Many travelers try to save money by searching the internet for cheaper hotel rates.
But a new study suggests it may not be worth it, at least in some places.
Travel insurance comparison site InsureMyTrip compared rates for 950 hotels in 19 cities around the world on three popular booking sites as well as each hotel’s own site.
According to results released last week, Hotels.com had the best overall rates, but just barely.
Hotels.com had the best rates in 620 cases, which was slightly higher than Expedia, which had the cheapest rates in 579 cases.
Booking directly with a hotel was more expensive, but only about $6 more on average, the study found.
“There have been differing opinions on hotel prices, and people … think that booking through online travel platforms guarantees a better rate than the hotel website,” said Shalabh Arora, director of the marketing at the Four Seasons Hotel Bengaluru in India. “However, this is not the case at Four Seasons where rate parity is taken very seriously.”
He said the hotels website has a pop-up feature that compares the rates offered by the hotel with those of other booking platforms.
Finally, the Booking.com site had the cheapest rates in 72 cases – or about 7% of the time – according to the study.
“Not only was [Booking.com] rarely the most affordable, but it was also the most expensive option most of the time,” according to the published results.
The company’s managing director for Asia Pacific, Laura Houldsworth, responded to the survey via email, saying the company aims “to always be transparent with our customers” and that “our real estate partners are free to set their own prices on Booking.com”.
She added that “our price match promise also means that if a customer were to find a lower price on another website, Booking.com will refund the difference.”
Different booking brands, same parent company
The report found that average hotel rates on Hotels.com and Expedia were the same in seven of the 19 cities, with overall averages varying by just 27 cents.
“Expedia and Hotels.com were often priced the same, especially with international hotels,” said Sarah Webber, chief marketing officer for InsureMyTrip.
Both brands are owned by the Expedia Group, which also operates other travel booking websites, including Travelocity, Hotwire, Orbitz and CheapTickets.
“Hotels working with Expedia Group distribute their rates across all of our brands,” said Anna Brown, the company’s public relations manager. “The price is similar from one brand to another, however various offers… approved by our hotel partners, sometimes create price differences.”
Brown said rates can also vary based on app-only brand prices, while Hotwire’s “Hot Rates” obscure hotel names before purchase in exchange for deep discounts on last-minute bookings.
Booking.com is part of Booking Holdings, which operates Priceline, Agoda and Kayak. Booking Holdings had the highest revenue of any online travel agency from 2019 to 2021, according to research firm Statista.
Hotel rates by city
The InsureMyTrip report showed significant rate differences in some cities. For example, travelers could save up to $88 per night in Honolulu if they found the lowest price.
In New York, the report found that average hotel rates ranged from $293 on Hotels.com to $367 on Booking.com.
The study also found:
- Hotels.com offered the cheapest rates in New York 62% of the time.
- Expedia had the cheapest fares in Honolulu 62% of the time and in Boston 66% of the time.
- Direct hotel bookings were cheapest in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington DC
But rate fluctuations were less pronounced outside the United States.
Posted rates averaged less than $10 a night in Hong Kong, Bangkok, Macau, Kuala Lumpur and Istanbul, according to the research.
InsureMyTrip’s study represents a snapshot in time, with the research analyzing rates for a double room for two people booked for the night of August 27, 2022, the company said.
All searches were done on the same day to avoid price fluctuations because “prices can change quickly and without warning,” Webber said.
However, the study did not examine whether fares were refundable or included taxes, Webber said.
“To keep the study as simple as possible, we took the price seen on the sites as the final cost,” she said. “So that’s definitely something to consider as not all hotels or booking sites include the same extras in the final price.”
Other factors, such as prepayment requirements and breakfast inclusions, can also affect rates, further complicating the process of comparing hotel prices for both searchers and travelers.