Nov. 9, 2012 -- Travelers have been told time and time again that the best way to get a deal is to plan ahead. But when it comes to booking hotels, the best way to score a great rate may be to wait until the last minute. The very last minute.
Turns out hotels are now courting mobile hotel bookers by slashing same-day rates. Between 60 and 70 percent of same-day hotel bookings are made on mobile devices, and these bookings have the potential to bring in $15 billion to the travel industry annually. And the savings to travelers? Up to 70 percent off.
Familiar names – such as Travelocity, Orbitz, Priceline and Booking.com now offer same-day hotel booking capability for mobile. I tested these four, plus Hotel Tonight, the app that pioneered the same-day hotel booking trend, to see which one would give me the best deal for a hotel room in one of the world's most expensive cities -- New York. For a hotel room tonight. Here's the scenario. I have an event near the office tonight after work, and I don't really feel like commuting home and then back to the office tomorrow morning. ABC isn't going to pick up the tab for a hotel room, but if I can find a good deal on something in the area, it might be worth it for me to pay out of my own pocket.
I can search by price, star rating, even customer reviews. But for tonight, I'm going to search by location. If I can find a great deal close to the office, I'll take it. If not, I'll just go home.
Booking.com and Priceline It turns out Booking.com is owned by Priceline, and the options and prices are nearly identical. My closest options are the Trump International and Mandarin Oriental. Both five stars, and both cost almost $1,000 a night. No thanks. Both sites offered another five-star option, the JW Marriott Essex House, for a more reasonable $449. Still more than I wanted to spend, though not a bad deal for a five-star hotel in New York City.
Next up, the four-star Hudson, for $246 on both apps. Booking.com offered the four-star 6 Columbus for $290, while Priceline pulled up the three-and-a-half star Moderne for $299. Both apps turned up the Holiday Inn Midtown – three stars – for $305.
Orbitz's Hotels app gave me the same options and price for the Mandarin, the Hudson, the Essex House and the Holiday Inn. It also yielded two other options: the Park Central -- four stars -- for a little less than $300, and Le Parker Meridian – also four stars -- for $400 bucks.
Travelocity's LastMinute.com Hotel Deals app turned up totally different options, and the prices were quite good, but the options weren't as close to the office as the properties the other three apps gave me. Here, I got the four-star Flatiron hotel for $263 – a good price, but two miles away. Same problem for Affinia Manhattan -- $342 for the four-star hotel, but too faraway.
Getting closer to the office, I got the four-star Millennium Broadway Times Square for $269 and the three star Metro Apartments for $293. Both are about a mile away, The closest option was the Hotel Belleclaire: Three stars, less than a mile, $246 per night.
Hotel Tonight turned up a hotel practically next to my office – the four-star Empire, for $329 per night. It also turned up 6 Columbus, and beat the price offered on Booking.com by $45 for a total of $245.
Next up, the Warwick: Less than a mile away, four stars and under $200 a night. The three-star Time hotel, about a mile away, came in at $175. The famous Hotel Elysee was the same distance and priced at $255 and four-and-a-half stars. Last, the Kimberly Hotel, four stars and $349 per night.
All in – location, star rating and price – the best deal for me was at 6 Columbus at $245, the price I got on Hotel Tonight.
The Fine Print
Keep in mind this is the deal that worked best for me in this particular scenario. Hotel Tonight did have its cons: You can't book until noon the same day while I could start shopping early in the morning on every other app. Plus, it gave me far fewer choices: nine in total. As a comparison, Booking.com had 345 to choose from. And while Hotel Tonight is great in a big city like New York, it doesn't have options in more remote locations, making it a less-than-ideal options for a road trip.
Finally, last-minute hotel booking last-minute isn't for everyone. If you've got to stay at a certain hotel for a wedding or family reunion, you probably don't want to take a chance. But if you find yourself stuck at the airport or wanting to turn a night out into an overnight out, these new apps are the perfect way to book from your phone.