HotelTonight: How To Build Your Last-Minute Hotel Booking App

Online hotel booking is the most common way of getting a room for a trip. According to a survey by Statista, 88 percent of adults in America book accommodations online. Moreover, travelers are using hotel booking applications more often than ever before.

Over the past 10 years, travelers have changed the way they plan trips. Today, they’re keen to make spontaneous decisions and reserve hotels at the last moment. Considering this, online booking services have been forced to transform their approaches.

The HotelTonight app was the first online booking product focused on last-minute reservations. Despite lots of competition, it’s held the top position among hotel booking apps for more than eight years. Let’s see what makes HotelTonight stand out from the crowd.

What is HotelTonight?

HotelTonight is a mobile travel application that was launched in 2010. It lets users find and book good hotels with the lowest prices in the area. The special feature of HotelTonight is the opportunity to find and book a room at the last moment. HotelTonight reveals a list of rooms every day at noon, with discounts of up to 70 percent.

HotelTonight was the pioneer of last-minute hotel booking applications on the Western market. Due to its simplicity, speed, and unique user experience, the app managed to gain significant popularity. It has been downloaded by more than 15 million users.

Today there are many last-minute booking apps like One Night. One Night is one of the newest and biggest competitors of HotelTonight. The applications have similar features, but One Night focuses more on the quality of rooms rather than their cost. Also, it’s oriented to the Eastern market and provides travelers with a wide spectrum of destinations in Asia.

So why do many companies want to know how to build an app like HotelTonight? Let’s see what so special about last-minute booking apps.

There are two types of mobile hotel booking applications.

The first is designed for all travelers. These apps let users plan their trips and book rooms ahead, be it a month or half a year in advance. They usually contain detailed information on hotels with reviews and photos along with travel guides and search filters. These apps are an effective form of advertisement, so hotel owners are often open to cooperation. Among popular apps of this type are Priceline and Trivago.

Last-minute booking applications often have simple functionality so that users can reserve a room in a few clicks. These apps help tourists to find a room at the last moment and book it effortlessly. Also, by collaborating with last-minute booking apps hoteliers can get customers for spare rooms. This way hotels can decrease the number of vacant rooms, especially if they offer a nice discount.

As you can see, last-minute hotel reservation apps are popular among users and bring profits to hotels. No wonder many companies want to create their own HotelTonight analog.

How to create a last-minute booking app like HotelTonight

To make a mobile booking app competitive and useful, it’s vital to provide unique and helpful features. Let’s see what features make the HotelTonight app popular and what business model the HotelTonight applies.

HotelTonight’s special features

List of hotels

It’s important to make it quick and painless to reserve a room at the last minute. A compact list of hotels is a must-have for such an app. HotelTonight provides users with the best offers for that night based on their location and sorts the results by relevance.

A list of hotels can be accompanied by powerful filters. They help users to find a hotel of a specific type or for a specific price.


[Image source: Recode]


Profiles make any app more personalized and save users’ time. With profiles, people just need to sign up once and the app will remember their data.

HotelTonight provides bonuses for their users. The more people book, the larger the discounts they receive. This approach encourages users to return to the app again in hope of finding great offers.

Real-time booking

The major thing that distinguishes a last-minute booking service is that it requires a real-time booking system. People using these kinds of apps are usually in a hurry and are waiting for an immediate response. Travelers want to know if they can have a room for the night or if they need to keep searching.

Moreover, a real-time booking system is essential for hoteliers as they need to keep track of both online and offline orders. Lose track of a booking, there may be problems with the number of vacant rooms.

A real-time booking system is a bridge connecting users and hotels. HotelTonight provides a notification system for both sides. Hotels receive messages that show new orders. After that, users get confirmation notifications.   


Of course, some hotels let people pay at check-in. Still, prepayment is the most common way to make sure the deal is done. HotelTonight provides secure and convenient payments via Apple Pay, PayPal, and Touch ID.

The app also stores credit card data so users only need to enter their payment data once and future bookings will be quick and easy.

Escape feature

HotelTonight has an original feature called Escape that shows the best deals in places you might not have looked for. For example, if a user is in San Francisco, the Escape feature may present them the best deals that night in Paradise Cay.

This feature emphasizes the nature of last-minute booking apps. They help people organize spontaneous trips and visit unexpected places. Moreover, hotels in small cities often lack tourists, so it’s a good chance for them to make new clients.

Aces feature

HotelTonight has a remarkable feature called Aces. It’s something like an in-app hotel concierge. Users can type questions in a chat like “Where should we eat?” or “Where should we go?” and receive valuable suggestions. Aces can also be used for requests at hotels, such as for room service. Users can just type “bring me a bathrobe” and the hotel will receive the request.


[Image source: Travel Weekly]

How does HotelTonight make money?

In our previous article, we described how online travel agencies such as Expedia make money. The business model for last-minute booking apps differs from the business model for online travel agencies. Let’s see what it looks like.

According to Reuters, HotelTonight raised $37 million in funding. The company has many investors including US Venture Partners, First Round Capital, Accel Partners, the Chelsea Football Club, and Starwood Capital Group.

HotelTonight partners with more than 25,000 hotels across 30 countries, and they’re planning to expand their network to new cities. Today, they collaborate with big hotel chains including FRHI Hotels and Resorts, InterContinental Hotels Group, Steigenberger Hotel Group, and La Quinta Inn Suites.

The major way that HotelTonight generates revenue is a transaction fee of 20 to 30 percent. The giants of online booking like Airbnb and Kayak can sometimes charge a 50 percent fee, so HotelTonight’s offer is actually more cost-efficient for many hoteliers.

Moreover, unlike Groupon—an online service that provides daily deals—HotelTonight offers a more flexible system for hotels. Groupon, along with many other deal services, asks to set a fixed price for a room for a month. But the price of a single room can vary from $150 to $550 depending on demand. For example, on Mondays the number of tourists is usually smaller than on Fridays or weekends, so the price may drop.

HotelTonight has found a more profitable approach. They allow hoteliers to set prices daily, helping them establish long-term relationships with their hotel partners.

So HotelTonight generates solid revenue by building strong relationships with hoteliers and providing them with win-win offers.

How can you make a last-minute booking app popular?

The success of the first last-minute booking app created hype on the market. There are now many clones and followers that have created great competition.

Based on our own research and HotelTonight’s example, we’ve gathered tips and advice to help you with hotel booking app development.

Tip 1. Make the reservation process quick

HotelTonight CEO Sam Shank, in an interview for Skift, shares valuable advice on creating a booking app. He says: “Apps and their associated brands that try to do too many things simultaneously won’t be able to get the mindshare on a mobile device where simplicity and precision rules the day.”

One of the biggest advantages of last-minute booking apps is the opportunity to reserve a room quickly. That’s why you need to make sure your app is fast and simple.

First, keep in mind that users don’t want to think about how the app works. Easy navigation and simple functionality make your app much more pleasant and effective. A nice “Book now” CTA button guides users to the booking screen.

In addition, personal accounts and credit card storage can ease the reservation process since people only have to enter their personal data once. Also, an app can be supplied with short onboarding tutorials explaining features and functionality so that users won’t have any problems.


[Image source: TechCrunch]

Tip 2. Collaborate closely with hoteliers

Users’ satisfaction with a booking app depends not only on the quality of features. A failed deal with a hotel is a bad experience. People often blame a booking service rather than a hotel in this kind of situation, so the app loses users.

To avoid such problems, you need to closely collaborate with hotels. Traditionally, hoteliers give data on rooms and inventory, including availability and price. For example, HotelTonight receives this info daily since the price isn’t fixed. But that’s only half of the work. Hoteliers also need to monitor both online and direct bookings to avoid mishaps. Many hotels organize and update inventory information manually after receiving an order. This process is time-consuming, so online booking platforms need to operate efficiently.

To make your booking app convenient for hoteliers and gain their trust, you need to provide an efficient notification system. Once a user confirms an order, the app needs to alert a hotel manager so that they can update the information. Also, it may be a good idea to implement personal accounts for hotel managers. This way hotels will be able to monitor the number of orders from the platform and see which deals bring the highest revenue.

Tip 3. Define your target audience

When creating any kind of application, you need to consider the needs and preferences of potential users. HotelTonight’s target audience is business people who need to reserve rooms fast because they don’t have time for puzzles. So HotelTonight created their app with a short and clear user flow that lets you book in a few clicks.

Before you create a last-minute booking app, you need to define who your target audience is and conduct deep user research to define a set of features and how they will be presented.

Tip 4. Provide a secure experience

Booking services require personal data and often handle money transactions. For users, it’s important to know that their data and money are safe. Partnering with well-known and reliable companies such as PayPal and Apple is a nice solution

As you can see, last-minute hotel booking apps are popular among travelers and hoteliers. Despite the competition, there’s always room for a fresh, innovative product.

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