Following on from our recent post on the best flight search site, we’re looking at places to stay this week and comparing the best websites to use if you’re looking for budget accommodation.
How I tested
I wanted to look at a whole range of accommodation options so I chose 6 hostels and budget hotels from 6 continents — with all of my choices being places I’ve either stayed at over the past year or am planning to stay in this year. I also chose a arbitrary date to search with, the night of the 1st July 2013.
I chose the following hostels:
- Essaouira Hostel, Essaouira, Morocco — 6-bed female dorm with shared bathroom for one person.
- Hostel Celica, Ljubljana, Slovenia — 4-bed mixed dorm with private bathroom for one person.
- Nomad SuCasa All Suite Hotel, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia — 2 bedroom apartment for four people.
- Silverfern Backpackers, Auckland, New Zealand — 4-bed mixed dorm with private bathroom for one person.
- Pacific Hotel, Seattle, United States — Queen room with private bathroom for one person.
- Art Factory, Buenos Aires, Argentina — 6-bed mixed dorm with shared bathroom for one person.
There were many different factors I could have chosen but given that I’m looking at budget accommodation, I decided to go with the result that gave the cheapest price.
The sites I chose
With hundreds of hotel booking websites out there, it was hard whittling them down to a reasonable number — I settled for the following 8 sites. I included a mixture of hostel and hotel search sites, choosing the hotel sites that frequently offer budget accommodation options.
- A hostel website I use all the time: HostelBookers
- A hostel website I use as a second option: HostelWorld
- A hostel website I’ve never used before: HostelsClub
- A hotel website that offers “the lowest price guaranteed”: Agoda
- A hotel website that also offers the “best price guaranteed”: Booking
- A hotel website I used to use before I became a budget traveller: Expedia
- A hotel website that claims “one of the widest selections of accommodation”: Hotels
- A hotel website I’ve never used before: Venere
How did they fare?
Before starting this study I half expected every site to throw up the same price, but was surprised to discover just how much inconsistency there was. Some websites claimed there was no availability for the date I chose, whereas others showed there were over 50 rooms available and, aside from a couple of times, none of the prices shown were identical.
HostelBookers was the clear winner in terms of price. Given that it claims on its website to be on average 7.9% cheaper than HostelWorld this wasn’t too much of a surprise. HostelBookers have no booking fees whereas HostelWorld charges a $2.00 service fee for every booking, which ended up making them noticeably more expensive.
The huge surprise, for me, was that HostelWorld was the most expensive site for nearly every room I checked.
HostelsClub proved that I had never heard of it for good reason, being extremely difficult to navigate and not ever showing availability for any of the hostels it listed.
In terms of hotel-specific websites that cover budget accommodation, I’d choose either Agoda or Booking as the best option to use in terms of availability and price. Expedia, Hotels and Venere were all frustrating to use and didn’t list many of the accommodation options I checked.
|HostelWorld||$15.69||$43.02||Not listed||$26.97||Not available||$16.23|
|HostelsClub||Not available||Not available||Not listed||Not available||Not available||Not listed|
|Expedia||$14.17||Not listed||$133.89||Not listed||$168.34||Not listed|
|Hotels||Not available||Not listed||$134.00||Not listed||$141.00||Not listed|
|Venere||$13.98||Not listed||$133.89||Not listed||Not listed||Not listed|
Of course, price wasn’t the only factor I looked at. I played around with the websites and mobile apps for a while and came up with a list of pros and cons for each one.
Pros: HostelBookers’ website is simple and easy to use. It consistently found the cheapest price and doesn’t have any booking/service fees lumped onto the final price.
Given that HostelWorld claims to have 35,000 properties on its website and HostelBookers just 20,000, I was surprised to find that for the cities I looked at HostelBookers actually had more options, as shown in the table below.
Cons: The only time HostelBookers failed to offer the cheapest price was when I checked for a hotel (Nomad SuCasa) instead of a hostel.
Pros: HostelWorld was easy to navigate and use. It occasionally threw up an odd result, such as the hostel in Seattle, which showed plenty of availability on other accommodation sites but was listed as full on HostelWorld.
The one feature HostelWorld has that the others don’t is the availability to look at accommodation with partial availability. If there isn’t a room available for your entire stay then on any of the other websites it’s listed as unavailable. HostelWorld, however, still lists these rooms. This is especially useful if you have your heart set on a specific hostel and don’t mind changing rooms mid-stay.
Cons: HostelWorld gave the most expensive prices for all but one of the hostels I checked, thanks to the $2.00 service fee that is added to every booking.
Pros: None whatsoever.
Cons: Whilst it listed almost every hostel I checked for, every time I entered my dates it claimed there was no availability for the room I was looking for. The one time it did show availability (for Essaouira) it listed only an 8 bed dorm, even though the other sites had multiple different room options shown as available.
Another interesting feature HostelsClub has is the inability to calculate how long a stay is in nights. When you enter in a stay of one night, it counts that as a stay from 1st July to the 1st July. A two night stay gave me dates of the 1st July – 2nd July.
I think it’s safe to say that there is absolutely no reason for you to ever use HostelsClub.
Pros: I found Agoda to be much easier to use when I was on the iPhone app instead of the website.
There’s a reward system where you can earn points worth 4-7% of the hotel price on every booking and use those points to reduce your rate at a hotel you stay at in the future.
Agoda also offers a price guarantee where if you find the same room listed cheaper online, it will match or beat that price.
Cons: While the iPhone app is slick, simple and easy to use, the website is clunky, cluttered and frustrating to navigate. Agoda also advertises some pretty ridiculous discounts. Nomad SuCasa was reduced from $663 to $141 on Agoda, for instance, whereas the standard rate for the hotel on all other websites was between $130-$140.
Agoda’s rates also do not always include service charges or local taxes, which can add substantially to the final price you pay.
Pros: Booking.com is easy to use and has a simple booking system. Like Agoda, the mobile app was a lot easier to use than the cluttered website. Booking.com was also the only hotel-specific website that listed all of the beds I checked — and almost all of the prices were lower than HostelWorld’s.
Booking.com has a best price guarantee system where, once you’ve made the booking, if you find the same room cheaper anywhere else, it will match or beat the price.
Cons: The website is complicated and a little frustrating to use. Like Agoda, service fees and taxes are often not included in the price quoted making the total price more expensive than advertised.
The taxes and service charges are included in the price quoted on Expedia so you won’t have to pay for anything when you arrive at your hotel.
Expedia also has a price match service where if you find a better rate within 48 hours, it’ll match it and give you a $50 coupon.
Cons: Availability isn’t great for budget accommodation and the prices weren’t the cheapest either.
Pros: None that I could find.
Cons: For a website that claims on its about page to “give travellers one of the widest selections of accommodation on the net”, Hotels.com clearly isn’t referring to budget travellers.
This was one of the most frustrating websites I’ve ever used and its results didn’t really make sense. The app is just as annoying as the website, asking me five times in five seconds if I’d like to allow push notifications — and then automatically opening a browser window to register the app. And then the app crashed. Once the app stopped freaking out it was reasonably easy to book a hotel — but I’d still choose Agoda or Booking over Hotels.com any day.
Hotels.com also had issues with availability. For Essaouira Hostel, it originally showed plenty of dorm rooms… until I changed the currency to US dollars and then it suddenly listed only private rooms as being available. No matter what settings I changed, I could not get it to show the dorm room options again. Also, for Nomad SuCasa, it showed ony two-bedroom apartments as available, whereas the other sites showed 1 bedroom apartments too.
Pros: None that I could find.
Cons: Just another generic booking site that didn’t offer a huge amount of availability or particularly low prices.
So, which is best?
I think it’s safe to say that, in terms of price, availability and usability, HostelBookers is, by far, the best site overall for budget travellers and as a long-time user, I’m happy that I can continue using it for the foreseeable future.
If ever I couldn’t find a hostel on HostelBookers in the past, I would always head over to HostelWorld as my second option – but I won’t be doing this any more. After seeing HostelWorld bring up the highest prices for all but one hostel, I’ll be using Agoda and Booking as my backup options instead.
With all of that said, Hostelworld recently acquired Hostelbookers so it’ll certainly be interesting to see what happens in the future — HostelWorld bought Hostels.com a while back and it’s now basically exactly the same as HostelWorld but with a different theme. It would be a shame if that happens to HostelBookers too!
Which site do you use when searching for accommodation, and why?