In the past, I've been pretty critical of mobile web hotel booking sites. Horrible usability, errors caused by invalid markup or excessively large pages and the inability to easily complete a booking have pretty much stymied every attempt I've made to book a room using the mobile web.
Finding and booking a room for the night using your phone should be a no brainer. Actually it's pretty easy if you just call the 800 number of one of the big chains or an aggregator like Hotels.com. But you don't usually get the best price or location that way. I like to be able to comparison shop. If you plan ahead or travel with a laptop and data card it's easy enough to query a few booking sites and quickly find the closest, most affordable rooms.
It really ought to be almost as easy to check availability on the mobile web as it is on a PC. Making a reservation is a little more problematic given that most hotels, in the US at least, require a credit card to hold the room and that entails entering too many details to be tolerable on a phone keypad.
Mobile booking sites do seem to be getting better. Marriott recently updated theirs. It's at marriott.com/wireless/default.mi. Mobile vistors to Marriott.com should be redirected to it as well. The update fixes most of the things I complained about when I last reviewed the site. Phone numbers are in click-to-call format and the site shows live room availability with prices and even allows you to book a room. Booking does still require a credit card and all the hassle that entails. But if you are a Marriott Rewards member and have a saved credit card on file with Marriott you can zip right through the booking process by just entering your Rewards number and online password - nice. One more thing I'd like to see that's missing though is a click to call number on the booking page so that non-members can complete their booking by phone. The 800 number is on the the site's home page but It would be nice to bee able to call right from the page with the details and price.
Marriott Mobile covers all of the company's brands; Marriott , JW Marriott , Renaissance, Courtyard, Residence Inn, Fairfield Inn, TownePlace Suites and SpringHill Suites. And it's international, you can check availability and book rooms in 58 countries. Other features of Marriott Mobile include online access to your Rewards account, basic driving directions and information of Airport Buses and Taxis, including approximate fares.
One problem with the site that Marriott, or actually their mobile solution vendor Usablenet, hasn't fixed yet is its incompatibility with many mainstream phones. True, the site works fine with many phones. But it's too big to load without error on devices with the braindead Openwave or Motorola MIB browsers. That wouldn't be so much of a problem if those two browsers didn't account for 31% of worldwide mobile web traffic according to the July 2008, AdMob Mobile Metrics Report. As both Openwave and Motorola are US based, I'm sure their market share in this country is even higher. Usablenet at least recognizes this problem. When you visit the Marriott mobile site with one of the unsupported browsers, the first thing you see is "
Your ... default browser could not be able to access all features of this site. Please consider installing the free Opera Mini browser to access this site."
That's good advice, I highly recommend Opera Mini myself. But when I'm trying to book a room I want it to just work. Plus Opera Mini doesn't run on Verizon feature phones, most of which use the Openwave browser and it requires hacker level skills to install on Opera Mini on Nextel phones which also use Openwave. How hard could it be to just make the mobile pages a little smaller so they work on all devices?
Mobile Link: marriott.com/wireless/default.mi
Ratings: Content: Usability: