By Terry Trucco
“Imagine that Priceline and Tablet Hotels had a baby,” says Cheryl Rosner of her baby, a new hotel booking site called Stayful that went live today.
Users have the option of booking a room on the site at the lowest published rate, culled from a fleet of online bookers including Expedia and Booking.com.
Or if you’re feeling adventurous – or aren’t satisfied with the price you see — you can hit the bid button and make an offer the hotel can accept, reject or counter offer. The site uses its proprietary algorithm to suggest a bid, but you’re free to propose any price you wish. The good news: bids aren’t blind, so you know which hotel you’re aiming at. The fine print: once a bid is accepted, it’s binding – no refunds or cancellations allowed.
A benefit for the user is the opportunity to shop – and bid on — one-of-a-kind hotels that don’t usually make the short list on uber-sites like Orbitz, Priceline and Book It Now, where chain properties pop up first, says Rosner.
Because Stayful’s algorithm identifies the lowest published price, you don’t have to comparison shop multiple sites.
And the carrot for the hotels? “They can sell rooms that would otherwise go empty,”
According to Stayful, independent boutique hotels lose $13.9 million annually in unsold rooms. Reservations are available 30 days or less before arrival, so the emphasis is on last-minute travel.
Rosner knows hotels. Her resume includes executive stints with the Kimpton Group, the Four Seasons and Ian Schrager hotels as well as Hotels.com and Expedia Corporate Travel. Stayful co-founder Shariq Minhas hails from Jigsaw, Expedia and Hotwire.
Eager to road test the site, I decided to see what I could find in New York for this coming Saturday night. Stayful informed me that of 143 boutique hotels near New York, 101 were available (availability dropped to 62 – and prices shot up — when I tried for Saturday, December 14, less of a last-minute booking). The list was inviting, though I’m not sure the aging, 1,750-room Hotel Pennsylvania qualifies as a boutique hotel.
Returning to November 23, up popped 16 “instant bid” hotels, which means they’ve partnered with Stayful and will respond to bids immediately. Choices included Gansevoort Park Avenue (recommended bid: $259; lowest published rate: $295), The Time Hotel (bid: $180; rate: $199) and The Empire Hotel (bid: $170; rate $199). I next checked out each hotel’s online reservation site; all listed best available rates identical to Stayful’s lowest published prices.
The bidding is, of course, the bonus. I didn’t place any bids as I wasn’t planning on a staycation this weekend, but it was fascinating to check out the suggested bids and examine the differences, large and small, between the lowest posted rates. Moving down the list I noticed cavernous differences between suggested bids and lowest posted prices at the Royalton (bid: $285; price: $379) and Hotel Elysse (bid: $375; rate: $500), among others. Bids appeared for most hotels on the site; you’ll hear back from the non-instant properties in 24 hours, Rosner says. At a handful of hotels bids were not an option. For these properties the site’s algorithm had determined the lowest published rate was as low as it was reasonable for the hotel to go.
My take? Stayful’s site is clean, stylish and navigates easily. It was fun to play with. If you’re not sure what your boutique hotel options are in, say, San Francisco or Miami, this is a quick way to suss out and compare multiple choices.
As for bidding, taking a money-saving flier is enticing, especially when there’s a safety net. You may not be able to pick a specific room or score a river view, but you know exactly where you’ll be staying and how much you saved.
Stayful is up and running in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami, San Diego and San Francisco. By the year’s end, plans call for Seattle, New Orleans, Phoenix and Washington, D.C to go online.