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How to score the best deal when booking accommodation online

CHOICE staff share their secrets to using sites like, Wotif, Airbnb and more.

person using airbnb app to book accomodation
Last updated: 01 March 2019

Whether you're an avid Airbnb-er, a boffin or an Expedia expert, these tips and tricks can help land you the best deal on holiday accommodation.

Plus our well-travelled staff weigh in with their own advice on searching for accommodation, making sure you know what you're getting, how to get the most out of homestay sites, and more.

How to search for accommodation online 

"Always search in incognito mode so that the sites don't recognise you when you move around and change the price accordingly." – Marg, Editorial & Investigations

"Sometimes you'll get different rates depending on whether you visit the local version of the site or the Australian version. Sometimes there are different rates for locals!" – Jonathan, Media

"Always cross-check prices on separate internet browsers (or clear cookies) and compare prices between comparison sites and going direct with the airline/hotel." – Tom, Marketing

Case studies

"Over Christmas I used all the online sites to get an idea of pricing and the hotels available in the area I wanted to stay. We decided on a hotel, which I then contacted directly to book. This resulted in a $45 a night saving from the most expensive online booking site and a $25 saving from the cheapest." – Christine, Content Research 

"If I'm looking for a hotel in a particular area I use Google maps and Google's hotel search, which gives me a snapshot of rates from different booking sites. I got 34% off a hotel room recently because one booking site was having a sale and the lower price popped up in Google's results." – Elisabeth, Money & Travel

"Just last month we were travelling the South Coast of NSW. I found a 2-bedroom cabin at Lake Wallaga Big 4 caravan park for $249 on which I thought was pretty decent for my big family, but on the Big 4 website it's $194 instead." – Melanie, Reviews & Testing

How to make sure you know what you're getting 

"If a website has limited room photos, search the hotel's official site or Google Images for more." – Jason, Content Experience

"Always research fully the types of rooms available at a particular venue – you may think you're getting that amazing waterfront king-sized room when in actual fact you're in a cupboard at the back of the building overlooking the car park. Sometimes it's worth directly enquiring with a venue for more detail if you're unsure what a booking site is actually offering you." – Pru, Content Experience 

"I always note the floor metres of a room to get a sense of size, especially when comparing two room types." – Jason, Content Experience 

Case study

Even once you've done your research, it can be hard to know what you're getting until you actually arrive.

"I booked a cheapo place in Rome last year that looked pretty average. Ended up being right near the Spanish steps and fabulous – the photos did not do it favours. I've also stayed at Airbnbs where the images were glossier than the reality." – Erin, Campaigns & Communications 

How to get the most out of Airbnb and HomeAway 

"I always compare Airbnb and HomeAway [formerly Stayz] as they often have the same properties at slightly different prices, depending on the service and cleaning fees." – Elisabeth, Money & Travel 

"Qantas recently partnered with Airbnb so if you're a Qantas Frequent Flyer, you can look through those options as well as hotels." – Will, Data & Technology

"The downsides of booking with HomeAway and Airbnb private hosts is that they can cancel your booking even at the last minute with few repercussions. For this reason, I religiously read reviews before booking anywhere." – Pru, Content Experience

"Sometimes you can try searching for real estate agent holiday rentals (especially along the coast) and finding the local real estate agent in the town you want to go to. They can be cheaper than finding the same house on Airbnb or HomeAway." – Melanie, Reviews & Testing

"Read recent reviews by guests and read between the lines. For example, 'Our host was very friendly and always checked up on us' translates to 'don't expect privacy'." – Bianca, Customer Service 

"If I'm travelling with my family we often book through Airbnb or HomeAway because they're better for non-hotel accommodation. There are also some great New Zealand equivalents, such as" – Peter, New Things 

How to get added extras 

"I'm a sucker for a free hotel breakfast. I'd never pay the exorbitant rates outright, but I have found a good strike rate of free breakfasts on booking sites." – Jonathan, Media

"My best tip is to call the hotel for a deal that may not be online. I did this with accommodation in Exmouth in January. I paid the same price as I would have online but got an upgraded room." – Erin, Campaigns & Communications

"I'm a big fan of Wotif's mystery hotels. It's not too hard to figure out which ones they are, and they can save you a bit of cash." – Ash, Reviews & Testing 

Packing tips for your holiday travels

We'll leave you with some wise parting words from Ash, our whitegoods content expert:

"When packing for a holiday you should lay out all the clothes you want to take and all the money. Then take half the clothes and three times the money."

We care about accuracy. See something that's not quite right in this article? Let us know or read more about fact-checking at CHOICE.

Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.