How to Choose a Hotel Booking Site
The top performers in our review are Hotels.com, the Gold Award winner; Orbitz, the Silver Award winner; and Hotwire, the Bronze Award winner. Here's more on choosing a hotel booking site to meet your needs, along with detail on how we arrived at our ranking of these 10 services.
A hotel room is your home away from home while you're working or on vacation. Whether you're looking for accommodations with all the amenities to make your stay the most comfortable, the lowest price, or big attractions close by, you can find them using a hotel booking site. These websites act as virtual travel agents to help you narrow down a long list of hotels to the one that's perfect for you.
Every hotel booking site lets you search for a hotel in a particular city and sort the results based on the lowest price, the hotel's star rating, certain amenities, guest rating or hotel name. The best hotel booking sites give you many more options, such as travel packages, flight booking and last-minute deals. Part of the reason many of the sites we reviewed are so close in scoring is because they share a parent company. Expedia owns several travel sites, including Hotels.com, Orbitz, Hotwire and Travelocity. However, these sites work independently of each other, even though they have the same parent company and many of the same features.
We looked at a variety of features to determine which hotel booking sites are the best overall. Features such as loyalty programs, recent search saves and mobile apps make your job of booking a hotel easier. For more help with your travel plans, take a look at supplemental smartphone apps for travel and other hotel booking sites, which we highlight in our articles about hotel booking websites.
Hotel Booking Services: What We Evaluated, What We Found
The most important feature of a hotel booking service can vary person to person and trip to trip. A low price is the overwhelming winner among those surveyed in three separate queries from hotel booking sites. We conducted seven separate searches for each hotel booking site for popular places around the world, including New York, Orlando, London, Cozumel, Los Angeles, Chicago and Las Vegas. Looking at only three-star hotels, we averaged the top 10 results from each site and found that prices vary wildly between the sites – even among those owned by the same corporation.
Specific amenities and features rank high as well. Reputation, location, free breakfast and Wi-Fi are all strongly considered in hotel choices. All of the online booking services we reviewed provide lots of honest information about the hotels, regardless of their star ratings. Sorting features let you determine the most valuable information about a room and place those choices at the top of the list.
It's important to know what to expect when you book hotels, so look for plenty of customer reviews and images on the hotel profiles. Pictures should include shots of multiple rooms, lobbies, the front of the hotel, as well as any special features like pools or casinos. Regardless of price, the best hotels will have many reviews with high scores.
Price is the biggest factor when you're ready to book a hotel, which is why we focused on the difference in pricing between the sites. The cheapest hotel booking site was consistently Hotwire. For our test cities, Hotwire came in under the average of the other sites every time. Booking.com has the highest booking prices for hotels on average, but most of the sites are close in prices. For example, if you're looking at three-star hotels in Las Vegas, you can expect to pay about $100 per night, but Hotwire averaged almost 25 percent less than that to book a night, and Booking.com was more than 30 percent higher.
The more people staying with you, the more features you will need in a hotel room. The best booking services online can help you sort through hundreds of thousands of hotels based on these individual needs. You can sort by amenities like swimming pools, child care or accessibility features. Prices, star ratings and location are also common sorting features. When you use these sorting features, the hotel booking site filters out hotels missing your favorite amenities so you can find the best fit for your stay.
All of the hotel booking sites let you sort by price, star rating, various amenities, location, guest rating and hotel name, and you can set a price range. The top-rated hotel booking services also let you sort by accommodation type, so you can search for hotels, motels, condos or vacation rentals. Only one booking site – HotelReservations.com – doesn't let you sort results by hotels with disability-friendly facilities. The highest-rated sites let you find hotels with specific facilities for those with hearing or sight impairments.
To ensure you don't accidentally book a five-star roach palace, you'll want to find a booking service that provides plenty of information about the hotel. The most valuable information includes images of the hotel and assorted rooms in the building, amenities and other features. All of the sites we reviewed let you see a list of amenities on the hotel profile page, along with images of the hotel and room, the hotel policies, and nearby attractions. It's especially important to see what the hotel policies are so you know check-in and checkout times, pet rules and cancellation details. A list of nearby attractions can help you plan your trip, right down to the museums you visit and restaurants you dine at.
A detailed map that shows the location of the hotel in relation to highways and landmarks can be helpful. Chances are you won't find a five-star hotel in a bad neighborhood, but that charming bed-and-breakfast may be 20 miles away from your real destination. Other features like guest reviews, especially from trusted sites like TripAdvisor, give you the inside scoop on the hotel from people who have firsthand experiences with the facility.
Like a hot stone massage from the resort's masseuse, booking a room online should be mostly painless. When it comes to prices, hotel websites have different methods of delivering deals. Some use a bid system, while others leave the hotel details a mystery to provide big discounts. Purchasing in these ways may get you good prices, but they can come with complicated website policies.
Some of the best sites also let you reserve flights, rental cars or whole vacation packages combined with the hotel. If you're a frequent traveler, loyalty programs reward you for booking with the website, giving you more incentives to travel. The best hotel search sites let you compare rates with other sites, which helps you find the best deal.
As anyone with children can tell you, plans change. Because of this, you may need customer support from the online booking site. For the easy stuff like how to cancel or change your reservation, you can often find info on FAQs pages. Email and telephone support are more helpful when you have a specific issue with reservations or payment. All of the sites we reviewed include these options, but Hotels.com and Priceline are the only ones to offer the quicker communication method of live chat on its website.
Top Ten Reviews seeks, whenever possible, to evaluate all services in hands-on tests that simulate as closely as possible the experiences of a typical consumer. The companies had no input or influence over our test methodology, nor was the methodology provided to any of them in more detail than is available through reading our reviews. Results of our evaluations were not provided to the companies in advance of publication.
Our Verdict & Recommendations
The best hotel booking sites give you an accurate picture of the hotel you want and allow you to search through thousands of hotels based on what's most important to you. Look for a hotel search site that provides ample information about the hotels that interest you. Guest ratings, images, amenities lists and multiple room booking are key features of these websites.
Hotels.com ranks as the best site for hotel booking because it gives you so many sorting options, which lets you home in on the details that are most important to you when booking a hotel. Its prices are slightly higher than the average cost, but you can also get your flight or a vacation package through the site, and it offers live chat customer support.
Our second-place winner, Orbitz, comes very close to the top-ranked hotel booking site because it includes almost all of the same features and options, and more in some cases. You can rent a car through the site, and get last-minute deals. Prices are slightly lower than the average.
Hotwire, though placing third in our review, comes out on top in pricing. In every single search we conducted, Hotwire had a lower price than all of the other sites. Perhaps its low cost is why Hotwire doesn't offer a loyalty program. The site doesn't save your recent searches either, so you have to type in a new search every time you look for a hotel in a specific city.
Although Agoda doesn't offer as many features or options as the top-rated hotel booking services, it does return some of the lowest-priced hotel results. You get the same options at Expedia as you do with Hotwire and Orbitz, but it is pricier overall, and the site doesn't offer last-minute deals or allow you to compare rates.