Room 77 does what most other hotel booking websites have failed to do: It takes you inside the hotel room.
At least virtually. Log on to Room77.com and click on a specific room in a specific hotel, and you'll get a sneak peek at the view it offers.
Using Google Earth-enabled technology, the 4-month-old website maps the altitude, longitude and latitude for every room to generate simulated views. From Suite 1200 of the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, for instance, you can apparently gaze upon the Hollywood Hills.
The website also features general hotel information and displays floor maps similar to those you'd find on the back of your hotel room door. You select a room by price range and category (e.g., king suite, three dollar signs), then by preferences (how high up, view, distance from the elevator and whether it's a connecting room). The system ranks each room according to how strongly it matches your preferences.
Once you've selected a room, you can click on a box with tips on how to secure it. One major tip: Call the hotel, but ask to speak with a front desk agent, not the main reservations line.
Room 77 has property and room data in 24 markets, mostly U.S. cities but also some international destinations such as London. So far, the system has indexed more than 500,000 rooms in three- to five-star properties. To get the information, Room 77 staffers visit the hotels but are also working directly with chains such as Starwood and Kimpton to get hotel room data and verify accuracy. The website also asks travelers to e-mail pictures of the rooms they stay in.
"The first generation of hotel search focused on bringing hotels from offline to online," said founder Brad Gerstner. "Our aim is to take hotel search to the next level by including more information and transparency to help consumers find the right hotel and the best room."
It's a noble goal. I thought about the many times I've picked a hotel based on how lovely the rooms looked on the website, only to be disappointed when I could barely stretch out my arms or had to stare at an alley filled with dumpsters.
To test out the site, I looked up some rooms I'd already stayed in. First, I tried Room 1203 at the Hotel Palomar in Philadelphia. The description -- 300 square feet, 12 feet from the elevator, one king bed -- sounded about right. But the simulated view of nearby buildings was very fuzzy. The view from the room I once stayed in at the Donovan House in Washington was much clearer. It looked exactly as I remembered it -- and it was so nice that I remembered it well -- with the National City Christian Church standing tall over Thomas Circle, directly beneath my window.
Room 77 officials acknowledge that there are mapping limitations that have made some of the simulations fuzzy or, in some cases, simply unavailable. They promise that this will improve over time.
But even the simulated images of the views left me wanting more: I wanted to see pictures of the interiors. Thankfully, travelers are increasingly sending in photos of rooms they've stayed in. When an interior photo is available, there's a "Look Inside" icon you can click on.
There's also an iPhone app that works on an iPad and iPod touch. At check-in, you can enter the number of the room you've been offered and the app will ask you to take it or leave it.
Room 77 still has some kinks, but so far I say take it.