Tripadvisor – Will it help you find the best deal on hotels?

I have previously reviewed Tripadvisor, one of my go-to internet sites to find hotel reviews – and I have pointed out its pros and cons. But Tripadvisor has moved beyond its roots and now also provides a meta-search function to find hotel prices from different booking sites around the web. Most recently, it started to allow you to also book through Tripadvisor directly, making it one of the few hybrid meta-search and booking sites for travel! Find out how that search function works and how it compares to other hotel search sites like Trivago or HotelsCombined!

How does it work? You start your search on the home site, with a box similar to all the other hotel booking sites, entering your destination, dates as well as guest and room information:
That will take you to a list of hotels with the option to sort it by availability, review ranking, price or distance from the center of your destination. I usually sort by “ranking” and start from the best ones.
tripadvisor-book-2Because Tripadvisor covers so many hotels, the list is long (838 in my example for Bangkok) and you can filter the list down, also similar to other sites, by price, type of hotel, neighborhood or brand. Unfortunately, those filters have their limitations. For example, the “Accommodation” forces you to choose between “hotels” and “inns” which outside the US is not always a helpful distinction and you can’t choose “all of them” like on most other sites. I found “Price” and “distance from landmark” to be the most helpful ones to narrow down my search. For points travelers, the “Brand” filter allows you to pick multiple brands, so you can limit it to the hotels of one or more of your loyalty programs. tripadvisor-book-3If I know a destination well, I often use the map view, because I might want to be close to the beach or to public transportation!
tripadvisor-book-4For each of the hotels, Tripadvisor provides the rank, average rating and number of reviews, as well as the prices from different sources. While the highlighted price is usually the best deal (it always is on Trivago or HotelsCombined), I have had instances where the “TopDeal” is NOT the best price – Tripadvisor seems to have special consideration for their partners or sponsors, so always view all deals before picking a booking site!
Clicking on one of the hotel names will take you to the overview and review of the hotel (check out my post about Tripadvisor Reviews for more detail) or you can click directly on the best deal to continue with your booking on that site!
Tripadvisor also now offers the option to book directly through their site. That to me is one of the major disadvantages, as there now is a conflict of interest between their function as an independent source of reviews and prices and their interest to have visitors book through them for increased revenue. It makes Tripadvisor less trustworthy than pure meta-search engines and review sites in my book! To make it more confusing, depending on the hotel, the booking might still be carried out through one of their partners like!
tripadvisor-book-5While Tripadvisor does show the price on the hotel’s own website (Trivago doesn’t!), it shows only the public prices. Because all the major chains now have “Member Only” prices for participants in their loyalty programs, the price on the hotel web site will typically by 5-10% less than what Tripadvisor shows. Add to that the fact that Tripadvisor doesn’t always pass along your booking information, you’ll have to reenter that on the hotel site, making it more difficult than it should be (remember that conflict of interest – TA is not really helping you to book away). With OTAs like also offering “secret” member prices, the comparison becomes more difficult and it warrants to check.
Insider Tip: If the price is the same on booking engines and the hotel’s own site, always go to the hotel site first, sign in or join their loyalty program and book the lower price their! Because you’ll also get points as additional discount and perks that way, it’s the best deal in most cases.

Why should I care? Tripadvisor has built its following and reputation on its huge volume and reviews. And despite the problems I have highlighted in my Tripadvisor review, I continue to use it as part of my research. I also utilize it as one data point for price comparison. But because of the conflict of interest caused by their direct- booking feature and the lack of member-prices for chain hotels, Tripadvisor is no longer good enough as your “only” source of reviews and prices and I recommend to double check with another meta-search site like Trivago or HotelsCombined and always check the hotel site directly! If you value time over money and don’t want to click around, I’d recommend to search with one of these three search sites and then book chain hotels directly or anything else through through the major booking site listing the best deal!

For most people, location and price are the top criteria when selecting a hotel. So, picking the best hotel meta search site depends largely on its ability to find the best price. To find out which site is the best, I will conduct a detailed comparison of the big three sites – Tripadvisor, Trivago and HotelsCombined – to find out which one finds the best prices. Sign up for my newsletter to read about the results soon!

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