Hotel search engines, or aggregators, have been around now for more than a decade, but which ones actually return the best prices? Time to put it through the test. Compared against Orbitz, Trivago, Kayak and other search engines, HotelsCombined consistently found the best deals — last minute and in advance, much to our surprise.
Hotelscombined is a hotel booking aggregate that will find the lowest hotel rates by searching hotel pages, booking sites and even other aggregates like Expedia and Booking.com. It doesn't book anything directly; rather it directs users to the best place to book.
The front page of the site is fairly bare, save for destinations, dates and some search options (also a strong-browed polar bear pointing the user toward savings). It's a simple-to-understand layout. Since I'm the cheapest of the cheap and don't mind sleeping on floors or outdoors if I need to, my focus when finding a place to stay is all about price.
Most filters are covered. If there's a luxury B&B with free Wi-Fi in NYC that also has dry cleaning services and air conditioning, HotelsCombined should be able to find it. Note: there is one—the Sankfoa Aban Bed and Breakfast in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn. Score!
Checking prices in New York City
To check the quality and scope of the search, I compared locations, dates and listed prices against Orbitz. For the first test, I searched for a particular set of last-minute weekend dates in New York City. I figured this was the best way to see how the site dealt with last-minute, high demand bookings, sorting through lowest price.
The first result on HotelsCombined was a double room with a shared bathroom at the New World Hotel in Chinatown for $86 for two nights. +1 brownie points to HotelsCombined for finding me a room that affordable in Manhattan on such short notice.
The first result on Orbitz was the Country Inn & Suites in Queens. In fact, the entire first page of results for Orbitz were in Queens, Brooklyn, and North Bergen, New Jersey. The prices started at $70 per night and were notable for their proximity to major airports. Sure, the prices were decent—especially since I wouldn't have to share a bathroom—but I figured most visitors heading to NYC for NYC would want to be in Manhattan.
I then searched for dates further out: August 19-21, 2016, the same Friday through Sunday itinerary as above. I found a two-person room at the Manhattan Bowery Lodge in NoHo for $76 a night on HotelsCombined.
Orbitz fared a bit better with advance. The first page of results had a few Manhattan listings, mostly at various YMCA locations. But $110 a night was the lowest price I could find in Manhattan. HotelsCombined for the win.
Checking prices in Venice
For the sake of research, I checked the same search to see how well HotelsCombined performed internationally, but this time in Venice. The first result was a room for $89 for two nights ($44.50 per night) at the Residenza Universitaria Gesuiti in Cannaregio, Venice.
The lowest price found on Orbitz was $56 per night—and not actually in Venice. Rather, it was 5.66 miles out. If I wanted to actually be in Venice proper, I would have to pay $80 per night.
Some might say: “But Sam, isn't it possible that Orbitz just doesn't include hostels in its network?” To which I would respond: “Good point. That's probably true, and also a huge negative for me.”
So I went ahead and compared the total price for a classic double at the Hotel alla Salute—a location actually in Venice. There were more bare-bones, shared bathroom and dormitory style options at this location available through HotelsCombined but this was the first option that Orbitz also listed. The only difference was that the listing on Orbitz featured a breakfast buffet, while the one on HotelsCombined merely had “breakfast included.”
HotelsCombined Total Price: $151.76 USD
Orbitz Total Price: $450.81 USD
The difference speaks for itself. And when visiting Italy (or pretty much anywhere else) how interested would I be in eating my meals at the hotel? Not very. HotelsCombined wins again.
Oh, and when I searched Orbitz for the Sankofa Aban Bed and Breakfast, no results were found.
Round three: who is the prettiest search engine of them all?
In the ultimate showdown, I decided to compare HotelsCombined to four other hotel booking sites: Kayak, Hipmunk, Trivago and Booking.com">Booking.com. First I compared last-minute bookings (March 4 - 6, 2016) in multiple cities; then I compared prices a few months out (May 20 - 22, 2016). The prices listed below were the lowest totals for a two-night, Friday through Sunday stay.
In the first test, for last-minute bookings, HotelsCombined came out on top in five out of eight cities. It tied with Booking three out of five times because HotelsCombined includes Booking.com in its search. Trivago, Hipmunk and Kayak each found one booking that was cheaper.
In the second test, HotelsCombined again found the lowest prices in five out of eight cities. Kayak found the other two.
HotelsCombined found more than half of the best rates in both tests, though other sites occasionally beat it out.
It doesn't matter where they end up booking, most travelers will benefit from starting their searches there—HotelsCombined is likely to have the cheapest overall rates.