Price comparison websites compared: always get the best price
Are you tired of paying over the odds for insurance or phone contracts, only to be told by a friend that their package is much, much cheaper? If so, you need to start using price comparison sites in your everyday shopping routine. In this guide, we'll look at what price comparison websites do, how they work, and some of the biggest comparison sites around. That way, you can forget about rip-offs for good. It's time to start finding some serious savings.
What are price comparison websites?
Price comparison websites have become a crucial part of the digital economy. They are constantly updated sources of information about deals, and that could include anything from international flights to home insurance, second-hand cars, or mobile handsets.
Generally, these sites all work in a similar way. Users filter product listings, use search boxes, and pick deals they like. Sites may offer an option to buy directly with sellers, and they usually don't process payments themselves. Instead, they maintain an arms-length distance, trying to stay impartial between customers and the companies they shop with.
The best comparison sites knit together markets, connecting shoppers with the best prices around and offering ways to make purchases when users find attractive deals. However, there can be a catch: not all comparison websites are accurate or honest, and not all listings are clear or informative. That's why we've put together a quick guide to find sites that work for you.
How do price comparison websites work?
At first glance, it all seems incredibly simple. Surely price comparison websites just take in data from retailers around the UK, organise it on databases, and allow customers to search for deals in different product areas? Is it really any more complex than that?
Yes and no. For instance, some sites require users to submit detailed information before they can offer insurance or energy quotes. Others just list products and prices with no need for extra questions. At times, price comparison sites have also been accused of promoting deals from their partners and hiding better deals lower down search results. Powerful sites have also used their position to pressure insurers into avoiding other comparison tools, so the listings may not be as comprehensive as they claim to be.
Don't assume that your searches are automatically returning neutral results. It's common for results to be ordered in ways that make certain brands or companies more prominent. And the best deals may be buried under superficially appealing offers which are actually less generous than they appear when you drill down into the fine print.
The reason why involves how price comparison websites earn money. In reality, price comparison sites need to make money. Most do so via payments from the companies they list, which can create a conflict of interest that doesn't always work to the advantage of customers. Advertising and customer fees can also play a role, which is potentially less harmful. Always be aware that you are dealing with businesses, and double-check listings to make sure you're getting the best rates.
However, let's not be too cynical. There's a reason why millions of us use comparison sites to switch gas suppliers and find broadband quotes. In a complex market, these sites are essential sources of information. We just need to use them properly and exercise a little caution, that's all.
This matters, because comparing prices can lead to massive savings. For instance, if you use a price comparison for gas and electricity, the average savings amount to £300 per year for UK households. Multiply that across car insurance, phone contracts, travel and everything else we need, and the benefits of these sites are immense.
The top price comparison websites
Here's a quick list of the top comparison websites:
Founded in 2000, Uswitch is geared towards people who want to switch providers. Technically the product areas covered include finance, insurance and energy, but uSwitch really excels in the power department. If you want the latest price comparison for electricity, it's a good site to choose, showing how to switch for lower rates, while also providing background about ecological options. You can buy through the site, and a 14-day guarantee applies if you feel like you've made the wrong decision.
As the name suggests, MSC is all about saving money on groceries at the UK's biggest supermarkets. Use the search box to carry out regular price comparison of supermarkets selling cosmetics, frozen food, medicines, baby products, beers and spirits - whatever you need, it's here.
If you're thinking about organising long or short-haul travel, CheapFlights will be the best option for finding a price comparison flights. Instantly compare prices on popular routes, add hotels, and even compare train, car hire and coach prices at the click of a button. The whole world is covered, with flights from every UK airport, but check closely as sometimes deals can be a little confusing, and remember: you won't be covered for cancellations. CheapFlights just compares prices, it doesn't actually book tickets.
When it comes to price comparison hotels can be tricky. Many sites leave out certain chains or highlight their partners. That's not usually the case with Trivago, which delivers impartial search results for hotels around the world. The database covers 300 booking sites and more than 5 million hotels, with reviews and images of every provider when available. Some shoppers report misleading listings and small print issues, so read every listing closely, and always double-check that your deal is what it seems to be.
Probably the UK's most famous price comparison tool, CompareTheMarket is really handy for finding a price comparison for broadband providers. It covers a host of areas, but internet contracts are a speciality. Scroll through current deals from BT, TalkTalk, Sky and others, with home and mobile broadband both included. As a bonus, you'll receive credit for Meerkat Meals and Meerkat Movies, helping to save on entertainment and dining while your broadband contract lasts.
The second of the UK's largest price comparison operators, MoneySupermarket is great for finding a price comparison for energy - especially gas prices. Gas is a notorious hotspot for poor deals, but Moneysupermarket makes it easy to find generous contracts and tariffs, while smoothing out the switching process. Over 50 providers are included, and instant quotes take into account your location and energy consumption, making it easy to find a competitive rate, every time.
If you're hunting for a cheap but comprehensive car insurance policy, Confused.com is the place to look. Specialists in all things automobile-related, Confused bring together data from the UK's biggest insurers and also offer generous Confused Rewards which can be redeemed for meals, car accessories and much more. Don't buy a car until you've used the Confused comparison tool - it can save hundreds of pounds on cover you don't need.
Mobile phones are an area where prices can sometimes be ridiculously high, but CompareMyMobile cuts through the nonsense and should the lowest rates for the handset you need. It also includes SIM only and contract comparisons, while every major phone company is included, from GiffGaff to BT. Look closely though, as the listings aren't perfect. Double check to make sure your deal is as good as it looks.
Another one of the big names in the UK comparison sector, GoCompare covers everything but is particularly good for finding insurance deals. It's easy to use and comprehensive, with a good reputation and a neat rewards scheme which covers most listings. The site is also very transparent about how it makes money, which isn't always the case with similar companies, so it's a good place to start for many deal-hunting projects.
So which price comparison site is the best? Here's a comparison:
|Year Founded||Speciality Area||Trustpilot Rating||Rewards?|
|My Supermarket Compare||2006||Supermarkets||N/A||None|
|Compare the Market||2006||General||4.4/5||Movies, dining|
|Money Supermarket||1993||Insurance and finance||3.8/5||Gift vouchers|
|Compare My Mobile||2009||Mobiles||1.7/5||None|
How to make price comparison websites work for you: some quick tips
As we noted earlier, there are reasons to be sceptical about the accuracy of some comparison websites. None of them are perfect, but we can still use them to save money on life's important transactions. But if you follow these guidelines you should find deals that go way below listed prices:
Decide which product you'd like to buy, and be specific. If you're shopping for a consumer good, have a list of possible options in mind. If you're shopping for flights or insurance, have a ballpark figure in mind, and work out how flexible you can be if the available deals aren't exactly right.
- Shop around
Shop around the various price comparison websites to make sure that you get the best prices. Don't just opt for the first site you come across. Most sectors have two or more major players, and prices can vary. If you use a couple of comparison tools, you'll get a much clearer picture of what's available.
- Mobile apps
Using a price comparison app could also make sense at this stage. When they want to make a price comparison UK shoppers can easily do so via their mobile phone. PriceSpy is a popular comparison app, while Honey connects shoppers with online deals. Both are a good companion to the major websites, but not really like for like replacements.
- Remove filters
When searching, untick any pre-set filters and ignore listings that are highlighted as "special deals" unless they really are the day's best prices. Instead, order by price and use your own tailored searches to control the process.
- Read the small print
Read every listing closely. It's not always deliberate, but comparison sites can miss out key details such as insurance excesses or they may add small print about automatic contract renewals at higher rates. Check the wording to make sure your deal is what it seems, as the little details can often be crucial.
Price comparison websites: FAQs
How can price comparison websites be beneficial to consumers?
Retailers often try to conceal the downsides of their products and every marketplace has a range of prices. Comparison sites solve both problems, letting consumers know which companies are the most competitive while providing details about what is included and - usually - customer feedback as well.
Which price comparison site is the best?
There are many excellent price comparison tools in the UK, and all tend to have their speciality areas. GoCompare, MoneySupermarket, ComparetheMarket are strong on finance, while Trivago handle travel and Confused.com is great for car insurance.
Are there any fake price comparison tools?
Yes, there are, so beware. Fake sites have emerged in the past "comparing" investment bonds, and the activities of scammers seem to be increasing. As uSwitch recommends, check domain names and "about us" sections, and don't provide payment details to comparison portals. They generally won't need them unless they are trying to scam you. Check out our guide on fake shops if you want to learn about the signs of a fake e-commerce website.
Where is the best place to track down price comparison deals?
If you want to find the best price comparisons, check the listings above. The biggest UK sites are all there, with links to their landing pages. Alternatively, use the hotukdeals listings to compare up to date deals across every product area. Either way, finding cheaper prices is easier than ever, if you know which tools to use and use them wisely.
What is the hotukdeals community saying?
Check out these community discussions about price comparison sites: