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Are you thinking about using a hotel booking site for your next hotel booking site? If so, you might be wondering what hotel booking site is the best given that there are so many of them out there now.
In this article, I’ll give you some tips and insight into these hotel booking sites and also show you the 15 of the best and most popular hotel booking sites. Some of these are designed for cheaper stays while others are better for booking stays at luxury properties. And then some are just great for finding everything in-between.
What are Hotel Booking Sites?
Hotel booking sites usually come in two forms: OTAs (online travel agencies) and aggregators.
OTA vs aggregator
OTAs allow you to search and make your bookings for the hotels, flights, etc.
Aggregators allow you to search and compare prices among OTAs but you’ll need to click through to an OTA to make your booking.
Aggregators do not always show you all of the results from the respective OTAs so sometimes you’ll need to search the individual OTAs on your own.
How do booking sites make money?
Booking sites make money through commission. For example, when you book a hotel through an OTA, that hotel is paying out a commission to the OTA, usually anywhere from 15 to 30%.
Are OTAs becoming more popular?
OTAs are on the rise and taking up more of the booking market share each year. 52% of Millennials prefer to book their hotels via an OTA so it looks like the OTA trend isn’t going anywhere for the time being.
This is why you’ve probably noticed hotel programs like Hilton, Hyatt, and Marriott, launching campaigns to get their patrons to book directly. They have resorted to offering discounts, matched prices, and also preventing guests from earning points with OTAs (more on that below).
Tips for using hotel booking sites
I’ve got several tips for making your booking site experience a little smoother.
Use the right credit card
When making bookings through OTAs, many times you’ll be dealing with non-refundable purchases. You want to make sure that you put your purchase on a credit card with fantastic trip cancellation protection so that if something goes wrong you’ll be covered. The Chase Sapphire Preferred is one of those cards and it offers great trip cancellation protection — you can be reimbursed up to $10,000 per person and $20,000 per trip!
OTA Prices can vary
OTA prices can be lower than what the hotels are offering but that’s not always the case. This is especially true now that more hotels are offering discounts to their members and also allow you to plug in special discount codes like the Hilton MVP codes.
Also, some hotels are willing to price match the lower prices of the OTA (usually done via phone call) so you need to be mindful of that.
Keep an eye out because some OTAs include taxes and fees in their prices while others don’t. So some prices listed by certain OTAs may appear better but are actually the same (or even worse).
OTAs can also be very tricky because the prices can vary between each other even when they are related to each other. Many of these OTAs are owned by parent companies like Expedia and you’d think that the parent and subsidiaries would always display the same prices and/or inventory but that’s not always the case.
In many cases there will be small differences between the prices of only a couple of dollars but sometimes you’ll see some drastic differences.
So I always advise to shop around and check out at least three different online booking sites before pulling the trigger.
Cookies might cost you
Many speculate that OTAs utilize cookies to determine or predict your traveling habits and then charge you more based on what their data tells them.
You can try to avoid or mitigate this by searching through private browsers where your cookies will not be stored. It might be a good idea to compare prices found in a private browser versus your standard browser just to be on the safe side.
You also might want to compare prices when logged in versus logged out or even try to use a VPN.
Complications may arise
While OTAs are becoming more popular, the fact is that you are involving a third party in your travel planning which adds a layer of complexity to the booking process.
When you book directly with a hotel, you can easily straighten things out like cancellations directly with the hotel. When it comes to OTAs, you often have to go through extra legwork just to resolve simple inquiries.
There are horror stories out there for just about every OTA. I’ve personally never had a major negative experience with an OTA but there’s always the possibility of something going wrong.
This can be a major source of frustration, so always keep that in mind when booking with OTAs.
Use shopping portals
You should always consider going through a shopping portal before booking through an OTA.
Going through a shopping portal will allow you to earn extra points or cash back on the purchase.
You can use website like CashBackMonitor to check the earning rates for these OTAs so that you can earn extra money back when you make a hotel booking (or any travel booking). You can read my guide my on shopping portals to find out more.
Promotions may be available
Many of these OTAs offer seasonal promotions.
It’s always a good idea to Google for promotions and promo codes for the various OTAs when getting ready to use them. Many offer special promotions for simply booking through their apps, so that’s something to always look out for.
Elite points and credits
When using these hotel booking sites you need to be mindful that you will most likely not receive your elite points or elite credits.
This means that you could be losing considerable value if you’re a member of a hotel loyalty program.
You have to consider the savings and/or rewards (if any) you’ll earn with the OTA versus what you’re losing from the hotel loyalty program. Depending on the status you have with either program, it could be a break even situation or one could be significantly better than the other.
If you’ve got hotel elite status, you’ve probably come to appreciate benefits like free breakfasts, upgrades, late check-out, amenity gifts, and other perks.
When you book through an online travel agency, you may not receive those elite status benefits.
It usually varies between hotel loyalty programs though. For example, Marriott has always been great about honoring elite perks when I’ve booked through an OTA.
The trick is to call ahead to the hotel and give them your loyalty information so that they can add your elite information to your profile.
It won’t always work but it’s worth trying.
Bonwi is a standout OTA for one very special reason.
It offers ridiculously high returns on some hotel bookings. With Bonwi, the amount of rewards that you earn when booking a stay fluctuates depending on all sorts of factors. So you never know exactly what kind of return you’re going to get.
But if you happen to be interested in one of the top earning properties, you might be able to get as much as 40% back on your booking, which is just incredible.
Because they aren’t as big as some of the other players in this space, the search features aren’t quite as robust so that’s one drawback of the OTA. It’s also very slow when pulling up search results so you need to be a little patient when booking with Bonwi.
But I think it’s always worth checking out to see what rewards you might earn at the property you plan on staying with. You’re not going to beat the best deals on Bonwi even if you have top-tier Platinum status with another hotel loyalty program.
They also have a referral system where you earn points just for your friends signing up for the program.
Expedia is one of the most popular online travel agencies.
It’s very established and has sold enough hotel room nights in the last 20 years to account for every person living in the United States.
You can book all sorts of different travel like airfare, hotels, etc.
The search features like the filtering are very robust and so it’s easy to find properties within designated areas or near major landmarks. For that reason, Expedia makes for a good search engine even if you don’t want to book with them.
Expedia Rewards has one of the best structured loyalty programs compared to other OTAs.
It actually has a decent rewards program when it comes to staying at VIP properties. These are properties where Expedia Rewards points are worth twice as much when you use them to book your hotels.
If you have Gold status with Expedia you can receive the following benefits at these hotels:
- free parking
- spa credits
- complimentary food and drink
- upgraded in-room entertainment
- priority check-in
- larger room or a suite in a preferred location
- special view
- special in-room amenities
Expedia also has a co-branded credit card with Citibank. I’ve done a review of the Expedia credit card in the past. It’s not a horrible card if you actually are a frequent user of Expedia but it’s not exactly a card that would make my top priority.
I like Booking because it regularly pulls up a large number of properties so you usually have a lot of options to choose from. This is especially true when it comes to reasonably priced properties. If you’re looking for hotels under $200, Booking.com is great.
You can also sometimes find some extremely lucrative promotions on Booking.com.
For example, they’ve offered €75 off € 225 in the past and $40 off when you spend $80. It’s a good idea to keep a constant eye out for deals like this, since they can make it worth going out of your way to use Booking.
So while they don’t have a true loyalty program, the other perks make up for that at times.
Hotels.com, owned by Expedia, allows you to receive a free hotel night once you have collected 10 Rewards nights. The value of your free night is equal to the average rate of the 10 nights you collected to earn it. But keep in mind you’ll still have to pay taxes and fees.
Getting an effective 10% back is really good for a hotel as its on par with what you’d earn with mid-tier elite status at many major hotel chains.
If you book more than 10 nights a year, Hotels.com will upgrade you to Silver membership, which offers benefits that include guaranteed room availability, price guarantees, priority customer service, and early access to special offers.
Staying more than 30 nights will get you to Gold status which will offer you the above benefits along with more exclusive Hotels.com offers.
Hotels.com also offers “secret prices” which are are lower prices only available to customers. According to Hotels.com, the Secret Deals can save you about $32 on an average stay.
Many of these secret deals will come from smaller hotels who aren’t contractually bound to resist dipping below certain price points. But since these are exclusive to Hotels.com, they’re an interesting way to save.
Also, secret prices are discounts applied on top of current hotel deals or, when there is no current hotel deal, standard prices. How deep a discount you receive depends on your chosen dates, your destination, and your selected hotel.
You can unlock Secret Prices in 3 ways:
The Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card also earns 10X on Hotels.com purchases which is very impressive. This amounts to a 22% return since Venture miles are worth 1 cent per point which is very good. (Keep in mind that you must book through their exclusive channel at: Hotels.com/Venture.)
So if you like Hotels.com, then going with the Capital One Venture can make a lot of sense.
Also, something cool about payments with Hotels.com is that they take PayPal, which is highly convenient.
So as you can see Hotels.com has a lot of different ways that you can capture value in bonus earnings and special deals. For that reason, it’s one of my favorite OTAs.
Orbitz, also owned by Expedia, allows you to book flights, hotels, rental cars, cruises, and other activities.
They have a rewards program where you can earn Orbucks.
$1 Orbuck = $1 USD.
You can earn Orbucks in the following rates:
- Book your hotel on the app to instantly earn 5%
- Book your hotel on desktop to earn 3% in Orbucks
- earn 1% on flights and vacation packages
Getting 5% back is good but plenty of hotel programs offer better returns so getting 5% back isn’t exactly a highly valuable proposition.
Orbitz has three different tiers of status:
- Silver Status: (Unlock Insider Prices and special promotions, plus a dedicated 1-800 customer service line and more)
- Gold Status (4 nights): (Enjoy all Silver benefits, plus hotel perks like complimentary breakfast, Wi-Fi and other rewards.)
- Platinum Status (12 nights): (Access all Silver and Gold benefits, plus get TSA Pre✓® and up to $50 back in Orbucks on checked bags.)
Staying 4 nights to receive complimentary breakfast isn’t a bad deal though I wonder about which properties offer those benefits. Platinum status offers TSA Pre-Check which is nice but with so many credit cards offering that benefit, it’s not the most unique perk.
They also have a dining rewards program where you can earn 5% back at over 10,000 participating restaurants.
You can also check on ongoing promotions.
When hotels have unsold rooms, they load them on HotelTonight and this can result in great deals. The prices you see may not reflect all of the taxes that you’re going to have to pay so keep that in mind.
The other thing to keep in mind is that you usually won’t be able to choose your room type since these are last-minute deals (although they do allow you to do that when available).
The do have a cool labeling system for their properties, though:
- Luxe: An upscale hotel with stellar service, lavish amenities and serious comfort, for when you’re feelin’ swanky.
- Hip: A stylish, sometimes quirky hot spot that’s as popular with in-the-know locals as it is with travelers.
- Solid: A comfortable, reliable hotel with all the gotta-have-em amenities.
- Basic: A modest hotel with limited extras, perfect for when you need a place to lay your head.
- Charming: A hotel, B&B or guest house that’s quaint, intimate and delightful.
- Crash_pad: A budget hostel or inn without many amenities, for those nights you don’t need ’em.
- High_roller: An over-the-top, tricked-out suite or penthouse for VIPs and high rollers.
They also have an interesting loyalty system where you can continue to climb the elite tiers with your spending. At each tier, you’ll be rewarded with more savings and discounts.
Level 1 – Everyone starts here
- Geo Rates: Based on your location, get access to extra-discounted rates off the already-low HotelTonight room rate.
Level 2 – Once you’ve spent $250
- Unlock HT Perks discounts: Save an extra 5% off the already-low HotelTonight room rate.
Level 3 – Once you’ve spent $1,000
- Unlock 2x HT Perks discounts: Save an extra 10% off the already-low HotelTonight room rate.
Level 4 – Once you’ve spent $2,000
- Unlock 3x HT Perks discounts: Save an extra 15% off the already-low HotelTonight room rate.
- No more minimum spend requirement for HT Pros, our in-app concierge.
Level 5 – Once you’ve spent $3,000
- $30 promo code to use on a future booking.
Level 6 – Once you’ve spent $4,000
- $30 promo code to use on a future booking.
Level 7 – Once you’ve spent $5,000
- VIP customer support for all future bookings (you’ll find this number on your booking confirmation email).
- $30 promo code to use on a future booking.
Level 8 – Once you’ve spent $6,000
- Unlock 4x HT Perks discounts: Save an extra 20% off the already-low HotelTonight room rate.
Level 9+ – Every additional $1,000 you spend
- $30 promo code to use on a future booking.
Priceline is the world’s largest online travel agency.
Priceline doesn’t have a rewards program but they do offer a credit card that allows you to earn rewards.
- 5,000 bonus points after your first purchase made within 30 days
- 5X on on eligible priceline.com purchases
- 1X on all other purchases
- Get 10% points back every time you redeem for statement credits toward eligible priceline.com or travel purchases of $25 or more made in the last 120 day
- No annual fee
If you use your points earned form the credit card at Priceline.com, you’ll get 1.5 cents per point.
That amounts to a 7.5% return when spending at Priceline.com which is better than what you would earn even if you used a card like the Chase Sapphire Reserve which earns 3X on travel purchases.
With the 10% rebate, and a redemption rate of rate of 1.5 cents per points, that means that your return on Priceline.com purchases would be 8.25% which is really good for Priceline customers.
If you’re looking to travel on a budget then Hostelworld can be a great site to use. You can filter your results by price, room type, facilities, rating, property type, and payment.
It has a large database of properties (36,000 properties in 170 countries) and so you should be able to find something that you’re looking for (at least if you’re searching for properties near major cities).
The only thing I don’t like about Hostelworld is their deposit policy which can be a little tricky when you’re trying to get a refund.
I haven’t stayed in a hostel in a few years so I don’t use this resource but I think it can be a good site for checking for cheap rates.
Just remember that hostels can take very many forms. So when you see the cheapest rate shown, that might be for a bunk-type dormitory and a more private room could be much more expensive.
Hostels.com is another online hotel booking site you might want to check out too for cheap rates.
Kayak is owned by Booking and it’s one of the most popular aggregators where you can find prices for flights, hotels, rental cars, cruises, and more.
I use Kayak on occasion just to check prices but I haven’t found it super-useful for finding special low-rate prices. I do like that you can search for “hacker” rates which allow you to piece together a roundtrip consisting of two one-way flights but that’s not exactly unique to Kayak — you can do this with searches on Google Flights.
Another feature I like is that you can set alerts for hotel and airfare prices.
So overall Kayak.com isn’t my favorite aggregator but I think it can still be useful for some people.
Hotwire.com is an OTA owned by Expedia and so the search results used to be identical but not any longer.
Something that is interesting about Hotwire is that you can use their “Hot Rates” which allows you to search by certain criteria like star rating and then receive a hefty discount on the booking of up to 60% off.
The catch is that you won’t know the name of the property until you have it booked.
That’s a little too much mystery for myself but others will be fine with it given the savings.
Hotelscombined.com is a great aggregator that searches up to 30 OTAs.
It won’t always show all of the properties that these individual OTAs would bring up, but the aggregator will still show you a large number of the properties found at the top travel sites.
The price differences shown will usually just be a couple of dollars but sometimes you’ll see larger differences which can save you a decent amount.
I recommend also searching with at least one aggregator to try to ensure that you’re finding the lowest rates before booking with an OTA.
Agoda is a Thailand-based OTA and it’s probably the best OTA for booking hotels in Asia.
While the search features could be a little more robust, Agoda is still is known for finding the best rates in Asia. It’s also a great resource for finding guest homes (apartments) if you’re okay with more of an AirBnB experience.
They have a deals section so you can search for daily deals and you can sign-up for insider deals to save 30%.
You can search for properties in other places in the world and it does a decent job but I’d stick with Agoda for Asia for the most part or if you’re mostly interested in finding cheap hotels.
Trivago is another aggregator that scans several OTAs.
It’s got a clean interface and some nice features that make the user experience very smooth.
When I searched Trivago, the results were a bit hit or miss in terms of finding the best rates. For the most part, I pulled up the best rates but there were some searches where the search results weren’t that impressive.
So I’d definitely check on the prices with another aggregator.
14. Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts
Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts is a program offered to cardmembers of the Amex Platinum Card.
Amex Fine Hotels and Resorts offer an entire suite of benefits which include:
- Noon check-in, when available
- Guaranteed 4pm late check-out
- Room upgrade upon arrival, when available
- Daily breakfast for two people
- Complimentary Wi-Fi
- Special amenity unique to each property
The great thing about this program is that you can still earn your elite points and receive your elite benefits, so this really stands out from the other OTAs.
15. Chase Travel Portal
The Chase Travel Portal is open to Chase customers and is a place where you can book hotels, airfare, and other travel experiences.
If you have the Chase Sapphire Reserve, you can book travel at a rate of 1.5 cents per point, which is great. You always have to consider the value you’d get from transferring your points to hotel partners, though. Sometimes you might be better off transferring your point to partners like Hyatt, Marriott, and IHG.
There are a lot of smaller OTAs that you’ve probably never heard of and they can be found below.
Every now and again, I like to give them a try just to see if I can come across any special low rates — you never know what you might fine.
OTAs are continuing to grow in popularity and I don’t see them going anywhere anytime soon.
While I do prefer to book directly with the hotel most of the time, I still do use OTAs from time to time, especially when I’m thinking about staying at a boutique-type property.
I think it’s always a good idea to give these OTAs a shot when making a booking because you never know what type of low rates you might come across.
UponArriving has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. UponArriving and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. Responses are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.
Daniel Gillaspia is the Founder of UponArriving.com and creator of the credit card app, WalletFlo. He is a former attorney turned full-time credit card rewards/travel expert and has earned and redeemed millions of miles to travel the globe. His content has been featured in major publications such as National Geographic, Smithsonian Magazine, Forbes, CNBC, US News, and Business Insider. Find his full bio here.