Guide To: Secret Hotels

So you want to stay at a top hotel, but those prices are ridiculous right? There is a way. You can choose an unnamed hotel at a huge discount. A range of sites including Priceline, Hotwire and Lastminute.com allow you to book what they call ‘Secret Hotels’. You won’t know which hotel you’ll be staying at until you pay, but these top tips can help you get an edge on the competition and narrow down your options. 5* hotels at 3* prices anyone?

Secret hotels can save you a packet

Hotels sell their rooms across multiple platforms so the same room won’t be the same price everywhere you look. The hotels would rather fill their beds on the cheap than leave them empty, so they’ll often sell off unused rooms through ‘secret hotel’ sites to fill their vacancies without upsetting their usual clientele.

To book one of these, you just need to visit one of the sites that sell’s rooms in unnamed hotels. There are plenty to choose from including SuperBreak, Late Rooms and Hotel Direct but we’re going to focus on three of our favourites; Priceline, Hotwire and Lastminute.com.

It’s really simple. You choose a date, location and star level and they’ll provide you with a list of potentials to choose from. Once you’ve made your booking, they’ll send you confirmation of exactly where you’ll be staying.

The main thing with these is that booking the room when it’s a ‘secret’ can cut the cost by hundreds of pounds. For example, we found a couple that managed to bag a luxury week in New York through Priceline, staying at the Times Square Sheraton. They got it for £330, but the advertised rack rate was £1,200 (a saving of £870).

It’s possible to identify the hotel before you book

The idea of handing over your hard earned cash without knowing what you’re getting can be pretty unnerving, but you can play detective and there are ways to identify the hotel in question prior to booking.

The simplest of these is to head over to Google. When you book a room at a secret hotel, you’re given a description. These are often taken straight from the hotels website so a simple copy/paste into a search engine can potentially reveal all. If not, it’s usually possible to look through a few results to get a pretty good idea of which hotel they’re talking about.

Below you’ll find simple guides for Hotwire, Lastminute.com and Priceline (which works a little differently) that can help you work it out.

There are no guarantees and no refunds

Remember that while these guides can help you find out which hotels they’re talking about, there are absolutely no guarantees. At the end of the day, these hotels are so heavily discounted because you aren’t supposed to know which ones they are.

With all of the sites covered in this guide, there are strict no-refund policies, so once you’ve paid, that’s it. If you need more flexibility, don’t want to take the risk or think your plans could change; secret hotels may not be for you.

Taxes and added extras

This doesn’t really apply to secret hotels in the UK, but when heading abroad, it’s not uncommon to find local city taxes and added extras that aren’t included in the price.

Sometimes these charges will reveal themselves before you commit to your booking so you’ll have time to change your mind, but it’s also possible that the first you’ll hear of them is at the hotel.

With Priceline and Lastminute.com, extra charges often apply, but these should be detailed before you make a booking. With Hotwire, all charges are included in the price you pay.

Secret hotels might not be the cheapest option

Before heading down this route, do some research and benchmark the standard room rate for the kind of hotels you’re looking for. If you’ve managed to reveal the hotel, you can find out the exact price and head to a comparison site to double check you’re getting a good deal. A good place to start is with sites like TripAdvisor, TravelSupermarket or Trivago. (We’ve got more on these and others in our Cheap Hotels guide).

Always double check that the price quoted (and those found through comparison sites) is better than going direct. It only takes a minute or a quick phone call and you can often get a better deal going direct.

Crack The Code

Here we break down the top tips for cracking the codes on our top three ‘secret-hotel’ sites.

Though typically limited to the UK, SuperBreak, Late Rooms and Hotel Direct also offer secret hotels, but we’re focusing on these three today:

Priceline

This one differs from the other two in that it has a ‘name-your-price’ feature. As a US site, it’s particularly strong on US hotels.

You can bid on a room, in a specific area for the price you want to pay and your bid is either accepted or rejected.

How it works

Choose where you want to stay

Go to the section labelled ‘Name Your Own Price’ and select the ‘Start Your Hotel Bid Now’ tab. Enter the name of the city and the dates you want to stay and hit ‘Bid Now’. Cities are broken down into different areas, select as many as you want – the more you select, the better your chance of finding a great bargain, but make sure you limit it only to areas you’d be happy staying in. New York for example you might select Times Square and Central Park, but if you want to be within easy reach of the theatre district, Brooklyn, Queens or JFK are going to leave you with a lot of ground to cover so pick the area or areas that meet your needs.

Choose the star level for your hotel

Priceline uses its own star rating system and you can’t specify double, queen or king-size bed. Once you’ve made your booking, you can email the hotel to make requests, but they’re not guaranteed. If separate beds are important, Priceline may not be for you.

Name your own price

Tell them how much you’re prepared to pay per night. There’s a guide price based on the type of hotel you’ve selected and the area/s you’ve chosen. Obviously the aim here is to find the cheapest acceptable price so start low. If unsuccessful, start increasing your bid until it’s accepted (as long as you don’t go over your maximum budget). You’ll need to enter your credit card details in order to submit your bid and you can only bid once per day.

See if you’re bid was accepted

If it was…great, don’t dwell on whether you could have got it cheaper; you got it at a good price and it’s a done deal. If not, you typically have to wait 24 hours to have another go, but our guide to Priceline bidding has a few sneaky tips to help you get around this and have another go. If you’re bid is rejected, you don’t pay a thing. Taxes are extra on Priceline, but clearly displayed before you make a payment, just make sure you take note of them.

Identifying hotels on Priceline is a bit trickier than with the other two, but your area and star rating selections can make it easier provided you haven’t chosen too many of them.

If you’re looking for a 5* hotel in the Grand Central Station area, a quick search on TripAdvisor reveals there are only 4 of them. It’s not a guarantee you’ll be staying at one of them, but it’s a reasonable bet.

You can also use TripAdvisor to see what others have posted for clues. Add the word Priceline to a search and then use the map view to find a location. You’ll usually find a list of results that could help narrow down the search, add to that the fairly basic info provided by Priceline before you book and you can start to build a better picture.

Hotwire

This secret-hotel booking engine has saved huge amounts for price sensitive, savvy travellers from the 5* Venetian in Las Vegas for £66 per night instead of £150 to the Hilton Doubletree in New York for £79 per night instead of £172. It also has a great selection of secret rooms at hotels in cities across the UK.

But these hotels aren’t quite as secret as you might expect them top be. You can actually get around this by matching its ‘Secret-Hotels’ to its non-secret ones.

Uncovering their secret hotels:

Find a hotel

Go to the Hotwire website and search for a specific city for the dates you want to travel to reveal its ‘hot rates’. It will give you the hotels star rating, the area where you’ll find it and local amenities but it won’t reveal the name. There’s an area map that shows you which parts of the city each area covers.

Check their normal (non-secret) hotels

Open a new browser and head back to their website. Put in the same search criteria, but this time select ‘standard rate’. For some reason, this option is only available when the currency is set to US Dollars; so if you’re currently searching in GBP, change it to reveal the ‘standard rate’ tab.

Do a comparison to narrow the search

In your ‘standard rate’ window, select the matching star rating and use the map view to zoom the area so it matches the one in your ‘hot rates’ window. Then simply check which hotels have matching star ratings and amenities in both windows to reveal the pattern.

Use comparison sites to check the rate

Once you’ve found the hotel you’re interested in, check Trivago, CheapHotels, TravelSupermarket or another hotel price comparison site to see if you can find the same hotel on the same dates for less. You can also check hotel reviews on TripAdvisor to make sure you’re happy to stay there.

While big savings are possible, they’re never guaranteed, and its possible that two hotels could have the same facilities so there’s always a risk your detective work could backfire. It’s also possible that ‘secret-hotels’ don’t feature in the ‘normal’ list (or vice versa), so it can be hard to accurately identify them. Only do this if you’re flexible about here you end up, otherwise Hotwire might not be for you.

Lastminute.com

The last of our selection is also the most well know when it comes to secret savings via their ‘Secret Hotels’ section. It includes discounts for hotels around the world but is particularly strong in London.

Uncovering their secret hotels:

Use Google to match descriptions

Firstly copy and paste whole chunks of descriptions into a search engine. If you’re lucky, they will have been lazy and taken the description directly from the hotels website…voila, an exact match and you’ll know which hotel they’re talking about. If not, you’ll often find that key; unique phrases and sentences are enough to reveal the hotels identity.

Double check using ratings

TripAdvisor supplies the ratings for Lastminute.com so check the number of ratings a hotel has had. While this isn’t an exact science, if a hotel on TripAdvisor has 347 ratings and the secret hotel you’re looking at has 347 ratings, is that really just a coincidence?

Search TripAdvisor for ‘Secret Hotels’

TripAdvisor’s user reviews often reveal a lot. Add ‘Lastminute.com’ and ‘secret hotel’ to your search and you may just reveal some unexpected hidden info. Check this against search results for the area you’re looking at and combine with your ratings match to give you the pretty comprehensive idea of what hotel is on offer.

Check the rate before making a booking

Always double-check the rate before making a booking. If you’ve revealed the hotel, you can use comparison sites like TravelSupermarket, Trivago or CheapHotels to make sure you’re really getting a good deal. It’s also worth going to the hotel direct to see if they’d offer you a better rate. If not, you now know where you can get it cheaper.

Post by Emma

Emma has worked in the travel booking business for 13 years before turning her hand to travel journalism. A dedicated health spa visitor, she prefers a touch of luxury while travelling the globe. Favourite country? Thailand, every time!

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