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Travel Resource Series: Part 2 – Accommodations [2017]

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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)

 

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 it’s 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 Travel 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.


Expedia Subsidiaries – Travelocity, Orbitz, CheapTickets, Hotels.com and Hotwire.com

(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. (Check out our extensive guide on Google Flights here)

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 entire blog post 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