Step 1: Check the hotel price comparison sites
Price-comparison websites provide a short cut to wading through the online agents to find the best deal. You can either use them to give you as wide an overview as possible of all the hotels available in a destination, such as New York hotels (you can typically find twice as many listed on a price comparison website as on a single on-line agent). Or, if you already have a hotel in mind, you can search on the name, and the dates you want to stay. Then you will see which agent is offering the best rate. (If you have already chosen your hotel, see also step five, below, so that you can see what rates the hotel itself is offering on its own website for those dates - they may be higher, or lower than the agents).
Note that all the price comparison sites search slightly different selections of hotel provider websites, so it’s worth spending a few minutes checking them all.
Step 2: Check the on-line hotel agents
Many hotels offer their best deals through on-line agents - indeed rates can sometimes be as much as 50 per cent lower than for booking direct on the hotel’s own website (though, occasionally, they can be more expensive - see step five below). Such agents also feature dozens, and sometimes hundreds, of hotels in a particular city or resort, and their search facilities let you see at a glance a choice of properties that may suit your needs. More and more agents also post up reviews from previous guests, which can help you judge the quality of the place you're thinking of booking.
Note that most hotels appear on several agents' websites: it's always worth getting a number of quotes (or using a price comparison site - see step one), as prices for the same hotel can vary significantly. When comparing prices, be sure to establish whether breakfast and local taxes are included in quotes - it's not always clear - and check carefully you're happy with the cancellation terms before you book. And remember that some sites charge fees for booking with a credit card. If you are thinking of booking flights or car hire as well as a hotel, skip to step three, below, for online agents.
Step 3: Check airport hotel specialists
While many of the agencies in step two will book airport hotels, there are some sites which specialise in them, and also offer deals on extras such as parking, and entrance to airport club lounges.
Step 4: Check the on-line travel agents
The following companies not only offer on-line hotel-only bookings, but also tailor-made packages combining the hotel booking with flights, car hire and so forth. Not only can this be convenient, but bundling the various parts of the booking together and paying for them in one transaction, often works out cheaper than booking them separately, and gives you increased legal rights and financial protection.
Step 5: Check hostel booking websites
For really cheap rooms - either in hostels, or small budget hotels and b&bs, two sites feature a very wide range of options. Both display helpful ratings for cleanliness, location, security, staff and so forth, based on previous guests' feedback, along with guests' reviews.
hostelbookers.com - Only half as many properties as hostelworld, but still a good choice of over 2,500 destinations, and it doesn’t charge a booking fee.
Step 6: Check direct
If you want to be absolutely sure how good a deal you are getting, make sure you also go to the hotel's own website, and establish the best rate for booking direct. Then, if you choose to shop around with online agents, you know what you're trying to beat. Also bear in mind that cancellation terms are often far less punitive for bookings that are made direct with a hotel than through a third party. Moreover, hotels' own websites may well give you more comprehensive and accurate information than you'll find on agents' websites.
The following are examples of big hotel chains that promise their best deals are available through their own websites:
Step 7: Consider the online hotel guides
The following websites are highly selective about the accommodation they feature, and offer often insightful reviews. They either give you the hotel website address, or they take or facilitate bookings, while promising you will end up paying no more than if you turn directly to the hotels (though you might still find better deals through online agents).