I used to think that booking hotel rooms cheaply was about finding the hotel booking website that displayed the cheapest prices — it’s not. I was wrong.
And I’m not talking about quality either. I’m talking about price and value.
In reality, finding the cheapest hotel booking website is only the first step. The magic lies in what comes after that.
Why is it not important which hotel search website I use?
Well, it’s not exactly “not important”. But there are other ways to get better deals.
- You see, unlike airfares, hotel prices are more negotiable. Many companies, including the hotels themselves, offer lowest-price guarantees. And when you take advantage of this guarantee, you can often get other perks on top of the low price — examples: price drop protection, free nights, loyalty points, etc.
- But there are also deals that no self-respecting companies will match because the prices are so low — you should book them if they’re better than anything you can get by price matching. These are secret hotel deals, flash sales and hotel auctions. I’ll go through them in a minute.
So how do I really book cheap hotels?
Start by searching booking sites, then choose one of six booking options I outline below. Each option has its own set of pros and cons, so choose based on what you value in a hotel stay.
Tip: Don’t forget to clear your cookies or turn on “incognito” browsing before you search. If you’ve done the same search before, booking sites might have your history and show you higher prices.
Before you book: Check out going rates on HotelsCombined
The very first thing you need to do is gauge how much hotels generally cost.
I used to check multiple sites for prices, but now I just stick with HotelsCombined. This website searches hundreds of hotel booking sites at once, so it saves a bunch of time. Also, HotelsCombined shows all-inclusive prices, so you don’t have to wade through the search results one by one to figure out how much fees and taxes will be.
Tip: If you don’t feel like spending too much time on hotel booking, you can quickly book a room through HotelsCombined. The prices on this site are reasonably cheap. Yes, you may pay less if you do more research, but the savings (if any) may not be worth the effort. Check out this post to see a real-life example of how the prices on HotelsCombined compare to those on other booking sites.
Booking Option #1: Price-drop protection on Tingo
Hotel rates change all the time. If you’ve booked a room and the rate drops, you’d be missing out on the lower rate. With price-drop protection, you’ll be able to take advantage of price drops even after you’ve confirmed your booking.
- It’s super easy. It’s just like making a regular booking.
- Book any time. No need to monitor prices in case they change.
- You won’t earn hotel loyalty points.
Tingo is the website that offers automatic price drop refunds. So if the rate of your hotel room drops after you’ve made a booking, Tingo will automatically refund the difference to your credit card — you won’t even need to call them or anything! There’s no limit on the amount of refunds or the number of times Tingo issues them.
Booking Option #2: Secret hotel deals
You’ve probably seen secret hotel deals before if you’ve booked a trip through Hotwire, Priceline, Travelocity or lastminute.com. They appear in the regular search results, except the hotel names are missing from the listings. You’re only given certain details of each hotel — usually its neighborhood, star rating and amenities — but it’s possible to guess which hotel it is from this information.
- They’re quick and easy to book!
- The booking site won’t tell you the name of the hotel. You’ll have to do a bit of sleuthing to figure that out based on the details provided. (Here’s a post on how to reveal the identity of a secret hotel.)
- These being special deals, there are few choices available.
- You can only get these deals at the last minute.
- You won’t be able to accumulate hotel loyalty points.
- The reservation is non-refundable.
Here are the websites where you can find secret hotel deals:
DEAL ALERT: $10 Off $100 Hotwire Hot Rate® Hotels With Code: FALLSAVINGS10 Sept 21-22 only.
Booking Option #3: Flash sales
Flash sales last for as short as a two hours, so you have to watch the sale schedules and pounce on these deals as soon as you can. Flash sale sites typically sell rooms at higher-end hotels and resorts, which can be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on your travel style. You may have to become a member to access these deals, but membership is usually free.
- Quick, easy booking.
- Short booking window.
- You have to plan your trip around the eligible hotel stay dates because these deals only apply on certain dates
- These deals may not be the cheapest you can get for those particular hotels. Before you confirm your booking, check HotelsCombined and the hotel’s website.
- You won’t be able to accumulate hotel loyalty points.
- The reservation is usually non-refundable.
Flash sale websites:
Booking Option #4: Priceline bidding
Priceline holds the rights to opaque bidding, so you can only use this method there.
Here’s how it works: you choose your preferred area and star rating, then set the lowest nightly rate you’re willing to pay. If Priceline finds a matching property, then you’d win the auction and the room is immediately booked for you.
If there’s no match, you’d have to wait 24 hours before you can place another bid for hotels of the same star rating in the same neighborhood. There are tricks you can use to submit multiple bids per day — I’ll write about them in a future post.
- The great prices.
- There’s a big learning curve to mastering Priceline bidding. (Check out this post for the basics, then this post for a case study.)
- Aside from the star rating and the neighborhood, you won’t get many choices. After you bid, you can’t change your mind even if you don’t like the hotel. If the price is right, Priceline books the room for you. After you’ve made the payment, you can contact the hotel to make your requests (eg. bedding configuration, smoking or non-smoking floor, etc.), but there’s no guarantee that you’ll get what you want.
- The reservation is non-refundable.
- You won’t get hotel loyalty points.
- It’s not ideal for group bookings. If you get one room at one hotel, there’s no guarantee that you can get a second room at the same hotel at the same price.
- It’s also not so great for long trips. The longer your stay is, the harder it is to find a room on a Priceline auction.
To try your hand at hotel room auctions, visit Priceline.
Booking Option #5: Lowest-price guarantee on Hotels.com
Some booking sites offer a lowest-price guarantee and will match the prices you see elsewhere, subject to certain conditions.
Pros of lowest-price guarantee from travel sites:
- You can take advantage of both the lowest price you can find AND exclusive offers from your favorite booking website.
- There’s a wide variety of hotels and hostels you can price match.
- You’ll have to submit a request for the website to match the lowest price you found. This could be a tedious process.
- You won’t earn points in the hotel’s loyalty program. (But if you use the site below, you can take advantage of a different loyalty program.)
The best value-for-money booking website for price matching is Hotels.com. This website has its own loyalty program: for every 10 nights that you book, you get one free night. This promotion applies to 100,000 hotels all over the world. So you could earn your points in Australia and Asia, for example, and claim your free night in Africa. It’s like a 10% discount on top of the already cheap nightly rates!
Booking Option #6: the hotel’s own lowest-price guarantee
When it comes to the hotels’ own price-matching offers, many hotels will not only match the lowest price you can find — they’ll give you a discount off that rate!
For example, Marriott has a best-price guarantee. If there’s a website that sells a Marriott room at a lower rate than Marriott’s website, they will give you a 25% discount off that rate. So if the Marriott website has a room at $250 and the same room is available on Travelocity for $200, you’d be able to book with Marriott, then file a price matching claim. If approved, Marriott will offer you the room at 25% off the Travelocity price, so you’ll get the room for $150.
- You may get better rooms because hotels often keep the best ones for guests who make direct bookings.
- Some hotels are willing to offer freebies, such as breakfast or parking for direct bookings.
- By booking directly with the hotel, you can also accumulate points in the hotel’s loyalty program.
- Of course you hope everything will go smoothly during the trip, but sometimes things happen and you need to change your reservation or make a complaint. Resolving these issues would be a lot less painful if you booked your stay directly with the hotel.
- You’ll have to submit a request for price matching; the process is not as simple as a straightforward hotel booking. I know Marriott is good at honoring the claims quickly, but I’m not as familiar with how other hotels handle the process.
- Not all hotels offer a best-price guarantee, so your choices will be limited.
Below are the hotel chains that offer price matching:
Hotel Chain Price Match + … Brands Accor 10% off Adagio; Formule 1; Grand Mercure; Ibis; Ibis Styles; Ibis Budget; hotelF1; Mercure; MGallery; Novotel; Orbis; Pullman; Sofitel; Suite Novotel; Thalassa Sea & Spa; The Sebel. Best Western $100 voucher Best Western; Best Western Plus; Best Western Premier. Choice Hotels 1 free night Ascend Hotel Collection; Cambria Suites; Clarion; Comfort Inn; Comfort Suites; Econo Lodge; MainStay Suite; Quality; Rodeway Inn; Sleep Inn; Suburban Extented Stay Hotels. Carlson Rezidor 25% off Country Inn; Park Plaza; Radisson Hilton $50 off Conrad Hotels & Resorts; DoubleTree by Hilton; Embassy Suites Hotels; Hampton by Hilton; Hilton Garden Inn; Hilton Grand Vacations; Hilton Hotels & Resorts; Home2 Suites by Hilton; Homewood Suites by Hilton; Waldorf Astoria Hotels & Resorts. Hyatt 20% off Grand Hyatt; Hyatt; Hyatt Hilara; Hyatt House; Hyatt Place; Hyatt Regency; Hyatt Residence Club; Hyatt Ziva and Andaz; Park Hyatt. Intercontinental Hotels Group 1 free night Candlewood Suites; Crowne Plaza Hotels and Resorts; EVEN Hotels; HuaLuxe Hotels and Resorts; Holiday Inn; Holiday Inn Club Vacations; Holiday Inn Express; Holiday Inn Resorts; Hotel Indigo; InterContinental Hotels and Resorts; Staybridge Suites. Marriott 25% off Autograph Collection Hotels; Courtyard Marriott; Fairfield Inn and Suites; Gaylord Hotels; JW Marriott; Marriott Conference Centers; Marriott Executive Apartments; Marriott Hotels and Resorts; Marriott Vacation Club; Renaissance Hotels; Residence Inn; Springhill Suites; Towne Place Suites.
No price matching for: Bvlgari; Edition; The Ritz-Carlton.
Preferred Hotel Group Price match only Preferred Boutique; Preferred Hotels and Resorts; Preferred Residences; Sterling Design; Sterling Hotels; Summit Hotels and Resorts; Summit Serviced Residences. Starwood Hotels and Resorts 10% off or 2,000 Starpoints Aloft; Element; Four Points; Le Meridien; Sheraton; St Regis; The Luxury Collection; Westin; W Hotels. Wyndham 10% off Baymont Inn & Suites; Days Inn; Dream Hotels; Hawthorn Suites by Wyndham; Howard Johnson; Knights Inn; Microtel Inn & Suites by Wyndham; Night Hotels; Planet Hollywood; Ramada; Super 8; Travelodge; TRYP by Wyndham; Wingate by Wyndham; Wyndham Garden; Wyndham Hotels and Resorts; Wyndham Grand Collection.
Confused? Need to see how it all works in real life?