Checking In: Tablet vs. Hotels.com

How could you not want to book a night or two here? (Answer: That is not possible.)

Back from another trip to New York! I don’t like to write about being gone from home, lest some wannabe burglar and blog reader decide to target the house. Although, I live with two roommates, and what do I have that someone would want to abscond with? A bunch of button-down shirts from J. Crew?

But anyway: This time I tried not only a new hotel but a new way of booking it. Usually I stick to Hotels.com; the prices on that site usually match the lowest available elsewhere, and the frequent-user program earns you a free night after 10 paid ones. But I’d noticed that my favorite room (with, as I wrote about it then, my favorite bathroom) at the Hotel on Rivington was not longer available through the website.

So for the past two visits, I reserved what I could online, then sent the hotel a separate email requesting an upgrade. On the first visit, one of the reservations agents told me the hotel listed only some of its rooms on Hotels.com, and the one I liked wasn’t among them, but because I was a frequent guest they’d do the upgrade for free. (Yes!) But when I booked my second visit, I never got a reply email confirming or denying availability of the upgrade, so I was left hanging in the wind until we arrived.

So I decided to try a newer site, Tablet Hotels, which specializes in boutique hotels. I think it’s fun to take the rate you’d know you’d pay at a generic hotel — we tended to stay at a Hilton because it’s close to our clients — and unearth a more unique, memorable place for the same price. And Tablet has a bevy of cool hotels … but.

But its Tablet Credits program pales by comparison to Hotels.com’s Welcome Rewards program. Tablet tabulates rewards based off the number of reservations made, not the number of nights stayed; a three-night stay counts as one reservation and earns 10 points. (Meanwhile, if an invited friend books his or her first reservation on the site, I earn 25 points off the referral. I’d earn more points if someone else books a room for one night than I do for booking a room for three nights.)

Tablet Credits can be redeemed during “Private Sales,” which apply to only certain hotels that are promoted during that time period. (Coincidentally, the hotel I just stayed at is one of the five hotels that will participate in Private Sale later this week — see list at right.) Welcome Rewards, by comparison, averages the amount paid over the previous 10 visits to determine the value that can be applied to your free night, at any hotel that participates in the Welcome Rewards program — that’s about 95% of the properties on Hotels.com.

I’m sure the folks at Tablet would say that its users care more about unique experiences, and in that regard Tablet delivers: The properties must be extraordinary, as rated by actual users, or they’re removed from inclusion on the site. And the site is itself an entertaining immersive experience, with seasonally updated playlists — I am a sucker for a playlist!* — and brief magazine-style features such as Top-10 lists.

But the math just might not make booking on Tablet worth it. I travel out of state at least six times a year for work, and maybe 4# a year for fun. Let’s make it easy and say I’m in a hotel 30 nights a year.

  • On Tablet, that’s 10 reservations, or 100 points. That might get me one free night, but depending on when I want to book the room, there might not be a Tablet Credits promotion in the city I want to stay in. (Then what do I do?) Also, credits expire after 12 months.
  • On Hotels.com, that earns three free nights, anywhere. And the credits never expire, as long as I’ve booked at least one room on their site in the past 12 months.

I could increase the number of Tablet Credits by staying at a different property each night, but the prospect of packing and unpacking every day isn’t attractive. So, while my stay was rewarding while I was my hotel, I couldn’t help but think that I was missing rewards down the road. It struck me a bit like retirement planning: Enjoying everything you can right now likely means you won’t end up with much banked for the future.

* This may inspire me to create a new iTuned In.

WHAT SAM WORE: 7-1-12
The shirt: Colts T-shirt by Retro Sport, from the now-defunct Junky Trunk Boutique in Mesa. Meant as a gift for Sharyn, who grew up in Baltimore, but I liked it so much I kept it for myself and found her something else.
The shorts: Knit workout shorts by C9, from Target.
The shoes: Custom All-Stars, which I created on converse.com.
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