Want to Relax in a Nice Hotel for 15 Minutes? An App Can Make That Happen

Posted January 16, 2018 6:16 p.m. EST

Why pay for an overnight hotel stay when you need a room during the day for only a few hours or even just a few minutes? It’s an idea that is likely to appeal to many consumers, according to a handful of companies that sell hotel rooms for short blocks of time.

By-the-hour hotel rooms aren’t a novel concept. In fact, they have a reputation for being used for illicit reasons, said Sean Hennessy, a hotel consultant and an assistant professor of hospitality at the Jonathan M. Tisch Center for Hospitality and Tourism at New York University. But while these brief rentals are traditionally found at budget hotels, the enterprises today involve higher-end properties and are targeting middle-class to affluent customers for considerably different purposes.

“Now, more than ever before, the hotel industry is focused on trying to generate as much revenue as possible and taking advantage of empty rooms during the day is one way to do that,” Hennessy said.

The guests who might book these rooms, he said, include travelers with layovers, corporate travelers who need a quiet place to work and don’t have an office in town, and locals who are seeking some downtime during the day and find it more convenient to check into a hotel near where they are rather than go back home.

Hennessy said that it can often be too logistically challenging for hotels to try sell rooms for small pockets of time on their own, and instead, a growing number of properties are collaborating with companies that can help them.

One example is, with a presence in more than 60 cities in the United States, including New York City, Chicago and Denver, as well as in London and Paris. The brand works with more than 600 hotels in the three- to five-star categories, and rooms are available to book for a minimum of four hours between 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. Pricing varies by destination, but the chief executive officer, Yannis Moati, said that the national average is $90 for four hours., available for 4,000 hotels in 22 countries, also partners with three- to five-star properties, with a three-hour minimum on reservations.

And now, with the app Recharge, users can book rooms by the minute at luxury properties in New York City and San Francisco.

The Basics

Recharge started in San Francisco in 2016 and last April in New York City and can be used to book rooms by the minute in about 20 hotels in each destination, at any time of day or night. Many are five-star properties, such as the Surrey and the Pierre in New York City and the Taj Campton Palace in San Francisco, and some are in the four-star category. This year, the service will expand to Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami and Washington.

The company’s co-founder and chief executive officer, Manny Bamfo, said that he started Recharge because he believed that there was a demand for hotel stays in minute-long increments. These stays can be booked for immediate visits or up to a day in advance, but booking is only through the app.

Recharge’s customers — more than 30,000 as of November — are mostly locals and include mothers who want a clean place to nurse their babies or pump their breast milk, people seeking a quiet space to take a phone call and those seeking a midday reprieve. “We’ve even had fathers who need to change their child’s diaper and would rather do it in a hotel room than in a coffee shop bathroom,” Bamfo said. “You pay for the amount of time you need and nothing more.”

Hotels benefit, too, Bamfo said: According to the company’s research, a 250-room property can get almost 275-rooms’ worth of revenue in one day from these short stays.

The Prices

Every hotel listed on Recharge’s app has a service fee, ranging from $30 to $50. The more luxurious the hotel, the higher the fee. After the service fee, per minute prices for the stays range from 50 cents to $2. Pricing for the same property can fluctuate throughout the day, depending on supply and demand, and some hotels may have a minimum charge at certain times of the day. My Visits

Intrigued by the idea, I used Recharge to book stays at three hotels in New York City, where I live. My visits were all under a half-hour, and over the course of a weekend, I got the feel of what it was like to be a by-the-minute hotel guest.

My first trial was on a Saturday afternoon after I unexpectedly spent two hours at the Apple store on Fifth Avenue in midtown, getting my iPhone fixed. There was just an hour before my dinner reservation on the West Side, and going back to my East Side apartment only to leave again almost immediately for the meal seemed like a waste of time. Here was my opportunity to turn to Recharge. The app showed availability in a dozen hotels, including the Pierre, just a few blocks away. I reserved my room, showed up five minutes later and was warmly greeted at the front desk by an employee, who had a record of my booking and offered me a bottle of water.

Although my room overlooked a wall, it was well-appointed with silk fabrics, wood furniture and a white marble bath stocked with toiletries from the luxury brand Etro. I relaxed on the bed, weary from my long wait at Apple, and after channel-flipping for 15 minutes, I was somewhat revived and ready to enjoy my night out. Checking out, which involved clicking one button on the app, couldn’t have been easier, and once I did, I got an email receipt for my $69.95 stay.

The next day, between returning clothes at multiple stores, buying baby gifts and restocking my spices with a trip to Kalustyan’s in the Curry Hill neighborhood, I checked into two hotels when I needed a break. The first one was Fifty NYC, an Affinia hotel, in Midtown East. Recharge listed the property in the four-star category, and it was indeed less lavish than the Pierre, although the service was just as warm. My room’s simple décor didn’t bother me, but the lack of light did: On a bright, sunny day, my view of a wall made it feel like it was dark outside. I caught up on emails during my 14-minute, $45.03 stay, and although it was time well-spent, more natural light would have made that time more pleasant.

Would I fare better at the Michelangelo, on the West Side? No, as it turned out. The property, with gleaming marble floors and gilded elevators, was opulent, and my room was spacious, but it was the darkest of the three. I spent $61.05 for my 20 minutes there, which I used to call my mother-in-law in India, and truthfully, I couldn’t have stayed much more — the ambience was too gloomy.

Bamfo said that my rooms were not reflective of the typical Recharge experience. “Hotels put our customers in any available rooms, even if they’re not in the entry-level category,” he said. “It’s unusual that you would be in a string of dark rooms.”

The Bottom Line

Recharge is easy to use and has an appealing list of hotels. In a market in which companies sell stays at properties for small chunks of time, the brand’s by-the-minute feature helps it stand out. I can’t necessarily justify paying to use it on a regular basis, but I can see why some people would. When you need a place to put your feet up or are seeking privacy for another reason, checking into a fancy hotel room for as little as a few minutes may be just the thing.