Best and Worst Hotel Booking Sites for 2023
Like it did with so much else, Covid greatly disrupted the travel industry, but that won’t stop Frommer’s from kicking the tires on all the major hotel booking sites to determine which ones can still find the lowest prices and the best options.
Travel might be changing, but our results are still surprising us. In our latest deep dive into the performance of hotel search engines, we've seen some former winners (Hotwire, TravelPony) fall out of the running. At the same time, we've seen some heavy hitters come up from behind to rise higher than before.
It’s time to crown the newest batch of the Frommer’s Top Ten.
First, it helps to understand the playing field. There are basically three types of websites we use to find hotels: OTAs (online travel agencies); the hotels’ own websites, which may offer deals OTAs can’t match (and you should always double-check yourself before booking); and aggregators, or meta-search engines, which don’t actually handle reservations—they trawl both OTAs and hotel sites to return a compendium of results, then send you to your choice for booking.
We tested both OTAs and the aggregators that search them. Why include smaller OTAs at all when there are aggregators that check them? Well, some aggregators aren’t nearly as good as they should be at combing through those booking engines. In fact, in our latest survey, the site that found the most hotels was actually an OTA, and not an aggregator that supposedly canvasses it. You’d think their results would be at least as good—but we found they weren’t.
Warning: Many aggregators will discover a number of booking sites that have amazingly low prices—but often sketchy track records. Whenever you find a result for a company you’ve never heard of, do a quick search for its name and the words “review” or “scam,” and also check out its reputation on the Better Business Bureau (BBB.org) before giving them your money.
As a side note, membership sometimes has its privileges, at least at some OTA sites where signing in can often net you 4% to 6% in savings. Aggregator member savings are more sporadically available, and on the order of just 1% to 2%. We used the plain “non-member” rates for all our tests.
We threw 60 room reservation scenarios at the major sites to determine which found the cheapest rates and the most options.
To start, we tallied the number of choices each contender could rustle up in seven major tourist cities: Orlando, New Orleans, San Francisco, Rome, London, Bangkok, and Buenos Aires.
Then, for each city, we searched for the lowest rates each site could find at four specific downtown hotels in varying price ranges for a mid-week, shoulder-season stay three months out. By avoiding high-season or holiday spikes as well as last-minute discounts, we aimed for the most normal base prices.
We awarded points for finding the lowest rates on a given hotel—and subtracted points for returning higher prices than other sites—in a complicated weighted system designed to see which site would save you the most money consistently.
So who succeeded and who didn’t measure up? Read on...
Priceline once ruled the middle-of-the-pack booking engines, but now it can't break out of slot #9, where it lingered last time. It did a decent job on price in the U.S. (and found the most hotels in Orlando), but only a middling job in Europe, and it fell down when it came to Asia and South America.
What keeps Priceline in the running are its three novel ways to save. Blind booking Express Deals offer discounts from 18% to 60%, but you don’t learn the hotel’s name and address until you’ve paid. Pricebreakers are similar, with lower savings (up to 50%), but at least you are told it will be one of three specific hotels. VIP Deals are for members, who sign in and save 5% to 15% on named hotels.
Expedia, Travelocity, and Orbitz are corporate sister sites that deliver identical results. We went with Expedia, but the outcome will pretty much be the same at all three.
Expedia dropped out of the top 10 entirely the last time we ran tests, but it has since clawed its way back to the #8 spot with a mediocre performance. It was nearly as lackluster as Kayak in turning up large numbers of lodgings—though we think it’s nice that Expedia does now include apartments and other rental units—but Expedia fared a bit better than last time on rates.
Expedia scored equal numbers of best and worst results, but for the most part it was solidly in the middle. Interestingly, it performed slightly better internationally than in the U.S. (for most sites, it’s the other way around).