While the demand for business and leisure travel in 2011 is picking up pace, it's safe to assume that the smart shopper mentality still exists, especially when it comes to hotels. Henry Harteveldt, Forrester Research's vice president and principal analyst for travel says 40 percent of travelers are still "seeking the lowest" price when it comes to options. Here are some pros and cons of popular hotel sites:
Hotels.com: Invariably, this is the site that comes to mind while booking a hotel, more so than any other. The site offers a price match guarantee and there's no penalty for cancellations or changes, which gives you some peace of mind. I've found Hotels.com extremely helpful while booking last minute trips, a feature that the site promotes. Offering over 130,000 hotel options in over 60 countries, the site mostly centers on budget chain choices. If you're into luxury hotels, you can also shave a healthy percentage off the rack rate. If you're particular about your type of travel, you can filter your choices based on amenities or your need for all-inclusives, etc.
BookIt.com: On first glance, this site appears to give you unbelievable deals for hotel rooms (50 percent off the same price offered on the same room at Hotels.com) but upon checkout, you'll discover that if you use the default (two guests) option, it multiplies your total price by two, so you end up paying pretty much the same rate as that of Hotels.com. The real genius of BookIt.com lies in the add-ons, such as hotel transfers and good deals to local attractions and activities from sunset sails to tours, in addition to its attractively priced room rates. The taxes are slightly more expensive than those found on Hotels.com.
Priceline.com: The hotel options on the site are competitively priced, but they don't offer any special garnishes like the others mentioned above. Priceline is best used if you leverage its original purpose: naming your price. It offers a choice of around 80,000 hotels worldwide.
TripAdvisor.com: The value of at-a-glance candid traveler ratings is helpful, but you cannot book directly on the site (rather, you'll be directed to a host of other partner sites and your computer will be subject to a host of pop-up screens, which can be rather annoying). If you want a bird's-eye view of a hotel rating (take care to weed out the smear campaign tactics from other hotels) this is a good site to visit.
Expedia: This site does not necessarily give you the cheapest hotel option, but it does offer you similar selections to those found on the sites above. While there are some featured hotel offers that might catch your fancy, you're better off using Expedia as an online flight resource.
Kayak.com: The hotel comparison option on Kayak.com gives you a curated overview of the most inexpensive options (the site compares fares found on Hotwire, BookIt, Hotels, Priceline and Expedia). It's a smart idea to start with Kayak and then decide which site you'd most likely visit to book your hotel rooms. Note, however, that Kayak does not tell you how much the add-ons (taxes and fees) will be at the end.
There are other sites, including LastMinute.com, that are often worth looking into for discount hotel options, but I've often found that putting together your own airfare and hotel options piecemeal (instead of a last minute package deal) is often less expensive.
Follow Charu Suri on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Butterflydiary