Booking a restorative stay in a hotel now testing restrictions are easing? Book wisely and you'll avoid paying over the odds for your room
First, a caveat: we'd always recommend booking your trip as a , as doing so offers far greater financial protection and peace of mind. But this isn't always possible, and if you are arranging it all yourself, there are steps you can take to get the best price possible.
We're creatures of habit. In fact, thousands of Which? Members have told us they like to stick with what they know and return to the same travel agent or airline to book their holidays time and time again. Why wouldn't you? You've used them before and you know what you're getting.
However, just like we'd recommend shopping around for the best value car insurance and energy providers, the same applies when it comes to travel. In other words, if you find a hotel you'd like to book, don't opt for the first price you see. Taking the time to do your research and compare prices can pay off.
Be sure to read the fine print and check exactly what you're getting for a cheaper price in case you're missing out on all-important flexibility, or extra perks you'd rather not miss out on, like breakfast included in the morning.
The only way to know you've truly got the best price possible is to contact the hotel directly. This is because large booking sites and online travel agents (OTAs) can prevent the hotels and B&Bs they list from listing lower prices on their own websites, via so-called rate-parity clauses.
But we've found a way around this which ultimately benefits the consumer and the hotel.
The rate-parity clause only applies to the hotel's website, so there's nothing the OTA can do if you email or phone the hotel directly and ask for a better offer. Even if they can't offer you a discount, the hotel might incentivise you to book directly with perks, freebies or an upgrade.
When we tried this with ten UK hotels, eight of them offered a discount and/or a freebie, with just one hotel quoting the same price as the OTA and another being more expensive than the OTA.
Booking direct with the hotel also simplifies things if you need to change your booking, make a complaint, or seek a refund because it's directly responsible for your booking. Whereas when you book through an OTA, it becomes the intermediary and you're reliant on it contacting the hotel on your behalf.
While it's best to check with your hotel directly, it's still worth browsing online comparison sites for longer stays in hotels, as the cumulative savings can be substantial.
When we put sites to the test, it was Trivago that found the best price most consistently. Meanwhile Kayak, Skyscanner, TravelSupermarket and TripAdvisor all found the best price at least twice in the five scenarios we checked.
If you're booking last minute, the primary reason for doing so shouldn't be for a lower rate on your hotel.
Price research we carried out before the pandemic showed that booking last minute isn't necessarily the most effective way to get bargains. In fact, the best prices for hotels are usually around three months before travel, depending on your destination.
And if you do spot an irresistible deal? Well, there are pros and cons to booking last minute. One benefit is possibly minimising the chance of Covid travel rules disrupting your plans.
That said, rules can change with little or zero notice, and this should always be a consideration, especially if your travel insurance won't cover you. Another downside is that booking last minute means you could then be left with less choice, higher rates and less flexibility when it comes to cancellation policies.
Booking at the last minute can work in your favour if you are completely open-minded about where you're going and who you're staying with. But if you've got your heart set on a particular location and hotel, we say book in advance.
Cheap doesn't always mean cheerful, and it's sometimes difficult to predict what you're going to get when you're opting for a budget stay.
Prices averaged at £66 per night, and the chain was rated five stars for cleanliness, quality of the beds, Covid-19 safety measures, and the room description matching reality by respondents.
You might not see instant savings, but it's worth signing up to free loyalty schemes with hotel chains and booking websites to save money later on.
Likewise, supermarket reward schemes such as Tesco Clubcard often have partnerships with attractions and accommodation, so it's worth looking into saving up some points that way and letting your weekly shop do something for you.
In fact, Tesco Clubcard points are worth triple the value when used with a Tesco Rewards Partner, such as Hilton, Hotels.com and Warner Leisure - meaning 50p converts to £1.50.
If you're planning a trip somewhere during high season or a big event, chances are accommodation prices nearby will shoot up because of an increase in demand.
Our advice is to look at hotels further away from the event if you're not attending, in order to avoid paying through the nose and getting stuck in the crowds.