Finding cheap accommodation while travelling helps you make the most of your trip. By knowing the best place to book hostels, you can maximise your travel budget, extend your adventure and ensure your hard-earned money goes towards amazing experiences rather than just sleeping!
Every member of the South East Asia Backpacker has booked countless nights in budget accommodation, so we know a thing or two about finding the cheapest beds. And today, we’re going to break down how and where to find the best deals on hostels. Plus, we’ll compare the best hostel booking sites and offer some alternatives to the most popular booking platforms!
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Related: (links open in a new tab)
- Step By Step Southeast Asia Trip Planning Guide
- The Best Hostels In Southeast Asia
- Southeast Asia Itineraries – Something For Everyone!
Hostel Booking Sites
The two biggest players for finding cheap hostels are Hostelworld and Booking.com. However, they’re not the only options. In certain parts of the world, other booking platforms dominate. For example, when it comes to booking budget accommodation in Southeast Asia, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better option than Agoda!
Plus there are a ton of smaller sites as well as hostel price comparison websites. Comparison sites don’t allow you to book a hostel directly but send you to the cheapest place to do so.
- Specialise in Asia
- Amazing rewards program
- Thousands of properties listed
- Specialise in hostels
- Easy-to-use app
- Thousands of hostels all over the world
Pros and Cons of Using These Booking Platforms
- Good deals
- Loyalty programs
- Save time and effort
- Accommodation providers have to give up around 15% of their revenue
- More money going to large international companies instead of small independent hostels
Booking Hostels Direct
As well as using hostel booking sites, it’s almost always worth checking a hostel’s own website, or contacting them directly. Often, hostels don’t put all their beds on booking sites and there’s a good chance they offer a reduced price to book with them direct. This is because the booking sites charge a commission to the hostel for each booking made – this can be as much as 15% in some cases!
By booking direct, both you and the hostel get a better deal. You’ll often get a slightly cheaper bed and they don’t need to give up 15% of their earnings!
As well as this, hostels sometimes reward guests for booking direct. This can any manner of things, including a more personalised service, free upgrades, discounted drinks or a free breakfast.
Of course, there are some hostels which don’t have a direct booking option. This is especially true in places like Southeast Asia or South America, where only a small number of hostels have websites or English-speaking staff able to respond to emails and deal with bookings.
- Specialise in Southeast Asia
- Great rewards program
- Deals sell out fast
- Not the best customer support
Agoda isn’t always the first site travellers consider when looking for cheap hostels – their primary focus has always been higher-end hotels and guesthouses. However, the Singapore-based company lists plenty of budget backpacker hostels. And while they have properties from all over the world, they specialise in Asia. Many hostels, hotels and guesthouses in Southeast Asia only list their properties on Agoda, so it’s always worth checking!
If you’re specifically looking for hostels, you need to select hostels in the filters. This will remove everything else from the listings.
Agoda is owned by the same company that owns Booking and the website layout is very similar. The filters are simple to use and you can sort the listings via price, ratings or distance from notable landmarks. It’s worth noting that much like Booking, the listings are displayed with the top commission-paying partners at the top – you might need to do some searching to find the best deals for you!
Unlike Hostelworld, Agoda has amazing loyalty schemes – yes schemes, there’s more than one running at any one time!
The first is Agoda VIP. This is much like Booking’s loyalty program in which you unlock discounts the more you use the site. At the highest tier (VIP Platinum) you’re eligible for 25% discounts and free perks such as breakfast at certain properties!
Then there’s Agoda Cash. This works like a loyalty points system. You earn Agoda Cash for stays at eligible properties, then you can spend the cash on stays at other hotels, hostels or guesthouses on Agoda. You’ll need to spend the points in the same year you earned them as they get reset at the end of December.
There’s also a Deals and Coupons section on the website which gives you access to all the current deals running on Agoda.
- Specialist hostel booking platform
- Thousands of properties across the world
- Easy-to-use app
- Hostels don't tend to list all their availability
- No loyalty program
When it comes to booking budget accommodation, Hostelworld know a thing or two. Specialising in connecting customers with the world’s best hostels, this platform is a favourite among hardcore backpackers and weekend trippers alike.
Hostelworld features thousands of hostels across 180 countries, offering the largest selection of backpacker-friendly accommodation on the internet! It doesn’t stop there though, they also list hotels, guesthouses and B&B’s if that’s more your thing.
The Hostelworld website is slick and easy to use – although, it’s very unforgiving of typos in the search bar! The clean user interface and simple filters allow you to choose the most suitable place for you and the site displays loads of information about each hostel. Unlike other booking platforms, the list of available hostels doesn’t display in order of commission payouts. It’s purely based on ratings or what filter you select.
In the spirit of backpacking, Hostelworld pride themselves on customer interaction. They have millions of vetted reviews for the properties listed and have just launched a social media element to their app. If you opt in, this allows you to interact with other travellers who have booked stays in the same hostel before you arrive!
And, because the reviews are generally from backpackers, it means they’re super relevant to other backpackers!
The biggest downside of Hostelworld is that they don’t display hostels with no availability for your chosen dates. While on the surface this seems useful, it’s worth noting that due to Hostelworld’s 15% commission fee, a lot of hostels don’t put all their availability on Hostelworld – in fact, some only put a tiny percentage on there. Recently, there’s been a push of hostels removing themselves from Hostelworld completely, so while it’s still the largest hostel booking platform available, that might not be the case forever. This means that you could be missing out on some amazing locations if you only use Hostelworld – check across other platforms too!
- Super easy user interface
- Loads of properties listed across the world
- Genius Rewards program
- Website opens a ton of windows all the time
- Part of a huge international conglomerate
- Not the best customer support
Booking are the largest player in the accommodation booking game. The site is available in 43 languages and they have a massive global presence with properties listed in almost every country. Hostels aren’t their mainstay but they still feature thousands across their platform. You can also book hotels, car rental, tours and airport transfers through their site or app.
The website is easy to use, allowing you to filter out everything that isn’t a hostel with just one click. You can organise hostels by price, rating, distance from city centre and total reviews. It’s also easy to filter out hostels that don’t have the amenities or facilities that you’re looking for. If you’re set on a swimming pool, home cinema or games room, you can remove all properties without them!
Due to their huge customer base, most properties listed on Booking have a bunch of reviews, so you can see what other people say about the hostel before you book. They also provide an excellent reward program which allows regular customers to get a 10-15% discount on eligible stays.
Booking claim to have 24/7 customer support but they’re not easy to get hold of if you need help. Don’t rely on them to be able to sort out any issues. They’re notorious for ignoring upset customers. It’s also worth noting that as standard, accommodation options are listed by the amount of money Booking earn from each sale – bear this in mind and ensure you’ve used the ‘sort by’ menu to organise the list.
As a third-party site, booking cancellations are dealt with by the property, not Booking. This means you need to check the policy of the hostel rather than Booking’s policy before making your reservation.
Other Popular Hostel Booking Platforms
Hostels Club — This hostel booking site is elegant in its raw simplicity. The barebones nature of the site feels like a throwback to simpler days of hosteling. The site shows everything you need and nothing more. It’s not pretty but it’s functional and features thousands of hostels from around the world. Hostels Club feels like the next real challenger to Hostelworld but it has a little way to go yet.
Kayak — Predominantly used for booking flights, car hire and hotels, Kayak does feature some hostels. The user interface is nice and the site is easy to use. However, there is no filter option for just hostels, so you need to search through the listings to find them.
Hostelbookers — While Hostelbookers used to be Hostelworld’s main competitor, they were bought by the hostel booking giant and have since been shut down. Everything has been migrated over to Hostelworld.
Priceline — Priceline were one of the first online accommodation booking agents. They specialised in cheap deals for their customers. Over time, the Priceline family grew (and rebranded to Booking Holdings). It now includes Booking, Agoda and Kayak, as well as others. Hostels are available on Priceline but can be hard to find. Most listings are the same as Booking anyway.
Hostel Price Comparison Sites
Not all hostels are listed on all booking platforms, so how do you know you’re getting the best deal? Without digging around between every site, you don’t.
That’s where hostel price comparison sites come in. These allow you to search for hostels in a specific area and often display prices and booking options from different platforms.
Hostelz is the only price comparison site dedicated to hostels. It pulls prices and booking options from Booking, Hostelworld and Hostels Club to ensure you find the best deal from three of the biggest hostel booking platforms. However, Hostelz doesn’t pull data from a hostel’s own website. Which brings us to our next option, Google.
Simply search ‘hostels in insert place name here’ and Google will provide a list and map of hostels in the area. Google pulls data from many more sources than Hostelz, sometimes displaying booking options from up to ten different platforms, including a hostel’s own website if one is available.
Trip Advisor is also an option for comparing hostel prices. It works in much the same way as Google, displaying different booking options, prices and reviews. However, the platform is a bit clunkier and less intuitive than Google or Hostelz. Plus, if you’re logged in while searching, they insist on emailing you for months after searching!
What to Look for When Booking a Hostel
What Kind of Hostel Do You Want to Stay in?
Not all hostels are created equally. They range from cheap, grotty monstrosities to luxury experiences. Some are designed for revellers to party all night while others are built for groups of hikers or cyclists and often have curfews and a ton of rules. You can pretty much break hostels down into these categories:
- Traditional Youth Hostels — These are some of the earliest forms of hostels. They’re aimed at younger folks and often have upper age limits (usually somewhere around 25-30 years old). Youth Hostels are generally no frills affairs providing cheap beds, a place to cook and eat, as well as somewhere to hang out. You can expect them to be clean and functional.
- Bare-bones Hostels — These ‘gems’ are often the cheapest of the lot — a couple of dollars a bed kind of cheap. Don’t expect much. They’re often unclean, full of staff that don’t care and can be pretty intimidating places. Honestly, they’re worth avoiding most of the time but are fine in a pinch.
- Specialised Lifestyle Hostels — Lifestyle hostels are built with a purpose in mind. Whether you’re into yoga, surfing, cycling, climbing or hiking, you’ll find a hostel out there that specialises in your interests. They’re often in the best locations for your chosen activity and tend to offer classes, equipment hire and the opportunity to be surrounded by like-minded folk!
- Party Hostels — Let’s face it, backpackers have a reputation for partying. And that’s no more true than in a party hostel! If you’re in search of all-nighters, thumping music, drinking games and the odd hook up, these spots are for you! Expect cheap drinks and a buzzing social atmosphere! Party hostels aren’t for everyone but travellers who like them, really bloody like them!
- Social Hostels — Like good cyberpunk, a social hostel is hard to describe but you know it when you see it. While not an official designation, social hostels offer a chance for you to meet and hang out with other travellers. They tend to have comfortable communal spaces which encourage folk to interact, making them a great spot for solo travellers. While there may be a bar or alcohol on sale, these are not party hostels and you can still expect to get a decent night’s kip!
- Boutique Hostels — Also known as 5-star or luxury hostels, these options are contentious among old-school hostellers. Often with prices close to hotels and decor to match, there’s not a lot separating boutique hostels from their grown-up relatives. Boutique hostels can offer amazing luxury experiences and you’ll rarely regret staying in one but are they really hostels? You decide…
What Kind of Room Do You Want?
When we think of hostels, we tend to imagine 20+ bunk beds crammed into a dorm room. But that’s not always the reality. Many hostels offer varying-sized dorms from twenty beds down to three or four. It’s also common for hostels to offer private rooms of varying sizes, from singles all the way to rooms with six beds.
Some hostels offer ensuite rooms but don’t get too attached to this idea. Ensuite rooms aren’t always available and even when they are, the cost tends to be significantly higher per night!
Finally, depending on where in the world you are and the type of hostel you’re staying in, they may offer special rooms. Think glamping huts, tree houses, beach bungalows and other awesome locations! These tend to cost more and sell out fast but offer an amazing place to spend a few nights!
Keep an eye out to see what’s included at the hostel. Most hostels offer free Wi-Fi, kitchen access, bed linen and luggage storage for guests. Some offer breakfasts, towels, happy hour deals and potentially even a free drink on arrival.
Specialist lifestyle hostels may also offer free classes such as yoga or meditation. Party and social hostels may hold themed nights in communal areas. Dance classes, movie nights and quizzes are all popular choices!
As well as checking what’s included, you should look out for extra charges that a hostel can levy. In basic hostels, you may be charged for stuff as simple as bed linen — although this is less common than it used to be. Towels are often rented and it’s not uncommon to be charged for breakfast. Essentially, anything mentioned in the ‘What’s Included’ section above can also be charged for in some places.
Keep an eye on the terms and conditions as well as the property description for the hostel you’re looking at!
How to Pay
It’s always worth checking how the hostel wants you to pay for your stay. Do they want you to pay upfront or on arrival? Does the payment need to be made a few days before arrival, or as soon as you book? Always check so you don’t end up with your booking cancelled for failure to make payment on time!
If the hostel wants you to pay on arrival, do they accept cash, card or both? Make sure you’re armed with all the information you need to pay for your stay!
What’s the hostel’s cancellation policy? Is your room non-refundable or will they let you cancel until a few days before the stay? While we don’t recommend cancelling bookings unless you really can’t help it (this makes it harder for the hostel to resell your bed plus you’re likely to lose your deposit), it’s good to know your options, just in case you need to change your plans!
Cancellation policies can usually be found in a hostel’s terms and conditions or on their booking page.
Before booking a hostel, ensure you know their check-in times. In some parts of the world, hostels are very strict, not allowing anyone to enter the building until check-in begins — this is often from around 15:00 onwards. However, other parts of the world allow check-ins as soon as they have empty rooms. Just be sure you know the policy of the hostel you’re heading to. You don’t want to be left outside in the rain at 06:00 because you forgot to check!
If a hostel has a 24-hour reception, they may let you drop off your bags or hang around in the communal areas even if you can’t officially check in. Again, this comes down to the individual hostel’s policies so remember to check them out!
Check the Reviews
As with all things you spend money on, you should always check the reviews of hostels you’re about to book. And not just the overall rating! A hostel can be rated very well but may not suit your needs or taste. Reading the reviews will give you a good idea of what to expect from your stay!
Plus, bad reviews are almost always worth reading for their comedic value!
Final Thoughts on the Best Hostel Booking Sites
Booking direct usually gets you the very best deals when choosing a hostel. However, the simplicity of booking platforms, plus the loyalty schemes offered by certain sites make them very appealing for backpackers and travellers.
Hostelworld is generally our first port of call when booking hostels but when travelling in Southeast Asia we also make sure we check Agoda too. And when we’re feeling too lazy to do the comparisons manually, we use Google to find the best prices!
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