Japanese capsule hotels have been around for decades, but “pod hotels” are starting to pop up around the world. Guest correspondent Karen K. Ho checks out one in New York.
Can you really give up space and fancy amenities for huge savings at a hotel? Especially in a notoriously expensive American city like New York?
The popularity of the Pod Hotel is proving enough people are willing to give up things like space and staff for a much cheaper rate. But the savings may not be as dramatic as advertised.
Considered one of the western variants of Japan’s famous capsule hotels, the Pod Hotel claims to offer rooms starting at only $89 USD. That’s not quite as cheap as the typical Japanese capsule hotel, which may only run $40 to $60 a night. (Editor’s note: Some love hotels in Japan offer rates as cheap as $70 past 10pm–although you usually can’t book a room for more than one night at a time)
And while there’s definitely more space available than the original Japanese concept, guests staying at the Pod don’t always save that much money.
After the first Pod Hotel opened in New York in 2007 on 51st Street, the company opened another location at 39th Street with 366 rooms.
Prices have also shot up to more than $165 per night, with nicer, larger rooms easily hitting the $300 mark during peak travel dates.
The Pod Hotel definitely offers rooms much larger than the compartments found in classic Japanese establishments like the Capsule Inns, which are are about the same size of a refrigerator box. However, the Japanese chain only charges 2100-3500 yen, or about $21-35 USD per night.
By comparison, my last-minute booking at Pod 51 in the the middle of August had a rate of just under $200 per night, including taxes and various fees.
Online, the company advertised cheerful, colourful rooms with well-designed fabrics and super-efficient bathrooms.
Still, my four-night stay there felt more like a cross between a hostel and a tiny cabin on a small ship.
In my second floor room, there were two bunks, a small metal sink, a small closet and a desk. Two shared bathrooms were located out in the hall. Wi-fi was free and one afternoon I discovered a nicely-decorated rooftop patio with plenty of seating and great views of the city.
Part of me regretted not booking a place at the Pod Hotel’s newer location, where all of the rooms included a tiny ensuite bath. However, upon checking one out, I realized the shared bathrooms had more privacy and space, even though they sometimes smelled a little musty. But then again, lots of New York smells a little musty.
In a different economy, I would have booked a regular hotel like the Hilton. However, I wanted to keep costs low for my roommate, who was still a university student.
It was a mindset was reflected in the the diversity of the other guests I saw checking in. They ranged from backpackers, families and couples to other business travellers.
Other companies are noticing this wide range of interest and jumping in too. In 2011, the Yotel brand opened its 669-room location in New York offering ‘cabins’, four bars and a massive terrace. International boutique hotel company citizenM is also planning to in the popular Times Square area and the Bowery District.
As more people encounter small rooms on cruise ships, European hotels and new condominium developments, the idea of staying in a compact space will become less jarring to more members of the general public.
But for many travellers, nothing will beat the feeling of a stay in a traditional hotel, complete with a massive bed and bathroom. For them, it will always be worth the money. But if you want to save money, sometimes you don’t mind saving space.