With the introduction of mobile device applications, booking travel accommodations – including your lodgings – has become a much simpler process. Not only is this incredibly convenient, but it also often lets you get a great price, too. That is, if you know which apps to use. So, which ones share the spotlight more than most? This article will list them for you and let you in on why they’re popular.
What makes a good hotel app? 7 things seasoned travellers look for
There are lots of apps on the market that help you find places to stay while out of town. So, what makes the following list stand out from the crowd? Here are some things that the experts look for in, and point out about, the cream of the crop:
1. How long has it been around?
While experience isn’t always the best barometer for how well a travel app will perform, a travel company’s track record still counts for something. Companies that have been around for years will have established reputations, and therefore, are usually more popular and trusted than ones that are just starting out.
2. How easy is it to use?
Even the most useful app in the world isn’t worth much if people can’t figure out how to actually use it. The best apps arrange their layouts to make the key functions easy to find and use, while still giving you the extra features you need to make informed decisions.
3. Does it cover a wide area, or does it go for quality over quantity?
Many apps offer large selections of places to stay spread out over a large geographical area – perhaps even the whole globe! Others, meanwhile, specialize in specific geographical areas; you may want to see what they offer when you know you’ll be travelling to the regions they cover. While they may not offer as many options, they may still be among the best ones because they only book the best places that they themselves have hand-picked as hot spots. So if you’re looking for comfort over location, these types of apps can be well worth the look.
4. How well does it depict where you’re staying?
A picture is worth a thousand words, but it doesn’t always tell the full story. There’s only so much that photos and descriptions of a place you’re looking to stay at can tell you about it. It’s valuable to have testimonies from people who have actually stayed there, and so many of the best apps will allow or aggregate (or both) user reviews and ratings. You can also always check out how people who have stayed at the places you are interested in really feel about it on TripAdvisor.
Not all reviews are created equal, though, and neither are all ratings systems. Some have strict conditions for posting, while others will let just about anybody write a review. Keep this in mind when reading reviews, and look for signs that some of them may not be genuine. For hints and tips regarding this, have a look at our guide on how to spot a fake online review.
5. How does it handle the timing of bookings?
Timing may not be everything, but it certainly plays a factor in a good hotel app. Some apps specialize in last-minute bookings, and they’re great if you need a room in a hurry – and often – at a discount. However, you may be restricted to tight check-in hours, short stays, or both. Apps that allow (or require) you to book in advance may not have these restrictions.
6. Are you really getting deals on prices?
Most people who book travel are looking to save as much money as they can, and the travel accommodations market is relatively competitive in that regard. However, the best apps have various tricks and tactics for getting you better deals. These include rewards programs, discounts on vacation bundles, and price comparisons. Many of them also offer “sight unseen” bookings, where you pick a room based solely on price without knowing the exact details.
Speaking of rewards programs, many of the best apps have these to get you better prices. Their offerings also come in all shapes and sizes, from free nights to exclusive deals to a “points” system that gives you credit towards booking whatever you’d like. Take advantage of them when you can!
7. Does it offer more than just hotels?
If you’re going to be staying out of town, you’re probably going to need more than just a place to lay your head. Many of the best hotel apps allow you to book flights, rental cars, or vacation activities as well. Not only does this make them convenient, but it also can save you money when you bundle your accommodations together!
Best 10 hotel booking apps on Android and iOS that balance convenience and price
So, what’s the best app for hotel deals? Here are the critics’ picks, along with their strengths and weaknesses based on the above criteria.
Why it’s good: Booking.com makes our list of best cheapest hotel apps because it has one of the most feature-rich, yet easy-to-use, interfaces. This makes it a snap to find the exact place that you want. And Booking.com has no shortage of those: over 1.5 million hotels, apartments, bed & breakfasts, and other lodgings in over 225 countries worldwide! Overall, Booking.com is great for getting low-price lodgings in tourist-friendly city centers.
What could be better: Booking.com’s prices are a little high, but that’s because they’re simply upfront instead of littered with fees buried in fine print. The other main weakness of Booking.com is that you can’t use it to book other types of accommodations, such as flights or car rentals.
Why it’s good: Expedia is a veteran of the online travel industry, established back in 1998. One of its biggest strengths is that it books all sorts of travel accommodations at once: not just hotels, but also flights, car rentals, cruises, or entire vacation packages! And booking your accommodations as a bundle can save you money over doing it separately. You can also save big with Expedia’s customer loyalty program, which is one of the better ones in the business.
What could be better: If you’re not booking packages or getting other exclusive deals, Expedia’s prices are fair but not great. The app interface is missing some key functions, too.
We have a course on Expedia if you’d like to learn how to use it.
Why it’s good: Priceline got started around the same time as Expedia, so it’s another top cheap hotel booking app that has a proven track record. One commendable thing about it is that it allows you to book flights and car rentals as well as hotels, so you can reserve all of your accommodations in one spot. But by far its biggest strength is its prices. Not only is it very good at finding you cheap lodgings, but its signature “Name Your Own Price” feature allows you to let Priceline match you with a place that fits your exact budget.
What could be better: In addition to the Priceline app not having the greatest user interface, there is a drawback to the “Name Your Own Price” system: it works like many other “sight unseen” booking schemes. This means that, even if your price is accepted, you won’t get to see much information about where you’re staying until after you book it. You also can’t change or cancel this type of booking.
Interested in the ins and outs of how Priceline works? Visit our Priceline course!
Why it’s good: Hotwire scores points for having the ability to book car rentals for you in addition to hotels. However, the biggest reason it makes our list of best apps for hotels is its prices. In fact, its whole business model is based around getting you cheap rates by listing unbooked rooms.
What could be better: There’s a catch to booking through Hotwire: very little about your room is guaranteed other than the intended occupancy. And once you make your booking, you can’t change or cancel it. So, you have to be feeling adventurous and willing to take a bit of a risk to score a great deal.
Why it’s good: Hotels.com is one of the larger-scope apps on this list, with over 500,000 hotels (including some alternative lodgings) from over 200 countries listed on it. It also has a great interface with a full suite of sorting and filtering options to help you find the ideal place to lay your head. Plus, it has a simple yet valuable rewards program: for every 10 nights you stay at lodgings booked through Hotels.com, you get one night free! Hotels.com also does “sight unseen” pricing, where you can leave certain details of your booking to chance in order to score a better deal.
What could be better: Like Expedia, outside of its special offers and “sight unseen” bookings, Hotels.com is only so-so when it comes to pricing. This is especially the case when it comes to lower-cost accommodations, or those outside of North America.
Why it’s good: Agoda, based in Thailand, has risen through the ranks to become somewhat of a dark horse among the best apps for hotels. Its biggest strength is in its coverage area; it was initially one of the best apps for finding cheap hotels in southern/southeastern Asia. However, its scope has expanded to the point where it has one of the biggest selections of accommodations outside of North America. It is also very good at representing the places you’re looking to stay at, with high-quality pictures and tons of reviews.
What could be better: Agoda’s app isn’t very user-friendly; it’s missing some of the common filtering options that help other best cheap hotel apps make this list. Its pricing is also a bit iffy; while it does have deals, foreign taxes often mark prices back up. Also be careful of places that ask for advance deposits before you book them.
Why it’s good: Germany-based Trivago isn’t exactly a booking service so much as it is a price comparison tool. That is, it searches other booking websites and apps to see what hotels they’re offering, and then lets you compare them side-by-side. It covers over 200 hotel-heavy areas in over 190 countries, so you get a good idea of what’s available where you want to stay. It also has one of the best user interfaces of any app on this list, with lots of handy filtering functions to find exactly the place you’re looking for.
What could be better: A surprising shortcoming of Trivago is that the experts have reported issues with it being able to find the best prices on cheap hotels. Often, they find that there are discounted deals on the websites that Trivago surveys that are better than what Trivago itself tells you, or that the prices are for different classes of hotels than what Trivago says.
Why it’s good: Travelocity was one of the first online travel booking services, starting even before Expedia and Priceline, so it knows the industry. Its travel-booking app is full-service, so you can bundle a flight and/or car rental with your hotel to get cheaper prices. You can also use the “Top Secret Hotels” program to book sight-unseen for a big discount – if you’re willing to take that risk. One of the coolest features of Travelocity, though, is that it has features for measuring the average prices of accommodations in the area where you want to book one, even for different times of the year.
What could be better: While Travelocity does have deals and promotions, it doesn’t have a traditional rewards program that gives you bonuses for being a loyal customer. It’s also rather inflexible when it comes to the timing of bookings; if you’re looking to book last-minute, look elsewhere. And despite its unique price measurement tools, Travelocity’s prices themselves aren’t stellar.
Why it’s good: If you’re looking for lodgings that are a little out of the ordinary, then Airbnb is your go-to app. It’s one of the biggest vacation property rental services, with over 600,000 listings from over 34,000 cities around the globe. One of its biggest strengths is its review process; reviews can only be left about properties (and visitors) after a stay has been completed. This cuts down on fake reviews and creates a user community where both hosts and guests only go as far as their reputation takes them. You can also often find properties that are cheaper to rent than traditional hotel rooms on Airbnb, if you’re willing to forgo a few amenities.
What could be better: You won’t find other travel accommodations on Airbnb; just lodgings. The timing of bookings is somewhat inflexible on it as well, as you have to wait for the owner of the property that you want to book to accept your reservation request (though many owners use the option to auto-accept certain requests).
Why it’s good: HotelTonight is one of the pioneers of last-minute hotel booking, and so its biggest advantage is its flexibility in timing when you book. It specializes in getting you deals if you need a room right away, but you can book up to a week in advance (and it’s rumored that they’ll be expanding this window to 100 days sometime soon). Plus, it has a trendy, modern interface.
What could be better: HotelTonight has two main weaknesses. The first is that you can’t book stays of more than 5 nights, so if you’re looking for a long vacation, it’s best to try a different app. The second is that its area of service is relatively small, with only about 15,000 options spread out across the Americas, Europe, and Australasia. However, it has a more stringent review process, so the places it does offer are only going to be the ones that the savviest of travellers will love.
That’s our round-up of the most popular hotel booking apps for iOS and Android, and how they fare in terms of price and convenience! Be sure to check out the rest our articles and lessons on booking flights and hotels, as well as rental vacation properties, for the info you need to get the right accommodations when you’re heading out of town. Specifically, if you need a hotel in a hurry, read our article on the best last-minute hotel booking apps. It will let you know where to go to get a soft bed and a great deal, all in the nick of time!