Sometimes, advance planning just isn’t possible: you need a room in a hotel, and you need it as quickly as possible. Open up your web browser or smartphone and you’ve got a range of options for getting a place to lay your head in the next few days, without also paying over the odds to book it.
Of course, some trial and error is required—this isn’t always an exact science—but you should at least be able to maximize your chances of getting a room cheaply. The good news is that if hotels do have spare capacity for tonight or the next few days, they’re going to be eager to rent it for whatever they can get rather than letting it go to waste.
Many of the same tips and tricks that apply to finding cheap hotel rooms also apply to finding cheap hotel rooms at very short notice. You do, of course, want to compare prices across multiple hotels (thankfully a lot of sites and apps will help you do this—see below), consider staying further away from your destination to save cash, and make use of any hotel memberships you’ve got.
It might also be worth getting in touch with a handful of hotels directly, though this can take up valuable time: Some will offer bigger discounts if you’re not going through a third-party site, and you might be able to negotiate a better price if you’re speaking to an actual human. For sites and apps that can help, read on...
LateRooms.com is one of the sites that has a particular focus on last-minute deals, though it can also find you a room for whenever you like. Tap in the key details of where in the world you’re going and when you need a room for, and you’ll see a range of detailed options appear on your screen—even if you’re looking for something the very same night.
The site will try to find the rooms most suitable for you (traveling as a couple, as an individual, or for work for example), and results can be organized by review rating or price. Information on free cancelations, any prepayment required, the number of rooms left and the size of the discount you can grab are all displayed in the results too, which we like.
The clue is in the name: HotelTonight is geared towards last-minute hotel deals, and the mobile apps for Android and iOS are well worth a look, as well as the main website. The default search is for hotel rooms the same evening that you’re booking, so type in your destination to see what’s available plotted on a map and in the form of a results list.
There’s lots that’s useful here: pricing for the night of course, plus hotel types, discount sizes, and the option to sign up for price drop email alerts in the future. Also check out the daily drop, which offers the biggest discount for the night, but puts a time limit on it. The brief but informative summaries you get for each hotel in the list are very well done, too.
As we mentioned above, more generalized search sites can also be helpful in finding last-minute details, and that’s certainly true of SkyScanner. Run your search under the Hotels tab and pick your short notice dates, and you’ll be met with a wealth of results that can be filtered by price, review rating, distance to your current location, and hotel type.
You can also limit the search results to hotels with free cancelation or no prepayment, and there are check boxes for hotel rooms with deals and discounts too. Add in the ability to pick out particular amenities (such as free parking or a gym), and it’s a comprehensive service. It’s difficult to beat in terms of ease of use and the flexibility of the search filters.
Another all-purpose travel search site that can help with last-minute deals, Hotels.com puts the search box front and center so you can start looking for places immediately. The price is likely to be the most important consideration, but you can also filter the results by hotel type, guest rating, distance to your location, free cancelation, and more besides.
You get a wealth of information about each hotel to help you decide where you want to stay, and some will display a Secret Price label next to them: You’ll need to sign up for an account on the site to access them, and you get a bit less flexibility in terms of choice (such as the room type), but they can be a handy way of getting bigger discounts on your stay.
Hotwire is a popular hotel discount site that takes the approach of keeping your hotel a mystery until you’ve actually booked: You get a lower rate and hotels get their rooms filled, but they don’t have to publicly advertise that they have spare, discounted rooms available. You can get some pretty significant savings at short notice here.
The catch is that you get less choice in terms of the type of hotel you stay at, the sort of room you can pick, and the upgrades that are available. These deals aren’t refundable either, so if your plans change, you still have to pay up. You do get to see the price, the hotel amenities, and the broad location of the hotel before you commit to making a booking.