Gone are the days when travel involved an appointment with a travel agent, a professional travel booker who held the keys to the mystery of airline reservations, hotels, car reservations, package deals, and attractions. The internet has changed travel planning in many ways. First, travel is more common, more frequent, and the internet allows travelers to make last-minute decisions in just a few clicks. It also gives travelers the option of doing their own research, looking at photos of destination properties and services, reading user reviews, and changing or adjusting their schedules as necessary. This is convenient, but for many years this style of travel planning shifted a lot of weight onto the travelers to read between the lines on hotel sites, cross their fingers that the car rental company they picked was reputable, and navigate sometimes-complex rules and conditions of airline reservation services. The advent of travel planning sites, where many of these features are combined on one website that connects all of the pieces of travel planning, research, and booking together, has simplified the process of planning a business trip or a getaway.
Booking.com is one of the most comprehensive travel booking sites in the market. Its offerings are vast, and the interface makes it simple for both inexperienced travelers and seasoned jetsetters to make their travel arrangements without the hassle of navigating multiple sites and coordinating payments across multiple platforms. I approached this Booking.com review through the lens of a customer and evaluated the customer’s journey in using the site.
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Our Verdict: Booking.com claims to offer a complete suite of travel research and service reservations, and with a few minor exceptions, this proved to be the case. “Bookers,” as the site refers to its customers, can feel confident that the resources they need can be easily found and that Booking.com will genuinely offer the one-stop-shopping experience it promises.
- Types of rentals: Entire home, hotel room
- Number of listings: Not specified
- Mobile app: iOS, Android
- Cancellation policy: Determined by host
- Customer support: Phone, live chat
- Guests can book flights, cars, airport transportation, and vacation rentals at the same time
- Guests can book experiences through the site
- Travel Sustainable badge awarded to eco-friendly rentals
- No background check performed on hosts
- Many rentals require guest to pay host directly
- Fewer reviews available than on other sites
Booking.com began as a small start-up in Amsterdam in 1996. Since then, it has expanded to include more than 28 million accommodation listings, transportation, and travel experiences. The company’s stated mission is to “make it easier for everyone to experience the world.”
Branding itself as a source of savings and discounts, connections with travelers who have similar interests, package deals, and inspirations, Booking.com promises quite a lot. The home page also provides myriad ways to enter the site, with a stripe of category offerings, a quick-start option to jump right in by specifying the destination and basic travel deals, searches by region and property type, and links to lists of can’t-miss destinations for travelers who know they want a vacation, but don’t know where.
What You Can Book on Booking.com
Booking.com offers access to almost everything except the kitchen sink—and travelers can probably book one of those, as well, if they choose the right property. Categories include flights, hotels, “stays” (rentals of privately owned apartments, homes, cabins, and cottages), car rentals, and every combination of these options. In addition, there are options to reserve airport taxis and tickets or passes to museums, shows, and attractions at the destination.
Flight options include all of the major airlines and quite a few smaller or regional airlines, and these can be sorted by airline, number of stops, duration, and a range of departure and arrival times. The flight results are sorted into groups titled “Best,” “Cheapest,” and “Fastest” so travelers can customize their flight choices.
Lodging options feature a similar search window including check-in and check-out days, location with neighborhood-specific choices, the number of guests, and the number of rooms requested. As with the flight search, there’s a range of filters available to help customers tailor the search to their needs. Filter examples include budget, amenities, distance to attractions, sustainability, health and safety protocols, accessibility, and both site-assigned star ratings and customer review ratings.
The rental car reservation system carries over the travel dates from the flight and hotel reservations if the customer has entered them. Customers can select their preferred car rental company and size of the car, and filter by cost, mileage, and transmission type. Reviews and star ratings of the companies are included in the search results, as are specifics of the payment policies and cancellation policies. Once customers have selected a car, Booking.com breaks down the cost of the rental, separating out the cost of the rental itself and various taxes and fees. Customers are offered the opportunity to choose or decline additional insurance coverage as well.
Booking.com’s Airport Taxi reservation system connects users with local taxi drivers to avoid a long delay waiting in line after a flight. According to the reservation page, a driver will be assigned to the booking, track the flight in real time, and arrive at the designated location shortly thereafter. Customers can select the size of the vehicle (the search page includes the number of people and the number of suitcases each vehicle can handle), add notes about any additional needs (child seats, assistance needed for passenger accessibility), and add a tip for the driver. Booking the taxi locks in a predetermined cost for the trip, and customers can opt to book a return trip at the same time or wait to do so until later in their travel.
Local attraction tickets and passes can be purchased or reserved through Booking.com as well. Customers can enter their destination and view a list of local museums, parks, theaters, tourist attractions, and activities. Selecting one of the options reveals a page including details, reviews, cancellation conditions, and maps, and a selection option for the date, time (if applicable), and number of tickets. The descriptions also include any visitor requirements and limitations of the location, along with accessibility compliance and public transit options.
Finally, Booking.com includes a link for customers who would like to list its properties as rental “stay” options for other Booking.com customers.
How It Works
Booking.com provides several menus for customers to choose from on the landing page. Customers select the combination of services they’d like to book (more can be added later) and work their way through the search screens, filtering results, reading through options, saving favorites, and eventually adding the services they want to a cart and checking out.
For customers who aren’t quite ready to book their travel, the site also offers a range of researched guides to choosing destinations. Customers can click into areas that interest them to read more about the location, learn more about the neighborhoods in which they can stay, and read commentary about local traditions and customs.
International customers (or domestic customers traveling internationally) will appreciate that Booking.com allows users to select their preferred language and currency. Once selected, these choices remain consistent on each page until they’re changed
Cost and Discounts
Booking.com’s reference page explains how its service works, how it approves contracts with travel companies, and how it makes money. No booking fees are charged to the customer, but the hosts and travel companies pay a commission to Booking.com after the travel has been completed.
Booking.com offers several up-front ways to save money. The first is a free Booking.com account, which enables customers to save their searches, their favorites, and their travel plans, and—most importantly—automatically get a percentage off all travel booked through the site. There are several “Genius Levels”: the more you use Booking.com, the more perks and discounts you get on your next trips.
The membership is also described as the gateway to “Secret Deals,” indicating that in addition to the automatic percentage off the cost of travel, members will have access to special discount deals as they become available. Such discounts will be marked with a logo once the customer has signed in and begun a search.
Regardless of whether a customer is a member or not, Booking.com offers packages called “Getaway Deals.” These deals provide unusually discounted rates on hotels, if the travel is booked between specific dates.
Beyond its branded discounts, Booking.com provides customers with tools within the individual search functions to compare the costs of the same travel through different airlines, different hotel chains, and different rental car companies to assist customers in choosing the best deal for their travel.
Cancellation or Travel Adjustments
Cancellation and adjustment terms at Booking.com are based on the policies of the individual companies with whom the customer is making a reservation through Booking.com. This means that in some cases customers may be able to cancel or reschedule a booking at no cost until a certain date, after which a cancellation fee will be incurred. In other cases, the reservation may be held with a credit card but not actually charged until the travel occurs and can be canceled at any time. And in some cases the travel cannot be canceled at all, and customers will be charged the full price even if they do not complete the trip. These policies are not set by Booking.com, but the company boasts of its transparency in communicating the policies to the customer in a clear way to avoid confusion.
Customer service is accessible through the question-mark icon located in the top banner on the Booking.com landing page. It appears in other locations, too, wherever there may be additional information available or needed. Customer service information can also be found in a text link at the bottom of each page. Service is available 24/7 to assist before, during, or after travel.
How can the company help if there’s a problem? Booking.com has a contract with each of its service providers. If there’s a problem and a host can’t provide a customer with the accommodations or travel that was purchased, it is the responsibility of the host to find alternate and equivalent accommodation. In the event that this is impossible, Booking.com will allow the customer to choose another accommodation or service that is available on its platform at the same cost, or cancel the reservation with a full refund. If payment was made through Booking.com, the company will refund the customer directly, usually within 5 days. If payment was made directly to the service provider, Booking.com will facilitate a refund as quickly as possible. The company has removed service providers who were in breach of their contract, so it takes this commitment seriously.
In order to evaluate Booking.com as a service, I planned a trip from Chicago to Washington, D.C., for a family of four. As I’m familiar with this particular trip, I was able to evaluate Booking.com’s claims and service from an experienced perspective, and I was pleased to discover that planning my travel through Booking.com resulted in some savings. More importantly, the centralization of the reservations services in one location made the planning easier and smoother than jumping around to many different sites and trying to keep track of where I’d looked versus where I’d booked something. Anyone who reviews booking websites knows that the accompanying app is just as important as the site, and Booking.com’s app is smooth as silk—which is crucial to easier travel. Nobody sprints through an airport logging into their laptop to check a flight time, and so the fact that all my reservations are in one place on my phone, ready to be flashed for admission, took a lot of stress out of travel.
Site Navigation and Experience
I used Booking.com to arrange flights, a rental car, a hotel, and several activities. My first impression of the site was that it was bright, colorful, and easy to navigate. A simple row of clickable links offered to take me directly to the product I wanted to search for, and while I didn’t need currency conversion or an additional language, I appreciated how easy it was to make those changes right at the top of the page. The site can be translated into about 45 different languages, so Booking.com is friendly to international travelers or speakers of other languages. As there are a lot of details, terms, and conditions to read carefully when booking travel, the easy option to read in other languages signals that the site welcomes a wide variety of customers and wants speakers of other languages to be able to scrutinize the policies.
Also in the top row is a link to customer service; this is noteworthy because many sites bury the contact information at the bottom of a long scroll down a page. Clicking the question mark at the very top will take customers to either a live chat or telephone option for contacting customer service, which is available 24 hours a day. I’m always happy to see this kind of availability, because I’m concerned that companies who hide their contact information don’t really want to hear from their customers. At first glance, the highlighted bar urging customers to sign in to contact customer service suggests that customers can’t get help without creating an account, but a quick refocus away from the highlighted bar shows that there’s also an option to continue without signing in. However, that option is only available for customers who have already booked travel—you’ll need a booking confirmation number and PIN. That’s fine for those who have questions after they’ve booked, but it does mean that anyone who needs to contact customer service before a purchase will have to register.
Booking.com really, really wants you to sign up for an account. It’s free and requires only an email address and password to create—or customers can choose to connect with Google, Facebook, Apple, or a phone. Scrolling up and down pages or opening the app, customers are reminded again and again that there are better deals, bargains, and percentages off if they sign up for an account. The pressure to sign up is fairly continuous until you choose to do so: reminders about deals, savings, and the convenience of tracking your travel in one place are quite convincing, but after the first few notices it begins to feel a little high-pressure. What if I just want to shop around for a bit before I hand over my email to yet another mailing list? The bottom of the screen notes that California residents have the option to click a box preventing Booking.com from selling their information. It’s common knowledge that email address information is bought and sold all the time, but the question of what other information will be sold or tracked is a little unsettling.
Finding the Best Deal
When shopping for a package, Booking.com first guided me to the search for a hotel. I chose the wider D.C. area because we planned to stay for a week, and a quick search revealed that downtown D.C. hotels are more expensive during the business week. I chose filters including free breakfast (which is a great value when traveling with a family), free internet access, a pool, and free parking for our rental car. The free parking isn’t a perk to overlook, and it’s an outstanding search feature that not all travel sites offer. Parking at a hotel can be a significant cost: Another hotel nearby was charging $50 per day to park in the attached lot, so the fact that Booking.com allows customers to filter out hotels that require those charges is a great cost-saver. Because we know the D.C. area well, we planned to use the rental car on some days and mass transit on others, so paying to park at the hotel and for street parking wherever we were on that day would have been cost-prohibitive.
I selected a Residence Inn by Marriott in Silver Spring, Maryland, as it met my filter requirements and included a microwave and refrigerator—nice touches when staying away from home for a week. Booking.com listed the cancellation policy as free if the reservation was canceled by May 1, but it offered the option of paying an additional $208 to leave the option open to cancel before May 31, just 3 days before my planned travel. Especially when traveling with a group where a member might get sick or suddenly have a change of plans, the free cancellation period and option for an extension of that period is welcome. The photos of the hotel are bright and clear, and while like all online hotel photos they’re pristine, they do offer views of all the parts of the room you’d want to see when choosing a place to stay: the bathroom, beds, kitchenette, storage areas, and communal spaces. They’re enough to see that the space has been updated fairly recently and that the room is large enough for our party’s needs. I clicked “Book now!” and was immediately taken to the available flights.
Because I selected a Flight+Hotel package, the cost per person/total trip cost shown on the hotel screen is the total package cost—if I select the “Recommended” flight on the next screen.
The flight selection page is quite clear-cut. There are filter boxes to narrow down the number of stops or layovers, sliders to set ranges for takeoff and landing times, and an option to narrow down the airlines offered. Because I selected nonstop flights only, the options were limited to American Airlines, Delta Airlines, Spirit Airlines, and United Airlines. Each flight combination listed the airline, the package discount savings, the length of the flights, and the additional cost per person if I selected a flight other than the one Booking.com recommended as the best value. As I know that the chance of getting my family onto a plane in Chicago at 6 a.m. is slim at best, I was very pleased to see that many of the other options would only add between $5 and $10 per person to the cost, though some of the other combinations would add $40 and up per person.
Then, a snag. The Washington, D.C., area has three major airports, including Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA), Dulles International Airport (IAD), and Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI). Having chosen a hotel in Silver Spring, Maryland, I realized that the drive from Dulles would be long, and that BWI is only about 25 minutes from the hotel. Noting that the options provided by Booking.com did not include any flights to or from BWI, I clicked the button to edit the trip details, changed the destination airport to BWI, and clicked Go. Booking.com took me to a screen to confirm my hotel choice, then recalculated quickly. The only problem is that the “Recommended” flight to keep my full package discount was still a flight to and from Dulles. Several more options were to and from DCA (which is closer to Silver Spring than Dulles, but not…close). The first flight listed that would fly in and out of BWI, as I requested, would add $9 per person and would depart Chicago at 5:15 a.m. The next option for BWI (and the only workable one for us, timewise) would add a whopping $32 per person to the package price. While it makes sense for Booking.com to choose the least-expensive flights to make up package deals—and the 6 a.m. flights certainly qualify—I was disappointed that there wasn’t really a selection of options to the airport closest to where I wanted to fly. In the end, I adjusted the search and limited it to DCA, splitting the distance, and chose a well-timed departure from Chicago to DCA that will add only $5 per person to our package cost. The package will save me $826 over the cost of booking the flight and hotel separately, so I’ll overlook the fact that the return flight will leave DCA at 6 a.m. after all. Here’s hoping there’s lots of coffee to go at the free hotel breakfast! If not, Booking.com tells me I’ll have a coffee pot in my room for caffeination.
The confirmation page shows the full package price, total savings, and details. It features clickable buttons to change the hotel, the room, the flights, or to upgrade the flight to Economy Fully Refundable tickets for an additional $50 per person. Just below, the screen confirms that I have a standard SUV included in the package with unlimited mileage from Avis, or I can switch to Hertz and get a larger SUV for an extra $2 per day.
On one hand, it’s fantastic that customers can make all these adjustments from the confirmation page, rather than having to backtrack through all the individual screens. On the other hand, the number of “click here to change or upgrade” options are a little overwhelming. For anyone who is decision-averse or prone to overthinking, the confirmation page simply offers too many options—it feels as though you could easily miss an important decision. Also, several times when I tried editing the trip at this stage, the dates I had entered for travel changed suddenly from June 2/June 9 to June1/June 8. Perhaps this is a software glitch, but you’ll want to double-check your dates before booking.
In case the package price is stunning, Booking.com provides an option to finance the cost through Affirm, a reputable company that assists customers in spreading out payments for large purchases over several months.
Purchasing the Package
Before payment, a screen requires the entry of each passenger’s name, gender, and date of birth. Airlines require that passengers report a gender when purchasing tickets, but most major airlines have added nonbinary gender options to their booking procedures, as several states are now adding to their state-issued identification cards. At the time of this review, Booking.com was only offering the options of male and female, but as the industry shifts toward more inclusive options, perhaps that will also change.
The payment page is clear and straightforward: Billing.com accepts Visa, Mastercard, American Express, and Discover, or customers can spread out payments with Affirm. It’s a little disappointing that PayPal, Venmo, and other online payment services aren’t accepted, though. Since many people are moving away from traditional credit cards in favor of online services, this is a limitation, but including Affirm is a good indication that this site is paying attention to trends in payment options. Throughout the checkout process, the travel itinerary is running down the right-hand side of the screen, which is a helpful reminder for those of us who tend to panic a little just before hitting the “Purchase” button.
Before I clicked that Purchase button, however, I stopped and created a Booking.com account. And guess what? The rates on some hotels and flights definitely dropped, and not insignificantly. The Genius Deals, which are flagged with blue labels, and the Secret Deals, which are flagged in green, offered beautiful hotels closer in to the city, though not on my travel dates and not including some of the amenities I selected. Some packages offered truly significant savings. Unfortunately, the price of the package I had chosen only dropped from $879 per person to $874 per person—a small savings over a week-long stay in exchange for my email address and some personal data. In addition, the free cancellation date on the hotel shifted forward to June 1, a date that nonmembers can only access for an additional $208. However, the same flights I booked for an extra $5 per person as a nonmember were listed as the Recommended flights for the package as a member, so there were savings on that front as well.
But at What Cost?
What was troubling in this experience was how difficult it was to replicate the costs. I built the same package (same dates, same hotel and flights, same car) and found different prices each time. The structure of the total cost changed—sometimes the hotel was less costly in one build but the flights were more—always ending with a total package price that was very similar to the other attempts. This is a bit confusing for customers trying to shop and compare costs, but it may be explained by shifting demands at the hotels and airlines in real time. The true benefit of membership appears to be the deals and packages that are offered as Genius and Getaway Deals, as opposed to an overall discount on all travel purchases.
While we won’t be using one, I checked out the option to reserve an Airport Taxi. Booking.com is clearly taking on Uber and Lyft with this service, and it’s a great option. Travelers can choose the size of the vehicle that will pick them up, request special services such as child seats, assistance for passengers who may need help getting in and out of the vehicle, and other amenities. Entering the flight number allows the driver to track the flight’s progress and arrive for pickup at precisely the correct time, and the price is preset in the booking and can be paid ahead. The service appears to be extremely convenient and well thought out.
And don’t forget the option to purchase tickets and passes to activities and destinations during travel! The Attractions tab provides a huge range of activities, including walking and bus tours, private tours, dinner cruises, and interactive scavenger hunts. Most of the museums in Washington, D.C., are free, but quite a few companies offer guided tours that can be purchased through Booking.com. The Attractions tab in other locations includes museum entry tickets, theater tickets, and entrance to other destinations. Your account will keep a record of your itinerary, and you can use the Booking.com app to show the purchased tickets or print them before you leave.
How Helpful Is Customer Service?
I used the online contact form to ask a question about child seat booking with an Airport Taxi. I sent the question at 9:10 on a Monday evening and received an email in response in less than 10 minutes, directing me cheerfully to the taxi-specific contact form or inviting me to call the taxi hotline. While navigating to the taxi help area (which I had not previously seen) by clicking the link included in the email, I found the answer to my question in an extensive FAQ section. When they say that customer service is available 24 hours a day, they mean it. It is enormously reassuring to know that when traveling you’ll have a person to talk to or a prompt response if you have a question, a concern, or something has gone wrong.
For Your Information…
In addition to booking travel, Booking.com serves as a repository of useful information for travelers.
- TravelTalk is an online community of travelers sharing information, answering each other’s questions, and sharing experiences, which is hosted on Booking.com’s site.
- Links to local governments with information about the culture, traditions, and travel considerations is especially useful for those traveling overseas.
- A helpful page provides health information for travelers, including the requirements and restrictions on traveling to and from international destinations.
- A banner directs those who are fleeing danger or violence to links that can help them, providing an outstanding (and free) public service.
Overall, Booking.com was a pleasant experience and left me feeling as though I’d done solid research, chosen from excellent options, and booked my travel in a time-and cost-effective manner. I especially like that one website will have all my travel plans in one location; the app is also very streamlined and will be much more convenient to use while traveling than digging through emails looking for confirmation numbers and flight times.
While there were some glitches, including flight times that seemed incomplete, the randomly switching travel dates, and the inability to replicate a package cost, overall the pricing is reasonable and the interface is good. The membership offers a clear benefit if you’re not locked into travel dates or specific locations—you can really save a lot of money there.
Customer reviews are decidedly mixed. Reviewers at Consumer Affairs average 3.2 out of 5 stars, with excellent ratings citing easy and clear booking procedures, outstanding customer service, and great accommodation options. Poor reviews at Consumer Affairs, sitejabber, TrustPilot, and the Better Business Bureau all seem to zero in on problems with cancellations and refunds. Customers who are more comfortable communicating in Spanish can search for “Booking.com reseñas” and find similar results. Reviewers felt there was a disconnect in the chain between the service provider, Booking.com, and the customer, and sometimes lengthy delays or refusals of refunds. This type of complaint appears to be common among travel service platforms; other booking reviews indicate the same kind of problems exist throughout the industry. Some of the complaints were simply a result of the customer misreading or failing to read one of Booking.com’s policies, while others were valid concerns. To its credit, every complaint on the Better Business Bureau’s website included a prompt response from Booking.com’s customer service team either explaining the policy decision, requesting more information to begin an investigation, or apologizing for a mishandled situation.
Compared to other travel platforms, reserving travel on Booking.com was equal or slightly less expensive. While some competitors had more offerings, especially when choosing flights, Booking.com’s interface was smoother and easier to navigate, and the fact that the costs listed as a customer moves through the process include taxes and fees is helpful when making choices. Other platforms don’t always include this information, so a customer could blithely plan an entire trip, then get to the final confirmation page and discover hundreds or thousands of dollars in additional fees and taxes.
Including the nontraditional lodgings and professional hosts alongside large hotels and resorts was a strong move to compete with popular companies such as Airbnb and Vrbo, and incorporating the taxi reservation system into the complete travel platform at Booking.com keeps all the travel arrangements in one place, rather than customers needing to remember to call an Uber or Lyft. The services themselves are similar, but by centralizing travel planning into one platform online or through the app, Booking.com has made it easy for customers to keep everything together.
Should You Use Booking.com?
Is the website a little busy? Sure. But many people will like the callouts and bold colors and enjoy the different services they emphasize. Are there some “glitches” in the site? Here and there. Booking.com is a great option that will help you shop for, select, reserve, and centralize your transportation, lodging, and activities during travel. It’s important to make sure that customers don’t blow off the Terms and Conditions and just click the box—many, if not most, of the customer complaints focused on disagreements over cancellation, reschedule, and refund policies, so it’s critical to understand them before booking.
Booking.com’s platform takes a task that many people find frustrating and makes it enjoyable. It’s easier to get excited about planning a vacation when there aren’t 30 tabs open in two browsers as the travelers try to compare hotel rooms, airfare, and activities—Booking.com does it in just one tab, and does it well.
We independently reviewed this service by weighing the company’s claims against first-hand experience with its site and professionals. However, due to factors such as franchising, human error, and more, please note that experiences with this company may vary.