ungasan clifftop resort
The Ungasan Clifftop Resort, Bali
Zekkei Collection
By Eli London / February 29, 2020 6:28 am

Booking travel accommodations is much like looking for a new apartment or house. It’s fun and exciting at first, but quickly becomes tiresome, time-consuming and possibly the reason you and you’re partner aren’t currently speaking. 

This is because hotel booking services like Expedia, Hotel.com and Booking.com have obfuscated the process of reserving a room by inundating users with too many choices. And on top of that, all three of those sites have rather paltry rewards programs, so you end up getting only a pittance compared to the benefits you actually deserve.

Enter Safara, a new subscription-only hotel booking service. Yes, subscription, as in you have to pay an annual fee. But hear us out: you spend money on razor, coffee and television subscription services, so why not do it for a travel platform, aka the sector that millennials and Gen Z are spending on at unprecedented rates?

That’s what Maya Poulton and Joey Kotkins thought when they conceived the idea in late 2017. Poulton’s knowledge as a veteran in the hospitality space (she was an early employee at Jetsetter and ran International and US marketing at boutique booking platform Mr & Mrs Smith) led her to the revelation that there had to be a better way for travelers to book stays.

Their Pitch


A quick primer: Those aforementioned platforms are what’s known as OTAs (Online Travel Agencies). They serve as giant marketplaces for people to discover and book hotels online. They originally recruited hotels touting themselves as a “marketing” opportunity: big signing up for the platform, a hotel would be visible to thousands of visitors who might not otherwise find them. But they’ve since become unwieldy behemoths that aren’t really good for anyone; OTAs are unwieldy tools that overwhelm users, and charge high fees to hotels (up to 30% at times) for bookings. 

tourists welcome new york
Tourists Welcome, Berkshires, New York (Nicole Franzen)

The beauty of Safara, Poulton says, is that they’ve made “a commitment to never take a booking fee, and instead return them to the booker in the form of reward dollars.” Every dollar Safara gets back in what would be a traditional OTA commission goes into your account as a dollar you can use for future bookings on the platform.

On a per-booking basis, you can expect to get back between $.10 and $.20 cents for every dollar you spend. The yearly membership is $195, so most people will earn that back after two bookings. Poulton claims the average member is now making back $1,000 a year in free travel. To boot, if you’re somehow one of the outliers who doesn’t cover your $195 fee in the first year, they’ll refund you the difference.

That, my friends, is called a no brainer.

Their Hotels


Safara’s curation is also on point, so you won’t be bombarded with every option available under the sun in your desired city. For example, when I searched for New York on the dates of 2/27-3/1, I got 92 results. A quick scan showed them all to be results I would feel confident putting my mother up in. The same search on Hotels.com yielded … 1,496 options. Safara has a very limited (but not too limited) collection of 3.5- to 5-star hotels on their site, all of which have been personally vetted (Poulton on the thousands of hours she spent on the curation: “It sucked, if I’m being honest with you”) and run the full spectrum, from tiny boutiques to old-school luxury standards like The Four Seasons and The St. Regis.

nobis hotel copenhagen
Nobis Hotel, Copenhagen

The network totals around 7,000 human-curated hotels, but if none of those tickle your fancy, there are more than 500,000 additional properties available for booking. Safara also doesn’t take commissions as a way to make money, so they’re not incentivized to prioritize the placement of the hotels that pay them the most.

Drawbacks


The downsides are few and far between. One is that there are very few true budget options. Also, if you’re an infrequent traveler or prefer to stay with friends or at an Airbnb, a subscription may not be worth your while. But even if you stay in hotels just a few times a year, membership will more than pay for itself, and also help you discover some great hotels with a lot less sifting.

The Final Word


In closing, if I know the InsideHook audience like I think I do, Safara is something a lot of you will have some solid use for, and others will save an absolute fortune on. So after talking with Poulton, I asked her if she could hook up InsideHook readers with a deal. She obliged. Anyone looking to join Safara will get 100 bonus points (worth $100), plus whatever points you earn from your booking, but you won’t have to commit to full membership until your second booking.  On top of that, they’re giving an additional $50 off the first year of membership with code INSIDEHOOK. Meaning that by the time you make your second booking and sign up, you’ll in all likelihood have already earned your money back. Happy — and prosperous — travels.