The best travel deal websites offer genuine holiday, flight and UK break deals that can save you money, while the worst have poor-value offers and even worse customer service.
Whether you're booking a far-flung package holiday or a short UK hotel break, deal sites aim to find the best travel discounts and offers around.
Sites Travelzoo and Secret Escapes negotiate a range of exclusive deals with travel suppliers, and have introduced a range of flexible and fully refundable deals. In both cases you sign up free to see the deals.
Deal-site customers we surveyed told us that they thought the prices they paid on both deal websites were really good value.
Beyond the price, it's also crucial to avoid sites with poor customer service. As with third-party booking sites such as Expedia and Opodo, some deal-site customers have been left in the lurch by a confusing and convoluted refund process.
In the table below, we've rated three leading travel deal websites, to give you the best possible chance of finding a cut-price holiday.
|Deal site||Customer service||Functionality of site||Ease of finding flexible options||Choice||Value for money||Customer score|
|Secret Escapes (66)|
|Using the table: Based on a survey of 3,478 Which? members, conducted in July/August 2021. Sample sizes shown in brackets. Star ratings are based on one to five stars. Functionality of site How easy the site is to navigate and how quickly it generated results. Customer score Combines overall satisfaction and likelihood of recommending.|
Customers told us that Travelzoo is the best website for travel deals and it's also our sole Which? Recommended Provider (WRP) this year.
Its table-topping customer score of 79% is based on customers who said they were satisfied and would recommend it, if asked. Secret Escapes was also rated highly.
From UK spa breaks and canal boats to hand-picked hotel and holiday offers abroad, Travelzoo produces a weekly top 20 deals. These have been picked from several hundred, and checked for value. Some 96% of customers said Travelzoo’s deals are good value in our survey, so there’s no doubting its money-saving credentials.
But no matter how good a deal looks, always read the T&Cs carefully and, if you go for a package holiday, check which company provides it. Travelzoo is only the aggregator and not the tour operator – you’ll want to check that it’s trustworthy, too.
Thankfully, Travelzoo is transparent about exactly what the deal doesn’t include and what the cancellation terms are. Look out for its ‘fully refundable voucher’ banner, as these stays can be cancelled for any reason up until a few days before check-in.
Recent customers didn’t report any issues with claiming a refund, which is part of the reason it’s rated so highly for customer service.
Which? verdict: Travelzoo is still the deal site to beat for flexibility and fantastic value.
Unlike with Travelzoo, feedback from recent Secret Escapes customers isn’t universally positive when it comes to refunds. And the situation is complicated by the fact that, as well as promoting package holidays supplied by a third party, Secret Escapes is also a package holiday provider in its own right.
Its refund policy for for Covid-related disruption isn’t quite as generous as some we’ve seen, so you might do best to focus on its impressive selection of luxurious and refundable hotel-only stays, which are clearly advertised and easy to find.
Do that and you’ll find Secret Escapes gives Travelzoo a run for its money when it comes to the likes of customer service and website functionality.
Which? verdict: For luxury travel deals, Secret Escapes is hard to beat. But make sure you read the small print.
No matter how good a deal looks, always work out whether you’re making a genuine saving. If it’s a package deal on Lastminute.com, for example, check what it would cost to book the same airfares and hotel separately (but remember if you book them this way, you won’t be protected by the Package Travel Regulations).
Sense checking hotel-only deals is trickier, as prices vary depending on the type of room and board you book, and added extras, such as afternoon tea, are also sometimes thrown in.
We looked at three hotel-only deals on both Travelzoo and Secret Escapes, and although each one offered an actual saving of at least £60 per couple for a two-night stay, there are a few quirks on each site worth knowing about.
One of the Travelzoo deals, for instance, included two nights’ accommodation, breakfast on both mornings, dinner on one evening, and afternoon tea and a bottle of wine on arrival. This led to a like-for-like saving of £168 (or 47%) for two people sharing a room. But assuming you choose to eat dinner at the hotel on both nights, the saving drops to £80 (24%) compared with what it would have cost to book a half-board room directly with the hotel, then pay for the wine and tea separately.
On Secret Escapes, the advertised saving is based on how much more it costs to book the room on Booking.com. But previous Which? research has found it’s almost always cheaper to book direct with the hotel, so call it and ask for its best price to give you a more accurate idea of how good a deal really is.
In theory, any booking made through a deal site is fully refundable, as long as it's the supplier (rather than you) that cancels the booking. But how that works in practice depends on the type of booking and which company is supplying it.
For hotel-only bookings, you can only get a refund if the hotel cancels your booking — such as if it is forced to close to tourists due to lockdown laws — in which case you’ll need to claim your refund from the company that took your payment. Some customers, however, have reported being passed between hotel and deal site when chasing a coronavirus-related refund. It's also worth bearing in mind that if the hotel remains open but local travel restrictions prevent you fulfilling the booking, you're not entitled to a refund.
For package bookings, customers have more protection if government travel restrictions prevent you from going. But check which company is supplying the holiday: in some cases, the deal website will also be the supplier, as with Lastminute.com and certain Secret Escapes bookings. That means they’re responsible for refunding you if the booking is cancelled, although both have been illegally issuing refund credit notes rather than cash. In other cases, deal sites such as Travelzoo direct you to the package holiday supplier’s website to complete the booking, so check its website carefully to find out if it will refund in cash.
Between July and August 2021, we asked 3,478 Which? members to tell us about their experiences of researching holidays online in the past two years. We only reported on companies and star rating categories when we received at least 30 responses.