How to Find a Cheap Hotel Room: Sites to Use and Sites to Avoid

By Nomadic Matt | Published May 5th, 2014

As much as I love hostels and other forms of cheap accommodation, there is something nice about the luxuriousness of hotels. They are clean and quiet, feature comfy beds, strong showers, and lots of soap I can take for later.

But luxury comes at a price. Hotels certainly aren’t cheap and I hate spending a lot of money for a room I am only going to be in for a few hours. It’s why I mostly avoid hotels – I don’t think they are a good use of money (and there are far better accommodation options out there). If I’m not in a hostel, you can usually find me at a cheap guesthouse or at an Airbnb.

But I’ve been traveling a lot for “work” lately (conferences, speaking gigs), and with the seemingly endless hotel booking sites out there, I decided this was a good time to do some testing and find out which sites offered the best deals.

I also picked five cities to research: London, Los Angeles, Paris, NYC, and Seattle. I picked stays close to the current date of research and then far in advance, on both weekdays and weekends.  (I did my research end of March, which is why the dates are different than what you’d expect from a post published in early May.)

I searched six booking websites: Expedia, Hotels.com, Booking.com, Hotwire, Priceline, and a new one called TravelPony in 2, 3, and 4 star categories. Below are the data tables with the lowest price shown (Priceline rates are based on their search listings, not the bidding section of the site). You can also just click here and jump down to my analysis if you don’t want to look at the tables.

Seattle, WA

3/28-3/30

Expedia Hotels TravelPony Booking Hotwire Priceline
2* $45 $45 $- $59 $46 $48
3* $74 $74 $- $119 $63 $74
4* $143 $143 $- $179 $143 $142

4/1-4/3

Expedia Hotels TravelPony Booking Hotwire Priceline
2* $43 $43 $- $59 $50 $42
3* $81 $81 $75 $87 $79 $81
4* $185 $179 $127 $149 $137 $159

4/25-4/27

Expedia Hotels TravelPony Booking Hotwire Priceline
2* $42 $42 $113 $59 $42 $42
3* $76 $76 $- $89 $63 $75
4* $143 $143 $- $149 $143 $142

4/29-5/1

Expedia Hotels TravelPony Booking Hotwire Priceline
2* $42 $42 $101 $59 $42 $42
3* $81 $81 $75 $87 $69 $81
4* $186 $186 $127 $149 $186 $179

 

New York

4/25-4/27

Expedia Hotels TravelPony Booking Hotwire Priceline
2* $184 $159 $215 $169 $159 $145
3* $251 $212 $119 $171 $180 $170
4* $242 $230 $85 $186 $186 $186

4/29-5/1

Expedia Hotels TravelPony Booking Hotwire Priceline
2* $195 $127 $127 $139 $170 $126
3* $234 $197 $135 $195 $197 $188
4* $245 $206 $167 $206 $251 $206

3/28-3/30

Expedia Hotels TravelPony Booking Hotwire Priceline
2* $149 $134 $215 $128 $159 $120
3* $201 $134 $119 $149 $161 $152
4* $214 $184 $239 $161 $176 $161

4/1-4/3

Expedia Hotels TravelPony Booking Hotwire Priceline
2* $127 $95 $127 $99 $107 $118
3* $135 $102 $135 $119 $160 $138
4* $149 $149 $167 $153 $152 $136

 

Los Angeles

4/25-4/27

Expedia Hotels TravelPony Booking Hotwire Priceline
2* $48 $48 $61 $53 $58 $45
3* $76 $76 $55 $79 $88 $95
4* $125 $125 $99 $108 $109 $134

4/29-5/1

Expedia Hotels TravelPony Booking Hotwire Priceline
2* $47 $45 $61 $47 $50 $43
3* $84 $79 $79 $65 $88 $109
4* $152 $152 $89 $98 $151 $161

3/28-3/30

Expedia Hotels TravelPony Booking Hotwire Priceline
2* $48 $50 $79 $54 $58 $45
3* $76 $76 $52 $80 $88 $107
4* $119 $119 $- $109 $109 $119

4/1-4/3

Expedia Hotels TravelPony Booking Hotwire Priceline
2* $48 $48 $63 $49 $50 $45
3* $84 $84 $55 $65 $88 $109
4* $153 $172 $112 $129 $150 $172

 

London

4/25-4/27

Expedia Hotels TravelPony Booking Hotwire Priceline
2* $51 $45 $- $112 $47 $67
3* $54 $58 $59 $147 $74 $74
4* $75 $110 $- $196 $82 $118

4/29-5/1

Expedia Hotels TravelPony Booking Hotwire Priceline
2* $50 $51 $- $107 $47 $63
3* $64 $93 $105 $142 $64 $70
4* $103 $110 $- $152 $107 $108

3/28-3/30

Expedia Hotels TravelPony Booking Hotwire Priceline
2* $47 $58 $- $103 $47 $57
3* $67 $62 $55 $145 $68 $70
4* $100 $81 $- $126 $81 $107

4/1-4/3

Expedia Hotels TravelPony Booking Hotwire Priceline
2* $50 $50 $- $85 $62 $54
3* $54 $68 $63 $88 $85 $58
4* $75 $117 $- $107 $102 $88

 

Paris

4/25-4/27

Expedia Hotels TravelPony Booking Hotwire Priceline
2* $44 $44 $- $140 $58 $36
3* $49 $51 $83 $173 $61 $56
4* $69 $69 $157 $206 $106 $86

4/29-5/1

Expedia Hotels TravelPony Booking Hotwire Priceline
2* $53 $52 $- $148 $69 $43
3* $60 $50 $75 $158 $87 $68
4* $75 $75 $- $204 $118 $92

3/28-3/30

Expedia Hotels TravelPony Booking Hotwire Priceline
2* $44 $45 $- $117 $58 $40
3* $57 $50 $89 $143 $74 $59
4* $88 $69 $129 $172 $116 $85

4/1-4/3

Expedia Hotels TravelPony Booking Hotwire Priceline
2* $44 $52 $- $144 $82 $50
3* $62 $66 $102 $142 $93 $86
4* $93 $141 $169 $178 $165 $119

So what can we learn from this data?  Is one site better than the rest?

I went into this experiment with the assumption that Hotels.com and Expedia would have the most expensive rates and Hotwire would be the cheapest (casual searches in the past had led me to believe this). TravelPony has shown a lot of promise but, they are new and have limited inventory (sometimes they returned zero listings), so I didn’t have great expectations for them.

But the data proved my theory wrong.

First, when TravelPony had availability, they usually won, especially in the 3 and 4 star categories. They blew the competition right out of the water. In many instances, they are substantially cheaper than their competitors.

Why? Well, for that, let’s step back for a moment and talk about why prices are what they are.  Hotels have a variety of rates – pre-paid, flexible, corporate, discounted, and more. And while rates go up and down based on demand, they don’t (luckily) swing as widely as airline prices. They are a bit more static.

Hotels sell rooms to these booking sites at a discount, which is why you often see rates cheaper on these sites than on the hotel’s website (more on this in a bit). The big booking companies then price in their costs, marketing, and whatever else to come up with a base for their displayed price.  TravelPony (according to the CEO, as I asked why his rates were so low in an interview) doesn’t do that. They simply rely on word of mouth. Plus, they require you register to see the hotel prices, thus falling into a “club” category that allows them to give cheaper rates. They are getting the same rates as the big booking sites but don’t need to increase their price as much.

As for the other websites, Expedia and Priceline were the cheapest in 17 instances while Hotwire was in only 10. Hotels.com was the cheapest in 13 instances.

The clear loser was Booking.com, which only offered the cheapest rate in 3 instances.

Note:If there was a tie, both booking sites were counted as having the lowest price.

But those overall numbers mask a lot of variance. In the same city, depending on hotel class, we could have a different winner each time.  TravelPony was the winner in the US and in higher class hotels while Priceline was great for 2 star hotels, Hotwire for 3 star, and Expedia dominated London and Paris.

Note 2: This past weekend I did another round of testing and even added in two new cities – San Francisco and Rome. The results were pretty much the same, though Booking.com tied with Priceline in 2 star hotels in San Francisco, regardless of date.

Before I go into what this means for the booking process, it is important to remember that when you book hotels via 3rd party websites, you don’t earn hotel points or status for your stay. In order to get that, you must book directly with the hotel.  And this is why these online booking sites can offer cheaper prices. In exchange for that, hotels make them give up their customer’s right to award and elite status eligibility (also, their massive purchasing power helps).

Three Final Websites

Before we go into the booking process, let’s bring up three final websites:

First, what about those meta search sites like Trivago or Hotelscombined?  Hotelscombined claims to search thousands of websites (including hostel booking sites) but my cursory searching showed that they didn’t return as many cheap places as they say they will. They showed a cheap three star room in downtown London in June for $134 per night but Expedia came back with $91. And they often didn’t show more than just a couple of websites. I’d skip them.

I would AVOID Trivago. My research showed that they consistently over-rated their hotel listings. A four star hotel on their site was listed as a two or three star hotel (or a three star was a one star) on the site they took you to for the actual booking process. This was consistent over numerous cities and dates. Here’s a screen shot to illustrate the point:

On Trivago:

When I went to Priceline:

They also rated a hostel in NYC as four stars (no hostel is ever four stars). I didn’t catch it the first couple of times, but when I did, I was shocked. Because Trivago sends you right to the booking page on another website, this change of class would be easily missed by consumers. You might end up in a two star hotel when you wanted a four star. I don’t think they are intentionally misleading people but the error occurred often enough where I wouldn’t trust Trivago and will say you absolutely shouldn’t use them.

Finally, let’s talk about Tingo.  Tingo is a website that refunds your money if the price of your hotel room falls after you book it. It’s a wonderful way to ensure you don’t have to worry about getting screwed. Before I booked anything, I would check your hotel’s price on this website to see if it is lower or equal to the prices you found on the other search sites. If it was, I would book here to take advantage of their price drop offer. You can’t go wrong with them.

How to Book a Hotel

Hotel pricing is a lot more set than airline pricing and prices tend to fluctuate less. I wouldn’t spend hours searching hotel websites or days tracking prices like people do with airline prices.

I would start with your preferred site (for US domestic hotels, I’d make that TravelPony), search two or three other websites, and then check the hotel’s website (don’t forget to call – hotels often match rates). I’d spend, at the max, thirty minutes on booking a hotel.  I found that the variation between sites isn’t enough to justify spending hours looking for a deal. At the end of the day, wasting hours of your life isn’t worth trying to save a dollar or two.  Moreover, many larger booking sites have their own loyalty reward programs and, if you consistently use one site, the rewards might be worth it to stay with just one site, even if it isn’t the cheapest option.

For me, booking a cheap hotel looks like this:

  1. Start off with Priceline, Expedia, TravelPony, or your favorite booking site. (If you are booking in Asia, use Agoda. They are hands down the best site for the region.)
  2. Double check a few more sites just to cover your bases.
  3. Skip the poor sites mentioned here.
  4. Cross check with Tingo.
  5. Book a place.
  6. Go on with your day.

Don’t spend hours searching for a hotel room. My research showed prices don’t fluctuate that much so it’s not worth the time to do so. Follow the steps above, get a great cheap room, and enjoy your trip.

P.S. – Remember, while hotels are nice, they aren’t cheap and there are far better and less expensive accommodation options out there!

comments 100 Comments

Thank you for all this helpful research! I usually do a quick search and book the one that’s the cheapest, if of course I’m not staying with friends or family. This will come in handy as I book a few more trips before heading to Spain for the year.

Ruth

Where in Spain are you heading to? Would love to get any recommendation on where you booked/stayed if it was any good :)

lee

than you for addressing places to stay that do not offer shared rooms…

if trip pony is as competitive as this research shows, I shall have to try if on my next long term adventure. thanks

NomadicMatt

Welcome!

shame travelpony isn’t in India yet. That research must have taken you forever! Thanks for doing all that. I don’t use hotels often but one day that may change and I’ll be able to look back at this.

Thanks for the info. Finding a hotel is always a pain so it’s good to know where to look!

SO helpful. I need to send this to a few of my friends. I’ve used Priceline in the past, especially their bidding feature and have been happy 90% of the time. However, I’m a big fan of airbnb lately. I haven’t heard of TravelPony so I’ll definitely be checking that out. Thanks for sharing, Matt!

Happy travels :)

Stew Wilner

So, where does that leave a service such as Kayak which shows multiple sites (including Expedia, booking, etc.)?

NomadicMatt

Similar to the other meta search sites listed.

It’s worth noting that all of these websites leave cookies which then boost prices on subsequent searches on that page and other travel website pages. In other words, if they know you’re looking to book in Seattle from May 5-7, those prices will increase as you keep checking. Your best bet is to browse in a private/incognito browser, or clear your cookies & restart every time.

Great stuff Matt thanks! Is that true about the cookies upping the price?

NomadicMatt

Booking sites track everything and they definitely use cookies to track behavior and change prices. How often it happens is a matter of conjecture. If you plan to look at places over a a few different browsing sessions, I would consider clearing your cookies.

Marty

Your ‘data driven’ analysis is ludicrous.

How is this data driven when you are not comparing identical products? Hotel pricing varies wildly based on availability, location, room type and any number of variables which have nothing to do with ‘star rating’.

Secondly, dynamic pricing? “Booking sites track everything and they definitely use cookies to track behavior and change prices.” Have you ever considered that pricing is often based on availability and may change based on demand, so returning a few days later will often mean that pricing has been adjusted? Upping the price based purely on a returning customer’s cookie just serves to annoy the customer and ensure that they are less likely to book through the site.

NomadicMatt

“Upping the price based purely on a returning customer’s cookie just serves to annoy the customer and ensure that they are less likely to book through the site.”

While you are right that many factors come into play, booking websites, hotels, airlines, etc. etc. all use cookies to track buying behavior and do up prices. Amazon also does this too.

NomadicMatt

Yes, if you’re going to search over multiple days, I would definitely clear your cookies.

Nik

I have been through all the above and now find the cheapest way for hotels is putting the dates into tripadvisor and they act as a search engine and bring up rates from 5/6 of your usual sites such as hotels.com etc. make sure you click “more” and see all the quotes as the cheapest rate doesnt always come up on the main price section.

Matt, the Trivago rating is a customer rating, as opposed to the actual star rating. Or that’s what I’ve always been led to believe. Personally love Trivago.

NomadicMatt

That’s not clear from their search results as they let you refine your search by star class so I’m skeptical it is a customer rating.

Bob Harkins

This is actually fairly useful. It’s been a while, Matt. More of this, less of the fluff pieces, please.

NomadicMatt

To your comment on another article: Articles about my life and what I’m doing are not fluff pieces. This is a PERSONAL blog and as such I write about personal things, such as changing how I travel. I write because I enjoy it. Read or don’t read but my thoughts aren’t fluff to me. I don’t tell you your thoughts are useless. You know why? Because no one’s personal thoughts are useless.

Stop coming and telling me mine are. Take up a hobby and stop acting like a five year old.

Bob Harkins

*****THIS COMMENT HAS BEEN MODERATED FOR TROLLING BUT KEPT BECAUSE TWO OTHER COMMENTS ARE NESTED BELOW IT*****

I’ve never met Matt and I doubt I ever will. I’m way beyond his target age range. But I love reading everything he writes, what’s going on with that segment of the traveling population. I don’t understand why anybody would continue to read something they didn’t relate to or why they would bother to take the time to complain. It’s not as if there are a bazillion other travel blogs out there. Go read some and lay off Matt.

Debra

amen sister! What does he want, his money back? It can be all about Matt if he wants because it’s his website. He’s generous enough to share information that many people find valuable. I assume that most people either like it or are classy and/or unclueless enough to realize that it’s not about them, and if they don’t like it, they’re welcome to look at another website (or do their own research). Thank goodness Matt doesn’t let the naysayers get him down, or one or two bozos could ruin it for the rest of us! I appreciate the reminders to think in terms of possibilities and to be open to new ideas as much as anything else.

Thanks for all you do.

Carolyn–Were you referring to age when you said you weren’t Matt’s target audience? If so, I respectfully disagree. I’m 63. I took my first solo hiking/hosteling trip at 55 and am still looking forward to whatever the next one will be. Plus information as in this column is useful for any traveller. Check out http://alisonanddon.wordpress.com whom Matt turned me on to, and hit the road!

Trent

Great article!

Another point that needs to be looked at with these sites is how the booking and processing happens.. As an example, expedia takes your money then pays the hotel, booking.com on the other hand only takes the booking, the hotel charged you direct. Where this comes into play is if you need to change a booking, with expedia you call there call centre which is off shore, with expedia you call the hotel direct. In 2012 we were stuck in NYC when hurrican sandy hit, our next destinations were LA and Vegas. Our LA booking was through booking.com, we contacted the hotel direct and made a date change, all up 2-3 minutes, Vegas booking was expedia, we contacted them direct and spent over an hour try to change the booking before hanging up in frustration, contacted the hotel direct and was told must make alteration through expedia. Again contacted expedia, after another hour on the phone managed to get a refund then rebooked through booking.com

Ultimately booking direct avoids issues, booking.com seems to be the closest (that I’ve used) to direct.

Leisa

I noticed you didn’t mention the Hotels.com price match. Maybe they don’t offer this in all areas. I often search through Trivago and then book with hotels.com, price-matching if necessary. I prefer them because I get free nights as part of the rewards.
But I have had issues with them (and their mother company Expedia) in taking a ridiculously long to issue refunds. In fact I am still waiting (3 months later) for Expedia to refund me for a flight cancelled by the airline. And I warn anyone that their customer service leaves a lot to be desired.

Great research, Matt – definitely going to bear it in mind.

Sorry to be a typo bore, thought you might want to change it, 2nd paragraph: “It’s way I mostly avoid hotels –”

NomadicMatt

Thanks for catching that! It’s fixed.

Very helpful Matt! I hadn’t even heard of TravelPony but I will definitely check it out. I am based in Sydney, Australia so not sure what the best site would be for hotels here, let me know if you have any insight

NomadicMatt

Wotif is pretty good (besides the ones listed).

Alain

First thing I look on a travelling website is not the price but the possibility to pay in full with paypal so I don’t have to give my credit card number to anyone and avoid the possibly of being scammed.

I haven’t found Agoda that cheap for travel in Asia (but I’ve only travelled in Japan recently). I’ve checked their rates and found the rates are the same on the hotel sites.

I’ve travelled extensively in Japan got the best rates by booking in Japanese on a local site (usually Rakuten). It’s not so much that the prices are cheaper if you compare the same rooms, but the Japanese only site has a lot of smaller hotels that probably don’t think it’s worth their while looking outside the local market. Not sure if that’s the same for other countries.

NomadicMatt

They are great in Southeast Asia. Sites like Rakuten are better in Japan for the reason you mentioned.

This is a really detailed and useful post! Unfortunately, I think the rates differ greatly here in Asia. Expedia and Booking.com tend to give better rates for 3- and 4- star hotels, while the 5-star hotels and resorts are usually best booked through sample sale sites (a la Jetsetter).

I have to agree that metasearch sites like Trivago are unreliable; I don’t trust them at all to find the lowest rates and don’t even spend time on them. However, there’s one major site you didn’t cover: what about TripAdvisor prices (from Expedia, Hotels.com, Agoda etc.)?

Thanks for the heads-up on Tingo!

DeidreV

Do you ever considercusing booking.com?

NomadicMatt

I mentioned it in the article.

N

Hi, have you ever tried AllTheRooms.com?
If not, definitely check it out!

NomadicMatt

I’ll check into them.

I agree with your point about calling the hotel direct, especially if it’s a late booking. Often a one to one negotiation makes the deal ! Paul

NomadicMatt

It’s amazing more people don’t do it!

Nice rundown Matt! I agree that Agoda wins hands-down across Asia. I use them almost exclusively in that part of the world and the point on cookies…..you have to beat them at their own game. Sometimes I get better rates on Agoda using their APP on my phone than using their website on my laptop.

Dang… I have GOT to check out that 4-star hostel in NYC ;)

Have you ever tried Hipmunk? I have heard a couple people mention it before, but haven’t really had the chance to use it a lot yet.

NomadicMatt

They are mostly for flights! Decent website though!

Kathy

You might also want to try Venere.com especially for Europe

Nick

I agree with this recommendation. I have used Venere.com for most of my trips to Europe and always get great deals. Got a 2 bedroom apartment in Prague, that also had a kitchenette(stocked with pots/pans/dishes) and a balcony with a view of the city, for 20€ a night. Also got a great hotel in Barcelona that was usually 240€ per night for 80€ per night.

Venere also typically has pretty good cancellation policies and I’ve never had an issue with a reservation upon checking in. If traveling to/within Europe, I would recommend at least giving Venere a look.

NomadicMatt

Venere is pretty good in Europe but for Europe specific hotels, try Eurocheapo.com. They show really good deals.

Olga

After checking these sites, I also go direct to the hotel and check out if they have any “specials”. Got a great deal with the Starwood group in London last year from their own website. Also in the UK, the Travel lodge group do good deals if you book ahead for the summer. Not 4star but comfortable and clean.

Jenny P

Great research, Matt. One thing you didn’t mention was the Welcome Rewards program for Hotels.com. I use it most of the time on the sole fact that I get a free hotel stay after booking 10 nights with them (actually, the average price of the 10 hotels can be put towards a future stay). This means that, if you travel and stay in hotels fairly frequently, you’re actually “saving” 10% on each booking. With this in mind, Hotels.com seems to wins over the other standard ones (expedia, booking) most of the time.

NomadicMatt

All the sites listed here have their own loyalty programs and it’s important that you pick the one that is right for you. I mention that towards the end of the article. I know a lot of people who prefer Expedia’s program. It comes own to personal preference.

Gwen

Having spent about 6 months in various cheap hotels across Europe recently, my experience was that the fastest way to trace the best deal was to use Trivago.com, and then doublecheck their prices, as the best deals shown often do not exist.

Though Booking.com is often more expensive, at least it is reliable (prices and ratings), never any surprise, unlike with quite a few others like Expedia.com where upon showing up all of a sudden the hotel is not having Wifi, or is charging extra for this or that, or the room is hmmm very different from the photos…

In Germany, hrs.de is sometimes the better one, and isn’t listed in Trivago.com.
In Asia, I also usually found the best deals and choice with Agoda.

NomadicMatt

“as the best deals shown often do not exist.” <—- That seems to say that Trivago isn’t that reliable.

I know there are a lot of sites to check, but how come you left out tripadvisor? That is my absolute go-to because they give you a price comparison for a number of the hotel booking sites and the reviews give you the truth about the hotel. I always check the reviews on tripadvisor, regardless of the site I’m booking with, and have never been surprised by a hotel.

NomadicMatt

I stayed away from a lot of the meta-search sites because I wanted to compare the booking sites directly. Tripadvisor owns a lot of the companies it recommends. In fact, most of these websites are owned by one or two big companies.

In regards to reviews, be careful. Hotels pay for positive reviews there!

Claire Hawkins

Thanks for this, Matt. I am a travel research junkie and comparison shop all the time. Two thoughts: While I use TripAdvisor to get referrals and things, and I look at the prices they offer, I really find Kayak.com to be the best for hotels. They have an option to get the final price rather than just the room price, so they build into the amount the taxes, “resort fees” and all the other little nasties that destroy a budget. It lets me compare apples to apples.

Secondly, for those times that you want to splurge, Marriott.com has a lowest price guarantee on their website; find it lower within 24 hours anywhere else and they give you the lower price + 25% off, even if the difference is just $1. I have stayed in 4 star hotels for under $80 and 3 stars for $55 in this way; Marriott has a huge range of chains and I can almost always find a lower price for at least one of their hotels if I’m headed to an urban area. And make sure you are a Marriott member…it doesn’t take too long to earn free nights at their lower level hotels (but skip their cc–it’s a loser for the annual fee).

NomadicMatt

Kayak meta-searches everyone. They can be pretty good but they search most of the sites I listed above which is why I didn’t include them. I wanted to go right to the source. But they can be a good starting point!

Really good information, Matt. I have been all over the place when choosing hotel booking sites. Now I know where to zero-in.

Irene

Thanks Matt. I am planning a big trip for next year 6-8 months mostly Africa and Middle East. I thought about using AirBnb but now I will definitively using your recommandations. If you find a website more useful specifically in Africa and Middle East can you let me know, please. Don’t listen negative people. Your work is great and useful for a lot of travelers.

NomadicMatt

Airbnb is very good but they aren’t hotels so they fall into a different category of accommodation. They are usually cheaper than hotels but I don’t know how widespread their listings are in those regions of the world.

tom aerts

am new to your site and love it…been livingnd travelling a in Asia for the last 20 years after a 7 yr world trip,I agree that Agoda is probably the best all around here,however if u look into 2-3 stars hotels,its definitely cheaper to contact the hotels direct,esspecially in thailand,indonesia for 4-5 stars use agoda…keep up the good work

Hey Matt,
Usually I just read your posts on my phone, but thought I had something useful to add this time :).
First, Hotels.com.
1) They do offer deals for last minute hotels. I consistently find this when I am a week from a trip and looking for final accommodations. While you are right that you shouldn’t wait, when you are just looking last minute, I suggest this site.
2) Their reward program isn’t bad. Sites like Agoda have a very vague “points system” where you don’t know exactly what you will get. Hotels is simple, buy 10 night, 1 free (average price of the previous 10).
3) The bad stuff: They charge a ridiculous mark up on check out. They have “fees AND taxes” which add about 12% on top of the price you see on the search. While this is usually small and worth it for cheaper hotels, it would definitely become a problem when the difference between two sites is small. It is also not counted towards the rewards.
4) Customer service. If you have any question, you can call them 24 hours a day and they respond quickly.
5) As of last year, Hotels.com now includes HOSTELS. While I love hostels, I find this misleading because sometimes, you think you are getting a room, but it is really a shared bed. However, sometimes, hostels do rent the room at a set price, even if it has many beds. This was my experience in Japan, and had to call hotels.com to verify (the hotel only spoke Japanese).
6) It is often cheaper for 2 people. I often travel with my gf, and for two people, it is surprisingly cheaper to stay in a hotel than 2 beds in a hostel. While I do look at hostels first, I end up in hotels more than half of the time.

Other stuff:
I know from the past that you really like Agoda, but I find it one of the worst sites for booking. I am not trying to be a naysayer, and have often said “let’s give them another chance” but end up frustrated.
1) The #1 worst thing is that you can’t search by price. It is the only booking website that limits your ability to do this.
2) Searching by “stars” isn’t the same. While logic would suggest that the lower the star rating the cheaper (and Agoda really wants to sell this point), this is not often true. You miss out on deals because of this. For example, there could be a 3 star hotel at $40 on a discount, but if most 1 star hotels are in the $50 range, you might not scroll that far down. While you may think this is rare, it actually consistently happens if you search on hotels.com.
3) They deceive on pricing and discounts. Sometimes, you think you are getting a great deal with Agoda because “it used to be 200 but now, 80!” which is not true. Sometimes, I’ve had no choice because of availability and not knowing better “Asia” sites, but hotels have constantly told me that they have never had a room so high. It is a flat out lie to fool you into thinking you are saving money. This happened to me in Kenting, Taiwan and have since cross referenced from time to time to confirm the practice is widespread.

Another consideration:
For Asia, asiarooms.com is pretty good. They often have many rooms in Asia, are consistently cheaper than agoda, and as far as I know, do not deceive. While some people say they don’t care about the company as long as it’s cheaper, personally, I don’t like giving business to cheats.

Thanks for the suggestions on other sites, I will definitely check them out.

I wanted to add another point to what Trent mentioned. I work (for another 3 wks, then I’m off to travel:) for a hotel and I can tell you that if you book through anyone other than the hotel you are unable to get issues resolved by the hotel..no discount if something is wrong with your room, no refunds if there is a major issue…niente. We are not even allowed to give you a receipt due to the price being different than what you paid (which is sometimes more than what we charge). People like receipts, so that alone makes them mad. But the hotel has a contract and it is listed that they will receive a fine if they give out a receipt. Unless you belong to a rewards program that you love and you don’t sweat the small stuff that can happen at any stay, you are better off asking the hotel what they can do for you. That way the hotel can satisfy you as a guest if a issue does arise. I shouldn’t have to say this, but the main thing when talking to the front desk is to be nice, if you’re rude you will not get your way.

Interesting post, not in the least because of all the additions in the comments.
Some sites I never heard of before, like AllThe Rooms. Will check those out.

Zoe

Really Good Post. Interesting information.

I often use hotels.com. Sometimes I book a room right from the hotel lobby using my smartphone app.

Here’s my #1 tip. Always, and I mean ALWAYS read the reviews. I’ve seen hotels that have amazing pictures that turned out to be rancid. Likewise, you can’t always rely on a brand. I’ve seen motel 6′s that are amazing, and others that are a last resort to not sleeping in your vehicle. Likewise, a 3rd floor smoking room at the Red Roof in Tulsa isn’t nearly as nice as the 2nd floor remodeled non-smoking rooms. And a Red Roof I stayed at in Houston was my worst experience ever, while my friend stayed at a Red Roof Inn in the same city and said it was better than the Holday Inn Express’s that he had stayed at for much more. Sometimes, the “price” just isn’t worth it. Having a good night’s sleep is worth a few extra bucks for the next listing, so read the reviews.

Tip #2: Always look to see if they charge for parking, and likewise, Wi-Fi in the room. The difference in price between your top 2 hotels can often be made up with just these 2 surcharges.

NomadicMatt

It’s always important to read the reviews and amenities before you book. You definitely don’t want to be blindsided when you check-in!

Thanks for this Matt! I always check across Trip Advisor and Agoda.com in Asia for good rates + reliable recommendation places.

I figure its also worth mentioning how different the star ratings may be in Asia; whereas in other places it could be a way of assessing or managing expectations on service, in Asia it could be easily also dependent on what amenities are available – i.e. if you have a hair salon or a pool or an in house cafe, then *poof* you’re a five star hotel. Or if you only provide hotel rooms without amenities like towels or soap, *poof* you’re a 2 star hotel; without a majority consideration on the customer service aspect.

This guide is really detailed and helpful! Thank you for all those great suggestions. I actually have been using the “loser” site for most of my hotel bookings (booking.com), but now I probably won’t use them anymore. Thanks again! Great travel blog :)
Best,
Christina

Solid useful data driven information. Thanks for your hard work Matt!

Bob Harkins

AGAIN, Matt???

Have you never been criticized in your life? I simply don’t agree with most of what you post, and when I tell you that, you get all flustered and erase my comments?

Grow up.

NomadicMatt

Your criticism is simply to write the word “useless” on every post, not counter with any actual point or data. Write a thoughtful comment if you want it to stay. I don’t mind opposing views but writing “this blog is useless” is not something I’m going to keep around. It serves no point other than to take away from the positive environment we have here.

Bob Harkins

Perhaps we disagree on what is “thoughtful” and what isn’t.

This is your blog. You’re the one who’s supposed to be providing information. When you aren’t providing enough of it, readers like me are free to let you know.

NomadicMatt

I guess we do.

I wish you the best of luck in your endeavors but, while this blog is useful to a lot of people, it clearly isn’t for you. The Internet has a lot of travel websites that might be better suited for your needs. If you want, I can provide you a list for you.

Safe travels.

Hey Matt, thanks for this great post. It will definitely help me with my future hotel room bookings. I really enjoy your blog!

All the best on your unfolding journey,
Merina

Cool tips. I admit, I am a hotel girl. I have used TravelPony, but I will check it out for my next trip. Thanks.

Hi Matt, this is the most thorough comparison of hotel sites I’ve seen! Great work! :) I’m curious about your search results for HotelsCombined. I’ve found their price comparison to be fair in the past. Did you compare the prices on both websites (HotelsCombined & Expedia) after all the fees are added? Because HotelsCombined includes fees in their prices and Expedia doesn’t.

NomadicMatt

HotelsCombined is a good meta-search site but it didn’t show as many listings as they promised. Personally, I wasn’t blown away by them or the prices they uncovered. They mostly showed the booking sites I listed.

Hi and thanx for such a good research and the article. I have never heard of Tingo and I will try it out soon! I also wanted to ask what you think of apps like Hotel Tonight? I know it is only a last minute booking app, but think when you try to find cheap hotels it is a very good resource. I always book my flights an hotel seperate, so when I arrived at my destination I check the rates and wait till around 6pm and then I book a cheap room.

NomadicMatt

Hotel Tonight turns out some pretty good results. It’s definitely a winner in my book.

Thanks for the tips on avoiding Booking.com and Trivago … what they’re doing in the latter case is pretty shady if you ask me…

Bob

I love how you fail to mention that many of the merchant companies like Booking and Expedia offer customer service that is unparalleled compared to dealing with the hotels.

NomadicMatt

That’s incredibly subjective. You can people on both sides of the fence (a quick Internet search can bring up people both loving and hating a site), which is why it’s not included. It has nothing to do with pricing.

Hi Matt,
I’ve stayed in quite a lot of hotels from dead cockroach to decadent (usually the five star ones were when I was working!), and I’ve found that while on one occasion one site had the lowest price for a particular hotel, for another hotel on a different occasion it was less competitive. I’m not clear whether you were comparing the same hotel on all the sites, but I think that’s got to be a given, just going on the star or any other rating really isn’t enough.
Another point: if you’re just looking for the cheapest gig, that’s one thing, but most people have other factors which feed into their choice too, like location, character, etc. Personally, I zero in on a few possibles, then check the main sites for prices on those hotels. I was surprised that Booking.com didn’t come out better in your survey, but then I don’t know much about the US, only Europe and Asia. Venere is pretty good for Italy, especially (full and frank disclosure: we use both on our site!).
BTW, as this is my first comment on your blog, may I say that you’ve got pretty solid content on your site compared to most travel blogs I read (I like your straightforward videos, too). More strength to your arm!

NomadicMatt

People definitely take a lot of different things into consideration when they book a hotel. There’s no doubt about it. But that’s all subjective – this was just to see which site consistently returned the cheapest results.

Hey Matt, great information and I appreciate all of your hard work to bring this to us. I also enjoy everything you write as well as your downloadable ebooks, so keep doing what you’re doing.

I’ve used Priceline in London and Dublin with really good success, but have found booking.com to be better for me personally when I’m looking at B&Bs. Not all let your book on their site so many opt to use Booking.com, which works well.

Thanks again for the information!

Thanks for all the helpful research! This really helped me with some future travels.

Richard

I’ve had some rough experiences with online booking. For example, recently in Spain, I booked a hotel through hotels.com. A descent price, to be sure. However when I got to the hotel I discovered that they charged the same price. The difference? Had I paid the hotel directly I would have gotten free parking and a free breakfast. Through hotels.com I had to pay an extra $20 for parking and had I chosen to have breakfast there, and additional $20. Not a bargain at all.

Thanks for doing all this research Matt! A few other people mentioned this in the comments, but I too am a fan of tripadvisor as it allows you to check multiples booking sites. Don’t usually find a big difference in price among different websites so usually use hotels.com since it gives me more points in the Ultimate Rewards portal. Had not heard of TravelPony before so will definitely check it out next time I am looking for a hotel.

Oooh, great info, thanks. I’ve actually been having killer luck with HotelTonight in NYC. Decent rates ($150 range) for really great rooms in hotels I wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford. You have to be willing to risk last minute availability and price ranges, of course, but when you can it seems to pay off.

Having worked in hotels and with them for the past 10 years, I’m always interested in how consumers treat these third party sites.

Booking.com is owned by Priceline.
Hotels.com, Venere, and Hotwire are owned by Expedia.
TripAdvisor is owned by Expedia, which also operates Tingo along with 20+ other sites.

In terms of pricing, in this day and age, hotels are almost always linked directly to these 3rd party sites. They give their standard rate to the sites, and the sites discount them a certain percentage to the consumer. The hotels aren’t selling the rooms to these sites in advance – Expedia isn’t purchasing 400 room nights in a year from a hotel. They’re acting as a travel agent.

Expedia and most of the other sites take a huge commission from the hotels (20-30%) which is why they make it difficult to change/cancel reservations.
Booking.com charges 15% commission from the rates you see posted online. So even if a hotel offers a room at half price on Booking.com, they’re taking 15% of that leaving the hotel with next to nothing.

The best strategy is to look at a site like Hipmunk and contact the hotel directly to see if they’ll match the rate. You’ll get the loyalty points, maybe other perks like a voucher for the restaurant, and allow the hotel to give you a much better stay. If someone pays the Expedia rate, they are the last ones to get upgraded to a better room if one becomes available.

in Boston

What about the app “Hotels Tonight” etc?

Lucas

A lot of hotel chains offer a ‘best rate guarantee’ so if you find something on a booking site its worth checking the chain for their policy on that, you might pick up points or a get a free perk.

Also, Google has a great hotel search https://www.google.com/hotels/ engine that will pull rates from many places and they have a neat metric that tells you if the hotel is over- or under-priced. I don’t think you’ll find any deals like travelpony but I think they’re a pretty neutral source for pricing (similarly their flight search is my favorite source)

thank you for this tips… you have make me release how important this thing during travel. There are plenty of cheap hotel i can find.

Interesting and detailed article with great information and helpful tips. I found out about eurocheapo for hotels in Europre which I hadn’t heard before and I am going to try it out.

hi. thanks for the info. how can we find cheap monthly rental houses ?

I’ve actually found hotels combined to be really good for me in the past… although I havn’t spent as much time seeking out hotels as you did for this peice.

I think I’m going to have to take a better look at tingo, priceline and expedia (who I actually really love!) now.

Cheers for the heads up Matt! :)

The hotel booking engine allows you to book the hotels 24*7. You can book the hotels in an easier manner by the hotel booking engine.

Roger

Cancellation performance metric: what about refunds?

Experience with HOTELS.COM was HORRIBLE.

Cancellation paperwork and customer service in the philipines full or corporate obscuration. “Twenty-four hours” was really twenty-four business hours, meaning three days. Hotels.com takes full payment of your money for the reservation in an instant, and then drags its feet on cancellation. Cancellation was well within

This guide is really detailed and helpful! Thank you for all those great suggestions.If You Want To travel India And Book Hotel The best place is ambassadorajmer.com they provide Great Customer service.

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