Now, mind you, we're not expressing our own opinion. We have yet to do a thorough comparison of all the hotel booking sites.
But when someone of the stature and famed objectivity of Reid Bramblett weighs in on the subject, you have to pay attention. Reid is the author of numerous travel guidebooks (including some for Frommer's), a speaker chosen to deliver travel lectures at travel conferences, and the man behind some of the best travel websites, like ReidsItaly.com. And he has recently applied real study to the prices and coverage of the many hotel search engines. When he told us of his current preference for Booking.com, we invited him to be a guest blogger on Frommers.com.
Here's his take on the choice for selecting hotels:
"I have long advised travelers to use the lodging site Booking.com (and, for Europe, Venere.com) over the more famous players: Expedia, Orbitz, and Hotels.com.
"(Why is Travelocity missing from that list? Because Expedia will soon power all Travelocity searches—and is already doing so for domestic hotels—turning Travelocity into little more than an Expedia shopfront... a shopfront manned by an exceedingly annoying gnome.)
"But is Booking.com actually the best? Sure I feel like I always find better variety and better-priced hotels there (plus B&Bs, guesthouse, apartments and more)—especially the smaller, cheaper, friendlier, family-run hotels savvy travelers prefer.
"However, gut feelings should never be the basis for professional advice. I needed hard data, so I put all five booking services to the test by carefully scrutinizing the results from searches in two popular destinations—Rome and San Francisco.
"My only criteria: No campgrounds or shared bathrooms, and the lodging had to be downtown—nothing out at the airport, the ring road, or suburbia.
"(This last criteria was crucial, since the Big Three—particularly Hotels.com—offered a disturbingly high proportion of lodgings outside the center, sometimes even in neighboring towns. This is likely because they rely heavily on chain hotels, which have clusters of properties at airports and suburban highway exits. Nothing wrong with those, but if you came to see the sights, you don't want to be stuck out by the bypass.)
"The results... well, frankly they involve wading through a lot of numbers and percentages and that graph up above, but in short: My gut feeling was correct.
"Booking.com positively blows away the competition—not just in selection and variety, but also on price and location.
"By the numbers
"Here are the overall results (including Travelocity for Rome, since for now they still do their own search there).
• Booking.com: 1522
• Venere.com: 1031
• Hotels.com: 524
• Expedia: 510
• Orbitz: 371
• Travelocity: 177
"For San Francisco:
• Hotels.com: 295
• Booking.com: 199
• Orbitz: 141
• Venere.com: 140
• Expedia/Travelocity: 104
"Now you may be thinking: Travelocity's 177 Rome hotels are plenty. After all, you only need one. True, but remember that 177 are spread all throughout the entire downtown area.
"Once you start narrowing things down by neighborhood—and, significantly, by price—those 177 choices start to evaporate quickly.
"Same goes in San Fran, despite what the numbers above would suggest. Yes, Hotels.com found more places to stay (295) than did Booking.com (199) by a ratio of two to one—but if we look at only hotels under $150, suddenly it's Booking.com that comes out ahead two to one.
"It's easy to find luxury boutiques and expensive-account chain hotels. What is hard is finding smaller, great value inns—and this is where Booking.com truly shines.
"Booking.com: The price champ
"The cheapest of those 177 Rome hotels at Travelocity was $75. Booking.com offered 264 hotels for $75 or less.
"In fact, Travelocity only managed to scrounge up 16 hotels in all of Rome for under $100. At Booking.com, that number was 728.
"The results get even more dramatic once you raise the price cap to a still-reasonable $150. The data is best expressed visually in the graph up above (showing our Rome results). However, to save you from squinting:
"Rome hotels under $150:
• Booking.com: 1531
• Venere.com: 819
• Hotels.com: 350
• Expedia: 276
• Orbitz: 151
• Travelocity: 50
"San Francisco hotels under $150:
• Booking.com: 150
• Hotels.com: 105
• Venere.com: 96
• Orbitz: 95
• Expedia/Travelocity: 63
"In San Francisco, Booking.com is the clear winner (150); Orbitz, Hotels.com, and Venere are roughly tied for second place (95–105); Expedia is a distant third (63).
"The even more obvious advantage is in Rome. Booking.com had nearly twice as many options under $150 as Venere, more than four times as many as Hotels.com, 5.5 times as many as Expedia, ten times as many as Orbitz, and more than 30 times as many as Travelocity.
"No wonder Travelocity is throwing in the towel and letting Expedia take over."