New Benefits of Booking Late
By TIMOTHY W. MARTIN
Mobile apps are making it easier for last-minute travelers to book hotel rooms and rental cars cheaper—and later—than ever.
More companies, including Orbitz Worldwide Inc. and Hilton Worldwide Inc., are developing mobile apps to help travelers make hotel reservations en route, or find a good restaurant or museum when they get to town. Using a smartphone, iPad or other mobile device, it’s possible to book a rental car as you step off the plane, or a hotel room near the restaurant where your dinner is winding down.
Wait too long, of course, and you might end up car-less or bed-less for the night. But barring that, travelers say the flexibility and time they gained by booking last minute are worth the risks. And there are potential savings: Some hotel chains, eager to fill empty beds, offer special discounts to travelers who book while in town. Apps also make it easy to cancel a reservation at the last minute and reserve a cheaper room elsewhere.
Travel companies say the goal is to develop go-to apps that travelers will use as digital guidebooks or concierges. Apps, with their basic designs and pared down functions, are simpler and faster to use than websites. The companies recognize that while mobile-app users may be looking for deals, they also tend to focus more on proximity than value when making last-minute decisions—meaning they might splurge on a nicer hotel if it’s nearby. Mobile bookings represent only about 4% of overall travel bookings, but travel analysts and executives estimate the percentage could reach 15% by the end of 2012.
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