For most other situations, hoteltonight is not the cheapest way to go: You are likely to get better rates by booking in advance and leveraging sales and promotions. Also, keep in mind that hoteltonight relies on excess inventory – it works best on slow days or low season when lots of rooms are available and might not have any good deals whenever a destination is very busy. If you plan to rely on hoteltonight for a longer trip, make sure it is low season or you might end up without a room for the night or paying a fortune.
Conclusion: Based on my analysis, hoteltonight does deliver on its promise to provide great discounts for last-minute bookings. But it doesn’t do so everywhere or at all times, making it a niche-tool for specific occasions. It works best in the US – check out my review of hotelquickly (coming soon) for Asia! I recommend to keep it on your phone for spontaneous trips or to save on last-minute hotel needs. If you want to save money on travel in general, you are better off planning and booking in advance, leveraging deals, promotions and rewards programs I’ve described elsewhere on this blog!
If you decide to download the app and try it out, you can use my invite code RKAUFMANN3 (all caps) to get $25 off your first booking. I also get $25 when you use the code and every hoteltonight user has a code like this, so you can ask your friends for their code as well! Good luck and have fun on a spontaneous trip without breaking the bank!