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Tools

How to Book a Short-Term Stay at the Last Minute

In a bind? Don't panic. You can find a place to stay in 10 minutes or less.

Whether your meeting got bumped, your flight got canceled, or you’re looking for a getaway on short notice finding a place to stay at the last minute is never easy.

And while short-term rental sites such as Airbnb may offer impressive and luxurious accommodations for far less than a hotel would charge, the rigamarole associated with booking—guests typically need to scan listings, contact hosts, and wait for their stay to be approved—has created a perception that they are impractical for last-minute stays.

I’m here to tell you that this doesn’t have to be true. In fact, there are numerous ways to use short-term rental sites and apps to book spectacular same-day accommodations for less money than staying in a hotel. Here’s how:

Hacking Airbnb

While Airbnb is home to literally millions of listings, the site does a very good job of automatically filtering out results that are irrelevant to last-minute travelers. In fact, if you search for a same-day booking, the site shows only listings where the host has already agreed to allow for bookings under such short notice.

The next step for last-minute reservations: Find a listing you can book hotel-style, using Airbnb’s “Instant Book" feature. This nifty tool does exactly what its name promises, eliminating time-consuming back-and-forth with a potential host. To find listings in which it's enabled, click the button on the search results page labeled “Filters” and then select “Instant Book." Now you’ll see only listings that are available for booking on the same day—and with the minimum possible hassle.

Business travelers may also want to look out for listings that have the “Business Travel Ready” badge, which looks like a briefcase with a checkmark. This designation is given only to listings that meet criteria that Airbnb has determined make it a good fit for working travelers. Approved listings are a full house or apartment (as opposed to just a spare room), offer a desk-like work station with Wi-Fi, receive five-star reviews at least 60 percent of the time, and have 24-hour check-in to cater to late-arrivals.

A New App Specifically for Same-Day Bookings

A new company in the field is Overnight, an app made specifically for same-day bookings. It works like a mix of Hotel Tonight and Airbnb.

After searching for and selecting a listing, you’re given exactly one button to tap: “Request this for tonight." Next, you’re asked the number of nights you’re looking to stay (current maximum: five), and your prospective host is given just 10 minutes to accept or decline your stay.

The Overnight app.
The Overnight app.
Source: Overnight

Yes, 10 minutes. This is truly sudden-death short-term rental. And while an ill-timed descent into the subway could cause a host to miss a booking, the speed at which users discover their fates makes it relatively painless to try again with another host, rather than waiting with bated breath.

I gave the app a try just a few days after its New York launch. While my first couple of requests expired before the hosts could get back to me (again: 10 minutes), I eventually found a very nice place in Midtown for the night. I used the app’s built-in messaging feature to coordinate my arrival with my host, and I soon found myself in a large, loft-like apartment with sweeping views of the city and a fair bit of evidence that the place belonged to a fashion photographer.

Overnight is currently available only on iOS and doesn’t have nearly as many listings as Airbnb. And while it also lacks perks such as Airbnb's built-in host insurance (and it’s hard for me not to think that the 10-minute countdown may be a bit extreme), the overall experience was quite pleasant. The app’s nascent nature reminds me of the early days of Airbnb, when using the site meant you were likely to meet interesting folks from the tech world—even the company’s founders.

For guests, the app may hold real bargains. Rooms currently have a hard price ceiling of $250 per night; according to Chief Executive Officer Asher Hunt, the promise of filling last-minute vacancies causes some hosts to put on fire sale unfilled inventory that might go for $400 or more on such competitors as Airbnb or VRBO. Just don't be discouraged if the first few hosts you try don't get back to you in time.

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