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We have updated all of our best tips for booking hotels for 2021! Whether you are booking nice hotels or searching for cheap hostels, you can use our booking tips to find the best accommodations for your trip.
As full-time travelers since 2014, booking accommodations is a constant. While we typically use Airbnb for longer stays, we often book hotels while in transit, for long layovers or when we need a place to fill a gap between two other stays. In fact, as much as we like using Airbnb, booking a hotel is sometimes just easier – and can be a nice little slice of luxury, too.
That said, the ease and comfort of hotels comes at a price (something we are very cognizant about as budget-conscious travelers!). In order to find the best rooms at the best price, we have a few tricks and tips on booking hotels.
Never Used Airbnb? Find the best tips and advice in our blog post, Top Tips For Airbnb Guests.
Tips For Booking Hotels: The Pros And Cons
In our many years of travel (that extend much farther back than 2014), we have amassed numerous booking hotel tips – and we are sharing our insight to help fellow travelers!
There are 3 basic ways to book hotels: Using an online booking engine, booking direct with the hotel online (or over even the phone!) or waiting to book your hotel when you arrive at your destination. We are highlighting the pros, cons and tips on hotel booking for each method.
The Pros and Cons of Using a Booking Engine for Hotels
Whenever we start a search for hotels, we always start on Booking.com – one of the largest booking engines for hotels in the world. By beginning our search on a hotel booking engine website, we can quickly get a general idea of cost and availability in the city or region…then we can drill down to find the perfect place to stay within our budget.
Booking com is just one of many online search engines for booking hotels – and we have used many of them (we feature a few of our other favorites in a minute!).
The best thing about an online booking engine for hotels is that travelers can get search results for multiple hotels in a glance. The list is easily pared down by selecting price, location and an array of amenities – all with just a few clicks. While each platform has its own design, they all offer the same general search tools, including map features and hotel reviews. In addition to making booking hotels easy, most search engines offer benefits – like lower prices – for loyal users.
That said, there are a few downsides to using a hotel booking engine, too. First, not all hotel properties come up in the results (because not all hotels work with booking engines – or choose to only work with select booking engines). Second, the prices can be higher than what you would pay if you booked directly with the hotel. Even so, booking sites are the best place to start researching hotel stays.
Best Booking Engine For Hotels
There are dozens of online hotel booking engines designed to help travelers find accommodations. We are highlighting the best in the business – and what we like (or dislike) about each one.
Far and away, Booking.com features the largest inventory of accommodations. Booking com offers a wide range of properties (from resorts to hostels to apartments) with an easy-to-use interface (including heaps of filters). Prices are clearly displayed (except taxes) and room options, cancellation policies and other information is listed up front. There is also a Booking com loyalty program that unlocks extra discounts on select hotels.
Very similar to Booking com, Hotels.com has a fairly intuitive platform – with tons of options to narrow down your search (although, with such fine tuning, you can severely limit your options!). Some of the results shown on the map function may be marked as ‘Fully Booked’, which is not helpful and annoying, so remember to filter these out. We do like the rewards program, however, where your 11th night is free (up to the average amount spent on the previous 10 nights).
Launched in Asia, Agoda is the go-to place for hotels in the Far East. However, their platform has expanded rapidly and now includes destinations worldwide. We have occasionally seen phenomenal deals on Agoda that we did not find elsewhere. And, although we always start our search for hotels with Booking, when searching for hotels in Asia, we often check Agoda as well
More Hotel Booking Engines
HotelsCombined compares prices from top travel sites (like Booking.com and Hotels.com), which allows users to easily determine where they can book the best rate on a specific property. This is extremely beneficial if you already know which property you want to stay at.
Trip Advisor is somewhat similar, in that the results displayed on the site are the best prices pulled from various sources – including the official hotel site or other search engines (like Booking com). This can be a good resource for seeing several properties – and what their rates are on different sites.
Priceline was once known for the Name Your Price feature, but they did away with bidding a few years ago. Instead, they offer two fantastic ways to save money…as long as you don’t care exactly which hotel you stay in. With their Express Deals, you pay for a non-cancelable room and then they reveal the name of the hotel after you book it. The Pricebreakers deal is, perhaps, a little less risky in that they list 3 hotels in the same tier with a low price; after you book it, they reveal which of the 3 you will stay in.
The Pros and Cons of Direct Booking Hotels
Rather than using an online booking system for hotels, travelers can opt to book directly with hotels instead.
The biggest benefit to booking a hotel direct is the opportunity to get a better rate or free upgrade (like a better room or free breakfast). They can offer these perks as there are no booking fees associated with the online search engine (which takes a percentage of their rate). Furthermore, if you are loyal to a specific hotel chain, you can earn rewards points that can add up to free stays (however, not all loyalty programs are the same – so do some research first!).
Chain hotels are not the only place your can score a deal by contacting the hotel directly. In fact, paying the property directly is one of the best tips for booking boutique hotels at a great rate.
However, there are a few disadvantages to booking hotels direct. Namely, your preferred hotel chain may not be in the city you are traveling to – or in a location you desire. Also, by limiting your search to one specific hotel brand, you could miss out on chic boutique hotels or significant price drops at similar properties – which is why we always recommend going back to Booking.com to check prices on similar properties.
Tips for Booking a Hotel on Arrival
Booking a hotel on arrival can be a bit of a gamble – but we have sometimes found it can be quite rewarding! In Europe, we would often wait until we were in a city to find a place to stay, which definitely has its pros and cons.
The pros of booking a hotel on arrival are simple: freedom. Before locking in, we can get a sense of the area, ask to see the room and negotiate deals in person (which is so much easier than online). That said, it is always a good idea to do a little research and to have a few hotels in mind beforehand!
Tips: Booking Hotel Tricks
Now that you know the hacks for each type of booking, we are sharing a few of our top booking travel tips.
Ways To Save On Hotels
The best way to save money booking hotels is by price matching. As we previously stated, there are search engines that do just that! However, travelers determined to get the best deal can take it one step further – and, after finding the best hotel deal via an online booking engine, contact the hotel directly. Look at the pricing on the official hotel website or even call them direct to inquire about rates, upgrades and freebies. While this is time consuming – and not always successful – it is one last chance to score a deal.
Booking Hotels Using Points
Travelers can earn a ton of points by joining loyalty programs (and then staying loyal to that group). However, there is an even easier way to earn points for hotels (and rental cars!) – and that is through points-earning credit cards. We use the Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card, which is fantastic for earning points for hotels and airline tickets!
Find out more about Chase Sapphire Preferred – and earn 60,000 bonus points using our personal referral code!
Tips: Booking Hotel Online
One of our top hotel booking tips when booking online is to pay attention to details. Look at the fine print for any extra charges – like resort fees, city taxes and parking garage charges. If booking in a foreign currency, check for conversion rates (Chase Sapphire Preferred does not charge international exchange rates when you book in the local currency!).
Another tip for booking online is to ensure all of your provided information is correct. The default for many hotel booking engines is 2 guests. However, if you are traveling solo, be sure to book the hotel for one person instead of two, as there may be some savings (but not always).
Looking for other travel tips? Use our guide to the Best Packing Hacks!
We Want To Know: What are your top Tips for Booking Hotels? Share your advice and recommendations in the comments below!
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