Comparison websites have been around for almost as long as the internet, making it easier for consumers to see different companies, offers, deals, product information & prices side by side and make their choice on the best option. Most often, the comparison site’s goal is 2-fold, 1) to provide a better booking experience and services such as membership, loyalty and other perks than an individual product provider can offer and 2) to under-cut the price, or package a product in a way that offer better value.
Hire car, hotels, holidays, flights, extras and more
However the comparison industry has evolved and grown heavily over recent decades, there are as many compare sites as the companies they now compare so how do you know where to search and whether the saving is real?
There are a number of different types of comparison sites now available which give different benefits, here is a summary of some of the main ones when comparison travel services such as hotels, car hire, flights and other travel accessories.
Travel specific and product specialist websites
An online “broker” or “agent” is partnered directly with specific types of products and will generally be able to offer you the stronger deals and bigger discounts but are specialised in a certain product sector such as hotels or car rentals.
When looking for car hire you’ll likely come across the mainstream rentalcars.com, holiday-autos, and perhaps some of the medium ones will offer the wider choice and lower prices by working with smaller and local suppliers such as Enjoycarhire.com and Carflexi.com.
When looking for hotels you might come across Hotels.com and Booking.com, 2 of the largest ones.
The generic “we compare everything” comparison site.
This is generic and not specialist, yet still in most cases has a travel offering. You could look for motor insurance, finance, mortgages, flights, shopping, clothing, and a wide range of products. Such generic compare websites include the likes of GoCompare, Confused.com, uSwitch and Money Super Market.
Compare the compare sites
The third model is the comparison site which compares the comparison sites. These will generally have no direct deal with the product owners, but take the role of comparing all of the brokers side by side so you can see the different deals on offer and rather than taking your booking on their own website, they will refer you through to the online broker to complete your bookings.
Examples here include Kayak for flights, hotels and cars, Skyscanner specialises in flights and Travel Super Market offer a range of different travel products from flights and hotels to holidays and even airport parking. When it comes to hotels, Trivago is an example of this model whereby it compares the broker sites rather than the direct hotels as standalone offers.
Hybrid online travel agency (OTA) model
The final type of comparison is the OTA such as Expedia whereby they offer a combination of their own direct deals and have agreements with 3rd parties to bring a wide range of offers and full solution from the holiday through all the add-ons and accessories.
What to watch out for
Credit card fees
In January 2018, credit card fees were banned in the UK, meaning companies could no longer add different fees for different credit cards, debit cards, or payment methods. Companies do still however, add booking fees which may be shown at the end of the process.
It’s always worth checking that the final price in the basket or payment screen is as you expected. Its easy for things to be added on without you being aware, although the industry has become more transparent as legislation is introduced to protect customers such as banning of auto-selection of add-ons.
Its also worth checking cancellation policies especially in the travel industry where you are buying a service rather than a traditional product. In some cases your service may be non-refundable or carry a hefty cancellation fee. Always have a quick check of the terms and conditions at the time of purchase and specifically look for the cancellation and refunds policy.
Customer reviews are an excellent tool for helping you compare some of the more tertiary or niche services that are less well known, however its important to be sure that the reviews are genuine and independent rather than fixed by the comparison company. Specialist review systems such as Reevoo and Trust Pilot are genuine and can be trusted.
Search engine ads vs. natural listings
Google’s presentation and ordering of its results can also be a good indicator of the quality and value of a website. Google chooses which websites to display and in what order based on an enourmous set of highly complex algorithm’s. However some of the key metrics Google will take into account include;
- Age of the domain and website
- Relevance of the content in the website to the search term
- Trust based on factors such as which other websites are linking to it
- The technical quality of the website and whether it contains content lifted from other websites
- Engagement; whether are customer staying on the website and how they are using it
So where you see the top handful of websites in the natural search (not sponsored or paid) you can edge towards them being established and more trustworthy websites.
Any company can pay for clicks, or sponsor listings. This system is based on an auction combining 2 factors a) the relevance of the keywords and website to the search term and b) the amount the bidder is willing to pay. A combination of factors mostly based around relevance give the website a quality score out of 10 for every different search term.
This isn’t a strong indicator of the quality or trustworthiness of a website, however Google does prioritise the quality score and relevance to the search.
Another area of the search engine’s results are focused around the local listings, which are usually displayed on a map. These tend to appear where a place name is mentioned in the search terms such as “airport parking Manchester” for example. Local business can apply to appear here by setting up their listing and having a validation sent to their physical address as proof they exist.
Typical search results layout
The search engine example below shows a typical layout using search term Luton Airport Parking .
At the top there are typically 3 to 4 “sponsored” links, with “Ad” clearly labelled to the left.
Beneath this is the first “organic” or natural listing, in this case Luton Airport’s own website, This is classified as position 1.
The next you can see is the local listings or Google places. Beneath this is position 2, followed by a set of what Google sees as relevant questions and answers, then in position 3 is international airport parking comparison site, Looking4.com where you can see the Trust Pilot stars demonstrating additional trust for this website within the search engines.