How to find hotel deals on hotel booking sites

Sometimes it's worth forgoing the points for a big bargain

Tony Mecia
Personal finance writer
Rewards expert who writes the "Cashing In" reader Q&A column for CreditCards.com

Getting the best hotel deals

Usually, it makes sense to eliminate the middleman, but when it comes to finding an inexpensive hotel, you can actually save a lot of money by paying for rooms using a company that is not the hotel itself.

There are other drawbacks – like forfeiting any reward points and losing flexibility – but if you’re looking for the best deals on hotel rooms, you can do a lot worse than checking out hotel booking sites.

Often, they will find cheaper rooms than you can find on the hotel’s site.

Over the years, a number of hotel-deal sites have popped up, such as Priceline, Hotwire, Expedia, HotelTonight, BedFinder, Hotels.com and many others. Unlike the airline industry, which largely stopped paying commissions to travel agencies in 2002, hotels continue to pay online travel agencies to book rooms. These hotel-booking sites helps them fill unused rooms, and in return, hotels are willing to accept a lower price.

So while you’re unlikely to find an airfare cheaper anywhere other than an airline’s website, you might very well be able to find a cheaper hotel room by shopping around online.

The savings can outweigh the lost points

Let’s look at an example. Say you’re looking to travel to Denver in late April. Denver is a big city with plenty of options, from inexpensive motels to ritzy boutique hotels and plenty of solid chain hotels in between.

Let’s say you want to stay downtown. I picked a three-night stay the last weekend in April. If you look on Google, you’ll find the Westin Denver Downtown for $245 a night plus taxes. A look on the hotel’s website confirms that price. For three nights, it comes to $851.92.

But if you go to Priceline and log in, you can see a handful of “member deals,” including one on the same dates at the Westin Denver Downtown for $187 a night plus taxes. When you continue to book, you see the total comes to just $676.05 – a difference of about $176 for staying at the same hotel for three nights.

Or say you’re going to Omaha, Nebraska, for two nights the second week of September. The cheapest rate at the Hilton Omaha, on Hilton’s website: $92 a night, or $217.68 with taxes. Best deal on Hotwire, same hotel and nights: $76 a night, or $179.02 – almost $40 cheaper.

Consider the pros and cons of using a third party

Not all hotels will be cheaper all the time, of course, but usually at least a handful will, from lower-end Comfort Inns to higher-end Hyatt Regencies. Different booking sites have different deals. Some allow you to see the name of the hotel before booking, while others give you only a general description (location, services included). Priceline also has a feature that allows you to bid on a price.

There are pros and cons to using these types of sites:

PROS

  • Cost. The price can be cheaper, sometimes much cheaper, than booking directly through hotel

CONS

  • No flexibility. Typically, you have to prepay, and changes and cancellations are not allowed.
  • No hotel points. Because you are booking through an outside company, hotels often do not allow you to earn hotel points from your stay, as you would if you booked through the hotel or hotel group directly.
  • No elite perks. If you are a member of a hotel loyalty program – which sometimes comes with having the right credit card – the hotel might not allow you to have those perks, such as late checkout, complimentary Wi-Fi and room upgrades.
  • Sometimes a mystery hotel. You don’t always know the hotel before you book, only the general location within a city and what kindof services it offers.

Of course, if you have a credit card that gives you extra points for travel expenses, you will earn those on your stay, since online travel agencies are a travel expense.

Contact hotel for a deal

Sometimes, you can play the websites against each other. Some hotel chains have price guarantees in which they will match or beat the price of an online travel agency – and give you their usual perks.

If you are traveling on business, or somebody else is paying for your room, you might consider the higher price on hotel websites and the perks that come with it. But if you’re paying for yourself, don’t care about amassing hotel points, and aren’t loyal to a certain brand, it can really pay to check out other booking sites first.

 See related: Get the most out of hotel credit card’s free nights, How to stay at the best hotels for under $100


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Updated: 10-18-2018