Hotel room booking sites aren’t exactly in short demand these days, and yet it’s often still difficult to find a service that offers an accessible, clear and efficient user experience.

Stayful is the latest travel service to throw its hat in the ring, this time focusing on independent boutique hotels in New York and San Francisco specifically. It’s undoubtedly a niche, although the private beta being launched today is clearly designed to test and scale the platform with a smaller group of users.

The site is tailored towards last-minute deals, given that users can only select their desired dates from the next 30 days. Stayful has set out to help sell the plethora of unsold rooms in these indie hotels, while offering its consumers some rather attractive and heavily discounted prices.

Screen Shot 2013 07 17 at 18.31.13 730x406 Stayful lets travelers bid for last minute rooms at boutique hotels in New York and San Francisco

So for travellers that like to book their holiday well in advance, you’re better off looking elsewhere. But for those who don’t mind snapping a deal at the last-minute – perhaps for an odd weekend or bank holiday on the horizon – it’s an interesting proposition that offers some truly unique places to stay.

After filling in the necessary requirements on the home screen – the city of choice, number of nights and guests – Stayful serves up a list of applicable hotels. It’s an adequate way of quickly jumping in and seeing what’s available, although the various sliders along the top of the results page are recommended for narrowing an initial query. Price range, star-rating, specific neighbourhood and amenities – any and all of the usual variables are on offer here.

Users are then able to bid for a room at whatever price they please. Stayful recommends an amount that’s slightly below the going market rate, but there’s nothing to stop users from submitting just £5 or $10 if they’re feeling lucky. The bid is then seen by hotel management, which can choose to accept or reject the given price.

Screen Shot 2013 07 17 at 18.32.29 730x405 Stayful lets travelers bid for last minute rooms at boutique hotels in New York and San Francisco

The kicker is that users can only bid once per hotel every 24 hours. That means if a user bids far too low, there’s a reasonable chance that the hotel will decline and accept a higher bid. Given the short time frame and limited availability of the rooms, users are therefore incentivized to submit low, yet reasonable bids.

For those that don’t fancy bidding with the masses, there’s also a ‘book it now’ rate which enables users to instantly snap up a room for their required dates and number of guests.

“There are thousands of independent boutique hotels around the world and they’ve struggled to find new customers for their unsold inventory,” Stayful co-founder and CEO Cheryl Rosner said. “On the other side, travelers often don’t realize that they aren’t getting the best prices through existing sites. With Stayful, they’ll choose their own unique hotel experience and choose exactly the price they want to pay.”

Priceline is a clear comparison, given that it also gives travelers the chance to name their own price and bid for hotel rooms across the United States. It’s a small differentiator – and one that will inevitably limit the service’s growth – but Stayful’s focus on independent, boutique hotels will be the key to its success. It’s early days though and provided it can roll-out its service to new cities, the service could prove a hit with travelers looking to stay somewhere just a little bit different.

 Image Credit: FRANCK FIFE/AFP/Getty Images