Which Hostel Booking site should I use?

Introduction and basis of review

As a backpacker you will want to use a booking site that:

  • has a large database of hostels with plenty of reviews (accommodation can be scarce at certain times of year or during a major event - so a large selection is essential).
  • provides maps, to see where the hostels are in relation to your arrival point (railway/coach station) and town centre.
  • allows sorting by price or review rating to save wading through the pages of hostels that can be listed for some cities.

This review of 8 hostel bookers is based on:

  • a search on 19 Jan 2011 (and additional test on 11 Dec 2011) for one night in Bucharest on 1st Feb; and then checking Butterfly Villa for reviews and price including any service charge
  • a comparison of booking site features with our wants list above (last undertaken Jan 2011)
  • checking for booking/service charges
  • my assessment of ease of use, and other features provided
  • site statements on group booking - not a subject I have experience of.

Note to site owners: If I've got something wrong please let me know. It may be a usability issue, and others may make the same mistake.

Review Summary

The winner was also the joint cheapest hostel booking site in this test. However, there were only small differences in prices between the sites, so cost was only a minor factor in identifying the best hostel website.

Four of the eight booking sites did not list our selected hostel (chosen because it has a good reputation, and I've stayed there!). This highlights the benefits of using bookers with larger inventories. Most of the sites had good search facilities. Our top 2 offered significantly more reviews than the rest.

Winner: Hostelbookers
Easy to use and search, large selection of Hostels with plenty of reviews. Extra features like Streetview, and the fact that it is usually cheaper than the runner-up helps it grab the top spot. It provided the most reviews for our selected hostel, and listed slightly more Hostels for Bucharest than the runner-up. We have chosen to affiliate with and advertise Hostelbookers for these reasons.

Runner Up: Hostelworld
Easy to use, lots of reviews etc, and additional features like its amenities filter. However, it does apply a service charge. Although it didn't list as many hostels for Bucharest, or as many hostel reviews as the winner, it did list slightly more results for all types of accommodation i.e. including camping, B&B etc.

Hostelling International only lists its own hostels, but there is a slim chance that it may list a hostel not included by the above. So it is worth trying if you cannot find an available bed in the area you are visiting through our recommended booking sites.



Review Summary (Group Booking)


Caveat: this recommendation is based on the sites own descriptions of their group booking services - I do not have personal experience.

Winner: Depending on requirements either Hostelbookers or Hostelling International.

Hostelbookers appears the best: 24 hour response, catering for any type of group. Hostelbookers Group Enquiry Form allows you to specify detailed requirements.

Educational/Youth Groups: My gut feeling is that Hostelling International's members long involvement with Youth Hostelling will mean that some of its hostels are geared up for these types of group. They will get back to you within 48 hours of your enquiry. However, you have to specify a specific hostel in your enquiry. As Hostelbookers includes many (most?) HI hostels in its inventory, you might be better of enquiring (by city) through them, as they may be able to make a more informed choice than you as to which HI or other hostel is most suitable.


Booking Sites: results of tests


Hostelbookers (our Best Hostel Booking Website award)


Test Results:
Listings: Bucharest Hostels: 16  All Accommodation:61 e.g. campsites,B&B
Reviews for Butterfly Villa: 63
Total Cost: €10.09  $Yes £Yes

Winner. It's easy to use, meets all the above criteria for large informative hostel database, sortability, and maps.

Additional Features: A novel but brilliant idea. Under maps and directions it also displays Google Streetview (where available). Having experience of trying to find hostels in strange cities, I know how useful a mental picture of the street location would be.

Price: No service charge; unlike the other large inventory booking sites meeting our criteria. Independent research by Reed Business Insight indicated it was on average 8.7% cheaper than Hostelworld, its closest rival. Hostelbookers also a offer a price promise.

Group Booking (10+ people): You can enter any number of people when doing a hostel search. However, Hostelbookers can also custom arrange accommodation for any type of group (including junior school, college, sport, stag, hen etc). Complete the Hostelbookers Group Enquiry Form with your requirements and they will get back to you within 24 hours.


Hostelworld   (Runner-Up)


Test Results:
Listings: Bucharest Hostels: 12, All Accommodation: 64
Reviews for BV: 59
Total Cost: €11.50  $Yes £Yes

Runner Up. Meets all our sort, map, information and review criteria. My previous favourite. The site was redesigned in Aug(?) 2010, and I didn't like the changes, although on this revisit, I still found it easy to use.

Additional Features: You can filter your results to only list hostels offering particular amenities e.g. luggage storage. This can sometimes save you time the time of checking a hostel's details for the amenity (but in the case of Bucharest all 12 hostels listed offered luggage storage anyway). This ability to filter was one of the reasons this site used to be my favourite, however, most hostels now seem to provide the facilities I require so filtering would not normally save me time.

Price: Hostelworld charges a booking fee (US$2/£1 etc).

Group Booking: Hostelworld have a Booking Form for Groups which enables you to quickly check Hostel Availability for different types of group and age range. Because it is automated you can see results imediately, however because of the lack of human involvement you cannot specify requirements.


Hostelz.com

Test Results:
Listings: Bucharest Hostels: 18, All Accommodation: 18
Reviews for BV: 14
Total Cost: €10.09  $Yes £Yes

Since I last checked the ability to sort has been added, however it still does not provide an interactive map.

It had a lot less reviews than the above for BV and the majority were dated 2005 or 2006 - in my opinion out of date. Other sites appear to remove old reviews (my 2006 review no longer appears on Hostelworl or Hostelbookers - whichever I used).

Duplicates: search results for Bucharest included both "Central Hostel" and "Central Hostel Bucharest". These were not listed next to each other, had different wording and pictures - but the same address. So you could waste time reading details and reviews for the same hostel.

Additional Features: Hostelz obtains its inventory from other booking sites, and because of this claims twice as many listings as other databases. It did list 2 more hostels than the next best (Hostelbookers); but far less than other sites when campsites and B&Bs were included (see test results above).

Price: Hostelz does not have its own inventory but compares prices from 4(?) booking sites (including the 2 above) and should be best for price. I am a fan of comparison sites and recommend them for flights and hotels; but because of the niggles I can't do the same for hostel booking. However, Hostelz.com has a lot of potential and earns 3rd place.

Group Booking: Hostelz.com provide an enquiry form offering 3,300 destinations, and 7 day customer support. Hostelz.com does not have its own inventory, and checking the description of the booking service, it looks like it may be provided by Hostelbookers. If this is the case, it shouldn't be a problem (our site also has similar arrangements with companies that provide best value). You should get the same level of service and price whether whether you complete the enquiry form on Hostelz or Hostelbookers (see above); and I agree with Hostelz choice of partner for this service.


Hostels.com

Test Results:
Listings: Bucharest Hostels: 12, All Accommodation: 59
Reviews for BV: 7
Total Cost: €11.50  $Yes £Yes

Has map, can sort, some reviews. A useful site, but it lacks the number of reviews and additional features offered by the sites above.

Hostels.Com is owned by Web Reservations International (the owners of Hostelworld).

Price: Service Charge (€1.50/£1/$ etc)

Hostelsclub

Test Results:
Listings: Bucharest Hostels: 10, All Accommodation: 32
Reviews for BV: not listed
Total Cost: not listed  Euros only

Has map, can sort, some reviews. A useable site, but does not have the same range of hostels and reviews as the larger sites.

Additional Features: you can filter by facilities.

Price: €2 service charge. You can display prices in a variety of currencies, but it appears you have to pay in Euros.

Group Booking: states you can contact them if you can't find sufficient accommodation through their booking engine.


Gomio

Test Results:
Listings: Bucharest Hostels: 10, All Accommodation: 18
Reviews for BV: not listed
Total Cost: not listed $Yes £Yes €Yes

Has map, can sort, less accommodation offered than others, limited reviews, no booking fee.

Usability: the site appears to have very good search filtering options. However, I either do not understand them, or they have a mind of their own. I was left totally confused by the accommodation filter. It returned 10 results for Bucharest hostels and on the next day 0 - but they then appeared if you clicked all the accommodation filters. This applied to other cities as well e.g. the hostels filter listed other property types as well.

Price: no service charge.

Group Bookings: Has a group booking form, but does not indicate how quickly they will respond.


Hostel Traveler

Test Results:
Listings: Bucharest Hostels: 5, All Accommodation: 16
Reviews for BV: not listed
Total Cost: not listed $Yes £Yes €Yes
(test conducted 11 Dec 2011 for 2 nights 3rd Jan in Bucharest)

New to me 11 Dec 2011: on page one of Google claiming "While our friends at other hostel booking sites compete over who's cheaper, look no further. Hostel Traveler is the cheapest. Reserve with confidence with our ...". So I had to check it out, and compared it with Hostelbookers; searching for 2 nights in Bucharest for 3rd Jan 2012.

Hostel Traveler (HT) listed 5 hostels in its search results for this test; Hostelbookers (HB) listed 15. HT included one hostel not listed by HB; the other hostels were all significantly cheaper to book through HB for my selected date.

Usability: No problem searching or filtering in/out campsites, hotels etc.

Maps were provided on the details page for each hostel. However, I couldn't see an option to display an "all hostels map" on the search results page. On other sites these maps can help you quickly identify which of the hostels are best located for your needs.

In the test neither the search results page nor the hostel details pages displayed customer review ratings; this may be because Hostel Traveler does not currently have any reviews for Bucharest. There is a "reviews" button at the top right of the page, this takes you to a new page and appears to display all reviews by city (for Bucharest, one review - for a hotel).

Price: Hostel Traveler's home page claims it is cheaper than HostelWorld, Hostelbookers etc. In my test(details above) I compared it with Hostelbookers. Both sites have a price promise (with usual caveats); neither site charges a booking fee. Hostel Traveler was at least 30% more expensive. Happy Hostel: Hostelbookers €6, Hosteltraveler €10 | Hostel Litovi: HB €8.76, HT €12 | Friends Hostel: HB €7.80 HT €11 | Midland Youth Hostel: HB €8.00 HT €14.00 (prices per person per night). I also checked Hostelling International, for the same date, and it was also cheaper (by a few cents) for the one hostel they both listed.

Group Bookings: I couldn't see any reference to group booking on the home page.


Hostelling International

In some ways it is unfair to compare it with the other hostel bookers in this test because it only lists its own HI hostels (3 in our test). Most of these (including all 3 for Bucharest) are also listed by other booking sites, so for a greater choice use one the above for your hostel search. However: I have sometimes found that the only hostel (or the only one with beds available) in an area, has been an HI Hostel, so if I cannot find a hostel through Hostelbookers, or Hostelworld then my next step is to try the Hostelling International site.

A plus for HI is that all its listed hotels must comply with these minimum standards. That said, the HI hostels I have stayed at (although not the worst) have never been the best (the ones I stayed in were large and, I thought, impersonal).

Edit: As I was adding Hostel Traveler to the review I also revisited HI because I hadn't reported on its prices. For 3 Jan 2012 it listed 3 hostels. One was 12km away in Otopeni; another was unavailable for any date (other hostel booking sites had availability). This left Friends Hostel €9 p.n (+ a one off booking fee of €1.76), Hostelbookers price was €7.80.

On the plus side its hostel in Otopeni was not listed by other sites under either location.

If you are on a gap year (whichever hostel booking site you use) consider HI Membership. I found it often saved be taking out temporary membership at some HI Hostels and filling in additional registration forms.

Group Bookings: Despite the limited range, it is probably the best choice for educational groups (it has close ties to national Youth Hostel Associations with a long history handling school groups). You have to select a specific hostel on the enquiry form; you will be contacted within 48hrs to discuss your requirements.

Our winner and runner-up hostel bookers stand out from the crowd, and should be your first choice to search for and book hostels.



Author: Andy W+
last updated: 11 Dec 2011 for Hostel Traveler and HI. For other content, see review and test date in the introduction.


As an alternative to booking a hostel, you could try working for your board, or couch surfing (see our article). It may save you some money, on the downside, you lose out on flexibility, free time, and the social aspect of hostels (I have ended up travelling country to country with people I met at hostels).