Every traveller will tell you they have a favourite. There are so many booking engines and companies now offering online bookings for accommodation that for an inexperienced traveller it can be overwhelming. Travel agents will often “sell” you the places they get the highest commission from, but you can (and should) do it yourself, to save yourself money and ensure you’re getting exactly what you want.
What to look for: Many of the hotel booking sites these days offer “Pay when you get there” or “Non refundable” booking. There are pros and cons to both of these.
If you’re absolutely sure of your destination and dates and you’ve seen a fantastic non refundable price (which can often be sometimes $100 less when hotels are having their sales) then book it. Often these deals will be inclusive of breakfast or perhaps some special kind of promotional offer for paying straight away.
More than often I go with the “Pay later” option as I do find my plans can change and if I see a good deal at a better hotel prior to the trip (or even during!) I will cancel within the penalty time the previous reservation and book the other hotel.
I will note that I’m not a fan of Trip Advisor. There are too many fake reviews going around these days (many hotels have been caught out and fined for hiring people to write fake reviews to bring their ratings up). Every so often if it isn’t a city or hotel I’ve been to, I will look at the “real travel photos” and make my own decision.
Two of the biggest booking sites also have a couple of additions to them that I particularly like
Booking.com has a great review system that are from actual people that have stayed at the hotel. You can’t review a property unless you’ve stayed there, so I find that it’s an honest system. It covers properties all over the world including a lot of the major chains and they have a lot of good offers for both “Pay later” or Pay now”.
Agoda.com is quite similar but the bonus for me is that you can earn frequent flyer points with your bookings for quite a lot of different airline programs. (My program of choice with Agoda is Velocity (Virgin Australia). Pay with a credit card that also earns frequent flyer points and by booking all your accommodation on one site can quickly build the point balance! Just ensure you’re not forgetting to add your frequent flyer number to the booking.
Hilton.com is my preferred major hotel chain, and to ensure I get my member benefits I will only book through the Hilton site (Status benefits are usually not guaranteed when booking via a different booking site). The reason I like Hilton hotels (apart from the fact that I’m a Diamond member and get looked after very well) is that their hotels can generally be found in most major cities around the world, you know what you’re getting (no nasty surprises) and the hotels have extra facilities that can come in handy while on the road (Business centres, Room service, Day Spa, etc). Gaining a mid level status of Hilton is quite easy to do and the benefits for Gold and Diamond are very good. There are some great deals to be had as Hilton have other “brands” within their portfolio including Conrad, Hampton, Waldorf and a few others. There is something for all types of travellers and budgets.