Friday newsletters always feature luxury travel contests, tips, series, or news.
Today (November 23, 2018): Travel tip: what are the best hotel booking websites?
We all want a bargain, but which are the best hotel booking sites online? The ones where you really will get cheaper room rates so that you can book the same hotel for less or with extra benefits such as free breakfasts, room upgrades and so forth? I have selected the eleven best hotel booking websites to ensure you get a great deal on your next trip away.
Virtuoso is not your classic hotel booking website. It’s the industry’s leading network of luxury travel advisors, spanning over 26 countries and 9,000 travel advisors. When you book your holiday with Virtuoso, most of the time, you will be in touch with a Virtuoso travel agent and not make the booking online yourself. But there are some Virtuoso travel agencies though that offer an online booking tool, and my preferred one is New York based Classic Travel, which has an excellent website and offers terrific service. Here’s why I like Virtuoso so much:
- The single best reason to book a stay through a Virtuoso travel agent is that it means value for money as it will get you access to special, complimentary VIP amenities and perks, such as room upgrade, free dinners, spa treatments and/or unique luxury travel experiences. You pay the same as you would by booking directly on the hotel website, but you have the added advantage of all these extra perks.
- Virtuoso networks with the world’s most luxurious hotels & resorts, most of them belonging to the portfolio of the world’s most exclusive hotel brands, such as Four Seasons, Mandarin Oriental, Rosewood, and Soneva to name a few.
- The advantage of booking through Virtuoso is particularly evident when staying at an Aman property, the world’s top hotel chain. In line with Aman’s hyper-exclusive and ultra-luxurious reputation, you will never find a lower rate than the one published on the official Aman website. But booking through a Virtuoso travel agent rather than on the Aman website itself will get you some free, extra perks (often worth hundreds of dollars). So if you are an Aman junkie, like me, then Virtuoso is the way to go.
Pros: Virtuoso agents offer great value for money with hundreds of dollars worth of free benefits & perks.
Cons: Virtuoso does not have a loyalty program, nor does it offer the cheapest room rates in the industry or match a lower price found somewhere else.
Club1Hotels are a relatively unknown Luxury Hotel Club based in Chicago. They tend to offer the very cheapest way to book 4, 4.5 and 5-star hotels. You should certainly join Club1Hotels for free and always check rates with them before finally making your booking. Here are some examples of the savings that you can make with Club1Hotels over other travel websites:
- 6 nights 23-29 Dec at Rafayel On Left Bank London is $808.04 USD on Club1Hotels. The same stay on the same rates for the same room and rate is $1,039 USD on Booking.com.
- 6 nights 23-29 Dec at Bellagio Las Vegas is $1105.51 USD on Club1Hotels. The same stay on the same rates for the same room and rate is $1,597.19 USD on Booking.com.
They also have an interesting Best Rate Guarantee. They say they will guarantee you’ll get the best price per night, by a margin of at least $20 USD on four-star hotels and $25 USD per night on five-star hotels, if you find a better refundable or non-refundable rate before booking. Simply send it to firstname.lastname@example.org and they’ll beat it by $20 or $25 USD per night.
Pros: Their inventory includes pretty much every 4 and 5-star hotel in the world and particularly for refundable rates, they tend to be significantly cheaper.
Cons: Fees are added on the last page which can make searching for rates confusing. For non-refundable rates they are sometimes the cheapest and but sometimes not, so do shop around and take advantage of their Best Rate Guarantee to ensure that you get the very best price.
Amex Finest Hotels & Resorts
When you own an American Express credit card, you can book almost any luxury hotel via Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts. This will offer you the same benefits as when you book via a Virtuoso travel agent. The difference being, if you book via a Virtuoso you don’t need the relevant credit card.
Pros: All bookings get hundreds of dollars worth of free benefits & perks.
Cons: Amex Finest Hotels & Resorts does not have a loyalty program, nor does it offer the cheapest room rates in the industry or match a lower price found somewhere else.
Luxury Travel Diary Travel Auctions
You simply will not beat the prices of the Luxury Travel Diary Travel auctions. Usually stays sell for 30-60% of their actual price. If you bag a stay at the 30% end you will have one of the best bargains on the internet! The concept for these auctions is pretty simple. The website, Luxury Travel Diary, has a close relationship with each of the hotels that they feature and they auction rooms at these hotels with no reserve! This means that you can pick up an absolute steal. With 100 items to choose from, there is plenty of choice.
The only issue with these auctions is that there is not always a stay in the destination you are planning to travel to, so whilst they are undoubtedly a bargain, you will need to keep a constant eye on them to spot the stays in your planned destination of travel, as and when they get loaded in. One way to keep on top of what is available with minimal effort is to sign up for their email newsletter which will keep you up to date with their latest auctions just before they end.
Pros: They call themselves the best-kept secret in luxury travel and you won’t beat the prices that these auction stays sell for.
Cons: There are only around 100 items live at any one time, so there will not always be a stay in the destination that you want to travel to. If you join their newsletter at the bottom of their auction pages, you will be kept up to date with the latest auction items just before they end.
Booking.com is one of the best and most well-known sites to search for properties. It’s easy interface means that searching for a property is quick and effortless. From cosy cottages to downtown studios, and from Santorini to New York, the choices are endless and Booking.com will have you covered. Booking.com often comes in cheaper than other hotel websites so should always be checked, but this is not always the case, so once again, maybe sure you check booking.com, trivago and Club1hotels before you finally make your booking, just to be sure that you are getting the best price. One nice thing about booking.com is that their search engine displays rooms and properties that include taxes, which means an honest booking and no hidden costs.
Pros: Loads of properties, plenty of filters to choose from to narrow down your search, and the website offers some of the lowest rates making it an essential to check before finally booking.
Cons: Booking.com has no ‘near by’ filter, no best rate guarantee and no loyalty program.
Trivago is a hotel aggregator with an easy to use interface comparing hotel prices from lots of different websites. The problem with Trivago is that the array of websites that it selects hotel prices from does not include every hotel website on the internet. It also does not take into account offers such as extra loyalty points or cash back, even though it claims draw prices from 250 websites.
Bottom line, it is not always cheaper. Yes, a lot of people use Trivago as it is so heavily advertised, but their algorithms do not always bring up the cheapest hotel price. Perhaps they should spend less on their (rather annoying) adverts and more on the tech behind their engine to ensure that their prices actually are the best. That said, they are good to use as a comparison and to get a general idea of what price you should be paying. It is then wise to shop around on the websites above to be sure to get the best price.
Pros: Easy to use.
Cons: Often the prices are not the best.
HotelsCombined offers many filters specified on property type, for example, the hotel features, theme and whether you would prefer a boutique or a chain. The site lacks any sort of filters that define the location you would like to stay in, with the main focus of the filters suited toward a property. This is great if you know the type of hotel you want to stay in, but a disadvantage if you want to clarify a location. The layout of the website is easy to use, however prices from the third-party site tend to be higher than what is displayed on HotelsCombined, which can be misleading and sometimes a time waste, especially if you want to get the best deal and are in the rush.
Pros: Occasionally finds lower prices direct from the hotel, competing prices are displayed for each property.
Cons: Costs of hotels can be misleading, the ability to eliminate hotels from a search has gone, lacks some specific location filters.
Similar to Hotwire, Priceline gives you the ability to proceed with a ‘blind booking’, meaning that you can save anywhere between 18-60% – you do not get the name of the hotel until after you have paid, only the knowledge of the location you’re staying in, and the star rating of the hotel. This can be a spontaneous way of saving money, and also traveling. Up against Expedia, Hotwire and Hotels.com, Priceline is one the best in terms of finding the most accommodation in city centres. Priceline also offers the ability to search for cruises, whereas other sites only offer hotel and flight bundles.
Pros: Save between 18-60% with a blind booking, plenty of options to choose from if you are planning to stay in a city centre, cruise search available.
Cons: No specified ‘accommodation’ type filters, average on the finding the lowest price. Often, you don’t know which hotel you are staying in!
Prices on the Hotwire are neither the best of the worst, and overall the search engine can be quite mediocre in terms of the use of filters. However, you can save up to a huge 60% with Hotwire’s ‘Hot Rate’ service. You can specify either a neighbourhood or star rating when booking, but do not receive the name of the hotel that has been chosen for you until after you have paid. In comparison to Expedia, both sites have almost the same search results, but can occasionally differ. Hotwire mainly caters toward city stays in the USA, so you may find some difficulty trying to search for a property internationally.
Pros: Blind bookings means that you are able to save up to 60%.
Cons: Restricted filters, which means less specified search.
Mirroring the same search results as Travelocity.com and Orbtiz.com. Results remain average and Expedia doesn’t really find the best or the worst prices. Expedia offers a loyalty scheme, which, for those of you who enjoying earning points may seem like something worthwhile. You get 1 point for every £1 spent on hotels, for flight and hotel packages you receive 2 points, which can be exchanged for cashback. However, their rate is low which means you wouldn’t get much back. For example, 700 points would mean receiving £5 back, so £700 spent on a hotel gets just £5 cashback which is hardly worth it. Their reward scheme is split into tiers of being blue, silver and gold, and you move through the status level depending on how much money you spend, and not the points that you’ve earned. Initially, you would have to spend more to receive more money off.
Pros: Rarely found the worst prices. Combined flight and hotel deals are sometimes better than other sites.
Cons: Loyalty scheme not worthwhile, can fail to find the lowest rate in comparison to other sites, you can only select one filter at a time.
Hotels.com – part of Expedia – is my overall preferred hotel engine booking website, mainly because of the following reasons:
- Hotels.com allows payment in your own currency (the choice of currency can be adjusted at the top of the website). As such, you avoid paying the sometimes heavy foreign currency taxes (up to 3%) that come with most credit cards (a hidden cost that many are not aware of).
- Hotels.com has almost permanently discount coupons available (subscribe to their newsletter or simply search for them on google). Discounts on hotel bookings vary from 10% (most of the time) to a rare 15%. Unfortunately, almost all of the world’s most luxurious hotel brands are excluded from the list of hotels for which you can use a discount coupon. However, surprisingly, Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts is the only ultra-luxurious hotel brand that is most of the time eligible for discount coupons on Hotels.com (almost guaranteeing you a 10% discount on every Four Seasons booking).
- They have a simple but excellent loyalty program, called “Welcome Rewards”. When you book and stay 10 nights at eligible hotels, you’ll get 1 night free to redeem at another. Hotels.com works out the average value of all the 10 nights you’ve collected and gives it back to you as a free night. Unfortunately, hotels stays that are booked using a discount coupon do not count towards the Welcome Rewards program.
- At first, you may think it does not matter to participate to the Welcome Rewards program: one night free for every 10 hotel stays is identical as applying a 10% discount for every hotel booking (since coupons are widely available anyway). But, contrary to the ordinary 10% discount coupons, the coupon(s) you receive through the Welcome Rewards program (after accomplishing 10 eligible nights) can be used for big discounts at almost all hotel chains, including the world’s most exclusive hotel brands. This is especially a lucrative business when you use Hotels.com for both company & leisure travel: you collect Welcome Rewards coupons through business stays, while you spend them on personal travel.
- Hotels.com also has an excellent Best Rate Guarantee program: If you find a cheaper price, Hotels.com will match that rate (and refund you the difference). And finding that cheaper price is not difficult nor time-consuming at all: just use the aggregator websites Hotelscombined and Trivago, which both verify hotel prices at hundreds of other sites (e.g. Expedia, Bookers, Otel.com, Hotels.com, Hotelopia.com, Booking.com, etc…) and show where you can book the cheapest rate. So basically, you always book the lowest price, but have the added advantage of collecting points via the excellent Welcome Rewards program.
Pros: Rarely found the worst prices. Combined flight and hotel deals are sometimes better than other sites. Excellent loyalty program.
Cons: Can fail to find the lowest rate in comparison to other sites, you can only select one filter at a time.
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I really love Virtuoso, however some hotels are playing games with it. They block their standard rooms for Virtuoso-access, so only higher categories can be booked with benefits.