Hotel Booking Services Review
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, 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.
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. Every hotel booking site lets you search for a hotel in a particular city, and you can 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.
As you choose an online booking site, be aware that many of them share a parent company (which is why our scoring is so close for some). For example, 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. The same holds true with Priceline.com, which also owns Booking.com and Agoda.com.
Hotel Booking Services: Our Pricing Tests
The most important feature to look for in a hotel booking service can vary from person to person and trip to trip; however, most people are looking for a low price when they turn to online booking sites. As part of our evaluation, we conducted two comprehensive searches on each hotel booking site for seven popular places around the world: New York, Orlando, Los Angeles, Denver, Las Vegas, Paris and Rome.
For the first search, we averaged the price of the first 10 hotels listed in the site’s default, or recommended, hotel list for each of the seven cities. We found those services with an average price around $215 displayed a healthy mix of luxury, three-star and value hotels. This variety makes it easier, and quicker, to find comfortable accommodations in your desired location without having to sort search results or click through additional pages. In the default search list on each site, you’ll also see reviews and ratings from guests so you can better gauge which hotels will meet your needs.
For the second search, we sorted the results for the same seven cities by lowest price then found the average of the first 10 hotels on the list. This gave us a good representation of how each service compares in terms of the price and deals they can negotiate with area hotels. We also noted that the lowest priced hotels in a given area are typically the same on each site. However, most of these hotels do not receive high customer ratings and are usually located in more sketchy parts of town that travelers tend to avoid.
For our test cities, Hotwire had among the lowest prices when we looked at its list of recommended hotels. Both Booking.com and OneTravel.com also have a good list of value hotels that received guest rating of three stars or more. This means while the absolute lowest price for a specific area may be found on another hotel booking site, these three, Hotwire, Booking.com and OneTravel.com, have an average lower price for the hotels that are more desired by average travelers.
Important Features for Hotel Booking Sites
Sorting By Features
When booking hotels online, most people want to know about amenities and features, and reputation, location, free breakfast and Wi-Fi are all strongly considered in hotel choices. All of the online booking services we reviewed provide a wealth of honest information about the hotels, regardless of their star ratings. Sites with several different sorting features let you determine the most valuable information about a room and place those choices at the top of your search results.
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 your individual needs or what’s most important to you. When you use these sorting features, the hotel booking site filters your results; you only see hotels with 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 – OneTravel – 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 vision 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 getting 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 special deals. Some use a bid system, while others provide big discounts if you’re willing to book a hotel without knowing much beyond the price and general location. 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, Priceline and OneTravel.com are the only ones to offer the quicker communication method of live chat on their websites.
Our Verdict & Recommendations
The best hotel booking sites give you an accurate picture of the hotel you want and allow you to filter and quickly 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 Silver Award 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.
A few other sites worth mentioning: If you’re traveling internationally, our research showed Agoda to be the best for finding international hotels and deals. And as for the popular site Expedia, it has generally the same options as Hotwire and Orbitz, but we found it to be pricier overall, and the site doesn't offer last-minute deals or allow you to share details of rooms and deals with others in your traveling party.
Contributing Reviewer: Renee Shipley