What's the Best Site for Booking Cheap Travel?
Travel sites allow frugal travelers to search for deals from multiple providers in one place. But with so many sites to choose from, it's difficult to know which ones really deliver the lowest prices and the best user experience. Cheapism.com researched and tested some of the most popular travel sites -- those that let users book a flight, hotel, and car rental in one place -- to determine which offer the biggest potential savings while easing trip planning. If you're seeking serious discounts, be prepared to consult a variety of sources to get the very lowest prices. And keep in mind: Sometimes it pays to book directly with an airline or hotel to cut out any potential fees charged by third parties.
A wide range of reservations can be made on Travelocity, from the staple trio of flight, hotel, and rental car to cruises and even activities. Travelers can also package bookings for greater savings, with reservations made by parent company Expedia. Although this subsidiary boasts a slightly better price guarantee for hotels -- refunding the difference if customers find a better deal 24 hours before check-in, while Expedia has a 48-hour cutoff -- its rewards program doesn't go beyond basic benefits. Despite Travelocity's higher marks for overall customer satisfaction, given the similarity between the two sites, it seems safe to skip this one and go directly to the source.
Travelers will find some great bargains on Hotwire, particularly if they're daring enough to take a chance with opaque booking on "Hot Rates" flight, hotel, or rental car reservations, where specifics aren't revealed until after the deal has been sealed. However, while Hotwire doesn't charge fees for most services, there's some lack of transparency regarding underlying hotel costs. The price guarantee is also slightly more limited than competitors -- Hotwire will pay the difference if you find a lower rate on an identical booking within 24 hours -- and signing up with the site may net discounts, but don't expect to earn any reward points for loyalty.
A generous rewards program, package deals, and ease of use help explain Orbitz's large share of the online booking market. Overall customer satisfaction has improved and the company has lived up to its reputation for user-friendliness since it was purchased by Expedia in 2015. Orbitz offers a variety of trip options -- including 7-day flexible searching for flights -- to reveal the best bargains and most convenient itineraries. Its price guarantee gives customers $50 in "Orbucks" on top of the difference if a better deal is found (within 24 hours for most reservations and up to 48 hours before check-in for hotels). Although this online travel agency is slightly fee-heavy compared to some others, TopTenReviews gave Orbitz its Gold Medal Award for 2016 and Reviews.com lists it alongside Priceline and Expedia as one of the top three sites for last-minute travel deals.
Expedia has taken over a large portion of the online travel industry by bringing Travelocity and Orbitz under its umbrella. Like those subsidiaries, it offers a wide range of reservation options, from flights, hotels, and rental cars to cruises, vacation rentals, and activities. Where Expedia one-ups the competition is that, on top of providing real deals (particularly at the last minute), it has one of the most robust travel rewards programs. Points can be used toward hotel bookings and air travel, or even donated to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. A solid price guarantee program refunds the difference and provides $50 travel vouchers to users who find cheaper deals after making reservations. Unlike Orbitz and Priceline, Expedia doesn't charge an additional fee for flight changes -- but expect to pay a $7 booking fee for trips that include multiple airlines.
Priceline claims that its "Name Your Own Price" tool offers savings up to 60 percent on hotels and 40 percent on airfare and car rentals. Travelers can bid what they wish to pay for a flight or for a hotel in a certain area, although there's no guarantee the bid will be accepted, and the exact times and the carrier or hotel name aren't revealed until after the booking is final. Priceline's "Express Deals" offer users the certitude of a sale with steeply discounted blind bookings that don't require any bidding. Those who aren't as flexible in their plans can still find decent deals on the site with standard bookings, and a price guarantee program promises that Priceline will pay up if you find anything better -- a price that beats an Express Deals booking nets double the difference.
With aggregator Momondo, travelers can search all these sites and more to find the very best deals. Like better-known rival Kayak, Momondo isn't designed for direct booking; instead it churns through hundreds of sources to pull up the best itineraries and provides links for booking -- and experts say it does a better job ferreting out the cheapest fares than most of the competition. With a host of convenient search filters, price graphs and insights to help determine the best time to fly, a guarantee on hotels, and a sleek site packed with articles and tips, it's easy to see why Momondo has become a top choice for many savvy travelers. Unlike Kayak, it doesn't search packages, cruises, activities, or trains, however; travelers looking for low rates can turn to that old standby instead.