Just as you would with any purchase, you'll want to compare prices to find the best rate you can. First, however, you'll need to decide on a specific hotel property. Key factors to consider for a particular hotel are its geographic area and quality rating. Just as properties in New York City will be priced much higher than those in rural Iowa, a five-star luxury hotel will take up more of your travel budget than a one-star roadside motel. The Mobil Travel Guide is a good place to find star ratings for a comprehensive list of U.S. hotels.
In addition, online travel sites each use their own rating system. A four-star rating, for example, denotes accommodations with "extra amenities" at PlacestoStay.com, "deluxe-upscale" hotels at Orbitz, and "superior" accommodations at Hotels.com. Four-star properties on each of the websites tend to offer a wide range of amenities, high standards of service, prime location, and deluxe accommodations. Note that declining star ratings may offer fewer special features, be located outside the city proper, or may simply be a place to hang your hat with no extra frills. If you have questions regarding a specific property, visit Trip Advisor to see user ratings and comments from previous guests.
Once you've settled on the quality of property you're seeking, you can search for a hotel. Usually, there isn't a single source that has the best rates, so you'll have to look at various websites to compare their prices.
Here are some of the best sites to check for rates:
If you have membership in a particular loyalty program, you might want to consider that hotel company first. Sometimes, the lowest available rate will be found on the hotel's own website. Make sure to search that site thoroughly, checking reservations made from the homepage as well as on special offers pages. We've found that rates can differ, even within the hotel's own website.
Many times, you'll find a slightly better rate on the company's website than on a third party site. Plus, many hotels offer lowest-rate guarantees. While specifics vary by hotel brand or provider, many offer discounts or refunds if you find a lower rate at a different provider. If you are loyal to a particular hotel brand, this option may be worth researching. However, read our feature on low-price guarantees to make sure this is a sound option for your accommodations. You can also call the hotel directly and ask what is the lowest rate available to you.
Online travel agencies
Look for deals on the three largest online travel companies: Expedia, Orbitz, and Travelocity. Prices for the same hotel on the same night may vary, so make sure to check all three, among others. However, it's always a good idea to check these rates against those on the hotel's own website (for reasons noted above).
Multi-search hotel tools
These online search tools troll the Internet specifically for travel deals, and enable you to compare hotel prices simultaneously for a variety of accommodations in the area where you wish to visit.
- Visit our price-comparison tool and enter your destination city. Choose the number of guests traveling and rooms needed, then enter your travel dates. When all your information has been entered, click on the individual online merchants to compare lodging prices for your trip.
- Travelaxe is a downloadable tool that searches multiple hotel databases such as Orbitz, Hotels.com, Lodging.com, and PlacestoStay.com for the dates you specify. Travelaxe can be used in conjunction with a quick check on the discount site itself to confirm that you are getting the lowest available rate. For more on what we think of this tool, read our feature.
These agencies purchase blocks of reservations from hotel companies and then resell them to consumers. Because they buy in bulk, you can find deals with consolidators that you won't find anywhere else. Make sure to find out whether a consolidator is legitimate before buying, and pay with a credit card as a means of protecting yourself. Some reputable consolidator sites include Hotels.com, Quikbook, and OneTravel.com. Try comparing the rates available on these sites with what you can find through either online travel agencies, our price-comparison tool, or the hotel sites themselves.
If you need to purchase airfare in addition to your hotel stay, you might also want to consider a hotel-and-air package or bundle, which could provide more savings over a la carte options. It's also a convenient option, as you will only have to make one transaction, rather than two purchases. Read our features on building your own vacation packages and using wholesalers versus agencies to learn about the benefits and disadvantages of bundling.