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 such as Lastminute.com aim to do this by scouring the internet for the lowest prices, while sites such as Travelzoo and Secret Escapes do it by negotiating exclusive deals with travel suppliers.
Deal-site customers we surveyed told us that they thought the prices they paid on two of the deal websites were really good value. With Lastminute.com, they were less impressed.
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 next year we are likely to see more disruption to holidays so you want to make sure you book with a site that deals with customers fairly.
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.
Functionality of site
Transparency of fees
Description vs reality
Choice of holidays
Quality of holidays
Value for money
Secret Escapes (103)
Using the table: Based on a survey of 4,893 Which? members, conducted in July/August 2020. Sample sizes shown in brackets. Star ratings are based on one to five stars. A dash (-) means sample size too small to give a star rating. WRP = Which? Recommended Provider. Functionality of site How easy the site is to navigate and how quickly it generated results. Transparency of fees Whether the first price quoted was the one the customer ended up paying, without unexpected fees at the checkout. 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 75% is based on customers who said they were satisfied and would recommend it, if asked. A ringing endorsement. Its recommended provider status also takes into account the way it has treated customers during the unprecedented travel disruption in recent months.
Secret Escapes was also rated highly, but customers have had problems with refunds, while those looking for a deal should avoid Lastminute.com.
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. Customers rated Travelzoo four stars for value for money so it's clear they have a nose for a good deal.
Register with an email address and Travelzoo is free to use, with deals emailed to you each week. You can also use the website. Customers told us they appreciated that deals had clear information on what's included. The website also makes it easy to find fully refundable deals. Many of its UK short breaks, for example, can be cancelled free of charge just 48 hours before check-in. That's going to be essential this year when we can expect more disruption to our travel and holiday plans.
Which? verdict: For great deals and flexible booking, look no further than this impressive Which? Recommended Provider.
A quick glance at our table, above, suggests there's little to choose between Secret Escapes and Travelzoo, with both earning identical star ratings in our survey. Yet Which? members are less likely to be satisfied with Secret Escapes and recommend it if asked — and it's clear why.
Hotel-only customers told us that neither their accommodation provider nor Secret Escapes was willing to take responsibility for coronavirus-related refunds, while those with a Secret Escapes package holiday have been saddled with refund credit notes. Its new fully refundable deals aren't as flexible as Travelzoo's, either.
Which? verdict: Only worth considering if Travelzoo's deals don't hit the mark.
As the name suggests, Lastminute.com started out as a site for finding travel bargains at the eleventh hour. So despite its failings as a booking site — it fared poorly in our recent surveys on both and — you'd be forgiven for thinking it might still throw up a good deal or two. But it's inferior to Travelzoo and Secret Escapes in every way, including value for money and transparency of fees.
The way it treats its customers is particularly poor. It's practically impossible to contact the company, with some customers still waiting to receive vouchers, let alone refunds, for bookings that were cancelled earlier in the pandemic.
Which? verdict: We wouldn't recommend booking with Lastminute.com even as a last resort.
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 2020, we asked 4,893 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.