What is it? Hotel Tonight is a free smartphone app available on both iPhone and Android platforms that promises great deals on same-day hotel bookings.
Who does it work for? The last-minute traveler wanting an easy option for booking accommodations for a single night at a discount.
Who should look elsewhere? The traveler seeking the best value, or lowest price, on stays of any length.
How does it work? Beginning at 9:00 a.m. each day, Hotel Tonight provides a listing of unsold rooms available at participating hotels in dozens of cities around the world. The app includes a map showing each hotel’s location and provides useful details on each booking. Hotel Tonight helpfully disclosed prices for things like parking and wifi that we couldn’t find even on certain hotel’s websites. You can purchase rooms directly through the Hotel Tonight app but only for single night bookings.
Our Take: We were originally quite excited by the idea of Hotel Tonight. After all, empty rooms are a huge missed profit opportunity for hotels. Theoretically, they should be willing to fill those rooms for little more than the cost of servicing an additional guest (somewhere around the cost of maid service and wear and tear on the facilities). An app that matches guests looking for last-minute accommodations with empty rooms is the kind of thing that should unlock huge savings for travelers and provide some additional revenues for hotels too.
To test that theory we compared Hotel Tonight same-day pricing in four different cities we visited with the prices for rooms we researched and booked several days or weeks in advance. As is typical for us, we explored and booked various types of accommodations ranging from hostels to apartment rentals. In some cities we were looking for the cheapest rooms available. In others, like Washington D.C., we were willing to pay more to be where the action is. It goes without saying that we choose each room to suit our specific needs and that other travelers might prefer something different.
Our overall conclusion is that while Hotel Tonight offers some great deals off list price for traditional hotels, those deals skew heavily toward higher end rooms and, even then, are somewhat hit or miss. Some days we saw deep discounts, other days not so much. Some days Hotel Tonight offered the best rate, other days competing websites like Hotels.com had better prices on the same rooms.
To us, that inconsistency undermines both reasons to use the Hotel Tonight app. An app that restricts bookings to a single night and only after 9:00 a.m. on the same day the way Hotel Tonight does really has to deliver some incredible prices. Why else would we bother? And if it doesn’t do that, then I have to research other sites for better prices, which undermines the convenience of using a single app to grab discounted rates.
The bigger problem we had with Hotel Tonight is that the rooms we researched and booked ahead were always better values than the best deals we found on the smartphone app. We never paid more for the rooms we booked ahead, and sometimes paid a third less than comparable locations offered by Hotel Tonight.
In Atlanta, for example, we booked a hip studio apartment that was walking distance to the High Museum of Art with a full kitchen, free parking, and free wifi for $88.35 per night including taxes. We checked Hotel Tonight on several different days during our stay, and the best rate for a hotel in our location was the Double Tree Downtown for $87 per night.
However, if we wanted to use wifi at the Double Tree that would run us another $15 per day. If we also wanted to park a car, which we did, that would cost another $35 per day. Both of those extra charges brought the total nightly cost to $137. So the best deal we found in Atlanta over several days of searching from Hotel Tonight would have cost us 55% more than the price we actually paid.
A comparison of Hotel Tonight prices and what we booked ahead in four U.S. cities
And even then, our cheaper apartment came equipped with a full kitchen, something the Double Tree room lacked. That feature allowed us to save even more money by preparing most meals ourselves.
We had similar experiences in each of the three other cities we visited. The day we arrived in Asheville the only downtown room available through Hotel Tonight cost 60% more than what we actually paid at the nearby Renaissance.
In D.C., Hotel Tonight had a sweet deal on a room at the posh Palomar in Dupont Circle. We could have booked there for $148 per night instead of the $227 listed on their website. And that discounted rate wasn’t too much more than the $133 we paid on our AirBnB apartment rental located right next door (although we did have a full kitchen in our pad).
Of course Hotel Tonight only guarantees that rate for a single night’s stay. We enjoyed D.C. for five nights and slept easier knowing we wouldn’t have our rate hiked the following morning.
The promise of Hotel Tonight is that by waiting until the very last minute travelers can snap up incredible deals from hotels desperate to fill rooms. In our experience, that’s not what it delivers.
If you’re really allergic to planning ahead and don’t particularly care whether that discounted room is really the best value for your money, Hotel Tonight offers a convenient portal for booking a room. With a little more research, though, we were able to grab better spaces at better prices than anything we found through Hotel Tonight.