UK hotels

Bag a bargain in Blighty, including Sunday stays and uni digs

Here we set out the key steps to bagging a bargain bed in Blighty, plus clever ways to save even more, including the best day to book a bargain, staying at universities – or even kipping in a canal boat or treehouse.

Let us know YOUR tips. Let us know if you have any tips to add by posting in the UK Hotels forum thread. Also see our Cheap Hotels guide for tips on booking worldwide, and our guide on how to uncover Secret Hotels.

  1. Do your homework first to pick the right hotel

    Whether you're visiting the Big Smoke or staycationing in the countryside, the first thing to do is decide where you want to stay. You might already have a particular hotel in mind, but if not, it's important to do your homework.

    When doing your research, it's worth bearing the following in mind:

    • Don't trust the star system. Star ratings are determined by amenities, not quality – a 5* rating is often based on a pool, swanky reception and conference facilities, not how nice the place is.

      Stars may be given by reviewers, independent bodies or even the hotel itself, so treat them with a pinch of salt. If you really want to check the number of stars, look across a few sites, including the AA's Rated Trips and Visit Britain.
    • Check TripAdvisor for what others have said. A worldwide institution, TripAdvisor lists detailed reviews and customer ratings for more than 10,000 hotels across the UK. 

      Generally, the reviews are from past guests and as well as giving objective feedback, they can be a useful source of insider info, eg, telling you the best room to stay in. However, always remember anyone can pen a review. Some hoteliers sign up and post glowing reports of their own hotels.

      See MSE Jenny's blog Free tool to help detect 'fake' Amazon and TripAdvisor reviews for one way to spot them.

    Once you've settled on a hotel, check the price if you were to book it directly – this is a good starting point if you want to haggle later on too. It also means you'll spot if there are any special deals on currently for direct bookings. And then...

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  2. Always check a comparison site to see if you can find the same room for less

    Hotel prices vary massively, but thanks to comparison sites, you can easily find the best price for your chosen hotel.

    It's not an exact science, and the price you're offered can vary depending on the comparison site you're checking on, so ideally search all three big ones.

    Below is our suggested order, though as prices are much of a muchness and change day-to-day, we've based it on the features each offer, as well as which found the cheapest price in our quick tests.

    • Skyscanner* - Best known for flight comparisons, Skyscanner is also a strong hotel comparisons tool. In our quick tests it found the cheapest price 3/5 times. It has all the standard filters, such as price, star rating etc. Plus you can filter by meal plan and cancellation policy.

    • Kayak* - As well as the standard filters (price, amenities etc), it lets you filter by ambience (eg, 'trendy', 'family', 'eco-friendly') and freebies provided (eg, breakfast, parking, airport shuttle).

    • TripAdvisor - Popular review site, which provides hotel price comparisons as well as detailed customer reviews. You can filter and rank hotels by traveller rating.

    It's also worth checking HotelsCombined*TravelSupermarket* and Trivago* for full breadth. And while they're not comparison sites, and* can give extra discounts, free stays and member-only prices.

    Former MSE Jordon saved £24 on his booking by going via comparison sites:

    I needed a hotel at Heathrow Airport for a night so went direct to check out prices – I was quoted £89. A quick search via a comparison site brought this down to £65 for the exact same room. And I got more using a cashback site too!

  3. Found a hotel on a comparison site? Call 'em up to see if you can bag a better price booking directly

    Hotels listed on comparison sites have to give the comparison site some of their profit when you book, so they get a smaller share. So, if you find a hotel you like, try giving it a call directly. It may offer you a better deal because it can take the full profit it makes from your booking, then pass some of it back to you as a discount.

    You may need to haggle a little – see our haggling tips to help – but you've nothing to lose. The worst they can say is no, leaving you to book via the comparison site which gave you your original price.

    This works better with smaller chains or independent hotels or B&Bs, but also look out for 'booking direct price guarantees' with bigger chains, eg, Hilton.

  4. Use cashback sites to earn up to 12% back on hotels

    Sign hanging from a door knob saying 'cashback'.

    Cashback websites pay you when you click through them to go to retailers or product providers and spend. In essence, you can get paid for nothing more than an extra click before you get to where you want.

    You can use these sites to shave £100s off the cost of a hotel, if you're away for a while. While rates vary, Topcashback* and Quidco* – the two biggest cashback sites in the UK – pay up to 12% when you book hotels through some sites. When we checked on Tuesday 18 July, the following cashback on hotels was available:

    • 12% (Topcashback)
    • Expedia: 10% (Quidco)
    • 9% (Topcashback)

    Of course, we're not saying book via a certain site because the cashback is high – always do a comparison and ensure you can't get a cheaper price overall elsewhere. And remember, too, cashback's not guaranteed, so think of it as a bonus – see our Top Cashback Sites guide for more info.

  5. Uncover huge savings on secret rooms if you're willing to play detective

    Illustration of a detective with a magnifying glass with a pound sign on it looking at hotels.

    With a bit of detective work, 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 losing trade from those who go to them directly.

    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. But there are usually sneaky ways to discover the hotels' identities to see if it's worth it.

    The biggest site for this in the UK is* – it also offers similar deals on hotels overseas. For a full how-to and more details, see the Uncovering Secret Hotels guide.

  6. Sunday's the best day to snap up a bargain

    The traditional day of rest is hotels' quietest booking day, so you're more likely to pay less to stay on a Sunday. Also look out for Sunday special offers such as three-for-two nights or free bottles of champers.

    Forumites such as Eileen have saved by booking a Sunday night stay:

    We stayed in La Mon Hotel & Country Club on a Sunday night for £99, which included a two-course meal with a glass of wine or beer and bed and breakfast. On top of this we also got access to the facilities at the hotel including the pool, sauna, jacuzzi, steam rooms and the hubby loved the gym.
    - Eileen B

  7. No-frills UK hotels from just £25 a night

    As long as you've not got an aversion to orange, Easyhotels is another option. It has pads in London, Luton, Glasgow, Edinburgh and elsewhere.

    Normally simple rooms start at £25ish a night, if you sign up to its free membership scheme. But we've occasionally seen it offer cheaper deals in the past. And the earlier you book, the better the chance of a lower price.

  8. Got free cancellation? Cancel and re-book if you see it cheaper

    Close up of a calendar with a 'cancelled' stamp on it and a pen writing a red cross above it.

    Some hotel sites allow you free cancellation up to a certain date – usually no less than 24 hours before you're due to stay. So if you see the price fall, take advantage – cancel your original booking and re-book at the cheaper price. Sometimes you can even do this with the same site you originally booked with.

    For some, you do have to pay in full at the time of booking, even if you're able to cancel penalty-free. In that case you'll need to factor in whether you have the funds available to cancel and re-book, bearing in mind that the refund from the original more expensive booking may take a couple of days to come through.* and a host of others have free cancellation bookings, as do some hotels if you book directly with them – just be sure to check the terms and conditions of your booking. See our Cheap Hotels guide for more. 

  9. Bag luxurious UK bargains by signing up to short-term sales sites

    Sites such as Secret Escapes and Travelzoo* offer big discounts on luxury hotels worldwide, plus often throw in other treats like afternoon tea, dinner and bottles of prosecco on arrival. It's free to sign up – you just need to log in to see what's available.

    Hotel companies and travel brokers also often offer short-term sales for 24 or 48 hours and are worth looking at. However, as always, do your own research to see whether you're really getting a great deal, or if you can beat it elsewhere.

  10. Monitor the latest hotel deals

    This guide helps you cut the cost of UK hotels (see our Cheap Hotels guide for worldwide tips), but it's always worth looking out for sales and special one-off promotions which can save you a packet. Offers can include free night stays, or a limited number of rooms available at a heavily reduced rate.

    £38ish Travelodge rooms – but go quickly

    Travelodge* has a sale with 850,000 'saver rooms' (room-only, so no brekkie) for £38 or less per night. It's for stays from 17 July 2023 to 4 July 2024.

    The key to this is to just check which day has the cheaper prices. The £38 rooms are available online across various dates – the Travelodge price finder can help by showing all dates, locations and prices in one place, but it helps to be flexible.

    Keep your eyes peeled for discounts and deals on our Hotel Sales page.

  11. Slash the cost of city-centre stays by finding university digs outside term time

    Always thought you could've got into Oxford or Cambridge University? 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. It can be a surprisingly cost-effective way of staying very centrally, and the surroundings at Oxford and Cambridge colleges in particular can be stunning. The website Travelstay also lists cheap university rooms across the UK.

    Here are three of our top picks:

    • UCL halls: in Camden, London – £55/night single room, compared with a typical hotel room costing around £150/night.

    • Edinburgh University halls: £59/night single room with breakfast, typical hotel room around £120/night.

    • Sidney Sussex College, University of Cambridge: £84/night single ensuite room with breakfast, typical hotel room around £130/night.
  12. Scout around for special opening rates

    New hotels often offer special rates to drum up custom, sometimes giving you 50% off or even complimentary stays. New hotel openings are listed in industry publications such as Hotel News Resource and Hotel Designs.

    You can also pick up this information by scanning social media sites and keeping an eye on local newspapers. It's also worth calling a hotel directly to ask about special rates (a bit of sweet talk goes a long way).

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  13. Use Tesco points to knock £100s off big chains' rack rates

    Regular Tesco shoppers who have collected Tesco Clubcard points can trade them in for Rewards Vouchers*, which can be spent at and hotel chains such as Best Western, Butlins and Mercure.

    The big advantage is that Clubcard points are worth 1p in store, but their value can be doubled when converted to 'Rewards'. (Previously you could triple their value, but this dropped to double in June.)

    The snag is hotels usually only let you use vouchers against their rack rates (ie, normal prices), which can be much higher than the cheapest internet ones. Before exchanging Clubcard vouchers, check the price on comparison sites first to work out the real size of your saving. You may get better value for your vouchers elsewhere. 

    For more on maxing Tesco vouchers' value, read our Boost Tesco Points guide.

  14. Sign up to loyalty schemes for mates' rates

    Many hotel chains have free-to-join loyalty schemes, such as Best Western RewardsHilton HonorsIntercontinental Hotels Group Rewards Club* and Marriott Rewards

    They're worth joining, not so much for the free stays, which can take ages to clock up, but for the special offers they send members. Extra benefits, such as free room upgrades, early check-in, a free newspaper and a discount on hotel restaurants, are often included.

    Plus if you call the hotel and ask for a discount or an upgrade when you check in, you're more likely to get one as a 'preferred guest'.

  15. Many hostels are just dirt-cheap, not dirty – stay in a castle from £15/night

    Hostels can offer massive savings over hotel prices. While a few may be dodgy, many are clean with friendly staff, and have free internet access and breakfast.

    You're also more likely to strike up a conversation in a hostel than a Hilton. And don't automatically think dorm bunk either – many offer singles, twins and doubles.

    To check prices and availability, try the Youth Hostels Association* (YHA) and Hostelling Scotland. Both boast some pretty special properties including fabulous shooting lodges and Victorian mansions such as Ilam Hall in Derbyshire.

    If you've never stayed in a hostel before, there's a handy list of Q&As on the YHA website which covers everything from whether you need to bring your own bedding to how you can keep your belongings safe.

    MoneySavers' top UK hostels

    Many MoneySavers in our forum rave about great hostels – you can read some of their feedback or add your own in the Great 'Hidden UK Hostel Gems' Hunt. Some MoneySavers' top picks include:

    • In Gloucestershire, YHA St Briavels Castle is located in a moated Norman castle (see picture below). When we checked, we saw private rooms from £40/night while dorm beds started at £15/night. JellyS says: "I had an amazing time – they had a special 'castle night' on with authentic food and ghost stories. Was really good fun."

    • Black Sail hostel in the Lake District with private rooms currently at £160/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 Safestay Edinburgh hostel (previously called Smart City Hostel). For five friends for two nights it was £230. "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."

  16. Look out for Travelodge's regular sales

    Hotel chain Travelodge* has 'saver' room rates from £38, and it also runs regular sales. The ultra-cheap rooms are released in batches – to bag serious bargains you need to know when a new lot has been released. If you can book your room at the start of a sale, there should be widespread availability.

    Our regularly updated Travelodge Sales deals page lets you know when the latest sale starts, and Travelodge sale updates are regularly included in our free weekly MoneySaving email.

  17. Going with a group? Consider an apartment or cottage rental with Airbnb or others

    If there are a few of you planning a UK getaway, consider getting a holiday rental instead of a hotel. There are plenty of country cottages or beachside hideaways on offer across the UK – and there are options if you're staying in cities too.

    With so many to choose from, using a holiday rental site such as Airbnb, Clickstay*, TripAdvisor and Vrbo* will make the whole thing easier.

    Our forumites are keen on holiday rentals:

    What's great about renting a villa is that they tend to be owned by individuals, so it's a really good chance to talk to someone who knows the area really well and can give tips.
    - Tomkerswill

    Read the full lowdown on how to book self-catering accommodation in our Cheap Holiday Rentals guide.

  18. Holiday in the UK from £9.50 per person (plus charges) with The Sun

    You can bag four-day holiday park breaks for around £47 for four people by collecting tokens in The Sun newspaper.

    There are over 160 parks included across the UK and Europe, and prices start at £9.50 per person, but a £13.50-£60 service charge per booking is usually added on top.

    The way it works is you pick four dates and four parks you'd like, and hope for the best – you'll be allocated the exact date after booking. You can't cancel or amend your booking after making it though, so double-check you can make all your options beforehand. Check out The Sun '£9.50' Holidays for full details.

  19. Sleep under the stars with a camping holiday

    Good ol' camping's a fun way to explore the great British outdoors and get away on the cheap. MoneySavers rate the website, which lists sites by area and facilities. It also includes user reviews.

    Read the Great Camping Hunt for a full list of MoneySavers' top tips on safe, hassle-free camping, plus if you've any of your own, please add them. It lists everything from where to find the cheapest tents to what to cook over the fire. Forumite Webspyder loves camping, whatever the weather:

    If you go camping for a little bit of adventure and being at one with nature, you won't be disappointed if you experience a little weathering, especially in our British climate. If anything the weather should enhance your experience. Kids love the excitement and cosy feeling of being under 'canvas' when it rains!

  20. 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 one elsewhere in the world – and while overseas swaps are more common, that can include in the UK.

    To join you'll usually have to pay an annual fee but in return you won't pay any accommodation costs during your stay.

    Reports vary from a way to make lifelong friends to holidays from hell, so always check reviews first and ask lots of questions before you sign up. See the Great Travel Swapping Hunt for tons more tips, like this from forumite Jola 36:

    Not only have I had free accommodation abroad, but I've also done non-simultaneous exchanges and had people to stay in my flat and look after my pets while I was away. It helps that I live in Edinburgh, which is a tourist destination.

  21. Stay in a UK holiday camp

    The UK's full of holiday camps which are always popular for family breaks – fresh air, wholesome fun and plenty of activities to tire out the kids.

    One of the best known is Center Parcs, which has five locations across the UK, and one in Ireland. Prices aren't cheap, but there are some ways to save:

    Book as early as possible to cut costs in peak times. And once you're there, costs can add up, so consider limiting meals out and eating in instead. Load up the car with the family's bikes and cycle the trails surrounding the parks and use the swimming pool – it's one of the few things already included. See our 16 Center Parcs Tricks for more ways to save.

    There are cheaper options too, such as ButlinsHaven* and Pontins*. If you choose one of these, look out for discounts as you can often pick up offers online or in local newspapers.

  22. Embrace your adventurous side – sleep in the trees, on a canal boat or someone's sofa

    If you want to step off the beaten track and explore more adventurous accommodation, you don't have to go far – there's plenty to choose from in the UK. 

    You can hire a yurt from around £56 a night, stay in a canal boat for around £1,000 for a 12-berth boat for a seven-day break, or hole up in a treehouse for around £150/night for two.

    The internet's the best place to find and book an unusual place to stay – several websites such as Canopy and StarsWaterways Holidays and Forest Holidays list non-traditional holiday rentals.

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