you're flying to visit your family, catching a train to meet up with a
long-distance love or celebrating New Year's Eve on a warm-weather cruise with
friends, ever present travel disruptions over the holiday season may leave you
needing a place to stay at the last-minute. While few things can make an
overnight delay better, the recent boom in same-day booking apps for
smartphones and tablets will at least help you find a deal when travel
providers won’t cover an overnight stay.
are racing to fill up their remaining rooms will often woo travellers with mobile-only
flash sales, typically discounting rates 10% to 40% from other online sites. For
example, the app HotelTonight recently
listed a room at the Riveria South Beach in Miami, a 1940s luxury hotel two
blocks from the beach, for $150, while a nightly stay booked via Expedia or the
hotel’s website was $240, a rare 60% off.
booking apps differ from browser-based travel sites in two ways: the deals on
the apps are all non-refundable and the apps tend to have a limited,
ever-changing selection of hotels. But the companies defend their narrowing of
options by saying that if they included thousands of hotels, users would have
tough time searching the entire inventory by rate, star rating and location on a
tiny smartphone or tablet screen.
So while we
certainly hope you get to your destination without delay, these last-minute
booking apps can help you make sure there’s room at the inn this holiday
Best for the US
HotelTonight is an app for Android and Apple devices that,
on any given day, lists about 600, mostly upscale, properties across more than
50 destinations in the US, Canada and the UK, including Palm Springs, California,
Vancouver and London, plus a couple of other European cities, such as Amsterdam
and Dublin. Downloaded three million times since it debuted in 2011, it is the
most popular of the same-day booking apps, with rooms available from noon, local
time, daily. In a unique feature for a same-day booking app, HotelTonight shows
an average rating from other users of the app, which can be a helpful gauge of hotel
quality. The app has the slickest user interface of the bunch too, executing
tricks such as remembering properties a user has stayed at before and
automatically suggesting those properties when the user searches that destination
again. In a drawback, there’s no rate guarantee. Users must take the app at its
word that its prices are truly deals, which isn’t always true.
Best for broad coverage, worldwide
Booking.com Tonight is the best choice if you’re simply
looking for a cheap place to rest your head in the broadest number of places in
the world, with a concentration in Europe, North America and Southeast Asia.
Launched in April by European online travel agency Booking.com, the iPhone or
iPad-only app lists same-deal lodging offers for the most number of hotels –
tens of thousands, including hostels — with listings in the most number of
languages (18). Yet in a flaw, only a sliver of those properties are yet
offering mobile-only discounts, and you have to select a “deals” filter to
easily find these bargains, which seem to number in the few hundreds worldwide.
On the plus side, the app sells rooms around the clock, unlike other apps that
are not in operation for parts of the day. Unlike rival HotelTonight,
Booking.com Tonight has a rate guarantee. If you find the same room cheaper
elsewhere, the company will pay you the difference.
Best for Germany and Central Europe
November, the giant German travel site HRS (short for Hotel Reservations Service) launched
a same-day booking app Hotels Now for Apple devices only. It has about
2,000 rooms available in 46 European cities on any given night, with its
deepest offerings in cities in and around Germany, such as Hamburg, Krakow and
Zurich, with rooms available from 6 am daily. The app mostly presents generic chain
hotels, such as Eurostars, Ramada and Best Western, while HotelTonight emphasizes
independently owned design hotels, which may appeal to a certain type of
traveller. In a unique perk, the app lets you connect with your Facebook and Foursquare accounts to see on a map if
your hotel is near places that have been recommended by your friends and
contacts. There’s no rate guarantee.
note is JustBook is a same-day booking app for iPhone, Android
and Blackberry that launched in June and lists a few hundred four- and
five-star hotels across 30 European cities, with especially strong coverage in
the UK, Ireland and Germany.
Best for France
In June, Very
Last Room debuted as
an iPhone-only app that covers 21 cities in France, available from midday. The user-interface
isn’t slick and there’s no rate guarantee, but it does offer about 100 two- and
three-star hotels nationwide on any given day.
Best for Spain
Spanish-owned Apple, Android and Blackberry app Hot Hotels launched in March and offers a handful
of hotels for last-minute booking in 18 countries in Europe, such as Spain and
Russia, plus Argentina, with inventory posted throughout the day. While it
lacks a rate guarantee and a stylish user interface, the app has hundreds of
hotels available for 48 destinations in its country of origin Spain.
Also of note is the European pioneer of same-day booking apps, Blink, a
Spanish app for Apple and Android devices that offers more than 1,000 hotels
across 97 cities in seven countries, with the deepest coverage in Spain, France
Alternatives to same-day booking apps
looking for a broader and more familiar array of hotel listings, you may want
to turn to the Apple and Android apps for the major online travel agencies,
such Orbitz and Travelocity.
These apps can be used to book last minute, even though they’re not exclusively
listing same-day deals. Apps from Lastminute.com,
Priceline and Expedia, on the other hand, do offer mobile-only
September by US online travel agency Lastminute.com, Hotel Deals by Lastminute.com lets travellers book hotels with
three-star-or-higher ratings for tonight, tomorrow or the next day in 36 US
cities, with rates available around the clock. At the moment, it has two big weaknesses:
only about 100 hotels on the app seem to be running mobile-exclusive offers,
and the app only works on Apple devices. That said, Lastminute.com’s app has an
impressive innovation. Instead of having to type in a credit or debit card
number on the device’s tiny keyboard, travellers can instead use their iPhone
or iPad camera to snap a photo of their credit card, from which the app then
reads the numbers. However, users still have to manually enter the expiration
date and the security code on the back of the card.
September 2011, Priceline enhanced its Android and Apple Priceline Negotiator app with a tab
for Tonight-Only Deals at a few thousand hotels in more than 150 destinations.
While Priceline earned its reputation based on its bidding-for-travel products,
this app is only offering retail rates with all information about properties
available up front.
Expedia’s Apple and Android booking app Expedia Hotel and Flights added mobile-only rates for more than 2,000 of the 140,000 hotels
listed. Like Priceline’s app, Expedia’s isn’t restricted to same-day bookings,
but the company says about 70% of its mobile device users are “looking to
travel within the next 24 hours”.
Sean O’Neill is the travel tech
columnist for BBC Travel