I’ve used online booking sites for accommodation for many years, both in Australia and overseas. However, this trip would involve a good deal of improvisation and last-minute travel decisions, so pre-booking was not an option. Arrangements would have to be made while I was on the road.
I used one of the major online sites to book my first four nights in Singapore (it was a different site from the one I used to book my airfare - I understand that Singapore hotels operate at around 95% capacity year-round, so finding anything for under $200 per night in a central location without resorting to backpacker dormitories takes a bit of hunting down, including checking reviews, locations and comparing prices).
Much as I like AirBnB for longer stays, where I have found myself, for example, a wonderful central apartment in Paris for a week at a fraction of the cost of a regular hotel, using the site and local hosts for stays of one or two nights can be a bit wearing.
While casting around online for appropriate services (and admittedly there are lots – including TripAdvisor, the afore-mentioned KAYAK and many many more). As I was travelling with an iPad and not a laptop, I started looking for native iOS apps and came across the Hotels.com app, which I found to be excellent.
It has seemingly endless listings of hotels (a couple of times I had to search for specific hotels that were being used by a tour I joined towards the end of my trip and always found them), and listings in all price ranges from the super-luxe to the budget backpacker (which was definitely more my end of the market). It includes places that a travel agent simply would or could not book for you, as the prices (depending on the destination) are so low it’s just not worth their while.
It’s easy to use; simply enter your destination and dates and the options are presented in an easy to see pictorial format, with a map showing relative locations, customer ratings and total price for the number of nights you require. Listings can be refined by adding various criteria, like rating, cost, distance from key landmarks and more.
Swiping across the screen reveals more options and there is a ‘pin’ function to add properties of interest to a short list. Selecting a property brings up more info, pictures and a detailed map. Swiping across this screen brings up Hotels.com customer reviews, with TripAdvisor reviews being available by clicking a tab on the same screen. I found this to be very useful, as it’s always worth cross-checking a couple of review sites, particularly in places I’m not familiar with, and because quite a lot of the hotels.com reviews were in languages other than English.
Swiping further across the screen brings up hotel and room facilities (it’s always good to check whether free wifi is available – an essential for any connected explorer!), booking conditions, and a range of rates and room-types with various inclusions listed (the lead-in price usually excludes breakfast, and it’s always fascinating to check what hotels do charge for including it). Each option has a Book button.
Once you’ve used the app (or the website) once, you can create an account and sign in, so the booking information comes up pre-filled, including my booking preferences (I always request at least a queen size bed as I’m quite tall). Payment options include all major credit cards and Paypal, which I use, and the ability to nominate your preferred currency, so you don’t end up paying international transaction fees. (My one slight error in using the app was that my first couple of transactions went through in Malaysian Ringgit, as the app defaulted to the currency in my location – but that was easily fixed).
So, for me, the app provided all the features I needed to quickly and easily make an informed choice about finding places to stay.
- Ease of use on my iPad
- Good range of properties in all price ranges and locations
- Ability to refine searches based in various criteria
- Easy access to maps and cross-referencing of reviews
- Easy booking
- Ability to pay in Australian dollars (or pretty much any other currency you may need)
- Paypal integration
I booked as little as one day ahead, never had a problem with check ins, and several times actually found myself upgraded to a superior grade room to that which I’d booked.
The app and site offer some neat benefits, too. Book ten nights’ accommodation through the app and you qualify for a free night’s accommodation up to the average value of the previous ten nights. This meant that my final night’s accommodation, in a quite decent hotel, cost me all of $6.00, after applying the free night credit.
My overall experience with the hotels I booked on the app was excellent, with only one being a bit of a disappointment, and several turning out to be absolute gems and fantastic value for money.
What apps or sites have you found helpful for booking accommodation on the go? Please leave a reply, or ask any questions you may have; I’d love to hear from you.
In my next post, I’ll discuss how I keep track of all these diverse bookings and travel arrangements in one place.
Note: Mentions of particular companies, websites and services are simply a report of my preferences and experiences with them; I don’t have any promotional arrangements with them and have received no benefits or incentives from them.