A Seattle startup wants to help you save money on hotel room fares — but only if you’re willing to share a room with a stranger.
WinstonClub is a new take on the “sharing economy” with its booking service that matches people who want to cut their expenses in half by staying overnight in the same hotel room as another traveler.
Bryon Shannon is the company’s founder and moved to Seattle this past February to take a job as a marketing producer at Amazon. In a blog post, the entrepreneur described the lightbulb moment for WinstonClub after he was looking for a place to stay in Seattle while his home was occupied by an Airbnb guest.
“I set out looking for a low cost option — somewhere I could share a space, perhaps meet someone cool, and then be on my way for the weekend,” Shannon wrote. “I messaged the few clean, close AirBnB spots I could find, and had no success. I certainly didn’t want to dish out $150 or $200 on a hotel room. Frustrated, I wondered why there wasn’t a way for me to split the cost of a room with someone else at one of the nice hotels nearby. There were plenty of open rooms available, and surely a good portion of them had two beds.”
WinstonClub says it spends “a lot of energy screening our members,” a process that includes video chats, information about interests and hobbies, and five forms of verification.
The startup is banking on the fact that there are people comfortable enough sharing a hotel room with a stranger — perhaps those that don’t mind hostels or using services like Couchsurfing.com to find a place to stay overnight. It also has one advantage over something like Couchsurfing or Airbnb in that it’s utilizing accredited hotels versus someone’s house or apartment.
“We started Winston Club because we felt there should be an easy way for people to connect when they’d like a low-cost way to access the comfort and convenience of a hotel,” Shannon told RoadWarriorVoices.com. “We wanted a safe, reliable, economical solution that provided a better experience than hostels or CouchSurfing alternatives.”
It’s unclear if hotels have policies in place that prevent this sort of service. On its website, the company notes that it is already welcomed at “over 12 premier hotels on the west coast.”
“When members share their travel plans, Winston makes member-pairing recommendations and completes the booking for them,” the company says on its website.
GeekWire news partner KING5 noted that the service will launch this March in five cities: Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas.
Update: Shannon responded with these answers to our questions about the startup’s plans.
Do hotels allow for this type of service? Are there any hotel/motel policies in place that prevent something like WinstonClub?
“Yes, it’s not an entirely new concept. Corporations have been pairing unacquainted employees in shared rooms for a long time. Hotels are of course also very familiar with the business models in place by travel agencies who book on behalf of their clients. Airbnb represents 18% of bookable room supply in New York, with comparable figures nationwide. With Winston, hotels receive the benefit of increased demand from a pipeline of vetted guests ready to be introduced to their brand for the first time. Private hotels have the flexibility to prefer or discourage this and Winston books according to these preferences. I am excited to see forward-looking hotel brands take advantage of the unique services, comfort and convenience they offer and aim these benefits at the rapidly growing market of people interested in sharing rooms.”
What type of hotels will be available on the service? Do you have some Seattle-based examples?
“We specifically book at four and five star hotels. The majority of our members have indicated that they are not interested in budget hotels. We have not publicly announced our partner hotels and will be doing this as we get closer to launch this Spring.”
What exactly is the screening process?
“Members must share five forms of verification (photo ID, email, credit card, social network authentication, and phone number). When they check-in, they of course must also show ID a second time to a hotel professional. User reviews are a valuable source of information – 80% of AirBnB users participate in their review system. We look to also roll out reviews by the second half of 2016.”
If something happens during a customer’s stay, who is responsible? Do you offer any insurance policies?
“We do not offer insurance policies. While we understand that surprises happen, any member who is involved in a room damage scenario more than once may lose eligibility to book using Winston in the future. Damages caused by members are resolved on a case by case basis. As with any hotel stay, Winston urges members to take special care of valuable items by keeping them hidden, locked, or on their person. Because of Winston’s thorough membership screening and the nature of the check-in and check-out process, theft is not a normal concern for Winston members. Theft is also not tolerated and will result in immediate loss in eligibility to book using Winston in the future, and could lead to criminal charges. Winston does not reimburse members for lost items. Members should call the hotel as soon as they realize an item may have been left behind.”
How will the company make money?
“Winston receives sales commission off of the standard list price for its services, with the remainder going to the hoteliers and no costs to our members.”
Here’s the KING5 report on the startup.