Book hotels at last minute and save
Does anyone ever pay full price for a hotel room? Savvy travelers have been using Priceline.com for years to bid for rooms that hotels would...
Seattle Times travel writer
Does anyone ever pay full price for a hotel room?
Savvy travelers have been using Priceline.com for years to bid for rooms that hotels would rather heavily discount than leave unfilled.
Backbid.com, a Canadian startup, put the process in reverse, letting hotels bid for your business once you've already booked with a competitor, assuming you're up for canceling your reservation and starting over.
One thing is certain: You'll always find the best deals closer to the time of travel as hotels look for any way possible to put heads in beds.
For those willing to wait until the last minute, there's HotelTonight, a free app for the iPhone, Android market and, as of March, the iPad. Think of it as the digital equivalent of walking up to the front desk at noon and seeing what kind of a deal you can strike.
The app displays discounts for same-day stays at a rotating selection of hotels each day (three per city or neighborhood) in 37 locations, from Seattle and Portland to San Francisco, Las Vegas, New York and Boston.
HotelTonight names the hotels, labels them as "hip," "solid" or "basic," and shows the price next to a crossed-out rate offered by hotels for comparable rooms. The discounted rate is available at noon or after for that night and sometimes longer.
Priceline, which lets you name your own price for hotels but doesn't disclose the hotel name until after your bid is accepted and credit card charged, also offers same-day deals as well as alerts on winning bids accepted within seven days of departure.
All of this had me wondering what the hotels themselves might be willing to offer directly to last-minute bargain hunters, so I made a few calls.
The Maxwell Hotel, near the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation offices in Seattle, quoted a best-available rate of $139 on its website and on the phone for a same-day reservation. HotelTonight had rooms for $99, a rate the reservation agent said the hotel could not match.
The Wynn Hotel in Las Vegas quoted $199 on its website and by phone. No luck there either getting a reservation agent to match HotelTonight's rate of $159. Instead, she offered me a room for $151 at the Encore, its sister hotel next door.
I did better calling the Villa Florence hotel near Union Square in San Francisco. The agent offered me a best-available rate of $129 vs. $135 on the website. When I mentioned that HotelTonight had rooms for $119, he agreed to match it.
Room Mate Grace, a boutique hotel in Midtown Manhattan, agreed not only to match HotelTonight's rate of $159 (vs. $229 on its website and $189 quoted on the phone) but offered an upgrade to a deluxe room that normally sells for $259.
Bottom line: There are lots of ways to score a better-than-expected rate on a hotel room. Prepaying too far in advance probably isn't one of them.
HotelTonight's discounts aren't always huge, and hotels sometimes will have less expensive rooms available (you don't find out the type of room until you book), or offer you the same discount if you call. But for travelers on the go, looking for a good price on a last-minute room they can book without phoning or using a website, the app is fast, clear and easy to use.
One quibble: Hotel websites usually don't include taxes and fees in their initial price displays, and neither does HotelTonight. Those are listed in small print when you tap on the offer.
Oceania in Seattle
Seattle will be losing Disney Cruise Line to Vancouver, B.C., next year, but already a new player is poised to set sail to Alaska in 2013.
The luxury line Oceania Cruises will homeport in Seattle next year from May through mid-August, offering seven and 10-day cruises to Alaska.
While Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse have the run of the 2,400-passenger Disney Wonder with its three pools and 10 decks, sailing with Oceania is more like visiting a rich uncle at his country estate.
Its flagship Regatta was refurbished in 2011 with neoclassical furnishings and teak decks. It carries just 684 guests, and earned Cruisecritic.com's award for "Best for Kid-Free Travel" in 2010.
Oceania's schedule calls for two 10-day "Alaskan Wilderness" cruises between Seattle and Alaska in June and July of next year. Other trips either will start in Seattle and end in Vancouver or vice versa.
Have a question or comment on travel? Contact Carol Pucci: cpucci@ seattletimes.com.
On Twitter @carolpucci.
About Travel Wise
Travel Wise is aimed at helping people travel smart, especially independent travelers seeking good value. Drawing on her own experiences and readers', Carol Pucci covers everything from the best resources to how to tap into the local culture. Her column runs each Sunday in the Travel section.