There are hundreds of websites globally that offer hotels to be booked online. The times of the traditional travel agencies who operate a physical shop is slowly coming to an end in 2021. Do not get us wrong it does not mean that they will be closed down or that they are not able to provide exceptional service but the fact is that Southeast Asian people are becoming more and more tech savvy everyday. While the young adult and middle aged generations are checking for flash sales and promotions on a daily basis the younger generations are already growing up with smartphones in their hands. This means that there is a natural shift from offline to online not just in travel but in most of the industries.
Now focusing only on travel we thought it would make sense to share with you our top picks when it comes to booking portals for accommodation. (If you are interested, we also did a similar list for flight bookings in this article “Top Thai flight booking sites in 2021”)
There are three common ways of booking accommodation online and we will share with you the benefits of each and finally our recommendation.
Let’s start with the most obvious one, booking directly on the website of the accommodation’s website. This is an easy way to secure a room for the night if you already know the hotel that you want to stay in. Hotels also give you special benefits like free water in the room or sometimes even upgraded room types. This method is also good to avoid any misinterpretation of the offer conditions like the extra services the booking includes. The disadvantage of this way of booking is the lack of price comparability meaning that you might miss a special discount that an online hotel booking site often offer (e.g. Mobile discount, loyalty discount, or similar category hotels being offered for a better price). Lastly, not many of the accommodations provide guest reviews on their own page so if you like to make sure about the quality of the service they provide you will have to visit a review site separately.
The second method, also the most common one, way of booking your accommodation is using an online travel agency (OTA). There are hundreds of booking sites available on the web but in this article we are only going to focus on the ones that are available in the languages spoken in the region and have a good selection of inventory within the Southeast Asia region.
The number one, most commonly used OTA brand in Southeast Asia is Agoda. Agoda began as a hotel booking site with a focus on Asia (Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Philippines other Eastern markets) but over the past couple of years they have been slowly expanding into a global brand. This original focus makes them number on our list even today. Besides the huge inventory of hotels they also have a product that reflects the Southeast Asian user behavior and thus feels and looks very appealing to travelers from the region. Additionally, we also like them because the regularly offer discounts to the users in different formats. Our favorite example is their Daily Deals page that offers coupon codes for additional discounts: https://www.agoda.com/th-th/deals the page is worthy of being bookmarked for the long run as the destination on sales change on a daily basis.
Best features: Localized product, special promotions, low prices, Agoda VIP loyalty program
Similarly to Agoda, Traveloka is also a local, regional player. It is an Indonesian startup travel company with the aim of becoming a regional leader in online travel bookings. Their main market is of course Indonesia but Thailand is number two but they are also present in Vietnam with a fully localized booking site. This is important to mention because it tells you about their product fitness to the needs of Southeast Asian travelers. It has a very similar design to Agoda but their edge is that they also offer flights and experiences on their site so theoretically you can book everything in one place. We say “theoretically” on purpose because our experience tells that you can often find better prices if you book the flights/hotels/experiences separately on different sites with the help of price comparison sites. Nonetheless, their offers are very competitive thanks to their direct connection with businesses in the Southeast Asia region and their 24/7 customer service in the local languages is also a big plus. We are looking forward to seeing their brand's development in the coming years but even now we can truly recommend their website.
Best features: Localized product, flights/hotels and experiences in one place
This is a brand that you most probably heard about but probably never used. It is a sister company of Agoda and while Agoda is extremely popular in Asia, Booking.com is more famous in Europe. They both belong to the same group of the Booking Holdings but it does not mean they are the same. The user interface of Booking.com is more simple and has less competitive prices in the region but if you are traveling to Europe this site might come handy as they have really strong relationships with the hotels in that part of the world. They are one of the strongest brands in the online travel industry which means that your booking is safe with them thanks to their 24/7 available customer service.
Best features: low prices in Europe, good loyalty program “Genius” , trustworthy brand
One our favorite sites from the global OTAs. They are part of the world’s largest travel group the Expedia group. They do offer competitive prices and they have a very nice clean design with a lot of filtering options. They have a lot of different accommodation types, including bungalows, guest houses, b&bs and of course cheap and fancy hotels. But the reason why we really love this brand is because of their straightforward loyalty program: 10 booked nights grants you 1 free night in a hotel.
Best features: low prices in Europe, best loyalty program, trustworthy brand, lots of filters
It is the biggest Chinese OTA but over the past couple of years they have started expanding globally. They are yet to build a big brand name in Southeast Asia but soon it will happen. Nonetheless, their website’s functionality and layout is very nice that also often comes with very low prices for certain accommodations. It is important to mention that the customer service team received a lot of critiques from experienced travelers for being slow and inflexible when it comes to assisting their users.