Travel Resource Series: Part 2 – Accommodation Apps & Websites [2017]

Welcome back, friends! For UP’s second post in the Travel Resource series, we’re embarking on a journey into Accommodations-land and man, it is LARGE!

You might enjoy staying at one specific hotel chain consistently, or you might love dreaming of boutique hotels you can’t wait to book. Maybe you even avoid hotels altogether, opting for the vacation rental marketplace.

Regardless of preference, there are some great resources here!

Of note: We delved into OTAs and metasearch sites pretty intensely in our initial post on Flight Search, but we’ve preened a bit on those listings here in order to save some time (and sanity). That being said, the resource in question gets a bit more attention if it introduces a cool tip, trick, or tool that makes it stand out.

Enjoy!


(FREE – booking fees may apply)

online travel agency

While Agoda is a subsidiary of Priceline, it continues to operate independently.

An OTA with fairly traditional search options, Agoda lists results simply with clear tags on hotels that offer perks like free Wifi or breakfast. Known for collecting an upfront payment for hotels, Agoda now offers the option to pay at the hotel on some listings. The company boasts deals they can’t list on their website (claiming up to 80% reduction) if you book through their app.

Perhaps the most interesting tool from Agoda is their new PointsMAX program. With every booking, PointsMAX users supposedly receive points toward their favorite loyalty program, including 30 participating partners like American Airlines AAdvantage, British Airways Executive Club, Etihad Guest, MileagePlus United, and more. However, rates for these bookings may be different from regular bookings with the same conditions.


(FREE – service fee based on percentage of reservation subtotal)

peer to peer online vacation rental marketplace and homestay network

Everyone’s heard of AirBNB by now, right?

AirBNB is a huge player in the accommodation sector of travel.

In order to rent the perfect pad for your specific trip, an array of filters are available including selecting “Entire Home,” “Private Room,” or “Shared Room;” numbers of bedrooms/bathrooms available; and a large checklist of amenities/facilities (think pet friendly, pool, Wifi, free parking, etc.).Prices are set by property owners, and all financial transactions are completed on the website. That’s how they recently introduced AirBNB Gift Cards, which is a pretty cool concept!

Prices are set by property owners, and all financial transactions are completed on the website. That’s how they recently introduced AirBNB Gift Cards, which is a pretty cool concept!

From lofts in historic French Quarter New Orleans to luxury flats near Picadilly Circus; from cottages in Capetown to private rooms in the Maldives; from castles in Ireland to overwater bungalows in Malaysia…AirBNB offers over 2,000,000 (yes, that’s more than 2 million) listings in over 190 countries worldwide.

Hot Tip: AirBNB now offers “Experiences.” You can read more about these exciting bookings in our Travel Resource post on Activity Planning and Exploring!

Hot Tip: If you’re interested in becoming an AirBNB host, you can learn more here.

Word to the Wise: Since this type of accommodation marketplace was a fairly new way of booking when introduced in August of 2008, it’s seen its fair share of criticism and controversies. For these reasons, AirBNB may not be available in some cities. This being said, AirBNB has had over 60 million (yes we said million) total guests and hundreds of thousands of positive reviews. Upgraded Points staff have used AirBNB on a number of occasions, always with a positive result.


(FREE – booking fees may apply)

OTA for B&Bs

Pretty self-explanatory here – this website’s for you if you prefer to stay in a B&B-style accommodation.

With over 12,000 bed and breakfast inns worldwide, BeadandBreakfast.com claims to be the most comprehensive site out there for this niche.

The search is traditional: choose your destination, apply filters, and out pop results.

Some listings receive a “Diamond Collection” distinction, meaning these accommodations participate in an annual inspection program and consistently maintain top reviews on the website. They must also offer amenities and services that are required for a “top-quality guest experience.”

BedandBreakfast.com also offers traveler articles that give ideas and inspiration for your next trip. There are also a number of Innkeeper City Guides put together by local innkeepers who know the city well and interact with lots of travelers.


(FREE – booking fees may apply)

online travel agency

Another subsidiary of Priceline, Booking.com also continues to operate independently and is wildly popular.

Booking.com proudly reports the ability to book over 1,113,950 properties worldwide, including over 566,900 vacation rentals in more than 104,180 destinations in 225 countries/territories.

That’s a lot of options!

In the past, Booking.com was the first OTA of its kind to use an agency model with lower commissions; Expedia has been playing catch-up ever since.

The search platform is fairly standard – no surprises there, but Booking.com is reported to have extremely high conversion rates. This is likely due to presenting the user with a sense of urgency when booking. While some may not enjoy pop-ups urging you to get the ball rolling since other users are looking at the same listing, the tactic does seem to work.


(FREE)

hospitality exchange/social network

CouchSurfing’s tagline states “You have friends around the world, you just haven’t met them yet.”

Aaaaaand it’s FREE. Whoa, whoa, whoa, keep reading… while CouchSurfing hosts do not charge money for a traveler’s stay, this comes with some caveats.

Couchsurfing is more than just a couch to sleep on: travelers should enjoy meeting new people, forming new connections, appreciating cultural differences, sharing kindness, and engaging in the world around them. Check out their inspiring founding values here.

Additionally, “surfers” are encouraged to reimburse hosts for food/goods consumed and provide a gift (material, talent, time) to the host.

CouchSurfing boasts over 4 million “surfers” a year and availability in over 230,000 cities around the world, Through the platform, users search with filters such as age, location, gender, languages spoken, etc. to find an accommodation. Remember, interaction is the key here.
Hot Tip: CouchSurfing also hosts “Events,” and you can read more about these exciting bookings in our series post on Activity Planning and Exploring!


(FREE – booking fees may apply)

online travel agency

Expedia.com is a popular OTA that boasts the best every day low prices and (even better!) last minute deals with no service fees or change fees.

Hotel search on the website is pretty standard and easy to use. Plus, Expedia has it’s own rewards program that can earn you discounts on future bookings (fun tip: you can use these points to book travel for other individuals too!).

The mobile app reportedly provides exclusive offers including double points, and it can send you alerts about your flight, hotel, and rental car.

Hot Tip: If you’re wondering what an OTA or metasearch engine is, you can find a better explanation of these concepts here.


(FREE – booking fees may apply)

online travel agencies

Since Travelocity, Orbitz, and CheapTickets were acquired by Expedia in 2015, these OTA websites and apps are very similar in terms of layout, content, and search results. Therefore, choosing which of these to use for booking flights and hotels is merely personal preference.

Though also owned by Expedia, the main page layout for Hotels.com is slightly different. Search results will again yield the same prices since they draw from the same inventory. Hotels.com does have a pretty simple rewards program though: stay 10 nights and get 1 free (within restrictions of course).

Hotwire.com differs from the other Expedia group OTAs in that it operates semi-independently and offers Hot Rate® search results. These yield slashed prices for “opaque” hotel reservations, meaning users are given information about room type, amenities, general location, etc. without receiving the actual name of the hotel until after purchase. These types of listings are usually at such a discounted rate because they’re unsold inventory being offered last-minute.


(FREE)

travel metasearch site, travel inspiration

Okay, Okay… yes, the name says Google Flights, but you can jointly search for related hotel information if you’re already using this resource for trip planning. Once a destination is chosen, Google gives applicable hotel information with Google Reviews attached. Users are then routed through a third party for booking.

Hot Tip: As we’ve mentioned, the Google Flights interface is pretty “no frills.” It’s fairly user friendly, but if you’re interested in going more in-depth, Upgraded Points has an extensive guide here on how to use this tool.


(FREE)

cash-back hotel loyalty program/booking site

The Guestbook is a fairly new hotel booking site that rewards you with 5% cash-back each time you book with a participating hotel.

Since users aren’t tied to one major hotel chain, it’s great for travelers who like variety, with over 500 independent and boutique hotels in over 50 countries.

The Guestbook also doesn’t require a specific number of stays before you start earning rewards. Signup is ridiculously simple: all you need to enroll is your e-mail address.

Users book either through The Guestbook website or directly with the hotel itself, then complete the stay and rewards are issued about a week later.

If users elect for the 5% cash-back, options for reimbursement are via Paypal, Visa eGift card, Amex gift card, or other retail gift cards (think Target, Amazon, etc.). If users select TripCash, your 5% reward is doubled to 10% to use on future bookings through The Guestbook. As a third (and pretty awesome) option, users can opt to donate their 5% reward to charity.

Hot Tip: Since users have the option to book directly with the hotel, you can ensure your status will be recognized and you’ll still get the perks earned through any hotel credit card you use.

Hot Tip: The Guestbook has a great little video on how it all works, which you can check out here.


(FREE)

travel metasearch engine, trip planning, travel inspiration

Hipmunk is one of the newer and increasingly more popular metasearch sites.

Hotels may come with an “ecstasy rating” based on lowest price + highest star rating + best reviews.

One of Hipmunk’s coolest features for hotel searches is the ability to drop a pin on a map to be close to a specific part of town (i.e. areas popular for top restaurants, conferences, hot nightlife, etc.). Then, Hipmunk provides hotel options near your pin. Another killer feature is “Hello Hipmunk,” which you can learn more about here.


(FREE)

travel metasearch engine

Claiming “Deals on a Pirate’s Budget,” this travel resource was born out of a young German student’s blog about how he traveled utilizing great deals.

Reportedly the largest vacation planning website in Germany, HolidayPirates is now widely used across 9 other countries in Europe and beyond.

Although TravelPirates launched in the U.S. in 2016, it appears the best travel options are still geared towards the E.U., with European-based airlines providing the most deals. Including flights, hotels, train tickets, cruises and packages, HP claims to only publish deals that are of “good value for money.”


(FREE – service fee based on percentage of reservation subtotal)

online marketplace for whole home vacation rentals/online classifieds site

HomeAway (now owned by Expedia) is much like AirBNB, but it differs in a couple big ways.

First, HomeAway exclusively offers “whole homes” for rent. That makes HomeAway’s 1 million bookable rentals in 190 countries pretty impressive if you consider that all of these are entire homes for rent, not just rooms.

Second, many available homes are listed by property companies instead of individuals, which users may or may not prefer.

Third, HomeAway is said to offer more rentals with the ability to house larger numbers of people (i.e. for a conference, retreat, etc.).

Another contrast to AirBNB is that HomeAway does not handle any financial transactions – they simply put the user in contact with the listing individual. In terms of website and app use, HomeAway also offers an availability calendar, which is great if users have a bit of flexibility in their booking. This app combines HomeAway with its 2 sister companies VRBO and VacationRentals do everything is under one roof.

Hot Tip: If you’re interested in becoming a HomeAway host, you can learn more here.

Word to the Wise: HomeAway was in a bit of hot water in early 2016 for introducing a 10% fee for renters. Though AirBNB users were used to a 6%-12% fee, this was new for HomeAway users…and they weren’t happy. That being said, while service fees are annoying, at times they’re necessary. And you can’t deny that HomeAway offers a large number of great quality rentals!


HomeAway Sister Companies – VRBO and VacationRentals (among other subsidiaries)

(FREE – service fee based on percentage of reservation subtotal)

online marketplaces for whole home vacation rentals/online classifieds sites

Founded in 1996, VRBO was one of the first vacation rental companies of its kind on the market.

Homes listed are generally more “family oriented”, with a decent square footage and one especially notable feature: a backyard.

HomeAway acquired VRBO in 2006 and went on to acquire VacationRentals in 2007. All these websites are extremely similar in design and booking experience; since they all pull from one big inventory, there’s not much difference when deciding which website to use.


(12 months for $150)

home exchange platform

HomeExchange.com was the first online home swap platform of it’s kind, and for many reviewers, it remains the best.

While $150 may initially seem like a hefty fee to list your home, there is no subsequent cost for lodging – your swap itself is completely free.

With over 65,000 homes listed in over 150 countries, the net is cast pretty wide!

HomeExchange has developed a number of features to help users find a match partner that’s best for them using an array of advanced search options. Of course, there are general ground rules/etiquette to follow when participating in an exchange, which makes a lot of sense and lets both parties rest a bit easier.

One of the best perks of a home exchange (aside from the cash you’re saving on a hotel) is the feeling that you’re living like a local, with many hosts providing great tips on local restaurants, coffee shops, activities, events, etc.

Is anyone else picturing Cameron Diaz and Kate Winslet in The Holiday?


Hostelworld (Hostelbookers and Hostels.com)

(FREE – booking fees may apply)

global hostel booking platform/metasearch engine

Boasting over 8 million reviews across 33,000 properties in more than 170 countries around the world, Hostelworld seems to be the “go-to” platform/app for this specific accommodation type.

The website and app itself are visually appealing; most results seem to have loads of photos and a nice property description.

Users also have the ability to filter by certain options (like 24hr security and air conditioning) that may be standard at hotels but are important perks for hostel-goers.

Word to the Wise: While we can’t verify these claims, there are reports that Hostelworld is in a bit of hot water recently for posting fake customer reviews of the site. This is certainly something to consider, but there aren’t many other decent options for hostel metasearch. We encourage users to read reviews carefully, and get in contact with the company if you’re concerned!


Hotellook (Jetradar)

(FREE)

travel metasearch engine

Hotellook claims to search from among more than 257,000 hotels, 33,000 hostels, 380,000 guesthouses, and 656,000 apartments to find users their optimal accommodation choice.

Hotellook also boasts that the price you see on the screen is the TOTAL price, with no hidden taxes and fees. (Contrary to popular belief, this isn’t always the case with other hotel search websites.)

Since it’s a metasearch engine, once you find an accommodation you wish to book, you’re routed through a third party like Agoda or Booking.com to finalize your reservation.


(FREE – booking fees may apply)

last minute accommodation booking platform

HotelTonight does exactly what it sounds like by making it “remarkably easy” to find a hotel for same-day booking.

The idea is pretty simple: when hotels have last minute vacancies, they load the unsold rooms into the platform at discounted rates. These rates are then offered to the user, and with a quick and easy booking experience, all parties are happy!

They have a seriously responsive team (as you must when dealing with same day bookings) and great reviews. And man… they sure got us with their mission statement: “We believe in a life less planned. In a life rich in experiences, not things…”

Hot Tip: Initially just for same day bookings, HotelTonight now books up to 7 days in advance! This is great if you need a hotel tonight, tomorrow, or next week.


(FREE – booking fees may apply)

accommodation search and rate alerts

Sound familiar to anyone? Yep, the Airfarewatchdog people are at it again with this great accommodation search site.

Hotelwatchdog does a number of things a little differently than other OTAs.

In deciding whether a deal is good, they analyze hotel prices based on the other rates in the area and the average price for that specific hotel. They also take into account location and proximity to attractions, nightlife, etc. Finally, they use TripAdvisor reviews as a large component in their listing process. Based on these factors, Hotelwatchdog presents results in a visually appealing Top 20 format, with special tags like “Great Location, Great Price,” etc.

Once a hotel is chosen, you’re routed through a third party OTA for booking.


(FREE)

travel metasearch engine

Kayak (a subsidiary of Priceline) is a metasearch engine a lot of people recognize.

Why it’s great for a hotel search: Kayak uses a neat little feature where users can click “go to map” to see heatmaps for shopping, sightseeing, eating, or nightlife superimposed over a map of their destination with hotel options pinpointed. This makes choosing accommodations a lot more fun.

In the near future, Kayak is reportedly set to offer a restaurant metasearch with booking ability too!

Word to the Wise: Some users have voiced complaints that paid ads in the website can look like search results, which might be misleading to the consumer – so peruse carefully!


(FREE)

travel metasearch engine

Momondo metasearch does have some nice tools for finding accommodations.

On the results page, Momondo includes a map with the option to “draw a shape” and show hotels only in your personally chosen area.

Alternatively, you can sort your results by “Area” with the drop down menu highlighting those specific to the city you’re searching.

Momondo also provides the ability to sort by “Property Type;” since it’s a metasearch engine, you may get hostels, B&Bs, and apartments thrown in with your results.


(FREE – comission unverified)

last minute accommodation with local hosts

Overnight asks “What if travel were a lifestyle instead of a luxury?”

After that question, how are you not hooked??

Overnight encourages individuals to be spontaneous while providing peace of mind knowing their app will be there when you need a last-minute place to stay.

A bit of a combo between AirBNB and HotelTonight, Overnight pairs last-minute travelers with local hosts. Bookings are generally made the same day for up to 5 nights with a simple user-friendly app.

Spaces for rent may include rooms, apartments, or full homes with hosts present or away. Don’t worry, there are dozens of trust/safety features so you can rest easy on that front.


(FREE)

online travel agency

Priceline is another main player in the OTA marketplace. (You can read our guide to Priceline here)

While users can choose the traditional method of search, what originally set Priceline apart was their “Name Your Own Price” tool. However, this product was cut in September 2016, which unfortunately means no more bidding.

Instead, Priceline states they will continue to offer deep discounts through their “Express Deals” product.

With this program, Priceline claims deals up to 50% off published rates. However, like Hotwire.com, these are “opaque” listings, meaning users do not see the specific hotel until immediately after purchase.

If you’re looking for deep discounts and aren’t too particular about where you stay, this may work for you.


(FREE – booking fees may apply)

online travel agency

Simply put, Rocketmiles urges users to book hotels, earn rewards, and vacation faster.

As part of the Priceline group, Rocketmiles allows users to earn airline miles for hotel stays, with a choice of over 40+ rewards programs.

Have friends/family who don’t collect miles/points? You can use your Rocketmiles account to book for another individual and earn the miles for yourself. That’s pretty neat!

A few cons: we’ve heard that mileage earned can be highly variable. Some reviews are reporting 2 significantly different rates (say, $400 vs $150) have yielded the same number of miles earned, which is unfortunate.

Similarly, Rocketmiles pricing is a bit inconsistent in general, so be sure you’re comparing options before booking. In the case of a higher room rate on Rocketmiles, the difference you pay may not be worth the awards you’re earning.

Hot Tip: Rocketmiles has a “Refer a Friend” program that gives you 1,000 miles for every unique friend who signs up, books through the website, and completes a stay.

Word to the Wise: You may want to check with the hotel before booking if you’re looking to also receive rewards offered by your preferred chain’s loyalty program. Many hotels don’t offer this as an option if you book through a third party!


STA Travel (formerly Student Travel Association)

(FREE)

online travel agency

Start The Adventure (STA) Travel markets to “students, young people (generally <35) and explorers.”

STA claims users can book the cheapest hotels, hostels, flights, trains, and tours right from the app, especially when utilizing an ISIC (International Student Identity Card).

Users are eligible to acquire this card if they are a student, or a similar card if they are under 31 years old or a teacher.

At a cost of about $25/year, STA claims ISIC is the only internationally accepted proof you are a student, and it’s generally how users secure special student prices.

With over 144,000 hotels/hostels on board, options for same day bookings if you’re in a pinch, group rates to travel with friends, and a location finder for events/local experiences, STA is likely a good option for students looking for discounted travel and activities.


(FREE)

online travel agency (geared towards students)

StudentUniverse is another OTA that generally markets to students.

SU’s vision is pretty darned lovely, stating: “We believe that travel is essential to a modern education and that students return enlightened and inspired.”

SU states they negotiate specifically for students through contracts with their partners to provide uniquely discounted fares. While most deals apply solely to students, there are some available for faculty members or even alumni if you’re still considered of “youth” age (~18-25).

With SU, you can find both individual and group travel rates and book directly through the site/app.

To get the deals, users must create an account and verify they are in fact a student, faculty member, or alumnus of a degree-granting college.


(FREE)

online travel agency

Unlike traditional OTA sites, TravelZoo bases their general theme on expertly chosen travel deals.

You can see that right away from their clean and inviting web and app interfaces!

TravelZoo employs “Deal Experts” that research over 1,000 companies worldwide to find outstanding options for travel, entertainment, and local deals.

Experts review and negotiate for these deals to be sure they’re verified and ready for you to book. TravelZoo also offers a “Top 20®” section that serves as a “best of the best” list and is updated weekly.

Their “Why We Love It” section is especially helpful when reviewing hotel results, since it provides a little extra reassurance that users are booking a legitimate accommodation.

With TravelZoo, the results are listed with your best deals first, and the remainder follows in a visually pleasing manner.


TripAdvisor/Flipkey/HouseTrip (among other subsidiaries)

(FREE – service fee based on percentage of reservation subtotal)

online vacation rental marketplace

TripAdvisor offers the ability to search for and book accommodations right from their homepage with the benefit of trusted user reviews.  Additionally, search results have clearly marked “Top Deal” banners, special rate tags, and GreenLeader distinctions to assist users in narrowing down their options.

Flipkey is a vacation rental website owned by TripAdvisor (on the TripAdvisor website itself, the vacation rental portion is powered by Flipkey).

All this really means is that they have the same database inventory and Flipkey’s programming is used to perform the search. While the websites look slightly different, it’s very transparent that they are one and the same. HouseTrip looks VERY similar to Flipkey, and again uses the same inventory and functions equally well.

The major benefit for users is access to the hallowed TripAdvisor review system. Many travelers feel more confident in the rentals basing their decision on trusted guest reviews.

Like AirBNB, Flipkey and HouseTrip have both entire homes and rooms for rent. Like HomeAway/VRBO, they have inventory for rent by both property managers and property owners. Seems to be the best of both worlds right? One small downside is that Flipkey/HouseTrip/TripAdvisor only offer about 300,000 vacation homes in 190 countries… a much smaller number compared to other big name rental sites.

Hot Tip: If you’re interested in becoming a TripAdvisor vacation rental host, you can learn more here.


(FREE)

travel metasearch engine

Trivago is a metasearch exclusively for accommodations, claiming 1.3 million options in over 190 countries and more than 120 million users.

The interface on both web and app is clean and user-friendly, and the fairly traditional search does have a nice set of extra filters to sort through results.

Remember, since Trivago is a metasearch site, you’ll be directed through a third party for booking.

Trivago also offers “Room5,” which is an online hotel magazine and search engine with the aim “to combine Trivago’s hotel expertise with a passionate editorial team and expert contributors, in order to feature exclusive travel advice and hotel inspiration.”

While Trivago is owned by Expedia, it’s reported that the German company continues to operate independently and fund its own growth.

Hot Tip: Trivago is said to offer a pretty fantastic work environment with killer perks if anyone out there is itching to move to Düsseldorf!


(~$10/mo (requires annual membership) for sitters and home/pet owners.)

house and pet sitting network/exchange

This website is a fantastic way to find accommodation if you’re a travel enthusiast and pet lover.

It’s also fantastic if you’re a pet owner looking for cheap yet trustworthy pet care while you’re away.

With a 9.7 star rating from over 3,000 reviews on Trustpilot, TrustedHousesitters really is the leader in this niche.

For a small annual fee, home/pet owners who are traveling are matched with trustworthy pet lovers who offer house/pet sitting for free in exchange for free lodging in the home.

They claim over 1 million house sitting nights facilitated and growing! While this company started in the U.K. and has a large number of listings in Europe, it’s growing quickly in the U.S.!


(FREE)

travel metasearch engine

Wego is a metasearch engine specifically geared toward flights/hotels in the Asia Pacific and Middle East regions.

Providing results based on information from OTAs and consolidators as well as directly through airlines and larger hotel chains, Wego is said to draw from over 700 different travel sites. In addition to metasearch, Wego also runs a pretty fun and informative blog, which you can check out here

Word to the Wise: Some users report the online version takes a significant amount of time to load. Tread carefully before selecting a fare, as it may not be the absolute lowest price if the web page hasn’t loaded in its entirety!


(FREE)

budget-based travel search with booking capability

Where You Can Go, for What You Can Spend.” Still in it’s beta version, Wherefor is offering a great new take on travel searches.

Users simply enter their fixed budget for flights + hotel, the number of persons traveling, the dates, and the departure city. You can also use advanced filter options to specify whether you prefer a budget, standard, or luxury hotel. Wherefor then provides users with a map pinpointing various destinations they can travel to within their budget (and at times, under budget – yahoo!).

Once a destination is selected, Wherefor shows users the cheapest flight and the highest rated hotel, which can be booked together or separately.

Another entertaining feature of Wherefor lets users search by interests (categories include: beaches, pet-friendly, wine lovers, etc.). Wherefor also offers a 24hr refund policy and lowest price guarantee.

Hot Tip: if you’re pressed for cash, Wherefor offers financing to help you pay for your trip over 12 months with 0% interest. We don’t know of any other search sites that offer this!

Word to the Wise: The estimated flight cost includes taxes and fees, but the nightly hotel rate does not (which seems a bit strange to us). Be sure to cover all your bases when you calculate so you don’t end up above your budget!

Word to the Wise: Right now, Wherefor only shows hotels, not hostels or vacation rental options that can sometimes be cheaper.


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