Posts Tagged ‘app’

Finding a Cheap Last-Minute Room

31 December, 2011

I needed a cheap room in Chicago. At the very last moment I discovered I only needed 2102 miles to reach the 150K milestone with United Airlines, which brings a trove of free upgrades and other goodies. My faulty tracking had shown I’d be more than 10K miles short of this level so I obviously missed some bonuses or something. Anyway, on 28 December I planned a quick mileage run round-trip Portland to Chicago which would net me 3484 miles, more than enough for the 150K bonanza.

Credits from United which got me a good fare and I was upgraded to first class on my cheapo last-minute ticket. Although as you can see below, the food is hardly first class, more like Satanic Arby’s (faux turkey product, yuck) – it’s really just the extra large seat that matters.

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Flights arranged, I needed a last-minute cheapo room in Chicago. I compared newcomer Hotel Tonight against old standby Hotwire. Booking the day of my trip (at Portland’s airport), time and monetary savings were essential.

First up, Hotel Tonight. Their hype is that hotels dump unsold rooms at the very last minute, letting you enjoy huge savings. In fact you don’t have access to any rooms that night until noon local time. I was intrigued and installed the app on my iPhone. (Although Hotel Tonight has a website, you have to use the iPhone or Android apps to book.)

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Registration was easy, more importantly, the web is awash in Hotel Tonight promo codes, so I had a $25 credit before I’d done a thing.

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Hotel Tonight sussed out my location – Portland – during the login (and their promo copy suggests that they’re your best friend for a boozy one-night stand). But I needed Chicago; at 12:05 pm Chicago time they had a mere three choices for me that night (despite my prefs stating NOT O’Hare I was given a shot at an airport hotel). On a night with no conventions in town, getting only three choices was pitiful, even if the prices (eg $119 for the Hard Rock) were not bad.

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I switched to old friend Hotwire, which I have been using for cheap last-minute hotel stays for years. The caveat with Hotwire is that you don’t know the name of the hotel you are buying until after you’ve bought it. Vague neighborhood details and even cloudier hotel details mean that there’s a lot of random factors involved. Still if you can live within these constraints, you can save huge. (Read all my tips on booking a hotel room here.)

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Hotwire uses a mobile web interface instead of an app, but functionality is fine: put in your basic details and see what you get. Chicago-area hotels had plenty of rooms given I got back dozens and dozens of results.

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I gave up hitting “Show 12 more results…” after five clicks.

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Obviously I needed to narrow down the results given the limited charms of suburbs like Oak Lawn and Lisle. One huge annoyance of Hotwire’s mobile web interface is that there’s no “uncheck all” button which means individually saying adieu to Itasca, Burr Ridge and other distant hotspots. Oh “O’Hare Intl Airport ORD South,” the memories we’ll never have.

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My choices narrowed to a broad swath of the city from the Loop north, Hotwire still had scads of choices. Of course one of the compromises is not knowing the exact location where you’ll stay, as you can see from the vast blob that comprises “North Michigan Avenue – Water Tower – Gold Coast.” (Note that in some Hotwire cities, the geographic designations are so vast that about all you can count is being in the same region.)

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Even narrowing down my choices, I still get a huge range of places to choose from. A three-star place for $56, another for $72 plus a two-star for $78. Despite any real definition, more stars are usually better, even if you don’t really know what they mean. I’m trying to go cheap, so there’s no reason to go past the first three screens. I’m actually not too excited by staying in the Loop (dullsville at night and I’ll just have that much further to travel to see friends) or in a “Magnificent Mile Area – Streeterville area hotel” as you can either end up almost in the Loop or out in the desert of high-rise condos and apartments by the lake. And based on past experience, the two-star place in Lake View – Lincoln Park – Wrigleyville is usually the City Suites Hotel on Belmont where the cheap Hotwire rooms butt up against the all-night cacophony of the El.

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Given all the variables, I’m thinking the four-star hotel for $71 is calling out to me; I’ll bite.

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Just like the airlines, added fees and taxes turn that $71 into almost $88, not bad and it’s only taken five minutes. After a couple of screens confirming payment details, I await my mystery hotel to be revealed…

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And the results! The Whitehall, a long-running modest but nice hotel off Rush St on the Gold Coast. (A side historic note, when Rupert Murdoch bought – and nearly destroyed – the Chicago Sun-Times in 1984, he forever branded his new hack publisher as a toady by ordering him in front of the staff to “take my bags to the Whitehall.”)

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Less than two hours after landing at O’Hare, I was in room 1010, watching Notre Dame once again snatch defeat from the jaws of victory in their bowl game against Florida St. With my bargain rate I couldn’t hope for a view beyond my non-view, which would be ideal for reticent exhibitionists. But no complaints, the price was good for my 20 hours in town and I had a delightful night out on the Gold Coast.

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