How to find cheap hotels
If you’re lucky enough to be booking a budget break then finding a cheap hotel will be a priority. It’s never been easier to research and book budget hotels online, but having thousands of options can be overwhelming! Cheap hotel prices can vary wildly. Your holiday dates, the location, star-rating, demand and 101 seemingly-random factors can contribute to the price of a hotel. Thankfully, there are lots of ways to find cheap hotel deals. The first thing to remember is that hotel prices are rarely fixed. Never assume the first price you find is going to be the cheapest. The same hotel room could be considerably cheaper elsewhere, making the search for a cheap hotel feel confusing!
Which websites to use to find and book cheap hotels
- Start your hotel search with Booking.com, Hotels.com or Airbnb
Begin your search for a cheap hotel using a large hotel platform such as Booking.com or Hotels.com. These two websites are very similar and the one you choose will really come down to personal preference on the website design.
Airbnb is a good option to find independently owned hotels as well as apartments, villas, flats, whole houses and glamping.
Any of these sites are a great place to begin your search if you aren’t sure which hotel you’d like to book yet. They’ll give you hundreds of options with lots of filters to narrow it down and avoid overwhelm. Add your dates, maximum price, desired location, how far you’d like to be from the centre, facilities you’d like, if you’d like breakfast, if they have kid’s facilities, disables facilities, can cater to dogs or you can even search for sustainable properties.
Most properties also have hundreds of reviews to help you make a decision based on other people’s experiences.
It is worth noting that these websites use an algorithm to rank the hotels and one of the deciding factors is how much commission they make on each booking. If a hotel rewards Booking.com with high commissions, Booking.com will rank them higher.
- Check reviews using TripAdvisor
We all know online reviews should be taken with a pinch of salt but TripAdvisor is still a good option thanks to the huge volume of reviews. Always filter reviews by ‘Most Recent’ to avoid the bad reviews being buried or there have been any recent changes.
- Using price comparison sites to find cheap hotels
Once you’ve decided on a hotel it’s time to head over to a price comparison website such as Trivago, Kayak, TravelSupermarket, Momondo or Tripadvisor. Enter your chosen hotel and dates and you will be shown the cheapest place to book.
Unfortunately, there isn’t a ‘best’ price comparison site so it’s worth searching a few.
- Is it cheaper to book directly with the hotel?
Your next step is to check the hotel’s website to see if you can get a cheaper deal if you book your room directly with the hotel. Price comparison sites take commissions of around 10% so sometimes they are more expensive.
- Contact the hotels directly
Don’t be afraid to call or email the hotel and ask them to match the price you’ve found online. If you’re collecting loyalty points for particular hotel brands then this is a great way to get your points and get the cheapest price.
Hotels usually want customers to book direct as it saves them any commission fees, so even if they can’t offer you a lower fee, they may offer you a room upgrade or other perks such as breakfast or late checkout.
Tips to save on hotel stays
While a simple Google search may show you the cheapest hotel available, it isn’t always that simple and there are other travel hacks to get better deals.
- Stay in business hotels during weekend trips
Luxurious hotels in a city’s business district may be expensive mid-week but they often offer discounted prices when the business travellers leave for the weekend. The business locations may be quieter on a Saturday and Sunday but it can be a great way to find a cheap, luxury hotel.
- Book mid-week trips
An obvious but often overlooked tip to save money on hotel stays is to travel mid-week rather than at the weekend. Hotels are not only cheaper but also much quieter, making it a more pleasant experience.
For many people it’s easier than ever to travel midweek thanks to flexible working hours and the option to work from home, possibly working on a Saturday and taking a Monday off. The popularity of ‘Midi Breaks’ has been rising during the Covid Pandemic but Tuesday-Thursday trips are still the cheapest.
- Book hotels in less-popular locations and use Uber
Location is often the key factor when it comes to the price of a hotel. A prime location in a busy city or on a stunning beach could put the hotel prices up by hundreds of pounds.
If you want a cheap hotel then look for hotels in less desirable locations and use Uber or public transport to get to the hot spots. You may spend an extra £20 on transport but could save £200 on your hotel!
- Book private rooms in hostels
Hostels may be associated with backpackers crammed into 20-bed dormitories but many modern hostels now offer private rooms at great prices. You get the added bonus of lively communal areas and the opportunity to meet other travellers.
- Cancel your room and rebook if the price drops
Keep an eye on the price of your hotel room in case the price drops.
If you’ve booked with a free cancellation policy then you can simply cancel your booking and rebook at the lower price.
- Check cashback websites (but be careful)
Cashback websites such as TopCashBack and Quidco offer cashback on hotel bookings when you follow their link through to the booking page. In theory, this is a win-win situation for hotel guests but always double-check you’re getting the best price and don’t book a hotel purely for the cashback incentive. You might get 10% cashback on a certain hotel but it isn’t a good deal if the hotel next door is £100 cheaper!
- Sign-up to members websites
Members websites encourage you to sign up in exchange for exclusive hotel deals and discounts. TravelZoo is a great option for cheap hotels and package holidays. Wowcher offers lots of budget staycations and try Club1 Hotels for discounted luxury hotels.
How to save on hotels in the UK
- Stay in a secret hotel
Websites such as Secret Escapes, LastMinute.com, Wowcher, Late Rooms and Voyage Prive offer a fun way to save money on hotels with their ‘Secret Hotel’ deals. These are usually last minute offers where guests book a hotel based on a rough location and star rating, but you don’t know exactly which hotel it is.
- Stay in university accommodation
Did you know many universities rent out student accommodation during the holidays? Private rooms can be rented across the UK for a no-frills budget break.
How to save on hotels abroad
- Book package deals
Depending on your destination, it can be cheaper to book your flights and accommodation as part of a package. Not only is it cheaper but you’ll also be ATOL protected, you'll get transfers included and you’ll probably get a holiday rep to help with any problems.
- Stay in a villa or apartment
A hotel may be the traditional option for your holiday accommodation but it’s often much cheaper to book villas or apartments, particularly if you’re travelling as a group or family.
Villas and apartments provide more privacy, space, a kitchen and possibly even private gardens, terraces or a swimming pool. It also means you won’t be squeezing the whole family into one ‘family room’.
They’re cheaper because you won’t have staff available 24/7 but the pros usually outweigh the cons.
You can also save money on food and drink as you’ll be able to prepare your own meals and store food in a fridge or freezer.
How to know which online hotel reviews are fake
Online reviews can play a huge part in booking a cheap hotel but the rise of fake reviews have made us wonder which reviews we can trust.
Here are some tips to spot fake reviews:
- Look at the reviewer’s profile
On TripAdvisor you can see a person’s ‘Activity Feed’ and check any other reviews they’ve left. If a reviewer has only ever left one review then it could be a sign that it’s a fake account. Airbnb is slightly different and not only do guests review the host but the host reviews the guests, so you can see if the guest’s review matches the host’s feedback.
- Be cautious of reviewers with no profile picture
This isn’t a sure sign that the review is fake but more fake reviews come from users without a profile picture.
- Look out for multiple spelling and grammatical mistakes
While spelling mistakes alone aren’t a sign of a fake review, multiple reviews with many mistakes could indicate that they’re fake reviews.
Hotels with flexible booking policies
It is more important than ever before to check the T&Cs with any hotel booking and ensure there’s a flexible booking policy.
If you’re unable to travel due to the Covid-19 pandemic you should be able to get a full refund or change your dates free of charge.
The best hotel loyalty schemes
The best hotel loyalty schemes are, quite simply, the ones associated with your favourite hotel brands. Best Western Rewards may be a fantastic loyalty scheme but if you’re a loyal Hilton fan then the Hilton Honours programme is the one for you.
It can be a little complicated if you’re unfamiliar with which hotel brands are grouped together into loyalty schemes. For example, Marriott Bonvoy includes 30 hotel brands such as Marriott Hotels, W Hotels, Sheraton, Delta Hotels, Design Hotels, Moxy and Aloft.
Not only this but the ‘points’ you earn with each hotel loyalty scheme have very different values. You may earn 20 points with one scheme but earn 2,000 points with another.
It’s difficult to compare hotel loyalty schemes and the best advice is to find a hotel brand you like and sign up to that scheme.
Can hotels cancel your reservation?
Yes, hotels can cancel your reservation. This rarely happens but can occur if the hotel has overbooked rooms or if there has been a problem with maintenance in the room you were allocated. This is why it’s important to read online reviews and check the small print on your booking.
The most important thing to note is if your hotel booking is 100% confirmed and note your confirmation number. Hotels may ‘reserve’ rooms and with no money exchanging hands and the booking isn’t actually confirmed.
It’s also worth noting if the hotel has a ‘final check-in time’. If you do not arrive by that time then the hotel may give your room away. If you think you may be arriving late then it’s always best to contact the hotel and notify them of your estimated arrival time.
Can hotels ask for ID?
Yes, many hotels will ask for a valid photo ID when you check-in to ensure there is no risk of identity theft. Hotels keep a record of guest’s names and nationalities and will often ask for the passport numbers of foreign visitors.
When is the cheapest time to book hotel rooms?
The cheapest time to book hotel rooms is as last minute as possible. Hotel rates generally fall as you get closer to the check-in date and you may be able to grab a bargain if a cancellation comes up.
Which hotels have loyalty schemes?
Almost all large hotel chains belong to a loyalty scheme. Independent hotels are less likely to belong to a loyalty scheme.
Do hotels ask for ID in the UK?
Yes, many hotels in the UK will ask for ID, particularly if you are visiting from outside of the UK. If you are from the UK it is less likely you will be asked.
About the author
Monica is a travel writer based in Wales and runs The Travel Hack, a blog sharing tips and advice to get out and explore the world.
Check out The Travel Hack.