- Best travel booking site – Airbnb
- Best hotel booking site overall – Booking.com
- Best hostel booking site – Hostelworld
- Best website for booking in Asia – Agoda
- Best aggregator hotel booking site – HotelsCombined
I have individually reviewed my picks for the top travel booking sites. I’ve left most “aggregators” off of this list and mainly reviewed the major hotel booking sites that let you search, pay, and process all the way through (i.e. not sites like Kayak).
That said, I do really like HotelsCombined, so I have reviewed this aggregator site.
It’s a minefield of confusion. But at the end of the day, or the start of a journey, it’s all about how to book a cheap hotel online, find awesome spots AND the best deals!
#1 AirbnbThe Best Accommodation Booking Site. PERIOD.
Okay, so it’s not a site for hotel booking exactly. Airbnb is different. But as I’m writing this to you from an Airbnb, there’s no way this travel booking site can’t take the top spot.
There are many reasons why Airbnb is the best player in the vacation rental game now. Airbnb’s ingenious way of connecting people is changing the way we travel.
And now, more than ever, they’re putting up some tough competition. You don’t have to have a bland hotel search when you travel now: Airbnb allows you to stay in – well, basically anywhere.
Airbnb’s smooth booking process lets you pick and choose to your perfect specifications, in places owned by local people. There are options for all budgets: from tiny, shared spaces to massive luxury villas, take your pick anywhere on the spectrum.
And if you’re a digital nomad or looking to stay somewhere long term, then Airbnb is the best platform for this. Since they launched Airbnb Split Stays, a feature that caters to long term travellers, it’s become even easier to find properties for weeks to a month at a time.
The categories feature allows for a more ingenious hotel search, since you can select beachside properties, mountain retreats, or island escapes, all by selecting a category. Plus you get discounts for long stays.
Of course, all good things have their downsides too. Yes, even Airbnb. For hotels all over, big and small, it’s hard to compete. Renting prices in a lot of cities – pretty much everywhere – have skyrocketed. So some of the authenticity is lost. If you’re seeking something a bit more ethical and fair, I highly recommend you check out Fairbnb. It’s kind of like a idealized version of the original.
Another great thing about Airbnb is that it has the most honest hotel reviews, since hosts and guests are not allowed to see each other’s reviews until after you have both left a review. Which takes out the awkwardness if you want to leave a bad review.
But who am I to talk? I love Airbnb! Where else can you find a perfect apartment for the weekend in Rome, or a treehouse in Thailand?
- Pros: You can create incredible, unique vacation experiences to your specifications.
- Cons: Airbnb is kind of changing travel as we know it. So vacation rentals may never be the same again.
#2 Booking.comThe Best Hotel Booking Site
In my opinion, Booking.com is one of the best hotel booking sites. It just seems to offer the most options: a healthy mix of hotels, apartments, hostels, and guesthouses – all at great prices.
I’ve found that you can score some really cheap hotel bookings on Booking.com for many destinations across the world, whether you book last-minute or months in advance.
After years of travelling, I think Booking.com is the best hotel search engine because of its sheer amount of options. I’ve found great apartments for 4 people under $30 a person, even while backpacking through Europe! When it comes down to it, no other site is better at finding cheap hotel rooms under $100 a night.
What are the drawbacks? Well, Booking.com could have a better user interface. You have to keep entering your dates and it’s harder to just browse at the options at leisure if you’re not sure when you’re going to travel. This is a small disadvantage but it can really grate.
Finally, I can really appreciate that all of the costs are represented upfront – even taxes and fees. Many other hotel sites will try to bury taxes and fees until you go to pay, and sites like Airbnb and other online hotel booking sites tend to have extra fees for security, cleaning, etc.
- Pros: Best hotel booking site for a cheap hotel room and tons of options from hostels to luxury hotels.
- Cons: Not the best in user experience, nor the best hostel options.
#3 HostelworldBest Booking Site for Hostels
When it comes to booking hostels, no other site comes close to Hostelworld. Hostelworld is the absolute best site for booking a dorm bed or finding the cheapest places to stay in!
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve used Hostelworld in my long-winded backpacking career. If you are travelling solo, or want to meet other travellers on your vacation, booking a hostel dorm bed and experiencing the hostel life is an absolute must.
Whether you are travelling through Europe, backpacking Colombia, or discovering Thailand, you’ll end up using Hostelworld at some point.
The minor setbacks of booking with Hostelworld include the required extra nominal booking fee – usually a couple of dollars – for flexible booking. Moreover, you often have to pay online in advance (versus at the hostel), so sometimes you’ll get a cheaper price from a walk-in.
I’ve also noticed that you can find the same hotel on Hostelworld as Booking.com, but sometimes Booking.com is cheaper and sometimes Hostelworld is cheaper – it’s worth checking both sites to see which has the best deal.
That said, Hostelworld allows free cancellations with the extra fee up to 7 days before your reservation! I recommend checking both the direct site for the hostel and Hostelworld to compare prices as well.
- Pros: Best online hotel booking site for hostels (which can include private rooms). A lotta different backpacker accommodations at backpacker prices.
- Cons: Generally does not show hotels, so not necessarily usable in certain destinations/countries, especially rural areas.
#4 Agoda.comThe Best Hotel Booking Site in Asia
Searching for the best hotel booking site for India? Thailand? Sri Lanka?
Agoda has historically been one of the most well-known, cheap hotel booking sites for travelling in Asia. And now that Agoda is a subsidiary of Booking Holdings, they have massively increased their options for booking hotels around the world!
Not only is Agoda growing its listing size around the world, but they have also added new features and usages to their site making it another best hotel comparison site and more.
For example, you can list your personal property on Agoda, kind of like on Airbnb. You can also book cheap flights, car rentals and airport transfers on their site! They are definitely attempting to become an A to Z vacation booking site, from your flight, transfer, accommodation, and even your at-home listing.
Agoda consistently finds great prices on every continent, but they truly shine when it comes to booking a room in Asia.
- Pros: Best online hotel booking site for Asia and a whole host of other convenient goodies.
- Cons: You must search for a room by city, not region.
(It is also worth noting that Booking Holdings owns other large online hotel sites like Booking.com and Priceline.)
#5 HotelsCombined.comBest Aggregator Hotel Booking Site
HotelsCombined is another cheap hotel booking site. They’re best known for their incredible metasearch engine. This algorithm can find amazing hotel deals that other hotel sites miss, so no longer do you need to Google hotels.
The major drawback about HotelsCombined is that it is a hotel aggregator and sometimes the price doesn’t match once you land on the actual hotel booking page. Furthermore, this means you can’t pay for your hotel all the way through their site; you will be directed to the direct source – so it’s not great if you’re looking to compare prices.
Overall, I like using Hotels Combined in alliance with the other hotel booking websites on this list, but it’s not my first choice.
- Pros: The volume of results and hotel deals!
- Cons: Final price can sometimes increase from original list price.
Now that I’ve reviewed the best hotel booking sites, here are my best tips for booking the perfect hotel room online. These strategies have helped me find some killer deals and incredible experiences.
They’ve also saved me a few hundred dollars here and there – no big deal.
- Compare multiple hotel booking sites.
- Check the hotel website too. Sometimes you can book directly on the hotel website and find a better price.
- Don’t book too far in advance. But equally, don’t book too late either. Booking a week in advance is usually a good time to get deals.
- Sign up for membership discounts! – Many (non-hotel/booking site) memberships provide discounts on hotel prices worldwide.
- Keep checking back for the best hotel prices. Like airfares, hotel prices go up and down.
- Keep your dates flexible – whenever possible.
- Check for extra fees. Sometimes there are extra fees and taxes included in the final price.
- Take advantage of price matching. Booking.com and HotelsCombined have price-match guarantees.
Now that you’re well equipped on how to find the best hotel deal online, there are a few last things I’d like to cover before we wrap this up. First is using Airbnb as an alternative to booking traditional hotels through online websites. Why?
Because Airbnb is dope!
Airbnb vs. Hotel Booking Sites: Which Should You Use?
I personally love using Airbnb, as you can get a much more personal and authentic feel of a destination and meet locals in a new destination. That said, Airbnb can be more expensive with hidden costs, or simply not make sense depending on your destination.
The biggest difference between Airbnb and hotel booking websites is that Airbnb vacation stays are listed by individual property owners versus proper businesses.
Whether you choose to stay at an Airbnb, a hotel, a new platform like Wunderflats, or both, on your next vacation, stick to the best vacation booking sites and you’ll find the best hotel deal! Remember that each type of accommodation has advantages you should weigh before booking your stay.
What to look for in an Airbnb vs a Hotel
- Quality: The key here is to read the reviews on Airbnb! This is also the easiest way to avoid Airbnb scams. Quality varies widely on Airbnb because the individual property owners are responsible for the cleaning and maintenance. Hotels tend to be more standardized, though generally drabbier… especially for budget stays.
- Location: The benefit of Airbnb is you can get close to the attractions and places you want to see; hotels tend to congregate downtown, near the airport. You can usually book an Airbnb in a trendier neighborhood for cheaper than a boutique hotel. On the other hand, sometimes Airbnb stays can be really remote, especially on islands or in rural parts of a region.
- Price: If the price is your main concern, you may be surprised to find out that hotels can have lower prices than Airbnb internationally. But this isn’t the case when visiting the United States! As I’ve said before: always compare the best discount hotel sites with other alternatives to find the best deal!
When is the Best Time to Book Hotels?
The best time to book hotels depends on the type of facility. For good budget hotel chains and any hotels that have a business clientele, you can find great deals at the last minute.
On the other hand, for resorts, vacation rentals, and other hotels that mainly accommodate tourists, booking your stay at least 3 months in advance will likely provide the best hotel deals.
Why Do Hotels Use Third-Party Booking Sites like Booking.com?
Hotels use high trafficked sites to fill in their rooms. Even if a guest is only paying half the rack rate, that’s going to make more money than an empty room! Hotels offer those rooms on hotel websites so that the price discounts don’t reflect directly on the hotel itself.
Boutique hotels, small guesthouses, cheap hotels, etc. will use third-party hotel booking sites simply for the exposure too.
There you have it: the best travel booking sites. As we create our own adventures, it’s good to have the internet to help you along.
So many factors need to be taken into account to find the perfect hotel booking: your destination, region, and country, how many people are booking, and why you need to go there (if you want to be in a trendy neighborhood or near the airport, for example).
So basically, that means that you’ve got a kinda unique adventure going on. That’s why Airbnb takes the top spot – for now!
But ultimately, Booking.com and Hostelworld are my go-to hotel booking websites for traveling. Just never get too attached to one site. Find your own balance, and find the best deals.
When you’re heading to Asia, Agoda will serve you well on your hotel search. Even if that means you just need one night booked and then you’re good to go. Online hotel aggregators like HotelsCombined and even Google can offer better deals too. So keep checking around for the best prices.
And for transparency’s sake, please know that some of the links in our content are affiliate links. That means that if you book your accommodation, buy your gear, or sort your insurance through our link, we earn a small commission (at no extra cost to you). That said, we only link to the gear we trust and never recommend services we don’t believe are up to scratch. Again, thank you!