Our winners’ comparison summary
The winner in the overall ranking is Booking.com. The portal convinces with a successful search function and a large offer including the best hotel booking app. Even with particularly detailed hotel descriptions, Booking.com stands out from its competitors. Also, a very good rating receives Hotels.com which indeed does not particularly shine in any area, but nowhere disappointed. Expedia ends up in a good third place. The website convinces by clarity and a wide scope of search solutions.
4. Let’s Compare
In order to get the most accurate impression possible from the hotel search engines, the counterparties were subjected to a detailed examination. We determined the possible price savings when booking five different hotels with a respective search engine. The examples represent different hotels and travel situations:
- A one-day journey to Copenhagen.
- A holiday with friends for a week in Maldives.
- A romantic one-and-a-half-week holiday in Goa in winter.
- A short-term planned trip to Los Angeles.
- A weekend with the family in the Caribbean in June.
For all situations, we chose a specific hotel the room rate of which was indicated on all ten hotel portals. For comparison, we collated the prices on rating portals, search engines and hotel websites.
We’ve evaluated the hotel portals on the following criteria in particular:
1) Usability: search function, range of services, website structure, evaluation function.
The best hotel deals are useless if a searcher is unable to find hotels that are relevant to his or her inquiry. A good search function offers many filter options and is understandable at first glance, so the future vacationer does not have to start his hotel search in frustration. The results should be sortable (for example, by price or rating) so the relevant hotels appear at the top. The range of services offered by the search engine decides whether there are enough choices for each necessity to book the appropriate hotel or not. A well-structured website allows you to quickly grasp all the important information and form an opinion on the relevance and attractiveness of the hotels offered.
2) Costs and conditions: hotel pricing, terms and conditions, booking and cancellation.
All additional information such as terms and conditions, contact and consulting services should be clearly designed.
3) Support and advice: hotel descriptions, advice/information, contact
Hotel description, indirect exchange of experience with former guests of a hotel, tips and life hacks are a great advantage of accommodation booking sites. Reviews make it easier to decide which rooms and services are right. Hotel reviews should be trustworthy and available in sufficient numbers, and hotel reviews should ideally provide a distinction by type. Depending on whether a family holiday or a business trip is planned, the viewer should pay attention to other properties of accommodation.
The hotel search works with most providers very well. Booking.com, Hotels.com and Expedia are easy to use when searching for hotels, and quickly lead to results. Unfortunately, Agoda, and Travelocity are somewhat weaker in this point: not always the desired inquiries could be found quickly, the operation was sometimes cumbersome. With HomeAway, you may notice its origin in the business world: family vacation is difficult to plan here, because some filters are missing for this purpose. The default settings of all portals are not based on a traceable order; instead some recommendation sections are displayed. When searching for a good price for a hotel, users always have to make a manual adjustment when comparing hotel prices.
SCOPE OF HOTELS
The range of accommodation does not differ significantly in all examined websites to book hotels. Although Booking.com and Expedia stand out with a database twice as big as all other search engines, they do not provide a clear advantage in the search engine test. However, booking of some hotels with a provider is not possible, and hotels are even offered exclusively on a specific page – the rule cannot be derived.
CLARITY OF THE WEBSITE
Also, as for the clarity of the web pages, no big differences between the collated websites are detected. There are both more modern (for example, KAYAK, PriceLine) and somewhat outdated approaches represented, such as Travelocity. A weaker clarity is usually accompanied by a larger offer, such as additional flight searches or more consulting options, such as Booking.com or Expedia. On Trivago, a search engine appears to be very clearly arranged.
It is actually standard among the search engines that only reviews from verified guests appear. There are differences in filter option according to the type of a guest (families, business travelers, etc.). This is what happened in the hotel search Trivago, where the rating indication of families, singles or couples can be seen immediately. But Hotels.com also has the useful feature providing that only certain well-rated hotels are displayed. The hotel search engines from the Expedia Group (Hotels.com, Expedia) additionally offer (very numerous) reviews of the TripAdvisor travel experience platform. However, there is no guarantee that these texts and hotel reviews were really written by guests.
COSTS AND CONDITIONS
In addition to the comfortable selection of destination from home, this is the second important reason to use a search engine when browsing for hotels. In order to be able to compare the hotel prices, we searched five examples in the search engines and carried out a hotel price comparison of hotel rooms and identical offers. If everything works out smoothly, no one loses any thoughts on the terms of the contract when booking a room. But if a hotel booking did not go right or the price at the end turned out to be higher than agreed at the time of booking, a customer wants to get his way. The jurisdiction in the U.S. and Canada and binding terms and conditions are important for these cases, so that all legal issues can be clarified on the spot.
BOOKING AND CANCELLATION
If booking and cancellation options are not explained exactly or only awkward payment methods are available for the booking, this fact is considered to be a true disadvantage for a user. He cannot get his money back if a trip is canceled or he faces incomprehensible conditions. A well-structured booking portal with all the important information should be available when paying, so that in the last step the travel planning runs as hoped. Some hotel comparison sites require the immediate payment of the hotel price when booking. This is basically OK, if the comparison portal is one of the top portals – otherwise there could be problems if you want to cancel or the organizer gets into financial difficulties.
The result of the price comparison is quite sobering. In most cases, hotel rooms have identical prices on the hotel search engines. There were quite insignificant differences in amounts between the hotel room booking sites. Only very rarely we were able to see clear outliers, which were also not limited to a specific hotel portal. Only in the price range of several thousand dollars, the price differences are larger, but even here – no hotel portal stands out in particular. In individual cases, savings of up to 30% (regardless of the price range) are possible, as long as several search engines are compared with each other when searching for hotels.
The terms and conditions of most hotel search engines are in a perfect order and formulated according to the law to comply with the status of the best hotel reservation site. The only problem is Booking.com and Trivago that act according to the laws of the country of origin. When booking and cancellation, the experience with HomeAway.com was a bit negative, as the booking process of a hotel room is a little harder to understand. But a customer does not have to put up with a real disadvantage when booking a room.
SUPPORT AND ADVICE
Detailed hotel descriptions with enough information on all features of the room and hotel are part of a transparent advice on hotel price comparison. But finding the right destination or planning a stay can also be helped by hotel search engines. Not all functions are mandatory, but if they exist, there is an advantage for a user that is included in this criterion: guides, tips, or a blog are counseling options that work without personal contact. Nevertheless, there are occasions when a contact person is unavoidable for booking problems in a hotel or if questions cannot be answered through the FAQ section or tutorials. We evaluate which options a hotel room booking sites’ offers and how well the help offered by the hotel portals presents itself.
In the verbosity of hotel’s information, the best online hotel booking site is generally well equipped. Travelocity somewhat scarcely described some of the listed hotels.
Very large differences are present in the additional advice: highly recommended are Booking.com, Expedia and Hotels.com. Travelocity offers no additional information.
The contact is almost the same for all providers, there are only the limited hours of telephone support at Expedia, Hotels.com, and Trivago, which is not available at night.
5. Evaluation Portals
The cheapest possible accommodation is important, so money is not wasted up before the trip. If you only look at the price, you will be able to question your economy during your holiday – namely, if the hotel does not meet expectations. Evaluations are therefore very important in the choice of hotel rooms. It is also possible to collect guest opinions from around the world in the leisure and travel sector, who can draw the image of a particular hotel. The most widely used portals include:
Despite allegations that hotel reviews have been manipulated, cases of counterfeit hotel reviews have never been seen in a noticeable number.
Behind Tripadvisor stands Trivago and several hotel portals the American tourism group Expedia. In addition to hotels, the website also offers reviews of shops, travel destinations, restaurants and much more.
Registered users can submit ratings for all categories. Depending on the activity of a user and the amount of information (text, images) that he makes available on the website, he will be assigned to one of six ‘contribution levels’. The latter should give information about his interests, his experience and his trustworthiness. Consumer reviews on the Internet should never be taken without hesitation: these are subjective opinions that do not necessarily reflect the actual situation and service of a hotel or a room. Depending on the type (families, couples, age of the guests) or the reason of the night (business trip, relaxation vacation, educational trip) other criteria for the hotel may be important.
Fake reviews are the biggest disadvantages. These are either written to represent a hotel as beneficially as possible, or to give the worst possible impression and harm the hotel. There is even a whole service industry that deals with writing good reviews for the client’s company on behalf of clients, or spreading bad reviews for its direct competitors through a variety of channels. In the meantime, more and more bots are being used, which take over this task fully automatically and spread fake reviews in blogs and portals. The opinions are written anonymously. Critics are not forced to give evidence of allegations, and the entire process of hotel reviews is not traceable in detail. PriceLine and TripAdvisor also publish all ratings from registered users without being able to control them. However, the review portals pay more attention to the formal review of the submitted reviews and remove dubious-looking texts.
All in all, in order to find an offer tailored to his or her own situation, PriceLine and TripAdvisor will display the reviews with additional guest type information: interests, preferences, gender and marital status will tell you if a rating is relevant.
6. Metasearch Engines
Although there are some hotels that exclusively offer only one hotel portal, the majority of hotel rooms are available from all service providers. However, the prices and the services offered may differ in many cases. Experts advise you to compare the price of selected accommodation on several hotel portals in order to obtain the best offer in terms of cost and rooms scope. The so-called metasearch engines are able to take over the part of this work. These are research programs that can be used online and collects the offers from several hotel search engines. Well-known names in this area are:
The search engine Trivago has almost one million hotels in the program. The offers are collected from about 200 booking portals. In 2012, over 60 percent of Trivago’s shares were acquired by online travel agency Expedia which owns two of the largest hotel portals, Expedia.com and Hotels.com.
The owner of the US hotel portal KAYAK is the Priceline Group, which also includes the hotel search sites Booking.com and Agoda. The Priceline Group is one of the major players in the tourism market.
This travel giant is now connected with the hotel search. Although the offer is not yet competitive in all regions with that of the tourism-specialized provider, Travelocity is working ambitiously to expand its position.
The metasearch engines filter out the cheapest hotels among the overall hotel offers of the search engines, whereby a saving of up to 35 per cent is possible. Users are then usually forwarded from the website to the provider, where they can complete the booking. For a customer, the use of metasearch engines is free. The companies make their profit by forwarding customers to the hotel search machines who pay for the brokerage.
Although this system for hotel search is ideal for a user, it is not completely unproblematic: the search is based on an algorithm the search criteria of which cannot be viewed by a customer. The fact all eligible deals and hotels are searched and the cheapest presented cannot be proven and checked with certainty.
To conclude, metasearch engines for hotel browsing can be a useful assistance in comparing the offers of several hotel search engines. Non-transparent search and affiliation of the search engines to the corresponding hotel portals of the tourism companies lead to several portals in their portfolio; nevertheless, leave behind some doubts about the independence of the service. Again, it is worth comparing several hotel providers before booking.
7. Evaluation Functions of the Hotel Search Engines
The presentation of reviews during the search engine comparison of hotel reservation sites is sometimes very different. For example, while many providers such as Booking.com and Expedia allow only the reviews of verified guests who actually book on the portal, Hotel.com also uses TripAdvisor ratings. In order to be able to view these reviews in detail, a customer is sometimes forced to visit the website of TripAdvisor, Booking.com, Trivago and Agoda offer good functions which in addition to the hotel reviews also show more information about the author. The user can thus see, for example, whether a hotel meets the needs of a couple over 50 or whether it enjoys a good reputation among business people. To get an impression when looking for a hotel, the possibilities of the hotel portals are usually sufficient. Moreover, they generally offer the advantage that many hotel search engines display only opinions of guests, although most of them are also not checked for impartiality and accuracy. For many hotel search engines, guests are only allowed to rate the hotel they have booked. In order to get a comprehensive impression of his vacation home, a user should of course also consult the review portals. However, he or she must be aware of the limitations of transparency and objectivity.
Even if it is obvious to book the rental car or the flight also via the hotel portal, it makes more sense, if you choose a specialized comparison portal, because then you save more. For an overview of comparison portals, see car rental comparison and flight comparison websites. Always keep in mind that the hotel portal also wants to earn the extra services – and you pay for it with a higher price. Make a test to determine the best website to book hotels and other services. If you want to book flight and hotel together, then definitely take a look at the offers of travel portals, as these can make cheap package prices.