One of our least favorite tasks when planning travel is booking a hotel. A decent hotel room can make a good vacation great and vice versa. With that in mind, here are some of the best hotel search engines and booking apps out there. In our experience, these hotel search engines are quick, have intuitive user interfaces, and provide users with the best tools for finding rooms that fit every budget and amenity preference.
Kayak was the first travel search engine to pull in rates from dozens of other travel deal sites, so it has long been a go-to for quick, painless hotel searches. A search for a hotel room in Las Vegas, for example, simultaneously searched big-name travel booking sites like Priceline, Travelocity, Expedia, and Hotels.com, as well as LasVegas.com. Kayak also allows you to create a price alert, select ambiance (business, romantic, etc.), and filter according to amenities, guest rating, and star rating. Kayak also offers a smartphone app.
Arrive at a destination and haven't yet booked a hotel? Hotel Tonight is the perfect smartphone app for such a dilemma. Acting as a broker for hotels who haven't sold off their inventory for the evening, Hotel Tonight lets you book a quality room quickly. Perhaps its best feature is that it only provides about three to five selections per night, taking the overwhelming choice out of the equation.
AirBnB is an accommodations booking site with a lot of buzz because it is slightly different than all the rest. Acting as an intermediary between hosts and travelers, this site allows you to book a place to stay from strangers, which means a much less cookie cutter experience than you get with a hotel stay. Rent a room, an apartment, or a vacation home—the inventory of accommodations is ever-growing at AirBnB. AirBnB can also be useful for finding a place to stay in destinations that are not as tourist-centric, making off-the-beaten-path travel more attractive for some. AirBnB also offers a smartphone app.
Hipmunk, the first airfare search engine that showed whether flights offered wifi or not, provides the same service on its hotel booking channel. Similar to Kayak, in that it searches rates from a variety of hotel search engines, Hipmunk also lists up-front the wifi and parking availability at the hotels it serves up, saving you the time of opening up every listing and figuring out those choice amenities on your own. If you're among a growing number of travelers for whom wifi is an essential amenity, Hipmunk is an ideal booking site for you. Hipmunk also offers a smartphone app.
Are you a hotel points person? If one of your biggest concerns is the hotel brand, then you may want to try Room Key. Choice Hotels, Hilton, Hyatt, Intercontinental, Marriott, and Wyndham have teamed up to create Room Key, which promises to provide the lowest rates on those brands' rooms and make it easier for guests to earn hotel points and rewards. Room Key also sets itself apart with its guest reviews. Only guests who have stayed in a Room Key-affiliated hotel can write reviews, which is helpful in this age of fake user reviews.
Like Kayak, Google's search engine for hotels delivers information on hotel room rates from several different search engines. What we like about Google Hotel Finder's approach is its focus on location; it puts its maps up front with the search so you can quickly browse hotels and rates in a particular neighborhood. A drawback is that Google helps you find a hotel but then sends you to a third party to book. Room reviews here are provided by Google users and Google-owned Zagat.