UPDATED: 24 JUNE 2016
In this packed guide to finding cheap hotels we’ve got 27 tips that could save you HUNDREDS on your future holidays.
Written for UK travellers looking for bargain stays in hotels home and abroad, we’ve gathered all the industry pro advice you need and tested out the top hotel comparison sites and brokers.
TOP RESOURCES YOU’LL NEED
Hotel reviews: TripAdvisor
1 First rule of cheap hotels: book early
With the exception of late deals, where hotels are keen to fill empty rooms at the last minute, it’s unwise to leave your booking until the last week. Book AT LEAST one month early to save yourself money. Ideally you should start looking six months ahead of your trip.
One month = £54 saving
Looking for a Travelodge in Manchester there was no availability anywhere close on the day. One week later Travelodge Ashton-Under-Lyne – 4 miles from Manchester – had a room at £143. A month later this room was £136 and six months later you could book it for £56.
Six months = £87 saving
Finally we looked for a Best Western hotel in Cardiff. The nearest we could book on the day was the Heronston Hotel & Spa in Bridgend. It was £154 for two nights. A month later it had gone down to £141. Six months later it had reduced to £128.
Six months = £26 saving
2 So which site is best for finding a cheap hotel?
We tested seven of the UK’s top hotel comparison sites and travel brokers.
In our experiment we looked for a family room for two nights, on a weekend in one week’s time, in London and in Edinburgh.
We were looking for a clean and child-friendly hotel with good reviews.
Here’s what we found.
In London Expedia – which is a broker rather than a comparison site – offered us the four-star Novotel Heathrow for a total price of £115. While the location is hardly in the heart of things, we were attracted to the value for money. It would be a 50 minute ride on the Piccadilly line to the West End. The cheapest central hotel that met our criteria was the attractive Marylebone Apartments which were going for £240 (sleeps three kids) and have four stars on TripAdvisor.
Meanwhile in Edinburgh the city’s Holiday Inn West was available for £153. This was the cheapest hotel that met the grade.
Verdict: Good prices for stays with the top chains
We thought comparison site Trivago had found us somewhere cheaper at Heathrow, with the Crowne Plaza available at £80 via Hotels.com. But this turned out to be a nightly fee, with the total price of this, the cheapest hotel Trivago found, being £159. The best central deal we found was Aparthotel So Park, offered at £256 with Amoma.
Verdict: Wide range of different hotel sites checked
ebookers’ cheapest find was the nice-looking serviced Berkeley Park apartments, again near Heathrow, but at £262 the price was uncompetitive. Centrally the best price that met our spec was SO Arch in Camden, with a family room coming in at £310.
In Edinburgh the same Holiday Inn being offered by Expedia for £153 was a whopping £253 via ebookers! The cheapest Edinburgh hotel we found was the Best Western Braid Hills Hotel at £223 for the two nights. A better price could not be found direct on Best Western’s site, where no room was listed as available.
Verdict: Didn’t shine in this test – better for cheap flights perhaps
Over at Booking.com the cheapest London hotel we were offered was Premier Inn Beckton, 30 mins out of central London. At £184 it was slightly more than some of the Heathrow options. However we found it could be booked for £175 by going direct to Premier Inn and choosing the Premier Saver no-refund deal. The cheapest central hotel we found was another Premier Inn, this time in trendy Old Street and available for £232.
Verdict: Good for finding independent gems, but check the reviews. We liked its family friendly filter
Like Expedia and Trivago, Hotels.com offered the Novotel Heathrow at £115. It seemed to have quite a few rooms at both Novotel and Holiday Inn chains, with a family room at Holiday Inn Express London – Excel on offer for £197 (the cheapest central-ish London price we found from any site). The same price was found looking direct at Holiday Inn.
Good old Holiday Inn Edinburgh West was the cheapest hotel again that met our search criteria, available at the same price as others offered: £153. All the same low budget options we saw on other sites were there again.
Verdict: The same good deals that others have, but the site’s solid search filters mark it out
It was refreshing to see some different hotels using Late Rooms’ search. For outer London it gave us the respectable Ramada London North in Mill Hill (Edgware) for a decent £129. The best it could offer centrally was the Hyde Park Radnor at £320.
Verdict: Worth checking. It turned up lots of hotels we didn’t see elsewhere
Our final site under scrutiny was TravelSupermarket from the MoneySupermarket Group. A comparison site, it found Expedia’s Novotel Heathrow offer at £115. But ahead of it by a few pounds came Travelodge Croydon (15 mins from central London by train) at £111 with Hotelopia. Lots of its cheap hotels turned out to be shared dorm rooms which were unsuitable. Our first acceptable find in central London was Holiday Inn London – Kings Cross Bloomsbury at £322.
Verdict: Equal to other comparison sites and sometimes better. Comprehensive but you may have to wade through unsuitable finds.
Winner: Hotels.com – because it found the cheapest central London hotel that met our criteria
Special recommendation: Also include Laterooms.com in your search because of its more diverse results
OUR TOP TIPS FOR FINDING A CHEAP HOTEL
3 Why you should always have TripAdvisor bookmarked
As you begin your search for a cheap hotel using brokers, comparison sites and hotel sites directly, you’re going to need reviews. Because in the cheap hotel game a good deal is not always what it seems – you don’t want to find yourself staying in a dirty, noisy, unfriendly hole that looked okay in the photos and scored reasonably on the booking site.
Not all reviews are equal and it’s better to look to an independent site like TripAdvisor for a warts-and-all view.
Compare what different sites say about one budget hotel in Birmingham.
TripAdvisor AVERAGE 3 stars from 315 reviews “Adequate accommodation, but beware the noise of late-night revellers at the weekend”
Booking.com GOOD 7.1 from 874 reviews “Nice clean comfy stay”
Laterooms.com GOOD from 71 reviews “Clean, Tidy with very helpful and friendly staff”
Expedia GOOD 3.5/5 from 640 reviews “84% of guests recommend it”
In our experience, TripAdvisor reviews provides the most accurate sense of the quality of a hotel, with many experienced travel reviewers who are willing to factor in value-for-money and customer expectations.
4 Found the hotel you’re interested in? Here’s what to do now to make sure you save money
Once you’ve pinned down the hotel you like, there are two steps you should take before pressing ‘book’.
First go to the hotel’s own website and check you can’t book it cheaper directly. Many of the big family-friendly chains like Premier Inn and Travelodge offer online saver rates that are better than you’ll find anywhere else.
Some independent hotels, too, will do you a better deal directly. Bear in mind they often have to pay commissions to brokers, so money not spent on a middle agent could be money saved for both parties.
5 Flying somewhere? Do this to check for savings
If you’re flying off to your destination, here’s another thing you should check before confirming.
When searching flights, see if you can get a better deal by booking a flight + hotel combo package with a broker.
6 Finding a cheap hotel in the school holidays
While finding cheap flights in the school holidays can be a nightmare, hotels are a better prospect. Book well ahead at the likes of Premier Inn and Travelodge and your purse shouldn’t suffer too badly. Meanwhile lots of hotels have special school holiday offers.
Q Hotels have 26 four-star properties across the UK. Their school holiday offer is a 40% saving, with rooms from £38.90 per person, including breakfast. Grange Hotels have a kids stay and eat free offer when you use the ‘SCHOOLHOL’ rate code.
7 Watch out for hidden charges
Be vigilant when using comparison sites and brokers.
It’s not always their fault, because the prices are usually sent by the hotel, but sometimes when you arrive at the hotel’s final booking page the price has sneakily crept up, with the addition of a tax or fee.
The problem is seen less in the UK than it is in Asia and some countries in the Americas. So be on guard when looking for cheap hotels in places like Singapore, Bali, Mexico and Thailand.
8 Spoil the secret! How to get huge discounts at high end hotels
High end hotels don’t advertise discounts, because it’s bad for their premium image.
Yet they’re as eager for business as every other hotel in the game. Instead they make their deals anonymous using sites like lastminute.com Top Secret Hotels, Secret Escapes and Super Break Mystery Hotels.
Typically on these you’ll see a hotel described but not named, so you don’t know where it is exactly. But a bit of investigative work and you should be able to work it out.
Using lastminute.com Top Secret Hotels we found a £77 room for two available in two weeks’ time at a classy London hotel. It was described as a “modern, 4-star hotel is located in vibrant Kensington and just minutes away from shopping centres, famous museums and parks, and well connected via public transport.”
A quick Google of this description and in seconds we discovered this hotel is the The Hilton London Olympia. The same room spec is advertised for £111 on their website and with various brokers.
If you’re looking for a premium hotel at a knockdown price, there are some great deals to be found this way. Simply cut-and-paste the descriptions and use Google or a site like What The Hotel to uncover the name and location.
9 Looking for cheap hotels USA? Read this
Hotwire is America’s secret hotel site, except it doesn’t just offer premium hotels it searches the WHOLE market. All the hotels are anonymous and there are huge savings to be had.
Searching for a family-friendly hotel in Florida’s Orlando, close to Disney World, we found a four star chain hotel with rooms for £53 a night on Hotwire. With taxes and resort fees this went up to £77. However with a bit of Googling we worked out this was probably the opulent Marriott, where rooms start around £200 per night if you book direct. See what you can find.
Meanwhile Priceline is different concept. A kind of ‘eBay of hotels’, you bid for a room stating how much you’re prepared to pay, the areas you’d accept and the minimum stars. Priceline then either accepts your bid and offers you a suitable hotel or it declines and invites you to raise your offer. It’s quite fun!
I’m an American living in the UK and I’ve used Priceline to find hotels here. I try to find the going rate for the hotel and then put in a bid around 20% lower as you can rarely go any lower and get away with it.
10 UK attractions: are their hotel packages a good deal?
If you’re booking a trip to Legoland, Thorpe Park, Alton Towers or another of the popular UK attractions, do take a look at the hotel deals these attractions offer. They seem convenient, but are they a good deal?
Before you commit it’s worth checking the price of booking a hotel separately. Often these attractions offer cheap ticket deals that can’t be used with hotel deals.
We looked for an Easter trip to Legoland for a family of two adults and three kids, staying one night. We were offered a park tickets and a family room at the Windsor Marriott nearby for £310. The same room could be booked direct for £91 and the full price value of the tickets with no discounts or voucher codes was £150.
So in this instance it was £59 cheaper to arrange Legoland tickets and hotel accommodation independently.
OTHER QUICK TIPS FOR BOOKING A CHEAP HOTEL
11 Get on the newsletters for easy discounts
Many hotel broker sites will give you a discount if you sign up for their newsletter.
12 Split the family up! Separate rooms can be cheaper
If you’re struggling to find a family hotel room and you don’t mind being separated, consider booking two rooms (ask for adjoining). This can also work out cheaper sometimes. Use Booking.com which enables you to search for multiple rooms in the same hotel.
13 Use loyalty schemes to bag free nights and other goodies
Reward schemes are popular. Ebookers runs Bonus+ with up to 5% cashback and special deals like 3 x Bonus+ points when you book cheap flights with United Airlines. Once you’ve booked 10 nights or more with Hotels.com you get an extra night free with their Hotels.com Rewards.
Use these sites when it makes sense. If you can continually find cheaper prices elsewhere it doesn’t always make sense to build loyalty.
14 Phone a new hotel and see if they have any offers
Often when a new hotel opens they’ll start with low price deals to tempt guests in. Type into Google the name of your destination followed by “new hotel”. Click on Google’s news tab and see if there are any recent hotel openings. Give them a call and a quick question can sometimes win you a money-saving stay.
Another idea is to check Hotel Design’s industry news section and see which hotels have had refits and relaunches – again, often these venues are keen to bring new business and deals are available.
15 Got a big family? Here’s some things to try
It can be challenging travelling with a large family. Sometimes the hotel world seems unfairly biased towards those with two kids or less.
If a hotel says rooms are only for four persons, ask if they’ll rent you a fold up bed or other to take your own blow up bed.
If you’re forced to take an extra room, try to get an adjoining room and ask for a discount.
You might find independent hotels more accommodating than purpose-built chains, due to their quirk room shapes and more flexible rules.
And of course, remember you can use the likes of Holiday Lettings look for apartments, cabins and cottages which may work out cheaper – see below for more.
16 Sunday is the cheapest night
If you can be flexible, include a Sunday in your hotel stay – it’s generally the cheapest night in the hotel world. However it depends on the market and there could be other good times to find.
A business hotel in a financial district that becomes a ghost-town at weekends may have some great prices for Friday and Saturday nights. While a tourist town like Brighton that has a strong weekend trade may offer cheaper prices during the week.
17 Look for ATOL protection
If you’re flying to your hotel destination and you book a flight + hotel deal via a broker, you should be ATOL protected. ATOL cover means you don’t lose money if the airline goes bust (and they do).
When you book an ATOL protected trip, you should be given an ATOL Certificate by your travel company as soon as you pay over any money for the holiday – even if this is only a deposit. It will tell you what’s protected by ATOL, who’s covered and who is providing this protection (the travel company’s name and ATOL number).
18 Book everything separately – keep costs down
While sometimes there are deals to be had, usually it pays to arrange of all your travel separately. So if you need cheap flights, cheap car hire or cheap train tickets as well as a cheap hotel, check out our travel guides. And don’t forget cheap travel insurance. These expert guides contain over 100 tips that we guarantee will save independent travellers money.
THINKING OUTSIDE OF THE HOTEL BOX
19 Going away with a large family or group? Check villas, apartments and holiday cottages
It there’s a few of you travelling it may well be cheaper to look at holiday apartments and houses for rent.
For example, looking for a house in Wales that would accommodate a large family at Easter, we found 3 bedroom Pembrokeshire The Old Manor House for just £84 per night – the same price you might expect to pay for a family hotel room.
Our top tip for holiday homes abroad is to try eBay.
Yes, the auction site you associate with second-hand clothes, kids’ toys and other physical products also lists properties.
It’s eBay Holidays & Travel category is actually great for bargain-hunting, particularly if you leave it late. Many property owners that advertise their homes elsewhere will try a last minute ad on eBay to fill an otherwise vacant villa.
Another to try for holiday homes abroad is ClickStay.
If you’re staying more than three nights and going to a traditional holiday destination like the Spanish islands, the Costas, the Algarve or Greece, check out package holiday deals.
Using TravelSupermarket to find a Christmas holiday sun break, we found 7 nights in an self-catering apartment on the Costa Brava – flights and accommodation – for £590 flying from Manchester to Barcelona, with Monarch.
21 Be open-minded about hostels if you’re on a budget
If you’re looking at clean and basic low budget hotels, consider hostels. They’re not just for backpackers or young travellers, many are family friendly and attract adventurous older couples too.
Hostels can be a more interesting, sociable experience than staying in a characterless chain hotel on an edge of town retail estate. Check out the YHA’s site, where family rooms start at £25 and members get a £3 reduction.
Anne from Somerset says:
Our family stayed in a perfectly good room at a youth hostel near Stonehenge. Lots of them have their own quirks. This one was attached to a huge rare breeds farm with animals and a trim trail. We were allowed to access it for free and even stayed in there after closing time – they were very relaxed and friendly.
22 University rooms are a real steal
In expensive cities like London, university accommodation is an interesting option – though probably better-suited to single travellers or couples.
When students aren’t using their halls, many universities rent them out at a reasonable price. You may have to look on the local uni’s own website to find their booking details – some don’t have a formal online booking system in place.
Others, like London’s LSE for example, do: lsevacations.co.uk. On this site we found single rooms starting from £35 per night. For central locations like Bloomsbury this is a steal.
Try University Rooms to look for student accommodation around the world.
OTHER CHEAP ALTERNATIVES TO A HOTEL
23 Camping in the UK or Europe
In good weather, camping is an absolute joy. Kids love the freedom that campsites offer and it feels good to spend time in nature, with campfires, outdoor cooking and starry nights.
24 Stay with a local
25 Do a home exchange
Live in a tourist town or attractive area? Willing to let strangers stay in your house while you’re not there? A home exchange could save you a fortune.
Most home swap sites operate on a membership fee basis. HomeExchange has over 65,000 properties listed and costs £100 to join, a one-off fee.
26 Find a working holiday where rooms and food come free
There are farms, ranches and hostels across the world where you can stay free so long as you help out with some jobs. Typically you’d be expected to give four hours a day to helpwith fruit picking, gardening, animal care or even boat crewing. Check out Helpx which operates in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Europe.
27 Airport sleeping – when you don’t want to book a hotel
If you’ve got a flight stopover and don’t want to shell out, this website will make sleeping in the airport a little bit more comfortable for you.
I hope you’ve found this guide useful – why not come over to Facebook and let me know your thoughts with a comment on our Facebook page. And one final tip for new readers. Each week DayTripFinder sends details of hotel bargains we’ve found on the web. Sign up for our emails and join hundreds of thousands of clever money-savers who know a bargain when they see one.