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Best Overall: Booking.com
Founded in 1996, Booking.com is an industry and traveler favorite that stands out for three main reasons. The first is its sheer size: the website lists more than 28 million accommodation options, from hotels, hostels, and B&Bs to vacation homes and luxury resorts. This means that when you search for a hotel by destination, you have more choice on Booking.com than on any other OTA. Secondly, the website performs well in terms of cost, typically returning lower-than-average prices for flights and hotels.
Thirdly, Booking.com takes care of every aspect of your vacation, offering tours, activities, and airport taxis in addition to the standard services provided by most OTAs. The interface is also easy to use. On the home page, search for a hotel by entering your chosen destination and dates. Then, use the extensive list of filters to narrow the results down and find the best fit for you. You can also search for a specific hotel, or seek inspiration by clicking through portfolios grouped by destination or property type. The flights, car rental, and other tabs are just as intuitive.
Best Budget: Skyscanner
Different OTAs will give you the cheapest prices for different dates and destinations. The easiest way to make sure you’re getting the best deal possible is to use an aggregator site like Skyscanner, which uses a metasearch engine to compare prices from all OTAs and the airline, hotel, or car rental company in question. On test searches for specific hotel nights and flights, Skyscanner routinely delivered cheaper prices (sometimes by over $100) than the major OTAs. Once you’ve found the best rate, click on the link to be redirected to the third party site to make your booking.
Travelers who book flights through Skyscanner are also eligible for further discounts on hotel bookings – just make sure to click on the Fly Stay Save icon to unlock them. If you’re not sure where you want to go, click on the Search Everywhere button on the homepage to see the cheapest flight deals for destinations both locally and across the world. If you know where you want to go and have some flexibility with dates, you can also search for the cheapest flights over a one-month period.
Best Package Deals: Expedia
Expedia is the flagship for Expedia Group in the same way that Booking.com is the flagship for Booking Holdings. The two websites are aesthetically very similar and the basic premise is the same (although Expedia also offers cruises). However, Expedia is a particularly good option for those wanting to book a package vacation, i.e. to select and pay for flights, accommodation, and car rental in one go. There are several ways to do this. Under the Hotels tab, you can choose to add a flight and/or car rental to your booking.
Alternatively, the Bundle and Save tab allows you to book two or more of the following options: flights, hotel, and car rental. Often, you can make significant savings by booking these services at the same time. Making changes to a package booking can be complicated, so make sure that you’re happy with your plans before paying. If you’re not sure yet where you’d like to go, it’s well worth browsing the Deals tab, which groups discount hotels and hotel/flight packages under themes like Family-Friendly Hotels or Extraordinary Luxury Hotels.
Best for Reviews: TripAdvisor
TripAdvisor is the place to go to read candid guest reviews of everything from hotels to restaurants and attractions. Reading about the experiences of others is a great way to book (or not) with confidence. Best of all, the site doubles as a metasearch engine, providing third-party links that allow you to make those reviewer-inspired bookings without having to search from scratch on a separate OTA. Travel services offered by TripAdvisor include hotels and vacation rentals, tours and tickets, flights, and restaurant reservations.
The website also stands out for its intuitive design, which allows you to search for each service under its own specific tab and then filter results according to a pretty specific set of personal criteria. For example, if you’re looking for a place to stay in London, you can set a budget limit, choose your preferred star rating and property type, select must-have amenities, and even narrow your search to a specific neighborhood. Under the restaurant tab, you can browse traveler-ranked options according to themes including Cheap Eats, Local Cuisine, and Fine Dining.
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Best in Asia: Agoda
Now owned by Booking Holdings, Agoda was founded in Thailand and is headquartered in Singapore. Although its two million listings include properties in destinations across the world, it has a reputation for returning the best prices and widest availability for hotels and vacation rentals in Asia specifically. The hotel section of the website functions as an independent OTA and allows for direct bookings. Simply enter your chosen destination, dates, and room requirements to receive a list of results that you can order according to Best Match, Lowest Price, or Top Reviewed.
Agoda doesn’t have as many filter options as other OTAs and some users find the layout (which is cluttered with incentivizing marketing slogans and Just Missed It properties) off-putting. However, the company makes up for it with a best-price guarantee that offers to match any price on the web or refund the difference. The flight section operates as a metasearch engine, redirecting you to the cheapest third party site to make your booking. Agoda also partners with Mozio, Rentalcars.com, and Viator to offer airport transfers, car rentals, and tour tickets respectively.
Best in Europe: Lastminute.com
You can use Lastminute.com to book a trip anywhere in the world, but it’s especially geared towards European travel and is one of the continent’s top three travel companies. Hotels are booked directly and can be filtered according to budget, star rating, guest rating, board type, and more. The flight section uses a metasearch engine to find the cheapest price across associated OTAs and airlines and includes the ability to add multiple destinations – a major plus in Europe, where short travel distances make city-hopping a popular option.
Lastminute.com also specializes in flight-and-hotel packages and all-inclusive vacation packages, often with great deals for last-minute travelers. You can book several Europe-specific travel services as well, including Eurostar tickets (for those traveling in between the U.K. and mainland Europe), and West End theater tickets. The company’s Brexit Price Promise is another major perk for visitors to the U.K. Regardless of what happens to the value of the pound as a result of Brexit, you won’t be charged any extra fees for existing bookings – even if you’ve only paid a deposit.
Best Secret Deals: Hotwire
Part of the Expedia Group, Hotwire is a great fit for adventurous travelers who don’t mind booking blind if it means receiving amazing discounts on last-minute deals. Here’s how it works: hotels make their unsold rooms available to Hotwire for rock-bottom prices, allowing you to buy them at a fraction of the normal price. The catch? You won’t know the name of the property until after you’ve booked. Essential information including the star rating, guest rating and general location is revealed in advance, however, and some listings give you a list of three possible hotels of which yours will be one.
Hotwire does offer conventional listings with the hotel name included, but prices for these hotels typically cost at least a few dollars more than booking direct or with one of the bigger OTAs. You can also book car rentals and flights via a third-party comparison search that includes the company’s Expedia Group siblings. Vacation packages are offered as well, giving you the opportunity to bundle two or more options (e.g. flights, hotel, and/or car) for greater overall savings.
Most Innovative: Kiwi.com
Independent flight-booking website Kiwi.com is a metasearch engine with a difference. Unlike other aggregator sites, it allows you to book each leg of your journey with the cheapest airline possible, even if they don’t have a codeshare agreement. To book like this by yourself is risky, because the second airline is under no obligation to refund or rebook your flight if you miss it due to a delay or cancelation on the first leg of your journey. However, Kiwi.com mitigate the risk with a unique guarantee that promises to book you onto an alternative flight or refund the cost of your unused ticket in case of a scheduling emergency.
There are other innovations that make this company unique. On the homepage, an interactive map allows you to select your departure city, then hover over international destinations to reveal the cheapest airfare for each route. The Nomad feature helps you to find the cheapest route for a multi-destination trip and also offers pre-planned itineraries. Kiwi.com can arrange hotel bookings and car rentals through partnerships with Booking.com and Rentalcars.com.