Which app or website do you use to book hotels and places to stay? The chances are that at some point you’ve used Booking.com (opens in new tab), one of the global heavyweights in a hotel search engine business that also includes the likes of Trivago, Hotels.com, Agoda and Expedia (opens in new tab).
From a small start as a startup in Amsterdam over 20 years ago, it’s now used to make 1.5 million bookings at 27 million hotels in 229 countries every single day.
It’s success is built on the convenience of its website and app, but also its concentration on peace of mind. One of the first platforms to offer free cancellation of rooms, it’s designed to be a one-stop shop that makes everything so convenient for you that you can’t resist using it.
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However, this online travel agency is (rather brilliantly) designed to catch you out, and encourage you to rush you into buying decisions when you really don't need to.
Here's how to use it to get the best experience, and the best price, and all on your terms.
- Once you've read the article, make sure you head over to Booking.com (opens in new tab) to try out all of these tips
1. Reorder the search results
When you search for hotels, the results are automatically delivered as ‘our top picks’, which are the result of properties paying for a place higher up on the list. So always change it to ‘lowest price first’, ‘review score and price’ or ‘distance from city centre’. That's the first hurdle clear!
2. Use the filters
As well as reordering search results, you can filter them on everything from price and whether breakfast is included to more specific facilities like whether the hotel has a sauna or an indoor pool.
However, the results often include rogue hotels that don’t fulfill one or more of the criteria you specified, so be sure to check everything very carefully before you confirm your booking.
3. Understand the ratings
There are plenty of great hotels on Booking.com, but the ratings system used by the website is not what it appears to be. Everything is artificially bumped-up by 2.5 stars.
Try it yourself; next time the platform asks you to review your most recent stay, choose the ‘sad face’ icon for each section. The hotel will get 2.5 stars out of 10. That doesn’t mean you can’t compare hotels within Booking.com – you can – but be aware that hotels cannot score zero.
4. Check the small print
Booking.com is all about flexibility, with hotels allowed to set whatever rules they want, from check-in and check-out times to whether they charge your credit card weeks before you stay, or ask for cash on arrival/departure. Never book without triple-checking the details.
5. Ignore the warnings
Booking.com is covered in hurry-up messaging. ‘Jackpot! This is the cheapest price you’ve seen in London for your dates!’ is applied to the first hotel you look at … so has absolutely no meaning.
Ditto for warnings like ‘Limited supply: 45 apartments like this one are already unavailable on our site!’, which merely means that Booking.com has sold some rooms today. Well, duh!
It’s nonsense. Ignore all of it. If you start seeing pop-ups with your name on it, you know Booking.com is getting desperate.
6. Take care with free cancellation
The free cancellation options offered by some hotels and guests houses can be enormously helpful. If you think you might be visiting a destination – perhaps for a show or football match you haven’t yet secured tickets for – it’s possible to book a room then change your mind later.
However, do set-up a reminder on your phone for the day before free cancellation period ends, otherwise your credit card will get charged for some or all of the cost of the room.
7. ‘Sold out’ status changes
‘Sold out on your dates’ merely means that rooms the hotel is selling via Booking.com are all gone. It doesn’t always mean that the hotel itself is sold out, so if there’s somewhere specific you really want to stay, check the hotel’s website, or call them, for a more rounded view of availability (and perhaps even a better commission-free price).
Since lots of Booking.com users use and abuse the free cancellation options, it’s worth checking back a few weeks later if there is somewhere you have your heart set on, and you have time to delay booking.
8. Think about breakfast
Nowadays it’s rare to have breakfast included as standard, and on Booking.com it’s almost always an add-on. Tick the breakfast option in the filter menu, but be sure to search on Google Maps for cafes near to your hotel, which will almost certainly offer a cheaper, tastier breakfast.
If you’re in the middle of nowhere or likely to be in a rush in the morning, the hotel’s breakfast might still be your best option, but do check around the hotel before committing to extra charges.
9. Leave a review
For all of the faults of the review system its built on, Booking.com is used by thousands of small independent hotel and B&B owners to make their livelihood. By leaving a nice review of your stay – if you had a good stay, that is – it really helps their visibility on Booking.com.
It’s polite to let them know about small problems separately rather than making them the focus on your review. A broken kettle or light bulb can be replaced. A bad review on Booking.com cannot.
10. Unsubscribe to emails
Despite it seeming a rather polished digital operation, the algorithms on Booking.com are flawed. By default you will receive adverts and marketing emails about destinations that you’ve looked at on Booking.com, but not booked.
However, a bug in the system means that you also get messages about places you’ve already visited, and even long returned from. It's really annoying, so unsubscribe to all marketing emails by visiting the settings page in 'my account'.
- Now go and try out these tips on Booking.com (opens in new tab)!