What You Should Know About Finding The Best Hotel Booking Sites

Which Hotel Booking Sites Really have the Best Deals?

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There are literally 100s of online hotel booking sites on the internet. With site upon site, how can you be sure you are getting the best deal without spending hours comparing the price for the same hotel and dates on endless sites? Read on as we share our findings on some of the top hotel booking websites. What are their strengths and weaknesses? If you read to the end, you will not only discover which sites are most likely to have the best deals, but also how to find the best deal in a matter of minutes.

Most Travel Booking Sites Share These Common Features

In spite of the myriad of booking sites on the internet, most of them share a number of common features. In fact, many of the major travel booking sites operate under multiple brand names. All of the sites provide a simple search box to search for hotels by date and location and they nearly all incorporate some kind of filtering system, usually down the left hand side, where you can refine your selection according to a range of criteria including the price range, star ratings, proximity to landmarks and attractions, and the types of amenities provided. These search filters are all very useful for helping you refine your search.

Most of the sites also offer a map view showing the location of the hotel and a number of sites let you search directly from a map, which is also a very useful option.

Nearly every hotel booking site also offers ‘best price guarantee’, but you really need to read the fine print to be sure of just what that means and how it will be handled. Ideally you want to get a great deal from the get-go without having to go back and pursue the guarantee.

But There Are Some Things to Watch Out For

One of the most common differences is what price the site displays, or how they define ‘Total Price’. In many cases the total price does not include local taxes and therefore is not really the total price. This is not always evident until you click right through to the final booking page. Be careful of this fact when you are comparing prices. Also be aware of the currency shown. Some sites make the currency clear and many offer a drop down selector that allows you to pick which currency you would like the prices displayed in, however some do not and you will have use an online converter to get the price in your prefered currency. Also keep in mind that if they bill you in a currency other than the currency that your credit card is in you may be charged a significantly higher rate of conversion by your credit card company.

Another very important thing to watch for are all of the potential additional charges that you may get added to the cost of your stay; parking, internet, breakfast, etc. These optional fees can add up quickly and should be taken into account when comparing the prices of competing hotels. Some booking sites list these additional costs clearly on the booking page, while others don’t mention them at all.

They All Claim to Offer The ‘Best Price’ But …

There is no one site that will always have the best price on a given hotel. Having said that, some sites are more consistently at the higher-end of the range, while a notable few frequently beat the others by a significant margin. However, the sites that are generally higher priced can sometimes have the best price for the hotel and nights you are looking for, so you shouldn’t rule them out. You will also find that many sites offer the exact same rate for a given property and dates – not surprising since many of them are associated with a common booking provider. Some sites tend to be more competitive within a specific region.

The reason that some sites can offer special deals at certain times is due to special partnerships they form with a hotel or hotel chain. They may commit to a certain number of rooms during a given time period, similar to buying in bulk, and then pass the savings on to you.

The Best Price Guarantees Are All Different

The price guarantee is something you should read. They differ on every site and have numerous restrictions. This is why it is important to get a great deal at the start. Some plans only protect you for 24 hours while others protect you up to the day of booking. Some plans only protect you in the event of a price drop on the same site, while others will match a competitor’s price. None of the plans will protect you from prices found on a ‘blind booking’ where the name of the hotel is not known until after you book. They will also not match lower prices that are available as a result of a loyalty or rewards program.

Of the sites we reviewed here, only Orbitz offers an automatic credit called Orbucks which is applied toward future travel. The credit is automatically be applied to your account (provided you register with them), but is only based on their own prices dropping, not a competitor’s price, so–yeah, you get the picture.

Most sites do not charge cancellation fees, but will pass on any that are levied by the hotel, so it is important to note the cancellation policy of any hotel you plan to book. Some special deals are only available on a locked in booking with no cancellation privileges. Make sure you are prepared to accept the additional risk if you plan to take advantage of one of those rates.

If you do find a lower price after you’ve made a booking, and you can still cancel for free, it may be simpler to cancel and rebook on the site with the lower price than to go through the process of trying to make a claim under the guarantee. This would also allow you to capture a lower price long after a 24 hour guarantee price expires.

So Why Not Book Directly With the Hotel?

Actually this is a great question. In many cases booking directly with the hotel may net you the best price, but not always. One of the main reasons people book with a travel booking site, is the convenience of being able to compare so many properties in one place rather than jumping from site to site. Using our proprietary TourbyTransit HotelFinder, which we will tell you more about later, you can quickly determine whether or not a hotel is offering the best price directly on their own website.

Below we rate and review a number of the top booking sites and tell you the good and the bad about each. Keep reading to discover which sites most often offer the best deals and how you can find them quickly.

Our Hotel Booking Site Reviews

The following reviews are based on visiting the sites from Canada. Price Guarantees can also vary by country, so be sure to read the fine print on every guarantee.


Expedia.com
StarStarStarStar

  • Selection: With over 150,000 Hotels worldwide, Expedia’s selection is vast and comprehensive.
  • Other Products: Flights | Packages | Tours | Car Rentals | Cruises
  • Filtering: Name | Stars | Price | District | Amenities
  • Sorting: Popularity | Price | Ratings | Stars
  • Reviews: Both Trip Advisor and Verified User Reviews
  • Pricing: Overall Expedia is competitive with most other providers and sometimes they do have the best price
  • Price Guarantee: Will refund the difference to match a lower price with in 24 hours of booking and provide and additional credit to your account towards a future booking. In some countries the guarantee period is longer.
  • Currency Selector: No, but displays the currency based on the country you are browsing from.
  • Our Take: Expedia and its various brands form the largest of all the online travel agencies. Expedia has beginnings going all the way back to 1996. From our research there is a lower probability of getting the best price up front from Expedia, but there are definitely times when you will. One thing we like about Expedia is that they spell out the extra charges you may expect on the final booking page – things like parking and Wi-Fi etc. Overall we prefer their Hotels.com brand which we review below.


Otel.com
StarStarStarStarStar

  • Selection: Otel.com’s selection is very comprehensive with over 150,000 properties worldwide.
  • Other Products: No
  • Filtering: Stars | Name | Landmarks |Price | Property Type | Amenities | Theme
  • Sorting: Promotion | Price | Ratings | Stars
  • Reviews: Trip Advisor Reviews
  • Pricing: Overall Otel.com does quite well in the pricing department. Our research indicates that you have a very good chance of getting a better than average rate through them.
  • Price Guarantee: Will refund the difference to match a lower price within 24 hours of booking provided check-in date is more than 7 days out.
  • Currency Selector: No, but displays the currency based on your location.
  • Our Take: You should definitely consider checking this site as they do offer some very competitive prices and we have frequently found them to offer the lowest rate on random checks.


FlightNetwork.com
StarStarStarStar

  • Selection: FlightNetwork.com includes over 170,000 hotels from around the world.
  • Other Products: Flights | Packages | Tours | Car Rentals | Cruises
  • Filtering: Name | Stars | Price | Amenities
  • Sorting: Value | Price | Name | Stars
  • Reviews: Trip Advisor Reviews
  • Pricing: Overall FlightNetwork.com competes head on with the big players and they frequently offer very competitive deals
  • Price Guarantee: FlightNetwork.com has a different approach to the price guarantee. They guarantee that if the price drops (and this includes airfares) after you book you have one opportunity to lock in the new lower price. The difference, however is only applied to a future booking. This is the only site from which we would recommend purchasing airfare as there rates match the airlines direct pricing and they offer some protection against price drops.
  • Currency Selector: No; they only do business in Canadian or US Dollars.
  • Our Take: FlightNetwork.com is a promising, up and coming Canadian company that provides a very fast search experience and frequently offers much lower than average hotel prices along with some protection against further price drops. This is the only site from which we would recommend purchasing airfare as their rates match the airlines direct pricing and they offer some protection against price drops. Don’t be put off by the phrase ‘Search For Cheap Hotels’ on their search box. Obviously you want a cheap price, not a cheap hotel; but they know that.


Booking.com
StarStar

  • Selection: Booking.com is one of the largest European based hotel bookers. They claim to represent over 284,000 properties in 1400 destinations, but in random checks, we have found some hotels not listed that were available on competing sites.
  • Other Products: No
  • Filtering: Price | Specials | Stars | Type | Amenities | District | Chain
  • Sorting: Recommended | Stars | District |Price | Name | Ratings
  • Reviews: In house Reviews
  • Pricing: Not so great. In our checks we found Booking.com’s prices where equal to or higher than the other major sites. We have rarely found their prices to be on the low side. With Booking.com your credit card is not charged until you check in at the hotel.
  • Price Guarantee: While Booking.com does not seem very competitive from our checks, they will at least match any competitors price for the same hotel, room type and dates, providing you can point it out to them via their contact form and it is still available when they check. Unfortunately this only applies after you have actually booked with them, so check the competition first.
  • Currency Selector: Yes
  • Our Take: Booking.com is solid player in the online hotel space, however they just don’t seem all that competitive. One thing we do like is the fact that they show the total prices including taxes on the initial listing page after you search.

Orbitz StarStarStar

  • Selection: Orbitz is definitely one of the big players in the online travel business, but we have found the selection to be slightly less than some of their competitors.
  • Other Products: Flights | Packages | Tours | Car Rentals | Cruises
  • Filtering: Name | District | Stars | Ratings | Chain | Amenities
  • Sorting: Value | Price | Distance | Stars | Ratings
  • Reviews: In house reviews with option to filter out unverified reviews.
  • Pricing: Orbitz is competitive with the major players such as Expedia, and does undersell them at times.  They sometimes offer coupon codes that can make their prices extra competitive.
  • Price Guarantee: Orbitz has an automatic price assurance policy which will automatically credit your account with them for 110% of the difference if they sell the exact same room as you booked for the exact same dates and number of guests to another customer at a lower rate prior to your stay. When you add up all of the ‘exacts’ the warranty probably is of little value. Consider also that it only gives you a credit which you must use within one year on a another hotel booking. Also consider that it does not protect you if you find a lower price on a competitors site. Of course there is alway the option to cancel and book elsewhere.
  • Currency Selector: No, but displays the currency based on the country you are browsing from.
  • Our Take: Orbitz is one of the stronger players in this field and you can definitely get some great deals when they have a discount code on their front page, so it pays to check. There price guarantee offers little comfort though, especially when you delve into the fine print which is buried several clicks away.

Olotels StarStarStarStar

  • Selection: Olotels.com claims access to over 162,000 hotels in over 170 countries. We’ve experienced no difficulty finding hotels including some independents through them.
  • Other Products: No
  • Filtering: Name | Price | Stars | Distance and in some locations – Amenities | Public Transport
  • Sorting: Distance | Name | Rating | Price
  • Reviews: None – The only site we came across with no reviews!
  • Pricing: Olotels.com is very competitive and frequently, but not always, provide a very good price.
  • Price Guarantee: Like all sites they claim to have a ‘Best price guarantee’, but we couldn’t find any details about it on their website, so who knows. At least they frequently offer good deals up front.
  • Currency Selector: Yes
  • Our Take: This European based site is a relative newcomer (2005), but does offer some very competitive deals. Their search is a little buggy, for instance when we searched for hotels in Vancouver Canada it came up with none, however when we searched for Vancouver Airport it came up with 50 hotels which is a decent selection. Overall we like this site simply because they are very competitive and it is not unusual for them to come up with the lowest price available.


Hotels.com
StarStarStarStarStar

  • Selection: Hotels.com is another major brand owned by Expedia and therefore has much in common with them including access to over 150,000 hotels worldwide.
  • Other Products: No
  • Filtering: Name | Price | Stars | Ratings | District | Landmarks | Type | Amenities | Themes | Accessibility
  • Sorting: Recommended | Price | Stars | Rating | Distance | Specials | Family Friendly
  • Reviews: Genuine Expedia or Hotels.com guest reviews
  • Pricing: Same Pricing as Expedia. Competitive with most sites, but only occasionally has the best rate.
  • Price Guarantee: Will refund you the difference if you find a lower price right up to the night before your stay. This is one of the more straight forward price guarantees and, in our opinion is a lot better the Expedia.ca even though they are the same company.
  • Currency Selector: Yes
  • Our Take: There are many things we like about Hotels.com. Their website is intuitive and user-friendly. They have the most comprehensive search filters available. The reviews are from verified hotel guests. The price guarantee is straight forward, covers competitive sites, is available right up to the day before your stay and gives you an actual refund. We also like that they openly list all additional hotel charges right on the hotel information page. This is a great site from which to begin your search.

Other Notable Sites

There are a couple of other noteworthy travel sites that we should mention – Priceline and Travelocity. In a nutshell, our research found Priceline and Travelocity’s selection somewhat lacking compared to the other major players and their prices tended to be on the high side. I may add a more detailed review about them at a later date.

Blind Bookings

There is a trend lately of offering blind bookings at discounted prices. The most popular of these programs is on Hotwire.com which is actually another Expedia brand. Priceline and some other sites also offer some inventory in this fashion. A blind booking means you are given a price and star rating and location window, but you are not told the name and exact location of the hotel until after you give them you credit card info and book it. This may be okay if price is your only concern, but I know that I prefer to know which hotel I will be staying at and its exact location. If you don’t like what you book, you are out of luck as there are no changes, cancellations or refunds. Some people report getting a great deal, but the discounts are often nowhere near the 50% off touted on the homepage and television commercials especially when compared to specials already available on other sites. It is another option though, so definitely something for you to consider.

Conclusion

If we had to pick just one booking site, the one we prefer the most is Hotels.com due to their excellent search options, verified guest reviews and straight forward price guarantee.

Better yet, use our TourbyTransit HotelFinder to search over 230,000 properties on hundreds of travel booking sites all at once. We offer the same great search filters, map views, pictures, verified reviews and more that you find on the individual sites. Our search results display the total price for your stay including taxes and in the currency of your choice. Our service is completely free. We simply show you in a glance which sites are offering the best price. Once you have made your choice and are ready to book just click on the ‘Book Now’ button and we will send you straight to the booking page on that site with your check-in and check-out dates already filled in. We also offer a 24 hour best price guarantee, however you can also take advantage of whatever price guarantee is being offered by the site you actually book with. Of course, when you find the best price before you book, it is unlikely you will need to fall back on any guarantee. Try it today – you will be amazed at our superb selection and how much time we can save you!

Thanks for reading.


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Updated: February 4, 2016 — 8:10 pm

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