Hostel Booking Sites Compared
I’m a budget traveler. My friends tell me I’m a hard-core budget traveler. Some of them even say I’m obsessive but I don’t really agree. I think I travel like I want to travel. Yes, it can be a little rough sometimes but I don’t mind. I’m old-school, I think you have to suffer for your art form and mine is travel.
I’ll be leaving for a three month trip to Asia in the early part of 2017. Since most of my traveling during 2015 and 2016 has been in the United States I thought I would review the current state of hostel booking websites as I haven’t been using them as much as I used to. I hardly ever use hostels in the U.S. There are much better options for me. It’s probably time to start thinking about making some hostel bookings for my 2017 trip. I’ve started to make some airfare bookings so it’s now time to start looking to fill in the days with some cheap accommodations.
I’m going to start with Hostelworld and Hostelbookers, two of the primary hostel booking websites. They both have good interfaces and they are easy to use. I started by looking for a hostel in Auckland, New Zealand, the city where I will be arriving when I leave the U.S. After entering the city and the dates I will be in the city on both the Hostelworld and Hostelbookers websites I was taken to a screen listing the available hostels. I then utilized filters which enabled me to restrict the search results by certain criteria. I said I wanted hostels between $0 and $25. I could have set the currency to any one of dozens of currencies. I also said that I wanted hostels that were rated 8/10 or better.
The results were that there were five out of thirty-six hostels listed by Hostelworld and nine out of an unknown total by Hostelbookers that met my criteria. Two of the results that showed up on Hostelworld did not show up on Hostelbookers. Six of the Hostelbookers hostels did not show up on Hostelworld. Why the difference? I don’t know. I’m going to assume that some properties are not on both sites and that some properties have different ratings and different prices on each site. But, all in all, I was pretty pleased with the lists. The lists also showed the distance from a common point. From my own research, it looked like the distance might be measured from the main transportation center but when I checked other cities I was uncertain exactly where the distance was measured from. What I can say is that it seems the smaller the distance in a hostel’s profile, the closer it is to the city center, train station, transportation center, or some other location the sites use that is, generally, close to where the action is.
What type of filters can be used on Hostelworld and Hostelbookers? You can use a price range, a room type (single, double, triple, family, mixed dorm, female dorm, male dorm), a rating score, the type of accommodation (hostel, bed and breakfast, hotel, apartment or campsite), the payment types accepted and the area of the city where the hostel is located. Filters help you narrow down big lists of hostels.
You can also filter by amenities. These include such items as 24 hour reception, 24 hour security, air conditioning, airport transfers, bbq, bar, bicycle rental, board games, book exchange, breakfast, cable TV, cafe, card phones, common room, elevator, fax service, fitness center, games room, hair dryers for hire, hot showers, hot tub, housekeeping, internet access, internet cafe, jobs board, key card access, late check-in, laundry facilities, luggage storage, meals, nightclub, parking, pool table, postal service, reading light, restaurant, safe deposit box, security lockers, self-catering facilities, steam room, swimming pool, tea & coffee making facilities, tours/travel desk, towels for hire, vending machines, washing machine, wheelchair friendly and WI-FI. That’s a long list, but there are even more. Some people are very interested in such amenities as free WI-FI and free breakfast, two very common perks in many hostels that are not specific to the above list. Some of these items can be deal-makers and deal-breakers for some people. If you look at the cost of what you might pay for breakfast outside of the hostel and what you have to pay for an hour of WI-FI in the hostel, some hostels start to look a lot better than others.
Both Hostelworld and Hostelbookers are able to show the properties on a map so that you can get a good idea of the exact location of specific properties within the city. That can help you to decide which hostel is closest to the particular attractions you might want to see in a given location.
Hostelworld and Hostelbookers also break their ratings down into sub-categories. These are value for the money, security, location, staff, atmosphere, cleanliness and facilities (amenities). This helps an individual to figure out if their pet peeves are going to be an issue for them. Some people ar just really weird about cleanliness. Like me, at least to a point. Some people are looking for value. Some people have some really bad memories about rude hostel staff and don’t want to ever go there again. It helps to know what a hostel’s strengths and weaknesses are.
The booking websites also include pictures in the profile of the hostel. Pictures can tell you a lot about a hostel. Yes, they try to put their best foot forward, but let’s face it some are better at it than others and the best at presenting themselves may be the best for a reason. Spend a little time with the pictures of hostels you are considering booking. Are there lots of young people in large groups? This can be an indication it’s a party hostel and might be just the right place for you if that’s what you’re looking for. It can also tell you that’s a place you don’t want to go as well. I think it’s worth taking the time to look over the pictures of a hostel you are interested in booking.
My final consideration is always the reviews. Here’s where the rubber meets the road. People who book hostels through Hostelworld and Hostelbookers get to leave reviews if they so choose. It’s my belief that Hostelbookers and Hostelworld publish these reviews as they get them. Some of them really praise a hostel. I look for the bad reviews. I want to know things like “Factor in the additional cost of having to pay for wifi – $5 a day”; “There are no lockers so your things are not safe.”; “Mold everywhere”; “Extremely dirty” and “In all fairness, I didn’t spend the night here so I can’t comment on the wifi or lounge areas. It was so filthy and my room smelled so bad I sleept (sic) at my friends (sic) place.” You get the picture. Hostelworld gives me the option of sorting the reviews by the ratings. Hostelbookers does not.
Now let’s talk about booking. Hostelworld and Hostelbookers have the same price structure. Sometimes one is higher than the other but often they are the same. At Hostelbookers they take a twelve percent deposit immediately. They also clearly state “Deposits paid are non refundable.” That means if you cancel, for any reason, you will not get your deposit back. Hostel world is a little different. They also they take a twelve percent deposit immediately. However, at Hostelworld you have a choice how you want to handle the possibility that you might cancel. The have two types of bookings. The first is the Non-flexible Booking where your “deposit is non-refundable if you decide to cancel your booking.” The second is the Standard Flexible Booking where your “deposit is protected so you can use it to make another booking if you cancel.” This sounds great. Why wouldn’t anyone want to do the Standard Flexible Booking? Well, first off, you don’t get your deposit returned. You, essentially, have credit with Hostelworld in the amount of your deposit less a booking fee. Hostelworld keeps the deposit (for a maximum of six months whereupon it seems to disappear – forfeited is the term they disclose) and you can use it anytime in the next six months. Less a booking fee, which as far as I can tell is only one dollar. The booking fee is non-refundable. Further, I think you can only cancel the booking once and keep your deposit as a credit. You should check that if you’re concerned.
Are there other booking sites besides Hostelworld and Hostelbookers? You bet. There’s a bunch of them but none of them have the number of hostels in their database that Hostelworld and Hostelbookers do. Hostelz.com is an interesting place and makes some interesting claims but right away I noticed that their information about availability seemed to be inaccurate. Inaccuracy scares me. But I do think hostelz.com has some interesting features. Hostels.com is much like Hostelworld and Hostelbookers, all three being subsidiaries of the same company. Its cancellation policies are even worse than Hostelbookers and Hostelworld. The new kid on the block, agoda.com. seems to have better prices than Hostelworld and Hostelbookers as well as a much better cancellation policy but not the depth of properties that you can find at Hostelworld and Hostelbookers. Nor does it have the quality of coverage of the individual hostel profiles. However, where I did see the same common property listings the prices seemed to be better at agoda.com for all the properties I checked. Their cancellation policy? It almost seemed to good to be true. You might want to check it out yourself.
One last thought. I can tell you from experience that you can often find that you can get a better price than anywhere else by going to the website of the property itself. One thing I’ve always noticed is that booking websites never give out the URL of the hostel. But, of course, it’s easy to find. Often, when I’ve checked the hostel website I can get a better price than at the hostel booking sites.
My final take on shopping for a hostel? I use Hostelworld and Hostelbookers to narrow my choices and then I shop around to see where I can get the best deal. Sometimes I’m surprised.