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.
In this guide
Pay less for the same hotel room
Never assume one price fits all for a hotel or room. Just like 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, the same five-star Paris hotel for three nights was on sale between £726 and £2,330 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 cheaply as possible. If you already know where you want to stay, jump 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 & 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.
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 three-for-two-night deals that comparison sites miss.
Step 3. Use a cheap hotel comparison site
Four main sites compare prices on different cheap hotel websites:
Best for ease and speedTrivago
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.
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.
Limited range, but worth checkingHotels Comparison
To be sure you've got the best deal, it's worth checking Hotels Comparison too. While it's not going to win any design awards, it does the job, searching about 20 brokers and accommodation chains.
If you know where you want to stay, it also lets you search by hotel name. Results can take a while to appear.
Look out for taxes
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 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 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.
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Unnamed hotel mega-bargains
If you want to stay in first-rate hotels but pay a lot less, go for an unnamed hotel at a super-hot discount price. All you do is 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.
Worldwide secret rooms. Lastminute.com
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. This means rock-bottom prices for classy establishments.
How to uncover them
There's a SNEAKY way to work out what the hotel really is and whether it's worth it. Simply 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.
Lastminute.com also 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.
If you've no luck, ask in the Top Secret Hotels Revealed discussion or, for the UK capital, 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.
It's also worth pasting the details into the specialist website Secret Hotels Revealed. This site isn't perfect; only use it to corroborate what you've already found.
Make sure it's a bargain
Done right, this is a superb way to get a classy hotel within your budget. Yet you can never be 100% sure which hotel it is, so it's not for those desperate to stay at a particular place.
How much can you save?
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 loophole: up to 70% off!
Giant US site Priceline flogs posh hotel rooms at colossal discounts, and it's especially strong for US hotels.
On Martin's own New York trip, he got a nice hotel for 63% of the comparison sites' cheapest price, though not as good as one MoneySaver, who got the Times Square Sheraton for £55 a night rather than the listed £200.
It's all about Priceline's 'name your own' price function, where you pick a city area and star level, name your price and see if any hotels accept it. Of course the aim's to find the minimum acceptable price, so start low, then keep raising your bid till it's accepted, but you can ONLY bid once a day.
There are techniques to get more bids per day, either by bidding with a partner, or adding more areas of a city.
Read Priceline Hotel Bidding for a full step-by-step guide.
Worldwide secret hotels: Hotwire
Secret hotel booking website Hotwire* has helped MoneySavers have bagged 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
MSE's Hotwire hotel test
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, the Sheraton Four Points, and the amenities matched the secret hotel's.
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.
Tell us your successes
Please share your tips and successes with others in the Hotwire hotels forum thread.
Secret USA rooms: Travelocity
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 thus eliminate some of the risk. 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.
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. While it may lack facilities, you can get clean, functional rooms at a fraction of normal hotels' cost.
Rent cheap holiday villas and apartments
Whether it's a villa in Vendée, a cottage in Cornwall or an apartment in Amsterdam, 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.
Check sites' offer pages and don't be afraid to haggle with owners. For a full guide, see Cheap Holiday Rentals.
Hostels: Cheap, but 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).
Want a week or two in a traditional resort?
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.
Cheap hotels with flights
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 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 – the same that package holidays have had for years.
This means if the airline or tour operator goes bust, you get your money back or an alternative holiday. See the MSE News story ATOL Travel Protection Extended for full info.
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.
Join the club
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'.
How to protect your holiday
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 has now been extended to include 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.
Rent a spare room or apartment for your holiday
Spare room and apartment rental sites, such as Airbnb and Wimdu, offer cheap short-term stays in private homes worldwide.
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 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.
The top spare room/apartment rental sites
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.
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
Another major player, 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.
9flats.com. 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.
More ways to cut accommodation costs
If you're feeling brave, there are a few other routes to cutting the cost of accommodation. Of course, always check them out thoroughly and consider safety.
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.
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.
Work for food and board
And just for fun, or if you're feeling really desperate, you could always sleep in the airport!
Top tips for cheap UK hotels
The first port of call for hotels in the UK are the same cheap hotel finding websites as for anywhere else in the world. Yet once you've done that, there are many more ways to keep down the cost on home soil.
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 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, 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 £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.
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.
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 hotels in London and Edinburgh 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.
Hoxton Hotel for £1
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.
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 to the max, see our Avios Points Boosting guide.