Which Hotel Booking Site Is Best For Saving Money?

Table of Contents

Introduction

We have been constantly travelling for 6 months now and have really learned how beneficial booking comparison sites can be. Unfortunately, though, there are so many of them that it’s really hard to figure out which hotel booking site is best, especially when it comes to saving money.

We’ve travelled all over Africa, Europe and South America and never spent more than £40 a night on a hotel thanks to our savvy price comparison skills (if we do say so ourselves!). We normally pay between £15-25 even for really great hotels. We also often get free nights through loyalty programmes and hefty negotiated discounts from hotels directly by using hotel booking and comparison apps. It’s been a lot of work and research, but we feel it’s really paid off!

When used correctly, a booking site or app can be your key not only to choosing the best hotel, but also saving a lot of money. With so many booking platforms out there, it can sometimes be a little overwhelming! There are so many sites to choose from, it’s hard to know which one to trust, which one is offering the best deals and why that even matters. If you don’t know how to get the best out of these sites, sometimes you can end up booking the wrong thing for the sake of ease just because it’s there in front of you.

NOTE: we really wanted to talk through the benefits of booking via booking sites rather than booking direct, so the preamble on this post is quite long! If you’d rather skip to the pros and cons of each site so you can save money when booking hotels, skip straight to it here.

This article may contain affiliate links. There is no additional cost to you and they are often discounted, but we may receive a small commission if you use them to book.

A dog lying on the floor in a hotel, scratching his eyes.
We love finding hotel dogs!

Should we use hotel booking sites?

As responsible travellers, we do want to add that when we’re booking smaller guesthouses (which we book a lot of), booking direct is the only way to ensure that all of your money goes to the hotel. Whenever you use comparison sites, they will take a commission (usually around 15%, which is more than a travel agent would make usually), and this is money that doesn’t go to the hotel.

Therefore we will always contact hotels directly to check if we can book through them and it’s worth noting that we don’t ask for a discount when we do this if it’s a small hotel. In our opinion, if we ask for a discount then we’re basically no better than comparison sites themselves because we’re still taking profits away from the hotels themselves.

All of this being said, we regularly encountered small guesthouses that did not want us to book directly when travelling Africa – either because they wanted the financial security that comes with comparison sites for them, or else because they had no other means of taking payment in a non-closed currency. Additionally, comparison sites are a great tool when you are booking larger hotels. We sometimes book international chains or bigger hotels for our first night in a new country or place, and we happily use comparison sites for that.

A swimming pool overlooking a river in a hotel.
Some of the best hotels we’ve ever booked have been on comparison sites!

Why not just book direct?

When you’re travelling to remote destinations that don’t always have many places to stay, having a choice of trusted comparison sites is essential. My husband and I are travel agents, so we are very used to booking directly through hotels and negotiating the best prices. While we definitely recommend booking directly or using an agent if you have the luxury of time, it is not always possible if you, like us, are booking hotels on the go, and plans are constantly changing.

Hotels generally negotiate prices through reservations teams, who can take time to respond, and then there is the matter of paying them, which can’t always be done on arrival or online – sometimes you need to call, which is not easy when you’re on the move. If you need to book places to stay quickly and with ease, when you have the time, here is where booking sites come into play.

Additionally, hotel comparison sites often offer trusted customer reviews, and usually only from customers who have actually booked the hotel through their site and stayed there. Of course, you do have TripAdvisor for this, but TripAdvisor has no real means of filtering out bots or people who may not have actually stayed in the hotel.

Consequently there’s room for error – you might get people accidentally reviewing the wrong hotel, hotels with similar names getting muddled up, people who have gone to the restaurant and not stayed overnight etc. – you get the picture! The benefit of sites only allowing reviews from guests who have booked with them means you can get a trusted opinion on whether the hotel is meeting expectations, and you can be confident the person reviewing it at least interacted with the correct hotel.

A set of tents backed by a mountain with a beautiful sunset.
Did you know some comparison sites will even let you book tents!

Should you pick one hotel booking site and use that?

This is definitely the way that a lot of people use these sites – it’s easy to pick your favourite and just stick to it. The benefits of this are that you’re more likely to move up their loyalty scheme faster, you only have one point of reference when booking, and it’s familiar – you know how to use it. T

hat being said, we really don’t recommend doing that. Comparing prices and availability across multiple sites offers a lot of benefits, especially for digital nomads or those who travel often, that might not necessarily be immediately obvious. Additionally, here are some really important things we’ve learned through trial and error:

Some hotels only advertise on one site

While you may not know it, these sites (yes, even Airbnb – they are actually one of the worst culprits!) take a percentage of commission from the hotels you are booking and so it’s expensive, especially for smaller, cheaper hotels, to put themselves online.

They often know they need to have an online presence to attract clients but can’t afford to take all their bookings online, so they will just stick to one platform (side note: see our section on booking direct for how we advise minimising the financial loss to these hotels – it’s important to us to support small businesses). This platform might be the only place you can find them online. It’s easy to miss well-located or cheap hotels if you’re only using one platform to make your bookings.

Some hotels deliberately increase prices on certain sites

For the same reasons as above, if a hotel is using multiple online platforms, and one platform is charging a ridiculous amount of commission, some hotels will deliberately increase their prices via that site to offset the hit in commission they have to take when customers book via that route. Hotels may also do this in their busy periods, if they know they can easily sell out with direct clients, and not have to take any commission losses through online sites. You often find that prices will be much higher than booking direct (read on for trade tips on how to combat this).

A family of warthogs walking through a hotel reception
Some of the strangest guests we shared a hotel with – warthogs!

Booking sites have sales!

You may find at certain times of the years (for example, January sales), regardless of what the hotels are doing, certain comparison sites may have their own sales and take a percentage loss on their commission to get as many bookings in as possible. They may not have these sales at the same time, so by only checking one, you could be missing out.

Availability can be false

Yes, sometimes hotels only use one booking site, but this isn’t super common. Sometimes you may find that you’re seeing a hotel advertised on a certain comparison site when there is nothing else available in the area on any other sites. Chances are this is actually an error or false availability – it’s good to use a variety of sites to try and get the full picture.

N.B. if you see this happening and you have no choice but to book the hotel (nothing else available etc., we suggest booking it on a refundable rate and contacting the hotel to confirm availability. That way you can cancel and change your plans if you don’t get a response or they say they are full/not open etc.

Not all loyalty programmes are created equal

We’ll go into this below, but it might be that you can get more out of one loyalty programme than another, depending on your personal circumstances and where your trip is taking you

Different sites have different clients

Since all of these sites have their loyal fan bases, and each fan base differs, you may find that the reviews differ from site to site. For example, a place that receives an excellent rating on Hostelworld may rate terribly on Expedia and vice versa, so it really depends what you want when you’re booking. It’s best to check a variety of reviews to be sure though, of course, that won’t normally affect where you make your booking.

A small swimming pool overlooking the sea
As you can see, we love a good pool with a view – this was actually a guesthouse!

Cancellation fees vary

These can really vary from platform to platform and that matters when you need flexibility. Some sites almost never charge payment up front and therefore can have more flexible cancellation terms and conditions, or some sites may have deals set up with the hotels to allow for less rigidity – it’s best to check a few places to get a clear idea.

But there’s so many sites, how can I make it easier for myself?

That’s very true – having bookings all over the place, especially if you’re travelling a lot, is a total nightmare and a real minefield to navigate. Here’s how we do it without losing our minds:

Choose a few, don’t overdo it

We use 4 apps: Booking.com, Hotels.com (which is a branch of Expedia), Airbnb and Hostelworld. We also go through the hotels directly on occasion as we’ve said. That’s it. We get a great overview of what’s going on with the hotels from these apps and can keep track of exactly what’s going on.

Download the apps (and keep them up to date to avoid crashes!)

Besides anything, almost all of these platforms offer further discounts for returning customers using the apps, so there’s a clear benefit to you anyway to do this. It also makes managing your bookings a lot easier as you can see all of the information (price, cancellation etc.) really clearly.

Have a Booking Platforms folder on your phone home page

Once downloaded, sort the apps into a folder on your homepage where you can easily access them and flip between them. Make sure you’re always logged in if possible for ease of access. This is honestly a top tip for us, we couldn’t function without it!

Have a ‘Hotels’ folder in your emails

We keep a folder in our emails and store every confirmation email for hotels in there. Bonus tip – email it back to yourself with a clear title such as: ‘Cape Town – Never@Home – Booking.com‘ so there is no room for confusion.

Add the hotel booking to your calendar with the site name you booked through

A title as above should help, if you store this as a calendar appointment, then you can just click on your calendar and see which app you need to check.

Once booked, contact the hotel directly

If you take nothing else from this page, take this tip! It’s essential for so many reasons, firstly to reconfirm your booking and check all is OK. The reality is that sometimes technology fails and you need to reach out and make sure that your booking is confirmed by the hotel directly. For the purposes of avoiding confusion with booking sites, this is also important as it will basically negate the need for you to remember where you booked it.

Once you’ve made contact with the hotel – you know you’re set and should only need your booking confirmation again if you need to double check the details. This is especially important if you’re seeing an inflated price on a certain site – check with the hotel, what’s the reason? It could be because of special cancellation fees, or it could be their busy season and you may get a cheaper price to cancel and book with them directly. Always ask!

Emma and Murray, a white couple, are standing on a hotel terrace overlooking Tunis city
We tend to save our loyalty programmes up and splurge on a nice hotel!

Should you book through hotels directly?

So to be clear, we are firm believers that whatever hotel or hostel you book, you need to involve the hotel directly at some point, even if you don’t book directly through them. There are many times when it’s good to go through the hotel straight away, the first being obviously if they are not listed on any booking sites.

Don’t rule out booking hotels that are not listed online, as some do keep a percentage (or all) of their rooms back from the internet to sell to direct clients and not all of them have a booking-capable website. If you’ve been recommended a hotel or can see it well-located on Google and well-reviewed, give it a go – you can email or call and they may have availability to offer you. It may also be the case that a specific room type is sold out online – again, give them a try directly, as you maybe lucky,

Loyalty programmes

The final reason we can think of to book hotels directly is if you are part of a loyalty programme (e.g. Marriott, Accor etc.) and need to accrue your points with them. Of course if you travel a lot with a particular brand, the perks may outweigh anything else, and points aren’t always accrued through booking sites even if you enter your loyalty number (we know, it’s really annoying!). This is notably the case with Expedia, you don’t get your loyalty points if booking there.

Ultimately, if you want to negotiate a price on a hotel, you need to speak to someone, and that takes time. For us, while we’re backpacking and plans change on a daily basis, it’s more convenient for us to use booking apps, and contact the hotel afterwards.

Why do you need to speak to the hotel after booking?

As we’ve said above, whenever you make a booking online, unfortunately the sad reality is that things can go wrong – online scams exist, false availability is a risk and sometimes technology fails, electronic booking systems don’t connect, and bookings aren’t picked up by the end seller, the hotel.

As above, we definitely think these apps and sites are a great booking tool, but in order to minimise and negate your risk factor, you should always contact the hotel directly to reconfirm your booking and ensure they are ready to welcome you. They also may offer you some helpful services (such as a pick up service, directions not on google, or a choice of rooms), so it’s a smart move to speak to them first.

OK, so which hotel booking site is best?

Well, that really depends on you! If you’re a digital nomad or just travelling really often, then we suggest you make best use of a number of different sites for different reasons and different purposes. Here are the unique ways each site can help you and how we use that to our advantage (in no particular order).

A view from a hotel room down a street of colourful houses
Booking.com is usually our platform of choice!

Booking.com

Pros:

Booking.com is extremely reliable, it’s a known brand with a great reputation and it offers a good loyalty programme, with immediate savings, even for first-time users. Their Genius programme starts at a basic level of a standard 10% off worldwide just for signing in. Once you’ve made five bookings within the space of two years, this ups to 15%, as well as free breakfast and room upgrades on participating properties. After 15 stays in two years, you’re upped to the heights of level 3, which is a whopping 20% at participating properties, as well as the above perks and a priority helpdesk.

Over time, this discount certainly adds up, and they’re a good site to use repeatedly for long-term savings. They also sometimes offer incentives like reward credit, where you get back a percentage of every hotel you book in credit and can use this to book future stays at a discount. They also have some of the most flexible cancellation terms on the market, as they rarely charge up front, so you generally have a little more peace of mind.

Cons:

There aren’t many. Their commission charged to hotels is high (and gets increasingly higher the more visibility the hotels want to have), so they rarely have smaller guesthouses available – problematic if you’re going somewhere remote that only has these hotels in your budget. Because of their excellent cancellation fees, it is also quite tricky to use credit with them, as it’s actually very hard to find a property to pay for up front!

A view of the sea out of the door of a tent.
A glamping tent booked on Hotels.com for free using loyalty!

Hotels.com

N.B. Hotels,com are part of Expedia, so they have the same prices but, in our opinion, a better loyalty programme

Pros:

Hotels.com have a great loyalty scheme, whereby you get one stamp for every hotel night you book with them and after 10 nights, can use these stamps to buy a free night to the average value of the hotels nights you have purchased. For example, if you book 10 x nights at £50 each, you’ll get a £50 stay, if you book 5 nights at £25 and 5 at £50, your average value will be £37.50 – you get the picture.

This is a somewhat unique perk, in that it actually works out better to book more expensive stays, so this is an app that we tend to use if we have to book a more expensive hotel somewhere (for example for work, owing to availability etc.) and then we get to use the higher average for our reward night.

Being Expedia, they also have a good range of hotels, even some smaller ones you can’t find elsewhere, and they do also offer some great discounts and seasonal sales, plus a tiered reward scheme the more you book. The reward scheme has perks like spa vouchers, free WIFI and breakfast for Silver members (who have booked 10 times or more per year), and free early and late check in or room upgrades for Gold (30 bookings plus per year). All of these of course at participating properties.

Cons:

The app is rubbish. Like, genuinely terrible. We have found it only works on the very, very newest version and so constantly needs to be updated. The website is temperamental too and only works with an impeccable internet connection, so it’s not great if you’re out in the middle of nowhere. Additionally, though the reward nights are good, the cost of 1 night (basically 10%) doesn’t actually add up to as much discount as Booking.com’s 15-20% over time unless Hotels.com’s prices are less to start with.

A view over Lake Malawi with small islands dotted about it
Views from one of the best Airbnbs we’ve ever stayed in (Likoma, Malawi)

Airbnb

Pros:

For us, Airbnb is kind of like our failsafe if we’re travelling in remote places. Even if we can’t find anything at all on any other apps, Airbnb generally comes up trumps and normally it is not too expensive or there will be a range of budgets for us to choose from. We’ve even found some of the smaller hotels choose to use Airbnb, as they can advertise themselves as a holiday home and avoid such hefty commission fees that would come if they listed as a hotel (which we have heard are pretty astronomical from Airbnb!).

You can also buy vouchers on Airbnb, which are easy to spend, as everything is paid in advance, so these are great gifts to give or receive from family and friends if you’re constantly travelling. Additionally, Airbnb have an efficient and responsive support team that make it extremely easy to get your money back (even on non-refundable bookings) if your host is not responding or you have had a safety issue. This is frankly more than we can say for any other booking platforms.

Cons:

A few. Firstly, they have no discount or loyalty programme for repeat bookers. This is a major drawback, as the prices are often quite a lot higher than elsewhere. Their commission fees for hotels are high too, which means that properties are often forced to raise prices there to make a profit.

Secondly, there are a few scam artists on Airbnb so you have to make sure always that you receive a message of confirmation from the host directly before you arrive. If you are not getting through to them, cancel your booking and ask for a refund, don’t risk trying to turn up, as they will likely not be contactable if you get stuck.

Thirdly, listings on Airbnb can be misleading and a room in a 6 bedroom boutique hotel, for example, might accidentally read like it’s a six bedroom house to yourself – check the information carefully and confirm with the host to be sure. Airbnb, though a great platform that we have had great success with and some of our best hotel stays booked there, does not have the same vetting and verification systems other apps do, so you need to be safe and sensible, and make sure there are verified reviews before you commit.

Additionally their cancellation fees tend to be less flexible than other sites – it does give peace of mind that they are quick to turn refunds around in case of emergency.

Murray is lying on a very comfortable-looking bed looking very comfortable
One of the last hostels we’ve ever booked on Hostelworld!

Hostelworld

Pros:

We use Hostelworld, as the name suggests, specifically for hostels, which we do book where available (though usually private rooms). Recently, we’ve coming to absolutely love it, as it’s super easy to use, usually cheaper than other sites and they charge their commission up front, leaving you to pay everything else to the hotel directly on arrival, which is kind of cool! They aren’t as prevalent in remote areas as the others, but the ones that are on there are usually really good, highly rated and well located.

As with the other sites, Hostelworld offer their own discounts with the app, but no loyalty programme as such – they have a deals page, which can give you hefty discounts if you’re booking at the right time. Their app is good, and the best thing about them is the reviews by other like-minded travellers (usually also budget backpackers), which allow you an insight into the vibes and standard of the hostel. They are reputable and give a good peace of mind for backpackers, which shouldn’t be underrated.

Cons:

Because the deposit that Hostelworld charges you is actually their commission and none of it goes to the hostel directly, you sometimes do pay more with them (not always but sometimes). This brings a second challenge, in that if you happen to have an issue whereby the hostel can’t find your booking (which can of course happen with any booking app), you won’t be able to get that money back from the hostel, and you’ll only get it from Hostelworld if it is clearly their fault. We would still use them confidently for hostel bookings, but it is something to bear in mind.

Conclusion

All of the booking sites have their own perks and privileges, but they give the best advantages to frequent travellers who are booking regularly and last-minute. Those with a healthy budget booking travel in advance will get the best deals through the hotel directly, but apps and comparison sites are perfect for the budget traveller on the road. Try to use a variety of them to ensure you can profit from them all, and don’t be afraid to cancel if you see a better price elsewhere.

Happy hotel hunting!

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    Post written by Emma

    Emma

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