We tried to book a last-minute vacation with Airbnb and Hotel Tonight — and one was much easier to use than the other

Hotel Tonight allows users to book discounted hotel rooms at the last minute, like at Arlo Soho.

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Hotel Tonight allows users to book discounted hotel rooms at the last minute, like at Arlo Soho.
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Facebook.com/ArloHotelSoho

  • Airbnb and Hotel Tonight both allow users to book last-minute homes or hotels at low or discounted prices.
  • The apps have been growing more and more similar, with Hotel Tonight starting to allow users to book farther in advance, and Airbnb rolling out a loyalty program and allowing boutique hotels to list rooms on the platform.
  • With the apps becoming more competitive, we decided to compare what it’s like to book a last-minute room on each platform. We found Hotel Tonight was easier to use.

Airbnb and Hotel Tonight have changed the way we book hotels.

Gone are the days that travelers have to book hotels months in advance to get the best deals. Airbnb and Hotel Tonight allow users to book luxury hotels and private homes just hours before check-in, sometimes at crazy-low prices.

There are some key differences between the two companies. Airbnb has been around for three years longer than Hotel Tonight, with Airbnb launching in 2008 and Hotel Tonight following in 2011. Last spring, Airbnb raised another $1 billion in a funding round that valued the company at $31 billion. Hotel Tonight, for comparison, raised $37 million in a round that valued it at $463 million.

The two apps have gradually become more competitive with each other. While Airbnb has always allowed users to book well in advance of their travels, Hotel Tonight has recently expanded its services to allow users to book hotels up to 100 days in advance.

Hotel Tonight also previously had a leg up on Airbnb by offering a loyalty program, called HT Perks, that allows frequent users to earn credit towards future bookings. But Airbnb recently unveiled a loyalty program that will rival Hotel Tonight’s, as well as a site-inspection program that ensures that homes have been verified as secure by Airbnb.

We compared what it was like to book a last-minute stay on each of the apps. Here’s which we preferred:


The first app we checked out was Airbnb. In order to view listings, you first had to sign up through Facebook or create an account.

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Airbnb

In order to book an Airbnb, you need to fill out at least the basic profile information, including your full name, birthday, and ID verification, meaning a driver’s license, passport, or other government-issued ID. It also asks for a phone number and email, and it suggests you provide information about your school and employment status. While this does make the service more secure for hosts and guests, it’s a lot to fill out at once.


Once you’re signed in, you can view the homepage. There are featured listings of homes, experiences, and restaurants from around the world, and a new tab promotes Airbnb Plus, which lists homes that are verified by the company.

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Airbnb

To compare the app to Hotel Tonight, I looked for a last-minute listing in New York. There was a surprising number of listings still open for that night, ranging from private rooms to entire two-bedroom apartments around New York City. Prices ranged from $50 for the night to over $200 — still definitely cheaper than any hotel you’d find in the city.

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Airbnb

Once you’ve selected the place you want to book, you can see the available amenities and other details about the home. The app will show you a general area that the rental unit is in, but you can’t see the exact location until after you commit to it.

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Airbnb

If you expand the price breakdown, you can see where the money is going – most places charge a cleaning fee on top of the rental price.


Before booking a room, you can see prices for other dates, the cancellation policy, contact information for the host, and house rules. House rules can include smoking policies, guest policies, whether or not pets are allowed, and other house-specific details. It was helpful to have all the information listed, but it takes a while to go through all of the pages for every listing.

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Airbnb

At the bottom of the page, you can see similar homes and check out local experiences in the area you’re staying. This would be a huge plus if you’re going somewhere new.

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Airbnb

The app also allows you to make reservations at popular restaurants.

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Airbnb

Airbnb offers information about becoming a host and earning money through the app, displaying the earning potential in the market you’re located in. Airbnb also has a refer-a-friend program that offers travel credit in exchange for getting more people to sign up.

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Airbnb

The app had a lot of last-minute listings available for cheap, as well as perks like restaurant reservations. However, it required a lot of personal information to sign up, and there were a lot of links to go through for each listing. It was definitely hard to keep track of all the details, and it was tedious to look through all of the listings.

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Airbnb

I tried to book a hotel on Hotel Tonight next. The app immediately advertised that it now accepts bookings up to 100 days in advance, rather than just seven like before. I found the app easier to navigate than Airbnb.

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Hotel Tonight

Hotel Tonight immediately picked up on my location and showed me nearby hotels that were still available. It described each hotel as “solid,” “luxe,” or “hip” and showed both the original price and the price you’d be paying.

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Hotel Tonight

Prices were significantly higher than Airbnb’s, but so was the quality of what you were getting — luxury hotels were in the $300 range, for the most part. Once you select a hotel, the app shows exactly where it is and how much it costs.

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Hotel Tonight

The amenities were more clearly listed than they were on Airbnb. Instead of just icons, everything was clearly written out.

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Hotel Tonight

Airbnb had reviews, but it was a lot easier to find them on Hotel Tonight. There were also photos from people who had stayed there before, so you weren’t depending on staged photos that may give a misleading representation of the hotel.

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Hotel Tonight

You didn’t need to register to book a room on Hotel Tonight, which made it more convenient to use. You were able to see exactly what you were paying for, and the details were all on one page — no need to click on four or five different links to see different stipulations like on Airbnb.

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Hotel Tonight

Hotel Tonight has a loyalty program. The more you use it, the more you can save. You can also earn money on the app by referring friends. Airbnb is launching a similar loyalty program that’s set to roll out globally by the end of this year.

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Hotel Tonight

Source: USA Today


Hotel Tonight’s FAQ was similar to Airbnb’s, with a long list of links that lead to other links. However, the app was a lot easier to navigate overall.

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Hotel Tonight

Winner: Hotel Tonight. Airbnb has some big perks, like being able to book restaurants and experiences in addition to homes, but for a last-minute listing that isn’t as necessary. I found the hotels were more expensive on Hotel Tonight, but for the night I was searching for, I would’ve gotten to stay in a luxury hotel on Hotel Tonight as opposed to a small apartment on Airbnb.

More details – like exact location – were given before booking a place, and the lists of amenities were more clear.

While Airbnb needs the extra steps to make sure everything is secure, I found most features to be more clear and simple on Hotel Tonight, and it definitely was more convenient for last-minute bookings.