- Sonder is an apartment-rental company that claims to combine the best parts of a hotel and a private home.
- It’s one of several new hybrid companies like Lyric and Blueground that combine elements of hotels and apartment rentals.
- Unlike Airbnb, which is mainly made up of individuals renting out their homes, Sonder leases and manages its own rentals, which are licensed as hotels.
- Sonder has 9,000 properties in cities including New York, Chicago, Washington DC, San Diego, Austin, Miami, New Orleans, London, and Dubai.
- I recently stayed in a Sonder apartment in New York City, and the way it combined aspects of an apartment with hotel-like cleanliness and amenities made it an enjoyable and comfortable stay.
- But I also found that in order to take full advantage of a Sonder, you probably need more than one night to stay there.
- Editorial Note: Business Insider paid a discounted media rate for one night’s stay in a Sonder apartment.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
In my travels – both personal and for work – I’ve stayed in countless Airbnbs and hotels.
I tend to prefer Airbnbs for their homeyness and often find that they have better value, but I’ve also encountered unwelcome surprises including unreachable hosts, strange odours, and in one case, an unbelievably loud cat whose meowing kept me up all night.
On the other hand, I often find staying in hotels to feel somewhat soulless and depressing, and I don’t like not having access to a kitchen.
Sonder has 9,000 rental properties in 26 cities including New York, Chicago, Washington DC, San Diego, Austin, Miami, New Orleans, London, and Dubai. In contrast to Airbnb, which is mainly made up of individual owners listing their homes and apartments, Sonder leases, designs, furnishes, and manages its apartments.
Most of Sonder’s units are hotel-licensed, meaning they must comply with hotel safety codes and pay hotel taxes, according to a spokesperson for the brand.
On a recent November evening, I spent the night at a Sonder apartment in New York City to see what it was all about. Here’s what it was like.
Sonder is an apartment-rental company that claims to combine the best parts of a hotel and a home.
Sonder has 9,000 properties in 26 cities including New York, Chicago, Washington DC, San Diego, Austin, Miami, New Orleans, London, and Dubai.
Most of Sonder’s units are hotel-licensed, meaning they must comply with hotel safety codes and pay hotel taxes, a spokesperson for the brand told me. But unlike a hotel, the apartments come with full kitchens and separate bedrooms and living areas.
I booked a Sonder apartment on Broad Street in Manhattan’s Financial District.
The building, which is right next to the New York Stock Exchange, was less than a 10-minute walk from my office.
After I booked, I received a confirmation email telling me that when I entered the building, the concierge would be inside. What wasn’t clear was whether that concierge would be a person or some sort of digital system.
20 Broad Street, where I booked my Sonder, is a 29-story luxury rental building.
The building has 533 units, according to StreetEasy, 179 of which are leased and operated by Sonder.
Sonder’s units at 20 Broad, which span floors two through 12, are all hotel-licensed, a spokesperson for the brand told me.
I arrived at about 6:15 on a November evening.
It was already dark outside, but 20 Broad Street’s lobby was brightly lit and decorated for the holidays.
I told the person at the reception desk that I was here to check in to a Sonder rental, and he directed me toward a concierge near the back of the lobby.
I passed by the main set of elevators, which is used by residents and their guests only — not by Sonder users.
The Sonder concierge — who turned out to be a person after all, not a machine — checked my name on a list. He also checked the IDs of both myself and my companion.
Apparently, the Sonder concierge can be both digital and human: Sonder has a local team in each city to service their properties and provide concierge services. But at some properties, guests check in with their smartphones and access the unit via a lockbox or an access code.
At 20 Broad Street, Sonder has its own dedicated set of elevators for guests.
The building has eight floors of contiguous Sonder units.
Sonder guests also have access to amenities including a lounge, a luggage storage room, an essentials closet stocked with things like extra toiletries and towels, a theatre room, and a co-working space.
Guests can also use the New York Sports Club gym next door at 30 Broad Street.
My Sonder apartment was on the fifth floor. I didn’t see or hear anybody else around when I stepped out of the elevators.
The fact that Sonder apartments have their own designated elevators (at least at 20 Broad Street) seemed to be a huge step up from Airbnb listings in apartment buildings, which can be a nightmare for permanent residents who have to deal with the noise and inconvenience of strangers constantly coming and going with their luggage.
The apartment was just diagonal from the elevators.
Access to my Sonder apartment was keyless. I entered the code that had been provided to me on the Sonder app.
My first impression upon stepping into the apartment was surprise at how big it was.
Looking down the long hallway, I could see a sliver of the living room. The bedrooms were to the right.
A handwritten note attached to the wall right by the door read: “Welcome home.”
It also offered suggestions for coffee shops and bars in the neighbourhood.
The phone number for the concierge, which Sonder says you can call or text 24/7, was also written down. Fortunately, I didn’t have any reason to use it during my stay.
The first bedroom came with a king-size bed.
The décor was chic but minimal, with only black-and-white bedding, a grey patterned rug, two gold-toned side tables, wall sconces, and a couple of graphic art prints.
I stayed in this bed, and it was one of the more comfortable beds I’ve ever slept in, with squashy pillows and a firm yet supportive mattress.
Notably, what the room did not have was a window. While some people might not like the lack of windows in the bedroom, the complete darkness helped me sleep more deeply than I usually do.
The other bedroom seemed to be slightly larger, but with a queen-size bed.
Neither of the bedrooms came with windows or closets.
There were two spacious closets in the hallway with built-in shelving, hangers, and luggage stands.
The bathroom was the part of the apartment that reminded me the most of a hotel.
It was all-white and spotlessly clean, with plenty of towels and provided toiletries.
In a drawer underneath the sink, there were extra towels and toilet paper, as well as a hairdryer.
The bathroom was stocked with Jonathan Adler toiletries.
The living area was spacious for New York City. The modern furnishings included a sofa and coffee table, an armchair, a TV, and a small dining nook.
The sofa pulled out into a bed, which meant this apartment could sleep up to six people.
Extra sheets, pillows, and a duvet were stowed in one of the closets.
Sonder apartments come with fully equipped kitchens.
There were cooking essentials like olive oil, salt, and pepper.
The kitchen seemed to have all the basics you’d need for cooking, from pots and pans, baking trays, a colander, and a cheese grater …
… to cooking utensils like a spatula, tongs, a ladle, and measuring cups.
There were also bowls and plates, coffee mugs, tumblers, and stemless wine glasses.
There was even a Bosch dishwasher, a coveted amenity in New York apartments.
A coffee station came stocked with coffee and creamer, as well as various types of teas.
As someone who requires coffee first thing in the morning, I really appreciated this part – and the coffee was much better than most hotel coffee I’ve tasted.
On the kitchen counter was a welcome packet with detailed instructions on how to use the TV, appliances, and sofa bed, as well as how to adjust the thermostat.
There were also two Mast Brothers chocolate bars, which were once made in Brooklyn but are now made in Westchester County, north of New York City.
I was pleasantly surprised that the kitchen was stocked with everything I could think of needing for cooking and cleaning up, including paper towels, dish soap, and a sponge.
Under the sink was a dish rack, extra paper towels and garbage bags, and dishwasher tablets.
And there was plenty of space in the fridge to store groceries.
As someone who can get sick of constantly eating out while travelling, the fully equipped kitchen was a huge plus for me.
One of the best parts of the apartment — especially if you’re staying a while — is the washer and dryer.
Laundry detergent tablets were also provided.
Once I’d checked out the apartment, I headed down to the fourth-floor lounge, which was hard to miss, thanks to the huge, illuminated Sonder sign.
A small sign on the desk read, “We had to step out,” insinuating that there’s usually a Sonder employee at the desk.
The lounge was clearly designed to look like someone’s cosy living room.
There was a long conference table as well as squashy leather armchairs set up in a circle.
A bathroom was attached to the lounge.
Also on the fourth floor was the essentials closet, which guests can visit to grab anything from extra laundry pods, toilet paper, and towels, to mini bottles of olive oil.
Sonders aren’t cleaned and re-stocked every day like hotel rooms, but this seemed like a straightforward and easy way to let guests grab whatever they need, whenever they need it. Everything in the essentials closet was free of charge.
On the sixth floor of my Sonder building was a game room, which featured a large leather wraparound couch and a sleek wooden ping pong table.
There were even a couple of arcade games tucked away in the corner.
On the eighth floor was the theatre room.
It looked like the two rows of leather seating could easily fit ten people.
The coworking space on the ninth floor had an assortment of work areas.
I could use myself using amenities like the coworking space if I were staying longer, but during my Sonder stay, I really just wanted to hang out in the apartment.
Overall, my night in the Sonder apartment was enjoyable and comfortable. I only wished I would have had more time to make use of the kitchen and the amenities.
I didn’t feel like I was sleeping in someone’s home, but I didn’t feel like I was sleeping in a characterless hotel, either.
The big thing I’d do differently next time is stay for longer than one night. Due to my short stay, I didn’t get to take full advantage of the best parts of Sonder such as the washer and dryer, the kitchen, and the shared amenities.
Sonder apartments seem ideal for groups and families who are staying for longer than just a night or two. Some of its units have two-night minimum stays, but a publicist told me they’re currently experimenting with different minimum stay approaches to find the best fit for guests.
The total cost – which would come to a little over $US400 without my media discount – was really not bad for a night in New York City, considering the apartment can sleep six people. Included in that $US400 charge is a $US100 cleaning fee, which is steep for a single-night’s stay, but feels more reasonable if you’ve stayed for multiple nights.
For comparison, the average Manhattan hotel charged about $US258 per night in the third quarter of 2019, according to PwC’s Manhattan Lodging Index – and that may only sleep two people and typically won’t include a kitchen.
Sonder claims to offer guests “the best parts of home and hotel” – and I actually think they’re onto something.
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