Aria Bendix is a frequent contributor to The Atlantic, and a former editorial fellow at CityLab. Her work has appeared on Bustle and The Harvard Crimson.
A travel site called Winston Club wants you and a new friend to split the bill.
Would you share your hotel room with a stranger? What if it meant slashing your nightly bill in half?
That’s the conceit of the new travel site Winston Club. It helps hotels fill vacant rooms, and hooks customers up with half-price stays by splitting the cost with another visitor. Founder Bryon Shannon dreamed it up after renting out his Seattle home on Airbnb for a day longer than his out-of-town trip. He wasn’t keen on shelling out money for a pricey room, but also wasn’t sold on hostels or other available Airbnb listings. He imagined that other people had encountered the same situation.
For some, this bunking-with-a-stranger idea isn’t all that alarming. In fact, Shannon finds that many people welcome the service—and not just as a thinly veiled dating or hookup site. He says it resonates strongly with traveling professionals, students, or people who are self-employed. It’s also a comforting service for widow(er)s or retirees who may be vacationing solo.
The role of Winston Club, according to Shannon, is to act as a “travel agent.” After connecting hotels and customers, the company collects a small commission from the room charge, but the service itself is free. They also help to vet customers to prevent identity theft and ensure that the room sharing process is a safe one.
Members have to undergo thorough screening that requires five forms of identification (their social network profile, cell phone, credit card, email, and a photo I.D.). They’re also required to participate in video screening, which is conducted by a third party company. Shannon considers this “the most effective way of verifying someone’s true identity.”
Once they’ve gained access, members can share personal information such as age, gender, professional status, interests, and roommate preferences. They can also accept or reject roommates based on this information.
Starting in March, the service will launch in twelve partner hotels across five different cities: Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Portland, and Las Vegas. (All of them are four- or five-star accommodations.) According to the Winston Club website, “new cities will be added soon after, based on member preferences.”
If the idea still skeeves you out, Shannon has this to say: By “pairing all the background information that we do up front with the natural security that you have at a top hotel … this is actually the most secure method of sharing a space.”