Lee and I were early adopters when Priceline came out in the late 1990s with the name-your-own-price concept for booking a hotel room, so we’d been not-so-patiently waiting for a chance to try the one of the newer discount options, Hotel Tonight.
In fact, more than a few times we played vacation from our couch in Doodah, Kansas – selecting a city from the list of offerings on the Hotel Tonight app on our phones to see what our options would be if we were there and in need of a room.
If you’re not familiar with Hotel Tonight, here’s how it works: it’s only available through a free app on your mobile phone and there’s no planning ahead — at noon (Pacific Time) each day, you can start shopping to see what last-minute deals are available for that night. They call it impulse booking.
The number of cities where it’s available is limited (but growing) and only a handful of different properties are offered in each city. For hotels, it’s a chance to fill empty rooms through an app that limits its offerings to give hotels prime placement. For us, it’s a chance to get steep discounts said to be up to 70 percent.
You see the name of the hotel, the original price alongside the discounted price and an approval percentage from past users. Hotel Tonight also labels each property with descriptions like basic, solid, hip, charming, luxe. You can click on a property to get info under headings: why we like it, need to know, the hotel, the room, the food & drink.
So finally, in February of this year, we tried it out in Ft. Lauderdale.
I had a client meeting there on a Monday, so Lee & I flew in on a Saturday to squeeze in a few days’ break from the Kansas cold. The client had coordinated a hotel reservation for Sunday and Monday at a convenient hotel for the meeting on Monday, so our Saturday stay was up to us. We decided it would be nice to stay in a different area and to try our luck at the discount roulette for a room at a 4-star or better property.
Until the past couple of years (after we both had Marriott credit cards that gave us quite a few points and free nights), we’ve never been particularly loyal to a hotel brand. So Expedia and TripAdvisor are where we typically start to get an idea of hotel reviews and prices/availability for our dates/location. We then check in with Hotwire and Priceline.
So as we stood in the line to get our rental car in Ft. Lauderdale, we started with Hotel Tonight. We pulled up the list of about six properties and cross-checked them with Expedia. The prices for that night weren’t any better than we could find on our own at Expedia, and none of the properties wowed us. We next went to Hotwire, where we saw a 4-star hotel for $138 INCLUDING taxes and fees. Hotwire doesn’t give you the hotel name until your purchase but it said it would be in South Ft. Lauderdale’s Hollywood Beach area. We got the Westin Diplomat Resort and Spa, which if booked directly with Westin that night would have been about $350.
We had to pay $25 for parking, which was pretty much the norm at every hotel in the area. And, probably since we didn’t book direct, we got a room that did not have a balcony but it did have a partial ocean view and was on a high enough floor for a nice view.
We loved the room, the property and the hotel’s location.
The room had one of their signature Heavenly beds that was pretty divine, plus a huge soaker tub and a very nice rain shower. The room was memorable enough that we chose a brand new Westin a few months later in another city; it was nice but not as nice as this room and bed.
The Westin Diplomat had two large pool areas that were oceanfront, and lots of places to sit poolside. We walked to the Hollywood Boardwalk but I will warn you that it was a pretty good walk — we got to the very south end of the boardwalk with a 20-minute walk at a very quick speed. To the middle of the boardwalk where shops and restaurants can be found was more like 30 minutes. However, there is a trolly stop right at the Westin so you could opt for that route to get around.
Our night at the Westin spoiled us and the next two nights at the Doubletree Bahia Mar in Ft. Lauderdale couldn’t compare. The change in location, though, did give Lee a new place to explore while I was in meetings on Monday. He could walk across the street and be on the beach, and he also was in walking distance to the pier, the water taxi or departure points for sightseeing excursions.
So we’ll keep our Hotel Tonight app on our phones and check it out the next time we’re room-less in a city they offer, but we’ll also check in with our usual booking agents like Expedia and Hotwire.
We still use Priceline from time-to-time too. Often, it’s when we are planning to stay near an airport for an early departure or late arrival, or when we have a pretty good idea of the pool of possible hotels by narrowing down the part of a city where we are bidding to stay the night.