If you’re unsure of how to book a hotel online, then this guide will help you find the best hotel at the best price.
If you’ve never booked a hotel online, it can be overwhelming. Where do you even start? For every hotel room, there are dozens of different prices depending upon where you happen to look. This can make finding the right room at the right price an extremly time consuming and frustrating process.
Why are there so many different prices for the same room?
When a hotel has a room for sale, they have many choices about where to sell that room. Of course, the most obvious place is on their own website. But that may not provide them with enough exposure, so they also offer their room through travel agencies – both online and offline.
Online travel agencies have enormous buying power so they are able to negotiate competitive rates with hotels. The hotel may have different agreements in place with different agencies depending upon how much business the agency sends to them. This is why hotel rates differ across different websites.
How to Book a Hotel Online in Four Easy Steps
Booking a hotel online really only involves four steps:
1. Head to a hotel aggregator site to find a hotel and the best deal
2. Once you’ve made your selection, the aggregator will transfer you to the booking site
3. (Optional) Before you commit to the booking there, head over to the hotel’s
website and check their rates just to be sure you have the best price
4. Depending upon the results of Step 3, make your reservation.
What do you need to make a hotel booking online?
1. Credit or debit card (in some cases you may be able to use Paypal or Bitcoin)
2. Email address – this is where your hotel confirmation will be sent. If your email doesn’t turn up immediately after making the booking, check your spam folder.
A good place to start with any online hotel booking is with what is known as an aggregator site. These sites search the internet for all available hotels for the date requested and then compile the results for you. You can then compare deals and the aggregator will direct you to the relevant booking site.
Aggregators are a great way to save time and ensure that you’re getting the best deal. Filters within the site allow you to narrow searches down so that you can easily find a hotel perfectly suited to your needs.
Examples of aggregator sites include:
In this video, I walk through how to use Trivago to find a hotel.
Online Travel Agencies
There are benefits in dealing exclusively with one online travel agency. Most will offer you the opportunity to collect loyalty points with each booking that can be redeemed either as cash off future bookings or as free nights.
However, the disadvantage of only ever using the one online agency is that they may not be offering the best rate available on a particular hotel. My advice is to start with one of the aggregator sites just to be sure you’re getting the best rate. Competing travel websites may have special promotions happening that more than make up for any loyalty bonus you receive with your preferred travel website. There’s also nothing to stop you from joining multiple loyalty programs!
Examples of online travel agencies are:
In this video I walk you through how to make a booking on Expedia.
Hotel Chain Booking Site
Hotel chains also offer their own booking sites. So, for example, you might be looking for a Hilton Hotel in which case you can head straight to the generic Hilton Hotels website. From there you can book any of their hotels worldwide. This option is most suitable for people who have strict hotel brand loyalty.
Booking Directly with the Hotel
The final option is to book directly with the hotel on their website. Most hotels have their own booking facility on their website, although you may occasionally find smaller properties that only sell their rooms through online travel agencies. Many will offer an “internet rate” which is either as low as, or sometimes lower, than what you’ll find on a travel website. They will also often offer discounts for memberships such as AAA or discounts for veterans. These options don’t generally show up in searches on aggregators or online travel agencies, so its always worth checking with the hotel’s own website.
General Information About Booking a Hotel Online
Pay Now or Pay Later?
When you book a hotel online, you’ll usually be asked if you wish to “pay now” or “pay at the hotel”. Paying at the hotel generally results in a slightly higher rate than pay now options. In either case you will need to provide credit or debit card details. Occasionally you may be able to pay immediately using Paypal or Bitcoin in which case you won’t need to provide credit card information.
The reason you need to provide card details, even though you’ve chosen to pay at the hotel, is that if you don’t turn up on the first night of your reservation, the hotel will charge a cancellation fee. This fee ranges from 100% of the first night to 100% of the full booking. Some hotels may require a minimum of 24 hours notice of cancellations and others will require longer.
If you choose the “pay at the hotel” option when travelling internationally, be aware that the final price may vary from when you originally made the booking. This is due to currency fluctuations.
Check the Booking Conditions!
Before you hit “confirm” always check the booking conditions because they can vary a great deal. This is particularly so if your travel plans are tentative or likely to change.
When you travel, have a copy of your booking confirmation email with you either electronically or on paper. While its rare, sometimes things do go wrong and your room may not be available. Its always good to be able to provide proof of an online booking.
No Nasty Surprises
Whatever website you ultimately use, always be sure to check that you have selected the right currency to display prices. When it comes to displays in $$ there can be a great deal of difference between US Dollars and Canadian or Australian Dollars, for example.
What About Mystery Hotels?
Some websites such as Priceline and Hotwire offer you the opportunity to purchase a “mystery hotel” at heavily discounted rates. They allow you to select an area, star rating and guest rating but not a specific hotel. If you’re not concerned with staying at a particular hotel, these can be a great option for budget-friendly travel.
When you make a booking with an online travel agency, you’ll be given the option to join their loyalty program. Its not necessary to join in order to make the booking, but you may wish to join if you plan on doing a lot of travelling. There is, however, a trade off – there may be a better price for your hotel at another agency, or even directly with the hotel. So you’ll need to assess whether the loyalty bonus is worth more than a rock bottom price.
Are you already a member of a loyalty program?
In addition to online travel website loyalty programs, hotel chains offer their own programs. Its often the case that if you book through an online agency you’re not eligible to claim hotel loyalty program points for that booking. So you’ll need to decide which points offer you the most value. So, for example, if you are a member of Starwood Preferred, you may wish to book directly with either the Starwood website or the hotel itself to ensure you accrue Starwood points.
I hope you’ve found this guide helpful. Do you have any tips about booking hotels online? If so, feel free to leave them in the comments.