Never assume hotel or hostel prices are fixed. Book right and massive savings are possible on UK and worldwide rooms.
This step-by-step guide shows you how to find cheap accommodation worldwide, including the top hotel comparison sites, secret hotel mega-bargains, cheap-yet-clean hostels and much more.
In this guide
It ain’t where you stay, it’s the way that you book it
Never assume one price fits all for a hotel or room. Just like Beyoncé's CDs are sold at different prices in different shops, the same hotel or B&B room is sold by different places at different prices.
The impact can be huge. As an example, we found the same five-star Paris hotel for three nights was on sale between £726 and £2,330 on different sites.
How to find a good hotel
The first aim's to find a top establishment, within your budget, then to try to get it as cheaply as possible. Here are some key tips:
Stars aren’t about quality
Star ratings determine facilities, not quality: a 5* often means pool, big foyer and conference facilities, not niceness.
There’s no universal worldwide standard. Stars may be given by governments, review organisations or even the hotel itself. So treat them with a big pinch of salt.
Use a comparison site
Start by putting details into a comparison site and sorting hotels by price. Trivago is a good one for this.
For more inspiration, check out travel brokers such as Expedia*, Travelocity & Ebookers* because they give a decent benchmark price at a legit hotel. Plus they sometimes have special offers on specific hotels, so you may get lucky at the off.
A worldwide institution, TripAdvisor* lists detailed reviews and customer ratings for hotels and pictures taken by past guests. Search for different hotels to see whether they're palaces or pigsties.
Always remember anyone can pen a review. Some hoteliers sign up and post glowing reports of their own hotels. Beware of gushing endorsements in brochure-speak, and click on the reviewers' usernames. If they’ve only bothered to post once, they could be dodgy.
For UK hotels, the independent Good Hotel Guide's free site reviews UK hotels. Entries in the guide are based on visits by undercover inspectors, so it's well worth a look.
Check the hotel's own price
Once you know where you want to stay, always check what the hotel itself offers and whether it has any special deals.
It may offer early booking promotions or three-for-two-night deals that comparison sites miss. Once you find a price on a comparison site, call the hotel directly to see if it can beat it.
Use a cheap hotel comparison site
Four main sites trawl the net for the cheapest hotel prices:
Best for ease and speed Trivago
Hotel comparison site Trivago takes just a few seconds to sift through thousands of hotels' prices, scraping 206 brokers and hotel chains. It's simple, fun to use and you can drill down your search by star, user rating or facilities.
If you know which hotel you want, just plug its name into the box on the left and it quickly locates the cheapest price for that establishment.
The site displays potential 'savings' in red, although bear in mind discounts are against the most expensive broker's price, which could be abnormally high.
Broad search Travelsupermarket*
Also with an impressive reach, TravelSupermarket* searches more than 35 hotel brokers and chains.
It also lets you search for specific hotels and read reviews supplied by guests.
Compare and read reviewsTripAdvisor
If you're using TripAdvisor*, you can also do quick comparisons while viewing hotels. Just search for your dates and TripAdvisor lists prices alongside listings, usually from about 5-10 brokers.
This makes it a cinch to find a quality hotel within your budget - just search for a place, sort in order of ranking, and scroll down until you see a cheap price.
Beware hidden taxes and charges
There's one thing to check when you're searching for a hotel, which can mean some sites unfairly come up cheapest.
Many countries charge a £10-£30 per day room tax. Not all hotel sites include this, so always check.
Some brokers hide the true cost of a stay until the final booking page. In some cases, the first time you'll find out the true figure is at the hotel. This is because websites sometimes say taxes at the relevant percentage rate for that destination apply, on top of the price displayed.
Even comparison sites sometimes show the price minus taxes, so always click through to check the final price before choosing. See the Revealed: Hidden hotel charges MSE News story.
Also watch for sites which have rooms 'on request'. This only means it's being requested from the hotel, not that there's actually a room available. Be careful not to go for one of these and lose a firm cheap deal elsewhere.
Find super-cheap posh secret hotels by turning detective
With a bit of detective skill, mega hotel bargains are available from secret hotel sites. Here, you’re only told a star level and rough location - only once you’ve paid do you find out the hotel’s name. This means rock-bottom prices, as hotels needn’t worry about cannibalising their direct trade.
Yet there are usually sneaky ways to discover the hotels' identities to see if it’s worth it. You can never be 100% sure which hotel it is before booking, so these sites are not for those desperate to stay at a particular place.
Here are the top sites to try:
Lastminute.com Worldwide secret rooms*
The secret hotel section at Lastminute.com* has bargains on up to five-star hotels worldwide (including London), because you only know the description and star rating before you pay.
Paste the description into Google
To work out what the hotel really is, copy and paste all or part of the Lastminute.com* hotel description into Google. Often, it just uses the hotel's standard description text that also appears on its website.
Match up Tripadvisor reviews
Lastminute.com sometimes includes secret hotels' TripAdvisor* review scores, including how many reviews they have. Just go to TripAdvisor, search for an area, eg, Venice, and sort by ranking. Then match up your secret hotel with those that have the same score and number of reviews, eg, 456. This doesn't work every time, but is worth a shot.
Post a request on the forum
If you've no luck, ask in the Top Secret Hotels Revealed discussion or, for secret hotels in London, the London Hotels Revealed thread.
Secret-hotel pros on our forum can usually track them down in seconds. If you book, please post the hotel name and description after you get the Lastminute.com email revealing the hotel.
Use specialist secret hotel reveal sites
It's also worth pasting the details into the specialist website NotSecretHotels. Just enter the hotel's title and it reveals the establishment.
It's a new site, and it particularly strong for secret hotels in London, but has limited coverage for other areas.
Here's a little inspiration...
I booked the 5* Grange St. Paul's Hotel in London for £109 (rack rate £215). OH YEAH BABY. MoneySaver lukey2
I booked the Hilton London Paddington for £69 for a double room. I had a look on the Hilton website and the equivalent cost would be £205 - bargain! MoneySaver carolinehulse84
Priceline Truly huge US and other city break discounts
Hotel bidding site Priceline flogs posh hotel rooms at colossal discounts, and it’s especially strong for US hotels.
Normally you tell it the area, star level and price you’re willing to pay. You don’t get told which specific hotel you’re booking, but you have to agree you’ll pay immediately if your bid’s accepted. Bid too low and you’ll have to wait a day to bid again.
We've tricks to supercharge even these discounts - loopholes allow you multiple bids in a day. Read Priceline Hotel Bidding for a full step-by-step guide.
We bagged six nights at the Sheraton Manhattan Times Square for £340 in total. To book direct with the hotel would've cost £1,200" - crombiestone
HotwireTop secret rooms in the US and worldwide*
Secret hotel booking website Hotwire* has helped MoneySavers bag Vegas's five-star Venetian for £66 (rack rate £146), the Westin New Jersey for £50 (£153), Hilton Doubletree NYC for £79 (£172) and many more.
It also flogs mystery rooms in UK cities such as London, Oxford, Edinburgh, Manchester, as well as across Europe and worldwide. The hotels aren't as top-secret as they first appear. You can cheat by matching Hotwire's secret hotels to its non-secret rooms.
Read the step-by-step Hotwire system
While huge savings are possible, there's a golden rule to start with...
Remember, this is never 100% guaranteed and can go wrong if two hotels have the same facilities.
Plus secret hotels may not feature in the 'normal hotels' list and vice versa. Only do this if you are flexible.
Step 1: Find secret hotels
Go to Hotwire* and search for a city and date to see its 'hot rates'. It tells you the hotel's star rating, area of the city and amenities but not the name. The area map shows exactly which bits of the city the area covers.
Step 2: Match up normal hotels
Narrow the hotel down by matching it with Hotwire's normal, revealed hotels. Open a new browser window, search for the same dates, click 'standard rate' (near the top) and select the number of stars on the left to narrow it down.
Zoom in on the standard hotel map until it matches the Hot Rate hotel's area map. Check which standard hotels in that area match the hot hotels' stars and amenities.
Step 3: Compare rates
Just got three nights in the Westin Book Cadillac, Detroit for £230 via Hotwire. Best price on any comparison site was £440. Result." - jeff_flambino
Travelocity Secret USA rooms
If you're planning a trip Stateside, broker Travelocity offers its own Top Secret Hotel deals, covering the US, as well as Canada and parts of the Caribbean. It gives you the hotel's star rating, user review rating and very rough location, but not its name.
Again, with a little sleuthing, it's possible to narrow it down to a few hotels and eliminate some of the risk.
How to uncover secret Travelocity rooms
Once you've searched for ‘secret hotels', open another window and search on normal hotels for the same date.
Sort the results by star rating and match up normal hotels which have the both the same star and user rating as the mystery hotel. It should be pretty straightforward to narrow it to two or three possibilities. Check out TripAdvisor to see if you'd be happy to stay at all the shortlisted boltholes.
We found a three-star New York mystery hotel for £79, with a four out of five user review score. We then searched again for 'normal' Travelocity hotels. The mystery hotel's scores matched four others ranging from £110 to £182. Even if the mystery hotel was the £110 place, it would still mean a £30 saving.
Posh villas often undercut posh hotels
Going as a family group or with friends? Cottages, villas and apartments can massively undercut similar quality hotels.
Usually, you must do your own cleaning and washing up. But if you want space, privacy, a full kitchen, washing machine and more, it can be a winner.
Our Cheap Holiday Rentals guide shows how to score discounts by booking directly with owners.
We've stayed at wonderful places in Europe and the Caribbean using rental sites and have always been delighted. It's way more cost effective than hotels.
Barbecues on relaxing evenings with glasses of wine, jump in the pool anytime, do washing as you go. Loads of privacy and space to enjoy yourselves as a family... I love it.
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Hostels - dirt-cheap, not dirty
Hostels can offer massive savings over hotel prices. While a few are squalid, many are clean and friendly, with free internet access and breakfast. In the UK, Youth Hostel Association (YHA) and Hostelling Scotland properties include fabulous castles and mansions.
You're also more likely to strike up a conversation in a hostel than a Marriott. Don't think it's automatically a dorm bunk. Many offer singles, twins and doubles.
To check out prices and availability, use Hostelbookers.com* and Hostelworld*, both of which give hostels a percentage rating, based on users' experiences. Even if they say a hostel's full, always try emailing direct, in case there's a spare room that doesn't show up. To read more reviews from past hostel guests and compare prices, try hostelz.com.
When staying at Hostelling International hostels, you can get up to £3 off per night with £20 Youth Hostel Association membership (£15 by direct debit). Under-26s can bag membership for £10 (£5 by direct debit).
Package holidays can undercut DIY web bookings
As a rough rule of thumb, head for a traditional tourist destination (eg, Rhodes, Malaga) specifically for seven, 10 or 14 days and package holidays win, plus you get ATOL protection, meaning you’re covered if the tour operator goes bust.
For prices skimpier than Rihanna's bikini, book very late. Yet if you need special facilities, book early. See Cheap Package Holidays for a full guide.
Create your own 'protected package holiday'
Package holidays have been protected under the ATOL scheme for a long time, so you're owed money back or help coming home if something goes wrong.
Yet it's little-known that since 2012, if you book a flight plus separate hotel or car hire together (or within 24 hours) from the same travel (not airline) website, you now get Atol protection, just as with a package holiday.
Even better, if you book flights and hotel together, Expedia*, Ebookers* and Lastminute.com* sometimes give extra discounts. Compare this to booking the cheapest flight and hotel separately to see if this protection 'costs' you.
Scout for special opening rates
New hotels often offer special rates to drum up custom, typically 50% off or even complementary stays. To find new hotel openings, scour industry publications such as HotelChatter, Hotel News Resource and Hotel Designs. Call the hotel to ask about special rates (a bit of sweet talk goes a long way).
Stay on a Sunday
The day of rest is hotels' quietest booking day, thus you're most likely to get a bargain. Look out for Sunday special offers such as 3for2 nights or free bottles of champers.
Sign up to loyalty schemes for mates' rates
Many hotel chains have free-to-join loyalty schemes. The biggies are Hilton HHonors*, Marriott Rewards* and Starwood Preferred Guest. These loyalty schemes are worth joining, not so much for the free room nights, which can take ages to clock up, but for the special offers they send to members.
Plus if you call the hotel and ask for a discount or ask for an upgrade when you check in, you're more likely to get one as a ‘preferred guest'.
Rent a spare room for your holiday
Spare room and apartment rental sites offer cheap short-term stays worldwide. The idea is hosts put you up their spare room or rent out their whole apartment to earn cash on the side.
You can stay everywhere from swanky LA lofts to houseboats in Paris, and it's a great way to meet locals.
Crashing in spare rooms often beats hotel prices. For example, we found a double room in Barcelona flat for £26 a night, while a similar quality hotel cost £61 a night.
Love AirBnB! It's a great alternative to hotels when cities are fully booked during major events like Edinburgh Festival. Make sure you read the reviews. - Speyside life
Airbnb Best for breadth
The biggest name in spare room renting, Airbnb features 22,000 listings in the UK and over 500,000 worldwide. It charges guests a 6-12% fee to stay.
Wimdu smaller selection but can have cheaper prices
Wimdu features 15,000 listings in the UK and 235,000 worldwide. It's free for hosts to list, so some price at slightly lower rates to reflect this. Guests still pay a 6-12% fee to stay, shown on the payment page.
9 flats for belt 'n' braces
Covering fewer properties, but also worth a look is 9flats. The site features nearly 106,000 listings worldwide. It doesn't charge any extra fees for guests, but charges hosts 12% to 15% of the transaction.
Couchsurfing stay for free
The Couchsurfing site allows you to sign up to stay on people's sofas around the world. It's a reciprocal deal, so be prepared to allow people to stay on your sofa in return.
There are no commercial transactions on Couchsurfing, but you can pay it £16 to verify your ID. This is optional, though may make people more willing to put you up for the night.
How to stay safe?
Before booking, find out as much info as possible about the host, neighbourhood and property. Scour reviews from visitors and inspect photos closely.
For safety, you pay through the spare room sites payment systems, and they hold your money until 24 hours after you've successfully checked in.
Who is this best for?
Rooming with strangers can be a lottery. This isn't for types who like to bounce coins on mattresses or run fingers along doorframes for dust. Sometimes check-in times are restricted or email replies slow.
60%(ish) off hotels if you've Tesco points
Regular Tesco shoppers who have collected up Tesco Clubcard points can trade them in for Rewards Vouchers, which can then be spent at hotel chains such as Marriott, Mercure and Best Western.
The big advantage is that Clubcard points are worth 1p in-store, but their value's up to three or four times as much when converted to Rewards.
The snag is hotels usually only let you use vouchers against their rack rates, which are often much higher than their cheapest internet ones. Before exchanging your Clubcard vouchers, carefully compare prices on Trivago first, as you may get better value for your vouchers elsewhere.
For more on maxing Tesco vouchers' value, read the Boost Tesco Points guide.
Monitor the latest hotel deals
This guide helps you cut the cost of any hotel worldwide. For a full daily updated list of one-off promotions, keep your eyes peeled for discounts and deals on our Hotel Sales deals page.
Travelodge '£25 or less' sales
Hotel chain Travelodge* regularly offers £25 and under sale rooms. The ultra-cheap rooms are released in tranches. To bag serious bargains you need to know when a new batch's been released. Therefore if you try to get a room at the start of a genuine sale, there's widespread availability.
University stays outside term time
Always thought you could have got into Oxford? Well now you can. The fab site University Rooms rents halls of residence rooms left empty during the holidays in a host of UK cities, including London, Oxford and Cambridge, plus a few worldwide. Singles start at about £30 and doubles from £70.
While it's not the Ritz, many MoneySavers have been pleasantly surprised, and surroundings at Oxford and Cambridge colleges can be stunning. The website Travelstay also lists cheap university rooms across the UK.
No-frills UK hotels from £25
As long as you've not got a aversion to orange, Easyhotels is another option. It has pads in London, Luton, Glasgow and Edinburgh and more, with simple rooms from about £25 a night (£15 in Glasgow). Again, the earlier you book, the better the chance of a lower price.
The no-frills Tune Hotels chain has London rooms from £30 or sometimes less with promos. It’s run on the budget airline model: while it’s clean and does the job, guests pay a few quid extra for towels, TV use and housekeeping.
Try a house swap holiday
A number of home swapping sites, such as Home Base Holidays and Homelink, allow you to switch your home with someone's elsewhere in the world. Reports vary from a way to make lifelong friends to holidays from hell, plus do compare fees before joining. See the Great Travel Swapping Hunt for tons more tips on this.
Carry on camping
Good old camping's a fun way to explore the great outdoors and get away on the cheap. MoneySavers rate the website UKCampsite.co.uk, which lists sites by area and by facilities. It also includes user reviews.
Read the Great Camping Hunt for a full list of MoneySavers' top tips on safe, hassle-free camping.
Also check Holidays with The Sun, where you can bag four-day caravan park breaks from around £60 for four people, by collecting tokens with The Sun newspaper.
£1 Hoxton Hotel rooms
This chic hotel in London occasionally runs £1 room promotions. Rooms sell out incredibly quickly, but are always in our weekly e-mail so you'll know in advance when to go for it.
Work for food and board
It's possible to bag free food and accommodation, in exchange for a few hours' work a day, usually on farms. Two of the biggest programmes are HelpX and WWOOF (Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms).
And just for fun, or if you're feeling really desperate, you could always sleep in the airport!