I know what you’re thinking. This might not be the most glamorous of all travel topics. For sure, I haven’t met many explorers out there who would claim that booking their hotel room is their favorite part of whatever travel adventure they’re on.
Still, the process of reserving a cozy bed for yourself before you ever leave your home base has only gotten easier, more flexible, lighter on the wallet, and not to mention safer as the years have come and gone.
Unfortunately, this is where the can of worms bursts open.
How do you know where to go, and what to pick? Which sites are trustworthy, which are not? The amount of options in the internet age is for sure a good thing, but for many (especially those who didn’t grow up with today’s online booking experience), it can be overwhelming.
No need to fret: that’s where this guide comes in.
Below, I am going to rank some of the best hotel booking sites available today. Each of these by themselves would make an excellent choice, but do read on to get a closer look and find out which is best for you!
The TL,DR; What are the best hotel booking sites?
- The Number One – Booking.com
- The Best for Adventurers – Airbnb
- The Best for Exploring Asia – Agoda
- The Best for Hostels – Hostelworld
- The Best All-in-One Solution – Expedia
- The Best Hotel Booking Aggregator – HotelsCombined
1. The best for (almost) everyone – Booking.com
Let’s address the elephant in the room right away: for most people, in most circumstances, Booking.com has long been and remains king. If all you need is a general-use solution, your search for the best hotel booking sites might as well stop here.
The reasons for this are plenty. First, the site is just plain easy to use, and its search algorithm generally returns more results than competitors even without using any crazy complex filters.
This makes it dead simple to find good deals on Booking.com, even for less heavily frequented travel destinations.
At the same time, you can configure and optimize your searches to a pretty advanced extent if you want to. This makes Booking.com attractive not just to casual travelers, but also to seasoned full-time nomads.
Despite being mainly advertised as a hotel booking website, they also list hostels, B&Bs, and vacation rentals for some added flexibility.
2. Best for adventure – Airbnb
While Airbnb has grown, gentrified, and in many places strayed from its original mission of providing “authentic” bed-and-breakfasts around the world, you can still nab some great deals there if you know how and where to look.
Compared to traditional hotels, an Airbnb can offer a more adventurous experience – in most cases, you’ll be staying at a local’s apartment, house, or (for serious explorers) RV, trailer, or tent…the possibilities are endless!
Airbnbs don’t just allow you to explore your destination from a more interesting viewpoint. They can also open the doors to socializing in a way that’s completely different from the traditional hotel experience!
Sure, for many, Airbnb will just not be an option. Whether you demand a higher level of security than what most hosts offer, or you’re just not ready to give up the creature comforts and luxury of the star-studded hotels you’re used to, there are a thousand reasons to give this one a pass.
One of them that you should especially take into account is that, for blue-chip destinations in particular, Airbnb has lost a lot of its pricing edge compared to traditional hotels.
On the flip side, less touristy areas can be a real goldmine and allow you to travel even on the tightest budget.
For those who want a more improvised, barebones and yet exciting travel experience, Airbnb has got to be one of the best hotel booking sites around.
However, because of its unique concept, you should make sure that it suits your needs.
3. Best for Asia – Agoda
It’s no big secret that for some parts of the world, tried-and-tested travel tricks you know from elsewhere may not be as effective as what you’re used to.
This for sure applies to finding a hotel room, particularly in Asia.
Case in point, no other hotel booking site will be as effective for traveling through that continent as Agoda. It’s long been a classic throughout Asia much like Booking.com has been for the rest of the world.
Today, Agoda is owned by the same guys that brought us Booking.com, but the site’s age-old strengths remain unchanged. It’s fast and simple, with great customer support.
It remains extremely intuitive to use and in my own experience it’s about as “plug-n-play” as the best hotel booking sites can get.
And most importantly of all Agoda is excellent at finding some of the cheapest beds available in countries such as Malaysia, Vietnam, or Thailand.
In terms of value for money alone, Agoda has got to be one of the all-time best hotel booking sites for Asian countries, and it is unlikely that that will change anytime soon.
4. Best for hostels – Hostelworld
Particularly in Europe but also in many other locales across the globe, hostels are a reliable, cheap yet safe alternative to hotels. They’ve been a traveler’s favorite for ages, particularly because of the unique homely social life that only an authentic downtown hostel can offer.
If you want to save money and don’t mind being invited to a bar crawl or a fun party while you’re there, Hostelworld.com is probably the best site around for booking a bed in a hostel just about anywhere.
Both for shared dorm-style beds as well as private rooms, Hostelworld’s selection remains excellent.
It’s generally not hard to find a real bargain by just typing in the name of your destination in the search bar – that should tell you enough about how intuitive and hassle-free the Hostelworld experience is.
5. Best all-in-one solution – Expedia
Sure, having a great dedicated solution for finding a hotel room is nice. But you know what’s even nicer? Reserving your whole trip – including accommodation, airport transfers, a rental car, even the flight itself – through one shared platform.
This is where Expedia really shines.
For ages, Expedia has been one of the number-one sites worldwide for booking plane tickets. More recently, facing some tough competition, they’ve decided to expand and include a variety of other services.
Nowadays, you can reserve and manage basically any trip through Expedia all the way without ever requiring another platform.
This has numerous upsides: your receipts and tickets are less likely to get lost, there are fewer passwords to remember, and you can count on the same reliable Expedia customer support no matter what you might be having an issue with.
6. Best aggregator – HotelsCombined
Sometimes, you can’t just rely on one source, even when it’s one of the best hotel booking websites around. Diversifying can be a great idea to increase your chances of landing a genuinely good deal – and this is where HotelsCombined comes in.
HotelsCombined is a so-called aggregator. It compiles a list of search results from many different hotel booking sites and presents all of them to you in one clean overview.
Using an aggregator does have its drawbacks. For one, you can’t go through the whole booking and payment process seamlessly. As soon as you find a listing you like and click on it, you will be redirected to a third party, whether that’s a different booking platform or the hotel’s home page.
Partly because of this, HotelsCombined sometimes quotes prices that are inconsistent with what you will actually get once you’re on the landing page of the hotel in question. This can be frustrating, but it’s a price you have to pay for such an exceptional depth of search results.
Of all the many sites like it, HotelsCombined is by far the best in my experience for both the quantity and quality of the results you get for most searches. So, if you want to give a hotel booking site aggregator a chance, HotelsCombined would be an excellent choice.
Lesser-known hotel booking sites to consider
If none of the above best hotel booking sites really cut the mustard for you, or if you just want to go beyond the obvious choices, here are a few honorable mentions that can be just as good as our Top 6 while keeping a lower profile.
7. Best vacation rentals – VRBO
Whether you pronounce it as “vurr-bow” or “Vee-ar-bow” or something else entirely, VRBO stands for Vacation Rentals By Owner. It’s literally in the name, so much so that VRBO has had a tight grip on its native market for years.
A market that, admittedly, is a pretty tight niche. Still, if you are looking to spice up your travel plans with a short-term vacation rental, then there’s almost no better choice than VRBO.
Compared to its nowadays more mainstream cousin Airbnb, VRBO works a bit differently. For example, the latter aims for a more curated, hotel-goer-friendly selection.
So, no tents, no campervans, no shared rooms and much higher standards across the board.
This means that, on the one hand, there isn’t really as much of a reason to be wary of VRBO listings as there sometimes can be with “too good to be true” Airbnbs. What you see is mostly what you get, and VRBO’s service has historically been more than reliable.
On the other hand, this also makes it that much harder to find really attractive prices on here. Some locales also remain terribly underserved by VRBO and you might find very few results for your destination, or none at all!
These are the main reasons why VRBO never made the cut for my ranking of the all-time best hotel booking sites.
However, if your wallet isn’t feeling shy and if you want a vacation rental experience that goes a little bit above and beyond what the average Airbnb can offer, then VRBO might still be worth a look.
8. Best blind dates – Hotwire
Here’s an interesting thought experiment: if I told you that I can book you a ticket to one of the world’s best hotels in your favorite travel destination at a massive discount, but you can’t know exactly where you’re going until you’ve already paid, would you do it?
Your answer to that question will determine whether Hotwire could be just what you need to spice up your travel experience while also saving a ton of money.
On this unique booking site, you put in certain filters, requirements, and personal preferences as to where and in what kind of accommodation you would like to stay.
Hotwire does the hard work for you, and you automatically get a quote from them that fits your description. The catch: you may not know the name or address of the hotel until after you’ve booked.
In return for this little game of charades, Hotwire offers some of the most attractive discounts in the business, so if the anonymity part doesn’t bother you, this could be a real hidden gem indeed.
9. Best for splurging – Mr & Mrs Smith
Oh, and speaking of gems: if you find yourself having so many lying around on an average day that you don’t know what to do with them anymore, you might want to give Mr & Mrs Smith a look.
This unique hotel booking site specializes in only the most luxurious and elite getaways in the world. If it doesn’t have at least a few Michelin stars on it, you won’t find it here.
The site keeps an invite-only list of the exclusive properties that they consider suitable according to their strict requirements in luxury and quality of service. It’s not just hotels either: you’ll find plenty of luxurious villas, chateaus, and other short-term rental properties, too.
10. Best Expedia alternative – Trip.com
If you’re looking for an all-in-one booking site like Expedia – one where you can take care of your flight, car, train, hotel, and whatever else you need in one smooth go – then I suggest taking a look at Trip.com.
This site might not have the global reputation of a giant like Expedia, but rest assured it’s no less useful by any measure.
In fact, in my experience, Trip.com and Expedia run head-to-head so closely in almost every way that it’s harder to find differences between them than things they share in common!
The devil lies in the details, and this is where the decision between the two will ultimately come down to.
For example, as a Singaporean company Trip.com generally offers a few better results for the Southeast Asian and Oceanic regions of the world, whereas Expedia excels in the Americas and Europe.
There are also a few payment methods that are only available on the one or the other. Some contract details, like their cancellation policies for example, also differ.
So, if for whatever reason Expedia didn’t really gel with you, but the concept behind it did, maybe you’ll get lucky with Trip.com instead!
The bottom line
In the end, there are many top-notch hotel booking sites, but there could just be one that’s perfect for you. And that’s alright! We’re all different and unique individuals, and our travel plans couldn’t be more diverse.
Therefore, it’s best to try as many of the best hotel booking sites as you can and compare to see what fits. Good luck, and safe travels!