Hotel booking sites such as Booking.com, Expedia, Wotif, Agoda and Hotels.com can help you find accommodation around the world, and they can save you the hassle of trawling through hundreds of websites to find the right room.
All claim to offer the best deals, the largest range of rooms, and easy-to-use tools that can help you narrow down options to find accommodation that suits your travel needs. But despite their claims, most aren't as far reaching as their ads would have you believe.
We don't recommend any hotel booking sites at the moment due to ongoing investigations into anti-competitive behaviour.
That said, most people will use one anyway, which is why we reviewed the 10 most popular hotel booking sites, and provide our results but without recommendations.
Easiest to use
Booking.com well and truly outperformed all other services in our ease of use tests, with very good search functions, filters and compare tools across the board.
Room details are clear and simple, with pertinent information displayed clearly, and user reviews which are vetted by Booking.com prior to posting.
It doesn't provide as many accommodation options as other services, particularly in Münster, Germany (our overseas, outside urban centre test), though it wasn't far from the top. This means you might not get a broad representation of the rooms on offer when you're planning a trip.
Biggest range of rooms
Because it's an aggregation service, Trivago basically functions as a giant hotel search engine, hence the huge range.
It's worth noting that it doesn't provide the most options in every case, but averages out to be the best for range.
However, it provides next to no information regarding rooms. To see that, you need to click the link which takes you to the hotel's website, and this limits your ability to compare amenities and other room features.
Support options are fairly sparse as well.
There are two types of hotel booking sites:
- Aggregation services: these are similar to search engines. They gather information from hotel websites around the world so you can search and compare from a single location. However, they don't take your booking. Once you've selected a hotel, the service sends you to the hotel's website or a separate booking service.
- Booking services: these offer the same search and comparison functions as aggregation services, but let you complete the booking within the site.
The 10 hotel booking sites we reviewed are owned by just two parent companies – either Expedia or Bookings Holdings (Booking.com).
This means that many tools, features and prices are identical across a number of services.
The price is… identical?
Every hotel booking site claims to have the best deals and lowest prices on accommodation around the world. This is technically true, only because every service in our review has access to the same low prices. You may get a good deal, but it's not necessarily exclusive to one website.
We searched for a room in a specific hotel in Melbourne and Paris to assess local and international pricing. In both cases, each website delivered the same prices within a couple of dollars, aside from Orbitz and Travelocity. These companies only provided prices in US dollars, leaving deals dependant on the exchange rate. Even then, prices were within $10 of one another.
Although price contributed to the overall score, our review mostly focused on ease of use in the search process.
Here is what we experienced when searching for a place to stay, comparing results, and then booking the room.
Booking.com is the only service with robust customer support. It offers web forms, FAQs and local and international contact numbers.
Expedia is also very good, but TripAdvisor and Trivago's help system barely scrapes through, with support largely limited to an online form.
The rest have reasonable online support and contact numbers (though Orbitz and Travelocity charge for calls).
Additional filters and booking facilities
Look for any extra boxes, sliders and selection criteria that help you narrow down the options to a room that suits your needs.
Things like parking information, hotel facilities such as a pool or gym, and airport transfers.
Some even provide information about the surrounding city or town, which includes partnerships with local tourism providers.
Though all services let you easily specify the number of guests, Booking.com is the only site that lets you specify sleeping arrangements using search filters, such as double or twin singles.
Multiple currencies and languages
Though you'll most likely pay for your rooms using your native currency, multiple options are handy if you're using a foreign credit card or travel money card.
Finding better rates
Hotel booking services may claim to have the best deals, but this may not always be the case as the ACCC investigation into Trivago showed. You can score even better rates by:
- creating an account with the booking service or joining the mailing lists. Member accounts are typically free and may result in some discounts
- regularly checking the hotel booking sites for sales
- visiting the hotel website and booking directly
- contacting the hotel via email or phone and asking for the best deal. Quoting the price offered by an accommodation service will help your negotiation
- taking a chance on a walk-in (we only recommend this in locations with numerous accommodation alternatives)
- waiting for last-minute deals.
If you're travelling with accessibility needs, Booking.com provides comprehensive information on relevant facilities available at each hotel.
Most of the others will have some details or highlight accommodation that's wheelchair accessible.
Expedia and Wotif don't provide any accessibility information.
Review the reviews
Every service offers some sort of review system. This is usually a combination of user reviews, ratings and staff picks, which act as filters.
Though they're usually presented as user reviews, there's no way to be absolutely sure of the source, so use reviews as a guide, not a source of truth.
Look for hotels with a large number of reviews, and note whether the service requires proof that the reviewer has stayed at the location before submitting a review. If not, anyone can comment on the room without having stayed there.
Hotel booking sites may promote themselves as having the best deals or the widest range of hotels, but a number of hotel booking sites have been investigated for alleged anti-competitive behaviour in Australia and overseas by local and international regulatory bodies.
This doesn't mean that you should avoid them altogether, but should serve as a reminder that the top result may not be the best, and that it's worth taking the time to research your options before clicking book.
- In 2016, the ACCC found that Expedia and Booking.com (as well as their subsidiary sites) were forcing accommodation partners to provide them with the cheapest rates, via parity clauses. This stopped hotels and motels from offering cheaper rates on their own sites, over the phone or at the hotel desk. These clauses have since been removed.
- Trivago was taken to court by the ACCC in 2018, for allegedly highlighting or prioritising hotels that paid additional fees to Trivago. These were not always the best deals, despite implying that they were. Since then, Trivago no longer refers to prices in their ads, but the ACCC investigation is ongoing.
- In early 2019, Expedia, Booking.com, Agoda, Hotels.com and Trivago were subject to an an enforcement action from the UK Competition and Markets Authority (which is similar to the ACCC). This was related to pressure selling; misleading information regarding discounts and hotel popularity; hidden charges; and withholding information regarding the impact of commission on search results. As of February 2019, these websites have agreed to not engage in these practices.
Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.