Hotwire.com is a must for business travel

Hotwire One of the things that becomes second-nature when working for startups is an aversion to spending unnecessary cash. If you’ve ever been part of the company-wide conference call about whether or not you’re going to make payroll, you get a newfound respect for the value of saving every dollar that you just don’t have when you’re on an expense account with little oversight from the higher-ups. (Just in case you’re wondering, that phone call was a couple companies ago! Not fun, needless to say.)

And when you’re on the business side, you tend to be one of the ones in the company spending lots of that cash. Travel is ridiculously expensive — hotels in New York are routinely north of $300 per night these days. A four day trip to New York, when cabs, hotels, airfare and meals are factored in can easily run close to $2k. That’s nuts.

I first tried Hotwire.com when I was at Socialtext and needed to make a last-minute trip to Monterey to attend the Red Herring Spring conference. Hotels in Monterey were outrageous, yet Hotwire was able to find me a great spot, just a mile from the conference, for $80/night. A few months later, I had to spend a night by the San Francisco Airport. The various travel websites (Expedia, Orbitz, etc.) were all in the $150-200/night range; Hotwire got me a room at Homewood Suites (a Hilton property) for $49/night. I was hooked.

Hotwire is a travel site that buys unfilled beds from hotels, then resells them at a significant discount compared to what the properties will sell them for directly (they do the same with rental cars, airline tickets, etc. But I use them for hotels.). Last week’s trip to L.A.? Sheraton had a room for $260/night in Santa Monica. Hotwire got me the same room for $155. The catch with Hotwire — a catch that’s yet to be a problem for me — is that you don’t know which property you’re actually getting until you’ve paid for it. You do get details like quality of hotel (1-5 stars), amenities (Internet access, pool, restaurant, etc.) and neighborhood.

Here’s how I look at it: my last trip through New York I saved almost $200/night. In L.A., a one-day trip, I saved $150. Add that up across 5 or 6 trips per month, and I’m saving well over $10k per year.

Now I love frequent flier points, and the various rewards programs as much as the next guy. And when you book with a site like Hotwire.com, you’re not going to get Starwood points when you stay at the Sheraton, so there’s a little sacrifice involved. But if you can save the company $10k — and you get a bunch of employees doing the same — before long, you’ve got a free employee (probably in dev, at the rate we’re growing).

I’ve seen some reports about some hiccups with Hotwire.com bookings — not getting a non-smoking room, for instance — but knowing the art of being a demanding hotel guest is a skill that comes in handy in those cases. And there are cases where Hotwire.com isn’t perfect: if I need to stay at a particular property, it’s not worth the risk that Hotwire.com will put me in a property theoretically in the same neighborhood but a 15 minute walk from where I need to be.

Overall, however, I’ve yet to be let down when using the service. And tonight I got an email that shows they’re being smart with how their system gets used. I searched for a hotel for a trip next week to DC. I didn’t book a room — got distracted by a call, and didn’t finish the booking. This afternoon, look what showed up in my inbox:

Hotwire email

Smart.