Coming not too far behind “Where’s the best place you’ve ever been to?” on the list of tiresome questions I get asked every time someone finds out I’m a travel writer is a tricksy curveball. It goes a little like this: “Where’s the best place to get cheap hotels?”
What the questioner is looking for is a nice easy answer. They want to know one website they can go to in order to get the best deals every time.
The unfortunate truth is that there isn’t one best site. I tend to use a clutch of them, and none of them consistently offer the best prices. There’s not really any rhyme or reason in which site I’ll start looking with. Sometimes it’ll be Kayak – which I find to be the most user friendly but sends you off to other sites to make the final booking.
Often it’ll be Hotels.com (£), which is pretty user-friendly as well. I also like its buy ten nights get one free loyalty system. I’ll concede that Booking.com and Agoda (£) often have the best deals, although I find them clunky and get annoyed that they often don’t include taxes in the initial price.
I have it in my head that some sites are better for different purposes. Late Rooms, for example, is the first port of call for cheap hotels – especially B&Bs – in the . Wotif is very often the best bet in , despite its booking fees. But I’ll not use them outside of those countries as they tend to have a limited number of hotels to choose from elsewhere.
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BOOK YOUR OWN ADVENTUREThe following sites are usually my first port of call when booking a trip - so I recommend them as somewhere to start when booking your own holiday.
HOTELS: Hotels.com (£) or Agoda (£)
FLIGHTS: Skyscanner (£) Kayak or Roundtheworldflights.com
CAR HIRE: Car Rentals (£)
GUIDE BOOKS: Amazon (£)
TOURS AND ACTIVITIES: Viator (£)
I’ll instinctively use Agoda for Asia without really knowing why, and the mystery hotels on Last Minute are worth a look if I’m booking within a week of the stay.
Then, of course, there’s booking direct with the hotel. Sometimes this makes a saving, other times it’s considerably more expensive. Sometimes the hotel says its website is the cheapest place to find a deal when it often isn’t.
On Thursday morning, I tried a little experiment, checking the prices of seven random hotels around the world for a two night stay. I used the same date – 16th and 17th of October, 2012 – for each booking engine, and compared them to the price given for booking directly. The results are at the bottom of this post, and they illustrate the inconsistency.
For the seven hotels, Hotels.com, Ebookers (£) and Wotif all came out on top once, as did going direct. Booking.com and Agoda shared the honours on another occasion, whilst the prices for the other two hotels were so close that the differences were too miniscule to attribute to anything other than exchange rates at that particular second.
But the search showed up some indicators of why relying on just one site to book hotels can be a mistake. Wotif and Late Rooms didn’t sell three of the seven hotels – suggesting a lack of inventory that can mean missing out on good deals in many locations.
A couple of the sites were significantly more expensive with some hotels (Hotels.com had a shocker in Prague and, Ebookers flunked Boston and Wotif was a miserable failure in ). Going direct was a mixed bag too – sometimes it led to significant savings, other times I was far better off going through a booking site.
Perhaps more surpisingly, Booking.com and Agoda sometimes came up with different results, even though they’re part of the same company and essentially use the same engine.
If it’s not clear enough already, then the uncomfortable truth is that there isn’t a best site for booking hotels. Sure, there are plenty that usually come up with reliably decent deals – but none of them are best all the time.
So it comes down to a time thing. Are you really bothered enough about getting the best deal possible to spend time shopping around with multiple sites? If so, you’ve got a much better chance of finding the best price. But if the time is more precious than saving a few quid, pick a favourite site or two and stick with the best they can turn up.
Design Hotel Sax, Prague
Hotels.com – £313. Ebookers – £240.10. Booking.com – £232.46. Agoda – £232.42. Late Rooms – Not sold. Wotif – Not sold. Direct – £217.53.
Traders, Kuala Lumpur
Hotels.com – £247. Ebookers – £247.34. Booking.com – £246.80. Agoda – £254.30. Late Rooms – £246.95. Wotif – £249. Direct – £264.94.
Hotels.com – £316. Ebookers – £275.72. Booking.com – £288.09. Agoda – £288.65. Late Rooms – Not sold. Wotif – Not sold. Direct – £316.88.
Nine Zero, Boston
Hotels.com – £506. Ebookers – £549.60. Booking.com – £509.75. Agoda – £524.70. Late Rooms – Not sold. Wotif – Not sold. Direct – £508.42.
Hotels.com – £314. Ebookers – £314.54. Booking.com – £314.34. Agoda – £314.26. Late Rooms – £313.68. Wotif – £291. Direct – £314.85.
Pestana Chelsea Bridge, London
Hotels.com – £360. Ebookers – £360. Booking.com – £322.20. Agoda – £322.20. Late Rooms – £358. Wotif – £529.85 (cheaper category rooms not available on those dates). Direct – £334.
Kingston Suites, Bangkok
Hotels.com – £76. Ebookers – £75.53. Booking.com – £75.74. Agoda – £78. Late Rooms – £77.73. Wotif – £78. Direct – £77.64.