8 Cool New Tools for Finding the Perfect Hotel
Move over, Expedia & Co. The next generation of hotel booking websites has arrived. Which one will find you the room of your dreams—and at a dreamy price? Budget Travel editors tested them out.
If you book hotels online, it's time to face facts: Your favorite travel website probably isn't cutting it. In the past decade, some of the best-known travel sites have lost their fastball. They're not as smart and nimble as the new kids on the Web that now have tools for smarter comparison shopping, searches for smaller B&Bs and niche neighborhoods, and access to blocks of rooms reserved for its members.
Before you try these, one word of caution: No single site is the be-all-and-end-of-all of hotel booking. We recommend using at least two search tools, such as your current favorite online travel agency and one of the hotel shopping engines we've named here, to max out your chances of nabbing the perfect room or upgrade. Happy shopping!
Best for: Travelers who like the idea of hotel owners competing for their business.
What it does: Hoteliers often hold back a handful of rooms to sell to last-minute guests, but they don't always fill them. You can book one of these rooms as they're released by logging on to BackBid, which enables hotels to sell rooms to travelers who already have confirmed bookings at rival properties.
How it works: Book a refundable reservation at a hotel through your favorite website, and then create a free account at BackBid. Forward the email with your confirmed hotel reservation to the site, and it will shoot your reservation details—minus your credit card information—to dozens of hotels at your destination. BackBid will then share with you any counter-offers rival hotels may make, such as a comparable room at a lower rate.
Recent steal: In a test, an editor forwarded to BackBid a confirmation email for his $199 a night reservation at the Courtyard by Marriott in downtown Seattle. A day later, bids poured in from 17 Seattle hotels, which included a pitch from the Hilton Seattle, only 1.5 miles away and with better amenities, for a comparable room with a king size bed for $179 a night rate. All things considered, it's a reasonable inconvenience for a 10 percent or better savings.
Snags: Launched in November 2011, the site remains limited to a few hundred properties in 20 major U.S. cities.
Best for: Travelers who want an independent source to vouch for the honesty of vacation package prices.
What it does: Many hotels tout packages that include perks, such as valet parking and a spa treatment, claiming that the package prices represent deep discounts over buying the components separately. DealBase vets each package for its true value.
How it works: Use DealBase to pick a hotel package at your destination, then click on the listing for a breakdown of the estimated costs of the package's components. (The site even publishes a list of the "worst" hotel deals.)
Recent steal: In California, the Ventura Beach Marriott recently showcased a "Ventura Shopping Package" that came with a $50 Visa gift card, breakfast for two at the property's restaurant, valet parking, and a welcome gift, bookable any day of the week through 2012. DealBase highlighted the package, which it discovered on the hotel's site, and calculated that travelers could save a third off by booking the package instead of its parts one by one. DealBase showed how it did its math, noting the costs of the valet parking ($15), the breakfast ($60), and the welcome gift (containing a city map, some gourmet candy, and bottles of water) at $30. The site said the overall package represented a 36 percent discount off it's à la carte value.
Snags: DealBase includes sponsored listings and identifies them as such. Readers have to take on faith that the site reviews all packages impartially, including ones it has been paid to mention.
Best for: Travelers who prefer staying at independently owned properties.
What it does: Founded this year, HotelSweep lists more than 50,000 U.S. hotels, motels, B&Bs, and guesthouses, scraping listings off countless websites. (A British version, hotelsweep.co.uk, does the same thing for lodging in the United Kingdom.) One of the perks of the site is that it lists mom-and-pop properties—places that generally aim to attract budget-conscious travelers, but are too small to afford the costs of being listed with multinational travel agencies.