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 save £100s with top hotel comparison sites, mystery mega-bargains, cheap-yet-clean hostels and much more.
Pay less for the same hotel room
Never assume one price fits all when it comes to hotel rooms. Just as Beyoncé 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 five nights in September at the same four-star Hong Kong hotel on sale for £720 and £2,985 on different sites.
Step 1. Find a good hotel
The first aim's to find a top establishment, within your budget, then to try to get it as cheap as possible. If you already know where you want to stay, go to Step 2. If not, read on.
Don't trust the star system
Picking a cheap suite involves cutting through vast swathes of information, yet there's a golden rule to start with.
Don't trust the star system. It's based on facilities, not quality. There's no ranking standardisation worldwide.
The hotel star system's a mess. It often differs within countries, never mind worldwide. Stars may be given by governments, review organisations or even the hotel itself. Package tour operators tend to be overly generous, often a star higher than independent reviews. See a full guide to what stars mean.
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* and 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 theyve 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.
Step 2. 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 3-for-2-night deals that comparison sites miss.
Step 3. Use a cheap hotel comparison site
Four main sites compare prices across different cheap hotel websites:
The cheapest tends to be Trivago* - it covers over 250 different brokers.
To broaden your search further, try TravelSupermarket*.
Popular review site TripAdvisor* lets you read reviews and do quick comparisons.
While it won't be winning design awards any time soon, Hotels Comparison is also worth a check to confirm the deal you've found is the best one.
There's one thing to always 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 sites include this, so always check.
Some hotel websites 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 means there's not actually a room free, rather the availability needs to be checked with the hotel. Be careful not to go for one of these and lose a firm cheap deal elsewhere.
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If you want to stay in first-rate hotels but pay much less, go for an unnamed hotel at a super-hot discount price – just specify the star level and your particulars to see what comes up. Hotels do this to get rid of unused rooms without cannibalising their usual customer base, who'd either get annoyed or book the super-cheap deals themselves.
In theory, booking secret hotels is a risk, as you don't know where you're staying 'til you've paid. Yet if you've time to play, it's often possible to play detective and uncover 5* hotels at 3* prices.
Revealing Lastminute.com secret hotel bargains
The secret hotels 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. This means rock-bottom prices for classy establishments. It's the most well-known for secret bargains but others like Hotwire do it too - see below for how it works.
Here's a little inspiration...
I booked the 5* Grange St Paul's Hotel in London for £109 (rack rate £215). OH YEAH BABY.- 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! - carolinehulse84
How to uncover them
Step 1: Cut and paste key bits of the description into Google. For example, we found a five-star hotel in Edinburgh. The description detailed that it was close to Edinburgh Waverley train station, had an indoor pool and Scottish food. That was enough for Google to pull up a link to the Scotsman Hotel a five-star hotel near Edinburgh Waverley station. It's not a certain match, but it's a pretty safe bet.
Step 2: Double-check by matching ratings. Lastminute.com uses Tripadvisor ratings – it won't link directly to the site but it will tell you how many reviews it has. Match that with the secret hotel you're looking at – our five-star Edinburgh hotel had 1,460 reviews, the same number as the Scotsman on Tripadvisor. A coincidence? We think not.
Step 3: Still struggling? Use the MSE forum or special ‘reveal sites’. If steps one and two aren't successful, or you want further confirmation, ask in the Top Secret Hotels Revealed discussion or 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 all is revealed to return the favour.
Alternatively, check out specialist sites such as Secret Hotels Revealed. It's not perfect though, so only use it to corroborate what you've already found.
Step 4: Once you know what it is, check the saving before you book. Use comparison sites and check directly with the hotel to see how much you're really saving, or whether you can get the same hotel for less elsewhere. Our Edinburgh example was £90/night as a secret hotel, but £164/night at its cheapest via comparison sites.
Use the same system for Hotwire
Lastminute.com is great for UK bargains and can be used worldwide too, but Hotwire also offers secret hotels – and you can often uncover the hotels' identities using a similar method.
Hotwire - Worldwide secret hotel rooms
Secret hotel booking website Hotwire* has helped MoneySavers bag Vegas's five-star Venetian for £66 (rack rate about £150), the Westin New Jersey for £50 (usually from £153), the Hilton Doubletree NYC for £79 (£172) and many more. It also flogs mystery rooms in UK cities.
The hotels aren't as top-secret as they first appear though – you can cheat by matching Hotwire's secret hotels to its non-secret rooms.
While huge savings are possible, 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.
To test this system, we searched for a night away in Brussels and found a £53 four-star Hot Rate room in the Avenue Louise area. A search for standard hotels revealed Hotwire had just one four-star hotel in that area that matched the secret hotel's - the Sheraton Four Points.
We booked the Hot Rate room and the next screen revealed... it was indeed the Sheraton Four Points. Comparison sites' next cheapest rate for the same room was £66.
Have you managed to bag a deal like ours or better? Please share your tips and successes with others in the Hotwire hotels forum thread.
Priceline loophole – top hotel rooms at up to 70% off
Priceline is a huge US booking site, which covers some European cities too – it allows you to bid on hotel rooms, offering the price you want to pay.
You have to be clever with your bids – it usually only allows one. However there's a complex, fiddly, but devastatingly lucrative trick which allows you to get round this. Our Priceline Hotel Bidding guide has full step-by-step help to talk you through it.
On Martin's own New York trip, he got a nice hotel for 63% of the comparison sites' cheapest price – though that was beaten by one MoneySaver who scored a room at the Times Square Sheraton for £55 a night rather than the listed £200.
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Shown in June 2009
Top tips to cut costs worldwide
If you're just looking for a nice place to stay without breaking the bank, there are heaps of ways to get super-cheap accommodation around the world – either in hotels, or alternatives. Here are our top tips:
Going with ALL the family? Save £100s booking a villa instead of a hotel
Whether it's a villa in Vendée, a cottage in Cornwall or an apartment in Amsterdam, some serious bargains are possible on private holiday properties.
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. For big families and groups, it can halve costs compared to similar quality hotels.
For traditional hols, try a package holiday
Don't ignore good old-fashioned package holidays. For holidays in traditional destinations, packages can undercut DIY online-booked separate flights and hotels. Read the full Cheap Package Holidays guide.
Hostels can be winners – and may even mean luxurious views
Hostels may be dirt cheap, but they're not necessarily dirty. Don't think it's automatically a dorm bunk. Many offer singles, twins and doubles.
See more on cheap hostels in the UK below – but they can be great value overseas too.
Book flights with a hotel to bag extra savings
Brokers have direct commercial relationships with hotels and airlines, so can offer their own deals. If you book both the flight and hotel with them, Expedia*, Travelocity & Ebookers* can give extra discounts.
The big bonus benefit of this is that if you book a flight and hotel with the same firm (ie, a travel broker) within a day of each other, you now get ATOL protection (see more below).
Willing to be a guinea pig? New hotels can give huge savings on opening nights - or even free stays
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 CN Traveler, Hotel News Resource and Hotel Designs. Call the hotel to ask about special rates (a bit of sweet talk goes a long way).
Book Sunday stays for cheap sleeps
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.
With hotels, loyalty can pay - join the big chains' points schemes
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'.
The ATOL scheme gives financial protection if you're booking a holiday via an ATOL-licensed travel agent as part of a formal package. While this protection was previously only available to those on package holidays (and some flight-only bookings made via a tour operator), the cover now includes some DIY breaks.
ATOL protection is now extended to flights and accommodation or car hire booked from the same company within a day of each other, even if they're not part of a formal package.
So for travel brokers where you buy these within a day of each other from one firm, eg, Expedia*, Ebookers*, Opodo* and Lastminute.com*, you'll get extra protection. But for comparison sites such as such as Kayak* and Skyscanner*, sadly you won't.
This is worth considering if you can, as it's an extra way to build in extra protection for your stay if you're flying. See the ATOL travel protection extended MSE news story for more.
Consider renting someone's spare room
The idea is hosts put you up in 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.
On the downside, 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.
How do I know it's 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.
Where can I look at the options to do this?
These sites act as middlemen between hosts and guests. It's worth trying a few, as sometimes prices differ for the same room between sites.
When comparing, always click through to the payment page, as they can add extra fees at the final stage.
- Best for breadth: Airbnb. It's the biggest name in spare room renting, features 80,000 listings in the UK and over 2,000,000 worldwide. It charges guests a 6-12% fee to stay.
- Smaller selection but can be cheaper: Wimdu. Another major player, it features 15,000 listings in the UK and over 300,000 worldwide. It's free for hosts to list, so some price at slightly lower rates to reflect this. Guests pay a 12% flat fee to stay, shown on the payment page.
- For belt 'n' braces: 9flats.com. It covers slightly fewer properties, but it's also worth a look. The site features over 200,000 worldwide. It doesn't charge any extra fees for guests, but charges hosts 12% to 15% of the transaction.
Stay for free on someone's couch
This can be a great way to see the world, save some cash and get a local tour guide to show you the best bits of a place that ordinarily tourists wouldn't see. The Couchsurfing website allows you to sign up to stay on people's sofas around the world.
The idea is it's a reciprocal deal, so be prepared to allow people to stay on your sofa in return. (This isn't enforced, but it's part of the site's community-minded ethos - if you can't host due to space issues but want to help, you can set your profile to show you're willing to meet up with travellers visiting your area and act as an insider tour guide for them instead.)
There are no commercial transactions on Couchsurfing - so do be wary of anyone that asks for money - but you can pay it £14 to verify your ID. This is optional, but may make people more willing to put you up for the night.
How do I know it's safe?
Trust your instincts and don't arrange to stay anywhere without doing your research first. Couchsurfing allows you to message potential hosts so find out all you can about the person, property, location and neighbourhood.
Read reviews on the person you're planning to stay with, what they say about themselves and check whether their information - including home address and mobile number - are verified through the site.
Don't forget basic personal safety rules either - meet in a public place and tell friends and family where you'll be staying. Never give out your phone number or email address until you feel comfortable to do so - rely on the website's messaging service to contact your host.
Are there any alternative sites to try?
Couchsurfing is the most well-known site for this, and it has the most feedback. But others to look at include BeWelcome and GlobalFreeloaders. They don't look as polished as CouchSurfing but both have a similar premise - they allow reciprocal stays with community members around the world.
If you have tried staying on someone's couch, let us know how you got on in the forum.
Bond with the great outdoors - grab a tent and camp under the stars
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.
Always wanted to know how people in other countries live? Exchange your home with theirs
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.
Sleep and eat for free with a little hard work
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 finally, for the really extreme MoneySavers out there...
If you're feeling really desperate, you could always sleep in the airport!
Top tips for cheap UK hotels
Your first port of call for cheap hotels in the UK will be the same set of cheap hotel finding websites you'd use for travelling anywhere else in the world. Yet once you've done that, there are some extra ways of keeping down the cost on home soil.
Hostels: Stay in a castle from £20/night
Hostels can offer massive savings on hotel prices and many are clean and welcoming, not dirty dorms. You can choose private single rooms and doubles, and many have free internet access and breakfast included. Some are in special places too - eg, stay in a castle for £20/night.
MSE Fraser's a fan of a cheap 'n' cheerful hostel
I’ve stayed in hostels up and down the UK when I’ve needed a bed for the night. Generally I’ve found them to be clean, and they’ve saved me a packet compared to hotels. You’ll often meet friendly people staying there, too.
If you'd prefer to book overseas: at Hostelling International hostels, you can get up to £3 off per night with a £20 YHA membership (£15 by direct debit). Under-26s can bag membership for £10 (£5 by direct debit), or for £1 if you have a 16-25 Railcard.
To check out prices and availability worldwide: 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.
MoneySavers' top hostels. Many rave about great hostels, you can read their feedback or add your own in the Great 'Hidden UK Hostel Gems' Hunt.
Some MoneySavers' top picks include:
In Gloucestershire, St Briavels hostel is located in an ancient Norman castle. Private family rooms start at £69/night while dorm beds start at £20/night. JellyS said: "I had an amazing time, they had a special 'castle night' on with authentic food and ghost stories, was really good fun."
Downhill Beach House in Northern Ireland. It's mega-cheap and set in scenery which was used to film episodes of the smash TV fantasy series Game of Thrones. Private doubles start at £23/per person, while seven-bed rooms are £16.50/per person. Forumite gawa75 said it's one of the best hostels they've ever experienced while belfastgirl1 said: "On NI's stunning Causeway Coast, as already mentioned, it's beautiful inside and out."
Blacksail hostel in the Lake District with dorm beds from £23/night and private rooms from £51.50/night is picked out by Knitaholic2: "Not just a bargain but also unique and beautiful buildings, often lovely grounds and space to relax - so much better than B&Bs and boring chain hotels."
Littlewolfmonkey stayed in the Smart City hostel in Edinburgh and paid £230 to stay there with five friends for two nights. "We had our own six-person dorm with a lockable door - clean and right in the centre of town and not far from transport links. There was also a cheap bar, with breakfast served first thing and food throughout the day. I'd definitely use it again."
During the summer holidays university students head back home leaving their rooms empty between June and September. The fab site University Rooms rents halls of residence rooms left empty during the holidays in a host of major UK cities, including London, Cardiff, York, Oxford, Cambridge and Exeter plus a few worldwide.
It's a great way to get cheap accomodation when staying in a city, with single rooms starting at £30 and doubles from £70 - many also include breakfast.
While it's not the Ritz, many MoneySavers have been pleasantly surprised when staying in halls of residence, which are often located in city centres. The website Travelstay also lists cheap university rooms across the UK.
Here are some of our top picks:
The London School of Economics, in Bloomsbury, £47/night room incl breakfast, typical price hotel room for £107/night.
Edinburgh University halls, in the city centre, £47-£134/night (depending on season), typical price hotel room for £155/night.
York University halls, on the university campus, £90/night double room, typical price hotel room for £134/night.
Liverpool University halls, in the city centre, £55/night double room, typical price hotel room for £175/night.
Cambridge University, St Catharine's College, £90/night double room, typical price hotel room for £150/night.
Hotels at a third(ish) of the price if you've got 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 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, so you could get a hotel for a third or quarter of the price.
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.
Travelodge £25 or less sales
Hotel chain Travelodge* regularly offers £29 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.
Get youth hostels at a discount
For British breaks, the Youth Hostel Association is a decent bet. If you're planning to stay more than five nights a year, consider YHA membership, which saves you paying the non-member supplement of £3 per person per night.
If you've Tesco Clubcard vouchers, you can use these towards annual memberships and overnight stays.
No-frills hotels in London and Edinburgh from £25
As long as you've not got an aversion to orange, Easyhotel is another option. It has pads in London, Luton, Glasgow and Edinburgh and more, with simple rooms from about £30 a night. Again, the earlier you book, the better the chance of a lower price.
The no-frills Tune Hotels chain has London rooms from £55 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.
Don't spend Avios points on hotels
Formerly called Air Miles, Avios is a points scheme like Nectar and Tesco Clubcard, earnable in Shell, Tesco and by spending on credit cards.
Think twice before spending Avios points on hotels. In our research we found these gave poor value for points - you're usually better off redeeming on other rewards such as Eurostar or flights. For 30 ways to push the value of your Avios points to the max, see our Avios Points Boosting guide.