Sometimes, you just need to get away in a hurry. Whether you want to escape the stresses of life or simply do something fun and spontaneous, last-minute vacations are a pastime that people sometimes resort to (no pun intended). There’s one major sticking point, though: how are you going to book all of your accommodations in time before you leave?
At least when it comes to hotels, getting a room or two in the nick of time isn’t quite as hard as you’d think. In fact, there are some websites and mobile apps that specialize in getting you last-minute deals. This article will go over our top picks for those.
Why would I want to book a hotel last-minute in the first place?
Booking a hotel last-minute can be one of the best ways to get a great deal. If you’re in a rush and aren’t that picky about where you stay, you can often get a hotel to rent you a room at a cheap rate to avoid taking a total loss on it. This convention is commonly known as “unpublished rates.”
How do “unpublished rates” work?
Hotels want to rent out as many rooms as they can at their listed rates, in order to maximize their profits. Inevitably, however, closer to the booking date, they will list some of their rooms at discounted rates, in order to make at least some money off them, rather than nothing from empty rooms.
Here’s the catch: hotels don’t want their competitors to see them undercutting their rates. They also don’t want their current customers seeing that they could have booked a room for much cheaper than what they already paid, usually months in advance. So they will often impose a few restrictions on the booking process, which are usually the following:
- They don’t reveal the specific name or location of a hotel until after you book it. You can still pick the general area where you’d like to stay (i.e. in a specific city district, or near a specific airport or other landmark), though.
- They don’t guarantee anything about the room(s) that you book, except for the recommended guest capacity.
- Once you’ve confirmed your booking, it’s final. No changes, cancellations, or refunds are allowed.
We’ll share some tips on booking hotel rooms with “unpublished rates” – and last-minute in general – at the end of the article. If you want more specific advice for booking “unpublished rates” hotels, check out the website BetterBidding.com.
For now, we’ll list some of the best mobile apps for getting a hotel booked when you don’t have a lot of time to spare.
Top 6 Apps for Last-Minute Hotel Deals
Since it was launched in December 2010, HotelTonight has become one of the most talked-about apps for getting last-minute hotel deals. Or, if you don’t need a hotel room that urgently, you can book one up to a week in advance. HotelTonight also features special “Geo-Rate” deals, a referral program, and an “HT Perks” program with escalating rewards. The more you use HotelTonight, the better it gets!
Best Feature: Star ratings aren’t all that illustrative when it comes to describing hotels, so HotelTonight made a better system that describes the overall service level and atmosphere of each of the hotels that they offer. Choose from “Luxe,” “High Roller,” “Hip,” “Solid,” “Basic,” “Charming,” or “Crashpad.”
“The obvious choice” for booking hotels online, Hotels.com has deals on booking lodgings of all shapes and sizes in over 80 countries and regions around the globe. These include last-minute deals that you can save big on if you book them within a certain time frame, and perhaps even more if you book them immediately!
Best Feature: With the Hotels.com Rewards Program, for every 10 nights you stay at any places booked through Hotels.com, you get the average price of those 10 nights as a credit towards your next booking. So, in most cases, it’s like getting a free night!
Like Hotels.com, Booking.com features all sorts of different lodgings from all around the world that you can book to stay at. However, Booking.com has far more options available: over 1.45 million lodgings at over 120,000 destinations spanning over 225 countries and regions globally. So if you need a roof over your head when you’re out of town, and need it post-haste, Booking.com will almost always have at least something available.
Best Feature: The sheer volume and variety of lodgings you can look for on this app means that you’ll almost never be without an option for shacking up in a particular place. It also means that you’re more likely to find something just right for you!
Hotwire was one of the pioneers of the “unpublished rates” booking model; in fact, it’s all they do! While booking a hotel sight-unseen can be a bit of a gamble, you’re almost always going to get a great deal out of it. Plus, Hotwire only sells bookings from top brand-name accommodations companies, so you’re at least getting a product from someone reputable. Like with HotelTonight, you can book your room(s) up to a week in advance.
Best Feature: If you need a set of wheels when you get to your destination, you can also rent a car through Hotwire!
One:Night is a somewhat unique hotel-booking app. It only allows you to book hotel rooms on the day you want to check in, and only after 3:00 PM. In addition, the selection of hotels you can book is specifically curated from the most popular ones in the United States. In return, you get incredibly great rates on your room(s), as well as advice on what to do during your stay.
Best Feature: One:Night has a 24-hour, hour-by-hour suggested itinerary for each of the hotels that it curates. So if you’re at a loss for what to do next after you get settled in your room(s), just let the app guide you!
Like One:Night, HotelQuickly serves a specific geographical area. Offering accommodations at over 250 locations in the Pacific Rim (e.g. China, Japan, Taiwan, Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand, Australia, New Zealand, and so on), Hotel Quickly is functionally quite similar to HotelTonight, sporting a referral program, loyalty rewards, and even special affiliate perks (like room upgrades or allowance of late check-outs).
Best Feature: Time flexibility. You can book a hotel for up to 30 days, up to a year in advance, if you’re planning a getaway ahead of time. But if you need a hotel quickly (okay, that pun was intended), you can use the app to book a same-night check-in up to 4:00 AM.
6 Tips for booking a hotel last-minute
1. Be flexible.
If you’re booking your travel accommodations last-minute, you shouldn’t expect to get exactly what you want. You’re probably more interested in getting the biggest bargains, so be open to changing your travel dates or even your destination. Booking a place in a less-busy area or for a less-busy time can often score you a deal because it isn’t that popular with other vacationers.
2. Consider alternative lodgings or packages.
If your goal is to save as much money as possible, don’t go for the big brand-name hotels. Try finding smaller venues, such as bed-and-breakfasts or homes for rent. You’ll usually have about the same amenities, but often for a fraction of the price. Or, try booking bundled vacation packages, as opposed to booking your accommodations separately, to get discounts on all of your accommodations at once!
If you’re looking for websites or apps that specialize in these types of accommodations, and you aren’t in that big a hurry, check out the likes of Airbnb, VRBO, or HomeAway. We can even show you how to use each of them!
3. If you have time and aren’t booking with “unpublished rates,” don’t stop shopping!
If you’re booking a hotel with “unpublished rates,” once you find out where you’ve been put, you’re stuck – you can’t cancel or change your reservation. If you aren’t, however, there are still tricks you can use to get good deals. For example, you can sign up for newsletters from accommodations-booking websites to get alerts on price changes and other special deals. That way, when hotels begin selling off room rentals for cheap just to recoup their losses, you can be right there to snatch up a bargain!
One word of advice, though: be careful about using this trick if you’re travelling during a busy tourist season, are travelling with multiple people, or are going to be staying at your lodgings for an extended length of time. All of these things can make it more difficult to get a booking that fits even your most minimum travel needs, so err on the side of caution.
4. Research your destination to guess where your hotel is.
If you’re going to be using the “unpublished rates” booking method, you can take a bit of the gamble out of it by doing a bit of research ahead of time. Look at the hotels in the area where you’re thinking of staying, including their star ratings and rates. Try using a mapping program such as Google Maps for this. This should give you clues as to where you might end up, based on what you’re paying.
5. Ask the hotel about specific requests.
One of the stipulations of booking with “unpublished rates” is that the booking company can’t guarantee much regarding the room(s) you get. But that doesn’t mean you can’t advocate for yourself when dealing with the actual hotel you get booked at!
As soon as you find out the place you’re staying at, give them a call. Ask if they can guarantee a room for you in the event that they over-book, and ask them about their ability to deliver on any other special requests (e.g. if you need a room that’s smoke-free or has increased accessibility for disabled people). You might be surprised how willing hotels are to do these things, as much of their business is based on customer satisfaction and online reviews!
6. Print screenshots of confirmations and requests.
Print out any emails or web pages that include confirmations of your booking or any special requests you’ve made. Also, if you call your place of lodging to talk to them about any of these things, ask if you can record the call, or at least write notes about when you called, whom you talked to, and what you talked about. That way, if something doesn’t turn out right, you’ll have the evidence to prove what you were promised.
Now you know that there are options available if you need to book a hotel last-minute! But if you aren’t in such a hurry, there are other mobile apps that you can use to book hotels and other travel accommodations easily at great prices! Be sure to check out alternatives to the likes of Expedia, Priceline, and others!