What’s the biggest first world problem? I have many: settling for international business class because first is sold out, a four-hour layover in the airport lounge while I pour free Johnny Walker Blue into empty water bottles, etc. But there is one particular problem when booking hotels that hasn’t been solved …until now. How does one find, compare, and book a hotel suite?
I had a chat with the guys behind The Suitest last month about their incredibly clever — and incredibly geeky — site for booking your next hotel room. (Update: The Suitest has since been acquired and shut down, but you can still keep reading about what once was.)
I know most people don’t normally think of paying for a suite. If you have elite status you usually hope for an upgrade. But some suites are surprisingly affordable, and in other cases they are just plain necessary. Partying in Las Vegas with a crowd? It would be nice if at least one person has a suite where the group can get ready or play poker. Got the family in town for a wedding? Last year my parents were able to secure a suite for just $100 more per night so they could entertain family and friends.
Most people don’t object to paying a little more for a better room. The problem is knowing what to expect. Many hotels do not publish their suites — or at least not all of their suites — on their websites. They may not share details like square footage or amenities. I’ve been upgraded to junior suites before that were not much better than standard rooms. You wouldn’t want to pay extra for that. You want to know you’re getting a good deal, and that you’re going to like what you find when you check in.
That’s where The Suitest comes in. They scour multiple online travel agencies and hotel websites just like Kayak and other meta search engines, but in addition to prices they have photos and detailed amenities. Then they crunch all the data to make it easier to search for just the suite you want. They even rank suites to estimate if you’re getting a good deal and compare them to others nearby. When you’re ready to book, you click through to the hotel or OTA website — and booking on the hotel’s website generally means you’re eligible for earning elite status and hotel points even though you started your search on The Suitest.
Here’s an example of the process when searching for a hotel in Las Vegas on July 18-20. I narrowed my search to The Strip, but you can be more specific (North Strip) or less (all of Las Vegas). Other cities are available, too, but I think Las Vegas is a great test case because they’re known for all-suite hotels. Don’t forget that many of the big global hotel chains now have partnerships with Las Vegas casino hotels.
The first three results immediately show you that a range of deals exist. (Click to zoom in on any of these images.) Just because a hotel is more or less expensive, or bigger or smaller, doesn’t immediately mean that it will rank well. Here we see a three-bedroom suite at the Trump International with a “B” grade, a two-bedroom suite at the MGM Skylofts with a “F” grade, and a one-bedroom suite at the Four Seasons (inside Mandalay Bay) with an “A-” grade. These grades are highly dependent on a comparison between the current price, the usual price, and the “fair value.”
Trump’s suite gets a middling score because it’s a little cheaper than the usual price, but that usual price is consistent with its fair value. You’re getting a deal …just not a great one. MGM’s Skyloft suite is a great suite but a horrible value. The Suitest thinks you should be paying half as much after taking a look at the competition for other suites with comparable amenities. Finally, the Four Seasons ranks highly because it usually sells at less than the fair value, and your discount for those dates is even better. It’s no surprise that many frequent travelers I know say the Four Seasons is one of the best hotels in Las Vegas.
The Suitest has an affordable side, too. Scroll down the list and we come to a Fountain View room at The Bellagio for only $279, as well as many other “cheap” options. Hey, Las Vegas is still moving upscale.
There’s more to consider than just the Deal Grade, which we looked at first. You’ll also want to consider the Suite Score, which is ranked out of 10 and depends a great deal on the overall amenities and view. Note that all three of suites we looked at above had 10/10 Suite Scores with wildly different Deal Grades. This hotel still gets a good grade but has a lower Suite Score in part because it’s much smaller and has fewer amenities. (Hover over the Suite Score to get a breakdown). Even with a view of the Bellagio Fountain it still suffers from being small and having little more than basic amenities!
You can also hover over the Fair Value measure to see how your suite compares to other options. You can se how it ranks compared to other cities, other dates of travel, the quality of the neighborhood, and the price relative to the Suite score. It’s no surprise that hotels in Las Vegas tend to rank well against the Suite Score. Some hotels like The Venetian market themselves as being “all-suite hotels” and might have better suites, on average, than those in other cities. But there’s a clue here in Dates of Travel that you may be better off if you pick another time — probably midweek.
This leads to another cool feature: the Hotel Time Machine, which even got a write-up in Travel + Leisure. The Suitest uses its analytical powers to predict how rates will change over time and if the hotel is likely to sell out — similar in some ways to airfare prediction tools like you’ll find on Bing Travel. In this case The Suitest believes prices will go up slightly over time.
This leads into what is probably my favorite part of using The Suitest: supercharged search tools. Go back to the top navigation bar and you’ll find all kinds of ways to narrow your results. You can search by Deal Grade, Suite Score, and price. You can also search by specific properties. These are to be expected. But a few other gems stand out. Do you care about the difference between a 40-inch and a 55-inch television? Maybe you do if you’re in town to watch a big game with your buddies. Or do you hate cold stone floors in the morning? Search for carpet or wood. Seriously. Me? I don’t want to settle for anything less than 2.5 bathrooms.
Fortunately, you can click on the “Show histograms” option and select almost any search term to see if you’re being unreasonable. It turns out there are only five results with 2.5 bathrooms, but if I settle for 1.5, my opportunities will multiply. I guess Megan and I can share. 😉
And if you’re really concerned about saving money, remember how you were warned that the Fair Value may be affected by Dates of Travel? You can see how average rates and availability change over time. Just click on the little graph next to your dates at the top of the page. Not surprisingly for Las Vegas, there’s a consistent 50% drop midweek, so now you know the cheapest time to visit.
In summary, I think The Suitest offers one of the coolest ways to search for and book your next hotel. And it’s not just Las Vegas. Think of using it any time you’re taking a special trip and don’t want to settle for an average hotel room. I found some great deals searching on the same dates at the Four Seasons Wailea on Maui, at a variety of West Hollywood boutique hotels, and at a few Trump and St. Regis properties in New York. There are some who say loyalty programs aren’t what they used to be and that you should vote with your dollars, booking what you want and when you want it without playing the upgrade game. The Suitest is one more way to know you’re getting a good deal for the times that count.