Best websites for booking cheap hotels
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If you’re staying in hotels faster than you’re earning the nearly endless number of credit card welcome bonuses, this post is for you. I’ll show you the best websites to score super cheap hotel stays, including two or three that will blow your socks off — IF you’re willing to be flexible with your travel plans.
If you’re looking for free hotel stays, read our post on the best hotel credit cards and don’t waste time with this one. You can easily accrue hundreds and hundreds of thousands of hotel points for aspirational stays from overwater villas in the Maldives to opera houses in France.
What is an online travel agency (OTA)?
Online travel agencies are exactly what they sound like: A third-party website that handles various travel booking tasks, such as airfare, hotel stays, rental cars and cruises. The most popular examples include Expedia, Orbitz, and Priceline.
When you book with an online travel agency, you aren’t dealing directly with your travel company. In other words, if you book a Marriott hotel through Expedia, Expedia will reach out to Marriott and book your room on your behalf. If you want to cancel or change that reservation, you’ll have to tell Expedia, and they will make the necessary changes.
The best websites for booking cheap hotels
Direct with the hotel
Seriously, direct is often the best choice. With major hotel chains, you’ll earn points for your stay, receive elite benefits (like potential room upgrade, free breakfast, late checkout, etc.), get a member discount, and earn elite night credits. Booking through a third party comes with none of these things. Before you use an online travel agency, be sure you’re at peace with forfeiting all those amenities.
Also — and I can’t exactly prove this — my experience has been that hotels treat you better if you book direct. I’ve got stories of booking via a third party and receiving a noticeably unfavorable room. Hotels may save their best products for those who book directly with them, since they don’t have to share a commission with an online travel agency.
Hotwire has one simple perk that outshines nearly any competition: Mystery Hotel Deals.
Hotwire will give you a big discount in exchange for you not knowing where the heck you’re going to stay until after you make your reservation. You can choose the vicinity of your hotel and the star rating, but they’ll choose the hotel. Hotwire will make certain guarantees to you, such as that your hotel is guaranteed to be a regional or national hotel chain (like Marriott, Hilton, Accor, etc.).
As you can see, the locations you can choose for your mystery hotel is reasonably tight — you won’t end up in Oakland if you tell Hotwire you want to stay in San Francisco. But the unknown for some will be a deal-breaker.
However, there are some methods that can help you decipher what the hotel you’ll be getting is before you book a Hotwire mystery deal. Check out this video by Monica Church for the details.
Skip this unbelievably valuable gem if both of the following describes you:
- Your travel destination is non-negotiable
- You have firm travel dates
If those two things are true, the odds that Roomer Travel will serve your needs are infinitesimal. This website allows travelers who have purchased a nonrefundable hotel stay to “sell” their reservation to someone else for a substantial discount. It’s not uncommon to see five-star hotel stays at 70% off.
Roomer is totally secure (they’re the middle-man between the buyer and seller), and their site displays results just like any other online travel agency. You can enter your desired dates and destinations, and it’ll let you know if any available stays match with you. Inputting both date and destination practically guarantees you no matches. Search either date OR destination — or even better, leave them both blank and let the deals guide your travels. Here’s an example of leaving both date and destination blank.
You’ll see the discount percentage in the top left corner of each hotel result. The biggest discounts I see at the moment are 81%. You can sort by recommended hotels, highest discount, hotel class, and more. The results will also tell you the dates of each reservation, which you cannot change. If you like the sound of Design Suites Miami Beach for 81% off, you have to check in on July 4, and check out by July 8, 2020.
HotelTonight is designed to help you find last-minute hotel deals. I’ve used this service a couple of times, and found the savings to be good, though rarely substantial enough to forfeit the benefits of booking directly with a hotel chain. It’s an exceptional option for boutique hotels or any that don’t have a loyalty program.
The app has a feature called “Daily Drop” — a random hotel in which you allegedly receive an abnormally large discount. The hotel is blurred out until you swipe right on the screen. You get one Daily Drop per day.
The Daily Drop doesn’t have to be for tonight, but before you swipe to open it on your screen, enter your desired travel dates. Once you swipe, you can’t change any travel details. Here’s my Daily Drop today.
An unmemorable hotel for $70 ($87 after taxes). The app claims it’s a discount from $211, which is absolutely bogus. Booking direct with the hotel will cost $110 after taxes, meaning I’m saving about $23 by booking through HotelTonight. Still, that’s not too shabby. The savings can increase depending on where you’re booking.
Hotels.com doesn’t have many tricks up its sleeve, but it does have its own loyalty program. If you find yourself using online travel agencies to book most of your hotel stays, Hotels.com will give you your 11th night free.
It’s not as generous as it sounds, actually. That 11th night is in fact worth the average price of your previous 10 nights. In other words, if the last 10 nights you booked with Hotels.com averages $200, and your 11th night costs $300, you’ll still have to pay $100 for your stay. Essentially, you’re getting 10% back on every stay in the form of rewards.
Hotels.com also offers “Secret Price” discounts when you opt into its program. You’ll find good discounts on hotels that don’t have a loyalty program — though the discounts are sometimes NOWHERE NEAR as high as advertised. The below Secret Price claims it’s 46% off, while it’s a mere 5% discount from the next lowest online travel agency’s price.
Luxury Travel Diary
Another obscure but high-value site is Luxury Travel Diary, which allows you to bid on travel items, experiences, and accommodations. I’ve received some really cheap deals through this site. However, you are bidding, so there’s no telling if the final price will give you notable savings.
Valid dates for these stays are often for a fair window of time, with blackout dates. For example, terms for the below two-night stay at the Viceroy Bali say:
Auction stay dates: to be booked in advance and taken before 14 January 2021, excluding stays over 01 July to 30 September and 24 December to 15 January, subject to availability.
Even if you don’t win that auction, it’s worth noting that you can use Hyatt points to book a free stay at the Viceroy Bali. You can earn Hyatt points with cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card and the World of Hyatt Credit Card.
KAYAK is more of an online travel agency aggregator (though you can book with KAYAK powered by Booking.com). It’s simple to use, and its layout of information is pleasing to the eyes and easy to digest. It’s got all the usual filters, but it does have one exceptional — though elusive — benefit that I’ve never seen on another hotel site: Hacker Stays.
KAYAK searches tons of different sites and presents the lowest handful of prices available. However, if during any part of your stay KAYAK finds a uniquely cheap deal on a certain site, it will suggest a Hacker Stay in which you can book portions of your stay through different online travel agencies. In other words, the first part of your stay may be through Hotwire and the last part through Priceline.
This may mean you’re checking out and back into your hotel, as well as possibly changing rooms. There’s a chance you can sweet talk the hotel front desk into marrying the reservations so none of that is necessary.
Best credit cards to use for booking cheap hotels
Again, our article on the best hotel credit cards will give you a complete understanding of how to book hotels for free. These strategies mostly only work when you’re booking direct with a major hotel chain, like Hilton, Marriott, Hyatt, etc. If you’re using an online travel agency, however, you should consider the following cards.
- Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card: 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening.
- Chase Sapphire Reserve®: 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening.
- Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card: 75,000 miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases within three months from account opening.
- Capital One Spark Miles for Business: 50,000 miles after you spend $4,500 on purchases within the first three months from account opening
The information for the Capital One Spark Miles has been collected independently by Million Mile Secrets. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
Capital One miles are worth 1 cent each toward travel purchases — including online travel agencies. And you can use Chase Ultimate Rewards points to book through the Chase Travel Portal (which uses Expedia) at a rate of 1.25 cents per point (if you have the Chase Sapphire Preferred) or 1.5 cents per point (if you have the Chase Sapphire Reserve).
These cards also earn bonus points on travel purchases, including OTAs, so if you’re booking through an OTA with the Chase Sapphire Reserve, you’ll earn 3 points per dollar on the purchase — equivalent to a 5.1% return based on our points valuations.
The deal you’re able to score is correlated to how much freedom you’re willing to give up. Is your destination firmly decided? Do you have rigid travel dates? Can you wait until the last minute to book? Are you willing to switch rooms mid-stay? Are you okay with not knowing which hotel you’ve booked until you’ve already paid?
There’s a hotel website for all of these things and more. You can save a serious wad of cash if you’re willing to inconvenience yourself a bit. Otherwise, we recommend booking directly with the hotel. With most hotel chains, you’ll get your elite status recognized, you’ll earn points and elite credits, and you’ll often get the lowest rate anyway (member rate). And remember, booking a hotel with points is always cheaper than booking with cash — you can even stack discounts like using a fifth-night free perk and free night certificates from hotel credit cards.
Let us know your favorite website to get super cheap hotel stays! And subscribe to our newsletter for more travel tricks like this delivered to your inbox once per day.
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