New Hotel & Hostel Booking Site Looks to Change Search Habits

Flight and hotel booking sites are a dime a dozen. Let’s face it. There are many affiliate programs out there that allow these companies to start a website and search various prices for their visitors. Typically their prices aren’t better than any of the major travel booking sites (Kayak, Expedia, Travelocity, etc) and often actually charge a small fee which makes me wonder why anybody would bother with these no-name sites.

So while there are no shortage of websites to find flights or hotels, searching for hostels has been more time consuming for me than I would prefer. Most times I’ve used HostelWorld to search for hostels based on location, price, availability, and most importantly, customer reviews. Most, but not all hostels are listed on HostelWorld. Others are listed on smaller sites like Hostelz or aren’t listed at all. Sometimes these small establishments find it too expensive to pay commissions to booking sites.

Looking for something a little more mid-range like a bed & breakfast or small guesthouse/inn can also be difficult. You usually don’t find small, independently run businesses on the larger booking sites and Hostel sites aren’t the same niche. I’ve found TripAdvisor to include many B&B’s but I’ve questioned their reviews since several hotels and tour companies have specifically asked me to post positive reviews on several occasions.

For flights, I’ve been a huge fan of Kayak for a while. They search most major airline’s websites and all of the major booking companies as well. It’s a simple, clean interface and does a great job of finding the best prices.
It wasn’t until last week that I found something that piqued my interest as much for searching for hotels though. Somebody recommended I check out HotelsCombined. I wasn’t expecting much, but I was pleasantly surprised after running my first search for Budapest. Over 300 results were presented in a clean and easy to use interface. By default the results are sorted by popularity based upon user reviews but can be sorted by price, quality (stars), distance or even the neighborhood.

What I really like about HotelsCombined is that they don’t simply list hotels, but also B&B’s, guesthouses, and even hostels. I can’t say that there aren’t any other sites that like it, but from what I’ve been able to find, it’s very unique.

One reason I continue to check multiple sites for hostels (or whatever else I am booking) is to see the various reviews that customers leave. Sometimes you don’t have much of a selection, but in places like Budapest there are an unbelievable amount of hostels and reading reviews helps you decide on which one(s) stand out. That’s what, to me, is the best part about HotelsCombined as they also aggregate the various reviews from all the sites they search. It saves quite a bit of time if you’re like me and really like to check out reviews.

If you use HotelsCombined and decide to book a room with their service you’ll be forwarded directly to the hotel or booking agent’s website to book without any additional fees. I’ve never understood why some of the major sites felt the need to charge booking fees when they also received commissions.

Give them a look and let me know what you think. It looks to be a good service and I’ll definitely be checking out accommodations through them. It may still take a while for me to break my habit of checking five or six different sites though.

The Secret to Great Hotel Deals

I have a little secret for finding great deals on hotels that I’ve used over the years, and the good news is that in this economy, it’s only getting better.

Many people will probably be angry with this post, including a large number of our followers on Twitter.  Why? Because they’re constantly advertising deals for their own benefit through affiliate travel programs or their own business.  I have nothing against them doing so, but I have to warn that just because somebody says it is a deal, doesn’t always  make it a deal.  I receive hundreds of messages daily about amazing prices on hotels in Hawaii or New York.  Since I recently visited Maui, I looked into a few of them.  I never found any of these advertisements to be less than $250 per night.  I would hardly call that a deal.  Maybe that hotel used to charge $1,000 per night.  Even so, why am I going to pay that much for a place to sleep when I’m there to see the island, not sit around in a beautiful hotel?

So if that’s your business, I apologize in advance but let’s be honest, Have Pack, Will Travel is all about saving money and making the most of your trip, so we never really saw eye-to-eye anyway.

How to find deals on hotels

Some of the best deals are to be found at the last minute.  But how last minute should you look?  If you’re adventurous, the very last minute.  I rarely book accommodations for my entire trip unless I know it’ll be extremely difficult to secure a bed in a hostel or a cheap room in a hotel.  I like to book the first night if I am arriving in the afternoon or evening just to be sure I have somewhere to sleep, but beyond that, I play it by ear.  Sure, this has backfired and created a headache or two, but I’ve never slept out in the cold and I’ve never had to pay anything unreasonable for a place to sleep.

More times than naught, I’ve landed some incredible deals on hotel rooms by walking up late in the afternoon and simply inquiring about a price.  Yes, you run the risk of not finding someplace, but use your judgment on the time of year and the popularity of the city you are in.

The first time this worked out for me was in Florence, Italy back in 2004.  I was traveling with three Americans I met and our train arrived late in the afternoon.  We walked to a couple of hostels that ended up being completely booked.  This was pretty stressful and we weren’t sure where we were going to find somewhere to sleep.  Before we knew it, day became night and there were no more hostels to check.  On a small budget we weren’t looking forward to finding out how much a hotel room would cost.

By 8pm we entered a small two-star hotel to inquire about the price.  Right there on the wall was a sign that said without a bathroom was €50, or €60 with a bathroom.  We asked anyway and didn’t act desperate for a place to stay.  The desk clerk (probably the owner) knew it was late and the chances of them filling any of the open rooms was unlikely.  They offered us two rooms for €25 each.  That worked out to about €12 per person for a very clean and authentic Italian hotel.  Not bad since in Paris & Venice each hostel dorm bed cost €25 each.

I’ve had a few experiences like this over the years, but what I have been noticing lately is that, given the economy, there are even better deals to be had.  Back in February I went to Costa Rica (for the second time in one year) with two friends.  It was the high season and all common sense given the area were in said that booking a room was a wise idea.  We reserved a private room at a hostel in Quepos as it was considerably cheaper than the hostel and hotels in Manuel Antonio (the national park area that everybody travels to the area to visit).  In the guidebook and on their individual websites, all the small hotels on the road between Quepos and Manuel Antonio advertised rates of $99 or higher.  You can imagine our surprise when we were driving down the beautiful road taking in beautiful views of the Pacific Ocean when we noticed signs in front of several of the same hotels we looked at online advertising $25-50 rooms!  Not only could we have saved money, but we would have had beautiful ocean views and seclusion.

Sure, playing everything by ear can be stressful if you’re limited on time or easily stressed, but the upside is pretty nice.

Have you fallen into any great hotel deals?  Talk about it in the comments if you have any experience or tips on the matter!

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