If you're on Instagram, it's hard to miss the bloggers who seem to frequent the plushest and most expensive hotels in the world — places that are out of reach to the rest of us.
However, if you know what to ask for — and have the right tools — a life of luxury is more affordable than you think.
Hotels have an average occupancy rate of 65%, meaning 1 in 3 rooms are typically going to waste, according to hotel booking app HotelTonight.
In order to make some bank on rooms that are still empty at the last minute, the hotels load them onto the HotelTonight app, which then offers them to users at discounted rates.
Taking bookings mobile
CEO of the app Sam Shank launched HotelTonight in January 2011. The app is his third online travel company.
“The first was a hotel review site called TravelPost, which was acquired by SideStep (later purchased by KAYAK), then I started a travel deal search engine called DealBase,” he said.
“Hotels said they always have rooms available at the end of the night and always hope someone will walk in,” Shank said. Meanwhile, there are “customers who have a need to have a room at the very last minute.”
The company initially launched in three markets — New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles — and is now in 2,000 cities and 35 countries around the globe. Its most recent launch was in Israel.
From basic to high-roller
The app works with hotels across six categories designed to cover all comers: Basic, Solid, Charming, Hip, Luxe, and Highroller.
Users can browse recommendations based on their location, can search by city, or can access a hidden menu by typing in the city name followed by a comma and a “magic word,” such as “free breakfast” or “pet friendly.”
Some of the most luxurious hotels on the site offering deep discounts are the Hotel Baume and Hotel Saint Marc in Paris, or The Lalit and The Athenaeum in London.
At the time of writing this — 12 p.m. on a Tuesday — the best offers for London tonight include a £338 room at The Lalit going for £230. As well as deals on hotspots like The Curtain and The Groucho Club.
Meanwhile, New York City deals include a suite at the “Highroller” Tuscany hotel for £242, discounted from £1,317.
There are a number of factors that play a role in landing the cheapest possible hotel fare, according to Shank.
There's an ideal time to book...
“Generally speaking, hotel rooms work the exact opposite of flights,” Shank said. “With a flight, the worst time to book a flight is right before the plane takes off.
”With hotels, the rate declines the closer you get to arrival. The longer you wait, the better the deals are.“
However, while the best deals may happen last-minute, six months ago the app expanded to allow users to book up to 100 days in advance in around 100 cities.
”Our hotel partners loved the app, it provides incremental revenue, and they wanted to be able to sell rooms earlier instead of selling them through legacy online travel agencies,“ Shank said.
”It really depends on what level of spontaneity you’re feeling like. If you see something you feel good about, go ahead and lock that in. If you’re more willing to stay in a new hotel, we’re going to have something great and the prices do decline the longer you wait.“
...And you should always do it through an app
”If you book on an app, HotelTonight or in general, you’re going to unlock better rates,“ Shank said.
”Hotels see those travellers as an incremental customer — they’re reaching a customer that is on the go, that is somebody that’s segmented from the website traffic and website customer. That’s how the market’s developed.“
There's even a best day to stay
Shank said that finding the cheapest deal is ”market-dependent and seasonal,“ and varies a lot based on what's going on in the city.
”Is there a conference in town? Is there an event in town? Is Wimbledon going on?“
However, he said that in general, the cheapest day to stay in a hotel is Sunday.
”It doesn’t have as strong leisure travel and business travel hasn’t started yet,“ he said.
”You might go to a hotel with a pool, have some time away from your regular life,“ he said. ”Sunday night’s a great time to do it, and if you pick a hotel close to your office, you can even skip the tube ride.“
Make the most of reward programmes
With HotelTonight, you can also get a better deal by booking multi-night stays, looking out for ”Geo Rates“ — location-based discounts — and joining HotelTonight's rewards program, HT Perks, which gives customers better discounts the more they book.
”It's our version of a loyalty programme or rewards programme,“ Shank said. ”I get frustrated by points programmes, because you never know when they're going to be devalued.
“We've created a system where you level up based on what you spend, and can unlock deeper discounts and special savings, but it works a lot like a game — once you hit your level, you never lose it. Once you've earned it, you've earned it.”
The app's new “Upgrades” feature also gives you the option to stay in a suite for a minimum of 50% off.
Once you book, you can also live chat with an “HT Pro” in the app to ask any questions and submit any requests you have to “personalise your stay in advance.”
The alternative to a travel agent
In the near future, Shank said the app will start to include push notifications that will tell you about hotel deals for upcoming trips you have “watched” through the app, and will also tell you about low fares on hotels you “favourite.”
It's all part of an effort to be a one-stop-shop for hotels — according the company, HotelTonight customers save 17% on average over other online travel agencies.
“The goal is to be a full-service alternative to the legacy travel agencies and provide an experience that’s faster, and provides better value,” Shank said.
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