Having fallen in love with my iPhone at this point, I've decided to periodically review groups of iPhone apps that are applicable to business travelers. My interest in reviewing apps is not just about the deals you'll find, but how easy the apps are to use.
This month I'm reviewing a hotel booking apps that are tied to major travel websites whose names you'll recognize. I was prompted to pursue this idea by a hotel booking advertisement on TV that features two skydivers booking their hotel reservations just after jumping from their plane. While we get to stay on airplanes until they land, I thought the metaphor of booking one's hotel room while "flying" through the airport to grab a cab was appropriate. Can I thumb-tap my way through the booking app while dragging my bags to the taxi stand?
The apps I have chosen to review are for aggregator sites. As a business traveler I don't usually use this type of site to book travel, unless I'm on a spontaneous or previously unplanned trip, where finding a deal on a hotel immediately is more important than finding a specific hotel in a particular neighborhood.
Six Hotel Booking Apps for iPhone
What startled me most about comparing these 6 apps is the wide variety of what they assume are traveler priorities. This means that home screen layouts, navigation buttons, and how quickly one arrives at search results varies widely. I've listed as bullet points the aspects of each app that made an impression as I tapped my way through them.
Note: these apps are mobile versions of websites that aggregate listings from multiple hotel sources, not apps for specific hotels. I'll review hotel-specific apps in a future newsletter.
The app took 45 seconds to configure itself before displaying information the first time. The app immediately asked to use my current GPS location. Has Tonight's Local Deals button on home screen Easy to filter by name, price range, rating, etc. Easy to sort by rating, distance from current location, guest ratings, etc. Regular search picks up current location, assumes 1 person for 1 night, but it's easy to increase the number of nights, rooms, and people with a quick screen tap. Results viewable as a list or as map locations. Sign-in available to your existing Hotels.com account, or sign up on your iPhone.
The app took 30 seconds to configure itself. It asks to use your current location via GPS but doesn't show local deals as a result. Clicking the map locator button will then show local deals. The app has 3 main navigation buttons:
- Negotiate: gets you prices for hotel rooms and the areas where they're available.
- Radar: this feature (including a pinging sound) shows recent winning bids in the area and their prices.
- Browse gets you prices and locations for a "book immediately" option as opposed to bidding blindly. You can filter by popularity, star rating, and neighborhood. Prices shown are before local taxes. Sign-in makes booking go more quickly, but booking without sign-in is available. The home screen also has a car deals button.
The app takes about 30 seconds to configure itself. It asks to detect and use your current GPS location. The app immediately starts with requirements: assumes check-in date is today for 1 night, 1 person, 1 room, all easy to change from drop-down lists. Shows number of results, then asks to list by price, star ratings; to filter by neighborhood or amenities. No photos: this is a blind search. When selecting by star rating, it shows price and neighborhood, but no hotel name or photo. Amenities are listed.
The app took 15 seconds to configure itself. The app immediately asked to use GPS Showed hotel availability first based on GPS location rather than asking any details; 1 night, 1 person assumed, but buttons there to change those details. Names, photos, ratings and prices are all immediately visible Sort and filter available Same list viewable as pins on a map Nice size photo slideshows; link to reviews on same screen Red pins indicate that prices are currently discounted
Didn't ask first for GPS, asked to send "push" notifications: alerts, sounds, and icon badges. The app includes search for hotels, flights, cars, and a flight tracker. The Hotel search came up with Los Angeles as the starting city, but when I challenged the location by tapping on the name, THEN it offered a GPS fix as an option. The search assumed 1 person/night/bed. The remainder of the list included thumbnail photos, prices, locations, and star ratings. Buttons include Filter, Sort, Map, and Compare. Filtering by stars meant UN-checking the star ratings you don't want to see. Filtering options included price, brands, and name but NOT location! I was seeing Seattle hotels despite my Bellevue specification, and there are 15 miles and a body of water in between the two cities. Half of the results listed were links to Hotwire deals.
The app took 15 seconds to configure itself. The app asked to use GPS fix, and asked to send Push notifications. This site relies heavily on user ratings. Search menu options include hotels, restaurants, things to do, flights and a link to their user forum as a link to write a review. Home screen buttons include Home, Near Me Now, and Faves buttons, with the search box at the top. Hotel search asked for city, zip, address, or the option to use a checkbox called Near Me Now. Ratings take precedence -- links in hotel listings also to guest ratings are right there on the same screen. Checking rates brings up tabs for Hotels.com, Expedia.com, Venere.com, Orbitz.com, the hotel's website, Priceline.com, and Travelocity.com, each with their own deals listed. Not all sites showed the details for the hotel you select; some provided their own listings for other hotels instead. I would use this for ratings, but probably not for directly booking the room, since TripAdvisor is only a ratings service NOT a booking agent.
From a usability standpoint, I think the Hotels.com mobile site has the best, most compact design. I found it easy to, with one or two taps, find a deal for the night.
Got a favorite travel app for iPhone, Android, or other smart phone? Use the comment section on post to tell me which apps you like to use.