An increasing number of travelers are using their smartphones and tablets to book hotel rooms a day or so in advance, or even when they're already in town.
There are myriad opinions on free hotel-booking apps when it comes to Apple's iPhone or iPad and Android. Here are five favorites:
Hotel Tonight (iPhone, iPad, Android)
If you're looking to stay somewhere tonight and maybe want to tack on a day or two, this app offers a sleek way to get a deal and book a room in a few taps.
Hotel Tonight claims to offer discounts of up to 70 percent off published rates, though you can sometimes find better deals elsewhere.
What's attractive about the app, in addition to its ease of use, is the curation. You aren't overwhelmed with hotel choices and verbiage, but are presented, starting at noon each day, with a handful of usually trendy hotels in about 43 cities in the USA, two in Canada and five in Britain. I love the concise descriptions of essential information on each property, and the Yelp ratings are helpful. A downside is that Hotel Tonight doesn't guarantee the room type that you'll get assigned.
Jetsetter (iPhone, iPad)
Jetsetter is known for its limited-time-only flash sales of hotel stays and vacations, with its pledge of saving users up to 50 percent off published rates. As with all such pitches, you need to comparison shop to ensure a deal is really a deal. The 360-degree room tours and the high-definition photography almost make the Jetsetter app worthy of a try.
The app can stir wanderlust, with features such as its Bucket List Trips to locales such as Machu Picchu and the Galapagos Islands.
In addition to staff-written reviews, I especially like the terse What We Love and What To Know listings about each hotel, such as the warning that the Mandarin Oriental, D.C., is "next to a highway and train track, but acoustic sleight of hand in the Asian garden muffles the noise."
Kayak (iPhone, iPad, Android, Windows Mobile 7 and Nokia)
Kayak's app, which offers hotels, flights, cars and flight-tracking, has been downloaded more than 17 million times. If you don't like the advertising that occasionally clutters the works, you can purchase Kayak Pro (99 cents). The free and paid versions of the app usually offer a half-dozen or more sites as booking options for each property, and display their varying room rates.
The app provides comparison shopping with a twist for a travel-search app: You can book many hotels through Kayak without having to navigate, and sometimes get lost at, an online travel agency or hotel website.
I like the app's feature of revealing the total price of the hotel on the first screen, albeit in a small size. Another attractive attribute: The app's Rates feature provides a side-by-side breakdown of the base rate, taxes and fees and total rates for each property on each booking site.
Oyster Hotel Reviews and Photos (iPad)
Oyster brings a ton of candor to its hotel app, which lets you book hotels in referral style on partner sites. That honesty differentiates it from other apps, which often are primarily interested in ringing up sales.
For example, the app's Photo Fakeouts compare touched-up marketing photos from online travel agencies and hotels with real, Oyster-taken images of the properties -- warts and crowded beaches, notwithstanding.
Oyster dispatches journalists to review each hotel. Their summaries are brief and on target. For example, you quickly learn that the Tortuga Bay hotel in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, has "no nightlife scene" and "only expensive, on-site cuisine available."
Some traveler reviews would be helpful, but you don't find them here.
Priceline Hotel & Car Negotiator (iPhone, iPad, Android)
Priceline's iPhone and iPad apps are noteworthy because they now give you three ways to book hotels: You can browse and book stays at published rates; tap to place a bid using Name Your Own Price for discounts of up to 60 percent; or access the Express Deals feature, in which you know the room rate (up to 45 percent off) up front, but only find out which hotel it is after you pay. Express Deals is not yet available in Priceline's Android app.
In the fun and gimmick department, you can filter your hotel search by stars, guest scores from verified patrons, and perks such as free Internet service and airport shuttle.
You also can spin a wheel to set your maximum price for the room.