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.
Another huge global brand that took the time to localize their product for several Southeast Asian markets: Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam. They are the flagship of the worlds largest travel group called Expedia Group. Their website has a very clean design that is combined with a lot of different filtering options along with the opportunity to book your flight. Their prices are in general slightly higher than Agoda’s super discounts but it is not always the case. If you are booking a specific hotel it is might worth checking the price on Expedia as well. One thing to note is that the prices you see on their website are not including taxes so you must get all the way to the booking details page to see the actual total price. They also provide
Best features: low prices in USA, trustworthy brand, lot of filtering options
Now let's move on to the 3rd most common way of booking a hotel online. Despite leaving it for last, this is the method that we use personally and thus also the method we recommend for all travelers who want to make sure they get the most value for their money. We are aware that it is not so common yet in Southeast Asia but trust us and give a try to “meta-search engines” or in simple language the “price comparison sites”. These sites are the aggregators of booking engines which means that they are collecting live data from the previously listed global OTAs or at least most of them. This means that you do not have to go one by one to each and every site to see which one provides the best prices but you can see them all in one place. Isn’t that great? We think so and we are sure you will too once you give them a try. Before we jump into listing our favorite sites it is important to highlight one important thing. The actual booking of your desired stay is not happening on these pages so they are not the ones that you should contact when you have questions or want to modify your booking. They simply act as a free tool to compare prices and show you the different rates coming from the different brands. So here we go, here are our “secret tools” to find amazing hotel deals:
They are one of the biggest meta search engines around the globe. They are present in 55 countries and have their website translated to 33 different languages including Thai, Tagalog, Malay, Indonesian and Vietnamese as well. Their database is connected to 200+ individual booking sites like Agoda, Expedia, Booking.com, Hotels.com etc… Additionally, they also have prices coming directly from the hotels’ websites itself so it means that they are able to provide an extremely wide overview. This comparison feature is coupled with a very clean design of trivago’s product that makes it easy for you to focus on the most relevant information: the price, the location and the guest ratings of the different items. If this is not enough, you also have the opportunity to filter for different details regarding the accommodation features (car park, pet friendly) or even for the offer details (breakfast included). To help you overcome the uncertainty that Covid 19 causes they also recently introduced 2 useful filtering options: Free cancellation, Pay at the property. Lastly, here are a couple of tips from us on how find the best deals on trivago: 1. Sort the accommodations by price (You will find the button on top of the hotel list)
2. Use the guest rating feature to narrow down your search to quality hotels (usually 8.0+ rating is enough)
3. Make sure to click on the lowest price options not just simply the big green “View deal” button
Another useful tool that pretty much does the same thing as trivago but it might be more familiar to you. They have been present in the Asian region for a longer period of time. There are also slightly more advertisement placements (banners) in their product that might take away your attention but still it is a pretty nice and clean design. Their website offers a similar sized option of accommodations to trivago but it might be slightly less or more depending on the destination. There are two main reasons why we did not put them as our nr 1 recommendation: Reason 1: Their hotel by hotel comparison is a bit more complicated than on trivago: “If you want to see more details of the property by clicking on the name or picture of the hotel you will be redirected to a new page dedicated for the hotel itself, thus you lose visibility of other hotels from the list. While on trivago you stay on the list view and can easily scroll up and down to see the different accommodation options nearby. Reason 2: their mobile application is rated much lower than trivago’s and users often have problems getting search results. Nonetheless, it is an amazing product that does almost ast good of a job as any comparison site on the market.
Another huge name from the online travel industry but they are more famous for their vast amount of reviews and their traveler forums; however, they also offer accommodation price comparison so we must mention them. Their product design is nice and clean with a pretty straightforward information layout. The only advantage of Tripadvisor over the meta searches above is the quick access they provide to their reviews which include a lot of reviews in a variety of Southeast Asian languages as well.
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