Booking a flight is tough, and that usually involves just a handful of possibilities that can get you from one place to another. Booking a hotel room is where it gets truly horrible: dozens or hundreds of properties to consider, most of which you’re likely to stay in one time and never return again. Cut through the hassle and the headaches by taking it mobile with one (or more) of these apps. All of the apps featured are free. The rooms are another matter.
Top Brand-Specific Hotel Apps
Most big hotel chains offer their own apps to help you find a room and (maybe) track your rewards points…and that’s about it. To date, the vast majority of property-specific apps just don’t do a whole lot. That may change soon, though, as hotels are funneling cash into tech upgrades to increase competitiveness with tech-savvy lodgers. I can’t wait to use my phone to check in and out, unlock the door to my room, order room service and even control the TV. Features like this are just starting to creep into a handful of apps (see below), but for now, most apps are relatively light on what they can really do.
Searching through app catalogs for these brand-specific apps can be surprisingly confusing, because all of these vendors offer a multitude of apps, often one for each property they manage. Which is which isn’t always well marked. For example, the Marriott SpringHill Suites app doesn’t give you access to all 300+ SpringHill properties but, rather, just one, in Old Montreal. Here are the apps to look for if you’re a frequent patron of these major hotel chains.
Hyatt Hotels is the name of the app you want. (A few resorts have their own apps, and other apps with “Hyatt” in the name are unrelated.) The app does offer a bit more than most of its competition. While room booking, reservation management and rewards tracking are here as expected, Hyatt takes the extra step of letting you check in and out on the go. Be warned, however: Users report lots of bugs with the system. iOS, Android; hyatthotels.hyatt.com
The lengthily named Ritz-Carlton Hotels & Resorts is the app to download, and unlike most hotel apps, this one’s a well-polished standout. Naturally you can make reservations and edit them on the fly, but Ritz has also added property-specific features that provide special offers during your stay along with local suggestions from each hotel’s concierge. There’s even a built-in QR Code scanner that you can use to “unlock experiences” you encounter during your stay on the property—at some hotels, you’ll find the codes attached to the artwork on the walls. iOS, Android; ritzcarlton.com
This mega-chain has dozens of apps, many of which are designed to provide extra services for individual properties, of which it has thousands. (There’s even an app for scoring your golf game at Marriott’s U.K. properties.) The primary one you want, however, is called Marriott International (sometimes known as Marriott Mobile), which is designed to make it easy to find and book a room as well as manage your Marriott Rewards account. City guides for its many locations are also accessible via the app. Also worth a look is the separate and cryptically named Guest Services app, which lets you check in and out using your phone, but only at about 10 U.S.-based properties at present. iOS, Android; marriott.com
Leave it to Starwood to do something different. Start with the SPG: Starwood Hotels & Resorts, a graphically rich app that lets you book from Starwood’s 1,100 hotels, check points and even check in via phone. The app also features a unique service: 24-hour assistance from Starwood’s support team via video chat. For a more fanciful app, also check out W Hotels Worldwide, a W-specific app that offers local weather, room service ordering and special requests, plus the ability to stream W-esque electro-thumpy music mixes via your handset, whether you’re in an actual W Hotel or lounging around at home. It’s just like being in one of its suites, but with less chrome. iOS, Android, BlackBerry; starwoodhotels.com
You’ll need to download a few different apps to keep tabs on the Hiltonverse. Hilton is the big one, a booking system that covers all the major Hilton brands (3,000+ hotels total), including DoubleTree, Embassy Suites, Hampton, Hilton Garden Inn and Homewood—all of which also have their own custom apps. However, since the main Hilton app covers these brands as well, it’s probably skippable unless you’re a devotee of a specific hotel. HHonors Rewards are trackable through the Hilton app, but if you want to use points to book a room or make special requests of the property (I said, extra pillows!) you’ll need to use the stand-alone Hilton HHonors app. Also, worth a look: the Conrad Concierge, which lets you do everything from booking spa treatments to arranging an airport transfer at these 20 boutique hotels, all via iPhone or iPad. iOS (all apps), Android (HHonors app); hilton.com
Top Third-Party Hotel Apps
Most room research and booking these days is done not via a brand-specific app but via a general travel website that covers the universe of available rooms. Of course, now you can do all of this work via an app on your phone or tablet. Here are some of the best to check out.
Loyal users say Hotel Tonight is one of the best apps around for scoring last-minute rooms at deep discounts, with promised deals at up to 70 percent off. The company’s solid, major-city presence in the States is slowly expanding internationally, with more than 100 metro areas now covered worldwide. iOS, Android; hoteltonight.com
This is a miniaturized version of the Hotels.com website, letting you hunt for bargains, track rewards points and manage reservations all via your phone. It’s got an excellent design paired with a back-end that offers access to 200,000 hotels in 200 countries. iOS, Android, Windows Phone; hotels.com
Forget that sketchy, germy remote control and manage your television with the LodgeNet app. LodgeNet now works in 630,000 hotel rooms, letting you control your TV and order movies, and (depending on the property) even order room service and check out when it’s time to go home. iOS, Android; lodgenet.com
Everything you love about TripAdvisor, just in a mobile version. The company offers separate apps for phones and tablets (in order to better take advantage of the available screen real estate), plus downloadable city guides for its most popular destinations (no live Internet connection required to use them). iOS, Android, Windows Phone, Nokia; tripadvisor.com
This app is a solid alternative to Hotels.com, with 300,000 hotels able to be researched and reserved through your phone. It’s not quite as handsome as Hotels.com’s system, but it’s always good to have a backup if one app lets you down. iOS, Android, Windows Phone; booking.com