Not all rooms are created equal

November 11, 2011

It is an unacknowledged truth that one can choose a seat on a plane or cabin on a cruise ship, yet for all the flashy online booking channels out there, not much can be known about a hotel room (beyond its category) until check-in.

Cue resigned disappointment as you approach your nest you for the following few nights, a room that sits disturbingly close to the bank of elevators, is on a low floor near a popular nightclub and has a connecting door with strange noises emanating from behind it.

You fling open the curtains half expecting herds of wildebeest sweeping majestically across the plains, or at least a pretty park; instead you’re faced with a disused warehouse splashed with graffiti.

The title of this post is the tagline of Room 77. “The vast majority of travellers who book at online travel sites feel like they get the worst or average rooms today,” says the site’s founder Brad Gerstner who conducted some research into the matter.

Room 77 began as a database back in February, on app and online platforms, of major-hub hotel rooms, but on November 10 unveiled its Phase Two. Prospective travellers get insider access to more than 750,000 rooms at 120,000 hotels worldwide (for a growing number of these, floor plans and simulated views from guestroom windows are available).

They can now close the circle and book a room after scanning the best rates from every major online travel agency.

Check out the room selection in list, map or grid view; the latter allows you to compare prices across categories not just of cheapest room, but incorporating factors like free Wi-Fi, free parking, free breakfast or free airport shuttle. It also enables you to notice that a higher category room with more space and a better view might be going for just a few pounds more per night, or that a 1,000 square-foot suite at a four-star property actually costs less than the entry-level room at the five-star just down the street.

A new “room concierge” service has also been added for those who book a three- to five-star hotel: Users can write their requests – like, “Rooms 3810 and 3811 look ideal but I’d be happy with anything facing west on high floors”.

Room 77 doesn’t guarantee satisfaction but in the testing phase found it could attain specific room requests 30 percent of the time. Users are notified of their match 48 hours before check-in.

How happy were hotels to get involved? Kevin Fliess, who runs the site day-to-day, told me that some understand that this is a great way to merchandise their property and provided floor plans; other plans came from “room sleuth” travellers who also helped Room 77 build up their database of in-room photos.

I know of no other tool which gives such a transparent, deep-dive glimpse into the room you’ll actually get. Room 77 is currently only running the new service on their website; mobile booking capabilities won’t be ready for a few more months.

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